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The idea of an administration-free school dates back to the one-room schoolhouse.

Robert McClure, the co-director of the NEA's Charter School Initiative, says the union has not laid out specific rules for dealing with such an organizational structure. The NEA has worked closely, however, with one teacher-led school in Minnesota. (See the accompanying story, "Northern Lights.")

According to McClure, such schools might find that certain contract issues may be harder to work out than others, depending on the local union. "There are going to be places in local associations in which they are trying very, very hard to protect a certain right that is hard-won over many, many years," he says, and the union will be less likely to grant a waiver in those cases.

Using the example of grievance procedures, McClure admits that teachers in a teacher-led charter school probably wouldn't need to follow the union's stipulations. But still, the union wants to make sure that at least some procedures are in place to protect teachers. "It's going to be important that teachers are very clear up front about how problems are going to be resolved," he says.

The teachers at the Accelerated School sidestepped these issues altogether by leaving United Teachers of Los Angeles, the city's teachers' union. Both Sved and Williams are former union members who felt a contract negotiated for the 1992-93 school year cut an unfairly harsh deal for the district's young teachers. Williams, in fact, was the union representative at his old school before breaking away at Accelerated. "I still have friends at UTLA," he says. "I think they now respect the decision we made to try something different."

Sved believes their new school works best without interference from "outsiders" requiring detailed rules and procedures. "The way to keep the teaching staff happy is to give them a significant role in decisionmaking," he says. "What we're doing is really the bottom line of what any union would want for teachers."

There's something about a school that's led entirely by teachers that seems to foster a different kind of camaraderie.

Of course, Constellation and Accelerated aren't the only schools to operate without a principal; the idea itself is as old as the one-room schoolhouse. And charter schools across the country with other management structures certainly challenge the norm in other ways. At Hilltown Cooperative Charter School in Haydenville, Mass., for example, management is divvied up by expertise: Teachers work together to make the educational decisions, while an administrator supervises the office tasks.

But there's something about a school that's led entirely by teachers that seems to foster a different kind of camaraderie among staff members.

It's apparent at both schools when the teachers are still around after the clock strikes 5 or even 6 p.m. on a long school day.

It's apparent at Accelerated, where a long faculty meeting comes to a close with a discussion of a play one of the teachers plans to see that night.

And it's apparent at the end of the Constellation faculty meeting, when Norris asks, "Anybody want to go out for something to eat?"

Quint says the camaraderie stems from all the participants being fully engaged in the decisionmaking process. "To me, it's more like family," he says. "Once we decide where we're going, there's no whining."

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