On December 7, 2010, parents at McKinley Elementary in Compton, CA marched down to their school district headquarters and made history as the first parents to ever submit Parent Trigger petitions to transform their children's failing school. The petitions represented over 61% of the parents at McKinley, and demanded that their school - which was in the bottom 10% of schools in the state, even when compared only to schools with similar demographics - be transformed into a high-performing charter school run by Celerity, whose schools were ranked in the top 20% of schools statewide when compared to similar schools.
Compton Unified, desperate to preserve the status quo, instigated a series of inappropriate and illegal attempts to disenfranchise parents and throw out their petitions, eventually getting slapped with a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction by L.A. Superior Court judges for violating the constitutional rights of their own parents. They then decided to throw out the entire petitions over an alleged typo, causing the parents and their pro bono lawyers to sue them yet again. While the case is still tied up in court, the McKinley parents were able to enroll in a charter school run by Celerity at a church just two blocks away from McKinley, which they had filed for as a back-up plan in case the district forced them to litigate.
Why was it important?
The parents at McKinley did more than simply help their own children get a better education - they inspired a movement of parents standing up for their children across California and the country. Countless parents have approached Parent Revolution for help organizing to improve their own schools after seeing news reports about the McKinley parents' historic efforts. And across the country, Parent Trigger laws have now passed in two additional states - Texas and Mississippi - and have been introduced in over 20 additional states.
How we did it:
Parent Revolution organizers spent three months talking to McKinley parents, educating them about the academic situation at their school, training them in community organizing and leadership techniques, and gathering signatures. We helped parents form an organization - McKinley Parents for Change - and a Steering Committee to lead their effort. Lead parents hosted house meetings in their living rooms and backyards to engage other parents in the effort, and went door to door to educate as many parents as possible about the campaign.
We have also been very public about the fact that the McKinley campaign was not a perfect campaign. For starters, we came to the parents with a pre-packaged solution already available - charter conversion with a very high-quality school operator - rather than helping them devise their own solution from the ground up. And the vast majority of the signatures gathered were ultimately gathered by our organizers, not by the parents themselves. But we have committed to being open and transparent about our shortcomings, and to learning from them. Our current organizing model, centered around building Parents Union chapters, represents a more deep and sophisticated way of organizing parents, and is a response to many of our lessons learned during the McKinley campaign.