Educator is eager to rebuild Bethune
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 21, 2006

Karina Bland

Tracey Pastor will leave Herrera School for the Fine Arts in Phoenix, where she started as a student teacher in 1995 and spent the past two years as principal, to rebuild troubled Bethune Elementary School.

Her appointment as principal of Bethune still needs the approval of the Phoenix Elementary School District board, which is to meet tonight.

The board voted, in a controversial decision last summer, to close the 58-year-old Bethune school for 12 months after it failed to meet federal progress standards three years in a row.

Officials believe the school, near 15th Avenue and Buckeye Road, is the only school ever closed in Arizona because of low test scores.

Bethune did make adequate yearly progress in 2004-05, federal data released last summer showed

But by then, the board had decided to close the campus for a year to update facilities and revamp curriculum.

The decision outraged parents and neighbors, who argued that Bethune could have stayed open while changes were made. The 500 students scattered to other schools.

Pastor knows that people still are angry about the closure. She wants to meet with parents and others to hear their ideas and concerns. Together, Pastor hopes they can build a school to be proud of.

If approved by the board, Pastor would get to remake Bethune. She would hire her own staff - she would want a mix of new and veteran teachers - and, with help from parents and others, create new curriculum, programs and services.

Once a historically Black school, most current Bethune students are Hispanic. Parent surveys indicate interest in a dual-language program.

Pastor, who speaks Spanish, is nationally known for her work in second-language acquisition programs.

In January, during the National Association for Bilingual Education Association's annual conference in Phoenix, dozens of educators from across the country toured Herrera School, curious to see how a program that teaches students in English and Spanish thrives in a state that bans bilingual education.

Schools can offer dual-language classes but only if students are proficient in English. Pastor and her teachers found a creative way of interpreting the law to provide even students with limited English skills with instruction in two languages.

She lengthened the school day and, for the youngest children not yet proficient in English, offered "a structured English-immersion program with a foreign-language enhancement."

Because children receive most of their instruction in English, enhancement or enrichment language programs are allowed under the law.

"Herrera is a really strong school with a lot of strong leaders," Pastor said, but it is time for her to try something new.

"All of my experiences have been at one wonderful school but only one school," Pastor said.

"Professionally, it's something that is hard to turn down as difficult as it will be to say goodbye to Herrera."

Superintendent Georgina Takemoto said she is recommending Pastor because she has a strong background in second-language acquisition and a successful track record.

If hired, Pastor would start work at Bethune in late March after her replacement is hired.

Renovations to the buildings and grounds at Bethune should be done in July.
The school will reopen in August.

"We expect really good things to come," Takemoto said.