Let’s just say it was not the warmest of welcomes from Superintendent Linda Wagner at Palm Lane Elementary School today.

As noted in an earlier post, the Anaheim City School District began contacting parents yesterday and scheduling them for meetings with Superintendent Linda Wagner in groups of four or five, beginning today. Today’s meetings were at 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.  Since then, I’ve learned the school district is picking up the pace and scheduling hourly meetings next Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with five parents per meeting, from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  Parents who asked if they could record the meetings reported being told they could not, and that their phones would be taken if they attempted to do so.

These meetings are only being scheduled for parents of Palm Lane Elementary students. Anyone who thinks this is unrelated to the Parent Trigger Law petition submitted last week to convert Palm Lane into an independent charter school, might also be interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge.

I went to Palm Lane Elementary School today, along with representatives from Senator Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Young Kim and long-time school choice activist Mark Bucher. Huff is co-author of the Parent Trigger Law and Kim has been a strong supporter of the petition effort. Their interest was ensuring the parents were provided with accurate information about charter schools in general and the proposed re-start charter model for Palm Lane Elementary. It’s not as if Superintendent Wagner has been a font of accurate information for parents in that regard.

Four moms and a district staffer waited in the little meeting room for Wager to arrive. A staffer came in and scooped up the handouts that were stacked on the table. Wagner breezed into the meeting room around 1:15 p.m and wasted no time in telling us we had to leave, over polite protests from the legislative reps and Bucher.

Curious about what information was in the handouts, I went back to the school office a few minutes later to ask the secretary for a copy. I had just entered the small office lobby and was heading toward the receptionist when Superintendent Wagner emerged from the meeting room and approached me. I introduced myself, and Wagner replied by telling me to leave. I tried several times to tell her I was only there to ask the receptionist for a copy of the handout but each time I tried to explain the simple nature off my errand, Wagner brusquely cut me off and ordered me to leave. And so I was bulldozed out of a public facility by the district superintendent.

In one of today’s meetings was a parent who is a leader of the Parent Trigger Law petition effort. According to her, the meeting consisted of four parents, Superintendent Wagner, Palm Lane Principal Tracey Golden and ACSD Board of Education member Bod Gardner.

Wagner began by telling the parents how great their school is. A parent then asked for one of the handouts (which had been brought back in), to which Wagner replied they were not giving it out. The parent insisted and Gardner directed the superintendent to provide the handout. At this point, Gardner discussed the new programs the district had approved for Palm Lane, and then opened the meeting for questions.

[It’s worth noting here that these new programs were approved by the district the same morning that the Palm Lane parents group turned in its Parent Trigger Law petition (which Wagner was not there to receive).]

Wagner was asked if these programs were permanent, and replied that they were. A parent asked why the district had waited until now – until the petition was submitted? She said they has been ignored by the ACSD Board, had at times been cut off during public comments, and been humiliated and attacked.  None of the school officials in the meeting responded to this.

Another mom asked about tutoring, and was told by Wagner it would be coming at a cost of $30 per student. Another mom asked about pre-school, and was told by Wagner that it was coming. 

The parent activist in the room asked why there were empty classrooms at the school when other classrooms were overcrowded. Wagner answered that she was unaware of that but would investigate in the coming week. She asked about homework, and Principal Golden responded that it wasn’t important (!). This parent also asked why the district was conducting these tiny meetings instead of inviting everyone to a single meeting, and including charter school experts. Wagner told her  “it would too noisy to have all parents present at one time.”

This same parent stated her surprise at the sudden attention and after 12 years of low performance. Another mom – who said she hadn’t signed the Parent Trigger Law petition- expressed her conviction that district officials “only care about us now because of the petitions.”

The Palm Lane Elementary charter petition was not brought up, but the parent who reported the content of the meeting suspects that is because she is known to the school district as one of the leaders of the petition drive. She also mentioned that the parents in that meeting with her were extremely nervous, and that she had to calm them down.  

All of this begs the question: why doesn’t the district simply hold one or two meetings to which all palm Lane Elementary parents are invited? Why utilize the horribly inefficient and time-consuming method of dividing them into small groups of four or five and stick them in a little room for an hour with the ACSD’s bulldog of superintendent? I don’t buy the “too noisy” excuse furnished by the superintendent. The answer depends on what one is trying to accomplish. If the ACSD is trying to quickly, efficiently inform parents about new programs coming to Palm Lane Elementary, then a single meeting – or even handouts – is the way to go.  

On the other hand, if the goal is to parse the parent population for those who can cajoled/manipulated/pressured into to claiming they didn’t understand what they were signing or don’t want a charter school now that school district authorities have “explained” what they’re “really” about, then a cumbersome, inefficient but close-up series of meetings is preferable to an all-hands meeting where parents don’t feel like they’ve been called into the principal’s office and can mingle and exchange impressions afterward. 

One cannot blame Palm Lane Elementary parents for wondering whether the sudden authorization of new programs for their school isn’t hasty attempt to quell parent discontent, and whether these promises and programs will fade into the ether once the ACSD leadership sense of urgency has passed. This is especially true given treatment I’m hearing about: threatening to confiscate a parent’s phone if they use it to record what is said in a public meeting? That’s how one treats a disobedient child.

At the moment, the ACSD basically has one job as it pertains to Palm Lane Elementary School: to verify the parent signatures on the Parent Trigger Law petition. If 50 percent-plus-one are valid, then the law requires the district to work with parents to re-start Palm Lane Elementary as a charter school.

I had the opportunity to speak today with ASCD Board member Bob Gardner, who struck me as a sincere and honorable man. Among other things, he expressed his commitment to having the district do exactly that regarding the Parent Trigger Law petition.