Second of two parts.
COSTA MESA — Many nights she sipped tea and listened to other parents complain.
They questioned the academic rigor of Adams Elementary, the school just down the block. Some told rumors of Spanish speakers slowing down instruction, and students from the city's Westside interrupting teachers and classmates.
Her goal those nights was to sway them, to convince her neighbors that the place she sent her children to every day was safe and enriching. Many were already convinced, though, that Adams was a threat to their children's education.
Jennifer Knapp and a handful of other parents have kept their children at public schools that serve Costa Mesa's Mesa Verde neighborhood, despite many families fleeing to private schools and public schools in neighboring Huntington Beach. They remain, they say, because the teachers are talented, their children benefit from diverse classmates, and they believe in the concept of neighborhood schools.
"When you're a part of a school in your community, you're more tied in," said Knapp, who now advocates for Estancia High School, where her youngest attends. She imagines, with more Mesa Verde families going to community schools, "the stronger our neighborhood could be."
Many leave their neighborhood's Newport-Mesa Unified School District campuses — Adams, TeWinkle Intermediate School and Estancia High — because they believe students learning English will be a drag on their children who are already fluent. In defense, Adams educators say they have "differentiated education," for their 460 pupils; teachers simultaneously help the remedial students and challenge the advanced students.
The principal, 34-year-old Gabe Del Real, stresses that his teachers can push high-performers.
"Absolutely, we need to address their needs as much as any student who is performing below grade level, and that is something that we do," he said, his office wall lined with children's books ranging from"Where the Wild Things Are"to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
But even some education professionals admit differentiation isn't always effective. They say some teachers lack training, and even the best trained find difficulty simultaneously pushing both advanced students and those still getting up to grade level.
"I think teachers can teach efficiently at both levels, but many teachers are not equipped to do that," said Eunice Pimentel, a team leader at Families and Schools Together (FAST), a Wisconsin-based global nonprofit that works locally with Westside parents. "While it can be done in a perfect world, it's not happening now."
Pimentel believes bilingual education, which is generally prohibited in California schools, is a better model.
Still, the holdout parents insist any student can excel at these schools.
"I have never had any doubts at all that they are getting the best education possible," said Julie Alighee, a PTA board member and a parent of an Adams student who spoke during a "community information night" designed to promote Adams to Mesa Verde parents.
She and other Mesa Verde mothers climbed the stage in Adams' multipurpose room and talked about how satisfied they were with the teachers and the school's offerings.
Dora Danesi, whose son Jackson will be starting sixth grade there, agrees.
"I do feel he is challenged," she said.
Jackson scored perfectly on a state standardized math test, she said, and he participates in programs designed for advanced students.
Another mother, Mella Hume, says her son Max excelled once his Adams teacher identified his reading strengths.
Max attended Christ Lutheran School in Costa Mesa before the family moved to Mesa Verde, but they decided to give Adams a shot when they met some satisfied parents in a youth soccer league. He had been struggling in reading at Christ Lutheran and the family had to pay more for tutoring, but as soon as he started at Adams his teacher realized his problem and Max outshined his past performance.