More than 170 Orange County residents gathered late Monday to decry what they called the failure of public schools to help prepare youths for jobs and higher education.
After listening to students and parents complain about public schools in Orange County, Assistant Supt. Joseph Tafoya of the Santa Ana Unified School District said he couldn't defend the lack of counseling services and job training for students.
"We're not doing a good enough job," Tafoya said, blaming the lack of financial resources. However, he said, the district is looking at restructuring its curriculum to make it more responsive to student needs.
Tafoya joined several other school, business and community leaders at a public forum at St. Anne's Church and organized by the Orange County Congregation Community Organizations, which has a membership of more than 60,000 families from 18 congregations.
The meeting marked preparations for an Oct. 21 gathering in San Jose of statewide community groups that plan to confront federal Education Secretary Richard E. Riley and state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin about what they see as a crisis in California's public schools.
Several students complained Monday about the lack of counselors to help them make career decisions, schoolwork that doesn't challenge them enough or prepare them for the future, and inflexible education programs which, for example, will not allow Latinos grappling with English to take English classes to fulfill language requirements.
Another woman began crying when she recalled that her sons were encouraged in school to study arts and global business, but since graduating have been unable to find jobs in those fields.
Now, one son works in a hotel while the other packs computers, the woman said, adding that she hoped her sons would find better jobs for themselves and blamed the schools in part for that failure.
"We want to change this," said Rick Connor, of the coalition's executive board.