ABC Unified School District

ABC Unified School District

ABC Unified School District serves students in the southeast edge of Los Angeles County. The students come from both affluent and middle-class neighborhoods, as well as high-poverty areas. The district has seen excellent success and has earned multiple national and state awards. The district score on California's Academic Performance Index has increased every year under the labor-management partnership, most recently coming in 53 points higher than the state average.

The partnership between ABC Unified and the ABC Federation of Teachers began in 1993 after a teacher strike, but the collaborative partnership was jumpstarted in 1999 when the district's human resources directors, school board members, and union board members and presidents attended a Harvard seminar on labor-management relations in public schools.

The American Federation of Teachers recognized ABC's successful efforts with a $325,000 AFT Innovation Fund grant. The Innovation Fund challenges unions and districts to "push the envelope to improve schools, teaching, and learning in exciting, new ways."

Constant communication through regularly scheduled meetings and frequent conversations between administration and the union helps resolve issues and focus attention on student achievement. Some of these issues have included strengthening teacher recruitment and retention and funding teacher-selected, school-specific, research-based instructional programs. A yearly retreat involving all principals and building representatives has expanded the spirit of collaboration to the school level, and the union conducts a yearly survey to measure the effectiveness of the collaboration at each school in raising student achievement.

Superintendent Gary Smuts says, "Don't blame my district's union for failing schools. They're one of the reasons my district is successful. Student achievement is the main work of our teachers' union."

Twelve guiding principles form the basis of professional relationships in the district, and both Smuts and ABCFT President Laura Rico most frequently mention Principle #11: "We don't let each other fail."

student achievement graph

Data at a glance:
Total students 20,748
Total certified teachers 914
Total full-time staff 1,559
Number of schools 30
Enrollment, by race/ethnicity
—Hispanic: 41%
—Asian or Pacific Islander: 28%
—Black: 10%
—Filipino: 10%
—White: 8%
—Other: 3%
Students eligible for free and reduced-price meals 41%
English learners 22%
Graduation rate 89%


Laura Rico, President, ABC Federation of Teachers
Gary Smuts, Superintendent, ABC Unified School District
Celia Spitzer, President, ABC Board of Education


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