Op-Ed: ‘Straight outta Compton’ and into Princeton

Did you hear about the Compton student who graduated from high school at the top of his class last May and starts school this fall at Princeton with a full scholarship?

Probably not. That’s not the kind of news out of Compton that gets much attention.

On the other hand, a recent decision by the school board to allow specially trained officers to carry semiautomatic rifles has made headlines around the country, generating stories on television, public radio and even the Al Jazeera network.


Americans seem uninterested in news from Compton that doesn’t fit their preconceptions. And the view most people have can be summed up in the lyrics to one of the many rap songs about our city: “hard place to live, easy place to die.”

But that’s not the Compton we know — nor does it accurately portray the schools to which we send our children every day.

Yes, there’s crime in Compton and there’s the potential for violence in its schools. That worry, however, is something that school districts across the socioeconomic spectrum share.

Like parents in many school districts, we support efforts by the district to equip school police to protect children, faculty and staff should the unthinkable happen. Around Southern California and across America, school districts have equipped their police with semiautomatic rifles.

So why is it that only Compton has drawn this sort of attention?

Over the last 10 years, state test scores in the Compton Unified School District have risen steadily, and district leaders are pushing hard to ensure that the progress continues.

Just recently, for example, the principal of Laurel Street Elementary School, who presided over one of the most dramatic jumps in test scores in the entire country, was tapped to lead Bunche Middle School and to oversee growth of the district’s middle school academy program.

The Compton schools story you rarely hear also includes such boring things as efforts to increase the numbers of kids succeeding in math and science through an innovative STEM program and a middle school robotics class.

It includes the fact that two Compton schools were honored this year as California Distinguished Schools and that, for the fourth year in a row, the district increased its high school graduation rate.

Even outside the classroom we are making progress. School-based health centers provide services not only to students but also to poor and indigent residents in neighborhoods with little access to healthcare.

It’s true that Compton has its issues, and it can be a tough place to live. But the city also has

a substantial core of law-abiding, hard-working residents putting huge amounts of time and effort into improving the community and its schools.

Living in any city in California is a struggle for the kind of working-class Latino and African-American families that make up the majority of those sending kids to Compton schools. Our students struggle to keep up with more affluent kids who have far better access to “enrichment” and after-school programs.

But we aren’t making excuses. School staff and parent volunteers are working together to bridge that gap, and we’re proving we can succeed.

That’s why we’re so frustrated with the endless stream of news stories that invariably portray our community and our schools as

violent while ignoring their successes. It’s tough enough in Compton trying to make a living, raise a family, and help kids succeed in school. We don’t need or appreciate the kind of spotlight that always seems to find us.

Both of us have shown our confidence in the Compton Unified School District by trusting it with educating our children, and that trust has paid off. One of us is the proud parent of the student (Edgar Preciado) who is heading off to Princeton this year.

The constant stream of negative news stories is frustrating and even a little disheartening, but we assure you it won’t slow our efforts to keep improving our schools and our community.

Frederick Trahan is a Compton resident and PTA president emeritus. Maria Preciado has two children currently enrolled in Compton schools.

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