Remarks During a Visit to Jefferson Junior High School

August 27, 1984

The President. Thank you all very much. And, Secretary Bell and Principal Vera White, ladies and gentlemen, and most of all, you the students who are in and will be entering this fine school: It's a genuine honor to be with you today to help celebrate the vitality of young minds and the superb education that Jefferson Junior High School provides.

Last year, Secretary Bell and the Department of Education awarded Jefferson a Secondary School Recognition Program award, and today in just the brief time I've been here, I've seen why. Jefferson is truly one of the outstanding schools in America.

I've just come from an excellent math-count seminar with your teachers, Mrs. Sue White and Mr. John Coleman, and I'd been thinking, would you mind if I borrowed Mrs. White and Mr. Coleman to help the Congress with the budget? [Laughter]

And I'm delighted to be with you today, because Jefferson Junior High is setting an example of academic excellence for schools all across our country. Students at Jefferson Junior High receive just the training they need to go on to successful careers in high school and from there to good jobs and college. This school, I've already sensed, hums with excitement. It's sort of like being with a football team the week before the opening game. At Jefferson Junior High the game is life itself, and the goal is education. And I can tell, you already know you're going to win. It's that sense of teamwork at this school that's impressed me most this morning.

The teachers and staff play their part with enthusiasm and skill. To keep themselves at the top of their form, they constantly evaluate themselves and each other, and they participate often in teacher workshops. And in the classroom, Jefferson Junior High teachers and high school teachers and staff never stop giving. I understand, for example, that the teachers participating in today's orientation session are volunteering their time.

Parents of Jefferson Junior High students also play a critical role. And, again, they play it -- I've seen already -- with enthusiasm. Parents have organized themselves to get in touch with other parents if their children fail to appear in school. They help with activities. And parents who are members of the Home-School Association help to give Jefferson teachers the honors that they deserve.

I have been in schools, back several years ago when I was Governor, State of California, and I have seen such a difference here and in some of the schools that I was in. Here, I'm sure there's no mother that's going to say to me, as one did in California, that she found out almost by accident that her son, leaving home every morning for 10 weeks, had never shown up in school. And no one in school ever contacted or told her that he wasn't present. That's just an impossibility here, I know.

But, believe me, it's the kind of parent support that you're getting that can make the difference between a mediocre school and a true temple of learning. You Jefferson mothers and fathers are showing parents throughout the district and throughout America that it can be done, and you certainly, for one, have my heartfelt gratitude.

The stars of the Jefferson team are you, the students -- and when I say stars, I mean stars. I've been watching and listening this morning -- they haven't given me very much time -- but I don't think I've ever seen a brighter or more attentive group of young Americans. When I think back to my own school days, I've just seen Shakespeare being portrayed here, I didn't run into that until I was well into high school. I understand that foreign languages -- I didn't run into those until I was well into high school.

Now, this school will expect a great deal of you. And you'll be asked to arrive on time and work hard all day and develop your talents through activities like music and sports. And if it's any consolation, I'll tell you that I have a lot of homework to do, too, because at the end of your day, I know that's when you just come to the moment when you then have to face homework.

Jefferson Junior High will hold you to high standards, but that's not a prescription for gloom. Far from it. It's a recipe for happiness and success. This school holds a firm belief in the dignity and the worth of every one of you and is going to hold each of you -- or help each of you to live up to your very best. Yeah, there'll be low moments -- there are in any great enterprise. But most of the time you'll be caught up in the excitement of learning. And at the end of your time here, you'll be standing tall, facing the future with confidence and courage.

You students are the stars of the team, but let me say a few words about your coach -- your principal, Mrs. Vera White. Now, I've spent some time with Mrs. White, and I can only describe her as a genuine torrent of energy and ideas. Her devotion to this school shines through in all that she says and does. She's proud of the teachers, proud of the facilities, and proud of each one of you. If Jefferson Junior High really were a football team, I think Mrs. White could take you to the Superbowl.

I know some of the things that she's said -- some from hearing them myself and some from hearing them from others. She's said, ``I let every child know I care enough to make them learn in school. I have high expectations of everyone including myself. I tell the kids, `Just go for it,' and that's what I do, too. Every student in my school knows that I expect them to succeed.'' And you do.

That's the way Jefferson Junior High is -- a team where teachers, staff, parents, students, and principal work together to achieve excellence. You're winners, every one of you. And you're showing schools throughout America that they can be winners, too.

I want to thank you for inviting me to share in the Trojan spirit. And if I can leave you with just one thought, it's this: Always remember that the key to America's future lies in your hearts and minds, and that you'll get only as much out of your education as you put in. So, to borrow a few words from your principal -- Go for it!

Thank you. Thank you, and God bless you all.

I know there's a microphone there, and I had hoped -- anytime my people know that I get around young people, I hope that I will have time to take any questions. I'm afraid that our time's about exhausted, but could I cheat and ask this -- could I take one question?

Yes.

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Arminta Thompson, associate editor of the Jefferson Trojan Times. And my question to you is: What do you think is the most important issue facing today's education?

The President. I think the most important issue -- and it's very obvious that it has taken place here -- is this drive for excellence.

About a year ago, we got our first report from a commission that I'd appointed on excellence in education, because of the problems facing schools throughout this country. There was a nationwide problem. Ten percent, fully, of the 17-year-olds in our country were functionally illiterate. And to get by, many schools had reduced the requirements in math and science, foreign languages, had gone to extended freedom -- choosing courses that the students wanted to take. And the result has been a grave decline over the last 20 years in the SAT scores, the college -- university entrance scores.

And in just this year, since that commission's report was made public and transmitted to all the schools, there has been just a revolution. It shows that education, that teachers, staff, administrators of schools, and, I think, parents and teachers were waiting and begging for this drive for excellence that we now see. And here, your requirements for math, for science, for the things that you're doing are evident that that is the most essential thing.

It's too late once we get behind to try and catch up with those who have gone before. But you here are now the beneficiaries of that. And I have a feeling that this school didn't wait for that excellence in education report. I have a hunch that you've been practicing it. And you were probably one of the examples they used.

Q. Thank you.

The President. Well, you're more than welcome.

And let me just close and say this, because I'm sure that if I had time for more, somebody would ask -- I'm going to tattle on your principal now. She let me know that sometimes the age of the facilities here concerns you, and you wonder about that. Don't. I attended six elementary schools myself, and one high school. And in none of them was there a library. I think the facilities aren't nearly as important as the humanity in the facilities.

But I find this quite sufficient in view of what I learned in myself. I could even stand here in the gymnasium and tell you that in our high school gymnasium in my day, there were a few places on the floor that you couldn't try for a basket because the beams holding the ceiling up interfered. So, I think you can be proud of your facilities, of your teachers, of your whole school here. And I know that you are.

God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:24 a.m. in the school's gymnasium. Earlier, he toured the school and attended several classroom demonstrations.