Have you heard about schools like Francis Parkman Middle School in Los Angeles which has been reorganized and run primarily by teachers? This is an example of the latest trend for turning around poorly performing schools and an alternative to charter schools. Here’s the scoop on this school in particular.
Francis Parkman Middle School, a school in which half the student body is Hispanic, and the other half speaks 26 languages ranging from Armenian to Farsi, and where 40 percent of its population is on free or reduced lunches, was notorious for its low test scores and unruly students. The faculty was limping along under what they claimed was an apathetic administration. The school was in desperate need of physical repair and maintenance. While the acceptable mark for standardized tests is in the 800s in Los Angeles, this school’s test scores were generally in the 600s. Their music program had been canceled, and when two charter schools opened in the area, their enrollment dropped significantly over the next two years. In fact, it was being looked at by a hospital as a potential parking lot. The final straw occurred when two teachers had to be laid off due to declining enrollment. Apparently teachers got fed up, and four of them filed an application to turn this troubled school into a teacher-led school.
Since then, the school has been renamed Woodland Hills Academy. Although they still have a principal, that individual carries the same weight as the teachers, and the district has little say in how the school operates. In spite of initial difficulties and some loss of personnel who were unwilling to put in the time it took to revamp the school, many changes were made which have brought significant improvements to this once-beleaguered school. Teachers set the school’s goals for test scores and ESL placement, decide their own professional development track, changed the schedule to better rotate teachers, and revamped the curriculum to include music, art and electives like photography and journalism. Enrollment and parent involvement have increased drastically, and the school’s test score is 783, which is very close to the state’s targeted score. Teachers reported that it wasn’t easy and sometimes brutal, but much good has come out of their hard work.
Is this the new trend? The jury is still out on that. The success of Woodland Hills has not been mirrored everywhere, but this is an alternative movement to charter schools which seems to have some real merit. We will have to keep our eyes on future districts whose teachers fight to lead their schools. It is certainly exciting!