The names Doreen Diaz and Bartola Del Villar appear nowhere in the text of the Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger, that I wrote in 2010. The law empowers parents to bypass the political paralysis of our education bureaucracy that is responsible for perpetuating the status quo failure of our schools.
Today, Doreen and Bartola personify why the law was written: they were leaders in using it to become the first parents in California to successfully transform their neighborhood school – which had been state-identified as failing for years, having the lowest academic performance record in the entire Adelanto School District.
Now, with a motto of “be the change we want to see,” the two have become a Thelma and Louise of the election cycle, taking their fight for reform “from the outside” to seeking reform of the beast itself by seeking seats on the five-member elected Adelanto school board that is still dominated by the status quo interests they battled.
Undoubtedly, the law has given credence to the view that parents should be the true architects of their children’s educational futures.
Increasingly, parents are mobilizing to “trigger” change at failing schools. Most recently, parents in Anaheim challenged their own school board members to transform a school languishing in “Program Improvement” need for 10 years. They understand it is no fairytale to want quality schools and are willing to fight for it.
Doreen and Bartola made national headlines when they and other Adelanto parents became the first to trigger the change at their school. Today, they are satisfied with initial academic performance results of the newly established Desert Trails charter school which is showing increased performance for students. Previously, three out of four students at the school weren’t even reading at their grade level.
I joined them last Friday to walk precincts on their behalf under a hot Adelanto sun, talking to voters we encountered about why they now want to bring the message – and reality – of parent empowerment to the entire board. A victory for Bartola and Doreen would ensure that a new reform majority prevails.
“Enough is enough,” said Doreen. “Parents are tired of the same old, same old. We don’t just want to sit on the board, we want to mobilize parents to take back their school district – establish a new culture of leadership and a belief that every school can succeed.”
Not surprisingly, the teachers’ union has endorsed a slate of union-friendly candidates, hoping to defeat Doreen and Bartola and their questioning of a proposed sweetheart contract granting teachers a 5 percent retroactive pay increase and 8 percent pay increases for the next several years.
“Adelanto is bankrupt,” explained Doreen. “Most teachers don’t even live here, yet want pay compatible with high cost-of-living regions. But it will be Adelanto parents – mostly working class – who will pay the bill. Teachers are even refusing to consider working 60 minutes more in exchange for substantive pay increases. No reforms are tied to the demands.”
What will boost achievement is a restructuring of the board in its entirety so that parent voices – not the interests of special groups demanding pay increases despite anemic student outcomes – predominate. Doreen and Bartola recognize that transforming one school is not enough: Districts need systemic change to ensure they serve students first.
“When that happens, the spirit of Parent Trigger and the legacy of our Desert Trails school will be truly understood,” Doreen said.
Few Californians will ever read the California Education Code. But many more will meet Doreen and Bartola – mothers who give life to the law I wrote. Their win will be a win for us all.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.