Monday, June 30

TEACHERS RUNNING SCHOOLS IN MILWAUKEE

SARAH CARR MILWAUKEE JOURNAL As a freshman at Vincent High School, Trinisa Johnson didn't even know the name of the principal and would never have considered taking her questions or concerns there. But as a sophomore last year at Milwaukee's Community High School, Johnson was well-connected to people in high places.

That's largely because Community High lacks a traditional hierarchy. The school is one of a rapidly growing number of so-called "teacher-led" schools that operate without administrators - including principals and assistant principals. The teachers make decisions about the curriculum, the budget and student discipline. They perform peer evaluations of each other. Often, they come to decisions through discussion and debate, taking a vote if a consensus is not reached. The buck stops with them, not in the principal's office.

In Milwaukee, which is a national leader in the movement toward teacher-led schools, there will be at least 14 such programs next year, and that figure does not count private schools.

Appleton will have two teacher-led schools next year. Minnesota, another leader in the movement, has 15 schools where the teachers are part of a workers' cooperative structured much like a law firm, so they not only make most of the decisions related to the school, but also set their own salaries. Education officials and teachers unions in California, Chicago and other places are studying the teacher-led model. . .

Even staunch supporters of the model concede that it is not for everyone: It requires extra time, will not work if the teachers don't familiarize themselves with the policies, procedures and politics of the district, and can be difficult to adapt to larger schools.

In Milwaukee, not all of the teacher-led schools are structured in the same way. Some schools have a clear "teacher leader" who does most of the administrative tasks but lacks the title and some of the authority of a principal; others are more pure "teacher cooperatives" where the decision-making and administrative tasks are spread out to include all of the teachers more equally; still others are a hybrid.

Olivia Kleser, 15, a classmate of Johnson's last year at Community High School, said she did not know the school was teacher-led until she started there. "But I liked it better," she added. "In my old school, you would be sent to the principal if you had problems with other students or at home, or in general. But my principal hated me." At Community High, Kleser said, you can always "talk to some other teacher" if you have issues.

For Roxane Mayeur, one of her teachers, the biggest difference in being at a teacher-led school is that the "sense of hierarchy is eliminated." "That's a powerful thing," she said. "The students understand that the staff is a unit. There is no playing one teacher off another.". . .

The teacher-led schools are supported by the MPS administration and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, the local teachers union - as long as they follow the rules laid out in their contracts, which, for instance, detail how the peer evaluation process can be done. Teachers at teacher-led schools cannot hire and fire people from the district, although they can ask that a teacher be moved to a different school or that an employee be investigated.

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