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After early surge, LAUSD autonomy school growth slowing

Yana Gracile | August 5, 2014

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After a strong start in the number of autonomy model schools over the last two years, the pace of growth has slowed.

For the school year opening next week, LA Unified is adding only a handful of Pilot, Local Initiative Schools (LIS), and Expanded School-Based Model Management (ESBMM) schools.

LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, signed an agreement at the end of 2011 adding LIS as a third autonomy model to the existing ESBMM and pilot school models, and over over the first two years with all three models, pilots increased to 48 from 34, LIS went to 11 from 1 and ESBMM schools rose to 23 from 17.

In the coming year, however, LA Unified is adding just 4 pilots (two closed last year), 4 LIS schools and 1 ESBMM school, bringing the totals to 50 pilots, 15 LIS and 24 ESBMM.

The four new pilots are Lucille Roybal-Allard ES, Porter Ranch Community School, Boyle Heights STEM HS, and Nava College Preparatory Academy.

The four new LIS include Lokrantz Special Education Center, Panorama City ES, Reseda HS, and Salvin Community Learning Center. The new ESBMM school is Verdugo Hills HS.

District officials say the initial increases reflected new options for autonomy made available to schools, allowing outside management groups and teacher-led groups to work together for change. Those same options attracted fewer such groups for the coming year, the officials said.

Each of the autonomy models provides a varying degree of autonomy and decision-making authority in exchange for increased accountability. The arrangement enables schools to provide innovative programs that seek to improve student achievement.


Pilot schools operate with broad local control and are exempt from district policies and some waivers from the teachers union contract, but they must follow all state and federal guidelines.

Pilot schools also have the unique ability to replace staff at the end of each school year.

An existing, non-pilot LAUSD school or small learning community may convert to become a pilot school if a minimum of 67 percent of all UTLA bargaining unit members who work 50 percent or more of their time in the school vote to adopt pilot status.

John Lawler, principal of the pilot school Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts for the last three years, said he was attracted to the teacher-led model because of the instructional flexibility it offers.

“As teachers, we were in the best position to determine what would be the needs and the best way to approach instruction for our students,” he said, adding, “Being a small school, we’d be able to offer a really personalized experience for kids and give a lot of attention to their needs and get to know all the kids and really determine what their strengths were and what their challenges were and how we could address all of those.”

Pilot school teachers, though still represented by UTLA, must sign an elect-to-work contract that requires them to put in more hours on the job and participate in supplementary career training.

“The beauty of teacher led is that it is ‘buy in,’ ” Lawler said. “They have the ‘buy in’ to actually follow through and do it. I think the best educators are innovators and this is a venue for being innovative.”


Local Initiative Schools have the authority and option to determine local school policy.

Similar to pilots, LIS schools have broad local control and exemptions from district policy. But they are unique in one key respect: the concept of “mutual consent” hiring is contractually embedded. This requires that both the school and teacher agree to placement at the school site, a departure from traditional LAUSD schools, where placement is decided by the district.

LIS schools may elect to waive some union contract provisions if there is agreement at the school site to do so. The  approval  process for an LIS school involves both a petition and a vote of 60 percent of the full time UTLA staff.


ESBMM schools have a more limited set of options they can customize, which include their budgets, staff selection and professional development expectations, curriculum, and schedule.


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