By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“You have to reach the children where they are!”
Brewer stood tall and square-shouldered, wearing his dark power suit with gold tie. He looked to be in total control, and he threw out such snappy-sounding phrases as “college prepared and career ready,” “world-class education,” and “deep change.” Though he insisted he was not a “headlines superintendent,” he was talking that kind of talk. Little he said was new: Students wanted to feel that people “cared” for them, parents wanted their kids to attend college, teachers wanted to improve their skills. It was the kind of rap Brewer had been dishing to audiences for months.
Then, Brewer fielded questions. One person who grabbed the roving microphone was UTLA president A.J. Duffy, whose once-tenuous leadership of the union has been given new life thanks to the district’s payroll screwups and the Brewer power vacuum. (A few weeks later, UTLA would beat the superintendent to the punch by releasing its own “reform plan” for the lowest-performing schools.)
“I’ve been in this district for about 28 years,” Duffy stated to Brewer, “and by my reckoning, I’ve gone through a reform program every third or fourth year. The teachers, parents, administrators and other stakeholders want to know, why should we believe you?”
Brewer smiled, then launched into an answer about “facilitating a structure for deep change.” As the polite political showdown played out, Joey Smith, a black 11th-grader from the gifted magnet program at Crenshaw High School in South L.A., sat with his classmates at a banquet table in back — behind all the civic and business leaders given closer access to the superintendent. Smith had never seen Brewer speak, never read about him, and really knew nothing about the retired vice admiral.
“I was excited to see what he was all about,” recalls Smith, an obvious go-getter who plans to attend an Ivy League college. But the more the superintendent talked, the more turned off the young student got.
“I got frustrated because he seemed to be going around the questions rather than answering them,” Smith says. “I think he has an idea of what he wants to do, but he doesn’t know how to do it. He may be a strong leader figure, but he doesn’t know what to do.”
And that seems to be the crux of Brewer’s growing troubles, understood after an hour’s observation by a perceptive 16-year-old. As 2007 comes to an end, the superintendent is still listening and learning. Or, as a cynic might say, plodding and yearning.
Email Patrick Range McDonalad at email@example.com
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