Los Angeles school Supt. William Anton said Monday he will recommend approval of proposals to give 27 schools more autonomy despite concerns raised by some Board of Education members that more multicultural programs are needed.
Anton said some of the proposals were not as visionary as he might have hoped, but he praised others for their innovation. "Change may be uncomfortable . . . and there may be some reluctance," Anton said at Monday's school board meeting. But he added that "all of us are committed to making it work."
In their first public discussion of the Los Angeles Unified School District's experiment in what is being called school-based management, most board members said they favor approving plans submitted by the schools.
"We need to allow these experiments to flourish," said board member Mark Slavkin. "There's a tremendous risk in doing nothing and . . . a school is going to know much sooner than we are if it's working and whether they need to make modifications."
Several board members raised concerns about the lack of multicultural programs, proposals by individual schools that might adversely affect other schools, and schools that had failed to define academic goals.
Rita Walters, the most vociferous critic of school-based management, said she will not approve the proposals until substantial revisions are made.
Walters voiced special concern that some of the proposals failed to address the needs of multicultural student bodies, faulting one proposal for assuming that all students of one race learn alike.
She also blasted a school that wanted to add popular, non-core classes, saying that "inner-city kids don't need any more Mickey Mouse classes and Mickey Mouse graduation requirements." She did not name the schools whose plans she criticized.
Another problem, said board member Leticia Quezada, is that the plans lack specific strategies to help low-income and non-English-speaking students.
"There are not a lot of specifics on what we're going to accomplish and how," Quezada said.
Board President Jackie Goldberg reminded her colleagues that the basic philosophy behind school-based management entails relinquishing control and giving schools the freedom to try new and localized programs--even programs that board members may not agree with.
"Even if we don't philosophically agree, if they set improved standards, then we can see if it works," Goldberg said.
The restructuring plans, which could be implemented in September if approved by the board and the directors of the United Teachers-Los Angeles union, range from adding district-approved programs, such as after-school tutoring and parent volunteer groups, to radical changes in what students study and how they are evaluated.
One proposal calls for students to perform 10 hours of community or school service in order to graduate. Another would create two classrooms where children are mixed across grade levels and allowed to learn without the pressure of grades.
Several representatives of the teacher's union urged the board not to pick apart the proposals but to recognize the hard work of the 27 schools.
"Some of these proposals are very far-reaching but we have to make a very clear philosophical statement . . . to back them up," said Nina Greenberg, elementary schools vice president for the teacher's union.
"It's better to make a mistake and do something than continue to do nothing," she added.
The board asked its staff to recommend how to address some of the concerns that were raised Monday. The board is expected to decide whether to approve the proposals at its meeting next Monday. The proposals have been approved by the Central Council on Shared Decision Making and School-Based Management.
Some of the proposals will require the board to grant waivers of district policy and several will require waivers from the state Department of Education.
Seventy of the district's 600 schools were selected last spring to develop plans. The schools had barely a month to prepare the proposals and only 38 were able to submit plans by the July 16 deadline. Eleven of those were deemed incomplete and will proably be revised and resubmitted in October, along with the remaining 32 from the original group.