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Larger Role in the School Is Worth Longer Hours, Teachers Say

September 14, 1989|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

Teachers at Hillside Junior High School in Simi Valley aren't likely to complain about the hiring of Kathy Scroggin, the woman selected this summer to be their new principal. That's because they chose her. They also picked their new assistant principal, Steve Kalan.

At Conejo Elementary School in nearby Thousand Oaks, the faculty had a say in hiring two new teachers, a custodian and the office secretary. Teachers there also want to replace state-mandated special education classes with their own method of teaching the school's educationally and emotionally handicapped students.

As Los Angeles school administrators begin this fall to share for the first time some of their power with faculty and community members, staff members at Hillside and Conejo say the transition is unlikely to be easy. But they say the results are worth the effort.

Pilot Project

Now in the fifth year of a five-year pilot project that allows teachers a much larger voice in running their schools, teachers at those schools say they have paid for their increased power with more work and longer hours.

They said extensive training and seasoning are required to make the power-sharing work. Their ideas have been turned down by district authorities at least twice. And a handful of colleagues have decided not to participate, saying that they would rather not be bothered with more duties than they already have.

But for most of the teachers, who formerly had near total control in their classrooms but next to none outside of it, the experiment has provided a new appreciation for what they can accomplish.

"I wouldn't give up the power and neither would others who are seriously involved in the project," said Denise Byrnes, a Hillside teacher.

The two eastern Ventura County schools are among 26 in the nation--and the only two in California--taking part in the National Education Assn.'s Mastery in Learning project. Officials from the NEA, the nation's largest teachers union, as well as administrators in the Simi Valley and Conejo Valley unified school districts, will evaluate the project's results next spring.

Helped Schools

The NEA helped the participating schools raise money from private foundations to help support the training of teachers, as well as the educational research needed to implement changes sought by the faculty.

Project consultant Bob McClure said the NEA's goal was to allow teachers at each of the schools to decide for themselves what changes to make in instruction. But the union offered virtually no guidelines about what issues teachers should take up.

"The idea was to extend the leash and see what the faculty could do with their school," McClure said.

At least one measure, test scores of the California Assessment Program, shows that significant academic improvement occurred at both schools during the past three years. Hillside, for example, moved from last to first among Simi Valley's four junior high schools in the reading and writing portions of the test.

"It would be difficult to really explain the increases but we have to assume that something was happening at the school to make a difference," said Robert Isenberg, the Simi Valley district's director of testing.

Whether the districts allow the teachers to retain expanded decision-making powers or broaden the program to other schools will depend largely on what happens this year, district officials and teachers said. At both schools, teachers hope that parents and students will give good reviews to the teachers' experimental classroom programs.

Matter of Time

But regardless of the outcome of those evaluations, local teachers union representatives say it is only a matter of time before greater management powers become a common element in teachers' contracts.

"This is the wave of the future," said Hal Vick, executive director of the Simi Educators Assn. and the United Assn. of Conejo Teachers.

In addition to seeking raises, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike for nine days last spring to win the power to overrule school principals in some cases.

But even though he supports the Mastery in Learning project, William Seaver, Conejo Valley district superintendent, is skeptical about granting teachers similar powers in his district.

"I think it's good management for the principal to work with teachers but the principal has to have the ultimate authority," Seaver said. "There are areas of responsibility that the administration has and I don't see any strong need to change those."

Seaver said teachers in his district have for many years had a say in school management through their membership with parents and administrators on school councils. Traditionally, however, those councils have lacked power over the most important of school decisions--those involving budgets, curricula and hiring.

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