Inglewood Unified School District was taken over by the State of California in late 2012. Since then, current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has ducked and dodged Inglewood residents looking for answers. The board moved into an “advisory” capacity and have turned their backs on the unions, who kept them on the board, even re-electing one during this crisis. In his own words, Marshall Tuck discusses his vision and qualifications with 2UrbanGirls’ readers.
2UrbanGirls sole reason for starting this blog, back in 2011, was to get the word out to the community on the impending takeover. We have made multiple attempts to interview Tommie, to no avail. Marshall Tuck, on the other hand, was more than willing to speak to this blog, and was just as eager, during a chance encounter in Inglewood recently.
Tell the 2UrbanGirls readers a little more about you and your professional background.
Thirteen years ago I left my job in the technology sector to focus on my passion, education. I have led public schools for over a decade. I served most recently as founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, (former) Mayor Villaraigosa’s groundbreaking collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District, operating 17 struggling public elementary, middle and high schools serving 15,000 students.
The schools I led increased four-year graduation rates by over 60%, improved school safety and student attendance, and launched the innovative Parent College, now a national model for getting parents more involved in their kids’ education. Over the last 5 years, Partnership schools ranked first in academic improvement among school systems with more than 10,000 students.
Prior to launching the Partnership, I served as President of Green Dot Public Schools, a leading charter school operator based in Los Angeles. I joined Green Dot in 2002 when it had one school, and helped them expand to 10 charter high schools by 2006. With a student-centered approach that empowered principals, teachers, and parents, Green Dot schools substantially outperformed comparable schools’ graduation rates and overall academic achievement.
Prior to that, I worked in finance for two years, and spent a year teaching and doing service work internationally, primarily in Zimbabwe and Thailand.
I was born in Burlingame, CA and attended parochial elementary school and public middle and high schools. My mom was a public school teacher. I graduated from UCLA and Harvard Business School. I live in Los Angeles with my wife, Mae, and my son Mason.
How did you come to be a strong advocate for Charter Schools?
First and foremost I’m an advocate for every kid having access to a quality education. Charter schools are one of the ways the state can provide that. At Green Dot Public Charter Schools I saw that charters can be highly effective at providing quality educational opportunities. Charter schools can offer parents alternatives and allow local communities to create schools with substantial flexibility from the California Education Code. If run effectively, Charter schools can serve as good examples of the innovations in teaching and learning that can occur when schools have more flexibility. As superintendent I will work to ensure that the best practices are shared from charters to traditional schools and vice versa. I’m a strong advocate for children and for public education. I believe that a quality education is not a privilege for the few, but is every child’s right.
For those who may not be too familiar, please explain the significance of the ‘Parent Trigger Law’
California’s Parent Trigger law allows parents of students who attend persistently low performing schools and are unsatisfied with them to force the district to take action through community organizing. It gives parents several options, including bringing in different leadership, a whole new staff, or bringing in a non-profit charter school operator of their choice to take over and transform the school. The most important part of the law is not these options specifically; rather, it is giving organized parents real power and leverage to force the district to deal with them rather than ignore them. I’ll be an independent advocate for parents and students and put kids above the status quo, because they deserve to have their interests represented rather than those of Sacramento insiders. I support California’s Parent Trigger law because it gives parents a real seat at the table to force the system to listen to them, and allows them to demand whatever changes they think their children need when the system is not serving them well.
Some of your work was conducted in the City of Inglewood. Did you happen to work with Lawrence Freeman (former Inglewood High School principal) and Nancy Ichinaga (former principal at Bennett-Kew Elementary and former Governor Gray Davis appointee to the State School Board)?
I worked closely with Dr. Freeman- he was a close personal friend and a strong mentor of mine. Dr. Freeman dedicated his entire life to helping kids in Compton and Inglewood. I was very saddened by his loss earlier this year. I met Doc on my first day at Green Dot in 2002. I worked very closely with him on a daily basis for several years. He was a true example of an incredible educator and human being who always put kids first. Together we opened Animo Inglewood. I considered Doc to be a good friend of mine. (Editor’s note: Dr. Freeman passed way a few months ago)
Ms. Ichinaga was an adviser to Steve Barr and helped in opening the first Green Dot School. I didn’t work with her on a regular basis, but I met her and was very impressed with the work she did at Bennett Kew Elementary.
Ideally, what are Charter Schools supposed to accomplish that traditional public schools are not?
Charter schools can offer parents alternatives when they aren’t satisfied with their local schools. They allow local communities to create schools with substantial flexibility from the California Education Code and if run effectively, can serve as good examples of the innovations in teaching and learning that can occur when schools have more flexibility. One of the great advantages provided by charter schools is that they can serve as a space for innovation and change to accompany traditional public schools. Charter schools get some freedom from the constraining education code so that they can be models for new methods of education.
Clearly public education has serious issues that gave rise to charter schools being in demand. Can you identify those issues and how you have worked to address them?
Charters play an important role in innovation and parent choice. However, charter schools are not a perfect system, and with increased freedom comes increased responsibility. As state superintendent, I will aim to facilitate the flow of ideas both from charters to traditional schools and from traditional schools to charters – both can learn from each other. Second, not all charter schools are successful, and we need to make sure the right systems are in place to hold charters accountable for results.
Many critics of charter schools cite data on students, who have attended Animo charter schools you were directly involved with, and challenge your ability to be a leader in education. What do you have to say about that?
I am very proud of the results that the students at Animo Inglewood and all Animo schools have achieved. Our kids are graduating college-ready at four times the rate of neighboring schools. Over half the schools that opened while I was president were identified by US News and World Report as being in the top 8% of all high schools in the country. The data is very clear that the Animo schools and students have been successful.
What are your thoughts on the recent teacher tenure ruling in Vergara v. California?
We are failing our children, especially the 2.5 million kids who can’t read or write at grade level. After evaluating tenure, dismissal rules, and seniority-based layoffs, the Judge in the Vergara case said the evidence “shocks the conscience”- and that poor and minority students are disproportionately hurt by these laws. They have to change. Kids shouldn’t have to sue the state to get a quality education, and it’s appalling that incumbent Tom Torlakson stood with his Sacramento funders over children. I think the Vergara case is a call to action for our state – on issues that for too long have been fought by powerful Sacramento special interests. The first day on the job, I will pull the Vergara appeal and get to work helping kids.
Polls have been released that show you with a slim margin over the current Superintendent Tom Torlakson, what do you attribute that to?
I think it’s very clear that Californians aren’t satisfied with math and reading scores at 45th out of 50 states. They know our kids deserve better than that. Californians are also finding out about my proven track record turning around underperforming schools in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in LA. We know that our message is getting across because the recent independent Field Poll showed that we’re getting huge majorities from African American and Latino voters. People have seen the work I’ve done in Inglewood, Watts, and East LA- it’s a record I’m very proud of. Voters get it: if you’re satisfied with the status quo, then vote for Tom Torlakson, but if you’re not – if you believe that we can do better and that our kids deserve better – then vote for me.
Why are you running for this seat and more importantly, why should voters elect you as our next Superintendent of Public Education?
Religion has played an important role in my life. When I go to church on Sundays, I always hear that serving others and that helping your fellow human being is the most important thing you can do in life. These values stuck with me from a very early age. I originally thought that I would work in the private sector for an extended period of time and then dedicate myself to helping others later in life. However, the more I thought about it, the less this made sense to me. I did not want to wait decades to pursue my passion for helping people. So I left my job in the private sector and decided that I was going to focus on helping as many people as possible lead a better life. For me, success is about impacting the lives of others. I decided to focus on education because it is the key to launching a person on the path to a better life. I have full confidence that if we put children first and come together as a society, we can give every child in every neighborhood the education they deserve and a chance at a better future. I feel fortunate to be able to dedicate my life to something that I am extremely passionate about. Education in California is only going to get better when parents get more involved, both in the classroom and at the ballot box. Parents and students need a real advocate as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.