Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek

Parent Power: The School Takeover Movement

  1. Desert Trails Elementary
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    Desert Trails Elementary

    In the dusty Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, Calif., 12 of the district's 13 schools are failing. Desert Trails Elementary is the worst. The school ranks in California's bottom 10 percent. That's why, last summer, a group of frustrated parents decided to take control. For more than a year, they've been working to implement the so-called parent trigger, a contentious California law that gives parents the power to seize their children's school and force change.

    Introduced in 2010, the parent trigger law mandates that, if at least 50 percent of parents at a persistently failing school sign a petition to wrest control, they can legally force in-district changes, convert the school into a charter, or close the school altogether. Here, pro-trigger moms walk their children to class.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  2. Doreen Diaz
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    Doreen Diaz

    The parents trying to implement the law have formed a Desert Trails Parent Union. Doreen Diaz (right), a stay-at-home mother of three and the school's former PTA leader, started the Adelanto parents' trigger movement.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  3. Adelanto, Calif.
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    Adelanto, Calif.

    Adelanto, a town of 32,000, lies 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Billboards in the tidy tract-home neighborhood surrounding Desert Trails advertise new homes, starting at $80,000.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  4. Parent Union
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    Parent Union

    Parent union members spent months knocking on doors and managed to get 466 parental signatures, accounting for roughly 70 percent of Desert Trails' student body.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  5. Parent Revolution
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    Parent Revolution

    Diaz and her parent union had help from Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit that conceived the parent trigger and helps parents use it. Here, Parent Revolution's executive director, Ben Austin, sits with his team.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  6. Chrissy Alvarado
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    Chrissy Alvarado

    Some Desert Trails parents, including Chrissy Alvarado, are strongly opposed to the trigger. She says her kids have good teachers and are on track to go to college.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  7. Anti-Trigger Victory
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    Anti-Trigger Victory

    In February, Adelanto's district invalidated the pro-trigger petition, because Alvarado, with the help of other moms, got parents to sign a counter-petition, revoking their trigger support.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  8. School Officials
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    School Officials

    Desert Trails' principal, David Mobley (left), says he'll "be the first to say that we need to make changes." Adelanto's superintendent, Darin Brawley, resigned on Sept. 7.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  9. Pro-Trigger Lawsuit
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    Pro-Trigger Lawsuit

    In April, Diaz filed a suit against Adelanto's district and won, invalidating the anti-trigger petition. With the law on their side, DTPU members became the first public school parents in history to solicit takeover applications from nonprofit charter operators.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek
  10. Keeping Control
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    Keeping Control

    But the fight isn't over. On Aug. 17, Adelanto's district announced it will not cede control.

    Photographs by Geordie Wood for Bloomberg Businessweek