One thing we can say about new L.A. Superintendent John Deasy, after a year on the job: He sure knows how to smooth over a scandal.
After longtime Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt was arrested in early February for allegedly spoon-feeding his semen to third-graders, an explosion of similar allegations at other LAUSD campuses has created a culture of panic within the district. (And the pervs just keep coming.)
Superintendent Deasy was immediately aware that superb PR was the key to emerging from this witch hunt alive:
He rushed to the scene of each crime, speaking openly to reporters about his own heartsickness and vowing swift action. (Even though the past actions of the district's elected Board of Education, in response to teacher misconduct, have been anything but swift.) Deasy took extreme measures, replacing the entire staff at Miramonte and ordering LAUSD principals to raid their campus' file cabinets for any and every scrawled allegation of bad teacher behavior.
Some argued Deasy's measures were too extreme. But that was beside the point. The superintendent's plan to shift the blame off LAUSD — and use it instead to lobby the teachers union and Sacramento lawmakers — was decidedly a slam-dunk.
Next step in the proactive reputation campaign: Social media.
Yeah, you'd think the second largest school district in the nation might have jumped aboard that train about a decade ago, but California's public agencies have a tendency to cling to the Stone Ages. And former Superintendent Ramon Cortines, though loveable, seemed more than a little out of it near the end.
Enter Stephanie Abrams, former CBS2 reporter on the boob and technology beats, among others. (No, not Stephanie Abrams the weather woman, who has a storied — read: YouTubed — legacy of racy outfits and Freudian slips.)
“I'm here to bring LAUSD into the 21st century,” Abrams tells the LA Daily News. “We're completely breaking new ground here. The breadth of what we're doing is massive.”
Looks like we just lost another soldier to the PR machine! Last month, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — likewise known for his obsession with a positive public image — hired two former journalists onto his huge public-affairs team.
Since Abrams was picked up by LAUSD, the district's Twitter account has done a complete 180 from stale once-a-month announcements to a more lively feed of student accomplishments, links to pro-LAUSD news stories, Deasy RTs (of course) and a crapload of exclamation points.
According to the Daily News, “the philanthropic Goldhirsh Foundation is paying $87,000 of her $93,300-a-year salary, with the district picking up the balance.”
— Walt Arrrrr (@Waltarrrrr) March 20, 2012
The official LAUSD Facebook page and YouTube account are taking off as well. Because nothing helps us move on from horrific sex-abuse allegations like feel-good photos of science projects and won decathlons.