Alberto Carvalho came in from Florida last year with sunny optimism and bold plans to improve student performance and reverse enrollment declines in the Los Angeles Unified School District, even as families were still reeling from the pandemic. His accomplishments and long tenure as Miami-Dade County Public Schools leader made him seem like the perfect candidate to lead the nation’s second-largest school district.
Now Carvalho begins his second year as LAUSD superintendent with mixed reviews for his administrative stumbling, sometimes gaudy performances, and social media presence. And while supporters and critics say a year isn’t enough time to fairly assess his progress, he should learn lessons from the first year if he wants to keep his promises.
Carvalho met with the editors earlier this month to discuss his first year and his goals for the year ahead. He is just as optimistic and energetic as when he arrived. Good. Now that the honeymoon is over, Carvalho will need it for the hard work ahead of him getting administrators, teachers, parents and students on board to achieve common goals. He didn’t always get this right the first year, but his missteps offer him lessons to do better.
An example of this is the rollout of the Gear days program designed to help students recover from learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program started off weak because early on Carvalho failed to communicate with parents and teachers about the details of the plan to add four extra days to the school year.
Not surprisingly, alone 36,486 students attended the two extra days of school during winter break, representing less than 9% of the district’s 422,276 students. Carvalho promises that the second round of acceleration days will be more attended during spring break as district officials try to identify students who should be in the program earlier in the process. In addition, the district plans to contract with tutoring companies to provide students with more individualized attention. We hope so. Students, especially those with low incomes, show a sharp decline in math and reading performance, according to the researchers national And stands aptitude test results released last fall.
Carvalho’s willingness to adjust his plans is important. He handled two major emergencies in the past year with aplomb, even if the results weren’t perfect. A cyberattack discovered in the fall significantly disrupted operations in the district for at least a few weeks. Details about the compromised data are still being provided discovered to this day, although quick work by technicians prevented further damage. And after several overdoses and the fentanyl-related death of a 15-year-old student in September, Carvalho authorized every school in the district to stock naloxone, a drug that prevents opioid overdoses.
He also deserves credit for working with the school board to develop the district’s scoop four-year strategic planwhich aims to improve academic achievement, especially for students with disabilities, those learning English, those on low incomes, in foster care, and Latino and Black.
One of its main tasks is to improve academic performance in the 100 schools with the largest number of low-income and low-achieving students. Carvalho, who often mentions living under a bridge as a teenager when he was homeless, has a soft spot for underprivileged students. Reaching these students with personal home visits has become Carvalho’s hallmark when implementing the districts iAttend program designed to address the neighborhood chronic absenteeism, which reached 39.8% in the last school year, compared to 30% statewide.
His experiences as a former teacher and an immigrant from Portugal help him understand that a holistic approach is needed when it comes to helping struggling students. The outreach efforts seem more promising than his ‘Born to learn’ campaign recruit newborns to maternity wards. Handing out care packages to babies in hospitals is a good picture, but will do nothing to alleviate the more pressing needs of current students.
Carvalho is ambitious, which is a good thing for the leader of this challenging school district. But he must remember that steering the ship is not the only task required to move in the right direction. Late last year, he announced that the district would use artificial intelligence to create acceleration plans for each student, based on data such as math and English proficiency and attendance. These individual reports would create recommended learning strategies that can be powerful tools to help students. The program is still in trial mode and its success this coming year could be the real test to see if he has more than big ideas and can listen and communicate effectively with teachers and parents.