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Parents Form Partnership With LAUSD, Avoid Using Parent-Trigger Law

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A partnership agreement brokered between an elementary school parent union and the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve student achievement is being hailed as the first-of-its-kind for the nation's second-largest school system.

Members of the parent union at West Athens Elementary School and Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy signed the agreement Friday.

West Athens parents opted to avoid using the state's so-called "parent-trigger" law, which allows parents to petition to force districts to implement sweeping education changes at chronically low-performing schools. Education Week's Andrew Ujifusa, reports this week that few states are following California's lead to grant parents' the power to mandate school reforms.

Yet the mere existence of California's Parent Empowerment Act, and the contentious struggle some schools experienced using the parent-petition process, may have influenced the negotiations with West Athens' parents, even if it was unspoken. (Read my story about the state's first parent-trigger school here. Parents at another Los Angeles-area elementary school petitioned for the removal of their principal earlier this year.)

Gabe Rose, deputy executive director of Parent Revolution, a parent-trigger advocacy group, said the West Athens partnership agreement signals an "interesting shift" regarding how Los Angeles Unified administrators engage with organized parents. Parent Revolution helped organize and support the West Athens' parent union.

"The reality is setting in for folks," Rose said. "The parent-trigger law is incentivizing people to act differently."

Angelina Jauregui, a parent of three West Athens students, said, speaking through an interpreter, that using the parent-trigger law was always Plan B. Jauregui, who joined the parent union's effort because her daughter was being bullied at school, said she's confident that together the parents and staff will succeed.

"We're doing this for all children of the school, all the children of Los Angeles, and all the children of the state," Jauregui said Friday.

The agreement calls for a $300,000 investment to hire more staff, including a school psychologist, a part-time psychiatric social worker, attendance officers, and playground aides. In addition to more professional development for teachers, the plan includes strategies to improve efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards.

Of the roughly 800 students enrolled in West Athens, 44 percent are English-language learners and close to 100 percent are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch. About 30 percent of the school's students are reading at grade level.

Negotiations between the parent union and the school's principal and district officials began last fall. Rosalinda Lugo, a Los Angeles Unified instructional director, said parents received training and worked with the school's teachers and principal to discuss their concerns and goals. Parents observed classrooms to learn how instruction was being delivered. Throughout the eight-month process, Lugo said a mutual understanding of the school's needs was developed.

"The principal and I, we didn't want the school to go through upheaval and turmoil that had occurred at other schools," Lugo said. "It's been something positive for the school because it really opened the communication between parents, who had some legitimate concerns, and the staff."

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