Mesa Verde families have long been sending their children to schools outside of their upper-middle class enclave. They opt for private or public schools in Newport Beach, Eastside Costa Mesa or Huntington Beach.

It's time they took another look at their home schools. Adams Elementary, TeWinkle Intermediate and Estancia High schools are making gains, thanks to reform-minded educators and open-minded families who believe that the only way to improve a school is for the community's children to attend it. Educators say they teach to the individual, challenging those who are further along in their development, and helping pull up those who need extra help. This is a sound approach.

Why Mesa Verde families would abandon their home schools is the subject of a three-part series, "School Flight," that began in Sunday's Daily Pilot. This in-depth and exceedingly fair report by Mike Reicher examines the multitude of reasons behind why Mesa Verde parents left their neighborhood schools years ago, and why some current-era parents are reluctant to go back. Reicher also talks with Mesa Verde parents who are returning to the neighborhood schools and discovering strong academics and improved sports programs.

We believe that the main reason upper-middle class parents pull out in these data-driven times is test scores. Before signing up for kindergarten, parents go online and see that the scores in their neighborhood schools are lower than those in nearby Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Eastside Costa Mesa.

Test scores and graduation rates are unfortunately the only real available measures of school performance, but they only tell an incomplete story. As the Pilot's series shows, amazing things are happening at Adams, TeWinkle and Estancia that aren't always reflected in the data.

Race and class certainly inform some of these "school of choice" decisions, as some well-to-do Mesa Verde parents are uncomfortable sending their children to schools with students from the blue-collar Westside, but we believe that such exposure to diversity can only enrich their children's lives. Many students, such as a football player who tutors his teammates, show that bringing students of different background leads to positive outcomes for rich, poor and middle class alike. And schools should build more than college applications; they have a role in shaping societies.

Schools, not city halls, are the heart of any community. And the only way for neighborhood schools to improve is for children in the neighborhoods to attend them and for area parents to work from within to make them better. If Mesa Verde parents put their children back into their home schools, and applied their talents to fundraising and volunteerism in their own community, rather than in an adjacent one like Huntington Beach, test scores would undoubtedly get better, but more importantly, so would Costa Mesa.