‘Parent trigger’ schools open

The first “parent trigger” schools have opened in California. Desert Trails, a low-performing elementary school in Adelanto, is now a charter “preparatory academy.” The school year started in early August.

In Los Angeles, 24th Street Elementary opened last week:  The district will run the K-4 grades while a charter operator will run grades 5 to 8; a preschool provider will offer early childhood education.

Parent Revolution, which is backing trigger campaigns, claims two other victories: Parents got what they wanted without taking over the school

At Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, the parent union paused — and then stopped — their Parent Trigger campaign.  This was because their pressure caused the district, teachers and administrators to put together a thoughtful plan to transform the school.  And in the Watts neighborhood of LA, the parents decided on replacing the principal and making in-district changes to turn-around the chronically failing Weigand Avenue Elementary.

We The Parents, a documentary about Compton parents’  ”trigger” campaign to seize their children’s chronically low-performing school, has opened in Los Angeles. The LA Times calls it “inspirational but not too informative.” The Compton parents failed on a technicality, but drew a charter school to a nearby church to provide an alternative.

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’ parents choose charter

Mojave Desert parents chose a nonprofit charter operator partnered with a university to take over their children’s failing elementary school, in the first use of California’s parent trigger law, reports the Fresno Bee.

Desert Trails Elementary School parents voted for LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which is partnered with the University of La Verne.

Only parents who signed the petition in favor of the charter voted. Vote tallies were not immediately released, but 53 out of 180 eligible voters cast ballots.

Parent organizer Kathy Duncan complained that the local teachers union sponsored a free, off-campus skate party for kids, who had to be accompanied by their parents, on the same afternoon as the vote.

“Parents selected LaVerne due to their incredibly strong track record” with black and Hispanic students and “their commitment to ongoing parent power,” said Doreen Diaz, a Desert Trails’ parent and lead coordinator for the Desert Trails Parent Union (DTPU).

‘Won’t Back Down’ isn’t true — yet

Hollywood’s Won’t Back Down has “accomplished the impossible,” writes Glenn Garvin in the Miami Herald. It’s made “teachers’ unions demand strict accuracy” in a movie about schools.

For decades, Hollywood has been making movies that show teachers as superhuman caring machines without a peep from the unions. That math teacher played by Edward James Olmos in Stand And Deliver, the one who took over a classroom of kids who couldn’t do simple arithmetic and in nine months had them aceing calculus exams? History does not record a single union official complaining that, in real life, that process took several years.

Won’t Back Down stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single working-class mom with a dyslexic daughter and Viola Davis as a sympathetic teacher and parent. They join forces to take over a failing elementary school.

It’s “based on true stories,” the movie claims.

“That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere,” wrote Rita Solnet, a founding member of the teacher-union front group Parents Across America, in a widely reprinted blog item. “That never happened.”

Not yet. But soon.

In southern California, Compton parents lost their parent trigger bid on a technicality. Some moved their kids from McKinley Elementary to Celerity Sirius, a new charter school in a nearby church. The new charter’s Academic Performance Index scores were significantly higher than McKinley’s scores after one year.

Mojave Desert parents are on track to take over Desert Trails Elementary in the fall. Friday, a Superior Court judge ordered the school board to comply with the court order authorizing the conversion. The parents union plans to choose a charter operator on Thursday. Two non-profits that run nearby charter schools are in the running, reports Ed Week.

“We wanted to keep it within the community, to keep it local,” said Doreen Diaz, who is helping lead parents seeking to convert the school to a charter. “They’re very different applicants and they speak to our community.”

At the same time, neither of the two finalists, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, in the nearby city of Hesperia, and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group in neighboring Apple Valley, which oversees two charters, has experience turning around an academically low-performing school.

“Anybody who’s looked at this situation has said it will be very rough,” said Rick Piercy, the president of the Lewis Center.

Can the school be improved under new management? This time, we’ll see.

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.

‘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.

Parents use charter threat to force reforms

California parents will pull the trigger today on a low-performing elementary school in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town east of Los Angeles. Nearly 70 percent of parents at Desert Trails Elementary have signed a petition demanding the school district negotiate changes in the school or turn over control.

The Desert Trails Parents Union wants to work with district leaders to improve the school, but couldn’t get a response until the petition drive started. If negotiations fail, the petition seeks to convert Desert Trails to a charter run by parents and local teachers.

There could be lawsuits for years,” Principal David Mobley told the LA Weekly.  But the law is on the parents’ side.