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"That's right," nods Madry. "I feel like if I help other people's children, maybe it'll help my grandchild."
Ivory is the kind of single father teachers drool over. He works nights as a security guard so he can spend daylight hours with his son, a first grader at Wheatley. He attends PTSA meetings, leads a Boy Scout troop, and twice was named parent of the month at the school. Standing outside Wheatley on a recent weeknight, Ivory surveys a dismal landscape sparsely peopled by drug dealers, prostitutes, and those he considers just plain shady characters. "There are drug dealers all around here," he observes, gazing at the barren strip of grass across the street from the school's front entrance. "The law says there isn't supposed to be drugs within 1000 feet of a school. Well, don't turn around, but it's going on not 50 yards away."
Ivory knows the school, located at 1801 NW First Pl., is in a rough part of town. "The kids have a drill here that they definitely know when to drop to the floor," he remarks wryly, in reference to the children's response when they hear gunfire. But a school police officer, preferably one on horseback, would go a long way toward creating a protective bubble for students walking to school. "We'd love to see that," he says. "It would be safer, and the kids would get a big kick out of it."
Ivan Canales, a soft-spoken Honduran parent, agrees. "We have the same issues at Douglass and Riverside," he offers while standing with Ivory outside Wheatley. "I think we can do a better thing for the children." Canales says he walks his son to school, and every day dealers approach and try to sell him something. He looks at his son. "Fortunately, he don't understand English yet, so he doesn't understand," he sighs.
The parents emphasize they aren't blaming the principals of the schools. Ivory says the principal of his son's school, Cora Portee, is doing everything she can, but neither she nor the PTSA can get a flashing yellow safety light put in front of the school, change the school-zone speed signs to reflect the time when children are actually walking across the street, or bring the auditorium up to fire code so children can stop performing plays in the cafeteria.
That's why the parents are going to the top. "We want them to be actively pursuing solutions," says Perry of the Family Advocacy Center. "If the funds for the flashing light need to come from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, then we want them to be actively involved with the MPO. If the police need to put officers here, then they should be talking to them. These parents would be more than happy to go to those meetings. We would like the opportunity to show we are interested."
Back at the February 14 school board meeting, Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA member Ethel Pruitt gave Cuevas much credit for his inclusiveness, "not only with the elite but with the everyday person who walks the street.... He is available if you come to him with something that is very important concerning the children. He has time. He finds time. He makes time." Parents in Action would like to believe that, but they haven't seen the evidence. And they're not planning on a long wait, either.
A week after the school board meeting, the group's steering committee gathered to discuss the next step. "We've got to find out who our friends are," said Perry, suggesting the group begin contacting local politicians, social groups, churches, and principals. Another idea: an evaluation of Roger Cuevas offered by the parents, perhaps outside the school board headquarters during the next public meeting. The evaluation could be accompanied by larger-than-life props such as a giant scoreboard, a dirty toilet, and, scattered on the ground, pictures of children. They haven't worked out the details yet. "We got to do something big," reasoned Riverside parent Carlita Martinez, before interpreting the ideas for parents who spoke only Spanish. "We're getting the runaround."
Ultimately the group would like to hold an accountability meeting, in their neighborhoods, where top school officials would explain why problems at the schools haven't been solved. Then they want to help. "It's the children we're concerned about," Madry says. "If you can't voice your opinion to the school board about the children, who can you voice it to?"