Two top administrators from Westchester schools that have gained their academic autonomy within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have left their positions, leaving the schools with new leadership as the new year begins.

Westchester High School and Orville Wright Middle School have new principals for the 2008-2009 school year after Anita Barner and Stephen Rochelle, the principals at Westchester High and Orville Wright, respectively, vacated their positions earlier this summer, to go on to other positions in the school district.

The departures of Rochelle and Barner come on the heels of a year-long bid led by Westchester parents and school reform advocates to gain local control of their schools through the process of winning autonomy within the school district.

Proponents of autonomy have complained that the Los Angeles Unified School District’s entrenched bureaucracy is not conducive to a stable learning environment for their children.

Five of the seven Westchester schools voted last spring to join the iDesign Division (formerly the Innovation Division) of the district.

Those schools are now charged with the responsibility of hiring new principals, but beginning next year they will also oversee school budgets and lesson plans, and have more in-depth involvement in how students are educated.

Hiring administrators to head the schools in Westchester will now be the responsibility of newly formed transition teams comprised of parents, community members and teachers as part of the autonomy movement.

Orville Wright’s new principal is James Stapleton, who was the former assistant principal at Paul Revere Charter School in Brentwood.

Stapleton was one of nine candidates that the transition team considered, said Ingrid Lamoreaux, the past president of the Orville Wright Parent-Teacher Association.

“We like the fact that [Stapleton] came from a charter school background, which told us that he was someone that was accustomed to thinking outside the box,” said Lamoreaux, who was a member of the hiring committee at both Orville Wright and the high school. “He also seems to be a very calm person who respects procedures, which was something else that we were looking for in a principal.”

In addition to losing Rochelle and Barner, both schools also lost assistant principals.

Barner, who is now the principal at Van Nuys Middle School in the San Fernando Valley, was at Westchester High for four years, during which time the high school scored well below the state average Academic Performance Index (API) scores.

While the five Westchester elementary schools have scored well on the state test scores, the high school has lagged behind, and the hope is that, with more local control, graduation rates and test scores will increase.

The Academic Performance Index measures the academic performance and growth of schools in a variety of academic areas.

Nearby Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has agreed to become a partner with the Westchester schools in the academic reform effort, and will provide teacher training, assistance in developing guidelines for school governance, help with fundraising and many of the university’s vast assistance possibilities and resources to help the schools in their transition from being under the direct control of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Having to make their first decisions regarding school governance was beneficial for the transition teams, which will eventually become school governance councils, according to Rochelle.

“It absolutely was [beneficial],” Rochelle, who is L.A. Unified’s new director of learning and leadership for the Family of Schools, told The Argonaut. “With the help of LMU and the iDesign Division, the transition teams had the capacity to make those decisions for their schools.”

Fonna Bishop, who retired as principal at Hollywood High School last year, will take Barner’s place at Westchester High. Unlike Stapleton, Bishop will be an interim principal.

A permanent principal is expected to be named at the high school soon, although no timetable has been set.