In a break with tradition, Long Beach Unified School District officials are considering giving principals, teachers and possibly parents a greater voice in how their schools are run.
The details have yet to be worked out, and there is already some disagreement on how much power will be handed over. But school board members and district administrators say they basically agree that those at the schools should have more flexibility and greater authority to decide what's best for their students.
"We need to let the persons working directly with students be responsible, and the district must give them the services to help," Supt. Tom Giugni said in a recent interview.
Teachers would like to play a bigger role in determining curriculum, schedules and how their school budget is spent, said Felice Strauss, president of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach.
Recently, for example, teachers on a textbook committee could not agree on a geometry book and suggested to the board that schools be free to pick the book they want. All schools now must use the same books.
The changes may be as simple as giving teachers priority over school staff on the copying machine, or having an open supply room "so they don't have to go beg for supplies," Strauss said. Such small changes "can have a big effect on morale," she added.
The ultimate goal, Strauss and other officials say, is to raise student achievement by allowing individual schools the power to tailor their programs to best fit their students' needs. If teachers at one school, for example, believe that teaching in teams would improve test scores, that alternative could be tried without school board approval.
The board issues final decisions on all district matters after getting the superintendent's recommendations.
It's too early to tell how much power teachers would have or what role parents would play. During a two-day retreat last weekend, the five board members were unanimous in their support of the concept, but two of them expressed concern about how much authority to give up.
"It's the parameters that are the sticking point," board President Jenny Oropeza told board members and administrators at the meeting on Santa Catalina Island.
Board member Karin Polacheck said: "I'm not being true if I say, 'You can make any decision you want because you are the teacher and I trust you.' "
The officials agreed to set up a committee of administrators, principals, teachers and other employees to decide the guidelines for possible management teams at each school.
Oropeza and Polacheck said a board member also should be included on the committee. "We are having to give up, along with other folks, some of our turf," Oropeza said.
But, Giugni warned, "the more you do that, the less chance you have for innovation. If this system works correctly, it's bottom up, not top down."
Some issues the committee must decide:
* Who would have final authority--teachers, administrators, or parents--over how things get done at each school.
* At what point, if any, would the school board have veto power.
For example, if a school wants to kill its music program and use the money instead for something else, Oropeza said, she would want final say.
But board member Harriet Williams replied: "If they did (kill a program,) I would live with that."
"(Even) if your constituents are screaming?" Oropeza asked.
"I'm not being true to this whole thing if I say no to any one thing," Williams responded.
While the issue of teacher involvement in decisions is in the discussion stage, Giugni has already decided on a district reorganization that would give principals more power.
On July 1, the district's schools will be reorganized into six divisions, with one administrator overseeing a cluster of 11 to 15 schools. School officials now report to two assistant superintendents, too large a territory to supervise, according to Giugni. The elementary division assistant, for example, oversees all 59 elementary schools.
Under the new organization, Giugni said, he expects the division administrators will be able to work more closely with the principals, providing them with guidance and greater supervision while giving principals greater flexibility to make changes. Principals also will will be held more accountable, he said.
"It simply allows a good principal to function as a good principal by returning to the principal many discretionary powers," Giugni wrote in a report to the board last fall about his reorganization plan.
The system of giving teachers and parents more authority--called "shared decision-making"--is being tried in a growing number of school districts.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the school board adopted the same concept last June as part of its settlement of a teacher's strike. The 70 schools participating in the program of school-based management set up councils that have made decisions in the areas of staff development, student discipline, event scheduling, use of school equipment and allotment of lottery money , among other things.