Alex Johnson believes the District 1 seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board needs fresh ideas and a new direction. Currently the assistant senior deputy for education and public safety for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Johnson has been working closely of late with the superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education to preserve Head Start in the county’s second district.
“We’ve waited long enough,” he said earlier this year at a campaign kickoff. “We can’t leave a generation of kids behind…every child should have an opportunity to succeed, to graduate from high school and to get a job.” Noting that LAUSD District 1 has the “…highest number of kids being pushed out of school; the highest rate of foster youth of our schools; the second lowest graduation rate, and [the] highest concentration of poverty,” Johnson is competing among seven candidates to replace the late educator Marguerite LaMotte who died in office late last year.
Born and reared in Los Angeles, Johnson has worked collaboratively with education advocates and First 5 LA on funding efforts to increase access to quality early childhood education programs. He previously worked to allocate $1.5 million for mobile health clinics to expand eye examinations, offer prescription glasses and to provide additional vision services to impoverished students. Johnson also helped secure more than $64 million to fund high-quality preschools and has helped obtain about $1 million to expand the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School Program (a California youth probation camp).
Endorsed by Ridley-Thomas as well as Rep. Janice Hahn (CA-44), Johnson has worked to alter the social dynamic that, he believes, begins with a student’s inadequate education in childhood and can progress to a high dropout rate eventually ending with a young person’s future often irrevocably altered by crime, conviction and incarceration.
In working with the New York City Department of Education, Johnson helped access teachers’ instructional strengths/pedagogy and while there served as an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College. His mother, Betty Johnson, is a former teacher with the LAUSD. Johnson attended the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, matriculated to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. and earned his Juris Doctorate degree from American University’s Washington College of Law. Johnson earned a teaching credential as a substitute instructor and has taught constitutional law as a Fellow with the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project.
Among Johnson’s other endorsements are those from former Rep. Diane Watson; former L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke; L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson Jr.; L.A. City Councilman Curren Price; Compton Mayor Aja Brown; Miguel Santiago, president of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, and State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra.
Johnson explained that if elected, among his priorities will be to provide every child in Los Angeles “equal access” to the resources needed to provide a safe and healthy learning environment. “Unfortunately,” Johnson said, “that’s just not the case today. Too many children attending LAUSD District 1 schools don’t have up-do-date textbooks, clean classrooms, summer learning programs, libraries and well-trained teachers. I refuse to except the status-quo. Education is a civil right. I will fight tirelessly for change at LAUSD.”
“We need to focus on better teacher training and give teachers the tools they need to help students succeed. We should bring back counselors to our high schools, which will help kids stay on track. And we need to improve the school climate so students feel safe, supported, and excited to learn.”
The school district can improve test scores and the graduation rate within District 1, Johnson said, by focusing resources on “strategies that will close the achievement gap,” explaining that summer learning loss is one of the largest contributors to the achievement gap. “Another way to improve the graduation rate is to keep our kids in school instead of pushing them out. We suspend students for behavioral issues, we put them out on the street with no support and they fall further behind. We need to focus on positive behavioral support and early intervention programs that keep students in school and on track.”
Johnson believes his experience in advocating for child victims of domestic violence, his work with the Children’s Defense Fund and his efforts to increase the number of kids attending preschool are among the best reasons he should be elected to the school board. “As an education policy advisor, I know what works in our schools, and I will never rely on the policies of the past that have failed too many of our young people,” he said. “I have experience implementing the types of programs and reforms that will reduce the achievement gap and increase graduation rates.”