Parents with power over L.A. school weigh their options

Erica Valente, lower right, and other parents on Thursday attended a presentation to help them decide who should run 24th Street Elementary School.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

About 50 parents on Thursday attended a presentation to help them decide who should run 24th Street Elementary School, a campus whose fate is in the hands of families who are trying to change the management of the school under the controversial parent trigger law.

Because more than 50% of the school’s parents signed the petition, they won the power to force the change of their choice at the persistently low-performing school. Their options included replacing the entire staff and turning the Jefferson Park campus over to an independent operator outside the direct control of the L.A. Unified School District.

The favored option that emerged this week was a hybrid plan. A committee of parent leaders recommended that L.A. Unified manage instruction for students through fourth grade. Then, Crown Preparatory Academy, a charter school, would handle grades five through eight.


The 108-year-old school currently enrolls students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Crown Prep already operates on campus, using surplus space for its three-year-old middle school. Charters are independently managed and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools.

“Crown is actually high-performing and the district was covering all our necessities,” parent Alicia Mendez said in Spanish, explaining the advantages of a collaboration. Parents asked the district and the charter school to work together on a combined bid.

“We worried that it was difficult mixing water and oil, but it happened,” she said.

Parents who signed the petition will vote next Tuesday. Their selection is binding on L.A. Unified. The election will be managed by Parent Revolution, a locally based organization that has lobbied nationwide to give parents the power to force aggressive changes at low-performing schools.

Parents will have four choices on their ballots: the partnership between L.A. Unified and Crown, the option of letting the district or Crown operate alone, or a proposal from another local charter, Academia Moderna.

Parent leader Amabilia Villeda said a strength of including the district was its commitment to maintain a pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and to restore a preschool program for children younger than 4. The review committee also had some concerns about whether Crown Prep was fully prepared to manage the lower grades.

L.A. Unified also pledged to make all current staff reapply for their jobs and to include parents on a hiring committee, organizers said.

The fate of teachers at a parent-trigger school has become a concern of instructors and their union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

The filing of a second parent petition this week, at Weigand Avenue Elementary in Watts, prompted teachers there to call a community meeting for Thursday afternoon. At the meeting, attended by about 100 parents and students, faculty members asserted that their school has made strong progress recently and has a high-quality plan for moving forward.

If the petition is validated, the parents who signed it and they alone will suddenly have control over whether the current faculty’s efforts will continue.

At the park near 24th Street, Villeda encouraged parents to do their homework and vote their conscience.

“For those of you that are not happy with the joint proposal,” Villeda told parents in Spanish. “Don’t vote for anything you don’t believe…You have the right to vote for the district or Crown alone” or the other charter.

The informal meeting, at a park near the school, had a festive quality. Toddlers munched on crackers, parents chatted happily with each other. Some tried out the park’s outdoor exercise equipment. Parent leaders and staff from Parent Revolution performed a skit recounting the history of the organizing effort. Their props included a cardboard microphone, bright red plastic hats for the parents, and dolls to represent bidders competing for the school. The district was represented by a crowned prince in royal blue.

Participants also wore rings with oversized pasted gem stones -- with a sober underlying message.

“The analogy is that the applicants were courting the school and the parents wanted to be careful about who they were considering,” said Christina Vargas, policy director for Parent Revolution. “The choice is very serious.”


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