Jalili Gala to Benefit Cash-strapped School

By Teresa Rochester

Every Wednesday morning from 8 to 9 o'clock John Muir Elementary Principal Patricia Flynn hosts "Coffee with the Principal." It's an opportunity for parents to come by and say hello or to discuss their concerns. For Flynn, being accessible and involved is the key to running a successful school.

"The staff are very involved," Principal Flynn said. "Parents entrust us with their largest gift -- their children, and there is no other place that I want to be. The teachers that are here, they don't want to be in any other place."

It is this kind of commitment that led parent Kim Karie to help organize a $250-a-plate fundraiser at the new beachfront Casa del Mar Hotel tonight (Thursday). While the city's elite celebrate City Manager John Jalili's retirement, John Muir Elementary School will be among several local institutions, including Westside Food Bank and Chrysalis, benefiting from the proceeds.

Karie, whose son and daughter are kindergartners, said she decided to send her children to John Muir after touring several prominent private and public schools because she sensed it was a place where children come first. She also found the Ocean Park school an ideal place where her children would grow up with friends from different nationalities and economic backgrounds.

"I wanted it all, and I wasn't finding it," Karie said about her search for a school. "The school is all encompassing. It's where they're educated, where they're safe and where they love to come everyday. I'm in love with this school. As far as I'm concerned we have the most wonderful fantastic staff, the best principal and the best parents."

John Muir Elementary School, located on the corner of 6th Street and Ocean Park Avenue, may be rich in spirit and diversity but it is cash poor.

In fact, the school is one of the district's poorest. Almost 70 percent of the students attending John Muir receive free or reduced rate lunches. Approximately 100 students are on a waiting list for subsidized placement in the school's child care program. In the corner of Flynn's office sit several donated backpacks stocked with grooming kits.

"There's not enough subsidies for the people who need child care," Flynn said. "Teachers buy books out of their own pockets."

John Muir relies on small donations and assistance for common office supplies, such as copy paper and glue sticks, Flynn said. The three-year-old campus, which serves 331 students, has only two paper cutters -- one of which was purchased by a parent.

While many schools in the district rely on donations from parents, most John Muir parents can't afford to contribute money. During the 1998/1999 school year the school received $39,940.73 in gifts. By comparison, Franklin Elementary received gifts totaling $147,229.76, while Roosevelt Elementary School raised $236,610.29 last year. Both are on Montana Avenue and serve the city's affluent north side community.

While tonight's fundraiser will not close the financial gap, it will help. All of the money -- an estimated $26,000 to $27,000 -- will go to classroom instructional aids. Flynn and Karie said that while the money is a godsend, more is needed to put John Muir, which is a low-achieving school, on the academic map.

"We so desperately need that help," Flynn said. "We need small businesses to step forward."

"We need financial support and community support to reach out for our goals for our children," Karie said.