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'Parent trigger' strikes again in California

LOS ANGELES – The first time Amabilia Villeda tried to fix her children’s school, she joined several dozen fellow parents and teachers in a protest outside 24th Street Elementary.

That was three years ago. Villeda and the rest of the loosely organized group believed the struggling school just a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles needed a jolt. They collected a couple hundred signatures from parents and community members who decided the first step toward improving the abysmal test scores and poor campus climate should be to oust the principal, Villeda recalled.

But they didn’t make much of an impact. None of the school or district officials really seemed to notice, Villeda said, and the effort folded quietly.

The 41-year-old mother of three expects Thursday to be different. That’s because she and fellow parents have formed their own union, spurred to action by California’s so-called “parent trigger” law and the well-funded education advocacy group Parent Revolution.

“We have the opportunity to make a change at this school because now we have the right support to do it,” Villeda said in Spanish. “They weren’t listening to us before, and with the law, now they’re listening.”

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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With court win, 'parent trigger' school reform moves to crucial vote

About nine months ago, at a small park playground a few hundred feet from their children’s struggling school, a group of parents chanted, cheered and delivered passionate speeches about their growing frustration with Desert Trails Elementary.

That Jan. 12 park rally – which drew a throng of camera crews and reporters from around the state to the tiny desert city of Adelanto, Calif. – marked the beginning of a bitter battle in the national spotlight. That was when the Desert Trails Parent Union announced its petition to use the so-called “parent trigger” law to force a major overhaul of a school. They hoped to become the first parent group in the nation to do so.

On Thursday, that same park is set to become a makeshift polling place where those parents will make history. With a court ruling last week permitting the vote to go forward, parents who signed the petition last winter now have the chance to cast a ballot on the charter school operator they want to take over their neighborhood school next fall. As permitted by law, the vote won't include parents who opposed the charter conversion or declined to be part of the petition process.

“For the first time, a group of parents is going to take back power of the educations of their own kids and select a high-quality nonprofit to transform their failing school,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that is bankrolling the parent union. The little local election, Austin said, represents a “monumental day for the parent power movement.”Parent Revolution estimates that fewer than 200 parents will be eligible to vote this week.

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'Parent trigger' law divides struggling school, community

Doreen Diaz left the red carpet movie premiere of “Won’t Back Down” in New York City last week feeling encouraged.

But then the 47-year-old mom, a key figure in the education movement that “inspired” the feature film, headed back to the tiny desert city of Adelanto, Calif., and her tract home near Desert Trails Elementary School. That’s where the real battle over the so-called “parent trigger” law drags on, with no tidy Hollywood ending in sight.

“The movie makes it look a lot easier than it really is,” said Diaz, who started drumming up support to overhaul her local public school more than a year ago.

Desert Trails, where 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, ranks in the bottom third of California schools with similar demographics and has been stuck on the federal watch list for failing schools for six years. Sixty-two percent of students are Hispanic and 27 percent are black. One-quarter of students don’t speak English at home, and 15 percent of students tested in 2011 had disabilities.

Diaz felt that the school had given up on its poor and minority students. She wanted more for her daughter, a special-needs student who started the fifth grade last year at a second-grade reading level.

 

Diaz and other organizers of the Desert Trails Parent Union, educated and bankrolled by Los Angeles nonprofit Parent Revolution, continue to fight the school district in court to turn over their neighborhood school to a charter operator. If they succeed, they’ll become the first in the nation to successfully invoke a parent trigger.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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State board gives parents more control over schools

Bright and articulate, Enrique Duarte IV, 11, rode the bus with his parents from Los Angeles to Sacramento with one cause in mind: to tell the state Board of Education that someday, he wants to return to a public school classroom.

Enrique told the board that he left his elementary school because unqualified teachers didn't know the material. He said one day each week, he and his classmates left school early so the teachers could have study time.

"It was good for us but not good for them, 'cause they didn't know all there was to know about teaching," said Enrique, who is now being home-schooled. "My school wasn't a good school. That's why I came here, so maybe I can go back."

 

Enrique was one of more than 100 students and parents from the group Parent Revolution who traveled to a State Board of Education meeting last week to advocate for a new and controversial law called the "parent trigger."

Passed last year, the law states that if 51 percent of parents with children at a failing school sign a petition, the district must pursue radical reforms to improve the school. Those measures include replacing the principal and at least half of the staff, bringing in a charter school operator, expanding the school day, or possibly closing the school outright.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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Former lawmaker won't support changing 'parent trigger' law

Former state Sen. Gloria Romero, the author of a controversial law that allows parents to force major changes in their children's school, said she won't support amending the law to make the process more open, despite a roiling controversy over use of the law in Compton.

"If transparency means giving time for parents to be intimidated, threatened and deported, that is not transparency to me," Romero said in an interview with California Watch. "I strongly support the parent trigger law as it was introduced (in the Legislature), and it is operating in the way it was intended." 

Romero recently accepted a position as the first California director for Democrats for Education Reform.

The "parent trigger" law was passed last year when Romero was chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education. The law allows a majority of parents at a school (and "feeder" schools that students in earlier grades attend) to trigger a major restructuring of a school, including turning it into a charter school.

The State Board of Education, now dominated by Gov. Brown appointees who were sworn in yesterday, has postponed enacting final regulations for implementation of the law. Romero had earlier on John Fensterwald's Educated Guess blasted the board for the expected postponement. 

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report
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