'Parent trigger' organizers find willing partner in Los Angeles Unified

January 19, 2013
Latrice Gamble of the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union hands the "parent trigger" petition to Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy on Thursday.

Latrice Gamble of the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union hands the “parent trigger” petition to Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy on Thursday. Photo: Derrick Everett. (Click to enlarge)

The third time appears to be a charm for organizers marshaling parents to reconstitute low-performing schools under the state’s “parent trigger” law.

Compared with the trench warfare with teachers and district officials that parents encountered while seeking to transform low-performing elementary schools in Compton and Adelanto, parents at the 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles Unified received encouragement rather than resistance from school officials when they submitted a “parent trigger”petition last week. Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy met them and promised “to work side by side with you so every student – todos los niños – gets an outstanding education.” United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher showed up unexpectedly at their press conference and vowed to collaborate with them, too (see his press statement here).

The 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union said that the petition contained 68 percent of the signatures of parents at the school, far more than the 50 percent required to demand a school transformation. The district must now verify the signatures.

The reception that parents got at district headquarters was “utterly unimaginable a few months ago,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit that organizes parent groups. “We have come a long way in terms of normalizing parent power.”

What helped their cause this time was that LAUSD had already identified the school as one of the worst performing in the district and had ordered the school to submit a transformation plan. Then, earlier this week, before the parents handed in their petition, Deasy returned the school’s transformation plan, written by the principal and a team of teachers in consultation with a half-dozen parents and Parent Revolution organizers, as insufficient. It was, however, candid in explaining the need for change: “We have continued to operate in the same manner for years and have consequently yielded the same ineffective results,” it said. “Rather than learn from our operational miscues and poor communication and look to our past for guidance, we have allowed the accretion of our failures to weigh us down.”

The 3-year-old parent trigger law allows 50 percent or more of parents in a low-performing school to demand the adoption of one of several options. The 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union has chosen the option of converting to a charter school.  But Austin said that before going the charter route, the petition still gives parents leverage to negotiate with the district and UTLA for an alternate in-district school transformation plan that would work for parents.

Such an alternative would have to be wrapped up very quickly, however. Having submitted their petition for a charter school, the parents have set in motion a tight series of deadlines leading to a charter operator opening at the school next fall. On Friday, one day after handing in their signatures, the Parents Union outlined requirements for potential charter operators and gave anyone who is interested one week to submit initial letters of interest.

The first two Parent Revolution-backed parent-trigger efforts brought mixed results. Litigation and resistance by the district and some parents delayed the Compton Unified effort to the point that organizers started a charter school in a nearby church. In the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, however, after a key court ruling validating signatures gathered by the Desert Trails Parents Union, the school board eventually approved the charter conversion of Desert Trails Elementary and the selection of a charter operator, who will assume control of the school this fall.


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