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School Autonomy Is Liberating, Frustrating : Education: A new management policy allows campuses to set some of their own priorities, such as giving teachers input on hiring.


At Allesandro Elementary School, a new school district management policy means a chance to preserve a year-round schedule that teachers and parents adopted two years ago.

At Marshall High School, it means a chance to crack down on students who miss too many classes and to give parents and teachers more control over a $200,000 campus budget.

At Irving Junior High School, it means a chance to create a more personal school within a school for each grade.

There are high hopes at five Northeast area schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District for "school-based management," which is supposed to give teachers, parents and communities more say in running schools.

There is also some frustration. The road to autonomy, critics say, is paved with paperwork.

"When you go to actually deliver on what everybody thinks is possible to do, it's like, 'Wait a second. Get it down on paper. Is it rational? Is it safe?' " said David Tokofsky, who teaches government at Marshall. "We're caught between this goal of being able to self-determine our environment . . . and these constraints that say you have to do it a certain way."

School restructuring was set in motion by teacher contract negotiations in May, 1989. The Northeast area schools are among 70 allowed to propose changes on their campuses for the 1990-91 school year, even if the proposals clash with district policy or state law. Franklin High School and Arroyo Seco Alternative Magnet School are involved along with Allesandro, Irving and Marshall.

Only 38 schools submitted proposals by the July deadline. Of those, 27, including Marshall and Allesandro, saw their proposals largely approved in August by the Board of Education and United Teachers-Los Angeles officials. Proposals by 11 others--including Arroyo Seco--were returned for clarification.

Franklin, Irving and the 30 other schools that did not meet the initial deadline have until Oct. 24 to submit their proposals for approval, said Joe Rao, the district's director of school-based management. Arroyo Seco also must resubmit its proposal by that time, Rao said.

Schools whose proposals are approved have until June to demonstrate goals for raising and measuring student achievement, a goal that must underlie any approved change. The schools also must explain how they will address ethnic and cultural diversity among students, Rao said.

At Marshall and Allesandro, changes already are under way.

A student at Marshall, which is between Los Feliz and Silver Lake, cannot miss more than 20 days of class without losing credit and must make up the time if he or she misses 10 days.

Teachers are helping to hire teachers. Next semester they will visit one another's classes as part of peer evaluation.

Next week officials plan to eliminate the homeroom period, during which attendance is taken, and shorten the school day to give teachers more time to plan and consult with each other, said Barbara Knight, a counselor at Marshall and a UTLA member involved in the restructuring.

Other changes have been delayed, Knight said. Teachers and parents cannot take control of $200,000 in state funds for school improvements until state officials formally agree, she said.

The district and union already have approved some proposals that clash with district or contract policies, and others may be granted within the next few weeks, Rao said. But those requiring state approval may not be decided until December or January, Rao said.

At Allesandro, in Elysian Valley, officials are waiting for district OKs on two major proposals.

One would maintain a trimester year-round schedule that its community voluntarily started in 1988, even though the school board has decided to put all schools on a semester year-round schedule.

The other would increase the school's control over its budgets. For instance, money for materials unspent in one year could be saved and used later. Schools now must return unused money to the district, said Lynn Andrews, Allesandro's principal.

The changes are admittedly not radical. "We started out in sort of a conservative way," Andrews said. "If they would agree to us keeping monies they previously said we couldn't, and agree to a calendar they said we could not keep, then we knew we could ask for more far-reaching things in the future."

School board member Jackie Goldberg, whose district includes Marshall and Allesandro, said she did not agree with some of the proposed changes but would approve them anyway.

"I'm committed to school-based management, and if that's what they want, I imagine they can probably have it," Goldberg said. "The notion is that people on the campuses are the experts and the most vested."

Parents at Irving Junior High School, in Glassell Park, will finish voting Oct. 19 on their school's proposal. If approved, it will be submitted to the district later this month, said Al Powell, a social studies teacher and UTLA representative at the school.

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