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Did Threat of Parent Trigger Help Haddon?

Hillel Aron | April 22, 2013

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For the last two years, parents at Haddon Elementary in Pacoima have been gathering signatures for a parent trigger petition much like the one seen recently at 24 Street Elementary School.

According to Parent Revolution, the petition drive gathered signatures from about a third of all parents.

But in January, parents voted to put the process “on pause.” The following month, teachers at the school voted to institute a series of reforms by becoming a Local Initiative School (LIS).

According to parent trigger advocates, the petition-gathering process served as a sort of bargaining chip, or leverage.

“They’re being forced by parents to reform the school,” said Esmerelda Medina, a volunteer whose children used to attend Haddon.

But some teachers say the reforms currently being implemented at the school and the parent trigger petitions have nothing to do with each other — and that the trigger process was disruptive rather than constructive.

Unlike 24th Street Elementary, which will be partly taken over by a charter operator after a successful parent trigger campaign, Haddon was not universally seen as a failing school.

Its Academic Performance Index score is fairly strong — 788, up 36 points from 2011. If that rate of growth is maintained, it could reach 800 this year, which is the goal for every LAUSD school.

“The school has improved in many aspects, academically and everywhere else,” said Rosie Lopez, a parent with a child currently at Haddon.

Parents at Haddon organized a parent union chapter and began gathering signatures in 2011.  A letter went out to parents calling for Haddon to be converted into a charter school (although it also said the hope was that the district would institute reforms on its own).

Some Haddon teachers said their own reform efforts were independent of the petition — and actually predated it.

“We knew that the Parent Revolution was going to go forward to try to make this a charter school, but that wasn’t until November,” said Esther Mena-Ibarra, a transitional kindergarten teacher in her third year. “We had already decided to go forward with the LIS by then.”

Starting in September, teachers began a process to turn Haddon into a Local Initiative School, or LIS, a reform model that gives schools various wavers from LAUSD policies, such as the ability to control new hires. Under the LIS model, schools are eligible to select from up to 18 wavers that allow autonomy from district rules and regulations.
According to Parent Revolution, the signature-gathering process is at least partly responsible for the progress. They point out that the LIS plan wasn’t finalized until February, just weeks after the signature gathering was put on pause.

The school “was on a petition path, but everyone decided it would be better to collaborate,” said Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps. “The teachers came to the parents and said, look, instead of using parent trigger process, let’s find a way to build collaboratively and turn things around.”

Of all the LIS options, Haddon selected only three. One allows local control over new hires, which will be done through a hiring committee. Importantly, the school won’t be forced to accept “must-place” teachers. The school will also have certain budgetary freedoms that other schools don’t have

The parent trigger petition drive may be on pause, but it’s left behind a general feeling of acrimony among some parents and teachers.

“There is not one positive thing the Parent Revolution has done since the organizers arrived at Haddon,” said Mike Gonzales, the former UTLA chapter chair for Haddon who claims that a number of teachers have left the school because of the efforts of Parent Revolution. “They have caused chaos and destruction to the school.”

“If there’s tension being generated now, it doesn’t need to happen,” said Parent Revolution’s Christina Sanchez, referring to complaints about the trigger process. “There’s excitement about the LIS plan moving forward.”

Previous posts: School Board Gives Final Approval to 24th St. Plan; UTLA’s “Wait and See” Mode on Parent Trigger; Two More “Parent Triggers” in the Works; LA Parents Opting for Varied “Trigger” Options

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