Parent Trigger Reformer Elected to California School Board

Parent Trigger Reformer Elected to California School Board
January 3, 2013

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson (mary.c.tillotson@gmail.com) is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.... (read full bio)
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Voters elected Teresa Rogers, a parent who helped pull a Parent Trigger in Adelanto, California, to the district’s school board. That school board had opposed parents’ efforts to convert a failing school under its purview into a charter school. It took a lawsuit, but parents won.

“We need to change the culture of the schools to students first, and high achievement,” Rogers told School Reform News.

The Parent Trigger is a law in seven states that lets a majority of parents require one of several reforms at their children’s school by signing a petition. At Desert Trails Elementary, where Adelanto parents successfully pulled the trigger, 70 percent of sixth graders are not proficient in English or math. Because of their actions, LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy will run the school starting in fall 2013.

Sending a Message
Rogers’s election is “a very good sign,” said Ben Boychuk, a Heartland Institute policy advisor.

“It shows that a well-organized and really dedicated local parent union can not only successfully enact reforms through the Parent Trigger, but they can conceivably make political changes locally as well,” Boychuk said. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

The election sent a message across the country, said education analyst RiShawn Biddle.

“What happened in Adelanto is a strong message for reform, a message that makes clear if [school boards] think they’re going to be able to face down a bunch of parents, that’s not going to succeed,” Biddle said.

Power to Negotiate
School districts and schools must understand the importance of negotiating with parents, he said.

“Until recently, with the creation of Parent Trigger laws, parents have largely been disengaged … in reforming schools,” Biddle said. “Parents are just treated as afterthoughts and nuisances by school districts.… What Parent Trigger laws do is allow them to act, to have a voice and have real power in schools, and they can negotiate. They now have tools to negotiate and force districts to negotiate with them.”

Boychuk said the Desert Trails Parent Union is a “very impressive group of people,” well- organized and engaged.

“I don’t know that every parent union could replicate their success—and it was a hard-won success—but they’ve certainly shown it can be done, he said.

Adelanto’s experience with the Parent Trigger indicates school boards should hear and obey parents who want changes to their child’s schools, he said.

“[Rogers] has the kids in mind, so I think the decisions she’s going to make are going to be related to what the kids really need,” said Cynthia Ramirez, lead coordinator for the Desert Trails Parent Union. “Maybe it’s a message for more parents. The parent trigger law helped us out. Whatever you want to do—participating a little more, be a little more involved in the decision that [the board is] making—why not run for the board?” 

Image by Antonio Villaraigosa.

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson (mary.c.tillotson@gmail.com) is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.... (read full bio)