Citing research and experience in other locations, the Los Angeles Unified School District Tuesday approved a new small schools policy that is being called historic and exciting and what it will take to change the educational path for many students in the nation’s second largest public school system.

The policy authored by School Board Vice President Yolie Flores Aguilar and co-sponsor by Board President Monica Garcia, and Board Member Richard Vladovic, is designed to transform the majority of the district into small schools by the year 2020.

Under the resolution, which was passed on a 6-1 vote, the district’s larger schools–particularly the high-priority campuses like Jordan, Washington, Dorsey, Fremont, Clay, Bethune and Muir as well as all middle schools–will be transformed into smaller schools of generally no more than 500 pupils each for high school and elementary (400 for middle school campuses).

Marguerite P. LaMotte was the loan dissenting vote, after the four-hour discussion of the resolution.

The transformation would be done using methods such as repainting the buildings for each individual school with unified colors as well as developing logos and themes for each new campus. Parents, students and the community will play a critical role in decided which direction and their small school would go academically.

But each campus would offer students a rigorous academic curriculum that includes make sure that the A-G University of California/California State University courses are provided.

The board directed Superintendent David L. Brewer to come back with specific plans within the next six months including staffing, funding and training models, and maximizing parent and student engagement.

According to Aguilar, the cost of transforming existing campuses into smaller schools will vary.
“In San Diego, we visited two comprehensive high schools they transformed into small schools, and it cost them about $1 million each,” explained Aguilar, who said money to handle the transformation will come from the district’s current and future school bonds.

The board member also said the resolution directs school district personal to get the process started by 2010, and Aguilar noted that creating a solid planning foundation, and not rushing in too fast and unprepared, is the key to the small school success.

Among the other changes the new policy will entail are training assistant principals to take on leadership roles because each new school will have its own principal; and helping teachers and staff learn work in a collaborative manner.

“Some of this is going to require a lot of new learning. We don’t typically have people who know how to work collaborative and operate in a teams/family approach. It’s going to require a different mind set,” added Aguilar.

While she is extremely enthusiastic about the potential of the small schools, Aguilar is not blind to the reality that it will take more than this new policy to insure that district students learn.

“We are very clear that small schools, in and of themselves, are not sufficient . . . but they create the conditions for critical improvement.”

Better training, more parent involvement, and increased accountability will also be keys to success.

“That was the most consistent thing we heard from districts across the country–accountability increased tremendously the smaller the school You don’t get to hide any more. Your results (or failures) become much more visible.”

Aguilar added that the students, particularly those who are poor and come from communities of color, will be the biggest winner, because small schools ameliorate for many of the ills that typically plague such communities.