An agreement between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers Los Angeles will allow school site councils, principals and faculty to be more involved in the decision-making process at schools throughout the district.

The tentative pact between LAUSD and the teachers union, called “historic” by some members of the school board as well as district officials, will grant schools the right to reject principals and teachers sent to them on a “must-place” basis by the district and will place more decision-making authority in the hands of faculty, parents and principals at individuals schools.

“Teachers and parents are uniquely qualified to have a relationship with their school,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said after the tentative agreement was announced Nov. 29.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher, who is in his first year as head of the teachers union, added, “Promising beginnings are a good thing.”

“The Local School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative” will also allow individual schools to waive aspects of the collective bargaining agreement and specific district policies, and will mandate that all employees sign a commitment to work agreement prior to employment at the school.

Teacher Jean Caravella at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista sees potential for success in the new agreement.

“I definitely see it as a positive development that the district is recognizing that positive results can be achieved by empowering teachers and parents at the school site level,” said Caravella, who is the middle school’s UTLA representative. “Schools can best be improved by those who know the school best, care about the school most, and are there every day.”

Grand View Boulevard Elementary School Principal Alfredo Ortiz said the new agreement comes at a very opportune time for his school, which is located in Mar Vista and is instituting a variety of educational programs that the administration thinks will allow the school to flourish.

“I think that this is very exciting news,” said Ortiz, whose school has the longest-running Spanish immersion program in the district. “I think localized control is a very viable option.”

Parents in Westchester thought they had been given a measure of autonomy for school sites and governance councils when the district agreed to a series of conditions in 2007 for the seven local schools that would allow them to make critical hiring and budget decisions.

Kelly Kane, one of the leaders of the autonomy movement, said she hoped that this new incarnation of school autonomy would be fully backed by LAUSD, unlike the case of Westchester local control.

“I hope that Deasy will be more successful about supporting autonomy than his predecessor,” said Kane, whose children attend Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester.

Former LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines preceded Deasy, and according to Kane, initially claimed to be supportive of local control but later sought to dismantle the concept.

“Talking about autonomy is not doing it,” she asserted. “Cortines talked a good game but did nothing to support autonomy in Westchester.”

Mark Twain began a process Oct. 18 that many at the middle school think will give them some of the same autonomies that are being proffered in the contract between LAUSD and UTLA.

The school site council voted with two abstentions to petition the district to convert Mark Twain into an affiliated charter school.

One of the primary reasons for the vote was to give its governance council as well as parents and teachers more independence and control at the school.

“The charter is not just about being able to make more decisions; it is also about fostering long-term stability at Mark Twain, where we have in place programs and processes for reflecting on and improving those programs that don’t need to change or be thrown out every time there is a change in school site, local district, or big district administration,” Caravella, who teaches history, noted.

Ortiz said having the ability to keep teachers and programs in place is essential for schools that are attempting to increase student achievement. “We have quality personnel, but there will be changes due to attrition,” the principal noted.

Kane said if the school district is serious about reform, it should allow the school site council at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester to retain former principal Dr. Kenneth Pride.

Pride, a popular principal, was demoted by LAUSD Nov. 3 after an investigation of an alleged sexual assault between a female student and a male student on a school bus last summer.

Pride was not on the bus, but school district officials took disciplinary action in connection with the incident. According to the ex-principal’s wife, Brenda, LAUSD Deputy Superintendent of Academic Instruction Jaime Aquino told Pride he “couldn’t run a program, was derelict in his duty, failed to carry out his responsibilities and did not adhere to the district’s child abuse and suspension bulletin.”

Dozens of parents rallied to Pride’s defense and students staged a walkout to protest the demotion Nov. 8.

“While Deasy was conferring with the teachers union to hatch this (recent) plan, his deputy (Aquino) was planning to remove Pride,” Kane asserted.

Ortiz said if the contract is ratified, schools will have the potential to charter their own educational course. “This opens up a whole new frontier in parent and school empowerment,” the principal asserted.

LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Venice, Del Rey and Venice, did not return phone calls for comment.

Both parties have until Monday, Dec. 12 to ratify the agreement.

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