Despite district rules, Haddon Elementary increases enrollment and decreases absenteeism with unique programs

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Principal Richard Ramos with Dominga Verduzco.

Haddon Elementary Avenue School is so in demand that families want to drive their children across the San Fernando Valley from Granada Hills to attend the Pacoima school.

Haddon is not a charter school, it’s not a new pilot program and it’s not a magnet school (yet). It’s a traditional Title 1 district school in a low-income Latino neighborhood that has been there since 1926.

But it wasn’t always growing. And in fact it had to fight district rules that prohibited families from moving to the school.

Five years ago, parents were so fed up with the school that they initiated a “parent trigger” to try to take over the school from the district. The trigger was never pulled, and a new principal came in who brought programs students wanted, like a Mariachi class, a robotics program and an award-winning speech and debate team.

“We are certainly an anomaly in the district, and I’m learning now that part of my job is to figure out how to be competitive and promote the school,” said Haddon Principal Richard S. Ramos, who has worked with the charter school group Partnerships to Uplift Communities and on dozens of successful electoral campaigns, most recently for Robert Gonzales to the San Fernando City Council in 2012. “We have to figure out better ways to get the word out about what we’re doing that’s good in our schools.”

Soon students were clamoring to transfer to the school — a welcome change especially as without the new enrollment, the school faced a loss of teachers.

Then came the curve ball. District administrators said “No!” to the families who wanted to transfer to Haddon.

The district wouldn’t allow students to transfer because it wasn’t a pilot or magnet or charter school. Families weren’t allowed to leave their home schools to attend Haddon. One family was pleading to get in because their daughter loved robotics, and the parents were willing to drive nearly an hour every day to bring her to the school.

“They have parents wanting to come in, and I don’t understand why it’s not allowed?” school board member Monica Ratliff said at a board meeting this spring after she heard about the issue.

District administrators listened to Ratliff. They worked it out so that applicants could say they wanted to transfer to the school because similar programs were not offered at their home schools. Parents’ requests needed to include a waiver form that explained the programs offered at Haddon were not offered elsewhere.

Removing that roadblock resulted in unprecedented growth for the school unlike any other school in the area. The principal noted that Haddon has had increased enrollment for the past two years. In fact, he said that 39 of the new students he has this year are transferring from charter schools.

“We are in a time now where the entire district is seeing declining enrollment,” Ramos said on the first day of the new school year on Tuesday. For the past decade, the school enrollment was on a steady decline. The school now has an enrollment of more than 900, with a capacity of 960.

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

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

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.”

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Lawsuit likely averted: 20th Street School moves toward Partnership plan instead of ‘parent trigger’

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Parent Omar Cavillo at Monday’s meeting at 20th Street Elementary School.

Parents may be on the verge of settling a two-year “parent trigger” battle at 20th Street Elementary School without a lawsuit, which both sides hoped to avoid.

Nearly 200 parents, students and teachers attended a Monday evening meeting at the school and heard about a unique alternative in which 20th Street would win greater autonomy but be neither an independent charter nor remain solely a traditional district school. The meeting became heated at times, with an equal amount of debate in English and Spanish.

Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which was brought into the situation at parent organizers’ request, told the gathering Monday that the Partnership was willing to work with the school and the district to solve the issues that parents have with the teaching and student scores at the K-5th grade campus that serves nearly 600 students in South-Central LA.

“There are a lot of impassioned parents here who are concerned about their children’s education with very different ideas of how to get there,” Sullivan said. “Change is hard, there needs to be healing. You need to look forward and making this a school that every child wants to come to every day.”

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Coordinator Ana Garcia, right, with other 20th Street teachers and staff.

The parents who initiated the parent trigger said they heard for the first time Monday some promising compromises by the school district. Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez attended and dispelled some of the concerns that the parents had about a deal with Partnership.

“The superintendent (Michelle King) will be making the final decision, but we are looking at a standard contract with Partnership,” Martinez said. “We would accept Partnership running the school.”

In March, the district rejected the parent trigger saying the school didn’t qualify because it wasn’t failing, but by that rationale no school in the state would qualify because the state API test scores had been suspended. The district did acknowledge that the parents had gathered enough signatures to trigger a take-over.

The most recent 20th Street school report card showed only slight improvements, with 37 percent of 5th-graders passing the California Standards Test compared to a district average of 47 percent. On the new CORE accountability system, the school scored a 46 out of 100. The district average was 60.

Omar Cavillo — one of the parents who filed the parent trigger which allows parents to take over a failing school and possibly create a charter school — said he was relieved that the district would allow a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) rather than a more restrictive one that was previously presented to them when they met with King last month.

“We need to get this in writing, there is still a lot of lack of trust, so we want to see it from Miss King herself,” Cavillo said. “We like the Partnership model. It could work out.”

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High stakes over ‘parent trigger’: Closed session discussion tries to avoid 20th Street lawsuit

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20th Street Elementary School

The LA Unified school board broke into a surprise closed session for several hours Tuesday afternoon in the middle of their public meeting in order to head off a potential “parent trigger” lawsuit over 20th Street Elementary School.

All morning, the school board was in closed session to discuss employee actions, contract renewals and pending litigation. Then, in the middle of the 1 p.m. public meeting, school board secretariat Jefferson Crain said they were going into closed session again to discuss the potential litigation involving the elementary school.

Board member Monica Garcia, who has worked with the 20th Street parents to try to solve the issues, said Wednesday that the closed-door session wasn’t merely to stop the threatened lawsuit.

“We are making every effort to listen to all of the concerns, the dreams and aspirations of all the players and give energy into making that a better school,” Garcia told LA School Report.

Gabe Rose of Parent Revolution — a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — said the attorney representing the parents “made it very clear that there’s pending litigation and that’s why in the closed sessions they went in to see what the settlement would look like. The parents expressed clearly there’s no plausible deal without a significant shift in who’s managing the school.”

But the district didn’t offer enough, Rose said. “The parents need autonomy and without the necessary changes, they will go the legal route and be successful. The district never did any of the things they promised, so of course there’s a lot of hesitation on the part of the parents.”

One of the parents, Omar Cavillo, who helped file the trigger against the district, said the parents are trying to work on a deal with Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that could offer a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools in the South Central LA area.

“We like the Partnership, but the deal the district offered still had them completely in charge of our school,” Cavillo said. “The attorneys are negotiating, and that’s probably what is going on in the closed session.”

No one seems to want to go to court. “We don’t want a lawsuit, it’s not good for the district or school or community,” Cavillo said. “We care for LAUSD, there are some great teachers. We want to work with the district.”

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After denying parent trigger, district meets with school but some parents are still unhappy

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20th Street parents discussing petition. By Omar Cavillo.

About 100 parents from 20th Street Elementary School met Tuesday night in the auditorium with more than a dozen school administrators after the district denied a “parent trigger” that would allow them to make sweeping changes to the school. Some of the parents were still unhappy, however.

“It was like a big cheerleading session,” said parent Omar Cavillo, who is on the school site council and the English Learner Advisory Committee and one of the parents who started the petition drive under the state’s Parent Empowerment Act. The act, also known as parent trigger, is geared toward underperforming schools so that parents can force changes in instruction and personnel or even create a charter school.

The Parents Union tried for nearly three years to make changes at the school and threatened to file a parent trigger petition last year but withdrew it when the district promised to make changes. They filed in February after they said no changes were made this school year, and they were equally underwhelmed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“They offered no plans to improve education whatsoever,” Cavillo said. “It was very disappointing.”

But Local District Central Superintendent Roberto Martinez told LA School Report that he thought the meeting went very well and that they answered many of the parents’ concerns. He mentioned some of the immediate responses the district has made regarding the initial petition, including changing the principal seven months ago, creating a new reading pilot reading program and getting a grant to keep the school open on Saturdays and allow more parents to be trained and involved.

“We want the parents to be involved and empower them to ask the right questions,” Martinez said. “Our expectation for the teachers is that they communicate where the children are at every step of their education. There are immediate changes going on, and it’s happening right now.”

More than 58 percent, or the 342 families (and more are still signing on), signed a petition for the parent trigger, but last weekend, in the final hours before the district’s Saturday deadline to respond, the district said the school was ineligible for four reasons, which some say are counter-intuitive to the law. Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that helps parents organize and take over a failing campus, said that some of the district’s arguments were similar to arguments made by Anaheim’s school district in rebuffing a similar parent trigger, but those were rejected by a judge last summer. The case is on appeal.

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LAUSD rejects 20th Street parent trigger, says no triggers valid in state

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Former superintendent Ramon Cortines with 20th Street families over the summer. (Photo by Omar Cavillo.)

LA Unified has rejected a parent petition to take over a failing elementary school in South Central Los Angeles, reversing district policy and essentially asserting that no California school qualifies under the state “parent trigger” law.

Parents of 20th Street Elementary School were informed of the district’s rejection in a letter late Saturday, the last day the district had to notify the parents. They had hoped to be able to take over the school and possibly create a charter through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, or parent trigger, which has been used twice to help under-performing LA Unified schools.

“We are so disappointed, all the parents are really upset,” said Guadalupe Aragon, one of the parents who started the petition drive. “We just want our children to have the same opportunities to get to college that other children in the district have, and this was our only way to do it. We are very angry.”

After two years of trying to get changes at the school, and dropping the threatened trigger by the parents at least once, the 20th Street Parents Union filed again last month to take over the school with 57 percent of the families (the parents of 342 students) signing a petition.

“This is shameful,” said former California state senator Gloria Romero, who authored the law, after reading the district’s letter. “They have a brand new superintendent and she is harking to the past, in a sense. Where is the leadership? It’s supposed to be a new game with LA being unified. This does not bode well for the spirit of the law.”

The law was passed in 2010 and used at two LA Unified schools in 2013. That year, statewide tests were suspended in anticipation of computerized tests based on the Common Core State Standards. The following year former Superintendent John Deasy argued that the district was exempt, for one year, from the parent trigger by a federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law that allowed LA Unified and seven other California school districts to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards.parent trigger

One of the first things interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines did when he took over was to reverse Deasy’s edict and lift the ban on parent triggers. King worked under both Deasy and Cortines.

King and her staff met with parents only five days before the letter was sent out rejecting their petition. The meeting last Monday, held at district headquarters, was called by King and also attended by representatives of Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which was brought in by the district to see if it might be a solution for the parents.

Joan Sullivan, CEO for Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, said she was invited to attend the meeting at the district to offer some sort of solution for 20th Street. Partnership was offering a hybrid of a charter and traditional school as an option, which they have done in 17 schools over the past eight years in the South Central LA area.

“Parents are asking for a choice, and we could offer a good option,” said Sullivan said. “We take on whole schools and support them with the current student body and most of the staff and use the parent involvement and voice.”

At last week’s meeting, the district “never told us that our school may not be eligible or that there was any problem with our petition,” Aragon said.

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Parent trigger tries takeover at South Central school, again

 

For the first time, a Parent Trigger has been threatened twice for the same school. The parents of the 20th Street Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles are fed up with the lack of response from LA Unified after their first attempt two years ago to take over the school and on Monday filed a new petition with the district.

It all started when Guadalupe Aragon saw the report card that rated her daughter’s elementary school and showed that only 43 percent of the students at the school were performing at grade level. She decided to do something about it.

Parents signed a petition to take over the school through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, often called a “Parent Trigger,” which allows parent groups to push for sweeping changes and even create a charter school. The LA Unified district administrators changed principals at the school, held meetings, made assurances. But that was two years ago.

This week, the Parents Union gathered yet another petition of 58 percent of the parents in the school of 591 students and called for another Parent Trigger. This time they’re not waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

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The Parent Union of 20th Street Elementary. (Photo courtesy of Guadalupe Aragon)

“We had so many meetings and they told us they were going to do things, but nothing ever happened, we won’t wait anymore,” said Aragon, who was one of two parents signing the Feb. 1 letter to Superintendent Michelle King stating their case for the Parent Trigger and presenting the petition. The petition states that the parents are demanding a “restart,” an option that would allow them to create or bring in a charter school to operate 20th Street.

“The parents shelved their petition the first time around and agreed to work with top district officials, but there was no change at the school, it’s as if the petition never happened,” said Gabe Rose, the chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, a group that helped write the Parent Empowerment Act in 2011. “Now we’re forced to file again.”

The act allows communities to jumpstart changes at chronically low-performing schools. It requires a majority of the parents to sign a petition that could force a district to bring in new leadership and staff, or convert a school into a nonprofit independent charter.

At LAUSD, nine schools have been threatened with Parent Triggers, and the district made changes to six of them before petitions were filed, according to Rose. Three schools at LAUSD — Weigand Avenue Elementary in Watts, 24th Street Elementary in South Central and 20th Street — resulted in filing petitions with the district to date.

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Parent Revolution announces Seth Litt as new CEO

Seth Litt

Seth Litt

Parent Revolution has announced that Seth Litt is taking over as its CEO. The news comes a full nine months after the organization’s former executive director and founder, Ben Austin, stepped down.

Parent Revolution was formed in 2009 by Austin and played a role in creating California’s “parent trigger” law. It also offers guidance and help to parent groups wanting to implement the law at their school.

Litt brings a long career in education to Parent Revolution: he was a teacher in middle school in the south Bronx, a Teach for America corps member, a union chapter leader and charter high school principal.

“I am excited to join Parent Revolution and lead the organization through its next chapter of impact for students and families,” Litt said in a statement. “Families in every community deserve more than hope or a roll of the dice – they deserve information, access to the system, and real power to make changes for their kids and their communities. For too long parents in communities like the south Bronx, south Los Angeles, and elsewhere have been on their own. They deserve the power to take action and effect change in their children’s education and lives.”

Alison Laslett, Parent Revolution’s Chief Operating Officer, has been serving as interim executive director while the board searched for a permanent replacement, a role now changed to the title of CEO.

Parent Revolution and the parent trigger law have proven to be a controversial and polarizing presence in California. Under the parent trigger law, which was passed in 2010, parents at a chronically underperforming school that meets certain criteria can call for reform if a majority of them sign a petition requesting a specific change. The changes could include converting the school into a charter school or changing the administration.

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Fishburn parents and teachers succeed in ousting principal

FishburnSchoolRallyParents and teachers have succeeded in ousting a principal and assistant principal from Fishburn Avenue Elementary School in Maywood.

“We heard exciting news that the district is going to transfer both the principal and assistant principal,” said Alfonso Flores, an educational consultant and founder of Excellent Educational Solutions. “This is the best possible outcome and it shows what can happen when the teachers and community come together.”

The parents and teachers were among the first to unite to use a Parent Trigger campaign under the Parent Empowerment Act. If more than 50 percent of parents at a low-performing school sign a petition, the parents can then enact change, including removing its leadership or converting it to a charter.

Flores works with former California State Sen. Gloria Romero at the nonprofit California Center for Parent Empowerment. He said the threat of the Parent Trigger campaign caused LA Unified to act despite years of complaints. Romero helped the parents and teachers with their petition campaign.

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Another LAUSD school uses Parent Trigger as leverage for change

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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.

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‘Lowride’ with George Lopez for LAUSD, ‘Parent Trigger’ in O.C.

school report buzzComedian and actor George Lopez has started a campaign on Omaze.com to raise money for the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, a charity that contributes to LA Unified.

Anyone interested can enter a contest to go “lowriding” with Lopez around Los Angeles in a vintage lowrider, join him for a meal at one of his favorite LA restaurants and be put up in a four-star hotel for two nights. The contest works like a charity raffle with the winner randomly selected. The cost to enter spans from $10 to $10,000, and the more one spends the higher the chances to win are. 

Lopez graduated from San Fernando High School in 1979 and has previously donated funds and participated in charities for San Fernando and LAUSD schools. In 2011, the auditorium at San Fernando Elementary, where Lopez said he first performed at the age of 6, was named after him.

Robotics students gather for film screening

About 900 students on robotics teams from 11 LA Unified schools are gathering at 4:30 p.m. today at the Cesar Chavez Auditorium at San Fernando High School for a screening of the film “Spare Parts,” according to a district press release.

The film is based on a true story about a team of robotics students from Phoenix who were undocumented immigrants and beat MIT students in a robotics competition. Co-starring in the film as the students’ teacher is … George Lopez.

Actors Carolos Penavega and Alexa Penavega from the film are expected to be in attendance, according to a district spokesperson.

‘Parent Trigger’ pulled in Orange County

Parents at Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim have filed petitions to overhaul their school through the state Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. It is the first school in Orange County to use the so-called “parent trigger” law, according to the California Center for Parent Empowerment.

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95 LAUSD schools on state list of 1,000 underperformers

LA Unified's Fremont High School

LA Unified’s Fremont High School

The California Department of Education released its annual list of 1,000 underperforming schools earlier this month. The list includes 95 from LA Unified, and students attending them can now apply for an open enrollment transfer to any other public school in California for the next academic year.

The list is compiled each year as a result of the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, which created the “Parent Trigger” act and the Romero Open Enrollment Act. 

Until recently, it looked as if the list would be irrelevant to parents at LA Unified looking to use it to enact their parent trigger powers, after former Superintendent John Deasy proclaimed over the summer that the district believed it was not subject to the Parent Trigger act this academic year.

However, Deasy’s replacement, Ramon Cortines, has reversed course and said the law would apply to the district this year.

The act allows for parents to make sweeping changes at an underperforming school if over 50 percent of them sign a petition. The changes can include firing the principal, replacing 50 percent of the staff and converting to a charter school.

The schools on the underperforming list apply to transfer requests for the 2015-16 academic year. The list is comprised primarily using API scores, but since California did not calculate 2014 API scores as a result of the state transitioning to Common Core testing, the list was based on 2013 API scores.

The new list is not the same as last year’s list, which also used the 2013 scores, as it was adjusted based on schools’ opening or closing, schools that converted to or from charter status and schools that changed to or from a school type excluded from the Romero Open Enrollment Act.

The state list includes 687 elementary schools, 165 middle schools and 148 high schools, and does not apply to charter schools.

Among the high schools this year is Jefferson High, which has been in the headlines as a result of major scheduling problems the schools has experienced, leading a judge to order the state to intervene. The ACLU and Public Counsel, which represent the plaintiffs in the case, are currently seeking state intervention at Fremont High and Dorsey High, which are both also on the list.

Cortines lifts LAUSD ban on Parent Trigger enacted by Deasy

parent triggerThe head of Parent Revolution said today that LA Unified has reversed course, lifting the ban on using the “Parent Trigger” law this year to overhaul failing district schools.

“As one of Superintendent Cortines’s first moves, it’s a sign that the district will be respectful of the law,” Ben Austin, founder of the group that helps parents organize and enact the take-over of a failing campus, told LA School Report.

“It indicates that Cortines wants to work collaboratively with parents and parent unions,” he added.

The state Parent Trigger law allows parents to make changes at their children’s school if a majority of parents sign a petition demanding improvements. So far, it has been used for only a handful of schools in California.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Deputy Superintendent Michelle King met with Austin last week to discuss the moratorium. In an interview with LA School Report a day later, Cortines confirmed the district’s change in policy.

“I believe in parent choice, and I mean parent choice. There is no ban,” Cortines said, adding that he had already notified the author of the law, former Senator Gloria Romero, about his position.

However, several district officials said they know of no such change. When asked about it last week General Counsel David Holmquist said he had been unaware of Cortines’s decision.

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LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250Today, available by LIVESTREAM, the seven members of LA Unified school board will meet for the first time since the high-profile resignation of Superintendent John Deasy and the selection of Ray Cortines as interim replacement.

At 10:00 a.m., the board is set to hear an update on the troubled computer system, MiSiS, which, has caused management and scheduling snafus at several schools. The board is also set to vote on the terms and conditions of the employment contract for Cortines as well as hear public comment.

In a closed-door session to follow, of note is a late addition to the agenda of an item listed as ‘Public Employment, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Schools,’  a possible look at the employment Michelle King, who was passed over to serve as interim superintendent after she offered up her services to replace Deasy.  The agenda is here.

At 2:00 p.m., the Committee of the Whole is scheduled to meet to discuss the controversy over the district’s temporary suspension of the Parent Trigger Law will be discussed with a presentation by Gloria Romero, former California State Senator. The committee’s agenda is here.

At 3:15 p.m., the full board will return for a Special Session to report on the labor negotiations between the teachers union and the district. Agenda is here.

At 4:15 p.m. the Committee on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment is set to meet to discuss, among other items, the Public School Choice Initiative, first launched in 2011 by then interim Superintendent Cortines. That agenda is  here.

In a narrow sample, Parent Trigger schools show gains

CST Life Science (5th-Grade) two LAUSD schools parent triggerWhen California’s first set of “Parent Trigger” schools in Adelanto Unified and LA Unified were taken over in 2013, the expectation was that a once failing school could turn innovative teaching and learning methods into academic improvement.

Advocates of the controversial law argued that that an overhaul was required for progress. Short of parent testimonials, advocates have had little evidence to prove themselves right since the state suspended standardized testing as districts transition to the Common Core.

Until now.

One set of statewide tests — the California Standards Test in science, strangely omitted from the testing ban — suggests students at the triggered schools have made impressive progress over the last two years.

True, the testing sample is quite small, but the results are positive.

Of the fifth graders who took the science exam at 24th Street Elementary, the first school within LA Unified to undergo a complete overhaul, almost twice as many scored Proficient on the exam over those who took the test in the pre-trigger year 2013. The percentage of students who rated as Advanced skyrocketed to 33 from 2.

Ben Austin, founder of Parent Revolution, a non-profit group that helped the two schools organize their petition to pull the parent trigger, conceded that the single test is a narrow measuring stick but insisted that it’s an indicator of wider success.

At 24th Street, LA Unified runs pre-K through fourth grade while Crown Preparatory Academy runs fifth through eighth grades.

“Potentially, the test scores speak to two things,” he told LA School Report, referring to the hybrid nature of the campus. “One is the value for children in these types of collaborative partnerships when adults put their ideological differences aside.”

“And it speaks to the very good work that Crown Prep has done as a charter school.”

At Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, formerly Desert Trails Elementary, which was the first in the country to be converted into a charter school as a result of California’s Parent Empowerment law, students made even more impressive gains. More students tested Advanced or Proficient in science than anytime in the past 10 years, including almost four times as many as those in 2013.

In addition to 24th Street Elementary, a handful of other LA Unified schools have leveraged the parent trigger law to make changes on campus: Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, West Athens Elementary and Lenox Elementary in Baldwin Hills, and Weigand Elementary in Watts.

Romero pressing for LAUSD hearing on ‘trigger’ waiver

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, the former state senator who authored the California Parent Trigger law is asking LA Unified board president Richard Vladovic to schedule a public discussion on the district’s legal opinion that the law does not apply this year.

District lawyers say the Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards, sets the law aside.

“Of course, I dispute the legal interpretation and I am in the process of seeking a state opinion on the matter,” she wrote to Vladovic. “Nothing that I have seen lends support to the legal opinion of LAUSD.”

She adds that none of the other districts granted a waiver has made such an interpretation.

Vladovic’s chief of staff, Chris Torres, said in an email that Vladovic intends to help arrange to put her request on the agenda of a future meeting.

The district’s legal interpretation is important, so far as parent groups who want to enact changes this year through the state law, which permits parents to initiate action at their children’s school if they can secure signatures from a majority of school parents.

The district is contending that without state-approved metrics for measuring academic performance while Common Core testing is phasing in, the law cannot apply because action through Parent Trigger requires two years of data to show a school is failing.

In her letter, Romero questions several aspects of the district’s decision, including whether the board was aware of such an exemption and why the legal decision was made without public discussion or announcement.

She also asks Vladovic that if the district was certain in its legal analysis, why did the district negotiate with parents at West Athens Elementary School for changes in exchange for their assurance not to use the Parent Trigger law, when in the absence of the law, the parents would have had no such leverage.

Finally, she asks, “Perhaps even more importantly — how could a District simply erase away a law and make a pact to keep this information away from the public?

Outside group challenging LAUSD’s view of ‘Parent Trigger’

Gloria Romero, CA State Senator

Gloria Romero

* UPDATED

Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents petition for change at poor-performing schools, is disputing an LA Unified legal opinion that says the state law that gives parents that right is invalid this year.

The conflict came to light in an LA Times story this morning, citing an opinion from a district lawyer sent to Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who wrote the 2010 “Parent Trigger” law.

Romero, who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year, said in an interview this morning she felt “angry and betrayed” by a legal decision that was reached last fall by the district but not shared with her until she learned about it three weeks ago.

“I’m not saying LAUSD is wrong on the legal interpretation; I just don’t know, and that’s why I’m seeking another legal interpretation from the state,” she said, “But LAUSD’s decision violates the spirit and intent of the law.”

“What I want to know,” she added, “is why did they keep this quiet all this time.”

The district’s opinion stems from a Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards — measures used to determine whether a school is failing.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said in an interview that the metrics used by LA Unified and the other districts granted the waiver still give parents the right to use the Parent Trigger law, so long as a school has been deemed in need of improvement for two consecutive years, ending with the 2014-2015 school year.

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Parent Revolution holding a forum to spread the ‘trigger’ word

Parent RevolutionEmboldened by the Vergara v. California ruling, which struck down state teacher tenure and seniority protections last week, Parent Revolution is trying to expand its reach.

The advocacy group, which pushes for Parent Trigger laws across the country, plans to hold a one-day “Parent Power Convention” in October, the first meeting of its kind. It’s timed to coincide with the countdown to the fall elections and “will incorporate vital discussions on the type of laws” the group seeks to enact.

In California, the parent trigger law creates a pathway for parents to make changes at their schools by collecting signatures of a majority of parents who want change. It has been used so far in only two schools, 24th Street Elementary in LA Unified and Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto.

“It should be clear that in the wake of the historic decision in Vergara, Parent Union leaders immediately grasped the opportunity and the responsibility to build upon their hard won seat at table around school site decisions into a seat at the table in Sacramento to advocate for the interests of all children in California,” Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution, said in a statement.

Organizers expect candidates in the final days of their respective campaigns will be eager to gain the endorsement of Parent Union chapters, which they claim are a rising and expanding political constituency in California.

Few details about the event are available at this time, but a spokesperson confirmed it will “definitely be interactive.”

Just the threat of ‘Parent Trigger’ helps parents get what they want

West Athens Elementary School LAUSD parent trigger

West Athens Elementary School

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.

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Gloria Romero Leaving One Ed Reform Group to Start Another

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero is stepping down from her position as Director of California Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) to start a new organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with DFER, but believe that it is time to move past party politics and focus my skills and organizing with parents who form the true base of any education reform movement,” she said in a statement.

In 2010, as a California State Senator, Romero authored the country’s first “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents to replace a school’s leadership. But the fiercely independent Romero hasn’t always agreed with the tactics employed by Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has helped organize every parent trigger campaign in California to date.

Romero’s new organization will focus on empowering parents to affect change at their children’s schools.

“A myriad of federal and state laws exist which, when combined, offer parents greater opportunities to become more actively involved in helping their children pursue the American Dream via education,” she said.

Romero’s independence and unpredictability have earned her many enemies. Last year, she even broke with DFER’s national organization to support LA Unified and seven other California school districts in their quest for a No Child Left Behind waiver.

Nevertheless, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams lent a quote to Romero’s goodbye press release, saying, “We are extremely grateful for all the great work Gloria has done for children and families in California as an elected official in the California Legislature as well as her leadership of DFER in California.”

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