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Apodaca: Steps needed to address shifting population from O.C. suburbs

September 03, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

White flight.

It's a loaded term, one that's been thrown around in connection with the exodus of white, middle-class students from the increasingly Latino-populated public schools in and near the Mesa Verde neighborhood of Costa Mesa.

In another sense, what's happening in Mesa Verde might be emblematic of a more recent trend referred to as reverse white flight.

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Either way, what's happening in Mesa Verde bears close examination and thoughtful discussion about the future of the neighborhood, Newport-Mesa and Orange County. It signals a possible tipping point in the not-too-distant future, a juncture that brings both peril and opportunity, with the outcome dependent on strong leadership and a community willing to engage and make the most of a changing environment.

Let me be clear: In no way do I stand in judgment of other parents when it comes to their choices of schools for their children. Parents consider a variety of factors, from test scores to subjective assessments of a school's culture, when making their decisions. The bottom line is that we all want the best for our own kids. Period.

Nonetheless, the abandonment of Mesa Verde public schools by many white families touches a societal nerve that can't be ignored.

In considering these matters, it helps to get some historical perspective.

White flight refers to the large-scale migration of middle-class whites from racially mixed urban regions to suburban areas in the post-World War II era. The movement has been attributed to the lure of new housing coupled with anxiety about increasing minority populations in large cities — although how much of the trend could be attributed to outright racism remains a subject of debate.

Orange County was a prime destination. During much of the second half of the 20th century, both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach attracted affluent white families from Los Angeles and other big cities.

While the white-flight phenomenon is complex and fraught with knotty sociopolitical issues, it's not surprising that schools have always played a pivotal role. After all, for many families — particularly those with economic means — the choice of where to live is greatly influenced by the perceived quality of the schools.

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