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New Inglewood school district leader takes the helm

Vincent Matthews, the Inglewood Unified School District's new state administrator, got a warm welcome at a reception with parents, school staff, and civic leaders at the La Tijera Academy of Excellence Tuesday evening.

 “It’s an opportunity to build a rigorous, robust academic program for kids and families,” Matthews said as he entered the reception and talked to a sixth grade boy. “Once upon a time I was the young man who just interviewed me, the young people I see as I’m walking through classrooms. Once upon a time I was that young man sitting in the classroom."

The former superintendent of San Jose Unified, Matthews was appointed in September by California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson to head the troubled Inglewood school district. He will draw an annual salary of $250,000.

Inglewood Unified has been operating under state control since 2012. That's when its school board requested an emergency loan from Sacramento to help meet its financial obligations. The state approved up to $55 million, and the district has taken $29 million in loans, which must be repaid within 20 years.

With the emergency legislation, the state superintendent took over governance of the district and is charged with appointing a state administrator. Members of the district's elected board serve as advisors and will do so until the district can put in place better financial systems and controls.

It will be up to the state superintendent to decide when the district has developed a solid financial plan for the future.

Inglewood civic leaders are placing a lot of hope on Matthews’ shoulders.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this school district to be right,” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. told  told about 300 people in the auditorium.

Butts and other area elected officials have been lobbying California Superintendent of Public Schools to appoint a new trustee who can ramp up the school district's performance. 

“And now truly now believe that you have a representative who is going to take you, not only out of state receivership, but take you to the level that we should expect and demand for our students,” said state assemblywoman Autumn Burke.

Matthews takes over from a controversial trustee, Don Brann, who alienated some in the community by requesting a security guard/driver at a cost of $335,000 because he expressed fear for his safety in Inglewood. He later apologized for his "insensitive" remarks. Brann is white.

A KPCC investigation found in December schools in the district were plagued by dirty, unsafe conditions. The investigation prompted a cleanup.

On announcing in June he would be stepping down, Brann said that Inglewood school district's budget was balanced for the first time since the state takeover.

Still, Inglewood schools face numerous challenges, among them dropping student enrollment and academic performance challenges.

It's not going to be easy to convince everyone in Inglewood that he can turn the schools around.

"We’re waiting and seeing," said Chris Graeber, the representative of California Professional Employees, the union that represents the school district's classified workers.

"We hope that things will work out. We’re sort of disappointed that we’ve gone through three trustees with not that much input from employees about who they pick," Graeber said.

Matthews didn’t specify what he’d tackle first. He said he’s taking two to three months to get to know Inglewood and its public schools.