A grass-roots plan to give Westchester teachers, parents, school administrators and interested community members more decision-making power in their students’ academic lives could be put to a vote by early next year.
In order to be able to gain independence from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a “50 percent plus one” vote is required among certificated personnel and parents of the seven Westchester schools.
Two Westchester area schools, Orville Wright Middle School and Kentwood Elementary School, will decide if they want to become a part of the what is known as the iDivision, or Innovative Division of the school district, on Tuesday, December 11th. The iDivision will function as an independent academic resource branch to assist schools that are seeking independence from LAUSD.
At a town hall meeting at Loyola Marymount University Wednesday, November 28th, Drew Furedi, executive director of the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Family of Schools, and Kathi Littman of the Los Angeles Unified School District fielded questions from approximately 50 members of the audience and gave updates on how the move for greater local control was materializing.
LMU has pledged its support to assist those who want to bring educational reform to Westchester, and held several such meetings throughout the summer in an effort to inform all interested parties on how the reform effort can take place.
“LAUSD has over 700,000 students,” Furedi said in his opening remarks. “That’s a district that makes decisions based on 700,000 students.”
He explained the difference between having a large bureaucracy like the school district in charge of how students perform academically and the possible benefits of having smaller, independent localized entities in control of their own schools.
“The concept of autonomy says that schools should make decisions based on the students in their building, in their community,” said Furedi.
While he conceded that there might be “good reasons” for making decisions for 700,000 students, Furedi said that viewpoint might not be the best approach for Westchester schools.
“We don’t think that’s a good rational that those decisions are always good for our schools,” he asserted.
Littman is the director of the Innovative Division for Educational Achievement (iDivision), an LAUSD department that will function independently of the district and focus on developing partnerships with school communities to improve student achievement. The division will also advise and support schools in Westchester that opt for autonomy.
Littman said that she had heard from other schools within the district regarding the proposed Westchester reform plan, which she took as a sign that the autonomy proposal has merit.
After a rocky beginning, where many of the area’s teachers felt left out of the discussion on possible autonomy from the district, all of the parties affected by this movement are now seeing this educational reform in a different way, says Furedi.
“Once we are able to have a conversation and give more details about what I call this educational renewal, it seems like it begins to resonate more clearly,” Furedi said. “It’s great to see so many people who are engaged in what we are doing.”
Kelly Kane, the president of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation, has been at the forefront of the push for school autonomy.
“The system is broken,” Kane said in an interview days after the town hall. “[Autonomy] is a great opportunity to make a change for the better, because the status quo is no longer an option.”
Teachers at Westchester High were scheduled to attend an information session regarding autonomy Tuesday, December 4th. Janette Metcalfe, who teaches business courses at the high school, went into the meeting undecided about the proposed reform plan.
“We only heard about [autonomy] a few months ago,” Metcalfe told The Argonaut. “Most of the teachers that I have talked to say that they don’t know enough about autonomy to know how they would vote.”
Westchester High certificated personnel will vote in the spring, due in large part to a lack of a clear understanding of what the reform plan will entail.
That was one of the recurring themes at the LMU town hall meeting about the Westchester proposal. Many parents in the audience were also curious about how the voting will take place, and whether they could transfer their children to an iDivison school if their current school chose not to join the autonomy plan.
Kane is encouraged by the progress that the educational reform movement seems to be taking.
“I think that the meetings between LMU and LAUSD have been evolving, specifically because of community leaders who have been a part of this long and arduous process,” she said. Although she believes those involved in coordinating the meetings have good intentions, she feels that at times, particularly in the early town halls, they were too restrictive and layered, and many who attended went away without enough pertinent information about autonomy.
“That is what we are trying to get away from,” said the parent advocate, who has two children in Westport Village Elementary. “At times, it’s been really frustrating, because it seems like a comedy of errors.”
Furedi says that LMU will continue to assist Westchester schools in any way it can, through training, planning, workshops and securing funding for any of the schools that choose to join the iDivision.
“We will remain a full partner in this educational renewal,” Furedi pledged.
Kane thinks that Kentwood and Orville Wright will likely vote to join the autonomy movement.
“Because of the disposition of the two schools, I think that it is believed that they are more open to autonomy,” she surmised. “They were fully informed and fully afforded the opportunity to evaluate what autonomy is really all about.”
Kane said that she is going to her children’s school every day to compile a list of what parents, teachers and school officials want for their school.
“It’s about the actual experience of creating our own plan for autonomy,” she said.
The remaining elementary schools will vote on autonomy early next year.