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L.A. Area Poised to Share in Landmark Education Grant : Schools: Portion of $500-million Annenberg gift is expected to help boost reforms such as LEARN program.

November 19, 1994|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

After months of bicoastal negotiations and local planning sessions, the Los Angeles area is on the verge of receiving a large chunk of the biggest private donation ever made to public education.

Representatives of philanthropist and former publishing magnate Walter H. Annenberg and local education and community leaders are putting the finishing touches on a plan that would pump millions of dollars into promising school reform efforts within Los Angeles County.

Annenberg plans to reveal the gift--which is contingent on a match from local sources--next month, around the one-year anniversary of his White House announcement last Dec. 17 that he would donate $500 million to improve public schools around the nation.

Los Angeles was among a handful of urban areas invited by Annenberg representatives earlier this year to submit proposals for using some of that money. In September, a coalition in New York City was awarded $50 million to launch new, independent public schools, and negotiations are progressing in several other cities.

Those most closely involved in the efforts to bring some of the money to Los Angeles declined to discuss details of the expected grant out of deference to Annenberg, who will make the final decisions.

But others among the education, business and community leaders who have been involved in drafting the Los Angeles Metropolitan Project (LAMP), as the proposal is known, say they anticipate receiving about $50 million from the Annenberg Foundation.

They said efforts have begun to match that amount from private donations and with some public funds earmarked for school reforms. They do not expect to have to raise the entire amount before receiving the first installment of the Annenberg gift.

The five-year grant and matching funds would generate at least $100 million to boost reforms already in place and create a mechanism for spreading them among a so-called critical mass of schools throughout the area.

Although isolated efforts to improve schools over the last decade have been showing success, reformers have been frustrated by a shortage of funds that has hobbled efforts to spread the changes. Leaders in the Los Angeles efforts see the Annenberg gift as a way to remedy that.

"This isn't another school reform program but a way of consolidating, solidifying and building on the momentum that's already present here," said Theodore Mitchell, dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Services.

Mitchell and his counterpart at USC, School of Education Dean Guilbert C. Hentschke, spent most of the summer and fall coordinating grant application efforts between Los Angeles leaders and Annenberg officials. On Friday, they submitted the often-revised proposal to officials from Brown University, who are advising Annenberg on the distribution of his gift.

The project will center its efforts on groups or "families" of reform-minded schools dedicated to improved learning for all students, and will send most of the Annenberg funds directly to those campuses.

The cost of administering the project and disseminating the reforms to schools throughout the county will be paid for by private donations or public education funds that could be channeled into the effort.

In addition to working for community-led changes within individual schools, the project also seeks to encourage reform in the school systems by identifying and spreading the best education practices and supporting such key activities as teacher training and staff development, parental involvement and coordination of public services.

To foster stability and consistency for students, participating schools will be asked to join four or five others to form clusters, or families, including a high school, middle school and several elementary schools.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, campuses wanting to participate will be required to align themselves with the Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now, or LEARN, the district's business-and community-supported reform program.

"One of the most significant things about this grant is that it recognizes that we have a certain momentum going with LEARN and we need to keep it going," said Robert E. Wycoff, LEARN chairman and a member of the board that will oversee the project. "To try to start all over would have been a serious mistake."

Interested schools in other districts will be asked to choose a primary sponsor to advise parents, teachers and community members in reshaping the school. Sponsors range from the county Office of Education to the Getty Center for Education in the Arts to the Coalition of Essential Schools. The coalition was founded a decade ago by nationally known reformer Theodore R. Sizer, a Brown education professor who is a key player in the Annenberg gift decisions.

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