[The following is testimony offered on January 31, 2012 on SB 706.]
Good afternoon, my name is Jean Ferrara and I am currently the principal of Holy Cross School in Northeast Kansas City, Missouri.
I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 706 known as the “Turner Fix.” I believe that passage of this bill may begin to encourage more families to take advantage of our school at Holy Cross.
My school sits in an older neighborhood that is the most diverse in all of our Diocesan schools. The school community has seen some changes in the last ten years. We have always been home to the immigrant people who found their way to Kansas City, Missouri. Since 1913 our school has been educating children of the community. In the last few years with the economic downturn, we have had more challenges and the changes are dramatic. The median income of our students’ families is $23,000 per household. Still our people opt for Catholic education and find a way to pay tuition. Everyone is welcome to come no matter their religious tradition. The tough part is no one can come to Holy Cross School free. Our school is strictly tuition based. All must pay something.
The school serves the neighborhood. We have four families of the 120 families who bring their children to Holy Cross and live outside of our basic three Zip codes. All of the others live in the Northeast neighborhood.
Our students range in age from two years to 14 years old. We have an Early Childhood Center in the school and a junior high. The faces and names of the children are different now than in the first few years of my teaching career. We are predominately Latino, with Asian and African students as well. Those children who arrive unable to speak English are conversant in one semester. They are fluent in English within two years and achieve high functioning academic language within five to six years if they can financially stay in our school.
Remarkably, the students who leave us after being in our school from Kindergarten to the 8th grade compete and succeed very well in our parochial, college preparatory high schools and 98% of those who graduate from Catholic high schools attend college.
Students who are with us for at least six of their early educational years leave Holy Cross at least a year above the grade level while many test more than two years above grade level.
These are all the same students who are part of the neighborhood public schools--same families, same backgrounds and all the same challenges. Most are English Language Learners (ELL) when they arrive at Holy Cross for their first day of school.
The students who start with us and move into the public school have a less successful history. One of the most dramatic stories of late is a student who struggled in our school in junior high for the 7th and 8th grade. Carmen was the oldest of six children who spent her career in public school in Northeast Kansas City. She did not speak English well when she came to us. Carmen could not read in English at all. It was my first year as a principal so I did not and could not believe this was usual. My teaching colleagues were quick to inform me that this was normal for the transfer students from the neighborhood public schools.
The ELL programs in the area were not turning out children who were fluent in English. The students were not required to speak English in school. The instructors spoke Spanish and the students were allowed to speak Spanish until they were comfortable with English.
Carmen rebelled in the junior high at Holy Cross because we do not speak Spanish in school at all. The students speak English and the teachers speak English. Carmen came to us functionally illiterate and had the math skills of a 4th grader. We made great strides with her once we tamed her attitude. I wish Carmen could have been with us from her first grade year and she would have been successful in high school. Our students do well in high school if we can find a way to keep them coming to Holy Cross. Money is the reason 90% of them leave.
During the year of 2009-2010 we buried 17 people in our community all Latino and under the age of 25. Most of those victims attended public schools. Ignorance leads to hopelessness and is tragic. Carmen’s parents realized too late that she was not learning in school. She had a 2.5 GPA according to the area public school who sent her records. She clearly was not a high average student. She did not have skills to take her through high school. Her school records would indicate she did.
Then there is Miguel. Miguel was second generation to be born in this country and he was the youngest of five children who started at Holy Cross School and graduated at 15 to go to Northeast High School for 9th grade. Miguel had some learning disabilities and his parents decided to send him to Northeast because he would receive intervention services.
By his junior year in high school he had dropped out of school due to the climate in the school. We buried Miguel last year. His family told us his learning stopped at 8th grade. He was killed at a party the victim of a drive-by shooter.
Sara started in public school in the 6th grade at Northeast Middle School only to be beaten into the gang at school. By the end of the summer she wanted out of the gang. She met her gang members in Budd Park to tell them so and was beaten out of the gang.
In August, before 7th grade, her mother brought her to Holy Cross. When the word got out to her friends on the street, they threatened her not to reveal any gang secrets and sealed their promise of revenge by breaking all the windows out of the car and the ground floor windows of her home.
Sara and her family have all lived in Northeast. Her mom was so scared they brought her brother and nieces and nephews to Holy Cross School. Sara was happy to be safe and soared in Holy Cross. In two years with the new “Successmaker” software, she made up for lost time. Sara is two years above grade level and on her way to Catholic high school where she will compete very well.
Sara’s brother, Mark who could barely read two years ago when he came in the 5th grade, is a newly identified Duke University Tip Scholar. He will follow Sara to Catholic high school in another year. Both of their parents work two jobs each, to keep their students in Catholic school. They abandoned the public schools to escape the chaos factor.
Another of our students was in a popular Northeast Charter school until 4th grade. According to her records she was a 4.0 student. She was disappointed her first quarter at Holy Cross because she was making C’s. It did not take long to understand how much homework counts and how organized a person should be to be successful at Holy Cross. Her parents were surprised when their request for frequent communication came daily until their daughter understood the routine and how much the teachers care.
The teachers at Holy Cross do communicate with parents, do monitor assignments and we do expect parent involvement and all must take part.
We have successful sports teams who compete in our Diocesan sports leagues. We try to keep students busy even on the weekend if they want to play in a sport.
There is 100% attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are required to make sure all parents are invited and sign up for a conference twice per year whether or not the parents feel it is needed. If the schedule needs to be adjusted to include the parents at a different time; the adjustment is made without question.
Thank you for allowing me to share a few of our Holy Cross stories with this committee. We are a neighborhood school and our children have all the same challenges, needs and families as the public school. We have full accreditation and would cherish the opportunity to help the school district educate children for less than transporting them out of the neighborhood. We have room and would make room for more students. The time is now. The students are here and so are we.
Please pass Senate Bill #706 to lend encouragement and a boost to our parents so their students can attend our neighborhood Catholic schools. They are all fully accredited.
Thank you for your time.
Jean Ferrara is the principal of Holy Cross Catholic School in Kansas City, Missouri.