New Disney principal should set bar high
I was saddened to read the article about Roberta Kavanaugh’s
hiring at Disney Elementary. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure she’s a
wonderful person, but her statements are helping me decide to send my
own son to a different school.
According to the article, Ms. Kavanaugh “has catered her career
in education toward working with children and families who are not
native speakers.” Setting aside the troubled syntax of that sentence,
I am forced to ask: Where do these priorities leave me?
A little background. I am a fourth-generation Burbank resident on
one side of my family. I attended Burbank schools, and have chosen to
live here and raise my family here. Many of my relatives on the other
side of my family learned English as a second language, and as a
result of the education they received here they have gone on to
successful careers in business, construction, and teaching. In fact,
both of my parents, one of my sisters, two aunts, and a handful of
cousins have all made teaching their life’s work. Without a doubt we
qualify as a pro-public education family.
We talk about the gift that public education has given to both
sides of our family. How the teachers in Burbank helped kids who had
been here for generations reach their potential, and how the children
and grandchildren of Italian immigrants had doors opened to them in
ways that literally made dreams come true. On the Italian side of my
family, Burbank schools helped them to make the leap from poor
farmers to college-educated professionals in exactly one generation.
That’s right, my grandparents were farmers in Italy, and two of their
kids graduated from college and became public school teachers here in
Southern California. It was Burbank schools that prepared them for
college, and Burbank schools that inspired them to become teachers.
That’s why it was so difficult to hear that my local elementary
school, instead of helping its students to aspire and assimilate and
achieve, is instead cementing their status as children of parents
“who are not native speakers.” Elementary school is where a child
should begin to consider what they will be, not find themselves
trapped where they are at the time. To hinder the education process
by slowing the process of learning English is to sabotage the
individual futures of these eager students. The fact that my
grandparents never learned to speak English didn’t prevent their own
children from becoming English teachers themselves. Why? Because the
gifted and committed teachers of the Burbank School District never
lost sight of the fact that their responsibility was to prepare
students to think and speak and compete and excel.
Ms. Kavanaugh, you have been called to make Disney Elementary into
a school where all the kids can excel. Forget “catering” to one group
or another. Set the bar high, and provide both help and challenge to
students who struggle. The best gift you -- and we -- can offer the
children in our schools, whether they are from this country or not,
is the ability to express themselves in English, to articulate their
feelings and hopes and dreams, and to help them contribute to this
amazing and diverse experiment we call America.
John A. D’Elia