In Partnership with 74

Another LAUSD school uses Parent Trigger as leverage for change

Vanessa Romo | June 1, 2015

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Members of Parent Revolution

Parents of students at 20th Street Elementary in Central LA have unanimously approved a district proposal to turn around the low-performing school, starting next year. As a result, the local parent union is dropping plans for a school-wide take over under the state Parent Trigger law.

The deal with LA Unified ensures that all of the current staff will remain in place at the school, and it is the first agreement of its kind to set concrete performance targets. Teachers are expected to increase the number of students scoring at or above grade level in reading, math and state language tests for English learners, by 25 percent over the next year. For 2013, the most recent year available, these were the percentages of students proficient in reading and math:

  • Second grade: 38 and 33
  • Third grade: 36 and 59
  • Fourth grade: 54 and 56
  • Fifth grade: 43 and 52

District officials also agreed to transform the struggling school by aligning curriculum and instructional techniques with that of Julian Nava Learning Complex, which houses two high-performing pilot schools — a middle school and a high school — in the area. Finally, 20th Street will become a second feeder elementary school into the competitive Nava schools. The other is Nevin Elementary School.

“Our goal all along was to connect the 20th Street to Julian Nava,” Lupe Aragon, whose fourth grade daughter attends 20th Street, told LA School Report.

Aragon is a key figure among the parent union calling for swift changes on campus. While she had always been content with the quality of teaching and learning her daughter received at the school, “everything changed  in the fourth grade,” she said.

“All of a sudden she was brining home first grade level math homework,” she said. “It’s been a real disappointment. Our kids are getting out of elementary school and going into junior high, and they don’t even know the basics.”

According to Aragon, the overhaul of academic standards at 20th Street will be implemented under the guidance Tommy Welch, who is currently a principal at Julian Nava but is expected to be promoted to Instructional Director. If or when that happens, Welch will oversee 20th Street Elementary, Nevin Elementary, Julian Nava’s middle and high schools, as well as Jefferson High School.

“[Welch’s] method of developing high academic standards have worked at other schools,” she said. “That’s how we know that what has been promised us will be fulfilled.”

The 16-page proposal does not specify any consequences if teachers fail to meet their targets. Also absent in the district plan is the budget impact of the changes and additional staff requirements.

For months, the parent union tried to persuade the school’s administration to adopt many of the same goals outlined in the plan, according to Gabe Rose, Chief Strategy Officer of Parent Revolution, a group that works with parents to improve their schools. But it was only after gathering signatures from 51 percent of parents, the minimum required to force major changes and win the right to replace its staff and teachers, that Superintendent Ramon Cortines and other district officials agreed to meet with the community.

“They were trying to get a plan without the petitions, and that didn’t work,” Rose told LA School Report. But with the signatures in hand, he added, “It took some cajoling but they were able to get a fair and stronger plan in place.”

Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization aligned with the education reform movement, has been the key architect in pulling the so-called Parent Trigger in California. Since 2012, it has helped parent unions take over three schools, including two in LAUSD — 24th Street, which was converted into a charter school for grades 5 through 8, and Weigand Avenue Elementary, where parents replaced the principal. Two other campuses — West Athens and Haddon Avenue elementary schools — used the petitions as leverage to negotiate changes.

Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy had previously argued that the district was exempt from the Parent Trigger this school year by a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. But Deasy resigned in October, and interim Cortines lifted the ban in November.

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