“Won’t Back Down” Tells The Story of How One California Community Fought Back to Fix Its Failing School; And Now It’s Happening Nationwide
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – A new motion picture to be released nationwide on Friday, September 28th tells the dramatic story of a community that unites to fix a failing school. Inspired by real events, “Won’t Back Down,” stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter and was produced by Walden Media. Parents in California making history by forming Parents Union chapters inspired the movie. These parents are taking over struggling schools while advocating for changes the current public school system is repeatedly failing to provide.
The concept of Parent Revolution is catching on across the United States. Through parent empowerment laws, parents at persistently underperforming schools are legally empowered to organize, unionize and promote a ‘students first’ agenda toward reform. Today, more than twenty states, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, have passed parent empowerment laws and have organized Parents Union chapters to demand similar reforms.
Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, is now one of the first schools to test the new law. Last year, two-thirds of the children failed the state reading exam. Nearly 80 percent failed the science exam. The school has not met state standards for six years. More than 70 percent of the school’s parents signed a petition to take over the school and reopen it as an independent charter. The case went to court and a judge recently ruled on behalf of the parents. Parent Revolution provided legal advice and counsel to the Parents Union in the case.
Parent Revolution is led by Ben Austin, a California native and education reform advocate. The organization was founded in January 2009 to help empower parents to change their child’s failing schools through the same principles employed by unions. The movement launched in Los Angeles, where parents won an early victory with the passage of the historic Public School Choice resolution by the school board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, led by Board Member Yolie Flores.
Individuals available for interview about the school reform efforts include:
Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution since 2008. Ben is a former member of the California State Board of Education and served as a Deputy Mayor under Mayor Richard Riordan from 2000-2001, where he helped craft the mayor’s education reform policy. From 2002-2006, he was Senior Advisor to Rob Reiner and First 5 California, where he helped create LAUP (Los Angeles Universal Preschool), a $600 million preschool program rooted in high standards, accountability and parental choice. Ben also served in the Clinton White House in a variety of roles.
Doreen Diaz, coordinator of the Desert Trails Parent Union. When she volunteered at Desert Trails as a PTA member and school site council member, she soon discovered that the culture of the school was inherently negative and put adult needs above the students’ needs. She spoke to the board about her concerns to no avail. Her daughter was in the special day class and her needs were not being met. According to Doreen: “The only solution ever offered to me was to move my child to a different school, which wasn’t a solution. Parents should not have to move their kids to other schools, or opt for charter schools just because the status quo at their local school refuses to take action and do what is right by our children.” Her advice to other parents is: “If you feel that your child is not getting the education he/she deserves stand up and fight for them. You are your child’s voice.”
Cynthia Ramirez, mother of 2 children, a 3rd grader at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, Calif., and a rising kindergartener. Their family moved to Adelanto when they found a home walking distance to the elementary school, not knowing at the time that the school was ranked lowest in the district. When her daughter started kindergarten there, she began to hear from other parents about their experiences at Desert Trails. All of them had the same advice, “Move your daughter out before she gets to third grade.” They had already purchased their home and couldn’t move. Cynthia volunteered at the school and found that her daughter was rarely challenged in class. She was also dismayed at the attitude that the teachers displayed toward the parents. She was invited by another parent to a parent union meeting and didn’t hesitate. According to Cynthia, “It only took that one meeting for me to decide to be a part of it all. It is us parents who ultimately have the last say in our children’s education, I was not going to miss that opportunity.”
Alfonso Flores, is a Los Angeles teacher and father of four who was the lead organizer in the Desert Trails Elementary case. A veteran who served six years in the U.S. Army, and rose to the Special Forces, Alfonso attended college at California State University where he received a B.A. in child development. Immediately after graduation, he began a career in public education, serving as a teacher at Normandie Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. He was named Local District 7 Teacher of the Year and LAUSD Teacher of the Year in 2008, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles County Office of Education Teacher of the Year award. After distinguishing himself in the classroom, Alfonso become principal at Global Education Academy, a local charter school. Both the Los Angeles Times and La Opinion newspapers ranked Global Academy among the top 10 best schools in California. Alfonso describes the Parent Revolution family as "the only true education reform effort" in our entire country that genuinely and passionately seeks and promotes a "kids first agenda."
Shirley Ford is the National Director of African American Affairs and Community Engagement Officer for Parent Revolution. She is one of the founders of the Los Angeles Parents Union. A preeminent organizer, Shirley played a central role in the campaign that led to the successful passage of LAUSD’s Public School Choice Resolution. Her tireless efforts were also instrumental in the narrow passage of California’s Parent Trigger law – the first in the nation. Shirley serves in a variety of roles for Parent Revolution, including Senior Organizer and Director of African-American Affairs. Her passion for parent’s rights and quality public education comes from her own experience raising her boys. Two of her sons, Robert and Hamid, were given the opportunity to attend Green Dot public schools and are now both are enrolled in college, the first in their family to do so. Shirley has seen firsthand that great public schools are possible and that all children can learn, and is passionate about empowering parents to obtain great schools for their children, especially children in under-served and historically marginalized communities.
About Parent Revolution (www.ParentRevolution.org)
Parent Revolution was founded in January 2009. Today, the non-profit organization helps parents pass and utilize Parent Trigger laws to transform under-performing schools. Through the use of sophisticated organizing techniques, Parent Revolution helps parents analyze their school’s performance, and organize to create Parents Unions, with the goal of dramatically improve academic outcomes for their children.