Above, Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian has served L.A. Unified as an educator and top administrator for more than three decades. 

In the wake of Superintendent Michelle King’s announcement that she plans to retire, the Board of Education has voted unanimously to name L.A. Unified veteran Vivian Ekchian – who has been serving as acting superintendent – to the interim post.

Ekchian has been with the District since 1985, when she was hired to teach third grade at Union Avenue School. She has risen through the ranks over the next three decades, working in positions as varied as principal, instructional director, chief labor negotiator, Human Resources chief and superintendent of Local District Northwest. She was serving as associate superintendent of support services in October, when she was tapped by King to temporarily fill in for her while the superintendent was on medical leave. King disclosed last week that she is undergoing treatment for cancer, and plans to retire by June 30.

School Board President Mónica García, left, and Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian join other District leaders this week at Huntington Drive Elementary School.

Following their closed-door vote on Tuesday, board members issued statements expressing confidence in Ekchian’s leadership during the upcoming search for King’s successor. Mayor Eric Garcetti also issued a statement, calling Ekchian’s appointment as interim superintendent a “wise choice” for the District.

As a naturalized Armenian-American –  she was born in Iran to Armenian parents and raised and educated in Heidelberg, Germany – Ekchian well understands the challenges facing students with diverse backgrounds. She was 19 when she immigrated with her family to Los Angeles, where she attended Pierce College and earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from Cal State Northridge. She later earned her master’s degree in educational administration from UCLA and is working toward her doctorate in urban leadership at the University of Southern California.

“I’m a lifelong learner,” she says, “and I model that for everyone that together, we are leaders and learners.”

Early Wednesday, before embarking on a busy day that included briefings on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, Ekchian sat down for a brief interview about herself and her priorities for the District:

What do you recall about your first day as a teacher?
“I recall being very excited and a little nervous. We didn’t have navigation systems at that time, so I used a map to plot my way to Echo Park to ensure that I would be there on time. My first day as a teacher was exhausting, but exhilarating. I remember calling my parents after school and telling them, ‘I’m the luckiest person on earth because I found a job that I love.’ I remained at Union Avenue eight years, and I loved every moment of it.”

What has kept you at L.A. Unified for so long?
“L.A. Unified has become my home away from home. My commitment to our students, families, employees and communities of Los Angeles is unwavering. I can’t imagine myself in any other profession. When visiting schools and clasrooms, I continuously am reminded that this is where I belong. Being an educator is my calling.”

How do you view the difference between the positions of acting superintendent and interim superintendent?
“As acting superintendent, I was already overseeing the day-to-day operations in the District. My new appointment as interim superintendent, with the full endorsement of the Board, provides me with the distinct honor and privilege of continuing to lead the District on behalf of our students, families and communities.”

You said earlier that “there is a lot of work to be done.” What are your top priorities?
“As I lead the District, the focus remains on 100 percent graduation. A key part of my plan to reach that goal is to target early literacy, attendance and wrap-around services for students who need supports above and beyond instruction. And, of course, I remain resolute in ensuring equal and equitable access to rigorous instruction in every classroom, regardless of a student’s zip code or socioeconomic status.”

What needs to be done to achieve these goals?
“It is imperative that we continue to use student achievement data to guide our efforts and to focus our limited resources on the areas of greatest need. We need to reflect upon our practices and change those that are not producing results. In addition, the District must continue to be transparent about our expectations, goals and progress, so that we can all work collaboratively as one unified family to succeed.”

What is your message to the families of L.A. Unified?
“Families should know that, in L.A. Unified, we strive for nothing less than excellence for every student, and that we are keenly focused on preparing students to be globally competitive. Families should also know that they are valued partners in this momentous work. We embrace our diversity and enthusiastically welcome students and families from any and all backgrounds in our schools.”