Officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Loyola Marymount University have officially entered into a pact that will concretely establish an educational partnership designed to advance academic reform efforts for five Westchester schools.

The L.A. Unified school board approved a Memorandum of Understanding with both parties on July 8th which will spell out how the university will work with parents, educators and community leaders in an effort to continue the transition from operating under the auspices of the school district to plotting their own academic course under local control.

The initial one-year agreement will focus on planning and transition in the first phase of a multi-phased initiative. During this year, LMU will work with teachers, parents, community members and other stakeholders to transition into local decision-making models and develop the human capital necessary for further phases of the work.

“This agreement between LMU and LAUSD is a first for public education in the Los Angeles region,” said Shane P. Martin, dean of the LMU School of Education. “It allows for charter-like reform and redesign of public schools from within the district with a unique set of com- munity-based partners.”

Westchester schools, led by a group of concerned local parents who have been worried about low tests scores and graduation rates, primarily at Orville Wright Middle School and Westchester High School, will have five schools that will be a part of the L.A. Unified Innovation Division in the fall. Schools that have joined the district’s iDesign Division, as the division is now known, will work with the university in learning about school governance, grant writing, budgets and improving student achievement, among other things.

L.A. Unified superintendent David L. Brewer, III, who has publicly supported the Westchester autonomy movement, lauded the agreement between the school board and LMU.

“I am excited to see the LMU Partnership move forward,” he said. “It is an excellent example and one I want to replicate in communities across this district.”

Ingrid Lamoreaux, the past Parent-Teacher Association president at Orville Wright Middle School, is also happy that the agreement has been signed.

“I think that most of us are pleased that it was done now instead of much later,” said Lamoreaux.

Five of the seven schools in Westchester voted earlier this year and late last year to join the district’s iDesign Division, which was then known as the iDivision. Teachers and parents overwhelmingly in most cases cast ballots in favor of having more local control over their schools, and although there is still a lot of work to be done, Lisa Rowley is looking forward to seeing autonomy in action.

“Together with LMU’s resources, I hope that the [iDesign Division] will be the answer to many of our challenges and improve how our schools serve all the children in them,” Rowley said in April. Earlier this year, Rowley, who has two children at Westport Heights Elementary School, joined the majority of parents at the school in voting for autonomy within the school district. “I’m sure that it will improve the quality of education and research at LMU as well, since we will be bridging the gap between the ideals of a teaching environment and the real challenges that exist on the ground today at our schools.”

Westport Heights, Cowan and Kentwood Elementary Schools, along with Orville Wright and Westchester High voted for autonomy within L.A. Unified. Loyola Village and Paseo del Rey Elementary Schools did not vote to join the autonomy movement.

Educators must also play a major role in any reform efforts, says A.J. Duffy, the president of United Teachers of Los Angeles.

“Teachers have largely not been included in this reform process,” Duffy asserted. “But now, that landscape will be changing.”

Parents from the schools that have joined iDesign have been meeting throughout the spring and summer months and have formed committees to begin plotting the next stage of academic freedom from the school district, which has included visiting other schools that have implemented similar reform efforts.

Two of the immediate priorities will be the consideration of hiring new teachers and administrators who have retired or were victims of the budget crunch that has hit all state public schools. Westchester High has lost some of its teachers and administrators, and Orville Wright must find a new principal, now that Stephen Rochelle, the middle school’s former principal, left last month to take a position with the district working with iDesign.

“Hiring is one of our immediate priorities, along with determining what our school governance structure will be,” said Lamoreaux. “The process is in place and moving forward.”

Duffy, who has been attending conferences out of town and has not seen the agreement, believes that the official contract between the university and L.A. Unified is overdue.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said the teachers union president.

Duffy, who also supports school reform, said that he will be fully involved in any discussions or processes that occur that will impact the role that teachers will play in local control in Westchester schools.

“I will be very involved, on a daily basis, to make sure that this is not phony reform,” he promised.

Martin believes that the new contractual agreement has a historic component to it that can inspire other school districts to follow L.A. Unified’s lead in the future.

“By empowering teachers, parents, business and community leaders to make decisions at the local level, in partnership with the university, this initiative sets a standard for school reform models,” he said.