Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Harding Elementary School PTA President Meredith Brace has led a battle for several years to stop her white neighbors from transferring out of the heavily Latino Westside campus. Now she's joining them, saying she's not willing to make her son the guinea pig any longer. The Braces are like hundreds of other local families who, over the years, have sought transfers out of neighborhood schools that are filled with mostly poor Latino children. "I'm gone," said Mrs. Brace, who on Tuesday requested and was granted a transfer for her first-grade son out of Harding and into the more affluent Hope School, within the nearby Hope Elementary District. "I've just got to the point where, 'Sorry guys, I need what's best for my kids and there's a school that's two miles away that offers all those things I want.' "

About 40 percent of the 462 students at Hope School are there on transfers from the Goleta or Santa Barbara elementary districts. Some school officials and neighborhood families view Mrs. Brace's departure as a red flag. If someone who has advocated so fiercely against white flight won't stick it out, who will? A liberal whose father is Superior Court Judge George Eskin and stepmother is former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, Mrs. Brace had been considered over the years as the Great White Hope for Harding. "This is a major blow," said Santa Barbara school trustee Bob Noel. "Meredith was kind of like Supermom in terms of doing things for her school. . . . You can read racism into this, but I read more of an issue of social class. People don't want to look and see their kid is in a classroom where most of the students are underachievers and where friendship circle possibilities are very, very small because they don't speak the same language."

Harding is 90 percent Latino, 6 percent white. Hope is 73 percent white, 20 percent Latino. Hope families have raised enough money every year to keep on staff an array of specialists in art, music, computers and science -- all the "extras" Mrs. Brace wants for her son, who is 7, and her 4-year-old daughter. As PTA president, Mrs. Brace said she has tried to start after-school enrichment programs in art and theater at Harding. "We made it so affordable, $20 for a six- to eight-week session. We told everybody, 'Come on, do something extra for your kids.' We had so few people sign up, we had to eliminate a lot of the classes," she said. "I've met some very lovely people, but we have nothing in common. Every time my husband and I would go over for an event, my husband would feel like it was his first time. We haven't made any friends."

Harding parent Cristina Hernandez said she's seen the school's racial mix change, but that Mrs. Brace shouldn't give up. "I've been here 14 years now, and all of a sudden we turned around and all the white parents had gone," she said, speaking in Spanish. "They don't want their children side by side with our children. (Mrs. Brace) shouldn't leave. She should stay and keep fighting."

It was about three years ago, before her son entered kindergarten, that Mrs. Brace started going door to door touting Harding's achievements, trying to convince her neighbors to join her in giving the school a try. She even took on the PTA president post before her son had entered kindergarten. Once her son started, she remained PTA president, volunteered in the classroom, boosted fund-raising efforts, and continued to hold regular neighborhood meetings to make other white families feel comfortable with the campus. While she said she's not bilingual, she used the Spanish she picked up while living in Costa Rica and Mexico to try to connect with Latino parents.

Some of the white families she had convinced to enroll their kids at Harding later bailed out. She said her son has struggled to make friends. "He hasn't been invited to a birthday party. There is absolutely no after-school interaction," she said. "For his birthday, he invited four of his classmates. Only one came." Then she was miffed that her skills -- she's a credentialed librarian -- weren't capitalized on in her son's classroom.

Another Harding mother and friend of the Braces, Brenda McDonald, said she had independently decided to transfer her kindergartner out of the campus. Mrs. McDonald is also considering Hope School, or Washington Elementary, which is still within the Santa Barbara district. "At Harding, the teachers are wonderful. The principal is great. It's the socioeconomic chasm. It's not a gap, it's a huge difference in the population," said Mrs. McDonald, who described herself as a middle-class professional. "We don't have a lot in common with the other families. At the same time, do I want to drive five days a week now every day for the next six years? Then again, if half of the Westside is going in that direction, maybe we can carpool."

More here


In the Australian State of Victoria

Underperforming principals and teachers are being removed from government schools under a crackdown on standards by the State Government. In a significant policy shift from an era when underperforming staff were tolerated, it is believed the contracts of five principals have not been renewed, and another eight have been given 12 months to shape up. The Age also believes the contracts of about 100 teachers have not been renewed. Education Minister Lynne Kosky confirmed the hardline approach, which she said was part of a new resolve to ensure government schools had the best teachers. "We're serious about making sure we've got the best performers," Ms Kosky said. "It's a new resolve. I don't expect it to be many people at all. But it just sends a clear message to parents and to students that where there is obviously underperformance, then we will act on that. That means principals and teachers we've got in place are really terrific."

The Education Department is also negotiating payouts with about half a dozen teachers who have been deemed to be "in excess" of their school's staffing requirements.

In the case of underperforming principals, Ms Kosky said the department first offered support, mentoring and new ideas. "But where that fails, then contracts are not being renewed," she said. The department has also sent a clear message to principals that they will be supported in removing underperforming teachers, provided due process is followed. "It is within the power of the principal, and we'll provide that support," Ms Kosky said. "But teachers' rights do have to be respected." She said the department and previous governments had been "a little too relaxed" in dealing with underperforming teachers.

Opposition education spokesman Victor Perton said the problems in Victorian schools went far deeper than could be dealt with by the removal of five principals. He said the OECD had assessed Victoria as having the worst literacy and numeracy performance on mainland Australia, and truancy was out of control. He said the key concern was a lack of transparency on which schools were failing. Mr Perton said the Government had admitted last year that if parents knew the literacy and numeracy results in many state schools, the schools would be forced to close as parents removed their children.

The hard line on performance follows the release of the Government blueprint for education in 2003, which flagged the Government's willingness to act when schools were struggling. The Government has been able to implement its new staffing policy without a confrontation with the Australian Education Union, which has both teacher and principal members. But the union's state president, Mary Bluett, raised concerns about the treatment of some principals who had not had their contracts renewed. She said that under the Government's education blueprint, underperforming principals were to be offered support. But she questioned whether the help had been provided to the principals involved.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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