It now appears that just the specter of a “Parent Trigger” action is enough for parents to get what they want.
Lerina Cordero, mother of a first grade boy at West Athens Elementary in south Los Angeles, says parents there had been trying for years to get the school’s leadership to stop rampant bullying and to change an overall attitude of complacency with the school’s academic performance.
“But it wasn’t until we said we were going to use the Parent Trigger law, that the principal finally sat down to meet with us,” Cordero told LA School Report. “And when we saw that they were willing to listen to us and collaborate with us, we decided we didn’t have to use the law.”
Now, six months after pressing the district for changes, the West Athens parents union, Aguilas de West Athens (AWA), and district officials are prepared to sign a Partnership Agreement, a plan to spend $300,000 on new staffing positions to address their concerns and roll out professional development programs for teachers.
LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is joining parents and school officials at the school tomorrow to sign the agreement.
The so-called “Parent Trigger” is a state-approved method of parents forcing change at a public school. It begins with a petition, and if a majority of school parents sign, the process launches, as it did just two years ago, when 24th Street Elementary became the first LA Unified campus to be taken over under the law and converted into a charter school.
The West Athens deal represents the first time LA Unified has negotiated with parents before they gathered a single Parent Trigger signature and negotiated a financial settlement.
In two other cases — Lennox Middle School and Haddon Elementary School — parents were in the middle of a signature gathering campaign before the district stepped in to “collaborate” with helping the schools resolve their problems without financial contributions.
Rosalinda Lugo, the area Director of Instruction, says that’s only part of the story at West Athens. She said even as negotiations with the parents were proceeding, the school has made impressive academic strides. The 2013 API score went up to 721, still shy of the state standard but an 86 point gain from 2010. As a result, the school has been recognized as a CORE Waiver Reward school, which means it is held up as a model for academic improvement.
She also said the $300,000 — which will pay for a full-time psychologist, three days of psychiatrist social worker, a full-time attendance officer, an additional teacher assistant, and a three hour campus aide, one supervision aide, and two community representatives — is not “extra money” for the school. The funding for these jobs is being drawn from 2014-15 school budget.
“The school site council met over several days and decided to use categorical funds and some of the flexibility in the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to fund these additional positions,” Lugo told LA School Report.
And the shift in dollars affects other services.
“As in most cases, whenever you buy something new, something else has to go,” Lugo lamented. “You can’t purchase everything you want, unfortunately.”
One of the things that will have to go at West Athens next year, she said, is an Instructional Coach, someone who helps teachers refine their instructional practices.
“The teachers are going to have to take some of those responsibilities on themselves” and they will get similar support from the district’s new Common Core training, Lugo said.