A new "parent trigger" petition in the Los Angeles Unified School District was delivered Thursday with signatures from 68 percent of the students' parents at 24th Street Elementary School. The petition calls for dramatic and wide-ranging improvements in the school's leadership, academic preparation, environment and culture.
The expectations are high, but the time frame is short. "As united parents we can demand that an improved school opens in 2013-2014," the parents wrote in their "Objectives for Transforming Our School" statement.
Exactly how that will occur is not clear, except that now parents are expected to be at the table as decisions are made about school improvement, according to representatives of Parent Revolution, an organization that was instrumental in the passage of California's parent trigger law in 2010. In fact, turnaround planning for the school had already begun last year, based on the school's sub-par performance.
District officials have not officially responded to the petition, but a Parent Revolution spokesman says district leaders appear to be open to a collaborative approach to tackling the school's chronic and deep-seated problems.
Under the California law, parents can petition to force an intervention if a school has failed to meet adequate yearly progress for three consecutive years and been in "corrective action" status under No Child Left Behind Act for at least one year. Allowed interventions would be any remedy listed under "corrective action" in the NCLB law, including:
- Replacing all staff and faculty relevant to low-performance;
- Converting to a charter school (parents can choose the charter-management organization in the petition); and
- Closing the school.
Parent Revolution has been working with parents at the 24th Street Elementary since last Spring.
"One of the misconceptions that's out there about the parent trigger law—or parent trigger action—is that it automatically leads to a charter school being put in place. It doesn't," said David Phelps, Parent Revolution's national communications director.
However, choosing a charter operator was the eventual outcome for Desert Trails Elementary School in California's Adelanto School District, where a similar petition prompted the board last week to approve the school's conversion to a charter school."The parents did an RFP and found a strong not-for-profit, quality operator that their school board approved last week. But it doesn't necessarily mean that 24th Street is going to become operated by a not-for-profit charter school," Phelps said.
"What's exciting for us is that parents now have, literally and figuratively, a place at the table deciding about what this transformed school is going to look like," he said.
According to statistics collected by the Los Angeles district, schools, 24th Street Elementary:
- Is in the lowest 2 percent of all elementary schools in LAUSD (out of 563), and has shown no improvement for the past six years;
- Ranks in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide—even when compared only to schools with similar demographics. In fact, 70 percent of the students can't read on grade level when they graduate.
- Reports the second-highest suspension rate of any elementary school in all of LAUSD.
"My dream is for all the kids to be able to get the four things we are asking for in the petition," said Melinda Smith, mother of a 1st grader at 24th Street, who volunteered with the petition drive when another parent alerted her to the schools' history of underperformance.
Those four objectives identified by the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union are:
- Strong leadership, with specific requests about the principal's attitude, vision and communication;
- Better academics, with an appeal for "good and effective teachers";
- A safe and clean school, with adequate resources and supplies, and
- A culture of high expectations that would motivate students, encourage learning, and include a school-wide plan to deal with discipline and behavior problems—and workshops for parents to help their students academically.
"Our kids cannot wait another year for a safer school environment, for a strong leader to emerge, or for teachers to be more effective in the classroom. As parents we understand that we play an important role in our child's education, but while we can promise to do our part, we need real solutions. The solutions include staff that has the motivation and the desire to make the significant changes needed to turn this school around," the petition said.
Located in the historic West Adams District of Los Angeles, 24th Street Elementary has approximately 650 students in a primarily Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Smith said she wants her son to be able to attend the neighborhood school. She is not looking for a charter operator to take over the school; she just wants all the children at the school to be prepared to do well as they transition to middle school, high school, college and beyond.