On Thursday, January 12, the parents of Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, CA - a small, working class community roughly 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles - made history. They turned in Parent Trigger petitions representing an overwhelming majority - almost 70% - of parents at the school, demanding transformation of their children's underperforming school. And within the next 40 days, they will learn whether their district and teachers union will give the freedoms they are demanding without leaving the district, or whether they will be forced to convert their school into a community charter school.
The Status Quo at Desert Trails Elementary
Desert Trails Elementary has been failing its children and parents for far too long.
- Desert Trails is the worst elementary school in the Adelanto Elementary School District
- Desert Trails is in the bottom 6% of schools in the county
- Desert Trails is in the bottom 10% of schools in the entire state
- Only a third of the students, including only 25% of third graders, are on grade level for reading
- Only 30% of 6th graders are on grade level in math
- Only 22% of students are on grade level in science
- The school is getting worse, not better. Over the past three years, their API score has DECREASED by 31 points
The organizing campaign
Parents at Desert Trails had been working for years to improve their school, to no avail. Then, in summer 2010, they read about the first ever Parent Trigger campaign at McKinley Elementary and began learning about their rights under the Parent Trigger law. They called and requested assistance from Parent Revolution, and we have been working with them for the past seven months.
They first formed a parents union chapter - Desert Trails Parents Union (DTPU) - signed an MOU formally requesting help and support of Parent Revolution, and began organizing their community. Through meetings, canvassing, and conversations in front of their school, they gathered members for their chapter and surveyed hundreds of parents about changes they wanted to see at the school. From this process, they developed a five page list of wide ranging changes they wanted to see at their school - everything from excellent teachers in every classroom to a safer campus to increased instructional time for students.
After much discussion and research, the chapter decided that the only way to meet these objectives and make sure all decisions at their school were made based on the best interests of children was to gain real autonomy and freedoms for Desert Trails Elementary. Their preferred route for doing so was and still is to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the school district and significant contract waivers from the teachers union to achieve this autonomy without having to leave their district. But they are aware of the significant obstacles to such a radical shift from the status quo, and are prepared to convert their school into a community-run charter school should the district and union not grant Desert Trails the freedoms they are demanding.
DTPU worked with Parent Revolution to craft and circulate two separate Parent Trigger petitions - one to pursue in-district autonomy, the other to do full conversion into a community charter school - and began circulating them amongst parents. Within two weeks, they had already obtained the support of over 50% of Desert Trails parents for both petitions and for the overall strategy: attempt to negotiate the changes with the district and union, but convert to a community charter if they cannot or will not meet parents' demands.
The petitioning effort lasted less than seven weeks, resulting in support from 70% of the Desert Trails parents. Parents received overwhelming support as they went door to door - over 95% of the parents who were ever asked chose to sign the petition. While Parent Revolution organizers were supporting and assisting DTPU throughout the entire process, it was truly a parent-led campaign, with over 75% of the petitions gathered by the parents themselves.
One Goal, Two Potential Paths
As their organizing campaign simultaneously attempted to begin negotiations with the district, contacting them on multiple occasions with this request. Unfortunately, the district declined to even discuss the possibility of negotiations until they learned of the impending submission of the petition several days before January 12th. With prospects for a negotiated solution unclear, DTPU decided to go forward with submission of the community charter Parent Trigger petition on January 12th, starting a 40 day countdown for the district and union to sign off on the necessary freedoms. If an agreement cannot be reached within 40 days, the parents will be forced to move forward with their community charter conversion efforts in order to have sufficient time to successfully convert their school.Early Press CoverageWall Street Journal: Parents Rebel Against SchoolLA Weekly: Parent Trigger's Second Try