Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Argonaut: School autonomy moving ahead in Westchester

School autonomy moving ahead in Westchester
BY GARY WALKER(Created: Friday, December 28, 2007 10:45 AM PST)

Parents and teachers at Kentwood Elementary School, Orville Wright Middle School and the magnet school at Orville Wright continue to bask in the afterglow of the December 11th vote for independence from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which many view as a critical first step for their schools and students to reach their full academic potential.

As the next phase of navigating these uncharted waters begins, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has promised to continue to act as a guidepost on the challenging road to autonomy.

According to representatives of the university, LMU will continue to play a key role in assisting schools that join the Innovation Division, a subdivision of the school district that was created over the summer to provide guidance and support to schools such as those in Westchester that opt for autonomy.

"It is our mission to be involved in the community around us," said Shane Martin, dean of the LMU School of Education. "Our Family of Schools is a perfect example of how LMU is transforming the way universities work with their neighborhood schools."

"It's a great day for the kids and the schools in Westchester," Drew Furedi, executive director of LMU's Family of Schools added. "The vote in favor of autonomy really demonstrates the deep commitment to taking a hard look at what things are working and figuring how to support the things that are working and make them even better."

School district officials have given their blessing to autonomy for Westchester, where there are seven schools.

"[The vote on December 11th] was another important step forward for our families and students as we continue to work together to ensure that children in these schools — which are our highest priority — graduate from high school and are college prepared and career ready," said school superintendent David Brewer. "That's why we created our Innovation Division for Education Achievement as part of our efforts to transform the LAUSD into a high-performing, world-class district."

School board member Marlene Canter, whose district includes Westchester, feels that autonomy is more than just about the acquisition of academic freedom and having hands-on management of a neighborhood school.

"This is a way to create innovation within the district," Canter said. "What I was hoping to do [with autonomy] was to create an access point for partners that could help us create better schools, and autonomy is a great way to create innovation within the district."

Furedi, who has been actively involved in helping to shape conversation surrounding the topic of academic independence since his arrival at LMU this summer, believes that the vote at the three schools was more than just a watershed moment for Westchester.

"We saw strong, overwhelming support from parents in the vote, and you also saw a lot of engagement among parents, teachers, staff and community members during the runup to the actual vote," he pointed out. "In the few days since, we've seen more engagement and excitement in trying to put this into context."

Over 98 percent of the parents who voted at Kentwood cast ballots in favor of autonomy. Of the votes cast by parents at the Orville Wright magnet school, over 95 percent voted yes, and the middle school's percentage was 90 percent.

Furedi listed two reasons he thinks that the decision to pursue freedom from the Los Angeles Unified School District is important and should be viewed in a wider context.

"This is about a community saying, 'We are taking absolute responsibility for the excellence and success of our schools.' That's different from how public education has worked in the past," he explained. "The other difference is, here is a university saying that we are redefining what a university partnership looks like."

Ingrid Lamoureux, who heads the Parent-Teacher Association at Orville Wright, is thrilled that the university has offered to be actively involved with the reform movement.

"I and the [Orville Wright] PTA look forward to collaborating with LMU," said Lamoureux. "Drew Furedi has been a dream to work with."

Stephen Rochelle, the principal at Orville Wright, also feels that having a prestigious university on board is a distinct advantage for his school and others in Westchester that chose autonomy.

"LMU has the infrastructure, the research teams and the resources," Rochelle noted, "and what better partner to have than a university of its caliber?"

The university has begun working with the Innovation Division to continue to design the next stage of autonomy and what it could look like in Westchester.

"Literally right after the votes were tallied, we started working on pulling together foundational data and information around instruction and operation of schools," Furedi said. "We've already begun taking apart the budget to see what the real numbers are going to show us in terms of funding, and we're looking at individual success and talents of students in order to frame a conversation to figure out a way to unlock the greatness that's there, using research based methods and data to figure out what's best for our kids."

Canter, who also has been publicly supportive of autonomy for Westchester schools, believes that autonomy can be "a sustainable way to reform from within the district."

Schools that choose autonomy will chart their own plan for academic improvement, and while there will be discussion, suggestions and comparing notes among all the principals and teachers in Westchester, each school will be responsible for designing its own academic blueprint.

"I think that's the really exciting part of working with the whole group of schools," said Furedi.
"It's exciting for each school to be working with several other schools that might have slightly different programs, but taking into account what the specific needs of their students are.

"It's about maintaining the individual character of a school, but really making more intentional use of a professional learning community," Furedi said.

The remaining five schools in the Westchester area are slated to vote in January. Proponents of autonomy believe that sustaining the momentum of having three schools that have joined the Innovation Division is critical.

"There's a palpable energy and excitement among the parents and teachers that there are schools that have [voted for] autonomy already, and there's an excitement about that," Furedi said. "And I think capitalizing on that energy is very important."

One of the challenges that must still be overcome is that for some, change remains a risky proposition.

"[Change] is difficult, and we realize that," said Furedi.

Canter agrees.

"It's always hard in the beginning," the board member stated. "My hope is that [the December 11th vote] ignites parents to see that now they finally have a vote."

Orville Wright principal Rochelle is looking forward to both the excitement and the challenges of autonomy.

"This is the most important work of our time," Rochelle said.

He contemplated the possibility that Westchester could be used as a reform model for the school district."

If we are successful, could this be replicated throughout LAUSD?" he asked.

Furedi reiterated that the university will continue to be a partner as Westchester parents and teachers explore autonomy in 2008.

"But it's going to take everybody working toward the same goal," Furedi said. "The idea behind autonomy is to give all of the stakeholders a voice in improving their schools, not for the university to become the new LAUSD."

Source: The Argonaut

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Associated Press: Audit: textbook shortage, unqualified teachers at LA-area schools

Audit: textbook shortage, unqualified teachers at LA-area schools
The Associated Press

HAWTHORNE, Calif.—Auditors found textbook shortages, unqualified teachers and deteriorating campuses plaguing eight campuses in the Los Angeles and Centinela Valley school districts.

Hawthorne High School got especially bad marks because of dirty drinking fountains, rotting wood, a leaky roof, exposed wiring and pervasive bird droppings.

Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, also in the Centinela Valley district, was cited for broken cracked windows, doors that don't operate properly and a wobbly wall in one classroom.

Banning High, Westchester High and Meyler Street Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District were also in poor condition.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Daily Breeze: Education Briefs (POWWOW citation)

CONGRATS to POWWOW and Proud POWWOW Parent, Florence Bracy, who landed a spot in our local paper, The Daily Breeze, for her coordination of an outreach effort geared toward helping needy families with children this holiday season.

Way to go Florence and POWWOW for your philanthropic and humanitarian efforts!!!!

Education briefs
By Paul Clinton and Shelly Leachman Staff Writers
Article Launched: 12/16/2007 09:01:32 PM PST


100 families get toys, clothing

Students and parents from Westchester High School collected more than 1,000 toys and clothing items to provide to a Westside foster home.

The students presented the gifts to the Westside Children's Center, a foster care and adoption placement center, parent Florence Bracy said.

The gift drive was organized by Parents of Westchester With Orville Wright. The students delivered the gifts Wednesday. On Friday, the agency gave the gifts to 100 families with children 5 and younger.

Read entire story here:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Daily Breeze: LAUSD tries to stem the outflow

LAUSD tries to stem the outflow
by Paul Clinton Staff Writer

Hoping to stem the tide of sixth-graders abandoning Los Angeles Unified elementary schools on the Westside for private schools, trustee Marlene Canter is stepping up recruiting efforts for seven middle schools.

Canter wants local parents to take another look at LAUSD, so she's offering tours of higher-achieving magnets, hosting an open house and extolling the virtues of Los Angeles public schools in speeches.

"Many families in the areas that I represent send their children to LAUSD elementary schools, but opt for private schools when their children get older," said Canter, who represents schools from Westchester to the San Fernando Valley.

"But as the district opens new schools in overcrowded areas, we now have the opportunity to increase local resident enrollment."

Her case should be bolstered by the decision of two Westchester schools to opt out of LAUSD bureaucracy and partner with Loyola Marymount University in a "family" of campuses.

Last week, parents and teachers at Wright Middle School and Kentwood Elementary School agreed to a five-year experiment to bring decision-making powers over curriculum, hiring and budget issues to school communities.

Parents often switch from LAUSD to private schools, because they perceive them to be safer and believe they offer higher quality academics, parents and educators say.

Read more hear:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12 Letter from LMU Family of Schools...

Three School Communities Vote to Support Local Control


We wanted to pass along the exciting news that yesterday, Kentwood Elementary School, Orville Wright Middle School, and Orville Wright Magnet Middle School voted in favor of joining the iDivision with LMU as a partner.

We had really incredible turnout for the votes from teachers, staff, and parents, so thank you for your interest and effort!!

The other schools in the LMU Family of Schools will continue discussions and meetings with teachers, other school staff, parents, and community stakeholders. These school communities will likely vote when these meetings are finished in either January or February.

Look out for more updates in the weeks ahead!

If you have any questions, please send us an email (





Three Loyola Marymount University Family of Schools vote yes for local control.

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 12, 2007 — Three schools from LMU Family of Schools' voted yesterday to join the Los Angeles Unified School District's newly formed Innovation Division. Orville Wright Middle School's community and magnet programs and Kentwood Elementary School, three of the LMU Family of Schools, were invited to join the iDivision this fall. The remaining school campuses will vote in January 2008.

All three school communities demonstrated their commitment to reform through strong support from teachers, school staff, parents, community members and local community organizations.

"It is our mission to be involved in the community around us," said Shane Martin, dean of the School of Education. "Our Family of Schools is a perfect example of how LMU is transforming the way universities work with their neighborhood schools."

Executive Director for the LMU Family of Schools Drew Furedi said he was thrilled with the outcome.

"The yes vote shows support from both the teachers and parents that they are ready for a change in this Westchester community," Furedi said. "LMU is fully committed to serve as a leader and a partner with our Family of Schools and the LAUSD."

Earlier this year, LAUSD established the iDivision to provide school communities with a new opportunity to accelerate learning through the principles of teacher, parent and student empowerment, partnership with strong community organizations and accountability for improved academic achievement.

"Today's vote is another important step forward for our families and students as we continue to work together to ensure that children in these schools - which are our highest priority -- graduate from high school and are college prepared and career ready," said David Brewer, superintendent of LAUSD. "That's why we created our Innovation Division for Education Achievement as part of our efforts to transform the LAUSD into a high-performing, world-class district."

Through partnerships with LAUSD for more than 50 years, LMU's School of Education has trained thousands of teachers, assistant principals, principals and other district leaders and worked to support excellence for the students in local public schools across the District. For more information, visit

Monday, December 10, 2007

Daily News: LAUSD pays for fliers backing mayor's plan

LAUSD pays for fliers backing mayor's plan
By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 12/10/2007 09:31:15 PM PST

Los Angeles Unified officials have sent thousands of fliers urging parents and teachers to let Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa manage some district schools in what critics decried Monday as a biased campaign that misuses taxpayer funds.

The district paid for the fliers and automated calls to remind parents about today's vote at seven schools, but critics say the information is essentially an advocacy campaign for the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

One flier obtained by the Daily News from the district's innovation division lists the benefits of a yes vote to join the partnership but makes no mention of any potential drawbacks.

"Any time a government official or the government itself has a stake in the outcome of an election, it's unfair to use public money to influence that election," said Tim Bittle, director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

"It sure sounds like the mayor has a stake in the outcome of this election, because if he can persuade the parents and the teachers to approve this plan and then he pulls off some positive reform, it's going to be a publicity opportunity for him and his quest perhaps for higher office."

But Kathi Littmann, executive director of the LAUSD's innovation division, said her office is working with the mayor to develop the reform effort and did a thorough job informing communities about the issues in a limited amount of time.

Read entire story here:

Monday, December 3, 2007

LA Times: Teachers Draft Reform Plan

Teachers draft reform plan

Union's proposal calls for local, grass roots control over schools and gives instructors more breathing room to formulate curricula.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 3, 2007

In this education nirvana, teachers would decide what to teach and when. Teachers and parents would hire and fire principals. No supervisors from downtown would tell anyone -- neither teachers nor students -- what to wear.

These are among the ideas a delegation of teachers and their union officers are urging L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer to include in the school reform plan he will present to the school board Tuesday.

If Brewer passes on the delegation's proposals, the union can go directly to the seven-member Board of Education. Employee unions recently have had success in getting the board to overrule the superintendent on health benefits for some part-time workers and on school staffing.

At stake now is the Los Angeles Unified School District's effort to turn around its 34 most troubled middle and high schools. The data suggests the urgency: As many as three-quarters of the students in these "high priority schools" scored well below grade level across multiple subjects on last year's California Standards Tests.

Whatever remedy emerges is likely to become a blueprint for widespread reform efforts. Brewer and his team are working on their 11th draft; the drafts have evolved significantly since September because of resistance inside and outside the school system.

At a meeting Friday between the district and the delegation from the United Teachers Los Angeles, union leaders were pointedly clear about what they want -- local, grass roots control over schools.

"This is what we think makes for a good education," said Joel Jordan, the union's director of special projects, who took part in the meeting. "We don't want to continue what hasn't worked and has demoralized teachers and students."

Rhetorically, Brewer has endorsed local control, but elements of his proposal cut both ways.

The separate plans of the union and the superintendent, as well as a "Schoolhouse" framework offered in January by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, all cobble together widely accepted strategies, such as smaller classes and schools, and better teacher training.

Read entire story here:,1,6018033.story?coll=la-news-learning