California Schools: Parents Want Control of Failing L.A. Schools

California Schools: Parents Want Control of Failing L.A. Schools
Parents have filed a petition to take control of some of the failing schools in Los Angeles, in hopes of forcing the changes these struggling schools desperately need.

Parents are taking full advantage of the new “parent trigger” law in California to take over a failing school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. A group of parents from 24th Street Elementary School, in collaboration with the advocacy group Parent Revolution, has submitted a petition to enact the parent trigger law in their school. This law allows parents to take the reins of failing schools in the state, fire teachers and administrators and change the basic school structure.

Parents Working toward Change

Reuters reported that dissatisfied parents at 24th Street Elementary School have been working toward positive changes inside the school for a number of years. However, the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, also known as the “parent trigger” law, gave frustrated parents the path to change they were looking for. The new law has already been utilized successfully by another California school – Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California. Parents at that failing school staged a successful parent takeover and now the school is headed for new charter status under the successful leadership of LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy.

Riding on the success at Desert Trails, the parents of 24th Street Elementary School began collecting the signatures necessary to enact the parent trigger. According to state law, parents must submit a petition with at least 50 percent of the parents’ signatures to qualify. Southern California Public Radio reported that parents submitted a petition with nearly two-thirds of their parents’ signing on the dotted line.

This move marks the first of its kind in the largest school district in the state of California and one of the largest school districts in the country. Parent Revolution stated that it focused on the failing school in the Los Angeles Unified School District because 24th Street Elementary had been on the list of failing institutions in the state for a number of years, and improvements had yet to be instituted.

Parents banned together in a petition drive that included door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and a manned table just off the school’s campus. The final petition represented around 65 percent of the total parents at the school, with more than 300 names on the list. The parent organization that initiated the petition then presented their list to the Los Angeles Unified School District for approval. The parents that signed the petition state they are looking for stronger leadership for the school, improved facilities and a higher quality of academics.

About the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010

The Parent Empowerment Act was designed to give parents more control over schools that were not performing up to par for at least three consecutive years. According to the website for the California School Boards Association, schools that received more than 50 percent of parent signatures on a petition could use one of the following four intervention models:

  • Restart of the school
  • Turnaround of the school
  • School closure
  • Transformation to a charter school

In the case of the Desert Trails parent takeover, the school was converted to a charter school. A previous attempt to enact the parent trigger law at McKinley Elementary in Compton, California, failed to advance. In both of these situations, the enactment of the law has been messy, with division among parents and school staff and bitter legal battles. However, the parents at Desert Trails have felt they won a well-deserved victory that allowed them to pursue the best course of action for their children’s school.

“We do know what we want for our children,” one Desert Trails parent told the Huffington Post. “We’ve proved that parents can make a difference.”

Parent Trigger Moves to Los Angeles

Now, the Los Angeles Unified School District is dealing with a similar issue at 24th Street Elementary. The Hechinger Report explains that parents of the school have now formed their own union and partnered with the well-funded Parent Revolution to add weight to their request. They are also taking full advantage of the little-used Parent Empowerment Act to bring legal justification to their demands.

“We have the opportunity to make a change at this school because we now have the right support to do it,” 24th Street Elementary parent Amabilia Villeda told the Hechinger Report. “They weren’t listening to us before, and with the law, they are now listening.”

The parents of the school have valid concerns. More than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth graders at 24th Street Elementary are unable to read at grade level, according to Hechinger. In addition, the school has an eight-percent suspension rate that is the second highest out of all the elementary schools in the district. The school also scored well below the state average on the Academic Performance Index for California.

The frustrated parents of 24th Street Elementary are finally seeing some rewards for their efforts. Less than two weeks after submitting their signed petition to the Los Angeles Unified School District, the parent union has received eight applications from charter operators in the state interested in turning around their neighborhood school. One of the groups that submitted an application was the Los Angeles Unified School District. Representatives for the parent union told Southern California Public Radio they were pleased to see the district throw its hat in the ring, indicating a willingness to work together to improve the school.

The parent union has requested more detailed plans from each of the charter hopefuls, which must be submitted by March 8, 2013.

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