O'side schools chief to head for White House

OCEANSIDE —- Schools Superintendent Ken Noonan has been invited along with about 120 other educators from throughout the United States to meet President Clinton at the White House Thursday.

Clinton is expected to participate for about two hours, Noonan said, a wealth of time when most White House visitors get only a few minutes with the president.

“I plan to talk about the importance of educating all children,” Noonan said, and that conditions such as poverty, ethnic backgrounds and limited English-speaking abilities should never be “excuses” for not teaching some children.

“We need to be open to new ways of doing things,” said Noonan.

Oceanside Unified School District found a new way of doing things after state voters passed Proposition 227 in 1998 to limit bilingual education.

Oceanside Unified administrators, led by Noonan, interpreted the new law more strictly than educators at most other school districts and eliminated all bilingual classes in favor of English-immersion classes. Many schools elsewhere in the state granted waivers that allowed some students to continue in bilingual classes.

Test scores since the changes were made have shown dramatic improvements among students in Oceanside’s immersion classes.

“We’ve only been using it a short time —- two years —- but if the trend plays out, (immersion classes) may surpass bilingual education as the best method of helping non-English speakers become successful English speakers,” Noonan said.

Discussions at Thursday’s meeting will cover many aspects of national education policy, Noonan said. While the Clinton administration soon will conclude, Noonan added, those policies could be continued if Vice President Al Gore is elected president.

A White House representative contacted Noonan after reading a Michael Barone column printed May 29 in U.S. News and World Report about the district’s strict interpretation of Prop. 227 and the positive results.

“It wasn’t an invitation right away,” Noonan said. “It was a long discussion on the phone.”

The invitation came soon after the telephone discussion, though some of the details remain to be worked out.

“I understand it’s Oceanside Unified School District that’s being invited, and I feel honored to go,” Noonan said.

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