Adelanto School District Resists Parents Union Plan For Charter School

(August 24)  ADELANTO—A month after the Adelanto Elementary School District was forced by a court ruling to accept a parent collective’s formalized demand that Desert Trails Elementary School be radically restructured, the school board on August 17 rejected the parent’s proposal that the underperforming school be immediately transformed into a charter school as of the opening of the 2012-13 academic year this week.
In July the parents union at Desert Trails Elementary School became the first such coalition of parents and education activists to actuate the provisions of California’s Empowerment Act, which was authored by former state senator Gloria Romero and passed by the legislature in 2010 to enable a majority of parents at a school at which students score  as low-performers on state academic tests to force a district to implement significant reforms. Known by the colloquialism “parent trigger,” those reforms can range from replacing the principal and up to half the staff to reopening the school as a charter academy.
The parent trigger process at Desert Trails Elementary School, where a significant number of the students have parents whose first language is not English and at which for the last seven years students have had the lowest scores within the district on state standardized academic tests, began last year. Pursuant to the Parent Empowerment Act, a parent union was formed by  Desert Trails Elementary parents, who with the assistance of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Parent Revolution, on January 12, submitted 466 school parent signatures on petitions asking the district to undertake a set of reforms at the severely underperforming school. Those reforms included sacking the school’s principal, David Mobley, giving the school’s parents authority in hiring his successor, reducing class sizes and increasing the number of school days and instructional hours while intensifying the school’s science, history and art curriculum. The number of signatures on those petitions  was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Parent Empowerment Act, parent union members believed.  A group of parents opposed to the parent takeover of the school formed and went to work obtaining rescissions of many of the signatures on the petitions, and the parent union subsequently modified its agenda to request that the school be converted to a charter academy.
In February, the school district, to whom the parent trigger petitions had been entrusted, announced that it had validated the signatures of only 317 of the 466 signatures on the petitions. The Desert Trails Parent Union, represented by a law firm on retainer with Parent Revolution, Los Angeles-based Kirkland & Ellis, demanded a recount and reconsideration of that invalidation of the petition effort. After the district conducted that recount, the board, on March 28, voted unanimously to give a final rejection to the reconsideration of the parent trigger petitions, finding they fell 20 signatures short of the 321 signatures needed.
In response,  Mark Holscher, an attorney with Kirkland & Ellis, on April 5 filed on behalf of five of the members of the parents union – Doreen Diaz, Kathy Duncan, Teresa Rogers, Olivia Zamarripa and Bartola Del Villar – a petition for a writ of mandate and a complaint in Victorville Superior Court seeking a court order that the district verify the signatures and allow the Parent Trigger process to advance, as well as asking for the  recognition of  the educational rights of students at Desert Trails.
Holscher maintained that the district did not make an impartial tally of the signatures and “engaged in a systematic effort to invalidate the petitions” and that “the district’s teachers as well as teachers from outside the district engaged in a campaign to coerce parents to ‘rescind’ their petitions, and the district then used 97 of these purported ‘rescissions’ to block the January 12th petition.”
Judge Steve Malone, to whom the case was assigned, restored 97 of the signatures tossed out by the district, ruling that the district did not have the authority or a basis in law to discount signatures that proponents gathered and the district had abused its discretion in doing so. By his ruling Malone raised the number of qualified signatures to well above the 50 percent needed to validate the petition. He ordered the Adelanto Elementary School District to accept the petition as filed by the parent union within 30 days and seek proposals from charter school operators to take over Desert Trails.
By the ruling, the Desert Trails Parent Union became the first group to successfully enact California’s 2010 Parent Empowerment Act.
Board members of the Adelanto Elementary School District on August 17 voted 3 to 1 to accept the parents’ petition for the comprehensive makeover of  Desert Trails Elementary School. But that acceptance did not include signing off on the parents’ demand that the school be transformed into a charter campus.
The California Education Code provides for the formation of charter schools under the aegis of a sponsoring local school district. Charter schools function outside the normal parameters of normal schools and can offer a curriculum and educational smorgasbord unavailable in traditional public schools while meeting the requirements of both special needs students and accelerated scholars.
The school board, noting that the start of the 2012-13 academic year is imminent, concluded there was not sufficient lead time to form and initiate the operation of a charter school.
That provoked a sharp rebuke from the parents union,  Parent Revolution and Kirkland & Ellis, all of whom said the district and the board did not have the authority to override Malone’s July 18 court order to permit the parent union to undertake the formation of a charter school.
Holscher threatened further legal action, stating “We are prepared to use all available legal remedies to make sure Judge Malone’s order is followed.”
Holscher insisted Malone’s order was binding with regard to the 2012-13 school year since the district had previously asserted there was not adequate time to set up the charter school operation by the start of the school year. Despite taking that position, the district had submitted to the parent union a charter school formation plan.
When the parent union rejected the district’s charter school proposal, the district, in an assertion hotly contested by the parent union, maintained that it has final authority in determining which reform options will be applied to the school.  The school board has given superintendent Darin Brawley instructions to revamp Desert Trails’ educational mission in compliance with a plan propounded by the board, which is to entail revised curriculum, an extended teaching and instructional day, more technology, writing workshops, evaluation of teachers’ performance and the academic performance of the school’s students, and teacher support. The district is also forming a community advisory council composed of teachers, administrators, parents and civic officials to oversee the implementation of the changes.
Despite the district’s action, the parent union is continuing to consider charter applications and intends to initiate a charter school operation on the Desert Trails campus by October. The parent union succeeded in attracting four charter school proposals, including the one provided by the district.
Both the Lewis Center for Educational Research in Apple Valley and LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy in Hesperia have tendered tentative proposals and are continuing to work on finalizing those by September. The parents union, as noted, rejected out of hand the district’s overture to form a charter school on the Desert Trail campus. Another  tentative proposal was floated by   South Lake Tahoe-based Iwa Rere Educational and Technical Engagements. Soon after learning that well over 70 percent of the school’s students were performing significantly below state standards and many lacked basic communicative skill in English, Iwa Rere, which tailors at least a portion of its approach to gifted students who function well independently and in unstructured learning environments, abruptly withdrew as a candidate to run the school.
Some observers anticipated difficulty if the Lewis Center gets the parents union’s nod, given its disaffinity for test preparation-driven instruction. Lewis, while attempting to instill problem-solving skills and out-of-the-box thinking in its students, has had success to some degree but has enjoyed the advantage of working with significant numbers of students with sound basic skills. An eventual goal at Desert Trail will be to improve test performance among the students there.
The school’s students have collectively scored in the bottom 10 percent of all California elementary schools. In the school’s 2011 graduating sixth grade class 72 percent of students were not proficient with the English language and 70 percent were not proficient in math. Two-thirds of this year’s crop of graduating sixth-graders are unable to read or do math at grade level. Since 2007 Desert Trails has been classified as a failing school.
Both the Lewis Center’s and LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy’s proposals are to be submitted in full to the parent union by September 15. The parent union will then submit those proposals to the parents who signed the January petition, many of whom lack basic English and other academic skills themselves, for evaluation. They will then collectively come to a determination about which entity will be contracted with to run the Desert Trails charter school, which the union wants to open as early as October.

Leave a Reply