The speech, delivered this year at Garfield High School in East L.A., is an annual tradition. The event is part pep rally for the 1,500 administrators in the audience who will begin a new school year on Aug. 15, and part political performance.
Last year, King used the speech to announce that L.A. Unified’s graduation rate had soared from 72% the year before to a record-breaking 77% for the class of 2016.
This year, she did not broadcast the 2017 graduation rate. Instead, King said she would wait for the state to put its stamp of approval on the final figure. She said simply that more than 26,000 high school seniors had earned diplomas, about 85% of their class — a narrower metric than she had offered the year before.
Rather than trumpeting this year’s graduation rate, King emphasized L.A. Unified’s falling suspension rates and increasing success with students learning English, as well as the district’s ever-expanding number of magnet programs.
“We are reaching new heights and we will accelerate our pace toward 100% graduation,” King said.
“The journey to graduation begins in preschool,” she said, adding that the district is expanding 28 pre-kindergarten programs. L.A. Unified also plans to create 10 Korean and Spanish dual-language programs for very young students.
Throughout, King’s speech kept to familiar ground. In the year and a half since she was chosen to succeed former Supt. Ramon Cortines, she has emphasized incremental progress while setting aspirational — some say unreachable — goals. At the heart of her vision for the system’s roughly 514,000 students is the 100% graduation rate, which no large urban school district has ever achieved, and a 100% attendance rate.
King did not address some of the thorniest issues facing the school district.
Squeezed by a growing number of charter schools, a declining birthrate and rising housing costs that have forced some families to move outside the district, L.A. Unified’s enrollment has been dropping steadily since 2003. The loss of students has meant a loss in state funding at a time when the district’s pension and retiree healthcare costs are climbing.
About 16% of district students attend charters, which are…