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Math Teacher Escalante Quitting Garfield High

June 14, 1991|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaime Escalante, the calculus teacher who brought national acclaim to a struggling East Los Angeles high school, announced Thursday that he will resign his job in the Los Angeles Unified School District when the academic year ends next week.

The flamboyant and controversial Garfield High School instructor, whose success in teaching advanced mathematics to inner-city youths was the subject of a critically acclaimed 1988 movie, "Stand and Deliver," said he plans to move in the fall to Sacramento, where he has been offered another teaching job.

"I am going to teach. That is the only thing I can do," said Escalante, who has been at Garfield for 17 years.

The native of Bolivia, who threatened to quit the district on at least one other occasion, said he is going, in part, for "a change of scenery" and because his family wants him to cut back on his grueling schedule of recent years. When the last bell signals the end of the school day, Escalante often stays in his classroom for hours, tutoring students who plan to take the advanced placement calculus examination.

But a major reason, he said, is the lack of support he feels from Garfield colleagues.

"Teachers who do not understand what (I) do--that is one of the main reasons," he said.

Escalante was often criticized by colleagues for being aloof. Some teachers also resented the attention heaped on the math teacher since the movie about his career was made.

The film followed his work with poor Latino students who, critics claimed, could not master mathematics. He produced such stunning results with a small class in 1982 that the Educational Testing Service, which administers the advanced placement exams, invalidated his students' scores. Most of the 18 pupils retook the test and again attained passing scores.

United Teachers-Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein said Escalante was an outstanding role model for students--particularly minority youths. But she said his difficulty getting along with fellow teachers was a major weakness.

"My hat goes off to Jaime. He's a unique personality," Bernstein said Thursday. But she said he isolated himself from most of his colleagues--an act that she said "isn't necessarily the healthiest thing to do."

Bernstein also suggested that Escalante's defeat last year in an election for math department chairman may have been a factor. Escalante, virtually unopposed for the post in previous years, canceled his union membership after losing the election, she said.

Ruben Zacarias, Los Angeles Unified School District associate superintendent for operations, said the district will miss a man who "made a major contribution--to Garfield students, the community and nationally, in dramatizing the impact a teacher can have on young people."

Escalante said he will be teaching calculus next fall at Sacramento's Hiram Johnson High School, an ethnically diverse campus where only six students passed the advanced placement calculus test last year.

Sacramento officials said they are elated that Escalante will be joining their district.

"Jaime Escalante is a teacher who has managed through the magic of his creative energies to inspire the faculty and students of his school. We are looking forward to his contributions," said Rudy Crew, Sacramento schools superintendent.

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