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L.A. teachers union wins grant for school-reform model

February 8, 2013 |  6:10 pm

The union representing Los Angeles teachers has won a grant to help instructors play a prominent leadership role in their schools.

The grant to United Teachers Los Angeles is relatively small, $150,000, but backers said the seed money would go a long way toward replicating schools operating along the lines of Woodland Hills Academy, a middle school in the west San Fernando Valley.

At the campus, teachers make up half of a leadership team that also includes parents and administrators. Principal Ed Hayek still has to answer to the district bureaucracy above him, but said that his tenure and effectiveness also rely on winning and keeping the support of the leadership committee.

“At a typical school the administrator would create a plan and then mandate it to the faculty,” Hayek said. “Here, if I come up with an idea I go to teachers and get their input.” The end result is that “the buy-in is there,” he said.

The school’s greatest success is in reversing years of declining enrollment by encouraging local families to return to the campus. Enrollment has increased by nearly 50%, Hayek said.

“People got that the school was on a downward trajectory,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which awarded the grant from its innovation fund. The school was “fixed by parents and teachers working together….This model should be celebrated and replicated.”

The union leader added that the Woodland Hills model is superior to the process involved with "parent-trigger" laws. Trigger laws allow parents to sign a petition that results in replacing a school's faculty or turning the campus over to be run by an outside organization. She said collaboration should take precedence over conflict.

Weingarten commented after a tour of the school on Friday.

Heading the grant effort locally will be Michael Bennett, a former union officer and also a longtime district principal prior to his 2011 retirement.

“There are principals out there willing to try something different,” he said.

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-- Howard Blume

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