White House Comes to Mesa College for Latino Education Needs

White House Initiative administrators asked San Diego area educators, community and business leaders, and elected officials how to attain education excellence for Hispanic Americans. The responses were plentiful and passionate at a forum held recently (August 16) at San Diego Mesa College.

Mesa College was selected by the Initiative as the site of the first community forum on the West Coast and the only one in the county.

Despite being held on a Sunday, the half-day event drew nearly 200. All participated in roundtable discussions facilitated by Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative (WHI) on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

He told the audience that the educational success of the Latino community is “directly tied to the future of the American economy and the kind of people we are producing."

Community input will help drive reforms on the federal level, Dr. Sepulveda reported. “We will literally be stealing your ideas to rewrite and carry out the Executive Order.”

Both San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll and Mesa College President Rita Cepeda pointed to the alarming Latino high school drop out and low college enrollment rates as major problems that need considerably more attention from the federal government.

In California and San Diego County, the high school drop out rate for Latinos runs about five percent higher than for all students.

The Latino student population of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) is well over 35 percent. At the same time, the overall Hispanic American community is also the fastest growing in Southern California and the largest in the nation.

Chancellor Carroll described the Initiative as "a critical conversation for the San Diego community and the nation. It was wonderful to see the range of practical ideas and priorities that emerged from this meeting to advise the Obama Administration. Policies, standards, outreach, funding, and educational methods must all be factored in to a successful effort, and those responsible for these elements were all represented in the meeting."

As part of the conversation, Sepulveda selected several members of the audience to come forward and state what they believe are the most critical issues facing Latinos within K-12 and postsecondary education. increased parental involvement, mentoring by teachers, more accountability of teachers and the need for more bilingual teachers were among the suggestions.

Latino parents, President Cepeda stated, “must have a direct and authentic voice in this process.”

The Mesa College president and California Assembly Member Lori Saldaña, a former community college instructor, noted that immigration reform and rampant poverty among Hispanic American communities are major stumbling blocks.

Many Latino parents, Saldaña said, “remain in the shadows, afraid of becoming involved for fear of deportation and other issues.”

Regarding the need for more Latino instructors, several speaking at the WHI forum echoed the remarks this remark made by the state legislator: “Latino children need role models in the classroom – teachers that look like them.”

Others participating in the WHI community conversation included SDCCD Trustee Peter Zschiesche, Parent Institute for Quality Education President David Valladolid, San Diego Unified School District Board President Shelia Jackson, SDSU Professor Roberto Ochoa, City College President Terry Burgess and City College Professors Ternot MacRenato and Francisco Moreno.

Also taking part: Mesa College Professors Rita Sanchez and Maria Bolivar, City Schools Superintendent Terry Grier, retired UC Professor Julio Racine, San Diego Continuing Education President Anthony Beebe, retired high school teacher Javier Aviles, Toltec Media President Linda Caballero Sotelo, and community activist Olivia Puentes-Reynolds, who is also a member of the SDCCD Trustees Advisory Council.

WHI forums were also scheduled through August 23 at five other California community colleges, three state universities and L.A. Unified School District.