Can LAUSD Chief Alberto Carvalho get students back on track?

Alberto Carvallo

Alberto Carvallo, photo taken in the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on October 4.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, considers himself a learner.

Early on, he learned to survive in Miami as an immigrant teenager from Portugal, working odd jobs and sleeping under a bridge. He pursued higher education and became a science teacher, rising rapidly in the administrative ranks in the Miami-Dade County school system, eventually serving for more than a dozen years as the principal of that school district, and winning widespread acclaim.

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His arrival in L.A. in February 2022 brought with it a new learning curve. He's a heavy social media user, with early posts about L.A. lifestyle experiences — riding a horse near the Hollywood sign and skydiving through an “I Heart LAUSD” sign — that prompted rolls of eyes rather than high-fives. These days, his social media posts are all business.

Carvalho, 59, took over a school system with its 420,000 students reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit hardest those who were already far behind. Midway through a four-year contract, he promised a full academic recovery from pandemic issues by this spring. His strategy includes requiring schools to submit and analyze achievement data and constantly adjust improvement plans. Test results will be announced in a few months.

After a wave of persistent absenteeism, he also aggressively sought to improve attendance. When unions threatened a long work stoppage, he helped negotiate a deal that limited the damage to a three-day strike. After a high school student died from a fentanyl overdose on campus, he directed every school to stock the overdose medication naloxone. When a massive ransomware attack pummeled L.A. Unified, he bolstered cybersecurity.

Alberto Carvallo

Still, media-savvy school leaders have at times failed to communicate, leading to criticism for a lack of transparency.

Amid rising crime and fights at schools, he has changed direction, trying to placate supporters for and against police. A recent new school safety plan that included deploying officers failed because of differences over approach.

When unions threatened a longer work stoppage, he helped negotiate a deal that limited the damage to a three-day strike.

It took months for parents and staff to get clear answers about why a popular reading program was eliminated — even though Carvalho made a reasonable case for moving in a different direction. And, amid allegations that the district violated state laws and gave schools less than the arts funding approved by voters, Carvalho and his deputy did not fully answer questions posed by parents, unions and school board members.

What does he/she like the most?

“I spend a lot of time in schools and classrooms,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoy my association with my students, my teachers, my support staff. … I see nothing but opportunity and excitement.”

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