Last week, something extraordinary happened
Grassroots organizations across Los Angeles organized and fought against powerful special interests and long odds. For one single moment the people of Los Angeles stood together for the simple proposition that we must elevate our kids above our politics. And the people won.
How did that happen?
While the LAUSD still has a long way to go, for the past three years it has been steadily improving in a number of key categories. Under Superintendent John Deasy's leadership, LAUSD students have been learning more, scoring higher and graduating in greater numbers. They've also been suspended a lot less.
But change is hard. Lots of politicians spend a lot of time talking about kids. But a genuine kids-first agenda -- where we make every single decision as if it would literally impact our own children -- still remains disturbingly radical when compared to the status quo.
Two weeks ago, word leaked that Dr. Deasy might be leaving. Dr. Deasy often faces powerful opponents who challenge his independent, kids-first agenda. These interest groups have been working for years to push him out. This was their moment.
During a 72-hour window leading up to the board meeting, parents looked at each other and realized that nobody was coming to their rescue. Parents recognized that they must become the change. So they organized. One mom at my daughter's neighborhood elementary school even organized parents during our annual "Halloween Haunt" festival.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and civic leaders across the political spectrum one by one stood up and stood behind this organic grassroots movement.
United Teachers of Los Angeles, the local teachers union, stood alone -- politically isolated on this seminal issue. Not even other teachers unions would support UTLA's extreme cause.
Following this outpouring of public support, Dr. Deasy emerged from last week's school board meeting with an agreement to remain as superintendent through 2016.
How did community power save the superintendent?
Saving Dr. Deasy did not happen because of the traditional power players: Mayors, philanthropists, unions or any other traditional institutional interest group. It didn't even happen because of Dr. Deasy. He was actively discouraging his supporters -- making it very clear that he felt it was time for him to go. Parents kept going despite his admonitions because this wasn't about any single person. It was about our kids.
If this movement did have a single leader, it was the team at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. They helped to organize this loose coalition of over 60 organizations, and they stood up and took and action when we had very little time or hope.
But there were dozens of other leaders. Grassroots community organizations like Alliance for a Better Community, Community Coalition and Inner City Struggle helped to lead this movement partly because of Dr. Deasy's commitment to poor communities and communities of color.
Parent leaders like Amabilia Villeda, who serves as chapter coordinator for the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union, helped turn out dozens of parents to support Dr. Deasy. Amabilia and other parents worked collaboratively with Dr. Deasy to transform their failing school using California's landmark parent trigger law. Today their children attend the first-ever school where the district is working collaboratively with a charter school to serve the same kids, while also providing free universal preschool for all neighborhood kids. Parent Union members spoke movingly about Dr. Deasy visiting them in the rain to extend his hand in partnership.
Parents waited in line for hours to get into the meeting, even though many didn't get in, including me. They passed the time by passing out "Daisies for Deasy." In one resounding collective voice, the chants from hundreds of parents and community leaders could be heard from blocks away: "Don't be Crazy -- Keep Doc Deasy!"
These are the unsung heroes whom our children may never thank, but who stepped up for them when it mattered.
Under the leadership of Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic, the LAUSD school board listened to the will of the parents and the will of the people. Now is the time for all adults on all sides of this debate to start acting like grown-ups, including Dr. Deasy and his supporters.
Moving forward, everyone must commit to live by one simple rule: if it's not okay on the playground, it's not okay in our politics either. This is not about adult interests or petty political games. It's about our kids. Anyone who deviates from that simple rule, as one mom at the board meeting scolded, we'll have to put in a time-out.
Ben Austin is the executive director of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents striving to improve their children's education. Ben is the proud parent of two young daughters.
Community groups and organizations that turned out at the rally, aided with organizing efforts, or voiced their support to save Superintendent John Deasy's job include: Alliance for a Better Community, ACLU of So Cal, the Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend The Arc, Campaign for College Opportunity, CARECEN, CCSA, CFY LA, Children Now, CHIRLA, City Year, Community Coalition, Communities in Schools, Educators 4 Excellence, Ed Pioneers, EdVoice, Families In Schools, Goodwill of So Cal, Green Dot,, KIPP LA, LA Gay & Lesbian Center, LA Small Schools Center, LACER Afterschool Programs, LA Educational Partnership, LA Gay and Lesbian Center, LAMP Community Center, Lanai Road Education Committee, LA Urban League, LA Voice, Mind Research Institute, Music Center, New Teacher Center, Parent Partnership, Parent Revolution, Parent Institute for Quality Education, Partnership for LA Schools, SEIU 99, Students for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, Students Matter, Teach For America, Teach Plus, The California Endowment, Think Together, UCLA Center X, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and the Youth Policy Institute.