Every middle school and high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District will be divided into smaller clusters of 350 to 500 students within five years under a plan approved Tuesday by the Board of Education.
Los Angeles is one of the last large urban school districts to move to small "learning communities," a reform intended to provide more personalized education.
"We need to go down this path," said Supt. Roy Romer, who pushed for conversion of the district's 131 middle and high schools as a way to raise test scores and dissuade students from dropping out. The district's largest high schools serve up to 5,000 students.
Tuesday's vote determined that the change would occur districtwide within five years. Beyond that, little is decided. For instance, some small learning communities could specialize in dance, music or other arts. Others could be divided by grade level. District officials plan to look to their own magnet and academy programs as possible prototypes and to research models in other cities.
Districts in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have embraced the small-schools movement because research has shown that students at such campuses are more likely to finish high school and attend college. To create smaller schools, districts have sometimes divided campuses into separate units that share the gymnasium or cafeteria.
In Los Angeles Unified, larger schools will be divided into groups on the same campus, Romer said. Also, many new schools will be built as smaller campuses.
Liliam Leis-Castillo, an administrator who is leading the development of small learning communities in the district, said each school would determine its redesign.
Six of the seven board members approved Romer's proposal. Board member Jose Huizar was absent.
Board members and union leaders said they supported small learning communities but expressed concern over how the reforms would be implemented.
Dan Isaacs of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles union said the district needed a "better-defined process and procedure" to determine how the schools would be organized, staffed and managed.
Romer said the shift would occur on a school-by-school basis and involve parents, teachers and administrators.
He urged the board to approve the change because the school district faced a deadline for use of certain federal funds and, he said, so the district could apply for state and federal grants.
Last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major supporter of creating small schools nationwide, gave Los Angeles Unified a $900,000 planning grant for the reform effort, and the organization is considering donating more money to help individual schools convert.