Latrice Gamble hands a binder full of parent-trigger petitions to L.A.… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)
A high-spirited group of nearly 100 parents descended on the Los Angeles Unified School District office Thursday and turned in petitions demanding sweeping changes at their failing school in the first use of the controversial parent trigger law in the city.
But parents at 24th Street Elementary School in the West Adams neighborhood got a strikingly different reception in L.A. Unified than their counterparts in Compton and the High Desert city of Adelanto, where parent trigger campaigns sparked long legal battles and bitter conflict.
L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy welcomed them into the school board meeting room with greetings in Spanish. After accepting the petitions signed by 358 parents, who represent 68% of the students, he pledged to work for "fundamental and dramatic change" at the school. The campus is one of the district's lowest performing elementary schools, with two-thirds of students unable to read or do math at grade level.
"It is absolutely the administration's and my desire to work side-by-side with you so every student — todos los ninos — gets an outstanding education," Deasy said, as parents erupted in applause and cheers.
The 2010 parent trigger law allows parents to petition to overhaul a school with new staff and curriculum, close the campus or convert it to an independent, publicly financed charter. It has been bitterly opposed by teachers' unions, which see it as a surreptitious way for charters to weaken them and wrest control of public schools.
In an unexpected twist Thursday, Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, also showed up and told the crowd that the parent trigger law "is a tool like an ax." He said the recent use of the law, the first such victory in the state, to convert an Adelanto elementary school to a charter campus would force the removal of all instructors there.
But he also appealed for collaboration between parents and his union. "We wish to work with you. We wish to work as a team," he said.
Later, he said he had contacted the American Federation of Teachers this week and secured commitments for help from its new school improvement office to turn around 24th Street.
Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, the educational nonprofit that lobbied for the law and has organized parents, praised the pledges for cooperation.
"Today was a new chapter in this movement," Austin said.
The school's failures have been acknowledged by its staff, which submitted an improvement plan under the district's system to address low performing campuses known as Public School Choice. But L.A. Unified this week rated that effort as inadequate. Deasy said Thursday that he would continue to work with the school community to strengthen that plan. But he also told parents that he would meet with them next week about the parent trigger petition.
Amabilia Villeda, a 24th Street parent leader, said ineffective leadership and teaching at the school had caused her now eighth-grade daughter to fall several grade levels behind in reading. She said she was determined to get a better education for her two younger children, one of whom attends 24th Street.
The petition asks for a charter organization to take over the campus. But Villeda and others said they would try to work for changes with the district before pursuing that option.
She said about 300 parents signed a letter in 2008 demanding a new principal, better teachers and improved school facilities. But they never got a response from the district, principal or the teachers union, she said.
"We felt ignored and powerless," she said. "Now people are listening."