Families pack district, flee Roosevelt schools
Arizona Republic
Apr. 6, 2004
Betty Reid

The Roosevelt School District presides over what is perhaps Phoenix's hottest residential growth area.

Affordable homes, proximity to downtown and South Mountain and diversity are drawing young families as fast as new houses can be built.

But many children moving into the district, which roughly covers most of South Mountain Village, are absent from Roosevelt's classrooms and are enrolling in charter, parochial or private schools.

What's more, others are going to neighboring school districts as they try to avoid Roosevelt's low-performing schools and bad reputation.

"You can expect them (parents) to move their kids elsewhere, to adjoining school districts," said Ben Miranda, a member of the district's governing board. "It's really one of those situations where we're behind and have been for quite a bit of time now."

Although Roosevelt does not keep up with the number of students who attend classes outside the district, at least several hundred are enrolled in neighboring districts and many more attend charter schools.

Roosevelt continues to struggle with student performance and overcrowding. Now it's challenged to keep up with middle- and upper-middle-class growth and the demands of parents who are moving into Roosevelt from higher scoring, more sophisticated districts.

Roosevelt schools have some of the lowest scores in the state. The high-end growth in South Mountain Village has brought the want for better programs, curriculum and teachers. The district is not devoid of success with special-student programs, and some schools show measurable improvement on test scores.

However, that hasn't been enough to convince parents, some leaders and even real estate agents who sell the area to potential home buyers.

Marsha Jarman, who moved from central Phoenix, breathed a sigh of relief when she learned her new address, near 20th Street south of Dobbins Road, fell into the Kyrene and Tempe Union high school district boundaries. She moved to the area in 1997.

"I know of many people who didn't care for Roosevelt schools," Jarman said. "This is my opinion: Roosevelt wasn't high enough in standards; that learning wasn't taught as expected."

Jarman drives her son, a student at Kyrene's Centennial Middle School, to Moose Lodge No. 2072 daily at 7:40 a.m. to catch the school bus near 24th Street and South Mountain Road.

City records show that from 1998 to 2003, more than 5,000 single-family homes were constructed in South Mountain Village.

Greg Brownell, a member of the South Mountain Village Planning Committee, sells homes in the Laveen and South Mountain area. He said shifting students away from the district has been a ritual he has observed since he moved into the area in 1977.

"When people move into this area, they figure out ways to dodge the schools," Brownell said. "That is such a south-side tradition, trying to survive the Roosevelt District School."

If the district does not grant open-enrollment requests to parents who are determined to move their children elsewhere, they find other ways around the rule.

Many will use an address of a friend or a relative, for example, who might live in the Alhambra, Kyrene or Laveen districts, Brownell said. And if he comes across a home buyer eyeing a plot in the South Mountain area, he is honest about the quality of education at Roosevelt schools.

"I would tell them the school district is not that good. What are you going to say? Send your kid over here?" Brownell said. "It's a great place to live, but nobody moves here because they say, 'I'm dying to live in the Roosevelt District.' "

Miranda hopes that changes soon.

He believes Grace Wright, interim Roosevelt superintendent, will craft a plan soon to address the influx of parents who demand an improved education program. Wright was appointed temporarily last fall after the School Board fired Superintendent Frederick Warren. Wright was recently praised for invigorating the district.

The district plans to build two new schools on the western side of the district around close to several new developments on land donated by builders. That and other improvements have Roosevelt officials looking positively at the future. However, that still may not be enough for moms like K. Hinson.

Hinson, a single parent, returned to south Phoenix last fall and enrolled her child in a Roosevelt neighborhood school. She discovered by December that her second-grader was repeating lessons she already learned. Overcrowded classrooms and lack of discipline also appeared to take away from classroom learning, the mother said.

"She wasn't challenged, she was bored and unhappy," said Hinson who withdrew her child and enrolled her at a different school district in January. "She's happy and her learning is back on track."

Reach the reporter at betty.reid@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8049.

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