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L.A. school board approves parent trigger at 24th St. Elementary

Vote will allow parents to proceed with the first such effort to overhaul an L.A. campus. Board also approves purchase of tablets for L.A. students and a downtown charter school.

February 12, 2013|By Stephen Ceasar and Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Board of Education approved the first use of the controversial parent trigger law in the city Tuesday, clearing the way for sweeping changes at 24th Street Elementary School in the West Adams neighborhood.

The board also moved to purchase tablet computers for 31,000 students in the first phase of an ambitious effort to improve technology in schools. And the board approved the first charter for a group of downtown Los Angeles parents seeking to open a new campus for their children in the growing neighborhood.

Parents at 24th Street Elementary are the first to use the trigger law, which allows parents to petition to overhaul a campus with new staff and curriculum, close the campus or convert it to an independent, publicly financed charter.

The law has been steadfastly opposed by teachers unions, which view it as a way for charter operators to weaken them and wrest control of public schools.

The 24th Street parents' petition campaign proceeded relatively smoothly compared with similar efforts in Compton and the High Desert city of Adelanto, which were snarled in legal battles and conflicts. Supt. John Deasy had appealed to the parents and said their goals were similar: creating strong academically performing campuses.

In other action, the board voted 6 to 0, with member Bennett Kayser abstaining, to approve the $50-million plan to purchase tablet computers. Deasy's goal is to equip every teacher and all 650,000 students in the district with a tablet computer to support the move to new technology-based standards.

The pilot program will be funded entirely by bond revenue from Measure Y, R and Q until the 2015-16 school year, when about $3.6 million from the district's general fund will be used to pay for technical support each year going forward.

District officials said the tablets meet the criteria for using bond money that calls for addressing unmet school facilities needs.

Downtown parents won the right to open "Metro Charter," a school designed to serve a growing demographic in neighborhoods that are experiencing a renaissance and a baby boom.

"Downtown Los Angeles is under a transformation," said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area. The population has more than doubled in the last five years, he said.

A group of parents who are on the charter's board breathed sighs of relief after the 5-1 vote; board member Steve Zimmer opposed and Marguerite LaMotte abstained.

"We believe there should be a quality public option" for education, said David Chun, a member of Metro Charter's board, with his 4-year-old son, Everett, perched atop his shoulders.

The charter's founders appealed to the board by saying the streets of downtown are more than a place to live and work, they are a classroom for their children.

The proximity of museums, music halls and historic buildings will "provide a unique and stimulating environment" for the future students, said Chinmaya Misra, a downtown parent and member of the charter board.

The parents have been working on the charter proposal for more than a year, meeting in parks downtown and in one anothers' lofts.

"It's been very hard and a challenge because education is something that is so personal to everyone and yet it's a universal issue," Misra said before the board meeting.

The charter board is in the process of finalizing a location in the South Park area and hiring a principal. The school is expected to have about 150 students enrolled in kindergarten through second grade when it opens in the fall and will add a grade every year up to fifth grade.

In other charter action, the board allowed Green Dot Public Schools to run and reorganize Locke High School in Watts for another five years. Locke was the first L.A. Unified campus to be taken over by a charter operator, in 2008.

Currently, the Locke Campus is split into five small schools. In an effort to address the slumping academic performance of incoming ninth-grade students, Green Dot plans to place most new freshman in a single academy.

There will be three 10th-through-12th-grade academies.

Although Locke has seen some gains, they have not been distributed evenly across the campus. The percentage of incoming ninth-grade students who test below or far below grade level in math has increased sharply in recent years, more ninth-grade students need special education services and enrollment in the freshman class has been declining.

A report released in May found that students at Locke have fared better than their peers in nearby traditional schools, but achievement overall remains low, according to the UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. Still, students at Locke were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed to apply to a four-year state college, the study found.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

dalina.castellanos@latimes.com

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