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Monte Vista Teacher Decries Racial, Economic Biases as Hurting Attendance

Social sciences teacher Eric Wilson: “People look at Monte Vista as a school where they don’t want to send their middle-class kids to interact with the poor kids from Spring Valley.”

Throughout the process of trying to adopt new attendance boundaries in the Grossmont Union High School District, widespread frustration has been noted among many groups.

Parents are frustrated that they were not adequately informed about the boundary proposals. They are frustrated that their children may have to change schools, depending on their location.

District representatives are frustrated that the process has been a giant boondoggle, and that their apparent shortcomings have become known to the public.

But a third group also is becoming increasingly frustrated—teachers at some of the district’s nine traditional high schools. They are frustrated at the constant turnover of faculty, and the impact that losing kids to other schools could have on their courses, athletic and social programs, and school morale.

And one Monte Vista teacher in particular is fed up with what he sees as a misperception that has been fostered for years about his school and his campus. Eric Wilson is a social sciences teacher at the school. He has been on staff at the Sweetwater Springs Boulevard campus for 12 years. Additionally, he lives on Mt. Helix in unincorporated La Mesa, and is a 1987 graduate of Monte Vista.

Wilson stresses that he does not speak for everyone at Monte Vista, and that his views and opinions are his alone. He is not speaking out on behalf of the school, he says.

Wilson’s frustration stems from what he thinks is an unfair and untrue perception about Monte Vista. For the last five years, he has seen the population of the school slowly decrease, as parents who live within the Monte Vista attendance boundary have chosen to send their kids to other schools.

“A lack of students means a lack of funds. A lack of funds means a lack of teachers,” said Wilson. “And what’s been happening is that at least for the last five years, you are seeing staff constantly turned over, because we are not maintaining those attendance numbers. I’ve had colleagues sent to Granite [Hills], El Cajon Valley, Grossmont, El [Capitan], all because of numbers. So the boundary was something that was critical to the very life force of some of our schools, and that’s especially true for Monte Vista.”

Wilson said that those cuts have had an effect on the type and number of Advanced Placement courses that the school can offer, and that feeds into another misperception that people have about the quality of the education his students can receive.

“People just dismiss Monte Vista out of hand, and that’s murdering my AP programs.  We don’t have the numbers to do AP Physics and AP Biology, so we have to rotate,” he said. 

“But we have 16 different AP courses. We are sending students to Stanford, to Berkeley, to UCLA, to Wake Forest. … We are doing our job. We’re getting your kids into these kinds of universities. But [as parents] you’ve gotta show up! And don’t just ignore what we are and what we stand for because you think you know about the kids when you drive by and see them getting onto the bus.”

But outside of a lack of students, Wilson is most frustrated in what he sees and hears from parents in the community, regarding the demographics of the school.

“The perception is, and this really burns me, particularly in the Mt. Helix area where I live, is people look at Monte Vista as a school where they don’t want to send their middle-class kids to interact with the poor kids from Spring Valley. That is a poor misperception of what we stand for,” he said.

Serving as one of the school representatives for Monte Vista at the attendance boundary meetings, Wilson has heard all of the rhetoric from parents that changing the boundaries would destroy communities.

But he thinks that certain bureaucratic decisions regarding “school choice” have done more damage.

“School choice should not be used as a justification to move beyond a boundary, because it defeats what we’re trying to [do] demographically and those goals of balancing schools and economic diversity,” he said. “Unfortunately, our school board has backtracked on that, and is allowing some degree of choice.

“Twenty-five years ago, it was a different perception, because you knew that those kids you knew in third grade, you were gonna know in eighth grade, and you were gonna know in high school,” he continued.

“School choice was never an option, and that was fine with everyone. You knew where you were going to go to school. That’s community, and that’s the historical connection.  Now, I know this because my daughter is in second grade and I already hear this, ‘I wanna be a Cougar.’ ‘I want to be a Monarch.’ ‘I want to be a Matador.’

“That was unheard of 25 years ago, when the community was closely connected to their school. I think that the boundary isn’t destroying communities. School choice is destroying communities.”

Wilson has been working hard, trying to evangelize for the merits of his school, especially in neighborhoods that are clearly in the Monte Vista boundary, whose residents choose to go to other schools. 

The adopted boundary for Monte Vista would include much of Mt. Helix, including areas south of Grandview Drive, southeast of Fuerte Drive to Avocado Boulevard to the east, and over to state Route 125 to the west, south of Edgewood Drive, and including Mariposa Street and Tropico Drive.

According to district data, 206 residents live in these “transitional” areas, but only 18 percent of those are currently enrolled at Monte Vista.

When hypothetically asked [from the point of view of a parent], “This is America, and I do have a choice, so why shouldn’t I send my children to wherever I want them to go?” Wilson responded in defense of his campus.

“You tell me exactly why you feel you need to go to another school?” he said. “Well, I want to send my kids to a school to prepare them to attend a four-year university. Done. You take all of the AP classes here, and you’re going to be on the same path as lots of students who are on their way to major universities from Monte Vista.

Well, I want my student to be part of band. Guess what we’ve got an award-winning band here.  But I want to make sure they have AVID. We are an AVID demonstration school. I could go down the list.

Oh, but I want them to play football. We’ve got a stadium too. Let’s play football; it’ll be a blast. Everything that parents want, Monte Vista can provide. So what’s left?

I’m afraid of what you have on that campus. I don’t want my middle-class white kid playing with poor brown kids. Fact. They will never admit it, but that’s exactly what they mean. And I resent that.”

He touts Monte Vista’s percentage of students enrolled in AP courses (44 percent) as higher than the district average (42 percent) and well above Grossmont High School (36 percent), where Monte Vista loses a lot of its students to school choice.

“I can talk about this day and night, and I’m still having to confront stereotypes,” said Wilson. “And as I’m hearing the mea culpa from Grossmont talking about how they are getting shafted and how they want to be a charter, I have to ask: How is being a charter going to change your mediocrity?”

He says Monte Vista is losing kids to Steele Canyon, simply because it is a charter school, but also to Grossmont and Valhalla, especially in unincorporated areas near Mt. Helix.

“People are more inclined to look north and east, and not to look toward that magical boundary of rich and poor that is the [state Route] 94,” Wilson said. “And it’s always been like that, but it’s never been more obvious than it is now. Now, class and socioeconomics are a problem, and parents are allowing that to occur.”

Though he knows that these perceptions will not be changed in any short amount of time, Wilson will continue to be an advocate for his school, his students and his campus throughout the boundary process.

“Pound for pound, I will put up our teaching staff against anybody’s,” he said. “We had the largest jump in API scores of any school in the district. But do parents look at that improvement, or do they just look at the overall score which shows we’re still middle of the pack?

“Monte Vista is doing more with less … That’s a fact. Give us a chance to prove ourselves.”

Trevor Peck February 27, 2012 at 07:11 PM
But let's not call it race—or even socioeconomic status, for this is true: very few parents will look at “35% Hispanic” and say, “too high.” Nor would we expect them to say generally, “well, the per capita income of families of MVHS is just not what we expect for Billy.” But they do develop opinions based on perception and “feeling.” Driving by the parking lot after school, eating at JnB when the Monarchs feast, etc (as Cody mentioned, among other great points). People react not so much to the color of this as the visceral sense of otherness, the alien nature of the idea of Monte Vista. This then festers and mutates, not consciously or maliciously, but subtly and slowly, in all the inconspicuous ways that maxims wither and die. Finally it's spread, passed around as what-I've-heard; it becomes that lofty and dreadful creature—public opinion. Mothers hear it from friends at cocktail parties, and when their child hits 8th grade they assert it confidently, without knowing precisely whence it came: “Monte Vista just isn't a very good school.” And sir, I beg of you not to think that we accuse of racism those parents who ship their students in white flight. What I suggest exists is much more pernicious than that. It is is the cognitive dissonance that allows parents to laud diversity while shipping their children down the freeway for an education available to them down their street, an education that would carry the added benefit of a diverse population.
Trevor Peck February 27, 2012 at 07:19 PM
So when I say diversity is not just a “good thing,” that it is a Good Thing, no bull, I mean it. I don't mean it esoterically or superficially; I mean it commercially. I mean to advertise Monte Vista as a diverse community, and I mean for that carry the amount of value we condescendingly suggest it does when we say everybody knows diversity is a good thing. I mean to attack the public opinion that hurt the schools enrollment far more than any statistic. I mean to remind people that public opinion is often wrong, common knowledge often forgotten. Diversity is a Good Thing. As for why Monte Vista should want these students. Of course good teachers want to teach good students. Of course Monte Vista has great students now and always will, but if a parent is conscientious enough to read this, then their child is most likely an intelligent, thoughtful kid. Of course teachers like the idea of teaching that type of kid. We ought also remember diversity is avaricious; the middle class white are just as coveted and valuable as any other student when observed from the view of the community. We must ask ourselves, when we deprive the community of a representative student body, when we take away exposure at precisely the moment we are teaching the foundations of true scholastic perspective, how do we effect the student's mind/soul/entity/whatever? And at what cost to the greater community? Diversity is truly a Good Thing, we ought to do more than know it.
Trevor Peck February 27, 2012 at 07:41 PM
My charming personality ensures that far from agreeing with me, most people don't even like me. As a result, it can be safely assumed the above is the product of myself alone.
Super Dooper Honest March 08, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Thank you Monte Vista and UT San Diego for writing a nice, positive article about Monte Vista. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/mar/07/monte-vista-takes-pride-in-accomplishments/
Andrea Radmilovich October 27, 2012 at 06:49 AM
Monte Vista is a great high school for most kids........but there is no perfect fix for every student. That's why I love Monte Vista; the staff takes its time to find out what each student needs and moves forward from there. I think the low blow you wrote about Monte Vista was a little unnecessary, but I am happy your daughter is in a great high school - it must fit her well, and that's awesome. But to just say ....obviously not Monte Vista... hurts the exact reputation we are trying to break.

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