An on-site governance plan championed by teachers and parents has been chosen as the new model for decision-making at Westchester High School.
The new governing archetype, known as Proposal 2, was declared the winner of the election, which was certified by the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization. The vote took place over three days, January 22nd to 24th.
Parents, classified personnel, students and residents had the opportunity to choose their new governing structure from three distinct options. Under rules that had been agreed upon previously by the transition team at the high school, teachers’ and classified employees’ votes counted for 50 percent of the final tally, parents’ votes 31 percent and community and business ballots counted for 19.
The latter group far outnumbers both faculty and parents, so a so-called weighted vote was seen by the transition team as an equitable way to structure the election.
The election was the next phase of a continuation of the plan that most Westchester schools voted to join last summer as they seek autonomy within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) under the district’s iDesign Schools Division. Having created transition and hiring teams comprised of teachers, parents, school administrators and local residents to hire personnel and determine the kind of local control they want, the five schools that belong to the iDesign Division are now selecting the kind of governing structures that they feel will benefit their respective schools.
Loyola Marymount University (LMU), through its Family of Schools, is helping facilitate the transition to local governance and will continue to play an advisory role in assisting the iDesign schools.
The parent-teacher inspired model will include two students and two community members, as well as five teachers or counselors and four parents of Westchester High students.
A single representative from the iDesign Division and LMU will also serve on the board as non-voting members.
Kenneth Tiegas, who co-authored the winning model, was not sure which plan would prevail, but he thought that Proposal 2 had a good chance.
“I think that it will be ours or Proposal 3,” Tiegas, who teaches government at the high school, predicted as he stood outside the auditorium on the final day of voting. “It’s going to be close.”
Odessa Garrett, whose son is a sophomore at the high school, cast her vote for Proposal 2.
“The reason that I chose it is because I would like to have a school with more parent participation,” she explained. “With the condition that LAUSD is in, the more parents are concerned, the better it will be.”
Dr. Bruce Mims, the principal of Westchester High, urged all parties to work in a collective effort, now that a governance model has been chosen.
“It’s a decision that we have to go forward with and take collective ownership of,” said Mims, who was employed by the school’s hiring committee last fall.
Supporters of Proposal 3, which came in second, engaged in an intense lobbying campaign for their governance model, contacting various business interests in Westchester and Playa del Rey and encouraging them to back their plan. The LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce also supported Proposal 3, stating in a letter disseminated before the election that it was the best possible solution to an academic turnaround at the high school.
“On January 22-24, community members will be asked to vote on the new governance plan at Westchester High School to determine who will make the decisions that impact students every day,” an e-mail from the business organization stated. “Three options will be presented, but Proposal 3 was drafted by the local community and is the only plan that provides true, equal community representation.”
The governance plan was actually crafted by the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey. Some of the members of the local advisory board are also members of the chamber as well.
Supporters of the Neighborhood Council-backed plan lamented the results of the vote in the days following the election, with some residents questioning the way the vote was apportioned and why teacher and parental votes were seemingly worth more than theirs.
Others floated the suggestion that, now that Proposal 3 has been rejected, the high school should not remain open.
“Westchester High School has been on the decline for far too long, and although it’s wonderful that LMU has stepped in to assist, if the community is not going to mandate immediate improvements of this educational facility, from discipline and a culture of success to improvements and pride in the facility, significantly improved and stimulating educational environment and higher test scores, then the school should simply be closed,” wrote Playa del Rey resident Lisa Farris in an e-mail after the vote.
Terry Marcellus, who chairs the Education Committee of the Neighborhood Council, thought the high school’s educators were sending a loud and clear message with their vote.
“This is definitely a statement by the teachers that they want to run the schools themselves, and that they do not want the participation of the community,” Marcellus asserted.
Tiegas says he welcomes community support, but he believes that the faculty is best suited for improving the school’s academic standing.
“I’ve always acknowledged that the community has been the driving force behind autonomy,” said Tiegas, who grew up in Playa del Rey. “But as the co-author of Proposal 2, I think that leadership and education should be the focus of teachers. Because, while I don’t discount the role of parents and community, in terms of academic achievement, educators are in the best position to lead.”
Drew Furedi, executive director of LMU’s Family of Schools, looks at the vote in a broader context.
“This is a huge step forward,” he said. “All stakeholders had an opportunity to participate in choosing a governance model, and now we have a cluster of schools that are moving toward establishing their own decision-making on-site councils, which is a big part of what autonomy is all about.”
Westchester High School is the fifth school to select a local decision-making board, joining Cowan, Kentwood and Westport Heights elementary schools and Orville Wright Middle School.
Proposal 1, which was backed by United Teachers Los Angeles, came in third.