LYNWOOD — Everyone who has a say in education seems to be represented by a union, so why don’t parents have a union?
That’s a question parents have been asking themselves for years, but now that Parent Revolution is on the map, parents across the state are organizing and forming parent union chapters.
Among those is a 50-plus member grassroots parent group that calls Washington Elementary School its home. Its aim is to transform public education by empowering parents to transform their own children’s low-performing schools through community organizing.
Sustained by the Parent Trigger Law and backed by Parent Revolution, parents in Lynwood are beginning to organize in hopes of securing a better education for their children.
Although school is out for the summer for the Lynwood Unified School District’s 14,000 students, it is just getting started for a lot of parents who have joined the Parent Revolution movement.
The chapter at Washington Elementary School is only the beginning, said Linda Serrato, deputy communications director for Parent Revolution.
The time has come when being a parent who only helps with homework at night is no longer enough to be called an “involved parent,” she said.
“Every stakeholder in a school seems to have some kind of power, except for parents,” she added. “But in forming a parent union, parents voices will matter, parents voices will have clout. … There’s no doubt that collective bargaining always makes for strong change, but now parent’s opinions will no longer be just empty clout. … Their voices will be heard.”
Under the umbrella of Parent Revolution, parents in Lynwood have already formed several steering committees, including the one that helped kick-start Washington Elementary School’s chapter.
Over the past two years, Parent Revolution has organized thousands of parents into helping transform their children’s failing schools.
In August 2009, Parent Revolution organized a campaign to pass the Public School Choice Resolution in the Los Angeles Unified School District. That forced the district to actually offer choices that parents could vote on as to who would operate schools. It could be charter school systems, groups of teachers or other nonprofits.
In January 2010, Parent Revolution organized a second campaign to pass a law called the Parent Trigger through the state Legislature. The Parent Trigger empowers parents at any failing school in California to transform their school simply through community organizing.
While that law continues to be stalled in Sacramento by legal and political obstacles, the Parent Trigger was first pulled at McKinley Elementary School in nearby Compton, where parents frustrated with the failing school decided they couldn’t take it anymore.
The group is still working with parents in Compton. And they are guiding Lynwood parents who want change, said Patrick DeTemple, an organizing director for Parent Revolution.
Calling the new chapter at Washington Elementary School a “solid, strong one,” DeTemple said that Parent Revolution doesn’t just take any school under its wing. The school has to have underlining problems that don’t meet Parent Revolution’s “Kid’s First Agenda.”
“Everything we do asks the question, is it making education better?” DeTemple said. “The issues parents are concerned with are clearly up to the parents … but they must meet a criteria that clearly revolve around moving forward educational opportunities for their children. Lynwood right now has one chapter, but there [are] more on the way, that’s certain.”
David Contreras, the father of two Washington Elementary School students, and a member of its chapter parent group steering committee, said he is glad to be among the first in Lynwood.
Contreras, a member of Washington's School Site Council cabinet for one year, said he is looking forward to the start of the 2011-12 school year.
“Schools seem to forget that some of us parents want what’s best for our children,” he said. “They’re the teachers and the administrators, but that doesn’t mean that they all know how to be educators. When no one is holding them accountable at the school district level to improve test scores, someone needs to step in for our children.”
A resident of Lynwood for 11 years, Contreras has been approached by a lot of parents telling him about problems they see at the school site. A big problem this year, he said, was teachers being too abrasive when disciplining students.
“Teachers are teachers, they’re supposed to teach, not hurt or intimidate students,” he said. “That’s going to be one of our first priorities, to fight for better teachers or to hold them accountable for their actions.”
The concerns at Washington seem to mirror concerns at other schools, Contreras said. Parents from other schools in Lynwood, have expressed serious interest in forming chapters at their schools, too.
“We’re all concerned about the same things,” he said. “Low test scores are at the top of our list. We all want clean schools. We all want better teachers, and we all want a better education for our children. … There’s just a lot of wrongs throughout the school district that no one is addressing and it just can’t go on like that.”
When it comes to public education, parents are usually stuck with their local school. Unless parents can afford private schools, they usually don’t have any other option, Serrato said.
Part of the criticisms that are thrown at Parent Revolution come from individuals with political agendas or who have the support of large unions which disagree with the removal of a school from a school district, to replace it with a non-unionized charter school.
“We’re not anti-union at all,” said Serrato, who said that she’s the proud daughter of a union father. “[Parent Revolution] strongly believes in unions. All of us have stories about our love and respect for unions and what they do for people. But the time has come when parents need representation, too. Being an involved parent is no longer about having cupcake bake sales anymore. School districts and teachers have for years been asking parents to be more involved in their children’s education, yet they have failed to give parents the opportunity to have a voice. Well, not anymore. Parents should not be turned away.”
In the long run, parent union chapters will help facilitate collaboration between all of the stakeholders, because there is no one who wants a good education for children, than their parents, Serrato said.
The Parent Trigger Law has had its share of controversy, but so far, the formation of parent union chapters, have been welcomed by school administrators and teachers, even in Lynwood.
“This isn’t just local movement, or a statewide movement. This is becoming a national movement,” Serrato said about parent unions. “Texas just passed the Texas Parent Trigger Law. Chicago is talking about it. … It’s funny, how people think that parents having power in their children’s education is such a revolutionary idea, but this is how it should have been all along.
“These very people go around saying that parents have no idea about what they’re doing [in forming parent unions], that they’re not educators. But that’s not true at all. Parents are adults, they’re intelligent, they pay bills, they pay mortgages and so they know how to make decisions and they know what they want for their children.”
Also, Serrato said, a lot of parents often think that they are alone in their fight, especially when they speak up time and time again only to have their voices fall on deaf ears.
“Parents are not alone, and now they’re seeing that,” Serrato said. “One voice is no longer enough, but together parents can have a much stronger voice to fight for education reform. Parents have the right to be heard, they deserve to have a say in their kids education, and to have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that are going to affect their children.”
In Lynwood, that has been among the weightiest complaints parents have about the school district and its top-heavy cabinet.
Parents are always promised a say in the decisions. Parent and community committees are formed all the time, but at the end of the day, the final decisions that are made don’t reflect what the committees wanted.
Unionizing gives parents a voice in education.
“The issues parents are concerned with vary from school to school,” DeTemple said. “But most of the issues are consistent with other’s concerns and it’s usually about the numbers … they speak for themselves. The test score numbers are cold, but the reality is that kids are not learning and not getting the education they deserve and parents can see that, and they have a right to be heard about changing those numbers.”
There will be several Parent Revolution-led workshops and trainings held throughout the community through the summer. For information, interested parents may call (213) 621-3052.