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School Flight Part 1: Why Mesa Verde families transfer out

Special Report

Citing test scores, economic differences with Westsiders, neighborhood families head en masse to Huntington Beach and private schools. But some are coming back.

September 03, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com
  • Susan Sanchez, right, attended Adams Elementary while living in Westside Costa Mesa. Her mother Carmen, left, says she learned English alongside some Mesa Verde children.
Susan Sanchez, right, attended Adams Elementary while… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

First of three parts.

COSTA MESA — As he tours Mesa Verde with prospective home buyers, Realtor Larry Weichman boasts of the neighborhood country club's heated swimming pool and acclaimed golf pro.

But when clients ask about the public schools, Weichman becomes more circumspect.

The chairman of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce pulled his son out of the neighborhood elementary school and sent him instead to the nearby Huntington Beach City School District.

"It's sad," said Weichman, who lives two doors from Adams Elementary School.

Like other families on his block, he and his son leave Mesa Verde's lush, ribbon-like streets and take a six-lane arterial road across the Santa Ana River to go to school.

From a distance, it seems counterintuitive, as most believe that nice neighborhoods also have great schools.

But many Mesa Verde families say their campuses don't make the grade. They cite low test scores, listen to neighbors' often outdated stories of gang violence, and then flee the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for private schools — or public schools in neighboring districts.

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Their flight illustrates a larger trend in suburbs across the country, experts say. As immigrants continue to move into historically white communities, the established families are choosing to leave their neighborhood campuses. Nationally recognized academics, as well those familiar with Mesa Verde's situation, say this choice can divide a community and separate children along socioeconomic lines.

"People have bought into the idea that having choice in education is a good idea, and your neighborhood school is not necessarily where you'd want to send your kid," said Ken Tye, professor emeritus and former head of Chapman University's education program. "You see what damage it does to the idea of 'the public school as the place where people come together and learn to be together.' "

Mesa Verde families have departed their community schools for more than 15 years, beginning around when theU.S. Department of Educationdirected Adams Elementary — in the middle of Mesa Verde on Club House Road — to enroll students from Costa Mesa's largely blue-collar Westside. Entrenched families, many of them white, at the time resisted sending their children to school with Latino immigrants, so they fled.

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