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SECOND OPINIONS : Dividing District Would Be Step Back From LEARN : The reform program has given individual schools autonomy, giving parents a say in their children’s education that would be lost if LAUSD is carved up.

<i> Maralyn Soifer is a West Hills educational therapist. She is a parent of a fifth-grader at Pomelo Drive Elementary School. </i>

After years of bureaucratic mismanagement, forced busing, teacher strikes, and year-round calendars, the demise of the Los Angeles Unified School District seems imminent. Officials previously apathetic to the woes of the schools suddenly want to plunge in and help with the dismantlement. The superintendent of schools, the state Legislature, the school board, and now, even the mayor of Los Angeles, are all suddenly very willing to formulate plans to break up LAUSD. Like sharks they are poised and ready to go in for the kill.

As a parent of a student at Pomelo Drive Elementary School, which is part of the LEARN program, I am very much against breaking up the school district. For two years the parents at Pomelo and other LEARN schools have enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. The LEARN program has put control into each individual school. There are committees to decide curriculum, disciplinary procedures, personnel issues, and even budgets for allocated funds. LEARN has given each school a voice in how it should be run. Giving up that power to a local school board would be a step backward.

When given the choice and the opportunity, parents do become involved in their children’s education. Recent events at Millikan Middle School and Sun Valley Middle School, where parents demanded a say in the hiring of the principals, prove this point. Parents become involved and interested in their children’s schools, giving up their time to serve on committees and to go for LEARN training. This raises the level of expectations within the schools, and everyone benefits. There is more learning, fewer behavior problems, better attendance and more pride.

LEARN schools are proud to display their green-and-white banners. There is a sense of commitment that is felt throughout the school. In a recent questionnaire sent home to families at Pomelo, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of LEARN. More than 92% of the parents were satisfied with the program, and more than 88% of the students responded favorably. More than 85% of the staff said they felt content with LEARN. Parents at these schools feel comfortable because it is a place that values their input. They are involved, and along with the students and faculty, feel a sense of ownership in their school. Participants in the LEARN program are called stake-holders with good reason.

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Decentralization for the LAUSD is basically a good idea, but breaking up the district is not necessary to achieve this goal. LEARN was set up to reform the schools in Los Angeles, and it has proven to be a success. Although the program barely has had time to mark three years, already parents, students and faculty are singing its praises.

Why not offer this program to more schools? Money is an issue. LEARN training is expensive. But if it is necessary to dismantle the school district, funds will have to be allocated for that purpose. Instead of using that money to tear up the district, why not use it to build up the LEARN program? Control belongs in individual schools and not arbitrary school districts. By keeping the Los Angeles Unified School District intact and developing more LEARN schools, everybody wins.


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