A group of parents at Desert Trails Elementary, located two hours east of L.A. in the dusty desert town of Adelanto, saw months of hard work thrown back in their faces last night.
The "parent union," as they call themselves, guided by controversial ed-reform org Parent Revolution, have been going door to door, asking moms and dads to sign a petition called the "Parent Trigger"...
... to force changes at their school. Once they had collected signatures from about 70 percent of parents, they delivered their petition to the Adelanto Unified Elementary School District.
But the district rejected their petition at last night's board meeting, on the basis that 93 parents had since filled out forms to rescind their signatures.
Under a radical new California law, if over 50 percent of parents at any chronically failing school (as designated by the state) sign a Trigger petition, they are allowed to take over the school, and try to shake it from the shackles that have kept it among California's worst.
That's where the debate begins. New-age reformers -- as well as many parents and an ex-administrator at Desert Trails -- are convinced that teachers' cushy union contracts are lowering the standard of excellence on campus, and preventing necessary changes to the curriculum. See: "LAUSD's Dance of the Lemons: Why firing the desk-sleepers, burnouts, hotheads and other failed teachers is all but impossible."
(Thus the recent appearance of programs like "Teach for America," whose theory folks preach that a kid's home life should never be blamed for his or her performance in school, and that teachers need to step it up. Many politicians and corporate giants like Bill Gates and Eli Broad have jumped on board, too, birthing the charter-school industry.)
But teachers and their guardian angels at the California Teachers Association (CTA) feel they're being unfairly blamed for the state's K-12 downward spiral. And at the Adelanto Unified board meeting last night, Trigger opponents stood up to turn the blame back on parents for not getting involved in their kids' education.
Which is where we would like to politely intervene: The moms on the Desert Trails parent union have tried everything within their power to secure their kids an equal education.
Doreen Diaz, a parent-union organizer, told the LA Weekly frustrating stories about trying to make a difference at her daughter's campus via the Parent Teacher Association. But she said she often was shunned for trying to get involved.
Meanwhile, for the past six years, Desert Trails has been on the state's "failing" list, remaining stagnantly in the bottom 10 percent of California schools.
The whole process of restructuring a school for success is confusing and complicated, no doubt. And we feel for parents who feel they might have been tricked into backing some alien charter giant.
(Two petitions were signed: One would keep Desert Trails within the Adelanto school district, yet turn over staff and curriculum decisions to a community-based board of parents and education experts. The other, if district officials aren't willing to work with parents, would hand Desert Trails over to that board entirely. NOT to an existing, branded charter school, as insinuated by the Los Angeles Times.)
The blood, sweat and tears that this pack of fed-up Desert Trails moms has put into an immediate turnaround for their slipping children, delving deep into pedagogy research and statistics for success at other schools, is unrivaled by any counter-effort we've observed thus far.
Which brings us back to the anti-Parent Trigger rescission campaign: It looks to have begun about two weeks ago, and by all appearances, has been backed wholeheartedly by the CTA.
Much like the parent union, opponents went door-to-door, collecting the 93 signatures it would take to overturn the Trigger.
Lori Yuan, a Desert Trails parent and planning commissioner for the city of Adelanto, was a driving force behind the campaign. As well as some well-organized teachers from next-door Hesperia, who have every interest in preventing the Parent Trigger law from making a historic change at Desert Trails. Yuan writes on the "I Support Hesperia Teachers" Facebook page:
Thank you to our "Hesperia helpers" for coming out on their day off yesterday to help gather Parent Revolution petition rescissions - today we made our number!! Now, let's hope the school board votes to kill the petition tonight!!
Superintendent Darin Brawley tells the Weekly that "three or four parents" came to his office and "gave me a binder" with all the rescissions inside.
It took the Desert Trails parent union months to track down the houses of other parents at the school -- mostly through word of mouth. Yet the opposition ran its rescission drive in under two weeks, and apparently went from three signatures to 93 in a single weekend. Might they have been using inside parent-contact information from the district?
Parent Revolution's lawyers believe the rescission drive may have violated the official Parent Trigger regulations by spreading misinformation. (They're still deciding if a lawsuit is the right option at this point in time.) An invite to an anti-Trigger informational rally on February 16 read:
"DESERT TRAILS CHILDREN WILL LOSE THEIR TEACHERS AND PRINCIPAL IF THE PARENT TRIGGER PETITION SUCCEEDS."
It is indeed possible that some restaffing would take place if Desert Trails was handed over to new management. But why is that the core concern here?
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In Compton, the only other city where the Parent Trigger law has been tested (it's currently tied up in court due to similar backlash), an opposition built of teachers and PTA parents turned Parent Revolution's conversation about the need for instant and radical change at California's most neglected schools into a political attack on the tight-knit Compton community.
Sadly, that seems to be what's happening in Adelanto, as well.
From here, the Desert Trails parent union is considering going door-to-door, once again, to all those houses where parents were talked into taking their signatures back. Let's hope the discourse hasn't turned so poisonous and political that parents are too tired to participate -- and that the original urgency of turning around Desert Trails hasn't been lost to the flamewar, like in Compton before it.