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A Matter of Principal


Thursday, January 3, 2013
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As a Santa Barbara resident and Roosevelt parent, I think The Independent and Superintendent Cash are 100% correct about the urgent need to address the student achievement gap between Latino students and white students in Santa Barbara, which is now 50% worse than the California average.

However, here’s what the numbers say about Roosevelt Elementary School during Principal Donna Ronzone’s tenure: Since 2005 (the year after Principal Ronzone started at Roosevelt), the number of Latino students taking Academic Performance Index (API) tests as a percentage of total Roosevelt API test takers has grown by 16%. For context, at comparable schools like Washington and Peabody, during that same period, Latino API test takers declined by 17% as a percentage of the total.

At Roosevelt, our overall API score has now improved to 867, moving Roosevelt up to the #2 spot among Santa Barbara elementary schools. More importantly, Roosevelt’s Latino student vs. white API achievement gap has also improved significantly since 2005, and is now almost 20% better than the achievement gap across all Santa Barbara elementary schools.

Sure, Principal Ronzone should be more tactful at times. When I’ve had questions about school funding – since Roosevelt has the lowest per-student basic funding out of any Santa Barbara elementary school – I’ve been on the receiving end of her feedback. She can be, for lack of a better word, a “#^$%$%&,” but she’s our #^$%$%&, and we are all grown-ups talking about one of the most important topics around – our children’s education.

When I tell parents with kids at other schools that our kids go to Roosevelt, the first comment is always, “That’s a beautiful school.” Yes, it is a beautiful school, and we’re very lucky. It is also a very good school with very good students – of all colors – with very good teachers, and a very good principal. –Eric Jensen, S.B.

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I am a parent of two children who attend Santa Barbara District Schools, one at Monroe and one at Washington. I am absolutely appalled to think a principal might behave toward Hispanic students in the manner Ms. Pandolfi-Hopkins alleges. However, I must take issue with the opening paragraph of your article. You state that it is “commonly understood” that the “achievement gap” between white and Hispanic students is a result of “white flight, stratified neighborhoods, and racial insensitivity.” The suggestion that some kind of “white flight” is responsible for an achievement gap is unfounded and an insult to both white and Hispanic families. I would like to point out that Academic Performance Index (API) scores for Hispanic students at both Washington and Roosevelt (schools often cited as having white populations which are disproportionately small compared to the general Santa Barbara population) are quite a bit higher than API scores for Hispanic students at other schools in Santa Barbara. Compare API scores of Hispanic students at Cleveland School (717) to API scores of Hispanic students at Washington school (818) and you cannot help but think perhaps the “achievement gap” has more to do with the school than with the children attending it. Yes, white students at Washington and Roosevelt still out-perform Hispanic students. However, Hispanic students at both schools have made 40 point gains in their API scores this year, significantly more than any other non-charter schools in the district. Therefore, I have a hard time with the District putting the responsibility for any achievement gap on anyone other than the District itself. Students are not supposed to improve school performance, schools are supposed to improve student performance. –Debra Vance, S.B.

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During the 1990s both of my children attended Roosevelt School. I was involved as a volunteer in their classrooms and as a member (and president) of the Parent Teacher Association. Beginning in 2005, my granddaughter attended the school and I became acquainted with Principal Donna Ronzone. (I also taught poetry at Roosevelt as part of its art enrichment program in 2008 and 2009.)

While, over the years, I have been acquainted with many fine teachers and caring staff, the difference in the institutional attitude toward Latino students attending present-day Roosevelt is disturbing and should be unacceptable to those of us who support the public school system. “Dr. Ronzone,” as she prefers to be addressed, is certainly part of the problem, but I think there are at least three other factors equally responsible for the present state of cultural insensitivity at the school.

First, the state-wide decision to discontinue bilingual education deprived many of the youngest Spanish-speaking students the opportunity to achieve verbal and written fluency in English. In addition, it created an atmosphere which devalued the worth of Spanish-speaking students and their culture.

Second, the “No Child Left Behind” Act causes teachers to spend an inordinate amount of time in test-taking preparation. Without debating the merits of this educational approach, it is apparent at Roosevelt that standardized test scores are of utmost importance. Dr. Ronzone is so focused on this process that she regularly visits the classrooms exhorting students to achieve high test scores “for Roosevelt” and letting them know that, should they fail, they will be letting down the school. I’ve known of children who were literally made sick by the pressure she exerted on them.

Finally, the rise in affluence in the Upper East neighborhood surrounding Roosevelt resulted in parents who saw an opportunity to create a private school education on a public school budget. The traditional PTA was abandoned and a private non-profit organization, Roosevelt Elementary Educational Foundation (REEF) was established. That organization is there to raise money and in that it succeeds. But raising money is not the only purpose of a PTA: As stated in the National PTA’s mission statement, “The overall purposed of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.” In this regard, Roosevelt’s REEF gets a failing mark.

My last memory of our family’s time at Roosevelt was the occasion of my granddaughter’s graduation in 2010. We sat in the audience surrounded by multiple generations of Latino families, some of whom had limited English. During the course of the celebration, no attempt was made by the administration or teachers to welcome those family members in Spanish. And while many high-achieving students were lauded for their accomplishments, not one Latino student was singled out for praise of any kind. When my (now adult) daughter questioned a former teacher as to why no effort had been made to be more inclusive, the teacher claimed she “couldn’t see any problem”. –Christine Kravetz, S.B.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

Karma is a b**ch Ronzone, and your time has come.
Someone has finally stood up to you. You were a horrible principle, who hardly knew her students.

Rooseveltparent (anonymous profile)
February 9, 2013 at 8:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Jagwar Ma

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