Catching Up with LAUSD’s Mr. Melvoin
By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
Nick Melvoin’s Friday was far from over when he hurried into a Brentwood coffee shop for a 4:30 p.m. chat with the Palisadian-Post.
Half walking, half jogging, he made his way across the street, furiously tapping at his iPhone. He was only 10 minutes behind schedule—a genuine accomplishment that late in the day.
Around half a year into his term as a school board member in the nation’s second largest district, Melvoin spends most of his days on his feet.
He hustles from one engagement to the next, franticly crisscrossing a district that stretches from Pacific Palisades to portions of the San Fernando Valley.
But seated with coffee in hand and phone to the side, Melvoin’s voice was filled with the same engaged, youthful exuberance that won him a bruising election last summer—if also a bit hoarse.
“You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose,” he said, invoking Mario Cuomo to describe his transition from high-profile candidacy to the “sausage-making” of actual policymaking.
And governing has only grown more complicated under the cloud of dual leadership crises in Melvoin’s first year.
Colleague Ref Rodriguez relinquished his title as president but remains on the board while he’s investigated for conflict-of-interest and campaign-finance charges.
Denying all charges, he has a first court date in May.
And Superintendent Michelle King recently shocked and saddened the district when she announced she will not return after a prolonged medical leave to battle cancer.
Both surprise shake-ups have put Melvoin in positions of greater responsibility: He and his colleagues are tasked with selecting King’s successor, and Melvoin became vice president of the board upon Mónica García’s election as president.
As VP, Melvoin plays a pivotal role setting the board’s agenda with García each week.
And “there is no more important role” for a school board than selecting a new superintendent, he said, calling it “a real opportunity … under very sad circumstances.”
The strengths and weaknesses of a new superintendent and their team will have long-term consequences for LAUSD’s direction.
“Where do we want the district to be in two years and five years and 10 years?” he asked.
When considering such lofty questions, Melvoin said he’s grateful for the people around him.
He still resides in Brentwood, as do his parents, who he finds time to squeeze in dinner with regularly. He also credits his team for keeping the ship afloat, including Palisadian primary opponent-turned friend and advisor Allison Holdorff Polhill.
And sometimes all it takes to gain a little perspective is to meet friends at a bar after a particularly brutal board meeting. It may have felt as if the world was watching, Melvoin said, but when his friends cheerfully ask how his day was, he’s reminded that not everyone hangs on his every move.
It would be hard to—he does a lot of moving.
So far, Melvoin has visited 118 of the 147 schools in his Board District 4.
“That’s where you really learn how [policy] translates on the ground,” he told the Post.
When he’s not making campus visits to consult teachers and administrators or help unveil new programs, he’s busy crafting policy from LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Avenue.
He was particularly thrilled with a recent 6-1 vote in favor of his “LAUSDATA” resolution, a step toward the greater district transparency Melvoin promised as a candidate.
It will create a set of online, open data portals with information about factors such as attendance, school-based budgets, test scores and math achievement rates.
“Any data we have, the public should have,” Melvoin said. “You can’t really fix something until you understand what’s wrong with it.”
He also marked a victory in his transparency push when the board voted unanimously in favor of creating an app for the district—one that could draw inspiration from the parent-developed app used at Paul Revere Charter Middle School.
On a variety of issues, Melvoin said Palisadian schools serve as a “bellwether” for creative public school solutions.
The district will need more of them: Looming challenges include a massive budget deficit, unfunded benefits for teachers and the continued debate regarding charter school oversight.
Melvoin has a full schedule for the foreseeable future—but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” he told the Post. “And I love it.”
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