LAUSD begins reform process of low performing schools

Parents, teachers and students at Belvedere Middle School in East L.A. cast advisory votes on reform plans for neighboring schools.
Parents, teachers and students at Belvedere Middle School in East L.A. cast advisory votes on reform plans for neighboring schools. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

A first-of-its-kind experiment began today at dozens of Los Angeles Unified School District campuses. Teacher-led groups are competing with non-profit organizations to run 36 new and low-performing campuses in the district.

Teachers, parents, and students voted for the organizations they’d like to see run their schools. Those groups have campaigned a lot in and around the three dozen campuses. It didn’t stop on election day. About a hundred feet from the polling booth at East L.A.’s Belvedere Middle School, a charter school supporter made her case to a Spanish-speaking parent.

The advisory vote here will determine which groups should run five schools in the newly-built Esteban Torres High School nearby. Mary Najera said those campuses should be charter schools. "The kids don’t fall through the cracks, the bad teachers can’t hide."

Teresa Robles didn’t like that option. Starting at 8:00 a.m., she stood a few feet from Najera distributing flyers in support of the plan teachers had put forward. "It's imporant because administrators are going to see that we care about our schools."

Similar voting is also scheduled Saturday at campuses in Gardena, South Gate, North Hills, and San Pedro.

Many people who turned out to vote described their neighborhood schools as civic landmarks. That’s how Eugene Tate regards Hillcrest Elementary in Baldwin Hills. "We used to play football out here. Butch Johnson, he played for the Miami Dolphins, he used to go here. As a matter of fact he used to live right across the street."

Tate’s kids don’t attend Hillcrest. His niece’s children do. As a neighbor he’s on the voting roster — and he supports the reform proposal Hillcrest teachers designed.

In Hillcrest’s auditorium, Gavonda Howard was first in line with her son for the afternoon vote. "My son, even though he’s special ed, but I want him in a special ed class in normal surroundings and the classroom is small and his teacher is fantastic."

L.A. Unified’s Schools of Choice plan breaks ground on two levels, said Charles Kerchener of Claremont Graduate University. It’s a unique construct as far as he knows, and after a couple of decades of trying, it could be L.A. Unified’s best effort to reform low-performing schools.

"What I saw was consciousness on the part of people who were designing these proposals of looking at student work during the school year, which means it’s not being hung on a test score necessarily."

In particular, Kerchener liked the attention to fine-tuning teaching practices. L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines will have the final say on the proposals, and it’ll be months or longer before educators know if he made the right picks. Kercherner said the proof will be in the pudding, and the district’s just beginning to decide on the recipes.

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