Program Aimed at Minority Students Delayed : Education: School board puts multimillion-dollar plan to cut dropout rate in Southeast San Diego on hold to work out staffing and curriculum problems.


A multimillion-dollar program to improve the educational lot of minority students in Southeast San Diego will be put on hold until at least January, while major problems with staffing and curriculum planning are ironed out, the San Diego city school board decided Tuesday.

The problems are the latest for district administrators fighting to keep students in school. They continue to wrestle both with philosophical approaches and their practical application in trying to improve students with low academic success rates and to bring back students who have dropped out.

The newest effort involves setting up an alternative school for students--mostly black and Latino in the Barrio Logan and Southeast San Diego areas--who for various reasons have done poorly in secondary schools. The school district initially plans to work with 50 to 60 students, using a director and three teachers, in cooperation with social service agencies, the Private Industry Council and other community groups that would provide counseling, summer jobs and recreation.

It would be operated out of the William J. Oakes Boys and Girls Club on the south side of gang-plagued Memorial Park, under a three-year, $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor awarded in May to the San Diego Consortium & Private Industry Council.

But, after hearing from its Latino advisory group on Tuesday, the board conceded that planning for the centerpiece educational component of the program is far too incomplete to attempt a fall 1990 start.

Susan Chavez, who chairs the Mexican-American Educational Advisory Committee, told trustees that the program lacks clear educational focus, bilingual teachers or community participation.

"We wholeheartedly agree with the program's focus of intent . . . but the actual strategies for implementation and planning are inappropriate," Chavez said.

Deputy Supt. Bertha Pendleton, who oversees dropout programs, agreed, saying that her office has not succeeded in recruiting black or Latino teachers, and that specific criteria for what and how to teach, and for selecting students, have not been nailed down.

Board Vice President Shirley Weber said the district must do its best to make sure "that this school becomes better than Bandini, that it doesn't become another Garfield or Twain," in reference to existing alternative schools and dropout prevention programs that have a mixed track record.

In fact, the Bandini dropout-prevention program, started in September 1988 as a $433,000 joint effort of the school district and the Private Industry Council, is now on hold as administrators try to revamp its content. The program was designed to give at-risk students special computer-assisted instruction, counseling and employment training over a six-month period and then return them to regular schools.

But Pendleton conceded Tuesday that, although some parts of the program seemed to work, especially a program linking students to successful businessmen and businesswomen, the general curriculum and shortness of stay for students were less than ideal. The program could continue at Lincoln High School, which provided a majority of the Bandini students, depending on discussions with teachers and the principal there, Pendleton said.

"It takes time to work the bugs out of programs like this, where we are working with a non-traditional type of population," Pendleton said. "We need the right mix of staffing, the right curriculum to come together, and that just takes time."

But Pendleton defended district efforts, saying, "We don't have enough alternatives . . . and the (new effort) is an opportunity to work with Department of Labor dollars to be able to try something in another way."

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