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Looking at More Than the Three Rs

February 25, 1996

Editor's Note:

In our Feb. 4 "Smart Moves" story on advice to home shoppers on how to pick a good public school, we asked for your ideas. We got plenty of good ones, and they form this follow-up story.

An interesting note: Many of the letter writers are schoolteachers. Myra LeBendig, Elizabeth Gutierrez, Sharon M. Villarreal, Michael D. Schoos, Bernard Terry, Kevin Kennedy, Henry Paul Canales, Ismael Rosario, Cynthia Amos and Cecilia Peniche are Los Angeles teachers studying to become principals in a two-year master's program taught by Linda Orozco-Martisko, PhD, at Cal State Los Angeles. Their letters are part of a class assignment.

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Too many people assume that location is the key to a good school, without looking beyond the exterior of the building or the address.

For the last eight years I have taught school in South-Central Los Angeles. Test scores are low. However, looking over our records and doing classroom observations would tell anyone that things are improving. The school is an oasis of calm in a area most people only read about.

Our school serves the community through after-school and weekend programs. We have outreach health services as well as adult campuses. I challenge any school to be more responsive to the community it serves.

MYRA LeBENDIG

Teacher

Foshay Learning Center

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I have been researching public schools for my younger brother, a seventh-grader at a school that should remain nameless. I am dissatisfied with his current educational program. Being a public school teacher, I know that there are outstanding educational benefits within the public school system; I just need to find the best for my brother.

Here are some of the things I am looking for:

* Does the school have high expectations for each student?

* Does the staff exhibit a sense of commitment to finding teaching strategies that enable the high expectations to be achieved?

* Do all students have access to a challenging and meaningful curriculum?

* Is the school fostering activities that are conducive to learning?

* Is the environment safe?

* Is the curriculum sensitive to the diversity of students?

* Is there a good school-home connection?

ELIZABETH GUTIERREZ

Pico Rivera

The writer teaches in East Los Angeles.

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My experience as both teacher and parent tells me that even in some "bad" neighborhoods exist some pretty remarkable schools.

In choosing both a school in which to teach and a school for my daughter, I looked at the climate of the school; not just environment but interaction among staff, students, parents and administration.

I am more convinced now, as a parent of a 9-year-old, than I ever was as a teacher that it is both teachers and parents, working with enthusiasm, who create the atmosphere needed for our children to excel.

* Is this enthusiasm shared among most of the staff?

* Did the principal greet you with suspicion or a smile?

* Are the parents interested in taking part in the curricular and extracurricular activities of the school?

* Is there a mission statement clearly posted where the students, teachers, parents and community can see that there is a purpose to be served?

* Is assessment measured only by standardized tests? According to the California State Frameworks in Elementary Education, authentic assessment is a requirement.

* It was important for me that my child be in a racially diverse school.

Even after you find the perfect school, there will still be things that bother you. It is about deciding what two, three or maybe four things are the most critical to you. Unfortunately one would, in fact, be hard-pressed to find many schools with everything.

SHARON M. VILLARREAL

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I think one of the best indicators of a good school is parental involvement. It has been shown through many studies that when parents are involved in their children's schooling, the children do better in all aspects of education.

The racial makeup of the school would be important to me because we live in this world together, and my child should be exposed to many different cultures and ethnic groups. We live together as one people, Americans.

Other important factors are the organizations within the school and the businesses that provide financial support and other assistance. They can help schools provide more progressive programs that offer opportunities for the children.

MICHAEL D. SCHOOS

West Los Angeles

The writer teaches third grade in South-Central Los Angeles.

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My wife and I are both public high school teachers, and we are in search of a quality school for our 5-year-old daughter, Katie, who will be entering first grade in the fall.

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