Original URL:  http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/opinion/14000.php

Success at Ocotillo
Arizona Daily Star
March 16, 2004

Recognition at the state and national levels is only appropriate for Ocotillo Elementary School - a school that succeeds under difficult conditions. In order to excel, a monumental effort is required for any school in an economically depressed area. Ocotillo is the model for schools that manage to rise above circumstances to push beyond expectations.
The state Department of Education has nominated the South Side school for The No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon program. It is one of only four so honored in Arizona. The national program recognizes schools for achievements and on-going successes.
On the 2003 statewide AIMS test, students in the fifth grade scored a 48 in math, 58 in reading and 50 in writing. The scores increased from 2001, when fifth graders scored 38 in math, 44 in reading and 27 in writing. Principal Steve Price also points out that seven years ago, parents volunteered 400 hours in the school. Last year, they volunteered 4,000 hours.
The recognition is confirmation that hard work, community support, heavy parental involvement and strong, committed leadership are crucial for successes.
It is also proof that working to provide low-income students with support normally found in more affluent schools and districts pays off, too.
The differences in resources available to students in upper-income areas and those in the lower-income schools can be stark.
Students in upper-income areas come from cultures of achievement. For many, the normal school day is only part of their education. It also includes the less formal means of education outside of school that can include dance, music and language lessons. Tutoring is available as a matter of course.
Those students live in a culture in which most are expected to go to college, just as their parents did. Parents are involved in the education of their children because they have that background of expectation.
Schools in lower-income areas have to do far more than teaching in order to create the same kind of atmosphere found in the wealthier schools.
Parents have to be invited to join, which can be difficult to achieve because those parents are often suspicious of government institutions.
Then those rich learning opportunities have to be created. That's why after-school programs are essential in low-income schools. Those outside-of-school lessons in music, dancing, language and in other areas have to be offered at the school.
All of that is a labor-intensive effort.
The accomplishments at Ocotillo are all the more remarkable because almost half of the students did not speak English during the last school year.
Ocotillo got some assistance from Raytheon, which paid for a reading program that also helps students learn English - illustrating how community involvement and extra funds can help students learn.
The accomplishments at Ocotillo cannot be overstated. Image how tough it would be to teach in a school in which half the kids do not speak English and in which 73 percent of the students move into or out of the school during the school year. It is a difficult task in this case for teachers just to figure out where to begin teaching.
Principal Price began with strong leadership coupled with a vision and goals. Leadership is key in order to make sure teachers, staff, students, parents and community have a part in the success.
Despite all that work, success does not take place overnight. Ocotillo was no different. Price says it took several years to persuade the parents to join in his endeavor and to get the school's staff to see and believe in his philosophy for success.
The job takes patience and the principal has to be more than a traditional principal. He also has to raise funds and meet with parents and the community. He has to inspire staff and students alike.
Complicated as the process may be, Price leads through a simple philosophy. He says that children all learn in different ways. "If they're not learning the way we teach it, then we'll teach it the way they learn."
Price, and all the teachers and staff who signed on to teach the children deserve congratulations.
In the meantime, recognition from the state and from the federal government is well deserved.