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Good Teachers Make All the Difference

April 24, 2002

Re "The Irresistible Force of a Teacher's Will," April 21: Your story of a Central Valley teacher who single-handedly prepared her farm-worker children for success at elite colleges is now saved in my Islands of Excellence folder. That's a file for reports on superhuman teachers, extraordinary programs and marvelous schools. I've seen many such stories in three decades of teaching. They always inspire.

But can we move beyond inspiration? Can we redesign the incentives involved in taxpayer-funded education to nurture extraordinary programs, capitalize on rare talent and encourage super-achievers? We know how such stories end. The phenomenal personality leaves or can't sustain the pace. The program fades. Eventually, it's heard from no more.

One way to create a more enduring legacy is to get resources early on to people like Assistant Supt. Nancy Mellor. We could do that by letting taxpayer funds follow a child to a school of her parents' choosing. Why should we let our islands of extraordinary success sink back into the sea of ordinariness?

Tom Shuford

Public School Teacher, Retired

Ventura

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While Mellor's efforts to get the children of farm workers admitted to top universities and Ivy League schools are commendable, this question looms: When and how did the notion that going to college should be encouraged regardless of ability come about?

The article states that although many of Mellor's students accepted to Oberlin College had much lower SAT scores than the average student there, her tenacity and lobbying gained them admission. What about the students who did attain high test scores and also worked hard? Looking at it from this point of view, their spots were taken from them.

Madeleine Gard

Long Beach

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It is impossible to measure the influence that Mellor has had on the lives of her students. I can identify with her, because I had a teacher very much like her in the eighth grade who instilled in me the will "to be anything that I wanted to be." I decided I wanted to be an airline pilot. I am now 74 years of age and retired from American Airlines after 33 years as a pilot. God bless Ms. Mellor.

Art Townley

Richardson, Texas

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