Alex Johnson’s campaign for the District 1 seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board may forge a new direction not only for local schools, but for American education in general.
The youngest candidate at 33, Johnson’s foray into the sometimes messy world of elected office represents a new image of young African American men who are lifetime learners and endeavor to erase the common stereotype of urban disinterest in education.
If he wins, his presence on the school board will run against data collected by the Department of Education which revealed in 2008 that there are too few Black teachers in the classroom. The federal report found that just eight percent of American public school teachers are Black…and only two percent are Black males.
In representing the traditionally undeserved South Los Angeles region, Johnson could reinstate one of the most important tenants of the school day by opening the many shuttered campus libraries which, by now, are in dire need of new books to educate a multi-ethnic population of youngsters who may not have literature at home so vital in developing strong, young minds. Johnson and a new generation of young educators may change that scenario by dispelling old assumptions that young Black men do not fit well within the classroom atmosphere.
“Access to library books is an essential element for student learning, particularly at a time when our community is trying to combat illiteracy,” Johnson said during an April campaign tour of South L.A. Campus library services have never been quite the same since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 because money to for pay qualified librarians was eliminated (as were after-hours gymnasium use, music education and after-school enrichment clubs) to pay for property tax cuts.
Save for former LAUSD Superintendent Adm. David Brewer III, the regulatory body of local education has not seen many Black men in a decision-making capacity. Johnson and veteran educator George McKenna are looking to buck that trend. Johnson is a staunch believer in library services and has said the Local Control Funding Formula should be tailored more toward this effort. California school districts must now submit income verification to Sacramento on each pupil in order to qualify for increased funding. Schools with greater numbers of low-income, English-learners and foster children can benefit.
Johnson said more of this money must be directed toward library services and that they “should be open before, during and after school” to provide the best opportunity for learning. He also advocates more parental involvement and the “innovative ways to encourage it” by spearheading investments in early childhood education and strategies to increase graduation rates. Presently, only 56 percent of District 1 students complete the 12th grade. “Our students deserve a quality education,” Johnson said. “They deserve to be on a path leading to college and a career.”
On Monday, Johnson picked up the endorsement of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters (LALCV). “This group knows that the future protectors and preservers of L.A.’s environmental quality of life are sitting in desks in LAUSD classrooms and being taught by teachers who can inspire and motivate them,” he said. “That’s what I want for every student in the LAUSD. I will fight to make our schools get their fair share of school funding and resources to improve our schools and support our teachers.”