Brought up in the very school system that she now leads, alumna Michelle King (MS ’92) is uniquely positioned to impact the same community that helped shape her career and decades-long passion for education.
On January 11 of this year, Michelle King was named superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest public school district, after an historically unanimous vote.
The Graduate School of Education and Psychology alumna is committed to the idea that all students have access to the tools needed for college or career preparation. She has led reforms to increase graduation rates and her restorative justice program has successfully kept students in school and cultivated good citizenship at the nearly 1,000 schools in the district.
Here, Pepperdine Magazine shares 10 facts you need to know about new LAUSD superintendent Michelle King.
1. She is the first African American woman, and the first woman in more than 80 years, to head LAUSD.
“I believe that—as is the case for every superintendent—I have a responsibility to serve all students. I also believe that as someone representing multiple minorities, I can serve as a role model and as a source of inspiration for students of all backgrounds. When I was younger, you didn’t see a lot of young women of color pursuing the sciences. I refused to listen to anyone who believed there were limits to what I could do because of who I was. I moved forward and pursued what I was passionate about. I want every student to understand that no matter who you are or what your background is, you should dream big, work hard and study well, and you can achieve those dreams.”
2. She is a firm believer that the road to graduation begins in preschool.
“Our graduation rates and percentages of students performing adequately in
A-G courses [required of high school students for college admittance] are major concerns. We are addressing those concerns by expanding opportunities for families to access pre-kindergarten programs, taking a hard look at our approach to middle school education, and expanding programs such as Linked Learning— designed to combine academics, career prep, and real-world experience to prepare students for the world beyond the K-12 experience—that maximize the variety of pathways available to students.”
3. She is enlisting the help of the community to ensure that the goals of the district are met.
“Community engagement and enrichment is key. I have assembled teams to develop comprehensive plans to engage community partners and determine the best way to invest our limited resources so that we are maximizing opportunities for all students. By strengthening partnerships with organizations and leaders within communities surrounding every student, we are tapping into those who know their communities best and the unique struggles young people in those communities face.”
Photo: Samuel C. Gilstrap
4. She has made serving diverse populations a top priority.
“Serving diverse populations pushes us to grow and adapt as communities rapidly evolve and as needs are constantly changing. It means we try what has never been tried before. It means we are always at the forefront of what’s happening in urban education, which is as exciting as it is impactful. There is nowhere else I would rather be than where I am right now doing what I do every day.”
5. Her ultimate goal as superintendent is ensuring that every student is ready for graduation, college, and their career.
“My vision is a district that gets every single student to graduation having successfully completed the course requirements needed to be college prepared and career ready. The key is to know where and how to invest to maximize the degree of support we provide. I am continuing to work with our Board of Education to take a deep look at recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel—a team of experts who carefully analyzed our financial situation and provided thoughtful recommendations—and follow through appropriately to balance our budget over the next three years. In doing so, we will help create the foundation necessary to provide the support we know our students need to stay on track to graduation.”
6. She has always been passionate about success in the classroom.
“I was always encouraged by my family to dream big and pursue what I was passionate about. Having been fascinated with life sciences from a young age, I decided to major in biology in college. Soon thereafter, I found that I truly loved the energy of a classroom and determined it would be my mission to become a teacher in the life sciences. Many years later, I could not be more pleased with the choices I have made and am optimistic that we can lead every one of our students on a similar path to success.”
7. She has always been empathetic to the needs of students, even as a student herself.
“As a student, I noticed that we came from many different places with many different experiences and different challenges. I also developed an understanding that what mattered to all of us was coming to class every day, feeling a sense of belonging, and doing what is necessary to perform well in all our classes. As a superintendent, I work every day with our educators to promote high attendance, a culture of belonging for all students, and personalized instruction that builds on each student’s strengths while offering support where needed to overcome barriers to learning.”
8. The school system has changed dramatically in terms of diversity since she first started her career in education.
“A wider range of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences [among students and educators] has increased the need for more personalized learning. What has also increased is the number of ideas about the best methods to use to achieve the best results. Thus, we now have a wider range of schooling models and options available to the families than ever before. I believe this to be a positive phenomenon, offering a great deal of opportunity to find the most effective means by which to provide the personalized learning experience every student needs.”
Superintendent King addressed graduates and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology commencement ceremony held May 21.
9. Pepperdine has deeply influenced her career and passion for service and leadership.
“The University’s commitment to service has had a tremendous impact on the direction of my career. Pepperdine’s focus on preparing you to achieve great things so you are well positioned to help others in need is something that propelled me to where I am now: in a place where I can influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of students every day in a positive way.”
10. She is the best woman for the job.
“I was selected by our board to serve as superintendent because I am an insider. It’s a badge I wear with honor. I know this district. I have been a student, I have been a parent, I have been a teacher, I have been an administrator, and I have been a district leader. I know and understand all of these perspectives because I have seen the world through these lenses. I know the challenges we face and where we’ve been, and I understand where we’re aiming to go and what we can expect on the road to getting there.”