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Officials Urge Restructuring in More Schools : * Education: At its simplest, the reconfiguration of certain grades relieves overcrowding. But it's also seen as a means to help address students' psychological and academic needs.


AREA — First it was mere jargon, then a topic for debate by parents and teachers, soon the educational buzzword of the '90s, and now, finally, a reality in Westside schools.

"Reconfiguration," the shifting of sixth-graders into middle schools that replace traditional junior highs and of ninth-graders into high schools, has been the focus of educational excitement during dismal budget times. At its simplest, such regrouping relieves overcrowding; at its best, it is accompanied by program changes that address the psychological needs of the early adolescent and the academic needs of teen-agers.

Also, although it is not an alternative to year-round schools, reconfiguration does buy time for schools seeking to postpone adopting multiple schedules.

This month, building on the resounding success of the Palisades Complex, a coalition of nine schools that regrouped its students last year, school district officials recommended similar restructuring for 33 other Westside schools during the next two years.

The school board will vote on the proposals March 2.

"The master plan is to do this everywhere, eventually," said Westside school board member Mark Slavkin, although some schools have been delayed by lack of classroom space, unreadiness or parental opposition.

On the Westside, where the nine-school Palisades Complex--made up of Palisades High, Paul Revere Middle School and the neighborhood elementary schools they draw from--reconfigured last year, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, Slavkin said.

And the Westchester Complex--Westchester High, Orville Wright Middle School and their elementary feeder schools--which reorganized its schools years ago ahead of the trend, "wouldn't have it any other way," he said. He added that he welcomes calls to the district office from anyone with concerns about the plan. The phone number is (213) 625-6387.

Slated for restructuring next fall are Venice High, Mark Twain Junior High, and Beethoven, Broadway and Walgrove elementary schools.

The next school year, Hamilton and University high schools, Palms, Emerson, Webster and Marina del Rey junior highs, and 22 more Westside elementary schools also will regroup.

The man with the crow's nest view of reconfiguration in progress, Revere Principal J.D. Gaydowski, said that except for a few reluctant teachers, the restructuring has been a great success, accepted by students and their parents.

"When I visit various (elementary) schools to explain the program, the biggest glitch is always the fifth-grade parents coming to terms with their child moving out of what they imagine is a cloistered environment into a big junior high as they remember it."

Revere, though relatively small with 1,150 students, is much bigger than the elementary schools the students left. But each grade level has been assigned an area with its own teachers, classrooms and lockers to form what Gaydowski terms a "cozy school within a school."

Sixth-graders have shorter classes and no more than four teachers, some of whom teach several subjects individually or in teams. By next year, Gaydowski hopes to offer small advisory groups led by specially trained faculty, along with a wider choice of extracurricular activities in which youngsters can explore their individuality.

"It (reconfiguration) does force fifth-graders to grow up a year faster, but the transition is softer," he said. "The kids feel tremendously empowered, respected and wonderful."

Gaydowski said that with ninth-graders shifted into high school, discipline problems are fewer and less serious, and the need for parent conferences and student suspensions are down.

Fears of younger, vulnerable children being victimized by older, tougher students in the cafeteria or restrooms--admittedly a problem in the past--have proved groundless. "I haven't received a single call this year," the principal said. "Thugs don't seem to have been a problem."

While skeptical schools and cautious parents have not unanimously embraced reconfiguration, it appears to be winning support, or at least resignation.

"My sense is that after a lot of work, we have forged a fairly strong consensus in support of reconfiguration and recognition of its instructional benefits at all levels," Slavkin said.

"Any conflicts seem limited to the issue of timing, of when are we best set to do it."

Analyses prepared by the district's staff show that the city's desegregation program will not be negatively affected, and the estimated onetime costs for restructuring the 33 Westside schools total $107,800.

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