Our Children Are Depending on You
OpEd by Esther Pereira, Retired Supt. of ‘California Distinguished School’
The Gorman Elementary School District was a failing district about to be taken over by Los Angeles County when I accepted the job as superintendent there. Enrollment had dropped down to 30 students. Previously I had grown the Fairfax Community Adult School in Los Angeles to a thriving center of over 100 teachers, with classes in German, French, Spanish and Hebrew, as well as academic classes leading to high school diplomas for those who needed them.
The success of an adult school depended upon the acceptance of the local community. It had to be a welcoming environment where the students were treated as valued clients. I believed the same principles would be successful at Gorman Elementary school.
I made it my priority to learn about local issues, leaders and organizations.
Because I knew nothing about the Fairfax community when I took charge there, I set up the Fairfax Community Advisory Council for local leaders, including the Los Angeles City Council’s Zev Yarovslowsky who is now a Los Angeles County Supervisor. Fairfax grew and prospered. I applied the same principles to my work in Gorman.
Just as at Fairfax, in 1991 I found Gorman had dedicated teachers and staff who labored for very low wages, but believed in our students.
My husband and I had moved to the Pine Mountain community, and knew very little at first about the other Mountain Communities, but I was sure it was important to consider students and parents as clients and to welcome their participation in school activities.
We set out to enhance Gorman Elementary’s academic program with the help of experts with advanced degrees who helped with our classes in dance, music, math, English, sports, library skills, drama, yearbook, architectural drafting, sewing, computer skills, gardening and more. These dedicated experts worked for a very low wage as instructional aides because of their love of children. The aides were from Frazier Park, Piñon Pines, Pine Mountain and Lake of the Woods. Our enrollment more than tripled.
California Distinguished School
In 1998 this high level of community involvement helped Gorman School be declared a “California Distinguished School”—a major honor for a school anywhere in the state, of any size, but especially exciting for a tiny school in a very rural district such as Gorman’s. The children were the same Mountain Community kids who were enrolled at ETUSD schools.
I also learned that my attendance at state and county conferences, as well as at special conferences for superintendents of small school districts, was vital. Because I attended conferences and met state assembly representatives and state senators, many politicians heard about the Gorman Elementary School District. In turn, we learned of programs for financial aid in the state. That knowledge was translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars for the district, including $100,000 for the Gorman Library.
Pine Mountain Learning Center
Community involvement with a caring attitude among teachers and staff is also the key to the outstanding success of the Pine Mountain Learning Center (PMLC) under the leadership of the charter school’s parents and part time administrator, Mary Griffin. Mary was an invaluable asset to us at Gorman Elementary where she came to work as principal. Now she continues to bring her talent to Pine Mountain Learning Center.
Mary spent many unpaid hours at Gorman for the benefit of students. PMLC is now part of the El Tejon School District, but it began under the Gorman district, until the law changed, making it necessary for a Kern County district to sponsor the charter school.
The superintendent and the trustees of ETUSD should visit PMLC often to learn why this school is so much more successful than other district schools in attracting students and attaining high academic achievement.
Sure, the financial climate has changed. But there are still opportunities out there. There is a reservoir of talent in this community. All you need to do is ask. The Frazier Mountain Community came together to save sports programs. They can do the same for other programs in the district. Why not try it?
Our children are depending on you.
This is part of the March 23, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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