ANALYSIS : Garfield in New Era as Escalante Leaves Post


A new era is beginning for the Advanced Placement Calculus Program at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The man who founded the program and has been its master teacher and charismatic leader, Jaime Escalante, has left Garfield to teach at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento.

Escalante’s departure generated some bitter feelings and strained relationships between the nationally recognized math teacher, other faculty members and school administrators.

The key question now is whether the program can continue to be successful without Escalante. The answer appears to be yes, but there are unanswered questions and a potential leadership void.


The effect of Escalante and his calculus program on Garfield is profound. The success began in 1982 when 14 of Escalante’s students who passed the advanced placement calculus test were accused of cheating. Most of the students retook the test and passed again.

By 1989, Garfield was ranked fourth nationally in the number of students who took and passed the advanced placement calculus test. Escalante’s success with the advanced placement math class inspired teachers in other subjects to develop their own courses. Today, Garfield has 600 students, about 18% of the school, taking advanced placement courses in 15 subjects. Students receive college credits for each national advanced-placement test subject they pass.

Garfield Principal Maria Elena Tostado marvels, “This is the only school I’ve ever been in where it’s been the ‘in thing’ to be in the Advanced Placement Program.” Becky Villalobos, a recent graduate, says, “I believe we now have 10 Escalantes at Garfield teaching different subjects.”

The success at Garfield has been a source of pride for the entire Los Angeles Unified School District, which is staggering under increased enrollments and massive budget cuts.

Now, however, not only is Escalante gone at Garfield, but a second well-regarded advanced placement calculus teacher, Ben Jimenez, has left for Santa Monica College.

Two teachers, including a new hire, will be picking up the advanced placement classes. Tostado has hired a teacher from Jefferson High, Ramsey Salem, to teach the second year advanced placement calculus courses. “He comes very well recommended,” Tostado said. “The district was really looking for an outstanding person because they know the obvious comparisons are going to be made.” Although he hadn’t taught an advanced placement class, Salem has taught calculus at Harbor Junior College.

Some of the teachers that Escalante trained, including Angelo Villavicencio, are still at Garfield. “I’m predicting that we are going to have pretty much the same success,” Tostado said. “Mr. Villavicencio taught advanced placement calculus last year for the first time, with Jaime as his master, and he had 70% of his kids pass the exam . . . so I don’t see him sliding down.”

However, it is unclear who, if anyone, will fill Escalante’s leadership role. He has always played a central role in the development of the program and its goals.

It is expected that some funding will follow Escalante to Sacramento, and there is private concern about the financial effect on the Escalante Math and Science Program at East Los Angeles College. Aware of these concerns, Escalante has spoken directly with U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and corporate sponsors to ensure that the funding continues.

The core of the Escalante program, which provides Saturday, after-school and summer classes for Garfield students, is run by East L.A. College and funding is committed through next year. George Madrid, the East Los Angeles College administrator of the program, has submitted a continuation proposal to the National Science Foundation that would carry it through 1995.

But Madrid has another worry that has nothing to do with Escalante--the economic factor. Madrid says that continued economic hard times could cause major corporations to curtail their funding, “and without corporate America, we’re in trouble.” Since 1983, Arco has been the major corporate sponsor for the East L.A. summer program, with additional funds from Ford and Coca-Cola. Other grants have been provided by Xerox, IBM, GTE and the Carnegie Foundation.

Escalante has said he will continue to be involved with the East L.A. College program. Since 1982, the college has provided the site for the summer classes, along with financial and administrative support for the Garfield after-school tutoring and the Saturday classes.

East Los Angeles College also administers the various grants, both public and private, which have allowed the program to expand. The program now includes students from both Garfield and Roosevelt, and three feeder junior high schools. This year, elementary school children have their own math class. Teacher training and development programs are also included. If the National Science Foundation continuation grant is approved, the program hopes to add Lincoln, Wilson and Montebello high schools.

The administration at Garfield is dedicated to maintaining the excellence of the advanced placement program. The tutorial and Saturday study sessions, including early morning breakfast for the students courtesy of gift certificates from McDonald’s, will continue.

As for Escalante, he goes on to the challenges of starting with a new set of students in Sacramento. Typically, he plans to start with a remedial math class and develop them into an advanced placement calculus class.

The students at Hiram Johnson are ethnically mixed and this will be something new for Escalante. Students are the same, he says, but: “I’m more familiar with our (Latino) kids, it is true. . . . I have to readapt myself to that kind of an environment.”