Show 03 with Micah Ali
In this episode, we talk to Mr. Micah Ali, President of the Compton Unified School District in California. We cover Mr. Ali's thoughts on the role school board leaders play in governance and how it can be a transformational role for improving schools, the superintendent-board relationship, what he looks for in a superintendent, college admissions testing requirements, and much more.
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[00:00:00.000](groovy electric guitar music)
[00:00:01.500]You are listening to the Lead Big Red podcast
[00:00:03.970]from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
[00:00:06.000]Educational Administration department, with your hosts,
[00:00:08.810]Dr. Shavonna Holman and Dr. Scott Sturgeon.
[00:00:12.280]Welcome to the Lead Big Red podcast.
[00:00:14.290]I am Scott Sturgeon, professor of Practice
[00:00:16.780]at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
[00:00:18.450]And alongside me is:
[00:00:20.600]Shavonna Holman, also a professor of Practice
[00:00:23.160]in the Educational Administration department.
[00:00:25.370]And today's guest, we have Mr. Micah Ali,
[00:00:28.120]who is the president of Compton Unified School District.
[00:00:31.500]Thank you so much for joining us today, Mr. Ali.
[00:00:33.740]We appreciate you taking the time to share with us
[00:00:37.950]all the ins and outs about your leadership
[00:00:40.360]and anything else that you would be willing
[00:00:43.760]to share with us today.
[00:00:46.990]I'm very pleased and grateful to be in the midst of,
[00:00:52.010]of two of urban America's foremost leaders
[00:00:56.240]within education and educational transformation.
[00:00:59.850]And so again, it's a privilege and it's an honor
[00:01:01.860]to represent not only my community,
[00:01:04.270]but also to represent my school district.
[00:01:09.690]All right, well, we're gonna go ahead and hop on in
[00:01:11.740]if that's okay with you?
[00:01:14.556]So, I'm going to begin.
[00:01:15.450]So my first question is, your leadership role
[00:01:18.220]in education is very different from that of a school leader,
[00:01:21.810]i.e. the principal, district administrator,
[00:01:24.310]or superintendent, but it's just as important.
[00:01:27.120]Can you tell us what you do in your role
[00:01:28.800]to impact education, students, and schools
[00:01:31.220]across the country?
[00:01:33.630]So, it's very imperative
[00:01:34.800]that school boards and school leaders
[00:01:39.090]at the elected or policy level, if you will,
[00:01:44.580]understand the power and the magnitude of governance,
[00:01:49.310]and how it's a transformational tool versus simply
[00:01:52.620]an administrative function.
[00:01:55.380]And so, in my role as board member,
[00:01:58.530]we do serve as the governing authority over our local LEA,
[00:02:04.980]which is the local education agency,
[00:02:07.890]here in Compton, California.
[00:02:09.580]But very specific to the point is a vision,
[00:02:13.890]a vision that emanates from the board,
[00:02:17.310]and then that vision is carried out
[00:02:20.180]through administrative policies,
[00:02:23.530]as well as administrative regulations,
[00:02:25.580]and other forms of resolution and motion,
[00:02:28.460]which direct staff accordingly, from the board level.
[00:02:33.610]As both of you are aware,
[00:02:34.640]and all your listeners and viewers keenly know this,
[00:02:37.940]we live in the United States of America.
[00:02:40.230]And one of the benefits of that is to live
[00:02:44.090]within areas where there's representative democracy.
[00:02:47.440]You have an opportunity to select or elect someone
[00:02:51.390]who will then advocate and champion what's needed
[00:02:55.810]within your respective community.
[00:02:57.300]If people are pursuing public office and really don't have
[00:03:00.470]an agenda that centers around transformation
[00:03:04.200]and the power and magnitude therein,
[00:03:07.020]that's a significant issue, and a significant problem,
[00:03:10.130]I must say.
[00:03:11.440]But in my own district, what we've done is we've been able
[00:03:14.170]to collectively share goals, visions,
[00:03:19.550]processes for introducing district-wide initiatives.
[00:03:23.710]And then those initiatives have gone on
[00:03:26.990]to bring about improvement within the educational system.
[00:03:34.180]And that's evident by our test scores,
[00:03:38.120]that's evident by the programs that we offer,
[00:03:41.960]the investments within technology, and career pathways,
[00:03:46.620]and early middle colleges,
[00:03:48.320]which are true instruments of equity,
[00:03:52.360]truly brings about diversity within the workforce
[00:03:56.600]and our country.
[00:03:57.433]So again, members of boards have to understand
[00:04:00.580]the power and the magnitude of governance
[00:04:03.050]and how that is used as a tool for community transformation.
[00:04:09.476]Okay, thank you very much.
[00:04:12.060]In thinking about the schools you're directly serving
[00:04:15.000]in Compton, what kinds of information or messages
[00:04:18.040]from the community let you know
[00:04:20.420]that your schools are doing a good job,
[00:04:22.670]that they're doing the good work that you are trying
[00:04:25.790]to lay out for them in your vision?
[00:04:29.100]That's a very good question.
[00:04:29.933]And as a matter of fact, someone would think
[00:04:32.000]that it's a loaded question, but I can tell you,
[00:04:34.160]I never spoke with this gentleman prior
[00:04:35.660]to him asking that question.
So, let me simply roll call,
[00:04:39.290]let me roll call what we've done.
[00:04:43.180]And what I'm proud to announce is that we launched
[00:04:46.140]an Early/ Middle College in 2014-15.
[00:04:49.930]The board passed a resolution directing
[00:04:52.890]the superintendent and staff to come back
[00:04:54.990]with a comprehensive plan
[00:04:57.600]to open a high school within months.
[00:05:01.930]And we did exactly that.
[00:05:03.510]And I must say, this school boasts 100% graduation rate.
[00:05:09.470]This school recently ranked
[00:05:11.020]as one of California's top high schools,
[00:05:13.800]marked number 50 overall.
[00:05:17.000]Now this is a relatively brand new high school,
[00:05:20.580]less than seven years of age.
[00:05:23.430]And for this school now to rank at 53 overall,
[00:05:28.780]And it truly underscores the board's commitment to,
[00:05:32.140]not just educational academic excellence,
[00:05:35.730]but listening to industry, looking at the trends,
[00:05:42.180]accepting what the academicians like you two folk put out,
[00:05:48.450]as far as research, and allowing that to be the compass,
[00:05:51.810]or the lighthouse, if you will, in order to direct
[00:05:56.450]the way in which the district ought
[00:05:58.080]to appropriate and allocate resources.
[00:06:01.770]And so we see this, this is, this is apparent
[00:06:05.760]because we see graduation rates hovering above 90%
[00:06:09.010]in our comprehensive high schools.
[00:06:11.710]We see college and career pathways,
[00:06:13.840]the effectuation of concurrent and dual enrollment,
[00:06:18.980]all of which ensures
[00:06:20.680]that our children are academically ready and,
[00:06:24.930]and career ready with a college focus.
[00:06:30.840]And so, President Barack Obama,
[00:06:34.550]as well as other leaders during their tenure,
[00:06:37.900]talked about folk being able to leave high school
[00:06:41.380]and go right to the workforce.
[00:06:42.590]There are many jobs in America that may not require,
[00:06:46.560]or do not require a collegiate degree.
[00:06:50.620]So why not lean in on infrastructure investments
[00:06:55.470]within America's communities,
[00:06:57.850]whether that be schools or airports,
[00:07:00.220]roadways, bridges, dams.
[00:07:05.020]Many of those jobs require math as a requisite,
[00:07:09.860]the ability to read,
[00:07:10.820]which is why literacy is so critical and so important.
[00:07:13.080]So again, again,
[00:07:15.320]we have receipts to back up exactly what we're doing,
[00:07:19.380]and the transformation that the board is leading
[00:07:21.420]in this district.
[00:07:22.253]And I can tell you this, we're very proud of that
[00:07:25.410]and the results, the results resonate.
[00:07:28.260]This Compton, a district that was once in control,
[00:07:34.870]the state had receivership, it was in state control,
[00:07:37.380]if you will.
[00:07:39.750]To come out of that and to stand on what I believe is
[00:07:45.250]the precipice of greatness, that clearly suggests that, one,
[00:07:48.730]the community has elected good and high quality folk
[00:07:54.730]who understand the need to govern and govern effectively,
[00:07:58.500]govern in a very fiscally prudent manner,
[00:08:03.320]but also to be able to champion initiatives
[00:08:06.870]that will bring about well-being for the children,
[00:08:11.080]as well as enhance their lives.
[00:08:13.280]And so, again, that's what it's about
[00:08:16.450]and that's exactly what we're gonna continue to do.
[00:08:18.467]And we hope others would replicate that.
[00:08:21.500]The school board is not a perfunctory agent
[00:08:23.700]of the superintendent,
[00:08:25.050]or that of any other governmental entity.
[00:08:29.930]The school board has to be directly accountable
[00:08:31.810]to the folk, the local folk,
[00:08:34.740]and be the champion and hold the bureaucrats accountable.
[00:08:39.820]If in fact they stand in the doorway,
[00:08:44.680]they pretty much stand at the threshold,
[00:08:47.200]guarding the order, that can not be the day.
[00:08:50.750]And when you look around urban America
[00:08:52.097]and you see sobering numbers, black students,
[00:08:56.230]brown students, underachievement, many of us say,
[00:08:59.407]"wow, that's so sad," but other of us say
[00:09:02.537]"that's an opportunity," that's an opportunity
[00:09:05.040]for a board to lean in and get down with it.
[00:09:08.720]And so, I believe that that's what has to happen
[00:09:11.020]and I believe that's what we're doing.
[00:09:12.640]I'm very grateful to be in this position
[00:09:15.320]and lead that effort.
[00:09:20.130]So, Mr. Ali, you mentioned earlier about policy.
[00:09:23.380]Some of our viewers of this podcast may not understand why
[00:09:26.430]this is so important.
[00:09:28.070]Share with us why policy is important,
[00:09:31.490]particularly in education.
[00:09:35.850]So, oftentimes you hear people say,
[00:09:37.647]"Oh, the school board is nothing more than a policymaker."
[00:09:40.660]Well, not exactly.
[00:09:44.340]School board members serve as local legislators,
[00:09:49.220]responsible and charged
[00:09:51.300]with managing a Local Education Agency.
[00:09:56.240]School boards and school districts boast
[00:10:00.060]a plethora of policies.
[00:10:04.680]However, someone has to be there
[00:10:07.860]to serve as the appropriator of resources.
[00:10:15.260]And that's exactly what the school board serves as.
[00:10:19.950]Not just someone who drafts policies to sit on shelves,
[00:10:27.270]but people who are actively involved and engaged
[00:10:30.350]within the governance process,
[00:10:31.890]which is a muscle that must be exercised.
[00:10:36.490]And that means that the board is passing resolutions
[00:10:41.030]and motions, directing staff accordingly,
[00:10:42.810]holding folks accountable.
[00:10:44.110]All of that is a part of a policy governance framework.
[00:10:50.040]And so, people oftentimes look at policy as a rule,
[00:10:56.430]or decree, or a guideline
[00:10:58.710]as to how you handle certain aspects,
[00:11:02.340]or the implementation of laws.
[00:11:05.130]But, when school boards provide directives to staff,
[00:11:09.290]then staff will draft administrative regulations
[00:11:14.400]to implement the edicts and the wishes of the board.
[00:11:18.280]The problem that we have, Dr. Holman,
[00:11:21.120]is many board members and many community folks really
[00:11:26.860]fail to have an appreciation of the power and the
[00:11:30.270]magnitude of school boards and school districts.
[00:11:33.937]And many instances,
[00:11:36.140]if a school board wants to build new schools,
[00:11:38.170]what do they do?
[00:11:39.003]They go out to the community
[00:11:40.210]to seek a general obligation bond, a parcel tax, a millage.
[00:11:45.760]Well, that requires the community to be actively involved
[00:11:48.200]and engaged in the process, and for the board members to,
[00:11:51.200]themselves, serve in a governing role
[00:11:55.230]that allows trust to emanate.
[00:11:57.330]Which means you have to become an expert
[00:12:01.130]and have a greater understanding
[00:12:02.740]of how a Local Education Agency runs.
[00:12:04.780]Remember, the school system is not just
[00:12:06.230]about books and pencils.
[00:12:08.400]In many instances,
[00:12:09.300]you're the largest landlord in your community.
[00:12:11.990]You're the largest employer in your community.
[00:12:15.630]You're providing student nutrition services to families,
[00:12:20.370]summer feeding programs.
[00:12:22.300]You're providing transportation to students,
[00:12:24.190]you're providing hotspots.
[00:12:25.780]What we've seen the past year, the role of the school board,
[00:12:29.510]the role of the school district has been far more reaching,
[00:12:32.530]the only governmental entity that rests within a community.
[00:12:37.590]Homes are wrapped around schools
[00:12:39.430]because the schools become the lighthouse
[00:12:42.640]for positive change, becomes the catalyst for which all sit.
[00:12:46.660]People move to neighborhoods because of schools
[00:12:48.527]and school districts,
[00:12:49.980]and because how effective school boards manage
[00:12:52.480]the public's trust, meaning the public dollar.
[00:12:57.000]So, policy is important. Policy is important.
[00:13:00.720]But also, how you govern, how you lead, and how you manage.
[00:13:07.700]And if members of the board aren't doing that,
[00:13:10.350]then I would ask the community
[00:13:14.010]to take an introspective look,
[00:13:16.820]but also consider finding other folks within your community
[00:13:21.310]who really are desirous of driving change fearlessly,
[00:13:25.220]I might add.
[00:13:28.700]Thank you for that comprehensive answer.
[00:13:31.740]All right, Mr. Ali,
[00:13:33.170]I'm not asking you about your current situation
[00:13:35.570]and your current superintendents.
[00:13:36.700]I don't want you to feel like you're on the spot
[00:13:39.770]in regards to this question,
[00:13:40.900]'cause I'm going to ask you
[00:13:41.733]about superintendents in general.
[00:13:43.340]'Cause I know you serve beyond Compton.
[00:13:46.090]I know you serve on national boards as well.
[00:13:49.520]So if we can just for the sake of the answer,
[00:13:53.290]or the question,
[00:13:54.130]separate the community side of the role of a superintendent,
[00:13:56.543]because I know that's a big piece of it.
[00:13:59.210]But if we can separate that just for a second.
[00:14:02.170]When you think about what a school district
[00:14:04.970]should be looking for in terms of a superintendent
[00:14:07.400]from that instructional side, that part of their lives
[00:14:11.040]that needs to be focused on the academics
[00:14:13.700]and the academic outcomes for students.
[00:14:17.320]What are you looking for when you are listening
[00:14:20.340]to a superintendent you met for the very first time
[00:14:22.940]at a conference, when you might've done
[00:14:26.520]or assisted with searches in the past?
[00:14:28.980]When it comes to that academic side of a superintendency,
[00:14:31.830]what are you looking for?
[00:14:35.060]Dr. Sturgeon, let me first say this.
[00:14:38.870]I do want to make it a little personal.
[00:14:41.756]I want to talk
[00:14:42.589]about the superintendent in Compton.
[00:14:45.600]What we were looking for some eight to nine years ago,
[00:14:49.950]and he's been here a quite a long time,
[00:14:53.300]and this guy is doing a phenomenal job.
[00:14:55.570]Number one, he's unflappable.
[00:14:57.622](laughing) It's very important.
[00:15:02.680]And let me just talk a little colloquial, here.
[00:15:07.150]He understands that the school board is
[00:15:09.780]a governing authority elected by the people in the community
[00:15:14.410]and he subordinates.
[00:15:17.430]That's a problem for many superintendents, subordination.
[00:15:23.070]And what happens is, boards change.
[00:15:26.466]And when the boards change,
[00:15:27.750]well then guess what happens to the superintendent?
[00:15:30.490]You're a contracted employee.
[00:15:31.810]You're a selected, not elected.
[00:15:37.225]And so, we also were looking for a superintendent
[00:15:39.530]who understood finance.
[00:15:41.330]If you do not understand budget,
[00:15:43.980]school finance in particular,
[00:15:45.970]then how can you pay for the academic program?
[00:15:51.060]We were looking for somebody who understood, at the time,
[00:15:56.010]the difference between leadership, management,
[00:16:07.560]Lot of folks wanna supervise.
[00:16:10.340]Lot of folks wanna manage, but Thomas Paine said it best,
[00:16:14.330]you lead, or get outta the way.
[00:16:18.250]And so in many instances,
[00:16:21.330]what you have is somebody who manages at the granular level.
[00:16:25.920]This top level of management
[00:16:27.680]that superintendents are utilizing
[00:16:31.990]around the country serves absolutely no purpose.
[00:16:36.260]The superintendent has to be someone not afraid
[00:16:40.210]of engaging community,
[00:16:43.160]not afraid of walking into a classroom
[00:16:46.490]and being able to replicate elements
[00:16:49.020]of the instructional guide that may be before a teacher,
[00:16:55.280]understanding what a pacing guide is,
[00:17:00.650]understanding when a vendor's coming in to pitch a proposal
[00:17:06.440]to build a high school, looking at encroachment,
[00:17:10.370]the core relationship between special education
[00:17:12.420]and transportation costs.
[00:17:16.270]You hire an architect, superintendent now becomes the leader
[00:17:19.240]of the school bond.
[00:17:20.600]The superintendent wears many hats, many hats.
[00:17:25.700]And oftentimes, because school boards aren't set up to be
[00:17:30.000]that of a board of supervisors, or a county commission,
[00:17:34.130]if you will, where department heads all report to the board,
[00:17:38.330]the superintendent has to understand at minimum,
[00:17:43.200]at minimum, the top and the middle,
[00:17:46.080]to be able to make certain that the bottom,
[00:17:48.620]the bottom's not playing any games with the finance,
[00:17:51.550]and/or sliding contracts to their friends,
[00:17:54.930]any of the other nefarious things
[00:17:56.740]that transpire within school systems in America.
[00:18:00.890]And so what I tell school boards
[00:18:02.260]when looking for a superintendent,
[00:18:05.009]it's not a beauty pageant.
[00:18:08.180]I mean, you want somebody who's been tried and tested.
[00:18:14.080]You want somebody who's walked through the fire
[00:18:17.140]and they're now still.
[00:18:18.270]Now I'm not talking about a panacea here.
[00:18:21.440]What I'm saying is,
[00:18:23.650]the superintendent's attitude will determine
[00:18:25.830]the altitude of the system,
[00:18:29.210]how the superintendent can get along.
[00:18:32.760]You come into California where there's
[00:18:34.210]a strong union presence,
[00:18:37.960]our teachers are gonna have a tremendous amount of weight,
[00:18:40.110]the classified unions, tremendous amount of weight.
[00:18:43.640]This is a collaborative exercise.
[00:18:46.430]This is not a dictatorial relationship.
[00:18:50.113]This is not totalitarianism.
[00:18:53.130]This is a collaborative environment where
[00:18:56.120]all ought to be respected.
[00:18:58.452]And in these school systems where you have that,
[00:19:02.490]many times you have folks who've been
[00:19:04.490]in the system 30 years.
[00:19:05.650]They will wait the superintendent out
[00:19:08.616]because they have witnessed many come and go.
[00:19:11.360]And so, don't be razzled and dazzled by the degrees
[00:19:19.850]or whether they published.
[00:19:21.810]We're not hiring Dr. Holman or Dr. Sturgeon,
[00:19:25.620]we're hiring somebody to lead the school system.
[00:19:29.690]We're not hiring Walter Cronkite.
[00:19:32.620]We're not hiring a US Senator, right, Katie Couric,
[00:19:38.280]we're not hiring a personality,
[00:19:41.500]we're not hiring an entertainer.
[00:19:44.240]You're hiring somebody who understands the power
[00:19:49.190]that a school district has with shifting the trajectory
[00:19:53.780]of a community.
[00:19:57.037]And many times there's superintendents
[00:19:58.510]who do amass star power.
[00:20:02.260]But I would ask you, kick the tires, look under the hood,
[00:20:10.650]look at those subgroups and see how well they're performing.
[00:20:13.430]And then ask the questions.
[00:20:15.250]All of the fancy presentations, reports,
[00:20:21.040]that have been proffered by a district or a superintendent
[00:20:23.950]prior to seeking the employment.
[00:20:28.680]Let's look at what has really transpired.
[00:20:32.100]And so, again, again, I'm pro-school board,
[00:20:36.970]I'm pro- strong, strong school board.
[00:20:41.850]I'm pro-school board governance, because I'm pro-community.
[00:20:46.970]And anytime we can send a representative to DC,
[00:20:50.260]we could change them out every two years, if we so desire,
[00:20:53.680]what we're saying is, this person will represent us
[00:20:57.350]and they will carry the mantle on our behalf.
[00:21:00.260]And then the school board says,
[00:21:01.757]"I'm now gonna give you, Mr. or Ms. Superintendent,
[00:21:10.070]I'm gonna give you the keys.
[00:21:11.690]I need you to keep it steady
[00:21:13.920]and know when to go and know when to slow."
[00:21:17.270]And so, when I've helped boards
[00:21:19.970]around the country assess their desires
[00:21:24.910]for a new superintendent,
[00:21:27.460]I'm always encouraged by those
[00:21:29.200]who ask superintendent candidates, or the aspirants,
[00:21:35.210]if you will, the tough questions.
[00:21:38.700]The tough question...
[00:21:40.617]Very basic question:
[00:21:42.397]"Our middle schools are sagging and rather anemic.
[00:21:45.870]What is your plan?"
[00:21:49.983]You know what my superintendent came back and said?
[00:21:53.217]"We really ought to consider overhauling secondary education
[00:21:59.710]and looking at a multitude of various modalities
[00:22:05.930]that can provide positive change.
[00:22:09.240]And if we fail, guess what we'll do?
[00:22:11.040]We'll go back to the drawing board and we'll try again.
[00:22:14.360]We believe we have the right recipe today.
[00:22:17.040]Working collaboratively with the superintendent,
[00:22:21.160]we introduced the resurrection of a K-8 construct
[00:22:26.600]where the staff is now able to focus
[00:22:30.570]on maximizing instructional minutes
[00:22:32.620]and increasing instructional time on task.
[00:22:36.960]The various options for high school, career pathways,
[00:22:42.140]as I've stated earlier, early colleges, et cetera,
[00:22:45.140]list goes on and on."
[00:22:48.350]This is what I call a visionary.
[00:22:51.470]We don't need a pontificator,
[00:22:53.790]let that be for the elected folks.
[00:22:58.170]But, when you're talking about driving
[00:23:01.820]an urban school system, anywhere in America,
[00:23:05.950]with all of the intractable issues that persist,
[00:23:10.460]the community's looking for leadership
[00:23:14.810]and the board's looking to bring in somebody
[00:23:18.020]who can provide management.
[00:23:20.450]And being a manager
[00:23:21.470]and being a supervisor are two different things,
[00:23:25.080]and not one and the same.
And, you know, pardon my
[00:23:31.240]my, secure rant here, you know, it...
[00:23:34.810]But, I'm very passionate about the work of school boards
[00:23:42.280]because I've witnessed in my own community.
[00:23:46.070]There's infamy, there's mystery, there's intrigue.
[00:23:53.220]When you mention Compton, it evokes the invocation.
[00:23:59.690]What it evokes, depending on where you are in the country,
[00:24:06.723]But what I know it to be is a community
[00:24:09.720]that is intimately involved
[00:24:14.976]with raising up future generations through the work
[00:24:20.060]that we're doing here at the Compton Unified School District
[00:24:21.767]and that work can also, easily be replicated.
[00:24:26.860]If boards, to your point, Dr. Sturgeon,
[00:24:28.400]if boards understand what to look for
[00:24:31.490]when hiring a new superintendent.
[00:24:37.540]Okay. So I agree with everything that you said,
[00:24:39.470]except for one statement, when you said,
[00:24:41.717]"we're not looking for a Dr. Holman or a Dr. Sturgeon."
[00:24:44.945]I mean, I will have to disagree with you,
[00:24:45.890]as we are both practitioners and have both worked
[00:24:48.410]and led in urban school districts.
[00:24:50.160]So, you could be looking
[00:24:51.430]for a Dr. Holman or a Dr. Sturgeon, just FYI.
[00:24:56.200]Well, you know what?
[00:24:57.033]Let me just say this, let me say this.
[00:24:58.470]I really do believe, Dr. Sturgeon, I think, Dr. Holman,
[00:25:03.350]I'll have to consider, at some point in time,
[00:25:05.720]looking at school superintendency,
[00:25:08.630]perhaps not in Omaha, but somewhere in America.
[00:25:12.860]Because again, what folks are looking for,
[00:25:17.830]people who understand the application, the practical side,
[00:25:24.830]the curriculum and instruction design.
[00:25:27.430]I look at that as almost like a mixologist.
[00:25:30.874]You know, how do you take a little of this curriculum,
[00:25:34.150]a little of that curriculum, these supplementals,
[00:25:37.530]or these pacing guides,
[00:25:38.780]or this new technological advancement to iPads,
[00:25:43.160]or whatever the case may be.
[00:25:44.327]And how then do we allow that to enhance
[00:25:51.200]the learning environment,
[00:25:53.090]thus ensuring the children are academically nourished.
[00:25:57.480]You guys both might could do a tag team.
[00:26:00.147](laughing) Well, I liked the, I liked the point
[00:26:02.550]about kicking the tires, right?
[00:26:04.080]Go beyond the performance of a public interview,
[00:26:08.000]go beyond the performance of somebody selling themselves,
[00:26:12.180]and get into some of the details
[00:26:15.340]behind successes and failures that somebody's had
[00:26:18.480]when it comes to being a leader
[00:26:20.880]at whatever level they were prior to coming
[00:26:23.330]to a school district as a candidate, so.
[00:26:27.149]Well, let me say this, Dr. Sturgeon.
[00:26:28.980]I like the irregular, not the artificial.
[00:26:33.330]I like the irregular.
[00:26:37.680]I'm not afraid of a little controversy.
[00:26:39.150]If you're telling me you were fired
[00:26:41.910]because you did the right thing for children,
[00:26:45.640]you may have a home somewhere
[00:26:47.600]in an American school district.
[00:26:49.290]You tell me you were fired because you fought,
[00:26:53.780]you fought against some outside force
[00:26:58.860]who was interested in taking over your school
[00:27:02.750]through some parent trigger initiative,
[00:27:08.510]you gonna have a home somewhere in America.
[00:27:11.350]Now, now, if you're telling me
[00:27:13.630]that all children can, can succeed.
[00:27:18.310]And I know this to be true because I read a book on a plane.
[00:27:24.370]I took out a napkin and scratched out some theory,
[00:27:28.360]or I was listening to a speaker
[00:27:31.600]and a speaker pricked my heart, and there was some epiphany.
[00:27:34.670]No, no, no, no, no.
[00:27:36.336]I think people these days, people want receipts.
[00:27:39.860]People are incredulous and they also can sniff out frauds.
[00:27:47.160]So, as superintendents move through these various programs,
[00:27:53.103]build some relationships, build some relationships,
[00:27:56.153]let people see your work.
[00:27:59.660]As my teacher would say in third grade, "show your math."
[00:28:09.193]as a leader in your school district and across the country,
[00:28:12.250]tell us about one of your greatest accomplishments
[00:28:14.730]and/or decisions that you have made,
[00:28:17.110]that has impacted either you or, excuse me,
[00:28:20.460]your students directly, or a nationwide impact.
[00:28:26.240]Well, another phenomenal question.
[00:28:31.690]I'll say this.
[00:28:37.220]And it's something that, actually, it moves me.
[00:28:39.180]I'm viscerally moved
[00:28:40.910]by the Compton Unified School District's critical role,
[00:28:44.610]the critical role played in the lawsuit
[00:28:49.220]that ultimately phased out the use of the SAT and ACT
[00:28:56.390]within the UC admissions, the removal as a factor,
[00:29:01.440]as a factor.
[00:29:02.970]And this decision was recently announced.
[00:29:06.960]And I'm very, very, very proud of that.
[00:29:11.020]The ability to dismantle a barrier,
[00:29:14.630]to dismantle a barrier that deals with equity...
[00:29:21.580]See, people talk, right?
[00:29:23.350]We go back to governance as a muscle, people talk,
[00:29:28.360]but you have to exercise that muscle,
[00:29:30.990]and equity and inclusion and diversity,
[00:29:33.480]all of that must be effectuated and exercised
[00:29:36.210]because if not, it is simple bloviation.
[00:29:39.530]The coalition built around the SAT/ACT lawsuit,
[00:29:52.450]The work that grassroots folks put in, community folk,
[00:29:57.160]because everybody knew, hey, we've always known
[00:29:59.443]that the SAT and the ACT provided a competitive advantage
[00:30:05.930]for the affluent who can afford test prep,
[00:30:13.020]who can afford test prep center.
[00:30:14.170]You cannot afford test prep,
[00:30:16.150]so then what we're saying is that the SAT and the ACT
[00:30:22.040]ought to weigh more?
[00:30:25.380]Those are not predictive values with respect to success
[00:30:33.160]You know what is?
[00:30:34.080]The grade point average, the old GPA.
[00:30:38.440]And you're telling me that a student that's performed
[00:30:41.217]and has reached the level of a 3.5 and above,
[00:30:46.180]and they do bad on the SAT
[00:30:47.125]because that child is undocumented.
[00:30:53.773]And many of the words on that test, they never heard before.
[00:30:56.510]Their parents have never utilized such language.
[00:30:59.320]Or you are in urban America or rural America,
[00:31:03.040]you could be in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania,
[00:31:07.890]or Compton, California.
[00:31:09.950]And at home, where folks are not utilizing
[00:31:13.710]such academic vernacular, and you ought to be barred
[00:31:18.880]from attending and participating in a collegic experience?
[00:31:23.960]Absolutely, unequivocally, not.
[00:31:27.870]That body of work, in and of itself, serves as a capstone,
[00:31:33.690]a capstone of what I call the effectuation of governance
[00:31:40.110]and how you put policy into play.
[00:31:45.280]The court system in our country,
[00:31:48.170]one of the marvels of our phenomenal nation,
[00:31:54.920]there's some people win, and some people lose.
[00:31:58.030]But when you go in with the power of the community,
[00:32:01.720]grassroots folk converging on an issue
[00:32:09.200]that has disallowed many.
[00:32:12.460]I mean, what a day of rejoice!
[00:32:15.150]And there'll be many students and many families
[00:32:18.090]who will rejoice.
[00:32:19.730]We're talking about high-performing students.
[00:32:22.808]We're not, we're not talking about somebody with a 2.0,
[00:32:25.821]gonna walk into UCLA, or UC Riverside,
[00:32:30.780]or UC Davis, or UC Irvine.
[00:32:35.630]We're talking about children
[00:32:36.910]who've exhibited themselves and have been exemplar
[00:32:40.820]within their high school academic journey.
[00:32:44.010]They ought to have a seat.
[00:32:45.320]And that, my friends, that will then begin
[00:32:49.090]to take hold across the country.
[00:32:50.880]Watch, watch the movement, watch the movement begin.
[00:32:56.410]It will head east.
[00:32:59.140]Now we'll see more collegic institutions
[00:33:02.340]reverse decisions or abandon
[00:33:06.210]such tests that have been nothing more than barriers for
[00:33:09.230]many students in this country.
[00:33:13.120]Thank you very much.
[00:33:14.987]All right, now we're gonna get into what I know,
[00:33:17.900]at one point in time, and I'm sure it still is today,
[00:33:20.470]one of Dr. Holman's favorite thing,
[00:33:22.270]which was visiting her schools.
[00:33:24.260]So I happened to be a principal in the past
[00:33:27.340]at one of Dr. Holman's schools, and she would visit.
[00:33:32.950]And, what I kinda wanna hear from you, Mr. Ali is,
[00:33:38.260]when you go to a school,
[00:33:39.980]what is it that you're hoping that you're seeing?
[00:33:42.550]And I'm not saying, this is go back to that,
[00:33:44.430]that performance piece,
[00:33:47.010]'cause she didn't tell me she was coming.
[00:33:49.560]She was in the building.
[00:33:50.540]She was talking to her old teaching buddies
[00:33:52.390]and things like that.
[00:33:53.440]So it wasn't, it wasn't special events or ceremonies
[00:33:57.870]or anything like that.
[00:33:59.260]But it's, when you just visit a school,
[00:34:01.470]when you're in your school district
[00:34:03.230]and you're visiting a school,
[00:34:04.720]what is it that you're hoping to see
[00:34:06.050]when you're walking through the door?
[00:34:12.400]it's as if I wrote these questions myself.
But I didn't, did I?
[00:34:18.540]Very good friend of mine and a mentor,
[00:34:20.260]I consider her family, Dolores Davis Holmes,
[00:34:24.430]once served as a principal,
[00:34:27.960]ultimately retiring from the Compton Unified School District
[00:34:31.880]as an associate superintendent.
[00:34:36.900]A cerebral woman, dedicated her life
[00:34:43.020]to the Compton Unified School District,
[00:34:47.160]led the regional Gifted and Talented Education Program
[00:34:52.940]during her tenure.
[00:34:55.240]But one thing she would say when she would visit schools,
[00:34:58.710]the first thing she taught me to look at, she espoused this,
[00:35:07.690]The baseboards are not clean,
[00:35:11.590]somebody's not doing their job.
[00:35:14.760]And oftentimes, a filthy school means
[00:35:17.930]that we do not love children.
[00:35:23.110]This environment, the environment that we prepare
[00:35:26.900]for children, for students, ought to be welcoming.
[00:35:33.220]It ought to be a safe haven.
[00:35:35.110]For many children in urban America,
[00:35:37.490]intractable poverty envelops them.
[00:35:45.290]They're coming to school, and that environment ought
[00:35:49.780]to be safe, nurturing, warm, welcoming,
[00:35:56.120]the food ought to be hot.
[00:35:59.370]And in y'all's case, I say y'all as a colloquialism,
[00:36:03.275]in Omaha, the buses ought to be warm.
[00:36:07.760]Those are the little things,
[00:36:11.827]the little things before we even place a rump in a chair.
[00:36:22.590]Paint ought not be flaking.
[00:36:26.810]I'm talking about the same experience, Dr. Sturgeon,
[00:36:31.920]that you would expect from a Marriott property,
[00:36:36.320]a Hilton property, a Hyatt property.
[00:36:40.220]You sit on an airplane,
[00:36:42.750]you don't wanna feel the spring in the back of your seat.
[00:36:48.440]Go to the restroom and there's
[00:36:50.360]a piece of wood holding the door up,
[00:36:51.650]come on for crying out loud.
[00:36:54.370]So, before we get to instructional materials,
[00:36:59.490]and let me say this, remember something now.
[00:37:03.380]Poverty, to many people, is a state of mind in this country.
[00:37:09.500]But let me introduce you to a very novel concept
[00:37:13.030]that I believe.
[00:37:14.847]Poverty's a way of life around the world.
[00:37:20.420]So, we're not gonna walk into a school in Compton,
[00:37:25.970]catch these children without instructional material,
[00:37:28.500]without aides, without hand sanitization, floors unkept.
[00:37:37.450]But in many parts of the world, it's that way.
[00:37:40.490]One thing that many of these teachers around the world,
[00:37:42.660]and I've witnessed this, one thing, they exhibit love.
[00:37:48.070]And if children understand that you love and value them,
[00:37:52.240]they will then rise above.
[00:37:57.000]They will rise above whatever bar is placed atop them.
[00:38:03.340]Raising the level of expectation through love and care.
[00:38:08.632]It's the same way we all want to be treated,
[00:38:10.420]from our loved ones.
[00:38:12.780]The level of respect we want,
[00:38:14.590]from anyone we do business with.
[00:38:16.980]That's what children and families desire.
[00:38:18.850]And again, I'm talking from the urban standpoint,
[00:38:21.850]I'm talking about places, and I'm saying,
[00:38:24.670]I'm looking at urban as, not as black or brown,
[00:38:26.820]but as density?
[00:38:30.820]And generally speaking,
[00:38:32.170]those are poor parts of this country.
[00:38:36.120]I was in Baltimore, Maryland talking
[00:38:40.670]to one of the old superintendents, many years past,
[00:38:44.420]he said many students, they're coming in
[00:38:47.350]for warmth, warmth on a cold winter day.
[00:38:54.630]Sustenance, 'cause there might not be any food at home.
[00:39:01.710]This is the American school system today.
[00:39:05.690]This is the American school system today.
[00:39:08.040]Now, we haven't even touched on social-emotional learning
[00:39:14.700]and how our inability to exhibit true care,
[00:39:22.240]love, how that manifests itself as far as how children feel,
[00:39:28.070]and how they internalize.
[00:39:29.960]And we know what that leads to,
[00:39:31.200]we don't even have to go down that path, right?
[00:39:34.020]So, those are things that I look at.
[00:39:37.320]And, I strongly encourage my friends who are
[00:39:41.230]on school boards around the country,
[00:39:43.750]to also consider that, as well.
[00:39:47.350]Facilities, and how well those facilities are cleaned,
[00:39:52.130]Yeah. I love that answer.
[00:39:53.720]I love the idea of how an expression of pride,
[00:39:58.460]through the way in which we take care of a place
[00:40:00.480]that is for kids, and the resulting effects
[00:40:05.097]that that can have.
[00:40:06.610]And it shouldn't be the only signal,
[00:40:09.090]because I think you can see and hear the love
[00:40:12.099]that educators have for the kids, or don't.
[00:40:16.350]But I think it's a great, it's a great,
[00:40:18.980]I walked in the door and what do I notice,
[00:40:21.720]or what don't I notice about a school.
[00:40:23.250]And it's, you know, a piece of pride
[00:40:25.830]in where we want our children to be spending their time.
[00:40:29.100]So, I love that.
[00:40:33.130]So Mr. Ali, you have shared all the amazing things
[00:40:36.050]that are going on in Compton Unified
[00:40:38.830]and all the amazing things that you've been a part of.
[00:40:42.450]What can you share with us
[00:40:43.830]about one of your most challenging decisions or situations
[00:40:49.760]that you've been in, or that you had to make
[00:40:51.710]in your role as a school board president?
[00:40:56.780]Oh, Dr. Holman there's many.
[00:41:04.310]And so, let me think about which one I'd like
[00:41:07.648]to proffer today.
[00:41:12.930]So the biggest decision, the biggest decision always centers
[00:41:21.910]around budget cuts.
[00:41:24.600]Budget cuts, and the reduction in force that has
[00:41:31.070]to then follow as a result.
[00:41:35.740]Also known as layoffs.
[00:41:38.730]What happens in California, the younger,
[00:41:43.830]or newer employee is generally the lowest
[00:41:47.190]on the seniority list, and out the door they go.
[00:41:53.680]When the economy rebounds, those people have moved on.
[00:41:59.710]So now it creates a dearth in talent
[00:42:03.740]and inability to recruit.
[00:42:06.560]Because at one point in time,
[00:42:09.280]during my initial years serving in office,
[00:42:14.160]the state's budget, extremely challenged,
[00:42:20.960]the projection of deficit, the projection of..
[00:42:25.100]'Cause of course, what happens in Sacramento, California,
[00:42:27.240]which is the State Capitol,
[00:42:28.770]that then directly impacts everything downstream.
[00:42:34.080]And if the states receipts are anemic,
[00:42:38.040]then that cold, that flu is felt within agencies
[00:42:45.260]that are funded by the state.
[00:42:48.250]And the largest appropriation is public education
[00:42:56.900]Per the constitution, the voters,
[00:42:58.550]in 1988 passed Proposition 98,
[00:43:04.120]which cements school funding,
[00:43:10.430]it's encased in the constitution.
[00:43:13.410]But when there's a reduction, you have to make cuts.
[00:43:17.800]That's a challenging time,
[00:43:19.070]because when you're in a local community like Compton,
[00:43:21.640]you know these folks.
[00:43:24.460]They're your neighbors, you played Little League,
[00:43:28.640]T-ball, football, soccer, we even have rugby!
[00:43:36.380]And now you have to make a decision to cut their job.
[00:43:38.610]And, you know, you know in your heart,
[00:43:42.610]there will not be other jobs for 40, 45-year-old mother
[00:43:49.090]of two or three, single, struggling,
[00:43:54.560]not enough money in the month, far more days than money.
[00:44:03.230]And so, that proves to be a significant challenge.
[00:44:10.790]And of course, that challenge was assuaged
[00:44:15.020]with the election of someone I admire immensely,
[00:44:20.210]California's governor, who I will say here, will always,
[00:44:26.590]he'll always have a place in the hearts and minds
[00:44:31.960]of folks within the education community, Jerry Brown.
[00:44:37.660]Jerry Brown was able to then bring funding back up
[00:44:43.710]to the pre-recession level.
[00:44:47.480]Now we're not where we ought to be,
[00:44:48.890]but the point is that I never like to leave a story sad.
[00:44:54.000]Happy ending, that we were able to regain funding
[00:44:58.580]and put ourselves back on solid footing fiscally.
[00:45:04.170]But let me tell you this, let me tell you this.
[00:45:09.090]The other tough part was, Compton took
[00:45:11.890]a very fiscally austere position
[00:45:17.880]and we began making reductions, and streamlining,
[00:45:22.960]and reducing the administrative bloat.
[00:45:26.810]We have far, far fewer people on administrative cabinet.
[00:45:32.310]The board, the board took a hit.
[00:45:43.550]And as a result, we were able to save jobs downstream.
[00:45:47.410]We're talking about janitors, and custodial,
[00:45:53.900]plants staff, security guards, instructional aides,
[00:46:01.060]and other ancillary support needed at the school site
[00:46:05.350]in order to effectuate and drive the plan
[00:46:10.390]and the edict as set forth by the board.
[00:46:12.480]Back to governance, that is a muscle.
[00:46:16.280]We exercise the muscle, all of us become strong.
[00:46:20.260]And so, those were challenging days,
[00:46:23.210]but those days all turn into sunny days.
[00:46:29.660]And while we don't have the kind of money
[00:46:33.810]that school districts in the Northeast boasts per ADA,
[00:46:39.830]per student, we're able to do well because we made
[00:46:45.000]the right decisions many years past.
[00:46:51.387]All right, this is a question I ask every guest.
[00:46:55.140]It's stolen from the podcaster Tim Ferriss.
[00:46:57.930]And that is, what book do you gift
[00:47:01.250]or give to folks most often?
[00:47:08.980]Hmm, well I give a lot of books out.
[00:47:16.230]I give a lot of books out, and I will,
[00:47:19.640]I will tell you one, I'll tell you one in particular.
[00:47:27.330]I just need to, so, one in particular is,
[00:47:31.170]I like to give away, is one by Dr. Ivan Van Sertima,
[00:47:35.947]"They Came Before Columbus."
[00:47:38.660]It's a heavy read, it's a very thick, very thick book.
[00:47:44.480]I'm really big into understanding, you know,
[00:47:47.790]aspects of the transatlantic slave trade,
[00:47:52.250]the core relationship between the Mesoamericans, the Aztecs,
[00:47:57.344]the Olmecs, and that of West Africa.
[00:48:05.090]And this book, clearly this book,
[00:48:08.960]this book nearly nearly cost me a 'C' in college
[00:48:16.020]'cause I'm challenging the professor with this book
[00:48:21.566]and the professor's assertions relative to the research
[00:48:25.780]that Dr. Ivan Van Sertima lays forward.
[00:48:30.370]And so, I've given that book to several people.
[00:48:34.920]And again, I'm quite confident they've shared it.
[00:48:38.580]It is one way to really compel people
[00:48:44.020]to understand and appreciate history, and culture,
[00:48:49.560]but also, how did things come to be?
[00:48:52.430]How did things come to be?
[00:48:55.580]Mexico and the former enslaved had
[00:49:00.750]a very prolific relationship.
[00:49:03.360]And that goes all the way back, indigenous Mexicans,
[00:49:07.310]the native Mexicans, which were very much akin
[00:49:11.910]to that of the native Central American, Panamanian,
[00:49:16.200]and the Native American in the northern,
[00:49:19.440]where we are in the U S.
[00:49:21.410]So again, I'm intrigued by a lot of this
[00:49:23.597]and those relationships.
[00:49:26.380]And there's pyramids in Mexico, engrossing,
[00:49:31.370]huge heads, Olmec heads with full noses and lips.
[00:49:35.680]And this book underscores significant points as to, again,
[00:49:38.590]how that manifested itself.
[00:49:41.710]And so, perhaps I'll see you one day
[00:49:44.130]and I'll give you the book.
[00:49:46.053]That's sounds, it sounds fascinating for sure.
[00:49:48.450]But I love the idea of you using it against the professor.
[00:49:52.495]That's, that would be my kind of student.
[00:49:55.450]Come on, you know.
[00:49:57.397]Let's bring it and have some good dialogue.
[00:49:59.490]Bring it on.
[00:50:00.590]That's right. That's awesome. Thank you.
[00:50:03.900]Okay, Mr. Ali,
[00:50:05.290]we're gonna go ahead and jump right into the red round.
[00:50:09.850]Dr. Sturgeon, you want to go to get the timer ready for me?
[00:50:11.790]I got my timer ready.
[00:50:15.090]All right, I'm ready.
[00:50:16.530]And so, this is not meant for you to have to spend
[00:50:18.410]a lot of time thinking,
[00:50:20.250]just answer with the first thing that comes to your mind.
[00:50:22.650]Nothing that should be embarrassing of,
[00:50:25.280]anything of that nature.
[00:50:28.670]Okay. Water or coffee?
[00:50:34.250]Sleep in or work?
[00:50:38.020]First class or coach?
[00:50:42.820]Now or later?
[00:50:46.660]Movie or documentary?
[00:50:52.260]Your life 10 years ago, or 10 years in the future?
[00:50:56.740]10 Years in the future.
[00:50:59.020]Big city or country?
[00:51:02.780]A country, city, or any other location you have
[00:51:06.300]not visited, but want to?
[00:51:09.243]A country city? No.
[00:51:12.780]Or what other kind of location would you like to visit?
[00:51:14.773]This is not an or question, but, just asking you.
[00:51:17.970]Oh, you said, I thought you meant country
[00:51:20.270]in the sense of like country, foreign land?
[00:51:22.405]You mean out of the, oh, absolutely, yes.
[00:51:24.060]Yes. Where, where would you like to visit?
[00:51:28.870]Mm. I'd like to spend some time in Sierra Leone.
[00:51:34.730]Well, thank you.
[00:51:35.563]That is the end of the red round.
[00:51:37.560]That is also the end of our podcast for today.
[00:51:41.880]We truly appreciate you sharing your knowledge
[00:51:45.360]and just all of your experiences of things
[00:51:47.180]that are going on in Compton Unified,
[00:51:49.900]the tremendous efforts that you've put forth
[00:51:51.670]in leading the school board
[00:51:53.420]and leading your school district.
[00:51:54.640]And, just really thank you.
[00:51:58.860]Yeah, I loved the "governance as a muscle,"
[00:52:02.170]and I can see how your viewpoint around potential,
[00:52:08.860]a school board to have positive impact on schools
[00:52:11.260]and the larger community.
[00:52:12.670]That was fascinating to hear your perspective on that.
[00:52:15.400]So thank you very much.
[00:52:18.419](groovy electric guitar music)
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