LA parents submit ‘trigger’ petition

Last week, the first “parent trigger” school takeover was approved in California’s Mojave Desert. A high-scoring charter operator will take over low-scoring Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto. Today, Los Angeles parents will use the trigger law to ask for changes at their very low-scoring school, threatening to convert the school to a charter if they’re not satisfied. Parents at 24th Street  Elementary “are demanding stronger leadership, better academics, safer and cleaner facilities and a new culture of high expectations,” reports the Hechinger Report.

As they recruit parents, the 24th Street petitioners cite the grim statistics: More than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth-graders can’t read at grade level, and the school’s 8 percent suspension rate is the second highest out of all elementary schools in the LAUSD. Last year, 24th Street scored a 667 on the state’s Academic Performance Index, a 1,000-point scale that ranks California schools. That was 32 points lower than Desert Trails—the school that won its parent trigger push last week—and well below the state target of 800.

“It hasn’t been that difficult to rally parents,” (parent Amabilia) Villeda said. “Many parents say that if significant changes don’t happen at this school this year, they’re going to take their kids out.”

24th Street Elementary is a turnaround school that hasn’t turned yet. Its 2012-13 improvement plan discusses “stubbornly low test scores, ineffective teaching methods and student concerns about bullying and cleanliness” as well as high absenteeism and transiency rates.

The plan calls for .. .  better systems in place to check for student understanding and promote re-teaching, more comprehensive teacher evaluations and increased parent involvement on school committees.

Parent-union leaders says the plan doesn’t go far enough and had little parent input. About 60 percent of parents have signed the trigger petition, according to Parent Revolution, which is backing the campaign.

Parent Laura Wade, 37, said 24th Street shouldn’t get a pass just because it serves a low-income area—100 percent of students there are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. Eighty percent of its students are Hispanic and 18 percent are black. Nearly half of the students don’t speak English at home.

Since her son started kindergarten last fall, he’s had 11 teachers, most of them substitutes, Wade said.

The 24th Street petition “calls for reopening the school under either a charter operator or a partnership model within the district.”

The elementary school shares its campus with Crown Prep, a charter middle school (starting in fifth grade) that’s reached the state target on the Academic Performance Index.

‘Trigger’ advocate leads in school board race

Parent trigger advocates won their fight with the Adelanto school board in the Mojave Desert to take over a failing school — and now they appear to have ousted two incumbents and won a seat on the board, reports Ed Week.

The vote total  is not yet official, but it looks like voters have elected Teresa Rogers, a Desert Trails Parent Union member who backed the trigger campaign, to the Adelanto school board, along with challenger Elaine M. Gonzales.  School board president Carlos Mendoza, who strongly opposed the campaign to convert Desert Trails Elementary School to a charter school, and incumbent Holly Eckes, have lost their seats, if the vote count stands. A third incumbent, Jermaine Wright has won re-election.

‘Parent trigger’ goes Hollywood

Won’t Back Down — white mom teams up with black teacher/mom to take over a failing school — opens in theaters Sept. 28.

Earlier this week, a judge ordered Adelanto school officials to accept a “parent trigger” petition and prepare to cede control of a low-performing elementary school. The Desert Trails Parents Union is looking for a “partner” to help run the school, starting next fall:  “Under the regulations, this process will be open to anyone – including districts and labor organizations interested in submitting Partnership School proposals, as well as existing non-profit charter operators submitting traditional independent charter proposals.”


Judge rules for ‘parent trigger’ in Adelanto

The parent trigger movement has won a victory in the California desert. The Desert Trails Parents Union can move forward with plans to “transform” a low-performing elementary school, ruled Superior Court Judge Steven Malone. the Adelanto school board  “lacked authority to reject 97 signatures” on the parents petition, the judge ruled. Here’s the judge’s opinion.

Parents say they want to work with the district to create a “partnership school,”  rather than bringing in a charter school, though the board’s intransigence may make that impossible. With the new school year starting so soon, the “full transformation” will be delayed until 2013, said Gabe Rose, deputy direction of Parent Revolution.

Pulling the trigger on bad schools

The parent trigger has misfired again in California’s Mojave Desert. The Adelanto school board once again rejected a parent trigger petition, saying it fell two votes short of a majority, reports AP. The parents union wants to create a “partnership school” run by administrators, teachers and parents.

The district dismissed signatures of parents whose children who had left Desert Trails Elementary School since January, parents who rescinded their signatures in writing and by phone, parents who were not legal guardians or who had no comparison signature on file at the school.

Parents and their supporters said they disputed a number of those invalidations, especially after they found evidence of forgery on six signature withdrawal forms after the petition was turned in the first time in January. That evidence has been turned over to the San Bernardino County District Attorney.

Parent union organizer Doreen Diaz said she was outraged that the district continued to count about 64 rescissions after a random sampling revealed fraud. The district only discounted the six where proof appeared conclusive.

The parents group will take the district to court.

Hopes and Fears for Parent Trigger Laws is a subject for debate at the New York Times.

Don’t condescend to parents, writes RiShawn Biddle, a fan of parent trigger laws.

Can parents run their kids’ schools?

Eventually, parents will take over their children’s low-performing school using “parent trigger” laws. (Adelanto, California parents have resubmitted their petition.) Can parents run their kids schools any better than the pros? asks Andrew Rotherham in Time. Even bad schools can get worse, he warns.

Adelanto parents distrust outside charter operators. If they can’t agree with the district on improving Desert Trails Elementary, they plan to turn it into a community-run school. Turning around an existing school is a huge challenge, Rotherham writes.  “Let’s face it – if it were easy to run great schools, we’d have more of them.”

To avoid chaos, he suggests a supermajority — perhaps two-thirds of parents — be required to trigger a takeover.  That would ensure a “core consensus.”

However, parent involvement in running schools has a “decidedly mixed” record, he writes. In the ’60s, New York City created community-run schools that “fired white teachers without cause and sparked a legendary teacher strike,” he writes.

As the father of school-aged children, it’s hard for me to oppose the parent trigger, and I don’t. But I do see school choice as a more sustainable way to give parents options and control in the long run. . . .  I’m cautious about what we can expect once parents pull that trigger. When it comes to handling real firearms, there are some age-old axioms: never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot, and never fire unless you know where the round is going to end up. In this case these rules apply to schools as well.

I share Rotherham’s concerns. Parents may find a charter operator with the expertise needed to run a school. If they try to do it themselves, at a school with a history of failure, they’ll face a very steep learning curve.

‘Trigger’ parents charge fraud

Fraud scuttled the “parent trigger” drive to take over a low-performing elementary school, charges the Desert Trails Parent Union in Adelanto, California. Seventy percent of parents of the school’s 666 students signed parent trigger petitions, but the board rejected some signatures as invalid and counted 97 revocations, pushing the percentage to 48 percent.

There is disturbing evidence that the revocations submitted here were secured through a campaign of fraud, harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, outright forgery,” stated attorney Mark Holscher in the letter to the district sent late Monday.

Two revocation documents were forged, said Patrick Detemple, of Parent Revolution, which is backing the trigger campaign. At least 27 should not have been counted because they lacked a signature or were signed by someone who hadn’t signed the original petition, he said.

If those revocations are invalidated, the petition would surpass the required 50 percent threshold.

One mother said she signed a petition to “save our school,” not realizing she was revoking her previous signature on the parent trigger petition.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times story, for those who prefer it.

Parent trigger: Hollywood vs. reality

Adelanto parents attempt to take control of their failing school was rejected by the Desert Trails school board last night. Seventy percent of parents in the Southern California town had signed the “parent trigger” petition, but that dropped below 50 percent after a two-week campaign to persuade signers to rescind. Parent Revolution, which is backing the trigger drive, charges the California Teachers Association and local teachers unions intimidated and misled parents.

Last night, as Desert Trails Parent Union parents defended their organizing efforts and their right to stand for their children’s education, teacher’s union representatives and other school staff attacked parents, one by one. The loudest cheering from the school staff came when the opposition boldly blamed the parents for all of the school’s woes, causing the defenders of the status quo to erupt in wild applause. . . . For over a week and a half parents have been harassed by those pushing a rescission campaign with tactics that included photographing parents that refused to rescind their signature, and telling parents that the school would close on Wednesday if they didn’t sign a rescission petition before Tuesday’s meeting.

Update: Here’s the Los Angeles Times story.

In an upcoming Hollywood movie, Won’t Back Down, however, parents and teachers unite to take over a failing school.

Viola Davis, an Oscar nominee as best actress for The Help, plays a teacher who risks career and friendships to join the revolt. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the single mother who sells cars, tends bar and rouses parents to take charge of their grade school.

Holly Hunter, the union rep, loves her teachers and so she fights the takeover with a ploy you might expect from a corporate villain.

“When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?” Ms. Hunter mutters.

The movie is set in Pittsburgh, though Pennsylvania doesn’t have a parent trigger law.

A take-over in Adelanto would have been the first in the nation.

The Desert Trails parents threatened a locally run charter school as a last resort to pressure the board into negotiating changes in the elementary school. Negotiations were going well. I wonder if that progress will end now that the threat of a takeover is diminished.

Of course, a lawsuit is possible — very possible. Parents Union members are trying to talk to parents who rescinded their signatures. If only a few parents re-rescind and claimed they were tricked or bullied into backing down, the petition will be back over the 50 percent mark.