Parents and teachers at Westchester High School will soon have the opportunity to take another step forward in their far-reaching school reform plan by choosing the type of governing model that they would like to see implemented at their school.
A vote on three governance proposals will be held in the high school auditorium Thursday through Saturday, January 22nd to 24th. Voting will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
The vote was postponed from December due to poor turnout at informational meetings held at the high school after a group of parents expressed trepidation about voting on a plan for local control when so few had attended the meetings. The hope was that more outreach could be done in the ensuing six weeks to generate increased community participation.
Westchester High School is one of the five schools that have joined the iDesign Schools division of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in an autonomy effort to break away from what many parents feel is a school district laden with cumbersome bureaucracy and unable to meet the needs of their children. The autonomy movement will give the schools more local control over their own budgets and hiring practices, but along with those newfound freedoms come responsibilities of self-governance.
Westport Heights and Kenwood elementary schools and Orville Wright Middle School have decided on the form of governing structure they would like to employ, and now Cowan Elementary and the high school are close to making their choices.
There have been a series of community meetings detailing the three plans, which have some similarities but differ in other ways.
Gail Levy, whose daughter is a sophomore at Westchester High, supports a model that the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/ Playa del Rey has backed. Advocates of this style of governance say that it is based on what is being implemented at Palisades Charter School, which they say has functioned very well. Known as Proposal 3, this form of local control would bring in more of Westchester’s business community in order to utilize their resources and business acumen as the school seeks to raise its test scores and increase students’ achievement.
“I really feel that if you want the community to support the schools, you have to give them some input into how the schools will function,” Levy said. “In order for them to make that investment, you have to make them feel appreciated.”
Terry Marcellus, a member of the Neighborhood Council, has made the presentation for Proposal 3, and he remains convinced that it is the best form of governance for the high school.
“While I believe that the other two proposals have some merit, I definitely think that the model that is based on the Palisades Charter is the way for us to go if we want to see kids continue to attend Westchester High,” said Marcellus, who is an alumnus of the high school.
Marcellus’s plan has more community and business representatives — five — than Proposals 2 and 1, which have two. Proposals 2 and 3 both have 17 members and the other has 16.
All of the governance plans include at least five teachers on the decision-making board. The proposal backed by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) — Proposal 1 — recommends a local leadership council along with a school site council and has an eight-teacher component.
In November, Marcellus joined three teachers from the high school — Kenneth Tiegas, Andrew Terranova and Pete Accardi — to present their respective proposals to about a dozen parents and community members. Accardi supports the teachers union-backed plan, Proposal 1, and Tiegas is promoting Proposal 2.
Drew Furedi, executive director of the Loyola Marymount University (LMU) Family of Schools, is thrilled that Westchester High School is on the road to defining its own local control model.
“We’re very excited about the process,” he said. “The schools that are in iDesign are making a fundamental change in the way that things have been done with respect to transparency and decision making, and that’s a big part of what autonomy is all about.”
For some, the process of transitioning to a self-imposed governing structure has been too slow, according to various parents and teachers interviewed by The Argonaut. Others, like Accardi, believe that the high school needs more time to adjust to the new and unique circumstances that autonomy presents.
“I personally think that Westchester High needs more time to run appropriately, and see how that improves academic achievement, climate and culture,” he said during an earlier interview. “That alone will bring children back to the school.”
While some feel that Loyola Marymount University has not lived up to certain expectations as a network partner during the transition from being under L.A. Unified’s command to local control, Levy feels that the university has largely been an asset in the Westchester school’s sojourn into autonomy.
Levy mentioned that the school district still has a say in some of the decisions that are made at the Westchester schools and that in some ways, LMU is limited to what it can do.
“LMU has not been able to make some of their own decisions because LAUSD is not completely out of the picture,” she noted. “They have been willing to put their time and resources into helping to guide us, and I think that’s been very helpful.”
Furedi said that the university always stands willing to assist iDesign schools, and LMU must navigate the delicate balance of providing teacher training, fundraising resources and guidance without appearing to micro-manage or function in a top-down structure.
“We’ve been trying to help facilitate the conversation about governance without trying to impose ourselves on the process of developing a school site governing council or board,” Furedi explained. “There are no quick fixes when you’re talking about education and especially when it’s educational reform.”
LMU will conduct training sessions for the chosen governing boards beginning in February, Furedi said. By July, the hope is that all of the governing boards will be fully trained and ready to take the next step in establishing their respective blueprints for local control.
“We’re fully on track for everything,” Furedi said. “We’re very excited about doing our part to bring in a new way of thinking about education.
“And Westchester High is on the cusp of doing that.”