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Los Angeles Parents Mounting Trigger-Law Petition Drive to Improve School

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With negotiations between school and district officials at a standstill, parents at Los Angeles' 20th Street Elementary school are moving forward on a parent-trigger campaign in their push for changes to boost student achievement.

The 20th Street parents union gave Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines a written ultimatum of sorts. In an April 2 letter, the 20th Street parents wrote that they will submit parent-trigger petitions to the district if they don't receive "an acceptable pilot school proposal or similarly strong turnaround plan" from district officials by May 1.

If they move forward with the petitons and LAUSD's school board validates them, then 20th Street parents would be able to choose a variety of options to transform the school—including charter operators. A spokesman for LAUSD said the district had no comment at this time.

"We have many teachers at the school that we would like to keep, and we are biased in favor of an agreement with the district, but at the end of the day we must do whatever it takes to get a better school for our kids," 20th Street parents wrote in their letter.

This makes 20th Street the 10th school to use California's so-called parent-trigger law in some way. The Parent Empowerment Act, which was adopted in 2010, allows parents to force a school district to adopt comprehensive education changes in an effort to improve their low-performing schools.

Only one school, Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, has used the state's parent-trigger law to transform a school into a charter. Meanwhile, the Anaheim City School Board rejected the state's most recent parent-trigger petition, which was submitted by Palm Lane Elementary School parents in January. Palm Lane parents are currently working with lawyers in an effort to resolve the petition's issues with district officials.

Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based parent-trigger advocacy group that helped parents launch the state's first parent petition drives, is advising the 20th Street parents union. Gabe Rose, Parent Revolution's chief strategy officer, said parents at the school have been organizing for more than a year to improve teaching and learning. (Almost 60 percent of the roughly 600 students attending the K-5 school are not reading at grade level.) But Rose said the parents have grown impatient because the district has done little to respond to their concerns.

"We are still hopeful we can work out a deal with the district that gives our kids the high-quality school they need," the parents wrote in their letter to the superintendent, "but we can no longer afford to wait and see."

According to the letter, 20th Street parents are advocating to transform the school into a district-managed pilot school, which would give educators more control in a variety of areas including budget, staffing and curriculum. According to LAUSD's website, the district's pilot schools are expected to be "models of educational innovation and serve as research and development sites for effective urban public schools." 

Currently, after completing 5th grade, many of 20th Street's students will enroll in the Julian Nava Learning Academy (a middle school) and some will eventually attend the newly created Nava College Preparatory Academy (a high school)—both pilot schools.

Rose said 20th Street parents with older children attending the Nava schools have been pleased with the academic progress of their students. According to a Los Angeles Times story, parents at Nava Learning Academy spearheaded the effort to open a pilot high school for students and recruited Nava's principal to join their cause. The high school opened with 280 9th-grade students in the fall of 2014.

Still, converting 20th Street into a pilot school could be more challenging than mounting a successful parent-trigger campaign. Rose told me that 67 percent of a school's teachers would have to agree to adopt a pilot model. Conversely, the parent-trigger law requires the support of 50 percent of a school's parents, plus one, to initiate changes.

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