USC Marshall MBAs Doing Good
Each year, the USC Marshall Society and Business Lab (SBL) awards subsidies to MBA students who intern at nonprofit and social enterprise organizations. Follow their adventures.
Whenever I tell a long-time LA resident that I work for LAUSD this summer, I inevitably will receive one of two responses (sometimes both): 1) Wow, that is so great of you to help our ailing schools. 2) Wow, that must be a terrible place to work at.
While I do agree with the latter sentiment to some degree, I feel that people outside LAUSD don’t truly understand what really plagues our city’s school district. There are so many false notions about LAUSD that are floating out there. So here am I today to dispel some of that. Of course, being at LAUSD for 10 weeks does not make me the LAUSD expert but I will try to expose my readers to hopefully a clear understanding.
Myth: LAUSD is a place full of deadbeat workers.
This is absolutely bogus. Every large organization has its share of deadbeat workers. LAUSD is not any different. Nonetheless, I have met more passionate people in LAUSD than I can really count. I am willing to bet that there is a higher percentage of LAUSD employees passionate about education than there are employees in a typical corporation who are passionate about that particular industry. What is true is that there has been a long history of short-coming in academic performance which led to a significant amount of despair and pessimism. Nonetheless, LAUSD employees are still working extremely hard to improve our children’s education on a day to day basis.
Truth: LAUSD is a place full of incompetent employees
This may be shocking for me to say but I am NOT saying the employees are incompetent because they are not talented people. The reason why I am say they are incompetent is because far too many district employees come from the pipeline of educators in the schools. Instead of procuring employees from functional backgrounds, former teachers are placed in roles with little or no training in business. The central office has too many former teachers and principals working on data, marketing, and finance when these employees are originally trained to teach or manage people as a principal. It’s not a problem of people but a problem in HR policy.
Myth: The district is too big for its own good.
The district is indeed very bureaucratic and collaboration can be very difficult with so many different departments in the entire central office. But to say that the district is too big is misguided. There are so many things the district can take advantage of as the nation’s second biggest school district after New York. Our size allows us to do things that smaller district can’t like making huge capital expenditure (Check out Roybal and Cortines high near downtown!) or hire superstar administrator like John Deasy or contracting with Xerox to significantly printing/copy cost. The district took a beating when the payroll system overpaid teachers millions a few years ago. But that was not a result of size. It was a result of poor planning and testing. In fact, smaller district would have been even more prone to this kind of error. Being large definitely has both advantages and disadvantages but the jury is still out whether LAUSD is truly too large for its own good.
Truth: The district is a toxic environment to work at.
Unfortunately, this breaks my heart to say but it’s true that LAUSD is indeed a toxic place right now. I am not referring to the catastrophic result in student performance (thought that is toxix as well) nor the oft-mentioned deadbeat or incompetent employees. What I am referring to is the animosity between central office and the local schools. With six changes in superintendentship within eight years, there are too many disgruntled school administrators who are prone to ignore the initiatives that the central leadership is setting out simply because they think they can outlast the existing regime. Or in another example, for performance management, schools seem at times more concerned about meeting performance target to avoid the “wrath” of the central office rather than to ensure higher graduation of students. I am not accusing that the school administrators to have ill intentions. I think both sides should share equal blames in toxic mess that the district is in. I just think until both sides can build better trust, LAUSD will keep running itself into unnecessary obstacles, which I often see as hindrance to the current initiatives that are in place today.