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Schools Look to Future and See a Tower of Babble : Planning: A 10-year framework is being built to offer bold, broad goals to guide educators and change the way children are taught.


Glendale school officials will embark today on a plan to shape local schools for the next decade, a process that administrators say could bring about sweeping changes in the way children are educated and in the roles played by the community, teachers and parents.

Officials said they expect the plan to offer bold, broad goals to guide schools through the year 2000. It also may give more decision-making authority and flexibility to teachers and local schools, they said.

Nearly 250 administrators, teachers, parents, students and community leaders will meet today at Glendale High School to hear forecasts from experts about what the world and Glendale will be like 10 years from now.

A second meeting of the group will be held Saturday, May 19, at the high school to "brainstorm" ideas and discuss schools' priorities for the next decade.

Those sessions will kick off two years of planning by that group and smaller teams, all of which make up the Glendale Schools 2000 task force, Schools Supt. Robert A. Sanchis said.

"We're looking at a 10-year framework that will guide all the schools," Sanchis said. "In the past, planning has been yearly. We're looking at strategic planning. The notion will be that we're looking at a whole new world in the next 10 years, so don't pay a lot of attention to what's happening now. Think future. Nothing we're doing now is sacred."

The process may not be easy. An influx of immigrants and a development boom in Glendale surprised district planners, who have had to wrestle with higher enrollment than what they had projected for the past several years. And they acknowledge that they are uncertain how the city will grow in this decade.

In addition, some of those who will be involved in the process said this week that they are uncertain--and somewhat skeptical--of the plan's potential.

"The plan sounds very good and it sounds like it's a serious process," said Mark Desetti, a Columbus teacher and president of the Glendale Teachers Assn. "But I'm always wary of whether anyone's really interested in input from teachers. Decision-making is very centralized here. Right now, the farther you are from kids, the more power you have. We want to guarantee teacher empowerment and real education reform."

District officials acknowledged other challenges to the process: meeting the needs of a diverse student body and community, reaching consensus among large and small planning groups and reducing uncertainty about the future.

"Another challenge is that we don't know what the state of financing will be in California," said Vic Pallos, a district spokesman.

But the plan will be flexible enough to accommodate change, Sanchis said. The purpose of the process is not to set firm goals in concrete, he said, but to offer long-term guidance to Glendale schools.

"We know that first we have to say what we want to do, then we have to see whether we can afford it or whether people can get used to the change," said Joann Merrick, administrator of elementary education. "But this is something that has to be. The status quo isn't going to work anymore."

Long-term planning for the district has not been done since the early 1970s, when officials mapped out abstract goals for schools, Sanchis said. Since then, Glendale schools--and their needs--have changed: The district's student body is now ethnically diverse, with about 66% of its students coming from Middle Eastern and non-white backgrounds.

Overcrowding of classrooms has led the Board of Education to approve year-round education, to be implemented in certain schools in 1991. And as southern Glendale and the downtown district develops, the city is becoming more urbanized, district officials said.

Shaping the schools for the next decade will involve several stages: The large group, which includes teams from each school, will meet twice and offer broad priorities and ideas on what schools should emphasize in the next decade.

In August, a smaller, 30-member subgroup will meet for three days and sketch a strategic "mission statement" for the district. It also will specify what items should be on the district's decade-long agenda.

The Board of Education will vote in September whether to approve the statement. If board members approve, small teams will be formed to recommend how to act on or change each agenda item.

Those recommendations, also subject to board approval, will serve as broad guidelines for local schools, which in 1991 will begin planning specific actions at their own campuses. This may "decentralize" decision-making from the district level and allow schools flexibility in meeting their specific needs, Sanchis said.

"The overall guiding policy will rest with the district, which will set the ultimate destination, but local sites will choose how they want to get there," he said.

Although it now appears vague, the process may change the way students learn, take classes, prepare for college or work and relate to parents or teachers, Merrick said.

For example, the district may adopt a broad guideline that all students should have more hands-on learning experience. Teachers then may have more freedom to plan work in the field or laboratory for students, Merrick said.

Or it may decide, as futurists have indicated might be necessary, to assign students to a team of teachers--establishing a "school within a school"--throughout junior high or high school, rather than having him move from teacher to teacher, she said.

"These objectives will be measurable," Merrick said. "For instance, they won't just say, 'Kids will be able to read,' they'll perhaps signify a certain proficiency level. I think it's a direction that's a little more specific than we've had, and it will build in accountability."

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