High desert charter school first success for parent trigger law


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Mojave Desert parents made history Tuesday by becoming the first Californians to successfully use the state’s landmark parent trigger law to win approval of new charter management for their failing school.

After an 18-month legal and political battle over the law, the Adelanto school board voted unanimously to approve the request by parents at Desert Trails Elementary School that a charter school operator take over their campus beginning in August. The chosen operator, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, is based in Hesperia and is affiliated with the University of La Verne.


The successful vote came after two opponents of the parent trigger petition lost the school board election in November and a third opponent left his seat for the Adelanto City Council. One of the new school board members, Teresa Rogers, was a parent leader of the petition campaign.

“We applaud the school board members for their courage and commitment,” Desert Trails parent leader Cynthia Ramirez said in a statement. “The school board has set an example for other parents and districts across the country on how to use Parent Trigger legislation to transform otherwise failing public schools,” Ramirez said.

The 2010 parent trigger law allows parents to petition to overhaul their failing school by replacing staff and revising the curriculum, closing the campus or converting to an independent, publicly financed charter school. More than 20 other states have considered a similar law and at least six others besides California have adopted one, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The law also inspired the film “Won’t Back Down,” which was released last year.

But so far, Adelanto and Compton are the only two communities in California that have organized petition campaigns -- both of them led by Parent Revolution, the nonprofit educational advocacy organization that lobbied for the law. In both cases, the campaigns became embroiled in bitter legal battles and charges on both sides of deceit and harassment. The Compton effort failed.

In Adelanto, parents expressed excitement over the new start for their school, where only one-third of sixth-graders are at grade level in reading and math. The school’s achievement score on a 1,000-point scale known as the Academic Performance Index fell by 13 points to 699 last year.

In contrast, LaVerne Elementary’s score rose to 911 last year from 869. About two-thirds of its sixth-graders were at grade level in English and just over half in math. Only 17 sixth-graders were tested at LaVerne, however, compared to 95 at Desert Trails. LaVerne also has a student body with less poverty and higher parent education levels.


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--Teresa Watanabe