Mesa schools will reach a milestone this decade that Hispanic activists have long predicted.
More than half of all students in the Mesa Unified School District will be nonwhite by 2008, if immigration continues at its current rate. By 2018, more than half of all students will be Hispanic.
"The numbers are staggering," said Jay Blanchard, a former state legislator and an Arizona State University professor of educational psychology. "You’re looking at a billion people eyeing the United States and the prosperity we have."
More than 12 Mesa schools that were predominantly white 20 years ago are already predominantly Hispanic. Longfellow Elementary School, 82 percent white in 1984, is now more than 84 percent Hispanic.
Mesa school officials say they recognize this demographic shift and have taken steps in recent years to reach out to the Hispanic community.
This summer, Mesa Superintendent Debra Duvall traveled at her own expense with 12 other administrators to a twoweek Spanish immersion camp near Mexico City. The district also hired a Hispanic community liaison, who is shared with Mesa Community College.
The liaison, Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo, said she has spent the first weeks on the job talking to members of the Hispanic community and exchanging ideas with Mesa administrators.
She said immigrant Hispanic parents have the same basic concerns as other parents about the quality of education for their children.
"It’s not that their concerns are so different," Villanueva-Saucedo said. "The way that we communicate with the community has to be different."
Many Hispanic parents praise the district’s efforts to reach out to the community, but some say the district still has a long way to go.
"When dealing with administrators, they never seem to have time for students or parents because they are always off at umpteen meetings," said Mercedes Mercado-Ochoa, a parent of four grown children who also has been a substitute teacher in the district since 1999. "Some fail to return phone calls, forget promises to take care of issues or situations, and make decisions without notifying the affected parties."
She also said the governing board spends too much time at meetings handing out awards and not enough time studying needed reform.
Blanchard, who ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent of public instruction in 2002, said school boards generally have been reluctant to address the issues of immigrant education.
"They’ve oversold the ability of the classroom teacher to deal with this onslaught," Blanchard said. "It’s classroom solutions they look to, rather than systemic reform."
But Gloria Chavez, a sixthgrade teacher at Adams Elementary School in west Mesa, said the district has turned a corner in recent months and has started implementing the types of reforms that Blanchard describes.
"We’re beyond the time when people had their heads buried in the sand," she said.
Since April, Chavez has helped organize community forums at five Mesa schools through her membership in the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens. She said about 200 parents have attended so far along with many district administrators.
Despite test scores statewide that show minority students lagging behind whites academically, Chavez said most immigrant families express gratitude for the quality of schools. Chavez said the increased diversity has been a blessing for all students.
"This is real world," Chavez said. "They are not going to be able to go out into the real world and be segregated."
Latino Town Hall
What: Annual forum of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens
When: 8 a.m., Oct. 9
Where: Kirk Center at Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave.
Registration: (480) 472-0550 or 7:30 a.m. at the door