Education Week - October 16, 2013 - (Page 20)

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19 the highest test scores in the High Desert area, which includes Desert Trails. Challenges Ahead Almost 100 percent of Desert Trails’ students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. About 85 percent of the students are Hispanic, and 12 percent are African-American. (LaVerne Elementary has similar student demographics.) Ms. Tarver, who calls her students “scholars,” said she already sees academic growth among Desert Trails students, but she cautioned that progress would take time. She’s already hired additional instructional aides after determining that some students are more than four years behind academically. During the petition process, Desert Trails’ state test scores were the lowest in the district, ranking the elementary school in the bottom 10 percent in the state. The school was on the federal watch list for low-performing schools. The latest round of state test scores, released this year, showed that Desert Trails’ Academic-Performance Index dropped 53 points, to 647, on a scale of 200 to 1,000. Ms. Tarver is moving forward with her school’s education plan, which has teachers beginning to teach a grade ahead starting in January. Students can stay for an extra hour of tutoring with their classroom teachers three days a week. So far, about 90 percent stay in school. And every classroom has no more than 25 students. Some of the academy’s young teachers were unaware that Desert Trails has been at the center of a heated national debate. One teacher admitted that she had to Google the term “charter school” before her job interview. Still others, who came from LaVerne Elementary, said their only challenge is not letting their students and their parents down. “I don’t care who is watching me,” kindergarten teacher Elfie Landa said during a lunch break. “I feel like there’s too much at stake to worry about that. You have to get your students to love learning.” Looking back, Mr. Morales said he joined the Desert Trails Parent Union and aligned himself with Parent Revolution to secure a more promising future for his children and all Desert Trails’ students. “The pain, the stress, the false promises—that wasn’t worth it,” he said, sighing. “But Debbie [Tarver] and her school, ... that lady has a good heart and a good mindset when it comes to kids. I would do it again, if it was going to be her [running the school].” Coverage of parent-empowerment issues is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage. CALIFORNIA PARENT EMPOWERMENT ACT Charter-Campaign Aftershocks Continue Mojave Desert communities seek to move beyond controversy By Karla Scoon Reid Victorville, Calif. West Creek Elementary School is quietly trying to forge its own path, free from the national spotlight and controversy that dogged its new principal in his last post. David Mobley was the principal at Desert Trails Elementary School in the neighboring city of Adelanto for less than two years before parents there successfully petitioned to hand the school over to a charter operator, under California’s parent-trigger law. “We have a great little school here,” Mr. Mobley said recently, as he walked around the campus of West Creek, also part of the Adelanto School District. “But the pressure doesn’t change, to be honest. The pressure is: Are we doing the right thing for our students?” Continued Divisions The Parent Empowerment Act, which is commonly called the parent-trigger law, was signed into law Jan. 7, 2010. A school is eligible for intervention under the law if it has: u Failed to meet adequate yearly progress. u A score of less than 800 on the state’s Academic Performance Index. u Been in corrective action for at least one full academic year. Eric Grigorian for Education Week School Aiming To Show Gains Amid Healing West Creek Elementary School is just a few miles from the California school converted to a charter at the insistence of parents. That school’s former principal now runs West Creek. uNot been identified by the state board of education as a persistently low-achieving school. At least 50 percent of the parents or legal guardians of students attending the school (or those who would matriculate into the school) must sign a petition to request the local school board to use one of the following intervention methods: Turnaround: Replace the principal and 50 percent of the teaching staff. Restart: Convert or close and reopen a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization. School closure: Close the school and enroll students at higher-achieving nearby schools. Transformation: Replace the principal and other staff members who failed to improve student achievement; adopt comprehensive instructional reform strategies; increase learning time; establish community-oriented schools; and provide operational flexibility and support to fully implement the reform efforts. Alternative governance arrangement: Undertake a “major restructuring of the school’s governance arrangement” to boost student achievement. The local school board must implement the requested intervention method selected by the petitioners the year after the petitions are submitted. SOURCE: California Department of Education 20 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 16, 2013 | In one sense, West Creek Elementary is emblematic of the divisions that still exist in these Mojave Desert communities following the parent-trigger campaign that closed Desert Trails: The former Desert Trails school’s homepage still features a poster with a giant hand pointing at the site’s visitors and the message “We Want You,” urging parents to follow Mr. Mobley to West Creek, just four miles from Desert Trails. Some students and teachers did just that, while others chose to stay at Desert Trails or move on to other campuses in the Adelanto Elementary School District. Now the Adelanto district is searching for ways to bring the community back together to work on reviving all of its low-performing schools so that more parents don’t seek to use the state’s parenttrigger law to mandate changes. Some people here believe a transparent, collaborative approach is missing from the parent-trigger process, and blame the law and the campaign for forcing Desert Trails staff members to find jobs elsewhere and driving some parents to enroll their children in different schools. “We got kicked out of our house,” said Lori Yuan, the parent of two former Desert Trails students. “It hurt.” Many parents and educators who opposed the parent-led overhaul of Desert Trails are reluctant to relive the contentious two-year campaign. They believe teachers were ignored throughout the power struggle,and several former Desert Trails teachers declined to discuss their former school at all. “To have your hand extended out to the community and to be rejected in such an aggressive manner can really break your spirit,” said La Nita Dominique, the former president of the Adelanto District Teacher Association and a 5thgrade teacher at another school in the district. But Ms. DeBlieux met this month with Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based advocacy group that helped organize and train Desert Trails parents to use the trigger law. She said Mr. Austin assured her that there were no plans to mount another parent-trigger campaign in Adelanto. “Nobody wants that to happen again,” said Ms. DeBlieux, who took the helm of the 8,400-student district in March. “We want to work collaboratively.” (Parent Revolution is funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation, which helps to support Education Week coverage of parent-empowerment issues.) National Spotlight District Outreach The struggle in Adelanto made national headlines, led to a court battle, and resulted in a parent takeover at Desert Trails that “ripped the community apart,” in the view of many people here. “There were a lot of good people on both sides,” Mr. Mobley said, adding that changes he made in his final year at Desert Trails had promise. “They waited a long time for some changes,” he said of the parents who were unhappy with the school. “I was just a little too late.” The urgency to improve the district’s schools remains. The district’s score on the state’s Academic Performance Index for the 2012-13 school declined to 711 from 736 the previous year, on a scale of 200 to 1,000. Every one of Adelanto’s 13 elementary schools saw its api scores drop. Only 23 percent of the district’s 3rd graders scored proficient or above on the state test this past school year— just half the statewide proportion of 46 percent. And eight of its schools are on the federal watch list for lowperforming schools. Some of the same parents who formed the Desert Trails Parent Union to mandate change at that school are hoping to help initiate changes at other, still-unspecified Adelanto schools without activating the parent trigger. So far, there have been no discussions between Superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux and the parent union. Even before Desert Trails Elementary School closed its doors in June and prepared to reopen as a charter school in July, the district started to reach out to parents through communitywide open houses. Adelanto parents also are taking part in training programs to help them navigate the education system and support student learning at home as well. Ms. De Blieux said she believes parents will be more patient as long as they stay informed and are included in the schools’ decisionmaking process. “We have to empower parents and give them hope,” she said. Rebuilding trust in Adelanto may prove to be the biggest hurdle. Matthew Carlson, a former Desert Trails teacher who now teaches at another Adelanto district school, felt strongly that the parent-trigger was the wrong way to force changes, but believes it could end up being used in the future. “I think what happened here made it very clear that it could happen again,” he said. “I think that in the future, schools, district offices, and the establishment will take people much more seriously when they come to them and say, ‘We really are not happy as parents.’” Coverage of parent-empowerment issues is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 16, 2013

Sequester May Linger, Some Fear
Parent-Sparked Charter Faces Challenge to Deliver
Pa. Texting Furor Shows Difficulties Facing IT Leaders
Educators Launch Startups; See Steep Learning Curve
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Teachers Use Social-Emotional Programs to Manage Classes
Ind. Districts, AG File Suit Over Federal Health-Care Law
Hospital Partnership Provides Trainers for School Sports
Mass. Enterprise Targets Inadequate Preschool Facilities
Blogs of the Week
Tablet-Computing Initiatives Suffer Major Setbacks
Charter-Campaign Aftershocks Continue
Texas Race Flags Education Issues On 2014 Electoral Horizon
School-Related Cases Factor in Supreme Court’s First Week Back
Lights On, Nobody There As Ed. Dept. Weathers Shutdown
Blogs of the Week
KEVIN MEUWISSEN: Teachers as Political Actors
ANDRE BENITO MOUNTAIN: Easing Social Studies Through Turbulent Times
JUDY WALLIS: A Call to Teachers: Don’t Forget the Joy
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
DEBORAH STIPEK: Using Accountability to Promote Motivation, Not Undermine It

Education Week - October 16, 2013