ADELANTO • Not every parent at Desert Trails Elementary is rallying behind the push for a dramatic school overhaul that made national headlines last month.
Enthusiasm for the effort was high during a Jan. 12 parent rally at a park playground across from the Adelanto school, where organizers turned in hundreds of signatures supporting the cause.
Clad in “I am the revolution” T-shirts, parents chanted “Yes we can” after several spoke into a microphone about their biggest concerns with Desert Trails, including subpar academics, unaddressed bullying and unresponsive teachers. They said school officials hadn’t been listening to parents and they wanted better for their children, which is why they set out to use California’s so-called “Parent Trigger” law to force major reform at the 650-student school on Bellflower Street north of Palmdale Road.
In the weeks that followed, however, a smaller, more loosely organized group of parents started speaking out against the Trigger effort, picketing outside the school with signs reading “Save Desert Trails” and “Yes to change, no to charter.” Their biggest concern is that some parents who signed the initial petition have come forward expressing concerns they felt pressured into signing it or misunderstood what it meant, according to parent Lori Yuan, who’s been organizing informational meetings and helping some take steps to retract their signatures.
Under the state’s 2010 Parent Empowerment Act, parents can organize and force a district to implement major reforms, from replacing the principal and half the staff to reopening schools as independent charters. The school must be low-performing based on state test scores, and parents representing at least half the students must sign petitions favoring reform.
According to its stated list of demands, the parent union primarily wants to use the law to give parents the power to hire a principal who has full control over hiring, firing, curriculum and spending. If that preferred reform attempt fizzles, they want to convert the school to a community charter operated by the nonprofit parent group Desert Trails Kids First.
“I don’t think parents need to have that much control,” said Yuan, whose first- and third-graders attend Desert Trails. “I understand that as a group we should have a voice in our children’s education, but I don’t think that necessitates power over a school. And I think that we have a board, a principal, staff in place that if we did have legitimate concerns that we raised, they would be addressed sufficiently.”
The current principal, David Mobley, only arrived in October. Yuan questions why parents wouldn’t wait to see if he’s able to implement changes as a new leader before resorting to the forced reform.
But parent union leader Doreen Diaz, who said she found out her fifth-grade daughter with special needs was reading at a second-grade level, argues big changes are necessary to cultivate a culture of excellence at the school, now ranked in the bottom 10 percent in California.
Yuan questions the power struggle that may be at play in attempts to force reforms, and whether well-meaning parents have the expertise and knowledge to help run a school. She joined with members of the California Teachers Association at some recent meetings for interested parents to learn more about the Trigger law, charter schools and rescinding signatures.
Adelanto District Teachers Association President La Nita Dominique emphasized that it was parents like Yuan — not CTA or teachers — running the recent meetings. The CTA isn’t opposing the Trigger effort, Dominique said. But she is concerned about some parents who “have expressed that they do not feel that they were given all of the information in order to make a well-informed decision.”
“All along we have been in support of the parents who want a more democratic and more inclusive process,” Dominique said. “It is not for us to say, ‘Hey, we think this is what you need to do.’”
Meanwhile, the Desert Trails parent union has been learning some of the ins and outs of school administration with help from Parent Revolution, a nonprofit promoting parent empowerment in the Greater Los Angeles area. The organization, which also rented a house to serve as the parent union headquarters, is backed by major funders like the Gates and Walton Family foundations.
District officials have until Tuesday to verify the signatures, and until Feb. 26 to determine their next move. They’ve been meeting with parent union representatives about twice a week, and district leaders now have a “much better understanding of the reforms that they’re looking at,” said Ross Swearingen, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources. He noted only three parents have contacted the district to retract their signatures as of Friday morning.
“It’s been a difficult process, but it really has been productive on all sides,” Swearingen said. “We’ve had to really examine what we’re doing and how we go about doing it and to really consider if what we do is meeting the needs of our community, and that only allows for growth.”
Ultimately it’s up to the school board to decide on the type of reform they want to implement at the school.
The district will be providing board members some updates and accepting public input on potential reforms at Tuesday evening’s board meeting, when the Parent Empowerment issue will be taken up during a public hearing.
Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.