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Teachers, Parents Seek Principal's Removal at Los Angeles-Area School

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Yet another parent-trigger campaign is underway at a Southern California school, but this time it appears teachers are publicly backing parents in an effort to oust their principal.

Parents of students attending Fishburn Elementary School in Maywood, Calif., which is about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, said in a press release Monday that the "main factor" contributing to the school's declining test scores is its principal, Beatriz Bogan. Parents met with Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines last week and are moving forward to collect petition signatures to use California's parent-trigger law to force the district to replace Bogan.

Teachers are usually reluctant to support parent-trigger campaigns. But almost 40 members of Fishburn's teaching staff signed a letter indicating that they want the principal removed. In the letter, the teachers claim that Bogan is "vindictive" and "hostile." 

"She has slandered parents and has banned them from entering our campus and being part of their children's education," the teachers said in their letter, adding that they can "no longer work under such toxic conditions." Read the entire letter here.

A district spokeswoman said that because the school system is in the midst of administrative changes on a regional level, no information about Fishburn was available. Meanwhile, Bogan did not reply to a request for comment.

California's Parent Empowerment Act allows parents whose children are attending low-performing schools to petition to force school districts to enact a variety of changes, including replacing school administrators, teaching staff, or hiring a charter operator. Only one school, Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., has been transformed into a charter through use of the law. Another seven schools in California have used the parent-trigger law to make changes on their campuses. Last month, parents at 20th Street Elementary School shelved their parent-trigger campaign and accepted a Los Angeles district-authored plan to improve student achievement at the struggling school.

Jesus Sanchez, the chief strategy officer for Excellent Educational Solutions, a private consulting firm founded by former parent-trigger community organizers, said Fishburn parents are not seeking a charter. Sanchez, who is advising Fishburn parents in partnership with the California Center for Parent Empowerment, said that in addition to seeking new school leadership and a request to be part of the process for hiring the principal's replacement, parents want additional academic support for students. According to the release from Excellent Educational Solutions, more than 60 percent of 3rd grade students are below proficient in reading and math, for example. Most of the 550 students attending the school are Hispanic and come from low-income families.

The parent-trigger law has been labeled as divisive by some and counts teacher-union supporters among its critics. So it's no surprise that Sanchez said public support from teachers during parent-trigger campaigns is rare. He emphasized that some Fishburn teachers, for example, continue to be "uneasy" with the campaign, but are adamant about wanting a new principal.

"Teachers are in a difficult position," Sanchez said. "The fact that they publicly supported the parents took a lot of courage and shows how bad the situation at Fishburn has been."

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Parents make a variety of charges about the school's leadership in the release, including mismanaging school funds, failure to serve special needs students, and retaliation against the schools' critics—both parents and teachers alike. 

Mirna Borquez, the mother of two Fishburn students, who is helping to run the parent-trigger campaign, said parents are also concerned about student achievement. The school's Academic Performance Index score, a school accountability measure California stopped using last year, dropped by more than 40 points from 2012 to 2013.

Parents have filed formal complaints with the school district about Fishburn, but Borquez said they were ignored. Still, she said parents were encouraged that district officials will make changes after speaking with Cortines June 2.

"Cortines told us that parents have every right to stand up for their students," Borquez added.

If the Fishburn parent-trigger effort is successful, it would be the second school to use the parent-trigger law to remove a principal. The Los Angeles Unified School District accepted parent petitions at Weigan Avenue Elementary School in 2013 and replaced the principal; however, most teachers requested transfers to leave the school as well. 

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