by Kathy Kantner
On March 29 a meeting with LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy was attended by members of SSWT Social Justice, LA Voice, and PICO of San Diego, Orange County, Inland Empire, Stockton, Sacramento, Placer County, San Jose, and Oakland to learn about the historic LAUSD Local School Stabilization and Empowerment Agreement finalized last December. Rabbi Ron Stern began the meeting with a Faith Reflection on the meaning of Passover and facilitated the discussion.
Dr. Deasy’s goal during his first year has been for every student to graduate on time and college-ready. He promotes three key points:
1) Human Capital - who has the right to teach and lead our schools?
2) Performance Management - setting benchmarks to track student achievement from year to year
3) Choice - families should not be limited to an under-performing school as their only option; all students have the right to a quality education.
The Agreement will allow schools, over the next three years, with a majority teacher vote, to apply to become Local Initiative Schools. In order to apply as an LIS, school communities will develop a unique plan for each school. The agreement will allow schools to waive rules that previously existed in earlier UTLA/LAUSD contracts. Schools will have more autonomy to: select a particular focus and re-design the curriculum accordingly (for example, to focus on humanities, or science, etc.); to hire and assign staff without considering seniority; to determine how often and which kinds of assessments will be used, etc. As long as schools follow state and federal laws, and implement a rigorous curriculum, the district will stay out of their way. Hiring Committees at schools will need complete consensus to select staff. Any teachers who are not hired will remain in the long-term substitute pool.
An astonishing 77% of UTLA members voted to approve this Agreement -- according to Dr. Deasy it was the highest percentage ever on a UTLA vote. And in fact, more schools want to apply for LIS than the district currently has the capacity to assist through the process. The district is creating videotapes to train staff in developing well-rounded school plans. The lowest performing schools will be the first to apply for LIS. Dr. Deasy is committed to sending 95% of the LAUSD budget directly to schools. Recently the LAUSD Board of Education resolved to introduce a parcel tax election this coming November to ask voters to increase funding for our local public schools -- funding that is urgently needed if schools are to provide a well-rounded, enriched curriculum that includes the arts and A.P. classes.
School districts throughout California and the U.S. will be watching closely to see if real, demonstrable improvements result as changes at schools are phased in. As Dr. Deasy says, “the pressure is on to get it right.” For more information about the Agreement, visit http://publicschoolchoice.lausd.net/LIS_agreement.