Published : Friday, March 31, 2017 | 4:58 AM
As reading volunteers at Madison Elementary School in Northwest Pasadena, and as underwriters of an educational food garden and science education program at this historically underperforming school, we have been quite impressed with the changes under Principal Juan Ruelas. We urge him not to resign at the end of this school year. We urge him to ignore an outsider-led campaign to discredit him, and instead to heed the requests from the hundreds of Madison parents who recently packed school board meetings to support his remaining on the job.
Full-disclosure: We are parents of adult children, all of whom attended either Pasadena’s prestigious private schools or San Marino’s academically advanced public schools. Until we began volunteering at Madison last year, we had no experience with the Pasadena Unified School District.
The Madison student population is one of the poorest in the district, as more than 96% participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program. Approximately 92% of students are Latino, 5% are African-American, 1% are Asian, and 1% are White. Nearly 60% of the students are classified as English learners.
As trustees of Pasadena Community Gardens Conservancy, a private foundation, we are helping improve nutrition for Pasadena public schoolchildren by donating $25,000 for a garden and orchard at Madison, by paying the salary of a teaching Master Gardener, by reading to the children from garden-related books, and by initiating a partnership with the Huntington Library for teacher-training and student field trips. In this regard, we have been on-site at Madison on many occasions and worked closely with Mr. Ruelas. None of these achievements could have been possible without his strong support, along with that of the teachers who respect him and follow his lead.
We are impressed at the enormous level of pride Mr. Ruelas takes in the school and its students, and how hard he works to find organizations such as ours to come to Madison to supplement the regular school program.
We have observed Mr. Ruelas’s interactions with several teachers and spoken to at least a dozen teachers about him, all of whom used phrases such as “much-needed reforms” and “organization” and “high academic standards” to describe the changes he has brought to what had been a low-achieving school with low student attendance and poor parent participation rates. We have been especially impressed with the young teachers Mr. Ruelas has attracted to Madison, who bring energy, dedication, and an eagerness to participate in the special challenges of working with underserved student populations. We’ve met dozens of parents, all of whom seem enthusiastic – as well as grateful.
We’ve also noticed the cleanliness and attractiveness of Madison’s hallways, classrooms, library, and outdoor areas. It’s clear that Mr. Ruelas subscribes to James Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” theory of urban behavior: He discourages vandalism, loitering, graffiti, and general lawlessness by maintaining a well-scrubbed school campus inside and out, and he creates an atmosphere of increasing academic standards by insisting that teachers cease the traditional practice of “dumbing down” the academic program in urban schools.
It’s also obvious that Mr. Ruelas subscribes to Nelson Mandela’s notion that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Mr. Ruelas and his twin brother, the youngest of 13 children born to field hands, were the first in their family to attend college. And anyone who has stepped foot in his office at Madison knows he is an avid Bruin.
Of course, Mr. Ruelas’s changes were destined to rub some of the traditional Madison teachers, as well as some attorneys who make their living representing public-employee unions, the wrong way. But there’s no evidence that the stakeholders who have a legitimate reason to speak out on this issue – that is to say, Madison parents and teachers – oppose Juan Ruelas as their school principal. Quite the opposite: fourteen teachers signed a letter of support to the School Board, noting that “We feel that the principal is always willing to listen and support our ideas. To say that we are working in an unacceptable working environment is not only unfair but completely biased.”
Based on our experiences at Madison, we agree.
Ms. Bennett is a resident of San Marino, and Ms. Binder and Ms. Read are residents of Pasadena.