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A revolution in the schools

A parent-control group makes its influence felt in Pasadena.

August 05, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com
  • Parent Revolution organizer Alfonso Flores, helps a parent sign in before the group's meeing at the Jackie Robinson Center on Friday, July 29, 2011. (Roger Wilson/Staff Photographer)
Parent Revolution organizer Alfonso Flores, helps a…

A controversial movement to increase parental authority over public education is quickly gaining traction in Pasadena.

A parent group recently forced a change in the principal’s office at Jefferson Elementary School, and organizers are now setting their sights on John Muir High School.

At Jefferson, where enrollment last year was more than 85% Latino, a group of Spanish-speaking mothers long at odds with school administrators has organized under the banner of Parent Revolution, advocates of California’s “parent trigger” law.

Under the law, if a majority of parents whose children attend an underperforming public school file a petition, they can impose drastic changes ranging from replacing teachers or administrators to converting campuses to charter schools.

Maribel Sanchez, a mother of three Jefferson students and a Parent Revolution member, was among those seeking change at Jefferson.

Sanchez and more than a dozen other parents, many of them school volunteers, began calling in early 2010 for the removal of Jefferson Principal Hoori Chalian. They said children received inadequate supervision during lunch and did not have enough time to eat, and were forced to use dirty bathrooms — but most of all contended that Chalian ignored their concerns.

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At Jefferson, Sanchez said, “They weren’t listening to us.”

School district officials hired a conflict mediator and held a parent retreat, but the group continued to press. An organizer with Parent Revolution approached the mothers in May about starting a local chapter of the group.

On July 27, Chalian, who also faced a teachers union no-confidence vote last year, asked to be transferred to another school, according to the district. She did not return calls seeking comment.

But Pasadena Unified Board President Renatta Cooper said district officials deemed each of the group’s complaints unfounded or resolved.

“I believe in cultural sensitivity, and that’s a huge part of what went wrong here,” she said. “But you don’t fire a principal because you think lunch is too short or you don’t like where the trash cans are. You can’t fire a principal because you don’t like her and think she’s not personable enough. The school has improved academically since she’s been there, and that was what she was sent there to do.”

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