Venice High School has joined LEARN, the ambitious school reform program that gives schools greater control over their budgets and curriculum.
Venice joins 88 other Los Angeles Unified schools participating in LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now), which was developed two years ago by a coalition of business, civic and education leaders. The program seeks to increase student achievement by giving greater autonomy to local schools.
Other Westside schools hope to follow. Fairfax High has applied to become a LEARN school, and University High School's faculty will vote next week on whether to apply. Palisades Charter High School, meanwhile, joined LEARN last year, and is the only Westside high school besides Venice participating in the program.
To be eligible for LEARN, 75% of the faculty at a school must vote to join the program. Currently, 38 schools have applications pending to join LEARN starting in July. The application deadline is Wednesday.
Information sessions on LEARN are under way at University High school. Principal Ann Petty said it is not clear whether 75% of the faculty will vote to join the program. University High, she said, has already implemented many of the administrative steps encouraged by LEARN and some teachers question the need to join the program.
"Everyone is asking themselves, 'What can this do for University High?' " she said.
Venice High Principal Bud Jacobs said some teachers at his school were wary about LEARN. The school's faculty voted twice over the past two years on LEARN without reaching the 75% threshold. But last fall, 76% of the faculty voted to join the program.
"Some people were not anxious about participating in another reform movement," said Jacobs of the Venice High faculty members who voted not to join LEARN. "Some people are cynical and see LEARN as a fad."
He added that he thinks the program will allow more innovative schooling. "We want to look at different ways to measure and display student performance," Jacobs said.
Under LEARN, each school must enroll its principal and a lead teacher in an intensive training course at the UCLA School of Management at a cost of $30,000 per campus. Last summer, Jacobs and Jim Brackwood, a social studies teacher at Venice High, took the course, which included classes in marketing and budget management, among other subjects.
Jacobs said he considers the marketing course particularly valuable. "With open enrollment, and the magnet programs, it's becoming more competitive now."
School district officials say that ultimately all Los Angeles Unified schools will join LEARN. But some teachers believe they may miss out on the opportunity.
"I'm concerned if LEARN will be there for us next year," said Suzanne Borenstein, a teacher at University High. "The district is pouring so many resources into LEARN. I'm not sure there will be money for more schools next year."