An era of new hope begins at Desert Trails Elementary, where ‘parent trigger’ changes take effect in the fall

Jun 18, 2013 by

ADELANTO, Calif. – The last day of school at Desert Trails Elementary School was June 14. From this point forward, things will never be the same.

More than half the parents at the failing public school petitioned the school district under California’s “Parent Trigger” law to convert the elementary to a charter school, and the changeover begins this summer.

The conversion represents the state’s first successful implementation of the Parent Trigger law, passed by lawmakers in 2010, which gives parents the power to transform failing public schools to their own liking.

In October 2012, a majority of parents officially voted to reopen the school as Desert Trails Preparatory Academy under the leadership of Debra Tarver, who runs the successful LaVerne Preparatory Academy in neighboring Hesperia, the San Bernardino Sun reports.

“The teachers have been hired; I gave out the contracts last week,” Tarver told the newspaper.

The new school has enrolled about 500 students so far. Officials believe most of the 620 students currently attending Desert Trails Elementary will be back next year.

Some teachers and school officials at Desert Trails Elementary will disperse to different district schools, while others will be laid off, the San Bernardino Sun reports. The report did not say if any of the existing teachers will be brought back, but it’s clear a significant percentage of the staff will be new.

“I think for the majority of the staff, we’re ready to move on,” current Principal Dave Mobley told the Sun.

75 percent can’t read at grade level

If the old staff is ready to move on, so are the parents and taxpayers who struggled for years to work with school officials to improve student learning, with little success.

In the past, parents who requested transfers for their students to other schools were denied or ignored, students rarely if ever received homework, and infighting between staff was the norm, the Sun reports.

Those issues, combined with restrictive union work rules and contract expenses, contributed to the school’s dismal academic record: About 75 percent of the school’s students can’t read or write at grade level.

“The teachers couldn’t agree with the teachers, and the (former) principal couldn’t control the staff,” said Cynthia Ramirez, lead parent coordinator for the Desert Trails Parents Union.

With the help of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that lobbied California lawmakers to pass the Parent Trigger law, Ramirez and other concerned parents took matters into their own hands and waged a lengthy campaign to remake Desert Trails.

The process wasn’t easy.

The Parent Trigger effort divided parents, pitted them against district officials, and left deep scars in the community that will take time to heal, according to the newspaper report.

“No one talks to each other now, no one wants to be associated with each other,” parent Chrissy Guzman told the Sun.

‘Education is starting to change’

The conversion to Desert Trails Predatory Academy will be difficult for some students, parent Lori Yuan said.

“It’s anxiety all around,” she told the Sun. “Even the kids staying here, their friends are going every which way, the teachers are going every which way, the lady at the front desk will be different. It’s just a mess.”

While the transition may be challenging, as least there’s new hope for the future. That’s more than there was a few years ago at the chronically failing school.

The hope starts with Tarver, who was hired by the parents to breathe new academic life into the school.

Tarver’s LaVerne Preparatory Academy is the top performing school in the Hesperia district, registering 211 points higher on the state’s academic performance index than Desert Trails this year. That bodes well for the future of Desert Trails.

Meanwhile the successful Parent Trigger petition at Desert Hills has spawned similar parent takeovers in other communities around the state. Parents are also now considering a Parent Trigger petition at Adelanto’s local high school.

“Education is starting to change and more parents are getting involved,” Tarver told the Sun. “I just wish we’d all do it together.”

It’s obvious the Parent Trigger process is not the easiest, or even the preferred method, for improving public education, but it’s clear that it can be instrumental in forcing change where it’s needed most.

The Parent Trigger legislation is giving parents the ability to make the hard decisions when public school officials refuse to do so, and it’s inspired other states to adopt similar measures.

We believe future academic results will illustrate why the effort in Adelanto was worth it, and why more public school parents should consider the Parent Trigger as a viable way to improve education in some of the country’s worst schools.

An era of new hope begins at Desert Trails Elementary, where ‘parent trigger’ changes take effect in the fall – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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