LAUSD inks deal to avoid 'parent trigger' or lawsuit at southeast LA elementary school

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The Los Angeles Unified School District has inked a deal bringing in an outside school turnaround group to run 20th Street Elementary School, averting a protracted court battle over a long-running “parent trigger” effort that would’ve wrested the school from the district’s control.

Under terms of a five-year agreement released Tuesday, the Partnership for L.A. Schools — a non-profit created by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that already operates 17 schools — would assume control over most day-to-day operations at the school just south of downtown.

The decision represents a compromise between the district and parent advocates at the school, who in February petitioned the district to allow an independent charter operator to run the school. Under California law, if parents at low-performing schools gather enough signatures, the school district can be forced to introduce changes, including converting the school to a charter. 

In March the district rejected the petition, citing legal technicalities. Organizers with 2oth Street had been working with a pro bono attorney. The matter seemed headed for court.

But the agreement, which took effect on July 1, allows the district to retain a share of control over the school while also prompting changes parents had seen as urgent.

"We don't want to wait two to three years for the court to decide, 'this is how it's going to be,'" said Lupe Aragon, who has been active in the school's parents union and whose daughter just left 20th Street for middle school. "In the meantime, we're going to have a lot of students leaving 20th Street, not ready, not prepared and not at the grade level they should be."

Under the agreement, the school's current principal will stay on for 2016-17, but will primarily report to the Partnership, whose staff will evaluate the principal's performance. The school's teaching staff will continue to be members of the union United Teachers Los Angeles, but in the event of vacancies, the Partnership can "select from a list of effective teachers for hiring areas closed to external candidates."

The Partnership for L.A. Schools have also agreed to introduce a slate of academic changes to the school. Those include introducing a new math curriculum and adding new instructional supports and community partnerships. The Partnership will also bring its existing Parent College family engagement program to the school.

"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," said L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King in a statement.

L.A. Unified has made promises to change 20th Street in the past. In 2014, parents at 20th Street had gathered enough signatures on an earlier "trigger" petition, hoping to convert the school into a charter, but opted against submitting the signatures after the district drafted a plan to change the school's leadership and offer more teacher training.

By the 2015-16 school year, parent activists thought the district wasn't living up to its promises, and opted to mount a second "parent trigger" campaign.

But Aragon says parents believe the memorandum of understanding signed between L.A. Unified and the Partnership will force the changes they seek.

"We wouldn't be supportive of families entering into the MOU if we didn't feel that this wasn't being entered into in good faith … where we were back talking about litigation any time soon," said Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, a group that has helped organize the parents at 20th Street.

"That's certainly not the intention," Litt added, "and there's not an expectation that that is going to happen."