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Graduation is a special time for families.  Students take the spotlight

grad 3whether it’s the now-celebrated moving  on from kindergarten




Pasadena High School Graduation

or the old-time high school or university academic accomplishment.      unnamed

Praises, shouts, slaps on the back and the tossing of the university mortar boards high into the air signal that our kids have made us proud.

The month of June brings forth a new beginning — for those who’ve been able to  march to the beat, that is.

By beat I’m not meaning “Pomp and Circumstance,” the traditional marching music played as graduates take their place on the field or in the school auditorium.

There’s a rhythm that takes place early in the school experience, and for many young students and their families, graduation is a hard-fought battle they shouldn’t have to fight.


The fourth-grade teacher wasn’t happy to find us visiting her classroom. But being a parent of one of her students gave me every right to be there.

Unhappy with homework my fourth-grader was handing in that was full of errors that were never marked as incorrect, I had decided to see this education operation first-hand.

I watched in astonishment as Ms. Teacher led her students through their morning paces. But what was more disturbing was some of what the teacher had on display on the classroom walls and on the counter.



Not only was this fourth-grade schoolmarm letting my kid get away with a plethora of inaccuracies, but also it was clear from her own spelling that she didn’t know up from down.



Parents need to observe their children’s teachers in action. Parents need to review their children’s homework — sometimes get them to redo it to make it better but sometimes to let them hand it in “as is” and see what the teacher is accepting as accurate.

“My teacher didn’t say it was spelled wrong,” said my irritated daughter when she proudly handed me her homework that had been reviewed, corrected by the teacher and handed back.

“More than one cat does not become catties,” I tried to explain. “A puppy is one, and more than one becomes puppies, BUT not for cats.”

Too often the professionals in our children’s lives are perceived to operate on a higher level than are busybody parents.

I went to see the school principal with the photos we took in the classroom. The principal defended the teacher, saying all things were not up to standard because the teacher was new on the job.

This didn’t sound like paving a path for academic excellence and a chance to make it to that high school graduation.


This experience is not an isolated example. It is one of the kind of learning conditions that play out in schools minority students attend where there are no watchdog parents holding school people accountable.

I have said my kids succeeded educationally in the Pasadena Unified School District, not because of it but in spite of it.

By sixth grade, the practices of PUSD were so detrimental to the health and wellbeing of this daughter that, as an old lady (which I was/am), I opted for homeschooling.

The final insult came when her PE teacher saw no reason to honor my request to keep her off the field due to fires burning in the foothills, Santa Ana winds and 100-degree temperatures. “She is asthmatic,” my note and the one from the doctor spelled out.

dog 1

Oxygen and hospital therapy dog. From a young age, she was hospitalized with asthma almost every year.

The principal seemed not to have any jurisdiction in the matter. Addressing the school board members at their meeting didn’t make any difference either.

Is this a diatribe against the school district? Just the opposite. It is a message to all minority parents who don’t understand that the education system has to be made to work for them/us. It doesn’t just happen.

The reason Jakari, Jerome and Juan can’t read isn’t just because the schools are bad; it is for a large measure because parents haven’t demanded the best.

After three years of homeschooling, daughter was back in regular school with an IEP — Individual Education Plan — that spells out specifics and calls for regular meetings with administrators and teachers.

“She’s doing great in my class,” said the Spanish teacher who ran his classroom like nobody needed to learn much.

“Oh, yes, she’s getting a C,“ I responded.

“Well, she’s not getting a D or an F,” he replied.

“But she’s not getting an A or a B,” I said.

These are the kind of insults minority parents encounter when they interact with the schools.

These are the kind of insults that keep parents from doing what’s needed of them to get their kids to be part of the “Pomp and Circumstance” march on graduation day.


The school district touts high graduation rates:

“While not achieving the the peak rates of 2013, Pasadena Unified School District graduation rates for 2015-16 held steady at just over 80 percent, according to a presentation to the Pasadena Board of Education by Dr. Shawn Bird, Pasadena Unified’s Chief Academic Officer”
But I suggest this Pasadena report is questionable.

The national graduation rate of 83.2 percent also has raised questions about its reporting mechanisms, which furthers the case not to accept Pasadena’s touted 80 percent.

‘The apparently good news about America’s high school graduation rate — it has hit a modern record of 83.2 percent — should come with a warning label: Students from low-income families are still lagging far behind other kids. Grad rates are up across the board, but if you compare students from low-income families to students who are not low income, there is a gap of about 14 percentage points”.

In my work, I encounter Pasadena’s 20 percent of non-graduates — and also the more truthful national gap for low-income families counted in the 14 percentage figure who aren’t reading, writing or doing ’rithmetic.



This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. chilil

    That’s a great take on our school system that continues to ignore students. I will say that I was happy to be ignored in high school. I soon dropped out, I ended up going to college for those units I lacked to get my high school over with so I could work on my college degree. Kind of wasted years in between. My kids didn’t have that same problem, because I did try to stay on their case so that they would at least finish high school.

  2. Jean C. Troy

    My youngest Granddaughter is graduating from PHS and I owe her accomplishments to my daughter -in-law who like your self dedicated her life and time to working with her children to make sure they got the best education possible. My Grand daughter will be attending UCLA in the fall through no help from PHS they have only been an obstacle in her development. So Shirley you are correct it is up to us as parents to take control so our children will have a future.

  3. Greta Pruitt

    Thank you once again for your honest, accurate appraisal of our education system. We seem to be fully accepting of 20% of our students NOT graduating. Do those figures include those who disappeared from rosters in 9th, 10th and 11th grade? Do we know how many just barely slipped through or how many went back the following summer to fix low grades from the past. There are so many ways to “work with” the data that it is hard to believe – and yes, Pasadena’s is below the national average. Shameful.

  4. -Nate

    Sufferin’ succotash ! has nothing changed since 1972 when I gave up and dropped out of Blair High School ?! .

    I later discovered that all I had to do was SHOW UP and they’d have graduated me, many graduated who were illiterate FGS .

    I too had to fight the PUSD tooth and nail to get Jr. a decent ed-U-MA-kashun .

    Keep fighting the good fight Shirlee ! .

    You touch SO many Children’s lives .


  5. Bill

    Dear Shirlee,

    Accuracy and truths are always the hallmarks of your blogs. It is a crime and a shame that so many of our minority students STILL lag behind in graduation national averages. Even when our students do “graduate” how much of this is because—-they were merely “pushed on” to the next grade level? Or how many of our students learned how to REALLY do Math, Science, Geography? Let alone learn how to READ and THINK in a Critical-Analytical Process or do Juxtaposition Aspects of What They Have Read to Other Literature? And unfortunately, the Arts have been phased out of education almost altogether.

    Our schools are nothing more than a reflection of of society in general: bureaucratic mazes run by overly/ highly-paid “paper-pushers” & “brown-nose lackeys;” prejudices run amok; prejudgments that generally down-play students’ great potentialities,talents or abilities; and payments of federal funding misappropriate in its distributions to varying school districts/communities (based on racial/cultural/financial demographics of course). It is easy to be a teacher or administrator.
    But it is DAMN HARD TO BE A CARING, COMPASSIONATE, CONCERNED AND DEDICATED EDUCATOR AND/OR ADMINISTRATOR. When you have Lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and in government—– adding to an inequitable equation; then it is not surprising why “education” and “graduation rates” are in turmoil! The mistreatment or “bullying” of “exceptional” teachers, whom are independent thinkers (and who get academic results), does not make matters any better either.

    Shirlee, I remember when you and I were both “reeling with disgust” from a “town hall meeting” that we both attended; with the “guest of honor” being a Washington, D.C. Commissioner of Education. Her speech was full of “fluff” and “pomp and poor explanations of circumstances” for the current state of education. While you and I were given the “evil-eye” by the Commissioner and her Staff; the audience applauded us for our “no nonsense” questions and oratorical presentations for requesting a sense of “accountability.” For our children to graduate these days, with diplomas and degrees that REALLY mean something; means that ALL OF US must become teachers, researchers or reach out to those with resources—-to help us to see our children through a system with skills that will afford them a decent and respectable life. Whether the school districts are Pasadena, L.A.U.S.D. or a myriad of other “questionable” school districts throughout the country, constant visibility and involvement by the family/family-friends are a “must,” in helping our children to LEARN, FIRST…and GRADUATE, SECOND.
    —–Bill Allen, Jr.

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