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George W. Bush's legacy

A soldier, a teacher, a detainee, an AIDS worker and others reflect on how the president affected them.

January 04, 2009

The president's involvement went a long way toward soothing local concerns about religious groups. Before that, we had had a hard time getting a positive reception, but with the Bush imprimatur, that changed. Local agencies, city halls and civic groups felt reassured that the religious community was not going to overtake or in any way conflict with them.

There were some major successes: In Santa Ana, Templo Calvario really took off with the support of the Bush initiative. They have a wide range of community advocacy programs, including feeding, education and outreach. Nueva Esperanza in Philadelphia also benefited greatly. They have a charter school, a community college and laundromats. These are examples of realizing the dream of faith-based initiatives.

Unfortunately, there were many churches that did not achieve the same degree of success, and I think that was in large part because of a lack of sustained political will. But overall, communities of faith today are far more accepted as partners in community work than they were before Bush took office.

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'Worse than I imagined'

Bill Wade is the former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park and chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Once George Bush took office, I started hearing rumors that plans were underway to strip the national parks of protections that had been in place since the early 20th century, but there was no way to substantiate the rumors. Then, one afternoon, I was at home and an e-mail arrived that contained a radical rewrite of the rule book for the entire park service.

My response was "Oh, my God!" It was hello snowmobiles, jet skis and Britney Spears concerts -- goodbye peace, clean air and preservation. I had no idea they were planning to change things so radically. It was far worse than I'd imagined.

From that point forward, I spent every waking moment working to beat this thing down. I immediately began spreading the word. Ultimately, we got it reversed about 85%. The version that is now in practice came out in 2006. It's better than that document that appeared in my e-mail, but not as good as what we had before. In the larger scheme of things, that rewrite set the tone for the administration -- a tone for environmental degradation inside our national parks and beyond.

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Not given resources

Katty Iriarte is the principal of Van Ness Avenue Elementary school. In the last four years, the school's Academic Performance Index has risen 90 points, to 800 out of a possible 1,000.

Because of No Child Left Behind, every teacher now has to be certified. That's been especially valuable at Van Ness because nearly half our students are English-language learners, and the certification process gives teachers very good techniques for working with language learners. I also welcome the law's emphasis on accountability. We can measure our achievements and ensure that we are working toward meeting a statewide baseline for our students.

However, with accountability there should be resources, and we were not given any. Just by telling people, "You will," doesn't necessarily make it happen.

What works for us is educational enrichment, pulling struggling kids out of class and focusing on their needs in groups of four or five or six. This is not part of the law, but I made it happen at my school by getting grants, squeezing every penny from the budget and by being creative with allocating my resources.

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