NEW YORK — In the latest test of California’s controversial “parent trigger” law, South Los Angeles parents have voted to transform their struggling neighborhood school into a charter school hybrid beginning this fall, organizers announced Wednesday.
The unique partnership will team the Los Angeles Unified School District with local charter school operator Crown Preparatory Academy to reform 24th Street Elementary, which ranks in the bottom 2 percent of 563 elementary schools district-wide. The move also forces all 24th Street Elementary school district employees to reapply for their jobs, and gives parents a role on a new hiring committee.
“The joint proposal is an opportunity for two organizations that traditionally don’t work together to actually come together and do what’s right for kids,” said Laura McGowan-Robinson, founder and executive director of Crown Prep.
On Tuesday, 190 parents from 24th Street Elementary showed up at a public park to choose from one of four operators to take over their children’s school. They were part of a parent union driving a petition process to force reforms by invoking the state’s Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, known as the parent trigger.
Under the law, a majority of parents at an underperforming school can submit a petition seeking one of four reform models, ranging from replacing the principal and half the staff to shutting the school down altogether. California’s version of the parent trigger was the first, but versions of the legislation have been considered in more than 20 state legislatures throughout the U.S., including bills now under consideration in Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Parents representing about 69 percent of students at 24th Street Elementary, which has about 685 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, signed a petition seeking the law’s “restart model,” which lets parents bring in a new charter operator or pair a charter operator with the district to turn around a failing school. The school district board quickly approved the petition in early February. The parents then received eight letters of interest for reform plans, including one from the district.
“The district came back and said, ‘We would like a second chance to turn this school around,’” said David Phelps, spokesman for Parent Revolution, the nonprofit advocacy group that bankrolled the 24th Street push and lobbies for parent trigger legislation nationwide.
“The parents have fundamentally said, ‘OK, you’ve got your second chance. We like your proposal. We like the proposal from Crown Prep. We want you to work together.”
Only the 395 parents who signed the petition were eligible to vote on one of four school operator proposals at Tuesday’s vote, per state regulations, Phelps said.
Of those who voted, 80 percent favored the joint operator proposal endorsed by the school’s parent union leadership, according to results released by Parent Revolution. The three other options included solo proposals from the district and Crown Prep and one from Academia Moderna, a nonprofit charter led by a local teacher.
The winning plan puts the school district in charge of reintroducing a preschool program and running grades K-4, while Crown Prep will run grades 5-8. The proposal described the partnership as the “first of its kind” for Los Angeles Unified.
“By restarting the school, LAUSD will redefine the way in which stakeholders have a voice in the school and make decisions,” the joint proposal stated.
About one-third of Crown Prep’s current students originally attended 24th Street Elementary. The Crown Prep program has a strong emphasis on remediation, college preparation and character values, McGowan-Robinson said. She plans to get fourth and fifth grade teachers communicating to ensure smoother transitions for matriculating students. Crown Prep boasted an 801 score on the 1,000-point state Academic Performance Index in 2011-12, compared to 24th Street Elementary’s score of a 666.
The 24th Street parents are the second group in the nation to succeed with a parent trigger petition, and the only one to do so without a court fight.
In the first 2011 effort in the Compton Unified School District, a judge ruled against the petition over a technicality. In the Adelanto School District, a judge ordered the district to comply with the petition and let a new charter operator take over the school in fall 2013.