In the middle of Watts, at one of the worst-performing high schools in Los Angeles Unified, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in his element.
As he sat with Jordan High students late last year, he shared snippets of his life story, as he's done during scores of school visits during his eight years as mayor. He was raised without a father, was kicked out of one school and dropped out of another before graduating from Roosevelt High with a 1.4 GPA — because his mother and a teacher believed in him, he told students.
"Do you believe in you?" he asked them. "I believe in you. I believe you can reach for the stars."
No other issue has stoked the mayor's personal passion as much as public education. Despite lacking any formal authority over the nation's second-largest school system, Villaraigosa has left a major imprint.