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Parents at L.A.'s 20th Street Elementary school file petition for charter status

Parents at an elementary school south of downtown Los Angeles have launched an effort to divorce their campus from L.A. Unified and create a charter school they believe will better serve their children’s needs.

The petition drive, announced Wednesday, was carried out with the help of locally based Parent Revolution, which has taken a lead role in organizing dissatisfied parents using a state law that makes it easier for parents to exert control at low-performing campuses.

Parents at 20th Street Elementary had been prepared to submit a petition nearly a year ago but backed down when the district pledged to address their concerns. Organizers now say the district failed to keep its commitments.

“We agreed to work in good faith with the district and support their plan, and we discarded the petitions we had already collected representing a majority of families at the school,” the parents wrote in a letter signed by leaders Guadalupe Aragon and Omar Calvillo and sent this week to L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King. “Unfortunately, the plan that the district promised to implement at the beginning of this 2015-2016 school year has not been faithfully implemented.”

The district put in a new principal and hired two new teachers, and then-Supt. Ramon Cortines met with parents as recently as late last year, Aragon said in an interview.

But change, she said, was happening too slowly.

The new principal lacks experience, students are receiving homework far below their grade levels and the school has mishandled incidents of bullying, she said. The district, she added, also failed to follow through with intensive tutoring to bring students up to grade level.

“We parents said we’re not going to wait another year and have one more year wasted,” Aragon said.

L.A. Unified said only that its attorneys are “reviewing all documents related to this issue.”

The petition represents an early challenge for King, who took office as superintendent last month and has pledged to fight the flight of students from the nation’s second-largest school system.

Charters are managed by groups that are not controlled by L.A. Unified and are exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Most are nonunion.

The teachers union has criticized Parent Revolution and the process, noting that only parents who sign the petitions have a say in the future of the school.

“Parent Revolution has created chaos in every neighborhood they’ve targeted, relying on misinformation and scare tactics to divide families and school communities,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “The group does nothing to truly empower parents or support authentic change.”

L.A. has about 101,000 students in charters, the most of any district in the nation. The state charter association recently sued L.A. Unified, saying its schools are entitled to a larger share of voter-approved school-construction bonds.

If the school district verifies that a majority of parents have signed the petition, it would have little recourse other than to accept the demands under the state’s “parent trigger” law, said Gabe Rose, chief strategy officer for Parent Revolution. The parents at 20th Street Elementary intend to solicit proposals from charter operators without delay.

The school of nearly 600 students is 94% Latino. About half the students are learning English and the vast majority are from low-income families. In new state English tests, 19% of students met or exceeded learning goals last year. In math, the figure was 20%.

Parent Revolution receives money from groups that support the growth of charter schools, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

The group has gone to court against school districts that have blocked the conversion of their campuses to charter schools.

L.A. Unified has avoided such litigation by agreeing to let parents drive improvement efforts at a school, leading to a spectrum of results.

At 24th Street Elementary, a 2013 petition led to L.A. Unified handing over half the campus to a charter school while continuing to operate the other half as a reconfigured traditional school.

At Haddon Elementary in Pacoima that same year, parents halted their signature gathering when the district committed to working with them.

And at L.A.'s Weigand Avenue Elementary, organizing parents forced the removal of the principal. The faculty rallied behind the administrator and left as well.

The parents hadn’t wanted the teachers to leave but didn’t back down from their demands. The district restaffed the school.

Twitter: @howardblume 

Editor’s note: Education Matters receives funding from a number of foundations, including two that also support Parent Revolution. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation , the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation. Under terms of the grants, the Los Angeles Times retains complete control over editorial content.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

4:06 p.m.: This article was updated with minor editing throughout.

this article was originally published at 5:30 a.m.

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