Charter Pulse

Selected readings on US charter schools

CALIFORNIA: Charter partnership gives L.A. Unified school new name and outlook

Parents, under 2010 trigger law, force change at 24th Street Elementary, which suffered from persistently low test scores.

24th-street-elementary-schoolAs students returned to schools across Los Angeles on Tuesday, the pupils at 24th Street Elementary came back to a history lesson triggered by their parents.

“You might not know it yet, but it’s a pretty important day in history,” said Laura McGowan, executive director of Crown Preparatory Academy. “You are each a big part of it.”

In an unprecedented partnership, the L.A. Unified School District has joined forces with Crown Prep, an outside charter operator, to run the persistently low-performing campus south of downtown.

In January, a majority of 24th Street families submitted a petition under the 2010 parent trigger law, which allows them to decide how their troubled campus should be run. They had the authority to replace the entire staff, for example, or transfer the school to an outside operator.

Rather than fight to keep the campus entirely under school district control, Supt. John Deasy and the L.A. Board of Education opted to seek a partnership with parents. The district submitted its own plan for how it would educate students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade; Crown Prep, which already ran a middle school in the district, offered to take on students in fifth through eighth grades.

The petition drive was organized by Parent Revolution, an L.A.-based group that has lobbied for parent trigger laws across the country. Previous efforts have resulted in litigation with school districts and conflict among parents. School systems and employee unions have criticized the parent-trigger process as reckless and divisive.

“Our children deserve a lot more than the school that this was before,” said Amabilia Villeda, a parent organizer, speaking in Spanish. “Today, and in the future, our children are getting the school they deserve.”

Jackie Osorio, who has a son in second grade, attended the school and witnessed its decline over the years. She was surprised last year at how far it had fallen and signed the petition.

“It seemed like nobody cared,” she said. “Now, it’s cleaner, the staff is more attentive — I can already see the difference.”

McGowan of Crown Prep told the students — some of whom used their backpacks on their heads as sunshades — to thank their parents for the commitment they showed to demand the best for them.

“Many of the parents and teachers and others standing around you work hard to make this school the absolute best it can be. We are all working together for you.”

At the front entrance of the school, two banners — one in English, one in Spanish — welcomed parents to the campus with its new name, 24th Street Learning Center.

Parents, upset with what they saw as inept leadership and subpar teaching, overwhelmingly voted for the joint effort. Of those eligible to cast ballots, 80% chose the district-charter option over seven other proposals.

Deasy said that the community showed trust in the district by approving the plan.

“It makes me feel like we’re doing the right thing at the school,” the superintendent said after visiting the campus early Tuesday morning.

The school district substantially restaffed the campus, brought in a new principal and has made efforts to reach out to the community.

Only five teachers from last year returned to the school after going though an application process. The rest of the teachers were recruited from charter operators, other districts and university teaching programs, according to the district.

Last year, students at the school fell far below the state’s target score of 800 on the Academic Performance index, which is based on standardized tests, with a score of 665.

L.A. Unified will collaborate with Crown Prep on teaching methods and behavioral standards. Teachers from LAUSD and Crown Prep also have attended summer training together, said Angel Barrett, lead instructional director for the district who is overseeing the process. Charters are independently run public schools.

An on-campus social worker will bring community services to campus and the school is working with Manual Arts High School to provide English classes to parents.

Deasy said the collaboration will benefit the district and the charter.

“Crown Prep can learn from the work we’re doing, and we can learn from the work they’re doing,” he said.

Source: Los Angeles Times – by Stephen Ceasar

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