Parent volunteer participation is up, the new school leaders say. The Desert Trails Parent Union still has about 40 members and continues to meet weekly, and eventually a parent is supposed to be appointed to serve on the school’s board of directors.
“Without their parents, students are not going to be successful,” said Desert Trails teacher Elfie Landa, who was pleased to see 100 percent of her kindergartners’ parents show up on time for the last round of parent-teacher conferences.
Tarver said she has an open-door policy for parents, and most of her staff is bilingual, an asset to parents who don’t speak much English. Nearly 30 percent of students at the school are English learners.
Asked to explain what they like about the overhauled Desert Trails, some parents cite a more welcoming environment and better relationships with teachers. “You can just feel it,” several parents said on a recent afternoon as they waited in their cars at the student pick-up zone.
“The classrooms are completely changed—they’re motivating and positive,” Ramirez said. “The minute that you walk in there, it’s a different environment. As soon as you see these teachers, you see the politeness, you see the kindness, you see the respect.”
Charlene Booth, who has a 6-year-old daughter at the school, said she likes her child’s teacher and appreciates the consistent behavior policy at the new Desert Trails. Her daughter earns a colored sticker each day that marks how well she’s behaved: Green means great; blue means a child acted up enough to be sent home early. (No students have been suspended or expelled since the school opened in late July, Tarver said.)
Some community members question whether the parent trigger was the only way to bring about those changes.
“It put a wedge between the parents and the community,” said Adelanto School Board Trustee Christine Turner. She believes the campaign was distracting, making it harder on teachers to improve student achievement. She pointed to Desert Trails dropping 52 points on its Academic Performance Index score in the 2012-2013 school year. “You can’t do business like that; you can’t teach like that.”
At least one former Parent Revolution supporter has now turned against the advocacy group. Joe Morales, who has two children attending Desert Trails, accused the nonprofit organizers of promising parents money, help with obtaining citizenship, lavish trips to make speaking appearances, and even a movie deal for their work. He said those alleged incentives, which he can’t prove, were dangled before parents around Hollywood’s release of Won’t Back Down, a fictional movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. The talk of money and fame died down once it was clear the movie was a box-office flop, Morales said.
Parent Revolution flatly denies making any financial promises to parents in exchange for their support. The nonprofit is open about funding the Desert Trails petition campaign, including leasing a five-bedroom home to serve as the parent union’s headquarters. Two paid Parent Revolution staffers are mothers from parent-trigger campaigns, including Doreen Diaz, a Desert Trails parent whose son has now gone on to middle school. Parent Revolution now has 33 staffers and a $4.5 million 2014 budget, financed by major education reform players such as the Bill & Melinda Gates, Walton Family, and Wasserman foundations. (The Gates and Wasserman foundations are among the funders of The Hechinger Report.)