"How did this happen?" Villeda asked in Spanish. "Now she's in eighth grade and reads at third-grade level."
On Thursday, Villeda and a group of nearly 100 parents at 24th Street Elementary School arrived at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District to say they've had enough.
They presented Superintendent John Deasy a petition signed by 68 percent of the school's parents calling for immediate, significant action to improve one of the district's lowest performing grade schools, where just 30 percent of students are proficient in reading and 35 percent in math.
"The children aren't learning," said Villeda, who has a son in third grade at the school, located in an impoverished, mostly Hispanic immigrant neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles. "That's what worries the parents."
The parents group, call the 24th Street Parents Union, is using California's landmark "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to force a district to undertake radical action to reform a low-performing school if more than half of parents sign a simple petition.
The parents want the district to install new school leadership, an improved academic program with high expectations for students, and ensure a clean and safe school, Villeda said. If that doesn't work, parents will move to convert the school into a charter, she added.
"I hope that now we are listened to, because before we did not receive any response," Villeda said to loud applause.
Deasy, who has embarked on an ambitious agenda to overhaul the nation's second-largest school district, welcomed the parents and promised to meet with them next week, saying he had just rejected a reform plan for the school as insufficient.
"It is absolutely my desire and my administration's to work side-by-side with you so all children at 24th Street get an outstanding education," he said.
Parents repeatedly asked Deasy why nothing had been done at the school. "I don't know," he said. "But I'm very sure you will not have long to wait now."
Warren Fletcher, president of teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles who also attended the impromptu meeting, told parents that he wanted to ensure that teachers were included in the reform discussion. "We wish to work as a team," he said. "We cannot do that as adversaries."
Several parents noted that teachers had been unresponsive to parents and had criticized the parent trigger law. Fletcher apologized. "If any teacher has not been responsive, that has been a mistake," he said.
Deasy appeared impressed with the turnout of parents, many of whom do not speak English. "This is powerful parent organizing and powerful parent choice," he said.
The case will be the third in the state under the parent trigger law. In both previous cases, in Compton Unified in Los Angeles County and Adelanto Elementary in San Bernardino County, parent advocates met with deep resistance from teachers and administrators and ended up in court.
Compton Unified won its legal battle when a judge threw out the petition on a technicality. In the Adelanto case, a judge ordered the district to comply with the petition and turn the school over to a charter operator starting in September.