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Ray Cortines: Friend or Foe?

Once again, the name of Ray Cortines is buzzing around the halls of Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, according to today's LA Times. The former interim superintendent of LA Unified is apparently being considered by David Brewer, the current superintendent and retired Navy admiral, to fill the long vacant slot of chief academic officer. It is a crucial senior staff hire public education experts and district insiders have been demanding for nearly a year. (Read "The Admiral's Sinking Ship" for an in-depth look at Brewer's first year as the public schools honcho: http://www.laweekly.com/news/news/how-superintendent-david-brewer-ran-aground/17943/

Nationwide, Cortines is widely respected and liked as an educator. While not known as a turn-around artist of failing school systems, he has been a superintendent in such cities as San Jose, San Francisco, New York, and, briefly, Los Angeles. In other words, Cortines has impressive credentials on paper, with a reputation for being a steady leader.

Cortines now works as a top education advisor to Antonio Villaraigosa and chairs the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which puts a weird twist on things. Relations between Villaraigosa and Brewer aren't always friendly, and whenever there's talk of firing Brewer, who, according to critics, has under-performed in a variety of ways, Cortines's name always pops up as a replacement. Now it appears the retired admiral is embracing that ancient concept of keeping your friends close, and your enemies closer--an old chestnut written by one of Brewer's favorite military strategists, Sun Tzu.

In the end, though, friends and enemies alike believe Brewer needs to move quickly to hire a right hand man for curriculum and instruction at LA Unified. In a matter of months, the district's High Priority Schools plan will be initiated for its poorest performing schools, and the task is daunting, especially for someone with no turn-around experience like Brewer. Cortines, who's reportedly talking with the superintendent, now waits for the final decision.