Education watchers were caught off guard when it was announced yesterday that Caprice Young, the former LAUSD board prez turned president of the California Charter Schools Association, was leaving the five-year-old organization that she helped to found to take a job with a global education company called Knowledge Universe.
During the day, Antonio Villaraigosa quickly put out a written statement about Young’s significance:
“From Day One in the LAUSD boardroom, Caprice has understood the need to reinvigorate our public school system with small, independent community schools,” Villaraigosa said, reported the Daily News.
“She leaves a legacy as one of the pioneers of an independent school movement that will fundamentally transform this district.”
(For a fuller run down of what Caprice Young has accomplished in her five years of championing charter schools in California—which grew during her tenure by more than 300 new schools and enrolled more than 100,000 new students—see Howard Blume’s article in this morning’s LA Times.)
Since Caprice has been at the top of the food chain on the inside of the district and on the outside, battling the district in behalf of the So Cal charter movement, I thought that before she moves beyond the LA public school arena altogether, it would be a good time to ask her a few quick questions:
WitnessLA: In the last five years of being CCSA President, was there one most memorable moment?
Caprice Young: Last year during the charter school parent’s march. I was standing on corner of 4th and Broadway downtown, and I saw four thousand charter school parents streaming down 4th street to Beaudry [LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry St.]. They were loud, and they were organized and they were a sea diverse sea of faces.
At that moment, it was really clear to me that it didn’t matter if the power structure embraced charters. The parents embraced them. And parents who have their kids in a charter schools are never going back. They’re not going to allow their kids to be in unsafe school where they’re not getting a high quality education. As I watched them march, I saw the parents weren’t waiting to be given something. They were taking it for themselves. So in many ways, I was irrelevant.
WLA: What or whom are you going to be happiest to leave behind out of the whole LA California education drama?
CY: I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m glad that I won’t be glad not to have to bang my head against the wall that is LA Unified It’s like poking mercury around in a bowl. Or it’s like Jell-O. You think it’s changed and then it goes back to the same old position.
WLA: As you look at it from the outside, what are some of the bright spots at the district?
CY: Look, of course there are good things going on at LA Unified, but they’re are going on covertly. Like the individual honors program at Reed Middle School. It’s a great program. And they have all these kids on the waiting list. It should be replicated. But frankly it’s a good thing that the central office doesn’t know much about it or they’d find a way to mess it up. I’m almost hesitant to mention it to you for that reason.
WLA: If that’s true, why do you think that happens? Obviously if someone runs for the school board one presumes they have their hearts in the right place….
CY: But, see it’s not about the people. There are good people at the district. It’s about this horrific system that is hurting our kids. And it’s hurting the adults. It takes young idealistic teachers and turns them into cynics.
Look: I was the president of the LA Unified school district and I had more power than anyone in all of public education in Los Angeles. The people who get into those roles think: I’m a smart person, and I’m really going to change things. I’m going to be on the one who fixes it. But then they accept all the chains and shackles when they get in there.
I love Ray Cortines, but But I think he’s making compromises that he shouldn’t continue to make. It doesn’t have to be this screwed up. That’s why a lot of us in public education who have slammed our head against that wall for so long, finally came to the conclusion that we just needed to go out and educate kids.
[NOTE: Cortines is LAUSD’s Superintendent of Instruction, but he is effectively running the district. No one even pretends any more that the actual district Superintendent, Admiral David Brewer, is calling the shots. He isn’t. Someone recently compared him to Queen Elizabeth. He may have the crown, but he doesn’t have the power.)
WLA: Other than Cortines, who are the most interesting characters in the high stakes soap opera that is public education in Los Angeles?
CY: There are a lot of them. When I was on the school board, my husband used to joke that I was on the first reality TV show. It’s sort of rife with interesting characters. I mean look a Julie Korenstein who’s been doing this for 25 years. After 25-years why isn’t there more progress? See, despite her demeanor, Julie’s not unintelligent. I served with the woman for four years. And it was perplexing that she didn’t have more rage that she has about why it hasn’t change. I mean, after all her time there, what does she want her legacy to be?
WLA: Speaking of legacies: What have you left undone?
CY: We’ve gone from people believing that charter schools were just an experiment, to really an understanding that they are a critical part of the public education formula. But it’s still almost impossible for charter schools to get a decent facility. That is truely hideous. Our schools are doing brilliant work in unbelievably unacceptable facility situations. But since LAUSD has been unwilling to comply with the law…. And the courts haven’t yet enforced the law….
WLA: So, other than the facilities issue, if there’s one piece of advice you could give Ray Cortines, what would it be?
CY: Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t work. And know the difference..