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Parents demand charter in LAUSD’s first parent trigger campaign

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A high-spirited group of nearly 100 parents descended on the Los Angeles Unified district office Thursday and turned in petitions demanding sweeping changes at their failing school in the first use of the controversial parent trigger law in the city. 

But parents at 24th Street Elementary School in the West Adams neighborhood got a strikingly different reception in L.A. Unified than their counterparts did in Compton and the High Desert city of Adelanto, where parent trigger campaigns sparked long legal battles and bitter conflict.

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy greeted the parents in Spanish and welcomed them into the school board meeting room. After accepting the petitions signed by 358 parents, who represent 68% of the students, he pledged to work for “fundamental and dramatic change” at the school.  The campus is one of the district’s lowest performing elementary schools, with two-thirds of students unable to read or perform math at grade level and has made little improvement in the last six years.

“It is absolutely the administration’s and my desire to work side by side with you so every student – todos los ninos – gets an outstanding education,” Deasy said, as parents erupted in applause and cheers.

In an unexpected twist, the president of the teachers union, Warren Fletcher, also showed up and told the assembled parents that the parent trigger law “is a tool like an axe” and that its successful use to convert an Adelanto elementary school to a charter campus would force the removal of all instructors there. 

The Adelanto campaign marked the first victory in the state for proponents of the 2010 parent trigger law, which allows parents to petition to overhaul a school with new staff and curriculum, close the campus or convert it to an independent, publicly financed charter.  

But Fletcher also appealed for collaboration between parents and United Teachers Los Angeles. “We wish to work with you. We wish to work as a team,” he said.

Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, the educational nonprofit  that lobbied for the law and has organized parents, hailed the pledges for cooperation and unity. In the Compton and Adelanto campaigns, Parent Revolution and petition supporter clashed with school officials and teachers they said deliberately obstructed their efforts. 

“Today was a new chapter in this movement,” Austin said. “It was a paradigm shift in changing the way that parents, educators and administrators talk about parent trigger.”

The school’s failures have been acknowledged by its staff, who submitted an improvement plan under the district’s process known as Public School Choice. But the district, which ordered the plan about a year ago after identifying the school as one of the lowest performers, rated it this week as inadequate.

Amabilia Villeda, a 24th Street parent leader, said ineffective leadership and teaching at the school had caused her daughter to fall several grade levels behind in reading. She said she is determined to get better outcomes for her two younger children.

The petition asks that the school be transformed into a charter. But Villeda and others said they would try to work for changes with the district before pursuing that option. 

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--Teresa Watanabe

Photo: Nearly 100 parents presented petitions Thursday demanding change at their low-performing 24th Street Elementary  School to Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times

 
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