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Adelanto school parents seek charter operator

Parents of children at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto rally at a local park in January before presenting a petition to the principal.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Mojave Desert parents who led the state’s first successful petition campaign to transform their school under the landmark parent-trigger law began soliciting proposals Friday for a charter operator to take over their failing campus.

Parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto asked interested nonprofit organizations to submit their qualifications, proposed educational program and plans for community involvement to turn around one of the state’s lowest-performing campuses, where nearly three-fourths of sixth-graders cannot read or do math at grade level.

“We are looking for people with the expertise to provide our children with a quality education and nurturing environment,” said Doreen Diaz, a parent leader.

The call for proposals came one week after a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled that Adelanto Elementary School District trustees illegally rejected the petition by improperly allowing parents of 97 students to rescind their signatures, causing support to drop below the required 50% threshold.

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In the first ruling on one of the law’s most contentious issues, Judge Steve Malone found that the law does not allow signatures to be rescinded and ordered the district to accept the petition. Under the 2010 law, parents of children at a low-performing school may petition to overhaul curriculum and staff, close the campus or convert it to a charter. Charters are publicly financed, independently run schools.

Supporters said their first choice was a partnership with the school district that would retain most employees and services but give parents control to hire a principal with more power over curriculum, budgets and staffing decisions — including dismissal of ineffective teachers.

Under that plan, Desert Trails would be converted to a charter school and run by a board representing the district; parents and others representatives. Teachers would remain unionized district employees on loan to the charter, and the district would continue to provide transportation, janitors, meals and other services.

Board President Carlos Mendoza said he would consider the idea. But he said a concrete plan addressing sources of funding, governance and other details needed to be submitted. He added that the board had no power to unilaterally change collective bargaining agreements over teacher dismissal rules.

He also said he continued to support an appeal of the court ruling because he was concerned that petition backers confused parents through what he called “bait and switch” tactics. He said they told parents they favored one petition for district reforms but submitted a different one for a charter school.

Some of the school’s parents and teachers said bringing in a new charter operator would only disrupt current efforts to improve the school. Earlier this year, a committee of Desert Trails administrators, teachers and a parent — Teresa Rogers — developed a plan they aim to launch this school year featuring an extended day and new literacy program.

All of the school’s 23 teachers signed a letter of commitment to support the program, according to LaNita M. Dominique, president of the Adelanto teachers union.

“We are moving forward with this plan, and have a lot of work to do,” she said. “We cannot stand still.”

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com


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