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School Flight Part 2: Not everyone chooses to leave neighborhood schools

Special Report: School Flight

Many parents ignore conventional wisdom about class and race and enroll in neighborhood schools. Some see a resurgence at Adams, TeWinkle and Estancia.

September 05, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com
(Don Leach, Daily…)

Second of two parts.

COSTA MESA — Many nights she sipped tea and listened to other parents complain.

They questioned the academic rigor of Adams Elementary, the school just down the block. Some told rumors of Spanish speakers slowing down instruction, and students from the city's Westside interrupting teachers and classmates.

Her goal those nights was to sway them, to convince her neighbors that the place she sent her children to every day was safe and enriching. Many were already convinced, though, that Adams was a threat to their children's education.

Jennifer Knapp and a handful of other parents have kept their children at public schools that serve Costa Mesa's Mesa Verde neighborhood, despite many families fleeing to private schools and public schools in neighboring Huntington Beach. They remain, they say, because the teachers are talented, their children benefit from diverse classmates, and they believe in the concept of neighborhood schools.

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"When you're a part of a school in your community, you're more tied in," said Knapp, who now advocates for Estancia High School, where her youngest attends. She imagines, with more Mesa Verde families going to community schools, "the stronger our neighborhood could be."

Many leave their neighborhood's Newport-Mesa Unified School District campuses — Adams, TeWinkle Intermediate School and Estancia High — because they believe students learning English will be a drag on their children who are already fluent. In defense, Adams educators say they have "differentiated education," for their 460 pupils; teachers simultaneously help the remedial students and challenge the advanced students.

The principal, 34-year-old Gabe Del Real, stresses that his teachers can push high-performers.

"Absolutely, we need to address their needs as much as any student who is performing below grade level, and that is something that we do," he said, his office wall lined with children's books ranging from"Where the Wild Things Are"to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

But even some education professionals admit differentiation isn't always effective. They say some teachers lack training, and even the best trained find difficulty simultaneously pushing both advanced students and those still getting up to grade level.

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