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Education

Compton Parents Petition to Take Over Chronically Failing Public School Through 'Parent Trigger' Law, Send Shock Waves Throughout the Nation

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Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 10:14 AM

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UPDATE: L.A. Weekly readers sound off on yesterday's Parent Trigger, no charter school has been approved at Compton Unified. After break.

UPDATE: Compton Unified School District Acting Superintendent Karen Frison releases statement about today's Parent Trigger. After break.

UPDATE: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praises Parent Trigger, next steps for McKinley parents, scenes from Compton. Read after break. First posted at 6 a.m.

Read the exclusive, behind-the scenes L.A. Weekly cover story on the Parent Trigger.

For the first time in California, and possibly in the United States, parents are poised take over a chronically failing public school through a new state law called the Parent Trigger. The action will likely send shock waves through education circles across the country.

The historic event will take place in Compton this morning when parent leaders drop off a petition at Compton Unified School District headquarters and utilize the trigger to assume control of McKinley Elementary School. Given behind-the-scenes access, L.A. Weekly will run an in-depth feature story later today on its web site.

Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based education reform group headed by former Bill Clinton aide Ben Austin, has helped gather signatures and organize parents since mid-September. During the past several weeks, the organizing team has largely flown under the radar of Compton Unified officials and powerful teacher union leaders, who detest the Parent Trigger.

Parent Revolution organizers had to collect signatures from at least 51 percent of parents whose children attend McKinley Elementary to start the process of taking over the school. The field team of five women gathered signatures of little over 60 percent, while also organizing a core group of 15 parent leaders.

The petition drive calls for a charter school, operated by Celerity Educational Group, to be established at the site of McKinley Elementary. If things go as planned, Celerity will start classes this summer.

Push back will likely come from Compton Unified School District board members, but McKinley Elementary parent Shemika Murphy tells the Weekly, "If it's going to make the school a better place, I don't understand why they would fight against that."

Parent Revolution organizer Shirley Ford, a mother from South L.A. who has fought numerous education reform battles, says, "The Parent Trigger finally gives parents the opportunity to make real decisions about their children's education."

Update, 1:55 p.m.:

This morning, McKinley Elementary parents boarded two yellow buses at the Compton home of a parent leader and headed to Computon Unified headquarters. Shouting "Yes We Can!" in one of the buses, parents arrived at their destination a little after 10 a.m. Compton mother Ismenia Guzman then handed over the petition to Compton Unified Acting Superintendent Karen Frison.

Frison, who was flanked by Compton Unified police, accepted the signatures with a smile, but refused to give a comment to the press. CNN, all major local TV stations, the New York Times, radio journalists, and others covered the event and swarmed the two women when the petition exchange took place.

Around the same time, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent out a press release, praising the Compton parents:

"I am pleased to see parents in Compton using the power given them in the landmark parent trigger legislation that I signed into law last year. For the first time in California's history, parents whose children are stuck in failing schools can take action to transform them. Parents at McKinley Elementary have been desperate for change, and today they have come together to ensure that their children have access the effective teachers and quality education they deserve. I encourage other concerned parents throughout the state to use these new tools to improve their children's schools."

Parent Revolution Organizing Director Pat DeTemple says the "next steps" for parents and his group are to work on the transition of bringing a new charter school to McKinley Elementary, to work with parents who didn't sign the petition and get them on board with the change, to get parents ready for a possible legal challenge by Compton Unified officials, and to help with any legal actions that may take place.

"It's just the beginning of our work," Shirley Ford says.

Already, there have been reports from Latino parents who support the trigger that other parents have confronted them, saying they will get deported for signing the petition.

Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin says that's completely untrue and it's been part of a "despicable pattern" of intimidation "that has to end."

Compton mother Lupita Munoz, whose children attend McKinley, believes Parent Trigger supporters will handle any hardball tactics by opponents. "We just have to stick to our main point," says Munoz, "and not take our eyes off that. The important thing here is not teachers' job or the facilities. It's to better our children's education."

Update, 3:46 p.m.:

Compton Unified School District Acting Superintendent Karen Frison just released this statement about today's Parent Trigger:

"Although we have not been given an opportunity to discuss the concerns of the school's parents, the district looks forward to addressing all concerns," she says, adding, "Compton Unified values all of its students and remains committed to providing them with a productive and safe learning environment that fosters student achievement."

Compton Unified board member Micah Ali previously told L.A. Weekly that the district will weigh all of its options and said about the trigger, "Nothing is guaranteed."

Frison's statement along with Ali's hint that the district is not keen on the Parent Trigger and may try to fight it.

Update, 10:13 a.m., Dec. 8:

L.A. Weekly readers are now sounding off about the Parent Trigger that was pulled in Compton yesterday. Andrew sarcastically wonders if "the school board [will] be gathering a petition of faculty and staff to give to the parents, asking them to do their jobs by taking way the cell phones and sitting with their children during homework?"

That made other readers quickly chime in.

Abraham shoots back: "And yet, more than 60 percent of Parents with children at that school participated in the petition."

Harold concurs: "If the parents were unified enough to get the trigger option passed, the obviously their are neither incompetent nor disinterested."

Reader Mavent seems to think Compton Unified already has a charter school operating in its district. But as the Weekly points out in its exclusive, behind-the-scenes cover story, "California's Parent Trigger," Compton Unified board members have never approved a charter school application, so that type of school, so far, does not exist in Compton.

What do you think about the Parent Trigger?

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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