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Charter school operator Steve Barr to partner with L.A. Unified

July 17, 2012 |  6:59 am

Steve Barr, right, in 2007 after the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to turn Locke High School over to Green Dot as a charter school.

Steve Barr, the founder of a well-known group of unionized charter schools, announced Tuesday a new project to develop innovative academies within the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The schools would resemble independently managed charter schools but would remain under direct district supervision with substantial control entrusted to teachers and the school’s administration, he said.

The schools also would take advantage of new approaches to training teachers and new ways of instruction made possible by technology, he added.

“We have great schools in Los Angeles, and there is no reason this city shouldn’t have the best public school system in America,” said Barr, the founder and chief executive of the nascent Future Is Now Schools, in a statement. “What has hampered us in the past from scaling up these model schools is the inability for union teachers, education officials and education reformers to stop fighting and get on the same page.”

The founder of Green Dot Public Schools, Barr often has been at odds with officials of the nation’s second-largest school system. He led a successful, secret effort in 2006 to urge teachers at Locke High School to convert the campus to a Green Dot charter, provoking the ire of the school district and the teachers union.

In this latest effort, Barr is closely allied with L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who said in a statement that he was “excited about the potential of this partnership.”

Notably missing from the announcement were representatives of the unions for teachers and administrators. United Teachers Los Angeles said it had no one available to comment.

Former UTLA union President A.J. Duffy, however, praised the concept as good for students, teachers and unions. The head of the administrators' union, Judith Perez, said her organization hadn’t been “included in any discussions,” although administrators would be vital to the success of the enterprise.

Barr said there would be ample opportunity for inclusion. He insisted his plan is consistent with a recent teachers' union agreement that allows an unlimited number of so-called pilot schools, which are supposed to have many of the freedoms of charters.

Barr praised one pilot campus, the Los Angeles River School in Glassell Park, as having attributes he hopes to emulate.

Besides the L.A. project, Future Is Now will run a small high school in New Orleans and take over the single Green Dot campus in New York City. The two major funders of the L.A.-based nonprofit are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation, Barr said.

In Los Angeles, Barr said he would focus initially on three areas: Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park, Fairfax and Venice. All have high concentrations of middle-class students, a departure from Green Dot, which runs schools in low-income neighborhoods.

A Silver Lake resident with two small children, Barr cited highly regarded Ivanhoe Elementary as a local asset that could be built upon.

“Ivanhoe is better than any charter school I’ve ever seen,” said Barr. “This is about seeding some of that success. I want my kids to go through LAUSD from kindergarten through 12th grade.”

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Steve Barr, right, in 2007 after the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to turn Locke High School over to Green Dot as a charter school. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.

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