Belmont Pilot Schools

A background on LAUSD Zones of Choice and the emergence of pilot schools

The pilot school movement in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began with the development of the Belmont Zone of Choice, a network of schools that families who live within a specific geographic area can select based on students’ needs and interests. The Belmont Zone was developed from the ground up by United Teachers of Los Angeles and a grassroots coalition of teachers and community groups in 2007 (for more information see The Belmont Zone of Choice: Community-Driven Action for School Change. Within the Zone, some of the schools are innovative pilot schools, others are traditional district schools, and still others operate as charter schools or under Expanded School Based Management (ESBM) arrangements. Different groups applied to run a school within the Zone, specifying the school type they believed would best support their model. LAUSD evaluated and selected the applicants that they determined to be best suited for the Zone and its campuses.

Through a Belmont Pilot Schools pilot agreement, which is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between LAUSD School Board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), governing councils of any approved Belmont Pilot Schools secured wide autonomy in areas such as curriculum, staffing, budget, governance, professional development, and school calendars so they can explore ground-breaking models to improve teaching and learning. In any pilot school, the potential exists for the councils to put the decision-making authority in teachers’ hands. Some councils have done this, to varying degrees. This opportunity is based on the Boston Pilot Schools model, which has been carefully shepherded by the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) since the model was first advanced in 1994. CCE developed the Five Conditions of Autonomy for schools that are espoused in both the Boston and Los Angeles pilot school agreements (MOUs), which are always arranged between the school district and the union.

Since 2007, other Zones and other autonomy arrangements that can be used within the Zones, such as ESBM, have emerged in LAUSD. Students are asked to rank their school choices within the Zone in which they live. High school students are allowed one transfer after 9th grade. Some schools are co-located on shared campuses. These schools share a front office, library, nurse, security, cafeteria, sports teams, and after school activities. Each school pays a portion of the shared campus staff out of their individual school budgets. Students take classes only at their own school.

As of this writing in October 2015, there are 18 Zones of Choice including 50 pilot schools (as well as other types of schools) in Los Angeles. Some of these pilot schools have chosen to have teacher-powered school governance structures. The Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative (TPSI) has confirmed the following schools, within the following zones, to be teacher-powered (there are likely more–TPSI just hasn’t connected with them yet). Each school is profiled here on the National Inventory of Teacher-Powered Schools, where one can learn more about the autonomy the teacher teams have in policy and practice.

Carson Zone of Choice, CarsonCarson HSAcademy of Medical Arts, Grades 9-12

Eastside Zone of ChoiceEsteban Torres HSHumanitas Academy of Art and Technology, Grades 9-12East LA Renaissance Academy, Grades 9-12

North Valley Zone of Choice, San Fernando ValleyCesar Chavez Learning AcademiesSocial Justice Humanitas Academy, Grades 9-12ArTES, grades 9-12

Sotomayor Zone of ChoiceSonia Sotomayor Learning Academies Studio Middle School, Grades 6-8, Marca WhittenSchool of History and Dramatic Arts (SoHDA), Grades 9-12

RFK Zone of ChoiceRobert F. Kennedy Community of SchoolsLos Angeles High School of the Arts, Grades 9-12UCLA Community School, Grades K-12

Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy, South Central LA

Pilot School autonomy agreements between LAUSD and UTLA

Today, there are three agreements with which LAUSD pilot schools operate. Sources say that the agreement that is used for each school corresponds with when the school was started. When LAUSD and UTLA initially negotiated pilot schools, they set a cap (only so many could exist). After some success LAUSD and UTLA negotiated that more pilot schools could be approved, and set a new cap. When that cap was reached, a third opportunity to open pilot schools was negotiated and approved. With each new approval came a new memorandum of understanding. Thus, the Los Angeles pilot schools are governed by one of three arrangements, all consisting of MOUs, listed in order of their appearance: the Belmont Pilot Schools Agreement, the Los Angeles Pilot School Agreement, or a combination of the LA Pilot Agreement and the Local School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative (LSSEI) Agreement.

This can be somewhat confusing to those trying to make sense of autonomy arrangements for the various schools. For example, UCLA Community School operates with a Belmont Pilot Schools memorandum of understanding, despite its location in the RFK Zone of Choice (not the Belmont Zone). As can be drawn from above, this happened because the Belmont agreement was the only one in existence at the time of UCLA Community School’s inception–so that was the agreement used, no matter the actual Zone in which the school was located.

Again, in any pilot school, the potential exists for the governing councils to delegate the decision-making authority it receives through the MOU(s) to a group of teachers at the school, making the school teacher-powered. Some councils have done this, to varying degrees.

There is another aspect of the LA Pilot School autonomy arrangements, which is especially important for a school that wants to advance teacher-powered governance. At each Los Angeles teacher-powered pilot school, teachers collectively write an Election-to-Work Agreement (EWA) for their site on an annual basis that outlines what the team of teachers determines to be the working conditions at the school. After the team approves the EWA at the school level, the EWA must also be approved by the union local, UTLA, since it exempts the individuals who sign it from specific terms negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement. Teachers who do not agree to work under the conditions set by the team will enter the district’s hiring pool and default to the working conditions outlined in the existing collective bargaining agreement.

It is worth noting that administrators at pilot schools retain all of their rights within the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) collective bargaining agreement as written into the LAUSD/AALA MOU.

What do LAUSD teacher-powered schools do with decision making authority?

Kim Farris-Berg and Kristoffer Kohl, in their work with Center for Teaching Quality, interviewed teachers from Social Justice Humanitas Academy and UCLA Community School about their successes as teacher-powered schools serving high-need communities. They documented what they learned in this three-part series from Education Week’s “On California” blog:

Teachers Design and Run LA Unified “Pilot” Schools

Bold Innovations Emerging at LA Unified’s Teacher-Powered Schools

Teacher-Powered Pilot Schools Face Obstacles

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