First Year Of School Takeover Ends Without Means To Measure Academic Gain

(June 2)  Nineteen months after Adelanto rolled into the history books as the  location where the controversial parent-trigger option was first actuated in California, there is no subjective empirical data to determine if taking control of the school targeted in the movement has actually benefitted the students there.
Desert Trails Elementary School in the Adelanto Elementary School District was long one of the most severely underperforming schools in the state of California.
In late 2011, a parent union was formed by parents at Desert Trails Elementary, in large measure at the instigation of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Parent Revolution, which is devoted to challenging the traditional authority of school districts.
In January 2012 the parent union submitted 466 signatures on petitions asking the district to undertake a set of what the parents union maintained would be reforms at the academically challenged school, where students had for years consistently scored near the bottom of state-mandated standardized academic tests.
The petition was based upon the Parent Empowerment Act, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero and passed by the legislature in 2010. The Parent Empowerment Act enables 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, ranging from replacing the principal and up to half the staff to reopening the school as a charter academy. That process is known by the colloquialism “parent trigger.”
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.
Those petitions called upon the district to sack the school’s principal, David Mobley, and surrender to the school’s parents authority in hiring his successor, infuse in the new principal hiring authority for the school’s faculty, reduce class sizes and increase the number of school days and instructional hours, and include more science, history and art in the curriculum.
In February 2012, the school district, to whom the parent trigger petitions had been entrusted, announced that it had validated the signatures of only 301 of the 466 signatures on the petitions and declared that the parent trigger petitions were thus 20 signatures short of the 321 needed. The Desert Trails Parent Union, represented by Mark Holscher, a lawyer with the firm on retainer with Parent Revolution, Los Angeles-based Kirkland & Ellis, filed 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 on behalf of five of the members of the parents union – Doreen Diaz, Kathy Duncan, Teresa Rogers, Olivia Zamarripa and Bartola Del Villar. Holscher maintained that the district did not make an impartial tally of the signatures and “engaged in a systematic effort to invalidate the petitions.”
Judge Steve Malone, to whom the case was assigned, restored 97 of the signatures tossed out by the district. Malone ruled the district did not have the authority or a basis in law to discount signatures that proponents gathered and he ordered the Adelanto Elementary School District to accept the petition as filed by the parent union.
The parent union modified its demand to having the school converted to a charter academy offering an intensified curriculum. Delays prevented the school district from converting Desert Trails Elementary into a charter school at the initiation of the 2012-13 academic year.
The Adelanto Elementary School District thus became the first district in the state in which the “parent trigger” law had been successfully applied.  In the same time frame, the district’s superintendent, Darin Brawley, resigned.
At about the same time as Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux was hired as superintendent in January 2013, the school board voted to accept LaVerne Preparatory Academy as the operator of Desert Trails Elementary School.
Under DeBlieux, who took the helm as superintendent in March 2013, the district achieved having Desert Trails converted to a charter school, although that transition resulted in hard feelings and controversy, as well.
A central component in LaVerne Preparatory Academy’s approach consists in engaging parents in their children’s educational process.  That parent involvement had been consistently lacking at the school. Many of the parents and educators opposed to the takeover pointed out that a significant number of the students at Desert Trails Elementary have parents whose first language is not English and nearly all of the instructional materials used by LaVerne Preparatory are in English. Whereas 466 parents at the school signed the petition to move forward with the parent trigger process in late 2011 and January 2012, when the parents union held its election in October 2012 to determine which of the charter schools that had submitted proposals should be chosen to educate their children, only 53 parents participated in that vote.
With the first school year with LaVerne Perparatory Academy in place at Desert Trails, now known as Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, concluded, inquiries have been made to determine whether the parent trigger effort at the school had a positive impact.
Some parents of students at the school were leery about having their children taken out of a traditional learning environment, and roughly 22 percent of them enrolled their sons or daughters in a different school in the district. Seventy-eight percent of the students who had been at the school remained, however, and it was the academic performance of those that educators, interested parents and others contemplating the future of the parent trigger option want to examine.
Unfortunately, a strict apple-to-apples comparison of student performance of those students is not possible.
The California Department of Education, which designates which tests are to be administered at schools and within districts up and down the state, this year abandoned its traditional California Standards Test in favor of the  new Common Core state standards testing regimen, the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association. In this way, results from the California Standards Test which were formerly used to derive Academic Performance Index scores at each of the state’s schools and which would have provided a common baseline to measure possible improvement at Desert Trails Elementary School, were not available this year.
While advocates of the parent trigger phenomenon are naturally hopeful that the movement will succeed, there are interest groups opposed to its success. Some education reformers, in particular Parent Revolution, as well as Parent Revolution’s financial backers such as the Gates Foundation and its service providers such as  Kirkland & Ellis, are anxious to see students brought under the wing of parent trigger actions have their test scores improve.
Others, however, such as some parents devoted to traditional education methodologies as well as the California Teachers Association, would prefer to see statistics showing such students did not achieve any greater academic success following the changes initiated by parent trigger actions. Early on, a counter-parent trigger group formed in Adelanto, initially consisting of parents from Desert Trails Elementary who questioned whether the parents of poor-performing students in the district had the education, understanding, intelligence level, expertise or sophistication to take on the function, individually or collectively, of school administrators. In time, though, that group would find its independence questioned, when it was demonstrated that it was being assisted by the California Teachers Association.
Nevertheless, the belief persisted among a contingent of Desert Trails Elementary School parents that the parent trigger drama in the Adelanto School District was an unseemly spectacle, with agitators in the parent trigger movement seeking to exploit large numbers of parents at Desert Trail Elementary School whose own educational shortcomings, including a lack of facility in the English language, contributed to the poor academic performance of their own children. They resented the intrusion of outsiders into their neighborhood school, and asserted that those agitators had a wider and largely political agenda that was not consistent with their children’s best interest.
Ultimately, that counter-movement foundered, when two of the leading advocates opposing the parent trigger implementation, then-Adelanto Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Yuan and another parent, Chrissy Guzman, last year were faced with the resolution of the matter in favor of the Adelanto Desert Trails Parent Union and apparently overreacted
Yuan and Guzman, who were both parent volunteers at Desert Trails and were thus given relatively unfettered access to the school’s classrooms, on June 25, 2013, allegedly in a fit of disappointment and protest did $7,700 worth of damage to a Desert Trails classroom while they were disposing of old art supplies in the PTA meeting room at the school. Both were charged with felony vandalism and Yuan was removed from the planning commission.
This week, Yuan and Guzman appeared in court with Yuan’s attorney, Graham Donath. After a closed conference involving deputy district attorney Joel Buckingham and Donath in Judge Miriam Morton’s chambers, Guzman and  were ordered to return for a preliminary hearing on June 23 wwith regard to  PC 594(B)(1) charges, vandalism of $400 or more.
Frustration over the underperformance of instructors and students at the district and the interference of outside entities in the process accompanied by a less than coordinated response from state education officials has not been limited to solely to Yuan and Guzman.
Indications that not all is well in the Adelanto Elementary District as well as at Desert Trails Elementary was given when DeBlieux abruptly announced in March that she will be leaving as superintendent at the end of the school year this month to become the superintendent of the Pendergast Elementary School District in Phoenix.

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