CASA GRANDE'S DIVERSIFIED SCHOOLS
Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)
January 15, 2007
Author: Pat Kossan, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 4
DISTRICT FIGHTS SEGREGATION BY MIXING UP AREAS
Five decades after the civil rights movement began, segregation reigns in Valley
Half of Phoenix-area students are White and nearly 40 percent are Latino.
Schools rarely reflect that makeup or even their own districts' composition.
But one district on the Valley's edge, Casa Grande Elementary, is bucking the
trend: It doesn't allow the isolation of White students from Latino ones, or
richer from poorer.
Casa Grande purposely draws its school boundaries to give classrooms a racial
and ethnic mix that is close to the overall district. That often means three or
four far-flung neighborhoods feeding into one school.
It has not been easy and for the first time in three decades, it is starting to
Forces that segregate Valley districts are gathering strength in Casa Grande.
Parents in old neighborhoods want their kids to stay there. Many parents buying
new homes in this fast-growing part of Pinal County want new schools within a
quick walk or ride. The costs of busing kids in a 400-square-mile district are
Casa Grande is sticking to its policy for now. But district officials know it's
looking more and more like an old-fashioned social experiment.
The policy hasn't faced a legal challenge and likely wouldn't be affected by a
recent U.S. Supreme Court case about schools that accept students based on race
or ethnicity to ensure a good mix.
But Superintendent Frank Davidson said it's getting tougher to help parents
recognize what he says is good for the greater community vs. what they want for
their child. That's happening despite rising test scores.
"That's the way most parents come to it: What school do I want my child to go
to? I want my child to go to the one across the street," Davidson said.
Separate but equal
When asked about the sharp color and wealth division of their students, school
administrators in the Valley often say the same thing: They wish they had the
option of creating a better balance.
Instead, they focus on making sure all of their schools look good, all of their
teachers receive the same training and all of the curriculum and supplies are
standardized. The neighborhood-school policy may separate students into haves
and have-nots, but the physical campuses and education quality are equal,
Many teachers prefer a classroom mix because children learn from each other and
struggling students get real role models. Schools overwhelmed by poor children
struggling to read or learn English have bigger teacher turnover and younger
Research by Gary Orfield of Harvard University shows that neighborhood school
policy is rapidly re-segregating districts, mostly in the growing West. He
worries that children growing up in predominantly Black, Latino or White schools
aren't learning to navigate the real America or the global economy.
"One thing you can't learn in those schools is how to live and work in an adult
world," Orfield said.
'Give me a month'
Geography helps Casa Grande Elementary pull off desegregation.
The fading agricultural district built most of its 10 schools close to its town
center, and new development has been patchy in the hinterlands and more rapid
near the center.
Many kids still must travel to school. Another few miles in one direction or
another for integration's sake is not a big deal.
Community desire also has kept diversity the norm.
Casa Grande is a small town with a history of segregation and families with long
generational memories. Old-timers don't want to return to the times when White
families lived north of Florence Avenue and everyone else lived south.
The district took the lead in breaking the color line. David Hernandez, one of
the district's first Latino principals, said he had to talk many White parents
into letting their children attend his south-of-the-tracks school.
The parents feared the neighborhood and the quality of education. They feared
that their children's speech would be peppered with Spanish.
"I told them I was poor all my life, look where I am," Hernandez said.
Tom Hollenbach was one of the young fathers who had grave misgivings about
sending his kindergartner to Hernandez's school, fearing his son would not get a
"progressive education." After discussing it for a few hours, Hernandez made him
the same deal he made with other parents: "Give me a month with your child in
this school. If you are still unhappy, I'll help you transfer to any school you
Hollenbach kept his first child in Hernandez's school and sent two more sons as
well. He is convinced that his kids have an edge in life because they learned to
live, work and play with all kinds of people.
He also has been on the school board for nearly 18 years and volunteered to
coach baseball for 30. Now, he sells diversity to other parents. He and the
board sink money into older schools to keep them looking good, train all
teachers and make sure the curriculum is standard in all 10 schools.
"We don't have a rich school on one side and a poor school on the other,"
Hollenbach said. "I don't want a situation where a parent can ever come back and
ask me, 'Why can't my child get the same education as your child at
such-and-such a school?' "
See Sidebar: "VOICES OF PARENTS"
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.
CAPTION: Keeping integrated; How it works for one school CAPTION: 1) Frank
Davidson, Casa Grande schools superintendent, uses a map of Casa Grande as he
discusses future growth hot spots. 2) Tom Hollenbach of the Casa Grande
Elementary school board stands on the site of a planned development, one of many
proposed for the fast-growing region.
Edition: Final Chaser
Copyright (c) The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the
permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: pho162117658