In Partnership with 74

JUST IN: No lawsuit for 20th Street Elementary as parents, LA Unified agree to plan by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools

Craig Clough | July 5, 2016

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Former Superintendent Ramon Cortines with 20th Street families last summer. (Photo by Omar Calvillo)

After two legal attempts by parents to take over a South-Central LA elementary school they said was failing their children, an agreement has been reached for the school to join the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. The deal averts a threatened lawsuit and ends a two-year “parent trigger” battle.

The agreement moves 20th Street Elementary into the Partnership family of 17 schools in South LA, Boyle Heights and Watts. The organization takes over low-performing schools while working in conjunction with the district to manage the schools and retaining union contracts.

The plan was announced Tuesday by parents at the school, the Partnership and LA Unified in a district press release, which said LA Unified and the Partnership signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding for the organization to manage the school, starting with the upcoming school year.

The parent group, known as the 20th Street Parents Union, has been supported by Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that helps parents take over failing schools through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — known as the “parent trigger” — which allows parents to enact changes at a school if a majority of them sign a petition. The changes can include replacing administrators or converting the school into an independent charter school. In this case, 20th Street will remain a traditional LA Unified school but with some changes.

“I really think we have reached a place where the families that have led this campaign over the last two years are ready to work with all the other families, ready to work with the school and ready to work with the Partnership and have everyone on the same team moving forward,” said Seth Litt, CEO of Parent Revolution. “It’s an important part of the progress of this school, not just signing the MOU but that the whole community comes together to support the school, and I think this is a moment where everyone is focused on that.”

Parents at 20th Street, a K-5th grade campus serving nearly 600 students, first enacted a parent trigger during the 2014-15 school year but withdrew it when LA Unified changed principals at the school and made a number of assurances. But parent leaders were unhappy with the progress, and in January they enacted another parent trigger petition.

Omar Calvillo, a 20th Street Parents Union coordinator, said he is pleased that the Partnership will now manage the school.

“We are very excited to work with the Partnership organization, our school staff, and all parents at the school to work for the education our children deserve,” said Calvillo in a statement. “We want to thank both LAUSD and the Partnership for coming to a collaborative agreement that addresses our concerns and offers a strong path forward for our community. Now it is time for all of us – parents, teachers, and the Partnership team – to come together and work as one team on behalf on our children.”

Academic performance has been at the heart of the parents’ grievances. The most recent 20th Street school report card showed 37 percent of 5th-graders passing the California Standards Test compared to a district average of 47 percent. The school also scored a 46 out of 100 on the new CORE accountability system, while the the district average was 60.

In March, the district rejected the second parent trigger and said the school didn’t qualify for one, and that no district school qualified under the state parent trigger law because the state has no current accountability system since the Academic Performance Index was canceled in 2013. The state is currently working on a new system.

In 2014, former Superintendent John Deasy declared that the district was exempt from the parent trigger due to a federal waiver it had received from the federal No Child Left Behind law. Deasy resigned in October 2014, and the following month his replacement, Ramon Cortines, reversed the decision. Michelle King took over as superintendent in January after Cortines retired, and in March essentially reversed district policy on parent triggers.

“L.A. Unified, The Partnership, parents and Parent Revolution share the vision of providing high-quality learning opportunities for the students of 20th Street Elementary,” said King in a statement. “With this collaborative new partnership, we can continue to strengthen the academic supports, social-emotional learning opportunities and parent-engagement programs that are essential to this school community.”

At a meeting in May with district leaders, parents at the school outlined their grievances, which included a lack of progress in making academic changes in the classroom. A press release from the 20th Street Parents Union outlined a number of changes the Partnership said it is going to bring to the school, including additional funding to hire an assistant principal and a Title III coordinator to support English learners, a plan to implement the Eureka math curriculum and for 20th Street to become part of the district’s per pupil funding pilot program.

“We are excited to welcome 20th Street Elementary to our family of schools and look forward to building on the unique strengths of the school staff and community,” said Partnership CEO Joan Sullivan in a statement. “Our goal is to partner together to empower all students with a high-quality education.”

LA Unified school board member Monica Garcia, who has worked closely with the 20th Street Parents Union, endorsed the plan.

“This school community wants excellent services and outcomes for all youth and the Partnership is aligned with this mission,” García said in a statement. “Together, courageous parents, committed teachers and bold administrators will model for other schools, communities and districts on how to create learning environments for children and adults, with a focus on student learning, educator development and parent engagement.”

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