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A Times Valley Edition Special Report : Chapter 14: The Culmination : All Move Ahead, and Some Move On

September 19, 1993|JOHN JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

The end of the year drew near, a time when hopes and dreams are answered or denied.

Rich Dunner, the deal-making Milo Minderbinder of Northridge Middle School, saw one of his schemes collapse. For months, he had been collecting supermarket register tape. Under a Ralphs market promo called "Be Cool to Your School," you got a camcorder for $400,000 worth of receipts. Late in the year, he finally gave up and turned in $41,000 for some soccer balls.

The days were hot, and the girls began showing up in classes in gym shirts. Their blouses had been deemed too revealing, so they were ordered to cover up. No belly buttons was the rule on campus.

Ceasar Martinez came to school one morning in a "Spray Can" T-shirt glorifying graffiti. He was ordered to turn it inside out.

Ceasar's grades had been nothing to brag about earlier in the year, but in the spring, they plummeted to five Fs and 11 U's. "He has the record" for the worst performance on campus, said Sue Castaneda, a history teacher. That meant he would not graduate on stage.

The same fate befell Jesse Black, who got six U's. "Jesse says he's trying to be good," said his mother, Vickie. "I said, 'You didn't try good enough.' "

He was embarrassed. "Yesterday, they were all in line to practice (graduation), and they pulled him out."

Despite their poor performances, neither Jesse nor Ceasar would be held back. "We don't hold kids back, because research shows it doesn't help them become successful," Beryl Ward said.

Surprisingly, Dasha's grades fell as well--to three Bs, two Ds and an F. She also quit--or was kicked out, depending on who was telling the story--cheerleading in a dispute with the gym teachers.

"Most of her problem is a power struggle," Denise Miller said of her daughter. Dasha sat nearby on the sofa with the classic sullen look of a disgruntled teen-ager. "I can't satisfy," she said, near tears.

Denise made her daughter give up her outside activities until her grades came up. The way things were going, it was possible that even Dasha would not be allowed to walk across the stage to get her diploma.

"We're not asking for too much. We're not pushing for A's," her mother said.

Another problem for Dasha was that she did not want to attend Cleveland High School. But if she went to Birmingham, her choice, her mother would have to get up early and take her.

"I have five other kids," Denise Miller said, growing emotional herself. "I go the extra mile for all of them. Once in a blue moon I think about myself. I want all of Dasha's wishes to come true, but sometimes not all dreams are answered."

*

Cindy Whitaker, who had had the run-in with Marilyn Hayes after her daughter fainted and who had been elected president of the PTSA for the next year, pulled up stakes and moved to Simi Valley. She didn't feel safe in the San Fernando Valley anymore.

"I got tired of being afraid for my kids," she said. "They stole my welcome mat."

It was a new world in Simi. Whitaker saw families out walking together at night. People didn't do that in the Valley.

Her daughter Rebecca's school was much harder. In fact, one of the girl's former teachers said the only class she was not behind in was PE.

"Everything is geared high," Whitaker said.

She liked this because she believed Rebecca would be better prepared for high school. She also said Rebecca found the students friendlier.

Whitaker said she would always remember Northridge as a "wonderful place" that cared about kids. But she said the staff didn't ask enough of the students.

"It seems like, every two or three years, we've lowered our standards," she said. "Here, they have a firm standard."

Her departure threatened to leave the PTSA in the lurch. Alice Dabboussi was the current president, but her daughter was graduating. The organization had been limping along already, run by a small group of women, some of whom do not have any children at Northridge.

"The five ladies here have held the PTA together for years," said Dabboussi at one meeting, looking around at the other women. "Without them, I don't know what would have happened to it."

A gray-haired woman named Cora, one of the longtime members, had been around Northridge long enough to remember the old days in the '60s. She said some things at Northridge have changed for the better. A former teacher, Cora remembered a principal in the early '60s who was a womanizer. He got rid of one secretary and replaced her with a woman who looked like a model. "He had poker games for the men at lunch hour," she recalled. "He was taking out the PTA president on the side."

In the end, Tobie Kennedy, a quick-witted woman with long dark hair and glasses, agreed to take over the PTSA presidency, despite the fact she had not had a child at Northridge in four years.

*

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