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New direction

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 1/30/2009, 5 p.m.

Parents and teachers at Crenshaw and Westchester high schools last week overwhelmingly approved their respective campuses applications to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Innovation Division (iDivision), and now the next move is for both schools and their external partners to create a governance structure and then sign a five-year contract with the district.

Parents at both schools cast their ballots on Wednesday, while teachers voted on Thursday. The results at Crenshaw were 95 parents in favor versus six against, while 91 teachers gave the new plan the yes nod and 23 were opposed.

At Westchester, 100 parents cast votes in favor of joining the iDivison and 12 said no, while 72 teachers agreed with the move and 23 were against it.

Although the number of parents voting seems low given that more than 1,800 students attend Crenshaw and in excess of 1,700 go to Westchester, according to Dalia Hochman with iDivision, the turnouts mirror the percentages that vote in regular political elections.

The LAUSD established the iDivision to provide school communities with a new opportunity to accelerate learning through the principles of teacher, parent, and student empowerment, partnerships with strong community organizations, and accountability for improved academic achievement.

But Hochman cautions not to expect to see a radically different school during the first year of the innovation membership, which begins in September.

"We're encouraging schools not to try to change everything at once, but to pick one or two things," said the iDivision official. "The key is to work together and figure out the governance structure, and how they will govern and be held accountable."

Westchester has established a partnership with Loyola Marymount University while Crenshaw will join forces with the USC School of Education and the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation.

Among the benefits of being part of the Innovation division is that schools will have more control over concerns such as curriculum, staffing, and budget but at the same time, must be accountable for student achievement. Also, instead of reporting to the district superintendents, the partnerships will report directly to the superintendent of schools via the iDivision.

Control over the budget means that the schools should have a larger portion of the funds that come from the state and federal governments, and a much smaller portion will go to the administration. Hochman said that what the district offices take out can range from 20 to 60 percent depending on the program, but averages 35 to 40 percent overall.

There is also the per-pupil funding to separate out and calculate. This currently ranges from $7,000-$8,000 per child in the state.

Now that the vote has been completed, the next step is for the partnerships to establish a governance structure. Hochman said the district would like to see this in place by March, when the contracts are expected to go before the Board of Education for approval.

The district must also devise an accountability framework. Hochman said she expects this will go beyond looking at test scores to include measures such as class rigor, completion of A-G coursework, graduation rates, and the overall school environment such as safety.