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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

"It's very hard to peel apart the race piece and the poor piece," said Barbara Tye, wife of Ken Tye and a fellow professor emeritus at Chapman University in Orange.

Also the former head of the university's education program, she has researched Orange County schools for decades.

Barbara Tye and other researchers say students from low-income households benefit greatly — in academics and more intangible social skills — by attending school with middle- or upper-class students. And kids from neighborhoods like Mesa Verde can reap rewards — such as learning Spanish and expanding their worldview — from attending classes with working-class students.

For these reasons, and others, some Mesa Verde families have stayed. Adams' mothers have hosted coffee klatches and knocked on doors, trying to recruit parents and break preconceptions. Now, with the help of reform-minded principals and the economic recession, they and some Estancia parents have made small gains toward improving Mesa Verde's representation in neighborhood schools.

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Some parents are choosing Adams over expensive private schools, and students who did their primary years elsewhere are returning to the district to attend Estancia High School, where test scores are on the rise and a resurgent football team lures student-athletes looking for playing time.

With 1,310 students, Estancia athletes have a better chance of starting on varsity than at some larger campuses.

If more Mesa Verde families decided to attend in the district, the parents could help improve the schools, many say. A few of those who remain at Adams have assumed leadership roles in the PTA, and one started a book club for students older than her own.

"Those families that are transferring are more likely to be more involved parents, because they're taking an extraordinary step," said Newport-Mesa school board Trustee Katrina Foley. "We're a stronger, closer-knit community when we have parents in local schools."

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'Worse than picking college'

Adams, which sits next to a verdant neighborhood park, invites passersby with its neat lawn and virtually no fences. But many neighborhood parents haven't set foot inside its one-story, pale blue classroom buildings.

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