LOS ANGELES — A former Hollywood High School dropout has been hired by the county Board of Supervisors to serve as superintendent of schools for the county Office of Education.
Debra Duardo currently works for the Los Angeles Unified School District as the executive director of Student Health and Human Services, managing a $200 million budget and more than 1,800 employees.
LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King offered her congratulations.
“For nearly 20 years, Dr. Duardo has been a strong advocate for L.A. Unified students and families, especially those facing intense academic, social and emotional barriers,” King said. “Thanks to her innovative leadership and passionate belief in public education, countless numbers of L.A. Unified students have stayed in, or returned to school and earned their diploma.”
The board unofficially selected Duardo on a unanimous vote March 15 during a closed-door session. She is expected to come on board May 15 at an annual salary of $267,788, subject to the approval of the Board of Education.
Duardo has held positions as LAUSD’s director of Pupil Services and of Dropout Prevention and Recovery. She has a personal understanding of the issues facing at-risk youth because she dropped out of high school at 15 to take a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken and was the teenage mother of a baby boy.
When she learned that her son had a birth defect that would leave him a quadriplegic, Duardo realized she needed an education to help care for him, she told an interviewer at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs in 2013.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from Luskin and a stint as an administrator, Duardo was hired as assistant principal of LeConte Middle School, where she was once a student. She went on to earn her doctorate at UCLA.
As the county superintendent, Duardo will be responsible for running schools for juvenile offenders and other at-risk youth like pregnant teens and truant students, and special education programs for other school districts.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education also oversees the county’s High School for the Arts and International Polytechnic High School.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said Duardo would continue important work begun by Arturo Delgado, the outgoing superintendent.
“Dr. Duardo is an expert administrator with years of experience in trauma-informed education systems,” Ridley-Thomas said. “She will bring her outstanding leadership on dropout prevention strategies, restorative justice and special needs education — and she will put students first.”
Ridley-Thomas said both Duardo’s and King’s appointments should be celebrated.
“It is unprecedented, and remarkable, that the two largest education agencies in Los Angeles are headed by Los Angeles natives and women of color who came through the very same systems that they now govern,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I can think of no better role models for our students.”