Two nearby charter school operators have expressed interest in running a besieged elementary school in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, ending worries of organizers of the state’s first successful “parent trigger” that their invitation for applicants to take over their school might go unanswered.
Organizers of the Desert Trails Parent Union announced Tuesday that they have invited the two charter operators and a non-charter school improvement consulting firm to submit a formal charter school application by Sept. 21.
They rejected a fourth group, a for-profit consulting firm, that had submitted an inquiry by last Fridays’ deadline, and they expressed disappointment that the Adelanto School District failed to take up their offer to partner with them in transforming Desert Trails Elementary.
“The parents reached out and asked the District multiple times to submit” a letter of inquiry, said Doreen Diaz, head of the Parent Union. “A partnership ultimately takes two to work.” So now, she said, parents are ready to move on.
Last month, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled that the Adelanto District had illegally disqualified a “parent trigger” petition from Desert Trails parents to convert the low-performing school into a charter school. Judge Steve Malone set in motion a 90-day process for the parents and guardians who signed the “parent trigger” petition – representing nearly 70 percent of the students in the school – to select a charter operator, which would then go before the Adelanto District school board for approval. If denied, the parents and charter operator could appeal to the county office of education, and ultimately to the State Board, in time to open in the fall of 2013. (The Adelanto school board, meanwhile, plans to appeal Judge Malone’s ruling.)
LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy and the High Desert Partnership in Academic Excellence Foundation, the two charter operators, will offer the Desert Trails parents a distinctive choice. Both are based near Adelanto, in southwestern San Bernadino County off I-15. Both have API scores in the mid-800s while downplaying standardized testing, both say they have long waiting lists to enroll, and both cite parent engagement as a strength.
The High Desert Partnership, also known as the Lewis Center for Educational Research, operates two STEM-based charter schools and a student-run radio telescope with ties to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. LaVerne Elementary Prep, a 400-student K-8 charter school in Hesperia, offers what executive director and founder Debra Tarver calls a classical education in which students learn Latin as well as French and Spanish, and read the Odyssey, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and classical children’s literature. Desert Trails parents probably couldn’t ask for clearer differences in educational philosophy.
Many charter operators shy away from taking over an existing school, especially one that will be born out of controversy and division. But Tarver and Rick Piercy, president and CEO of the Lewis Center, say the high desert region is a close-knit community, and the students in Adelanto are similar to the students they teach: primarily Hispanic and African American in a region hard-hit by the recession, with unemployment in Adelanto above 25 percent and average home prices falling by two-thirds, in six years.
The Lewis Center operates the Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy, a dual-immersion Spanish-English K-6 charter in the city of San Bernadino that will expand to a K-12 charter by 2018. Its first charter, the K-12 Academy for Academic Excellence, opened in 1997 and now is on three campuses in Apple Valley. Piercy says the school has tracked 61 percent of its graduates, 80 percent of whom report having completed or are attending college, including a recent graduate from the London School of Economics.
“It will be a big deal for us to open another school,” Piercy said. “We never wanted to be a big charter management organization, but we are interested in seeing what kind of change can be created in a conversion charter school by re-engaging parents in a way that is not disruptive but productive.”
The Parent Union is requesting a comprehensive charter proposal, including details on how the charter operator would inform and involve parents in the school. Diaz said that parents would visit both LaVerne Elementary Prep and the Lewis Center’s charters over the next month.