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LA Schools Superintendent To Step Down Amid iPad Controversy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

News this morning that the head of the country's second-largest school district is stepping down. John Deasy has run the Los Angeles School District for the past three-and-a-half years. His resignation comes in the wake of a contracting scandal that put Deasy on the defensive.

We're joined now Annie Gilbertson, she covers Los Angeles schools for NPR member station KPCC.

So Annie, why is Deasy stepping down?

ANNIE GILBERTSON, BYLINE: You know, we haven't heard from Deasy himself. We put out some calls late last night, early this morning, waiting for them to be returned. But his contract stipulates that he is a evaluated every year in October. It looks like this year he may be stepping down before he makes it to that evaluation. You know, he's struggled with sort of the bureaucratic nature that is LA Unified. You know, like you said it's the second-largest school district in the nation and he has kind of got this executive personality. He wakes up at 4 a.m. to go on runs, he's really fast-talking, impatient and sometimes he can be a little bit abrasive, too.

MARTIN: So we mentioned this contracting scandal. Can you remind us what happened and how that ended up affecting his tenure?

GILBERTSON: Yeah. He - this is part of the largest technology - school technology - expansion in the country. Deasy wanted to put a tablet in the hand of every single student. We have 650,000 students.

MARTIN: A tablet - like an iPad, or something?

GILBERTSON: An iPad. Well, that was what the contract ultimately was for. It was for the Apple iPad along with software from the publishing company Pearson. And KPCC looked into this contract, how it came about - and found that early emails with Apple and Pearson executives and Deasy's top staffers, as well as Deasy himself later resembled bidding requirements. There's a now an investigation into that process but Deasy, of course, holds that it was completely fair.

MARTIN: What is the impact likely to be on students with this resignation?

GILBERTSON: You know so there's uncertainty about sort of if the technology program will continue. After the contract questions came up, he canceled the contract and they're kind of reevaluating it. You know, without him here it's lost its biggest champion. The schools are also transitioning to Common Core. I mean, this is really where you're seeing a lot of changes in classrooms in Los Angeles, as well as across the country. He had a vision for that and he's no longer - he may no longer be with us to help implement it.

MARTIN: I mean, he must've had critics who said you know, putting an iPad, a tablet, in the hands of every single student in the district is far too expensive. I mean, this is a school district that's had a lot of economic problems.

GILBERTSON: You know, that was a tension especially as schools were laying off thousands of teachers in the wake of the recession, but you know, Deasy had a lot of successes. Especially when you ask his supporters. He expanded a program for Breakfast in the Classroom. We now feed free breakfast to Los Angeles's low-income kids, more than we do so even lunch. And he's also reduced suspension so there was a problem with students missing class time. He changed punitive discipline policies, you know, working with the school board and now those numbers are way down.

MARTIN: Lastly, any word on his successor at this point?

GILBERTSON: The school board has yet to comment. A top staffer has thrown her name in, but you know, we still don't know. The curriculum's set for the year so it's really more the long-term direction for this school district that'll be in question until they bring someone else in.

MARTIN: Annie Gilbertson. She covers education for NPR member station KPCC, Southern California Public Radio. We were talking about the resignation of the LA Unified School District's superintendent John Deasy.

Thanks so much, Annie.

GILBERTSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.