SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Perhaps in response to a threat of legal recourse from parents, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced an agreement last week with nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to operate 20th Street Elementary School.
The agreement culminated two years of effort by a group of parents, who expressed frustration with the underperforming campus.
They began working with another nonprofit, Parent Revolution, which advocates for parents trying to secure a quality education for their children in low-income schools.
“Parents felt like achievement was too low,” said Gabe Rose, Parent Revolution’s chief strategy officer. “Students who entered the school as second-language English speakers were still not learning English by the time they were about to enter middle school. Parents saw some other schools in the community doing much better.”
20th Street Elementary School is almost 95 percent Latino, and half of the students are learning English.
The 20th Street Parents Union attempted to subvert the school by invoking California’s “parent trigger law,” which allows parents to take over low-performing schools if more than half of them sign a petition. One path of recourse is to shut down the school and replace it with an independently run charter. A school must fail to meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks as measured by the state, and have an Academic Performance Index score of less than 800 to qualify for an intervention.
Talk of a lawsuit began this spring after the district rejected the petition. Lawyers for the district claimed the petition was based on outdated standards, as schools no longer use API scores to mark performance. Although 20th Street Elementary reached the benchmarks set by Common Core in 2015, standardized testing showed students performed below statewide averages in math and reading.
Guadalupe Aragon, a member of the 20th Street Parents Union, said she noticed the school was not serving its students when she compared the math homework of her daughter in fourth grade to that of her granddaughter in first grade.
“It was no different. I showed it to the teacher and principal and they all said it was unacceptable,” she said. “But saying it is one thing, but actually doing something about it is another.”
Indeed, transitioning the school to a new math curriculum for the 2017-18 year is one of the plans to boost academic success, as well as keeping parents engaged through the Partnership’s Parent College program. That initiative holds monthly workshops to teach parents how to best support their child’s learning at home. Past topics have included advocacy skills, how to interpret student report cards and how to prepare kids for college.
Aragon said she is happy about the collaboration with Partnership for L.A. Schools based on the improvements they have made at other campuses.
“We’ve talked to parents at Dolores Huerta Elementary and they said they saw a great improvement since they started working with the Partnership,” she said. “They said math and reading levels improved and the kids starting doing science projects they hadn’t before.” The partnership runs 17 schools within LAUSD.
The parents union circulated a similar petition to change the school’s management last year, but stopped the process when the district offered a plan for improvement. However, “the district never came through,” Rose said.
Superintendent Michelle King expressed her approval of the new administration in a statement: “L.A. Unified, The Partnership, parents and Parent Revolution share the vision of providing high-quality learning opportunities for the students of 20th Street Elementary. With this collaborative new partnership, we can continue to strengthen the academic supports, social-emotional learning opportunities and parent-engagement programs that are essential to this school community.”
Aragon said that for the sake of all the students, including her granddaughter and second-grade niece, she is glad the district reached a compromise.
“Our kids shouldn’t have to wait two to three years for a court to decide their fate.”