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Parents May Vote for More Say at Marshall High School


Parents of students at John Marshall High School in Silver Lake began voting Wednesday on a plan that is expected to give them and teachers more say in how the school is run.

The plan has been hailed by its authors as a way for teachers, parents and Marshall administrators to take control of the school away from district administrators and the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Teachers at Marshall on Tuesday approved the proposal, which includes recommendations for curtailing truancies and reducing dropouts, increasing parental involvement, restructuring the school day and allowing teachers to evaluate each other, said Barbara Knight, a counselor who helped write the recommendations.

Parents will vote on the plan at the school or by absentee ballot until July 9. If a majority of those who vote approve, the plan will be reviewed by the Board of Education and the teachers union, both of which can accept or reject any part of it.

The plan to be voted on is part of a process designed to transfer power from distant district administrators to those directly involved in running the school. Known among educators as school-based management, the concept is supposed to enable those who know the school best to make the decisions that affect what happens on campus.

A 16-member council of teachers, parents, students and administrators was formed last year to propose changes for the school. That council came up with the recommendations that parents are now voting on.

Some authors of the plan said they fear that parents may know nothing about the proposed changes or may perceive it as a strategy by the principal or teachers to gain more power.

"It's very important that the community be aware of what the plan really means and how important parents' votes are," said Paul Michael Newman, a community representative on the council. "This is a very concrete effort to make the community more involved in running the school."

The concept of school-based management was produced in contract negotiations with teachers in May, 1989, to give decision-making power in schools to teachers, parents and the community.

With school-based management, Marshall and 69 other Los Angeles schools will be allowed to try to make fundamental changes on their campuses, in areas such as teacher hiring, curriculum and budgeting--even if the proposed changes clash with basic district policies or contract stipulations.

Council members have been skeptical that the district ultimately will allow local schools more autonomy. But at a news conference last week at Marshall, Board of Education President Jackie Goldberg promised to approve school plans and give the councils "carte blanche" to make changes.

"We are so serious about raising student achievement . . . that we're willing to step back--and it's hard--to step back as board members and say that even if we don't like your plan, we're willing to vote for it," Goldberg said.

Parents throughout the district have expressed concern that they will be under-represented in a school-based management structure. That concern, in fact, led to a recommendation in the Marshall plan that parent representation be increased on the school's decision-making council, Knight said.

The plan also recommends eliminating a daily "homeroom" period, used for taking attendance, to shorten the school day and allow teachers more time for planning and conferring with administrators and each other.

Another recommendation, aimed at curtailing truancy, would link student attendance to grades by allowing teachers to fail a student in a class if the student is absent 20 days or more. But it would allow students several ways of making up absences, such as after-school tutoring, extra homework or community service, Knight said. That recommendation and others will require that district policy or contract stipulations be waived, she said.

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