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Thompson Rejects Parent-Majority Councils to Govern L.A. Schools


Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Sid Thompson on Thursday rejected the notion of creating parent-dominated governing councils at schools--an idea advocated by parents fed up with district bureaucracy--and instead said he wants each school community to figure out how decisions should be made.

Thompson said that as the district moves toward decentralizing its administration, he does not intend to dictate how schools should be governed. A task force that included input from up to 300 parents had previously recommended that parent-majority panels run schools.

"Rather than dictate, we will say to (schools): Be sure you do the right thing," Thompson said. He said schools must stick to the district's LEARN reform plan, which calls for the principal, teachers, parents and other employees to decide how to govern their campuses.

Thompson has embraced one major suggestion initiated by parents--the formation of a parent and community services unit to improve communications between parents and schools.

The recommendations will be the focus of public hearings before the Board of Education makes the final decision.

In releasing his plan on how to restructure the massive Los Angeles school system, Thompson said the district should be broken into 28 autonomous groups of high schools and their feeder campuses.

His recommendation on the number of clusters deviates somewhat from a report submitted to him last month by one of 10 task forces he convened to help guide the restructuring effort. The district is planning on eliminating regional offices to make way for self-governing clusters of one to three high schools and the middle and elementary schools that provide students for them.

Addressing concerns in Southeast-area communities, Thompson is recommending that South Gate, Huntington Park and Bell high schools each be free-standing clusters rather than one huge grouping as originally suggested. Fremont High School in South-Central Los Angeles would also have it own cluster.

"I'm certainly willing to listen to others and reconsider some things," Thompson said.

School board members emphasized that reconfiguring the district will be meaningless unless schools use their newfound autonomy to find creative ways to raise student achievement.

United-Teachers Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein said the whole concept of how the clusters will work is still not clearly understood at schools. She and other teachers are upset that by creating 10 stand-alone clusters under one high school, Thompson has defeated a prime purpose of the plan: the ability of high schools to share resources.

"I hope the superintendent will be much more clear as to what these clusters will be doing," Bernstein said.

Walter Waddles, a co-chair of the parents group, was pleased the community services unit will be established, but expressed concern that the overall cluster and LEARN plan is moving forward so fast that most parents do not understand what it all means.

"I'm afraid that if things are not explained more clearly to parents that it might come to to where we are going to be overlooked again," Waddles said.

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