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Campaign Prompts Leadership Change Without Parent-Trigger Law

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Parents at a Los Angeles-area elementary school teamed up with local city officials and the teachers union to mount a successful campaign to change their school's leadership, without use of California's controversial parent-trigger law.

Ingrid Villeda, a teachers' union representative, told the Los Angeles Times that the successful effort by Teresa Hughes Elementary School's parents proves that parent-led reform can be achieved without initiating the parent-trigger law, which allows a majority of parents to petition for changes at low-performing schools.

While parent-trigger advocates believe the state's 2010 Parent Empowerment Act finally gives parents—especially low-income parents—the power to demand sorely-needed school improvements, critics contend the process is problematic and contentious. (See my Education Week story on Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., for more on the parent-trigger law.)

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, parents at Teresa Hughes Elementary School in Cudahy, Calif., said that the school's principal, Elva Cortez-Covarrubias, was failing to improve student achievement, didn't address bullying on campus and was a poor collaborator.

Parents submitted a petition to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education signed by more than 600 people demanding the principal's removal in November. After parents learned that the petition had been misplaced, they had little hope that any leadership changes would be made, the Times reported.

But on Dec. 20, Cortez-Covarrubias was reassigned and it's unclear what led to her removal. Just a few weeks prior to the announcement, a Los Angeles Unified district administrator told the Times that a meeting with the school's parents did not reveal "any complaints that would cause concern." Los Angeles Unified school district officials declined to comment, the newspaper noted. 

"We were able to achieve change because we all worked together and we want to continue doing that to bring the school up and succeed," said Adriana Serrano, the parent of a 2nd-grader at Teresa Hughes Elementary School.

The grassroots effort for leadership change at Teresa Hughes Elementary School garnered support from both the city council in this Southeast Los Angeles community and United Teachers of Los Angeles.

The city council held a hearing about the school leadership for parents to share their concerns and also called for an investigation in a Dec. 11 letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"We decided we had a moral responsibility to support our parents and demand accountability from the school," Cudahy Mayor Jack Guerrero told the Times.

For its part, United Teachers Los Angeles organized meetings meeting with parents to help develop strategies to prompt the leadership change. Twenty-five of the school's 40 teachers signed a letter calling for a new principal as well.

Meanwhile, the Cudahy City Council recognized the parents of Teresa Hughes Elementary School with certificates to recognize their successful campaign. Parents were presented with certificates that applauded their activism "in defense of education reform" during a Cudahy City Council meeting Jan. 21. 

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