Vista Tries Again to Integrate Schools : Education: Far-reaching program would dramatically redraw district boundaries and create a magnet elementary school whose makeup would be controlled by trustees.


After five years of proposing and then shooting down a variety of racial integration programs, the Vista Unified School District tonight will consider adopting the most far-reaching magnet school program yet in North County to integrate schools.

The plan calls for a dramatic redrawing of district boundaries and creates a district-wide magnet school whose ethnic makeup would be tightly controlled by the district.

Vista Unified, like most North County school districts facing tremendous growth, has had a longstanding problem with achieving ethnic balance in its 11 elementary schools.


While schools in the center of the city had ethnic-minority enrollments of 72%, 58% and 57% last year, others on the edge of town--which has seen recent development of single-family homes--had ethnic-minority enrollments of 19%, 21% and 25%.

The latest proposal would evacuate students from Santa Fe/California Elementary, one of the district’s oldest and its most heavily minority school. Essentially, Santa Fe/California would be viewed as a new school with no attendance boundaries.

Under the proposal, the students now attending Santa Fe/California would be redistributed to neighboring schools, and a magnet program would be created at Santa Fe/California. Students from throughout the district would then be eligible to apply to the school, and the district would be able to control the ethnic makeup by limiting attendance.

“Of the choices we have, I think that this is the best plan,” Supt. Rene Townsend said.

Although Oceanside Unified has had magnet programs in place at two of its elementary schools for more than seven years, neither campus has seen the integration results sought by district officials.

Carlsbad Unified two years ago instituted a magnet program similar to Oceanside’s, but school officials say it is too early to tell how effective it has been in integrating the schools.

In Oceanside, ethnic-minority enrollment at Palmquist Elementary, which has a science and computers magnet program to attract minority students, stood at 42% last year. Laurel Elementary, which boasts a fine-arts magnet program to attract white students, had a minority enrollment of 81% last year, the highest in the district.

Oceanside Unified’s policy is to not have any school with an ethnic-minority enrollment 15 percentage points above or below the district average of 58%.

“Magnets don’t solve the problem completely, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said William Bragg, associate superintendent of Oceanside Unified. “If they didn’t have those going, perhaps it would be even worse.”

But Oceanside’s program is not as radical as the one proposed in Vista.

Although Vista’s magnet would allow the school to begin with a clear attendance slate and the district to control the ethnic makeup of the enrollment, Oceanside’s magnet starts at schools where either a very high or very low minority population already exists, and the school must attract new students.

Officials at San Diego Unified gave Vista’s approach a high chance of success.

“It’s just easier to integrate the school when you don’t have an attendance area,” said Ruben Carriedo, assistant superintendent of planning, research and evaluation at San Diego Unified, which has two such magnet schools.

“In some ways, it creates a win-win situation,” he said. “It’s a win on the part of the student because, for them to volunteer, they have to make the choice for the program. And it’s a win on the part of the school because they are able to determine the composition of who gets in the school.”

“If there is a loser, then it’s the student in the neighborhood who has to be reassigned to another school,” he said.

Those losers, under Vista Unified’s proposal, would be primarily Latino children who now attend Santa Fe/California.

Three previous integration proposals would have kept significant numbers of white students from attending neighborhood schools. Large groups of primarily white parents came out to protest those measures, all of which were voted down by the school board, said Trustee Marcia Viger.

One reason the new plan has a better chance of passing is that Latino parents generally have not had the political awareness or the cultural background to voice their opposition and pressure school board members, as their white counterparts often do, Viger said.

“Hispanic parents, their whole culture is different. They’re not used to being involved in the process of the school. They’ll donate their labor or money, but they won’t have anything to do with policies or curriculum,” Viger said.

White parents are more likely to see themselves as having the right to make decisions about the schools, Viger said, and their activism has already caused the board to back down on some proposals.

“I’m tired of not having the courage to make some hard decisions, and I think our board has vacillated on this too much for too long, and trying to please too many people, and sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and take responsibility for what we are doing,” Viger said.

Many Latino parents appear willing to accept the latest proposal, even though it would mean having their children bused to new schools, the very thing about which white parents complained in the previous proposals.

“We want integration as much as the school district does; we want racial balance, too,” said Sylvia Aguirre, coordinator of the Hispanic Parent Groups in Vista Unified. “We will never end segregation if we don’t move out into the community and leave our barrios.”

Latino parents are willing to sacrifice more for integration than their white counterparts, Aguirre said.

“Let’s face it, (the white parents) are racist,” she said. “They don’t want brown faces in their schools. They don’t want their schools to reflect what the community is. That’s a sad fact of life. Racism shows up in subliminal ways.”

Most recently, the school board in January rejected a proposal that would have combined the yet-to-be-built Mission Meadows School with Santa Fe/California in an effort to lower the density of ethnic-minority students at Santa Fe/California, which last year stood at 72%.

The plan was shot down after intense parental pressure from parents of Mission Meadows, where, without any integration program, a disproportionate number of white students would attend.