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Turning to the Teachers

Jefferson High School in Los Angeles—despite once having produced the likes of dancer Alvin Ailey, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ralph Bunche, and a host of notable jazz musicians—has had a dismal record in recent years. Its test scores are routinely among the lowest in the city, and in 2007 it had dropout rate of 58 percent. But here's the twist: Instead of reconstituting the now mostly Latino school or turning it into a charter run by an outside company, the Los Angeles school board recently decided to effectively turn Jefferson over to its own teachers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to building on a "small academies" organizational approach already in place, the faculty's improvement plan for the school includes opening classes to parent observation; instituting peer monitoring of teachers; cutting down on suspensions (since missed class time is already a big problem); and making unannounced home visits to students who are falling behind. Educators are also making efforts to prompt students to think more about career and educational goals. "These students do have dreams," said Counselor Laura Baca. "That's what we have to tap into."

No one is saying it's going be easy, though. On a recent motivational field trip to San Diego State University, two of the 44 students who made the bus ride were arrested on charges of shoplifting.

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