PEN Center USA Gives Los Angeles Magazine’s Profile of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy an A+

The September 2012 feature by Ed Leibowitz has won the Pen Literary Award for Journalism


Days before the unofficial end of summer, Los Angeles magazine has a new reason to look forward to fall: “The Takeover Artist,” writer-at-large Ed Leibowitz’s September 2012 profile of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy will be awarded the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Journalism on October 14 when the center, whose mission is “to foster a vital literary culture,” hosts its annual awards dinner in Beverly Hills. Author Joan Didion will receive a lifetime achievement prize at the event. 

After his story was published, Leibowitz opened up about the experience of profiling Deasy—an assignment that required him to follow the superintendent for an entire school year—in a Q&A with Los Angeles magazine executive editor Matthew Segal. Asked what he would take away from the story, Leibowitz pointed to the school district’s resistance to change and Deasy’s style of leadership. “What impacted me most is how the LAUSD is a system incapable of being moved, that if anyone tries to change it in any major way, it will budge just enough to crush the would-be change agent and then go back to being inert. And still, knowing the outcome, so many adults decide that, for their students’ sakes, they have to get in the way,” said Leibowitz. “Deasy is arguably the district’s leading change agent, and I admire his commitment and, to a degree, his impossible dreams as well…. I do hope the superintendent will realize how much he and [the teachers and principals] who work under him have in common, even if they fall behind the 100 percent standard of excellence he has set as his own bar.”

RELATED: More Los Angeles magazine PEN Literary Award Winning Articles:
A Shot in the Dark (January 2009) by Mary Melton
The Test of Their Lives ( May 2007) by Jesse Katz

Plus: More award-winning stories from Los Angeles magazine

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  • Linda Johnson

    Yes, this was an excellent article. I well remember the part where Deasy describes his few years as a teacher and then says something to this effect: “I knew teaching wouldn’t be enough for me. I wanted more.”

    And right there is the problem we have in education in our country. John, Joel, Michael, Bill and Michelle all want to improve education for “those poor children” but none of these people wants to actually teach them. Of course, that’s the hard part.

    This article captured the problem we have in the United States: Teaching children (as opposed to adults) is a job eschewed by almost all men and most middle and upper class people (not enough money, prestige or power). Now that women can go into all professions, who will teach our children?

  • Linda Johnson

    One more point: The fact that “real men don’t teach school” is so deeply ingrained in our society that writer Ed Leibowitz didn’t even pause to question a superintendent who casually let it slip that teaching was not “enough” for him. In other professions, say law, medicine and college teaching, an administrator wouldn’t dare suggest that being a lawyer, doctor or professor wasn’t worthy of a lifetime career, even if he thought as much.

    In EVERY country with an enviable education system, the teacher of any level is revered and recruited from a pool of talented scholars. The job is coveted by both men and women and has the same prestige accorded to doctors and lawyers. Fake degrees are not accepted.

    Yes, this article was excellent but it would have been even better if the writer had recognized the most significant problem with teachers in our country: Many talented and ambitious people don’t want the job. If they do take it, they don’t stay long. If we truly want to improve education for our students, we need a big cultural change. When people like Deasy say, “I like being an administrator, but I did my most important work as a teacher” we’ll see some real change.