Latino political activists and parents are joining forces to urge Santa Monica education officials to expand bilingual programs in the school system.
A group of Latinos is scheduled to meet today with Eugene Tucker, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and other school board officials.
The Latinos, who have formed an ad hoc coalition called Alas (Assn. of Latinos for the Advancement of our Students), will present Tucker with a six-point agenda that includes demands for more bilingual members of the school system staff and more attention to potential dropout students.
"We hope to get a real commitment out of the meeting," said Antonio Vazquez, head of the Santa Monica-based Latino Resource Organization. "By forming a coalition, we hope to have some leverage . . . and continue a dialogue" in the future.
The group also includes representatives from Westside chapters of the Mexican American Political Assn. (MAPA), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Assn. of Mexican American Educators (AMAE), as well as parents with children at John Adams Elementary, Edison Elementary and Santa Monica High schools.
Tucker, who asked for the meeting, said he looked forward to identifying key issues and short- and long-term plans for improving service to Latino children.
"If there is a perception that we are not doing as well as we could, we want to hear those concerns and come up with a plan to address them," Tucker said.
"We want to open up the lines of communication and deal with concerns in pro-active way, rather than just responding to complaints and reacting to issues that may not exist."
Earlier this year, Latino students staged protests at the school district headquarters and at a board meeting to protest cuts in bilingual education programs and proposed cuts in busing. The board scrapped a proposal to eliminate busing of students who had previously attended Madison School, which has been closed. Protesters had said the proposal would strand many Latino children.
Vazquez said a group of Latino parents met last year with school board officials and presented a list similar to the one being taken to today's meeting. But past promises have produced little action, he said.
The group will also ask that college preparatory counseling be made available to all students.
The lack of adequate bilingual education is often cited as one of the causes behind a soaring dropout rate among Latino students nationwide.
The number of Latino students in the Santa Monica system has risen steadily over the last 15 years; official statistics show that 26% of the students are Latino.
However, parents and activists say bilingual programs have been cut as the need has grown. The number of English-as-a-Second-Language teachers was cut last year from seven to four at the elementary level.
School officials acknowledge more must be done to improve the performance of Latino children in school but say some progress has been made, including the start of a model immersion program at one school.