Navigator Award Finalist: Diane Pappas, CEO Strategic Planning and Digital Innovations, L.A. Unified School District


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Leading the way to recover from a significant IT systems failure.

This is the 43rd in a series of profiles on the 50 finalists for Route Fifty’s Navigator Awards program. The first 10 finalists were from the Government Allies and Cross-Sector Partners category. Finalists 11-20 were from the Agency and Department Leadership category. Finalists 21-30 were from the Executive Leadership category. Finalists 31-40 were from the Next Generation category. Finalists 41-50 are from the Data and IT Innovators category. Explore our complete list of 50 finalists.​

It’s never easy to sort through the mess created by a massive IT failure, especially something as large as one impacting a major city school district’s information management system for students.

That’s the challenge that Diane Pappas, the CEO for strategic planning and digital innovations for the Los Angeles Unified School District, was facing in the wake of 2014’s high-profile failure of MiSis, a system used for scheduling classes and tracking attendance.

It got so bad that three weeks into the school year, L.A. high school students walked out to protest the IT failures, which among other problems, was scheduling students for classes they had already taken and passed or grouped all Advanced Placement course options into the same time class period, KPCC reported at the time. Around the same time, 45,000 students were reportedly missing from the system, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

It’s important to remember the size and scale of the L.A. Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation by enrollment, to fully appreciate the work that needed to be done to fix MiSis and fix it quickly.

According to a Navigator Award nomination submission for Pappas:

With over 900 schools, almost 32,000 teachers and more than 640,000 students, LAUSD required an information system that could handle something as large as the U.S. Navy. Once appointed, Ms. Pappas revamped processes and restructured the project organization in alignment with recommendations provided by a variety of expert analysts. She brought in a different management style—management by collaboration. The success of this project is in large part due to Diane’s leadership style: full disclosure, 100% transparency, and consistently reminding everyone involved who we were doing this for—the kids, parents and teachers.

“[S]he has done an outstanding job in swiftly bringing a challenged system into a workable mode for our schools,” Ramon C. Cortines, LAUSD’s superintendent, said in a statement announcing the Board of Education’s approval of Pappas’ appointment to her position.

The continuing work to improve MiSis has been getting high marks.

“People have put in very, very long hours and done very, very good planning, “ Stephen English, a member of the L.A. City Controller’s executive committee, said during a bond oversight meeting in early September. “This has been one remarkably successful turnaround.”

Route Fifty is pleased to include Pappas as one of the 50 Navigator Award finalists.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

NEXT STORY: Navigator Award Finalist: Tyler Kleykamp, Connecticut Chief Data Officer