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Thank You Voters In Advance

By Frank Gruber

Only a fraction of Santa Monica voters have children who attend our public schools. Yet Santa Monicans, going back to Prop. ES and the original parcel tax, have given overwhelming support, in the 70 and 80 percent range, to school bonds and parcel taxes.

As a parent of a seventh grader, I want to say thank you.

I hardly need to flatter all you good voters out there who support the schools, since you're not the kind of citizens who need flattery. You are the kind who understand how public education serves everyone, and you are all set to vote yes on Meas. EE, the new parcel tax.

But perhaps you want to know something about the education your taxes pay for. Since my son attends John Adams Middle School, known as "JAMS," I can tell you about it from at least one parent's perspective.

You are probably aware of how well Santa Monica/Malibu schools do when it comes to standardized tests. If not, read the Lookout article at ("Local Schools Show Gains in State Test," Oct. 17, 2002).

What's even more important to know, is that our schools achieve these results even though they serve a population that is not homogeneously middle or upper class. Santa Monica is not San Marino. A recent survey found that 26 percent of all Santa Monica public school students qualify for reduced price lunches.

At schools like JAMS, that are south of Wilshire, many students' families do not speak English at home. Many students, when they graduate from high school, will be the first in their family to do so. There is a gap between the academic performance of our students whose parents are wealthier and better-educated and those whose parents have less money and who had less education. John Deasy, the Superintendent of Schools, has dedicated himself, appropriately, to closing that gap by improving the performance of the latter.

What's important is that less-advantaged students here are not consigned to substandard schools as they are in so many other places. Schools here are highways, not dead ends.

What kind of highways? My wife and I both have advanced degrees and we are well-off. The expectations we have for our son, and for his education, are high. We are not so much concerned about test scores, and we have numerous doubts about standardized tests in any case. What we are interested in is critical thinking.

In Social Studies our son's class is studying ancient Rome. The other day he came home talking about whether the Emperor Constantine should have defended the Western Roman Empire instead of fortifying Byzantium. I don't know about you, but when I was in seventh grade, I didn't know who Constantine was, let alone whether he abandoned the Romans.

JAMS also has a special science program, the "Science Magnet." Earlier this month we, along with many other parents, accompanied our son and about 50 classmates on a weekend field trip to Morro Bay. The dedication of the teachers who shepherded this flock of adolescents was impressive, along with the rigorous attitude they made the kids take to scientific observation. (If you're interested in seeing photos from the Morro Bay trip, go to

What's important for taxpayers to know is that the Science Magnet is not limited to kids who test well -- any student can be a part of it if he or she keeps up a C grade in science and participates in extracurricular science seminars the science teachers run throughout the year.

The music programs at Santa Monica schools are fabled. About half the children at JAMS participate in band, orchestra, or chorus. These music classes are academic subjects. Two things, above all, stand out. First, music is intellectually demanding at JAMS.

I remember when music class meant 50 kids singing "Jingle Bells" discordantly, but these kids learn music theory and take their playing seriously. Second, participation in the musical ensembles and choral groups creates a culture of achievement that extends beyond the auditorium.

In short, kids here seem smarter than they did when I was a kid. But then I've never bought the argument that schools were better back in the old days. Certainly our son has received a better education so far than either of his parents did, and we attended schools with largely homogeneous middle class populations.

Like I said, thanks Santa Monica (and Malibu), and, by the way, this is no time to rest on laurels. Meas. EE needs two-thirds approval, and every Yes is precious.

* * *

Thanks are also in order to the School Board. I don't cover the School Board that closely, and so I don't plan to comment on the candidates for School Board this year, except to say it seems that we can choose from a good group of both incumbents and new faces.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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