An Interview with David LaRose, Culver City's New Superintendent

Less than two weeks into his job, Culver City Unified School District Superintendent David LaRose talks to Patch about the district's most pressing issues, the true definition of success and his love of Dr. Seuss.

The office of new Culver City Superintendent is full of hope. Literally. A wooden carving of the word 'hope' rests on a cabinet behind his desk. On his bookshelf is a plaque the shade of school bus yellow, engraved with the phrase "Hope rides again." He says he has high hopes for the Culver City Unified School District.

He comes to Culver City after spending four years as superintendent at the South Kitsap School District in Washington State where he was named that district's 2012 Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. LaRose replaces Patti Jaffe who retired in June. 

Prior to his post at South Kitsap, where he also received the Kitsap Scouting Service to Youth Award in 2011, LaRose worked as a teacher and administrator in Arizona. He has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vermont and a master’s degree in education from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Culver City Patch: How do you like Culver City so far? What attracted you to the job and the school district?

David LaRose: I think it's a great size. It's intimate. To be able to create that relationship with the kids and the community is why I enjoy the K-12 system and the pathways we can create from such an early age. 

Patch: How do you define your role as superintendent?

LaRose: Part of it is advocacy, from a values-based perspective. The belief in every single child, without exception. All kids are capable of success. The other thing that's important to me is the definition of success. Sometimes that's placed on us but I think we should own the definition of success. When I say "we" I think that's the school system, the parents. A successful child is a whole child, that means they are safe, cared for, connected, healthy, challenged and hopeful.

Patch: That's a philosophy you bring with you from your old job. Is there anything that you implemented at South Kitsap that you'd like to try in Culver City?

LaRose: In Washington we had to close gaps of over 20 million dollars in the last four years and during that time we didn't reduce a single program or pathway for kids. We reduced expenditures tied to administration and increased expenditures related to the classroom. I think that's really important, to be strong in your values when it comes to where you invest your resources.

Patch: Former Superintendent Patricia Jaffe was entrenched in the Culver City school community for decades. Do you find it daunting to replace her?

La Rose: It's daunting but I don't think that word needs to mean that you lack confidence…. Educators know the magnitude of their mission. You know that the significance of the work you're doing is impacting lives. I'm anxious to learn about this system and to be able to bring in a different lens. I haven't had a chance to connect with Patti yet, but I'd love to learn from her wealth of experience.

Patch: You're less than two weeks into your job, but so far what do you see some of the main issues facing the district?

LaRose: Being resourceful and responsible is a priority. It's about how we make budget decisions that have a direct correlation with our vision as educators. Also, I'm not the only new administrator in the district, so we will also be very focused on establishing our shared vision and sense of purpose.

Patch: One recent issue was the . Have you explored that issue yet?

LaRose: What I've learned is that the decision wasn't made in isolation, that it was made to ensure we had all day K afforded to everyone in our system. It was a very student centered, systemic commitment. The challenge around relocation was timing…. I've also had the feedback that some people felt excluded from that decision and they're anxious about how this is going to impact them. Moving forward, we'll recognize we have a plan for 2013 but we need to engage families, kids and staff about what the future looks like.

Patch: One of the biggest issues here this year was the . How do you see your role as supervisor in dealing with situations like this, or any situations that involve parents and union officials?

LaRose: It's really how we start the conversation around where there are common interests. How do you ensure that all children get the support they need and that we tap into as many resources as we can to support that? I think that there's also a balance between what the limitations are, what does the law, risk management, policies, etc say. When looking at any vehicle to provide a venue for adults to be working with kids, we need to make sure that children are protected and the people providing the support are protected by a consistent model. We're coming up with language and working on a policy for the future.

Patch: The district recently had an incident with a student and allegedly threatening another student with it. How have you approached issues of violence and bullying at school in the past?

LaRose: The lens that I always try to have about those concerns is as a dad. I not only hear the concerns, I feel them as well.  It's not something you can only address through policies, rules and regulations. It's important that you're very intentional about the learning culture and environment that you create. Kids need to feel connected and care for. We're going through extensive district-wide training to instill that kind of culture. I need to make sure people know I'm open and available to talk.

Patch: So what is your policy with parents? Do you have an open door policy?

LaRose: That's a commonly used phrase. I think it's more important that if people reach out, that you're available for that. I also think it's about establishing visibility way beyond this office. Being at the schools, at the events and not just showing up like 'Oh, the superintendent's here for the day.' It's about being actively engaged in something that is important. Things like environmental and sustainability issues, mentorship programs.

Patch: In terms of approaches to education and the culture, how does California compare with Washington?

LaRose: I think where I find the most comfort is where things are the same. Which isn't really answering your question but that's point of being superintendent, to not answer all the questions you get…. (laughs) One thing I'm really excited about is that from the months of late October to early March, as superintendent I won't be responsible for getting up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning and determining if we have a snow day or not. I'm not going to miss that at all.

Patch: Do you have a favorite spot in Culver City yet?

LaRose: Anything on Culver Boulevard is great. I can tell you one thing my family is most excited about. We love the arts and live theater, so we're really excited about the opportunity to be actively involved in the arts. From the perspective of a dad and empty nester, I also love the location - from the weather to the beach to the arts -  this place has lots of opportunity for exploration.

Patch: What are some things you like to keep in your office? I see you have a table of Dr. Seuss memorabilia. Are you a big Dr. Seuss fan?

LaRose: One of the things I love to do is read to classrooms in full Cat in the Hat regalia. I've always enjoyed that. I find picture books to be very powerful.

Patch: What is it about Dr. Seuss that makes you want to dress up in full Cat in the Hat gear every year?

LaRose: You know, the imagery of my job being a real service-oriented and giving profession is true, but there are a lot of things that I find to be very selfish about it. It's so affirming to be able to have a group of kids around you and to have them excited about books and reading. Also, there's this perception that the district office is a separate entity from what happens in terms of teaching and learning, so it's great to be able to demonstrate that really what I'm all about is the kids.

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