Stamp honoring teacher Jaime Escalante goes on sale


A new Forever Stamp featuring the late Jaime Escalante, a high school math teacher known for using unconventional teaching methods to inspire inner-city high school students, was issued Wednesday by the U.S. Postal Service.

Escalante, who gained fame as a teacher at Garfield High School in Los Angeles in the 1980s, taught at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento from 1992 to 1998, where he demanded excellence from his students.

A Bolivian immigrant, Escalante taught at Garfield High from 1974 to 1991, building a first-class math program. In 1982, 18 of his students took the advanced placement calculus exam and passed.

Controversy followed when the testing service accused 14 of the students of cheating. Escalante suspected that the accusation was due to the fact that the students were Mexican Americans from a low-income area of Los Angeles. The testing service denied the allegation and proposed that the 14 students retake the test. Twelve of the 14 took a different exam from the first and all passed.

When the story broke in the fall of 1982, Escalante and his students attracted the attention of Hollywood producer Tom Musca and director Ramón Menéndez, leading to the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos.

In 1999, Escalante was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame for his efforts to “have children believe in their ability to achieve.”

“When students are expected to work hard, they will usually rise to the occasion, devote themselves to the task and do the work,” he said.

After a long battle with cancer, Escalante died March 30, 2010, in Roseville, where he was staying with his son.

The stamp art, digitally illustrated by Jason Seiler, depicts Escalante in a style meant to resemble an oil painting, according to a U.S. Postal Service news release. Wearing his signature cap, Escalante is shown in front of a chalkboard on which calculus symbols are visible.

The illustration is based on a photograph taken by Jaime Escalante II on May 6, 2005, in the classroom where his father had taught at Sacramento’s Hiram Johnson High School.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy