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April 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

Latino roundtable will regroup Latino roundtable will regroup (April 01, 2005)

After school closure, La Mesa looking for new role

By Jon Wiener

Oscar Garcia stood in the rain outside Graham Middle School last Tuesday afternoon, hoping the gesture might keep his alma mater open. The Castro School alumnus and co-founder of Mesa de la Comunidad had organized a marathon protest against the impending closure of one of the city's two poorest elementary schools.

A man no one there had ever seen before drove up to the weary crowd of a dozen people and reached his arm out of the window. In his hand was a plastic bag, containing four brand new umbrellas. The rain-soaked protesters thanked him, and he drove off without saying a word.

Throughout the 26-hour vigil, well-wishers came by to lend the group some support.

"We had people that were dropping off bagels, coffee, cookies," said Garcia. "We had every single TV station from the Bay Area. I was just blown away." Even a reporter from the New York Times came out to report on the group's efforts.

But much like the weather, the school board was not being cooperative, voting the following night to close Slater School in June 2006.

Garcia and others said it was a partial victory for Mesa, as both Castro and Slater Schools will stay open for another year, perhaps giving the district enough time to find another way to find the money closing a school would save. More importantly, said Garcia, the group's effort provided a unified voice to the concerns of the city's Spanish-speaking community.

The collection of educators, parents and politicians that make up Mesa de la Comunidad, Spanish for "community roundtable," is planning to stay together now that the closure decision has been made. Its members are looking for ways to stay involved in the follow-up discussion and have been attending the superintendent search forums to talk about the qualities they would like to see in a new leader.

"We're not going to drop the ball because we got this far," said Mesa member Marilu Delgado. "We're still going to be there looking out for all our kids."

A former Huff School parent and current volunteer at Castro, Delgado said Mesa has served as a bridge for immigrant parents afraid to approach the district with their concerns. Some were undocumented and afraid of reprisal. Others simply were unfamiliar with the system.

In addition to education, the group will start tackling other issues of concern to Latinos, including day-worker rights and the availability of housing.

"The school-closure issue was just a stepping stone," said Garcia, emphasizing the importance of continuing to work towards improved academic standards. "There are issues still before us and work that needs to be done."
E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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