A former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) administrator and educator filed papers with county officials to run for an open seat on the district’s board, it was announced Feb. 12.
Dr. George McKenna, who was a principal at George Washington Preparatory School in South Central Los Angeles and a regional superintendent, will be seeking to be elected to the board’s District 1 seat. He had hoped to be appointed to the seat after the person who previously represented District 1 passed away in November. However, the LAUSD board voted to have a special election to fill the seat instead.
The district includes the southern half of Century City and all of neighboring Cheviot Hills.
School board officials voted in January to hold a special election to fill the vacancy left by Marguerite LaMotte, who recently passed away. LaMotte’s term is scheduled to expire June 30, 2015.
The vote came after grassroots lobby involving community leaders, ecumenical leaders, education and parent groups, various school board members, and others urging LAUSD to appoint McKenna as an interim board member to finish out the remainder of LaMotte’s term.
However, at a Jan. 7 meeting, four of six school board members reportedly voted in favor of holding a special election in June. Also supporting the election, according to news reports, was Los Angeles Councilman and council president Herb Wesson and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Accordingly, the District 1 seat would remain open until the June special election, meaning the schools covered within the district’s boundaries would not be represented with a vote on the board.
That election will be held June 3, 2014. If no candidate crosses the 50-percent-plus-one threshold, a runoff election will be held Aug. 12 with the top two vote getters.
The “Appoint McKenna Now” website pointed out some “critical items” would be voted upon before the special election filled LaMotte’s seat, such as the 2014-15 school year budget and the iPad project.
“It is a disservice to District 1, LAUSD, black, brown and other students to have Marguerite LaMotte’s seat remain vacant for 6 to 8 months, especially with so many critical items that will be decided in the first half of the year, like the 2014-2015 school year budget, Title I funding, the Local Control Funding Formula, implementation of the Common Core Curriculum, a $6 billion facilities upgrade bond program and the billion-dollar iPad project,” a statement on the website stated.
According to the “Appoint McKenna Now” website, those who supported McKenna being appointed to the District 1 seat included State Senator Holly Mitchell, Congresswomen Karen Bass and Maxine Waters, Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. In all, 118 individuals and groups publicly “endorsed” McKenna’s grassroots campaign to be appointed to the District 1 seat.
A New Orleans native who holds a Doctor of Education degree from Xavier University and a Masters in Mathematics from Loyola University, Chicago, McKenna came to the LAUSD in the 1960s as a math teacher. He also worked as an engineer prior to moving into secondary school administration.
McKenna, 73, gained popularity in the 1980s when he was at George Washington Preparatory School and served as principal. During his time at the school, McKenna reportedly implemented practices to convert the campus from a place of low achievement and violence to a place with a wait list and high percentage of graduates enrolling in college.
In 1986, a television movie entitled “The George McKenna Story” starred Denzel Washington and narrated the McKenna’s work at George Washington Preparatory School.
Beyond LAUSD, McKenna was also the superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District in California and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools in Pasadena, Calif., among other similar positions. He was also invited to the White House by then-President Ronald Reagan as part of a school discipline panel.
Finally serving the LAUSD as a regional superintendent, McKenna retired from the district in 2012.
Currently, he serves as a consultant, advising community organizations and school districts of professional development.
The “Appoint McKenna Now” website stated McKenna supports “an educational system, which emphasizes justice, equal opportunity and non-violence, is the primary vehicle for positive change in a pluralistic and technological society.”
LaMotte reportedly passed away Dec. 5 in San Diego, where she was attending a conference. At the time, LaMotte was the longest-serving member of the current board. She was 80.
In addition to the southern half of Century City and Cheviot Hills, LAUSD’s District 1 board seat also includes Hancock Park, University Park, and Windsor Hills, among other areas.
The LAUSD school board is made up of seven members.