Lincoln High School, once the educational crown jewel of Southeast San Diego, is slowly taking steps on the way back to excellence.
In the past couple of years, academic requirements have been stiffened, tutoring in basic skills has been accelerated, and an active parent-teacher organization has been set up--all resulting in a jump in attendance of almost one-third because many parents are choosing not to bus their children to other city schools.
That's good news for the Campaign for Parent Involvement in Education, a group of predominantly minority residents formed several years ago to boost the educational achievements of black children.
But despite the progress at Lincoln and many other minority-dominated schools, too many black students in San Diego still drop out of school, too many still get involved with drugs, and too many parents still fail to spend sufficient time monitoring their children's school life.
So the mood was mixed Thursday at Mt. Zion Baptist Church near Memorial Park as Southeast ministers, parents and school officials gathered for the kickoff of the campaign's third annual Education Sunday, scheduled for Feb. 21.
On that day, teachers, administrators and parents will fan out to almost two dozen black churches to talk with parents about spending more time with their children's education.
Flyers in English and Spanish will be distributed asking parents for a pledge: to visit schools and learn the names of their children's teachers and what textbooks are used; to require homework to be completed before allowing play, television or part-time work; to praise children for success in school and encourage greater motivation, and to insist that children aim for college or a productive job.
"This is the third year, and while we've made some inroads, I'm not sure we've even scratched the surface," said Walter Kudumu, a San Diego landscaper and parent who has fought for better schools in Southeast for several years, helping to set up scholarships, rallies and workshops.
"The need is to get parents involved in education, especially in reinforcing the notion that (success) depends on taking time to spend time with your children," he said.
The Rev. Ellis Casson said churches have been successful to a certain degree in making parents aware of their role, in setting up some tutorial programs with neighborhood elementary schools, and in convincing teachers and principals not to feel threatened by greater parent participation.
But the steps are incremental, and both Casson and others Wednesday expressed frustration at the slow pace--however inevitable--in trying to turn education into a positive force for San Diego's minority students.
"A lot of parents don't even know what their youngsters do in school, or even if they are in school," Casson said. "We've got problems, and both we in the community and in the schools must work as a partnership to try and solve them."
But the Rev. Clyde E. Gaines asked how the campaign expects to reach the tremendous number of single-family households in Southeast, where a mother is working and has no time to get to school during regular hours and talk with teachers about their children.
And he criticized some school principals and teachers for not responding openly to those parents who make an effort to come to school, referring obliquely to teacher-parent tensions that developed three years ago at Gompers Secondary School in Southeast.
"I don't want to go year after year (with Education Sunday) without results," Gaines said.
Dorothy Smith, president of the San Diego Unified School District board of trustees, said many teachers do respond positively to parents, and she urged parents to persist in their involvement. She asked district Supt. Tom Payzant last year to modify instructions to principals concerning parent visitations on campus because procedure manuals emphasized security rather than communication.
"We want it modified so that the first thing said to parents is not 'You don't belong here; you can be arrested for coming onto campus,' to more of a 'Welcome to the campus.'
"If a parent is rebuffed the first time, then he or she will turn around and never come back. But I say that good things are happening in some schools," Smith said, adding that teachers need to work more with students who aren't necessarily the top achievers and who show off best.
At Martin Luther King Elementary, the teaching staff has a parent booster club that helps tutor children.
Principal Maria Garcia of Baker Elementary, another Southeast school, said teachers understand that with single-parent families, conferences may have to be held early in the morning before work or in the late afternoon and early evening.
"And I'd like to see manufacturers give employees a break" to talk with the school, Garcia said. "Many places will not let their employees come to the phone to talk to (the teacher or their child) unless it is an emergency. We need to sensitize employers at least to understand that a parent wants to know what is going on immediately when they get a call, not wait until their break."
Sister Louise McDonald of Christ the King Catholic Church said churches can and should do more than simply preach on Sundays.
"We mobilized our congregation to do a march (in front of Martin Luther King Elementary) where there is a lot of drug trafficking, to pray for deliverance from (the problem) . . . and we are working with the police and the school to increase patrols in the area."