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Should Parents Take Over Failing Schools?

The second parent-led effort to reform a school in California came at Desert Trails Elementary School in Aladento, where parents voted to allow a high-performing charter school to take over. Again, unions and school administrators battled parents. Doreen Diaz, president of the Desert Trails Parent Union, described the tactics used against the parents:

Then representatives of the district and union struck back with a calculated [signature] rescission campaign. Their tactics made the dirty tricks depicted in the movie "Won't Back Down" seem tame by comparison. They told some parents the school would be shut down as a result of their efforts. They took photographs of the parents who refused to rescind their signatures. Some parents who were undocumented felt their immigration status was being used against them.

Diaz, whose daughter was reading at a second grade reading level in fifth grade had been told by a Desert Trails teacher that, “We teach to the kids that get it, and too bad for the ones who don’t.” She joined with other parents and the non-profit group Parent Revolution to lead the effort to transform her neighborhood school. A judge ruled last fall that the Board could not rescind parent signatures under the parent trigger law and ordered the board to comply with the terms of the parent trigger.

The school will be taken over next fall by a charter organization whose existing school, LaVerne Preparatory Academy, received a 911 (out of 1,000) Academic Performance Index score last year.  Desert Trails scored a pathetic 699 this year, 13 points lower than the previous year. The Sun reported:

Tarver and her team expect to take possession of the campus on July 1. When their new charter school opens at the end of the month, the teachers and staff will be gone, along with many other elements of Desert Trails Elementary: The school's coyote mascot will be replaced with a scholarly owl, for instance. Students will also wear uniforms.

"When they come in, they're going to learn how to take off their hats," Tarver said. "Young men are going to learn how to be young men."

And DTP students will be expected to abide by a strict code of behavior.

"We don't have discipline problems" at Tarver's other schools, she said. "I think in the last eight years, I've had one suspension. I have never expelled a child."

There will be other changes as well: The school won't offer busing, the school year will start at the end of July, classes run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for most grades, and there won't be a long October break.

"Our goal is 20, 25 kids max" in a classroom, Tarver said. Some parents applauded: Currently, some Desert Trails classrooms have 33 kids, several said.

A third effort is underway in the L.A. Unified School District, and backers are hopeful that they’ve learned valuable lessons from the previous attempts and are confident they will be successful.