Middle schoolers screamed, a mariachi band played and local dignitaries welcomed the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who wrapped up his 500 mile-long, 12-city “Strong Start, Bright Future,” back-to-school tour Friday at Castle Park Middle School.
Duncan made his final stop at the Chula Vista middle school to discuss the success of the Promise Neighborhoods program, a program headed by the Department of Education to improve the educational outcomes and opportunities for students in low income and rural neighborhoods.
Castle Park Middle School has a Promised Neighborhood partnership with South Bay Community Services.
Duncan praised Castle Park Middle School for their turn around in attendance figures and improved academic scores.
“Castle Park’s turn around has been driven by an assistance on setting high expectations for students and refusal to make excuses for students missing school or failing to do homework despite the real challenges students face in their daily lives in the homes and in the community,” Duncan said. “It might be easy to forget now but just a couple years ago, there were tremendous challenges right here. This school had the worst attendance record in the district, some days 75 children in this school.”
Castle Park Middle School went from being the school in the Sweetwater District with the lowest attendance figures, to the one with the highest attendance in a span of three years.
“Castle Park’s turn around is just one more example that when adults raise expectations, children will rise to meet them,” Duncan said. “You guys are setting a profound, profound model here. The whole country, the national implications of what you’re doing are very significant. I hope you understand that each and every day.”
He also told students the United States ranks 12th in the world in college graduation rates; he said that is not good enough and that needs to change.
Kathryn Lembo, president and CEO of Southbay Community Services said Duncan understands that it takes more than a school to build a foundation for good education.
“I loved it,” she said about his speech. “I think he really
understands that it’s about building communities, because we can make a beautiful school but we have to build the community and we have to make education really valued in a community.”
Castle Park Middle School’s Intervention Advisor Richard Grove said having Duncan at Castle Park Middle School is a stamp of approval that the school is doing great things.
“This is validation for all the hard work that (principal)Bleisch and this team and this community have done the last few years,” he said.