School integration in 2017: the politics of PTA takeovers, P.E. programs, and parents who know the system
Last fall, Susan Savitt Schwartz, program director at the Pasadena Education Network, gave a presentation at the Caltech Children's Center about Pasadena’s public schools, noting their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and arts magnets, rich linguistic offerings (dual language programs in Spanish, Mandarin, and, soon, French), and recent honors (U.S. News & World Report awarded silver medals to both Blair and Marshall in 2015).
Afterwards, a mother approached her, and said she’d appreciated the talk.
“But I have to admit,” she told Savitt Schwartz. “I’m just kind of scared that my kid is going to get hurt in the public schools. Is that weird?”
“You know, it’s not weird,” Savitt Schwartz said back to her. “But it’s also not a valid fear.”
Since PEN incorporated in 2006 as an advocacy organization for public education, this has been one of its most central activities: assuaging the anxieties of middle class parents, cautious of a public school system in which their children would be in the minority.
These anxieties are not new. In fact, they are at least part of the reason white families are the minority in Pasadena's public schools in the first place.
In 1970, just before a federal judge ordered the district to desegregate, white students made up a little more than half of total enrollment. After the court order, many white, middle-class families left—some the city, but more the district. Private school enrollment surged. Now only 17 percent of the district is white, a third of eligible students who live within the Pasadena Unified School District do not attend public schools, and Pasadena has the highest per capita rate of private schools of any city its size in the country.
But Savitt Schwartz and PEN Executive Director Nancy Rose Dufford report that – conversations with concerned moms at the Caltech Children's Center notwithstanding – they’re now seeing “a lot more interest in the community in coming back to the public schools.”
Furthermore, many of the families who are enrolling in Pasadena’s public schools are doing so, at least in part, for the very same reason so many parents in the past pulled their kids out: integration.
“It’s very diverse here, and that’s important—that’s what the real world is like,” Rose Dufford said. “So it gives children an opportunity not just to learn academically, but also how to deal with different kinds of people, so they can be successful when they get out of school.”
With this interest comes new challenges, because getting young children enrolled in School integration in 2017: the politics of PTA takeovers, P.E. programs, and parents who know the system | 89.3 KPCC: