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Special Report on Reforms at a Valley School

September 19, 1993|JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Break Up L.A. Unified" became a rallying cry last year for parents disgusted with falling test scores, rising campus violence and the protracted, siege-like standoff between classroom teachers and the school district's bureaucracy.

At the same time, Northridge Middle School in the San Fernando Valley had embarked on a bold experiment to make education at the junior high level more nurturing and less competitive.

It was an experiment that, if successful, might help prove that the massive district, with its massive problems, should not be written off.

But it was also an experiment bound to be controversial. Teachers accustomed to standing at the blackboard and lecturing resisted what some called "feel-good education" that they said amounted to an evaporation of standards. And some blamed an administration they felt was more interested in pacifying kids than preparing them for high school.

The Times spent much of the 1992-93 school year observing campus life at Northridge, the results of which appear today in a 16-page special report titled "Hard Lessons."

Northridge wasn't the first to experiment with restructuring middle grade education, but district administrators said it was among the boldest. Experimental as some of its reforms were, this was no laboratory and real life intervened.

It is not likely that the success or failure of the Northridge experiment, also under way in other schools, will determine the fate of the district. But it could be a signpost to the future or a small epitaph for a district that has been criticized as too big and too slow.

See Section W

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