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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Each day for the past two months our family has welcomed a nest of mockingbirds in a tree at our front door. Every day, we glanced in the nest to ensure being eyewitness to the babies hatching. Last week, we woke up to tweeting in the little nest, and we knew the babies had arrived. Then as quickly as they learned to fly, they were gone. The tweeting was nowhere to be heard.

Do you remember your child’s first day of kindergarten and how you selected their clothes and new shoes the week before? Do you remember a new backpack hanging from small shoulders?  This was the beginning of your child starting to make his or her own way in life. Our doorpost nest, now an empty metaphor, reminds our family about the change about to occur in our home.

An estimated 470 seniors at San Diego High School complex will receive their high school diplomas at 5:30 p.m. tonight. Our eldest son A.J. is one of them.

There has been something special about our first child’s high school education because his education at the San Diego High School complex in the School of International Studies has been an “experiment” — the “small school” experiment.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the small school is the personal relationships established between teachers and students. In small schools, teachers are closely involved with each student. They know who students are, they understand their backgrounds and their interests, and they have the opportunity to spend large blocks of time with them. In such an environment, it’s harder for a student to fall through the cracks. Indeed, a compelling body of research shows that when students are part of smaller and more intimate learning communities, they are more successful. I have now seen this with my own eyes.

Our family has had four children in four different schools these past few years since we believe that not all schools work for all children, and we can speak from our own experience with children in very small private schools, religious institutions and now public urban high schools. From our personal experience, we believe that the smaller the school, whether public or private, the more outstanding the education.

For seven years, I have watched as a cast of characters castigate and disparage the ideas and vision of Alan Bersin, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District (who will become state Secretary for Education effective July 1), without offering viable solutions for improving or replacing them. These whining wailers continue to jeopardize the interests of those who depend upon them— our children. They forgot about the children.

At San Diego High School, I have observed outstanding dedicated administrators and teachers who consistently captivate and motivate their students to want to learn. A few years ago, some parents sent their children to San Diego High with reluctance and consternation. Now, many send their children willingly, hoping against the odds that their child will have a better future through education. My son has found San Diego High committed to the highest standards of education, and even more important, he has learned the importance of diversity within his school.

My emotions of pride, relief, joy and sadness about the upcoming graduation and the metaphoric empty nest that greets me each morning, bring a big lump to my throat. It’s the end of one phase and the continuation of a new phase of watching our first son turn into a man. The next son, who will be in 11th grade next year, is sitting on the edge of the nest and in two years another will fly the coop.

Laurie Black is President of LJ Black Consulting Group. Laurie is best known as the parent of four children including A.J. Lawrence who will graduate from the International Studies Academy at San Diego High Complex this week.

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