Dr. John Deasy

Interview with Dr. John Deasy

DeasyCalifornia is one of the most diverse states in the country. What are some of the benefits and challenges of this diversity as the state tries to provide a quality education for all students?

Diversity in so many ways is our strength. In Los Angeles, in our schools we speak 190 different languages, 70 nations are represented in our school, 71 when you include the U.S. There’s great power in an international city. I mean, I often say that L.A. is America only sooner. It’s who we look like, it’s what we’re able to do. And you probably cannot drive across the city if you speak only English because there are whole parts of the city where there is signage that is either in Korean or Mandarin or Spanish or Farsi or Tagalog. It’s really an amazing city. So that is a huge strength.

Some of the challenges that come with that strength include forming unity in direction out of the power of that kind of diversity. Another reality is there are overwhelming conditions of poverty for so many and that has a huge effect on the ability to provide for our students. And that ranges from students where the government cannot allow documentation for currently undocumented youth, students with no access to basic healthcare, basic dental care, eye care, and obviously housing—many of our students are homeless. All of these things come with the power of that diversity.

What do you believe is the role for non-profits like Hope Street Group and for groups in the private sector in the improvement of K-12 education? How would you like to see this role grow or change?

So that’s a great question. First of all, there is no way on Earth that I can continue to be successful without partners. And we need as many partners as possible that are dedicated to the single proposition that every single solitary youth can be successful and graduate college and workforce ready. Hope Street Group happens to be one of the most powerful of those partners on the national level because you all have this energy in health, this energy in employment, this energy in secondary and postsecondary education, and this energy in a viable workforce. Those all matter. And the other part of this is having nonprofits that are localized. And it’s extremely important to create a space for philanthropic, economic, nonprofit organizations dedicated to lifting our students out of poverty.

You mentioned our workforce efforts, one the major focus of Hope Street Group is closing the skills gap between students and workers and the employees that hire them. What do you believe the school system can do to minimize this gap and how would you rate California’s response?

So we’re in the middle of a tremendous focus on that right now, and that has to do with the very large effort around “linked learning,” and that is linking student learning to careers while they’re still with us through mentorships and internships, both paid and unpaid. What Hope Street Group has been very helpful in is highlighting that business and economic interest don’t begin when the youth exits the door for employment.

Hope Street Group is always looking to increase teacher voice in the creation of education policy. What methods do you employ to make sure those at the front lines are able to voice their concerns and how do you think communication could be improved?

I think Hope Street Group has done a very fine job of helping legitimately lift teacher voice and teacher leadership. The reality here in L.A. is that all of the most powerful work is created and led by teachers. We have more than 50 schools that were developed from the ground up just by teachers, our new evaluation system was co-created with teachers, the entire roll-out of Common Core—which is going so well, we have had no pushback—has been led by teacher fellows. I mean, that is the only way it happened so well.

Your school district has recently made headlines due to efforts to provide iPads to students. Now that the initial rollout is complete, what are your thoughts on the use of this technology in the classroom and what are your goals going forward? 

Technology is very important but it is just one of the supports that we provide for instruction, nothing ever replaces the teacher, of course. But this technology, it is no longer desirable but essential for students to be able to navigate it. And for us, we’re pretty clear that our students deserve exactly what students who are of privilege. Zip code cannot be the marker for access to technology.

There has been greater attention on the physical health of students as our nation wrestles with childhood obesity. We know that healthy students are more focused in school and ready to learn. What are your thoughts on recent efforts to expand the nutritional options for children and what other health opportunities do you see for students?

Well there has been a huge effort in L.A., just yesterday* the district and I received a big award for our efforts on improving lunch in school. We completely redesigned our food service mechanisms and meals. We have done things like “Meatless Monday’s,” we have Let’s Move to increase exercise, breakfast in the classroom, we have provided a dramatic increase in vegetables and locally sourced produce, we have removed high sugar and high fat foods and added more protein, we have meals created by students. It’s really something.

Have you seen a positive response from students?

Oh, very much so.

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