Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)
January 15, 2007

Author: Pat Kossan, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 4

Beth McCoy

McCoy, 33, a mother of two, pulls out the photo of her son's fourth-grade class and puts it on the kitchen table. It is a sheet of smiles on brown, Black and White faces.

"It's important for my husband and I for our children to be tolerant of other cultures, beliefs, religions." It is so important that when they lived in Chandler, they drove their son to a Tempe elementary school because it was diverse.

McCoy and her husband, a construction manager, moved to Casa Grande for affordable new homes. The reason she moved to her neighborhood was to make sure her son attended a school with a variety of children. Now, the district has built a school near her home. The kids are not as economically diverse, but there are plenty of kids from different cultures, religions and races.

"I like having it in my backyard. I like having my son walk to school,"
McCoy said. The day the class photo has all White faces, however, the McCoys say they will drive their children to a different school for the diversity, at least for a while.

As the kids get to junior high and high school, they may not want to move.
As they get involved in sports or other activities, it may be impossible for the McCoys to find the time for all the driving.

Kirstin Jeffers

Jeffers, 36, is a third-generation Casa Grande resident and a stay-at-home mother of two daughters. Her husband is an optometrist.

Jeffers traveled with her military family until fourth grade, when she returned to Ocotillo Elementary, which her grandmother and mother attended.
She recalled it being filled with mostly Native American children.

"I really loved it. My grandparents had gone to this school and my mom, too," Jeffers said. "I was 5-9. I was blonde, so I sort of stuck out."

It's not the only reason she stood out. Jeffers was far ahead of her Casa Grande classmates. She was not challenged and lost her drive to learn. "By the time I reached high school, my mind was mush."

Therein lies her fear for her daughters, 6 and 9. Jeffers said the district's single-minded focus to keep AIMS scores rising and classes integrated has led to standardized lesson plans that play to the middle.
English-speaking students sit while teachers explain lessons to mainly Spanish-speaking students, wasting time for every student, she said.

Her solutions for the district: Put every child in a uniform and keep them in their own neighborhoods. "I'm saying keep my kids in their comfort zone and have good teachers everywhere."

And for her kids: She pulled them out of the district and teaches them herself. Jeffers is working through an online charter school and a home-school support group.

Aristeo Soto

The Sotos moved to the rural southern end of the district four years ago.
Soto, 37, isn't sure where his kids were assigned to go to school, but he chose to drive them 3 1/2 miles to keep them at Palo Verde Elementary.

The Casa Grande native is the father of five and works for a farm irrigation company. His wife helps run the office of a cotton-gin company. He is an active Palo Verde parent and has made friends with the teachers and staff members. He is convinced that the diversity in his kids' school creates well-rounded children who become well-rounded adults.

"If you segregate them now and teach them that you don't want to hang around with certain people, that will carry on to their adult life. ... They'll grow up thinking they're bad for some reason."

Soto also attended Palo Verde Elementary. "Some of the friends I still have today were from Palo Verde. All different kinds of people. It was always mixed up." Soto said farmers and farmworkers had to work together to survive. "It's just, to me, it's part of the way we live."

Lanette Rey

Each morning, Rey, 32, puts two of her children, ages 6 and 8, on a bus for a five-mile trip to Saguaro Elementary School.

The mother of six moved to Casa Grande from California eight years ago and lives in a new subdivision on the elementary district's far north side. Rey is a personnel director for a builder of manufactured homes. Her husband works in the private security business.

The district eventually will build a school much closer to her neighborhood, and the bus will stop running. Rey said she will continue to drive her kids to Saguaro.

First, she loves the school's academics and the fact that her kids want to go to school every day. "I walked into that school and it's like being a kid again," she said.

The principal, teachers, even the people in the front office know her name and those of all the kids. Diversity is just another plus.

"When they get to the real world, it's going to be diverse. This is where they're learning to interact with others. It's very important."

-- Pat Kossan

Schools and segregation

Schools remain imbalanced racially because a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s into the 1990s helped dismantle school integration programs. Those programs began after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation.

Since then, Harvard University researcher Gary Orfield has tracked what he calls the re-segregation of schools -- not by law, but by neighborhood schools, which reflect residential and economic divisions. By 1996, the average White student attended a school that was 81 percent White. While nearly half of all Latino students were in majority White schools in 1968, by 1996 that had dropped to 25 percent, Orfield reports.

In Arizona, 19 Arizona school districts collect extra taxes to remedy federal civil rights complaints, some of which are 20 years old. The taxes are routinely called "desegregation funds," but most of the complaints were not about integrating schools, but rather about a lack of programs to help students still learning English.

The Phoenix Union High School District is among the few Valley districts ordered to integrate its schools. Like others, it did so by creating "magnet programs," such as in the arts, to attract White students to heavily minority schools. Tempe Elementary still buses 620 students to comply with a civil rights settlement.

-- Pat Kossan

Sidebar to: "Casa Grande's diversified schools"

CAPTION: 1) Casa Grande mom Beth McCoy spends some time with her two sons, Colin, 5, (left) and Jacob, 10, at home. 2) Aristeo Soto, a Casa Grande father of five, says he thinks diversity in the classroom is a good thing and hopes it will continue.
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Front
Page: A14

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Record Number: pho162117811