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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

The school board, against the advice of the school district's attorney, decided to redraw the boundaries to exclude the rectangle. The change made Adams a majority-white school. Federal law generally prohibits redrawing school boundaries when it would concentrate minority students, so theU.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in 1996 forced Newport-Mesa Unified to keep the Joann-area students at Adams.

"I went [to Adams]. It broke my heart to leave," McDaniels said. "But when half your class isn't speaking your language, it just slows your kids down … I didn't want my kid to be a guinea pig."

To be sure, teachers and administrators maintain that native English speakers aren't hindered at Adams or at other schools, especially today. Instruction is "differentiated," they say.

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Advanced students, for example, are given assignments that challenge them, while those in need receive remedial help from teachers and aides.

"If you have a fifth-grade student reading at a high-school level, we support that here," Del Real, the Adams principal, told a group of parents during a community information night aimed at drawing Mesa Verde families back to Adams.

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Pitting preconceptions against reality

Reading isn't parents' only concern. Over many years, Estancia and TeWinkle gained reputations among some Mesa Verde families as schools with gang problems. Students and parents heard of fights, students carrying knives and flaunting gang colors. As recently as 2005, Estancia had a truancy rate nearly twice the district average.

Parents still complain about seeing police cars in front of the campuses; as infrequently as that might happen, it reinforces their hesitations, they say.

But school officials insist violence and other disruptions have been addressed.

Still, one Mesa Verde family recently left. Tim Deutsch, the father of 15-year-old twins, said his kids transferred from TeWinkle to Sowers in Huntington Beach after one of them was bullied at TeWinkle.

"It wasn't truly a neighborhood school," said Tim.

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Private schools offer answers to flight

Oftentimes parents looking for a calmer school environment enroll their kids in private schools, where teachers and administrators are typically stricter.

"They feel there is probably going to be a safer campus," said Father Norbert Wood, the rector at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Costa Mesa.

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