Sunday, November 22, 2009

L.A. Unified to allow parents to initiate school reforms

Under the superintendent's school-control resolution, low-performing campuses can be forced to undergo major changes if a majority of parents demand it.

By Howard Blume | LA Times
October 28, 2009

For the first time in Los Angeles, parents will be able to initiate major reforms at low-performing individual schools, rather than waiting for the school district to make changes, under a plan unveiled Tuesday.

This new parental power has emerged as part of a school-control resolution that allows for groups inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to take over campuses. Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has included 12 underachieving schools and 18 new campuses in the process, but the parent option could add others to the list, especially in future years.

Under Cortines' plan, a majority of parents at a school could trigger reforms at a local campus. Parents whose students are matriculating from one school to another also could take part.

Parents, Cortines said, "have a right to be involved in the process."

But the superintendent's plan doesn't go far enough for school board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, the primary author of the school-control resolution, which was approved in August. She supported allowing more parents the ability to trigger reforms. The parents of a preschooler, for example, should be able to sign the petition for a middle school or high school, she said.

Her position aligns with that of Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, a nonprofit closely affiliated with Green Dot Public Schools, which operates local charter schools. Austin has lobbied for the widest possible version of parent participation because, he said, improving a school can consume several years. The parent of a young child should have the right to set in motion changes to that child's future middle school, he said.

Leading up to the meeting, Austin, Flores Aguilar and their allies thought their position had prevailed. But Cortines refused to go that far.

In an interview last week, he said he didn't want the views of parents currently attending a school trumped by those of parents not enrolled, especially those who might be ill- informed. He stuck to that position Tuesday.

"Those same parents . . . won't even go and visit the middle school," Cortines said. "What they're doing is making judgments based on rumor or what they've heard."

Other complaints have come from the operators of charter schools, which are independently run but publicly funded. They contend that new restrictions in the reform resolution will limit their ability to manage academics and control costs, and they are threatening to pull out of the process entirely.

Cortines also opened the door to the possibility of allowing a majority of a school's staff to set off reforms. The rules for opening up additional schools to sweeping reform are still being developed and debated, so they're unlikely to result in more schools joining this year's list of 30 campuses, officials said. Cortines will recommend reform proposals for those schools in February.

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