Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A prowler in Pebble Beach

This may be a good time to remind our children not to accept car rides from strangers.

A middle school student from Pacific Grove Unified School District was approached Tuesday afternoon by a man who offered her a ride, then followed her when she refused. The following message was sent to all the families in the Pacific Grove Unified School District by Superintendent Ralph Porras:

At approximately 4:45 pm yesterday (Dec 20) afternoon, a middle school student was approached on her way home from school yesterday by a man who tried to lure her into his vehicle. The incident occurred near Congress Road and Morse Drive in Pebble Beach.
The driver asked the student if she wanted a ride. When the student refused, the driver persisted in asking her if she wanted a ride home and followed her for several blocks until the student was able to evade him. He was driving a gray Porsche sports utility vehicle (Cayenne). The car was dirty and had a dented front bumper.
The man was described as a balding white male with whitish gray hair around the sides of his head and strands of hair combed over the top of his head. His face was unshaven, and he has an inch-long scar on his left cheek near his nose. He wore frameless prescription glasses with silver arms. At the time, he was wearing a navy blue button down shirt with black stripes and has a medium build.
Thankfully, the student is safe and has provided a good description of the man.
The Pacific Grove Police Department is aware of the situation and is on the lookout for the vehicle. If you have any information that you deem helpful, please contact the Pacific Grove Police Department at 831-684-3143.
Please remind your student to never accept a ride from a stranger and to report any incident to a responsible adult as soon as possible. We are grateful that our student followed this important guideline and is safe.

Author, advocate to lead California's efforts to teach English learners

Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, a scholar, published author and longtime advocate for students, will lead the California Department of Education’s efforts to help school districts across the state teach English learners effectively, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Wednesday.

A professor at San Diego State University, Cadiero-Kaplan chairs the Department of Policy Studies in Language and Cross Cultural Education, which focuses on biliteracy and English language acquisition. She began her career teaching elementary and secondary special education, and English as a Second Language at the community college level, and went on to become a professor and a provider of professional development for teachers and administrators working with bilingual students.

Cadiero-Kaplan has a range of publications focused on the role of education and language policies in curriculum development and teachers’ professional development, including “The Literacy Curriculum; Bilingual Education: A Critical Examination.”

She will take her post mid-January

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Carolina and her children

Seldom have I received the type of response I got about the story on the Marina family we featured on Sunday's paper. The story about Carolina and her children. If you missed it, you can find it here.

The overwhelming response was filled with desire to help: people want to send money, help run errands, buy clothes for the children, you name it. We have a generous community, and we're blessed by it.

I also received two emails that were more questioning, if you will. Where's the father of these children? Is he paying child support? Yes, Carolina is in a terrible situation, but that's because she made bad choices. Maybe Sabrina won't make the same choices. Maybe the cycle will be broken.

Because I have first hand experience in dealing with families in abusive situations, I can tell you it won't be easy. Sabrina will need a lot -- A LOT -- of help. Not just Sabrina, all of her siblings. They will need guidance, support, constant caring adults. Most importantly, tons of love. And their unstable situation does not seem to have an end in sight. Who knows how long it will take for her mother to regain her health.

This is what experience has taught me: the only "choices" we have are the ones presented to us. If a woman's practically locked up by her husband, with no access to friends and family, does she really have "choices"? If a young girl has to forgo an after-school science program because she has to help with chores and take care of her little siblings, is that really a choice? Could she be blamed later on for not becoming a scientist? (For the record, I'm not writing about Carolina and her family here. These are just scenarios I've run into often in my years of reporting)

I hope, for Sabrina's sake, that she indeed makes wise choices as she grows up. But what I hope for most is that she's surrounded by caring adults who show her what those choices are.

Monday, December 19, 2011

For the little artists in our midst

Sweet Elena’s Bakery and Cafe is sponsoring a children's art contest to celebrate its 20th anniversary -- and a chance for them to win $100.

Children 10 and under can enter to win $100 and have their artwork used for Sweet Elena’s postcards

· Must be 10 years old or younger.
· Art work must be submitted by February 1, 2012
· All artwork to be mailed to: Attention, Children's Art Contest, 465 D Olympia Avenue, Sand City 93955.
· Winner will be selected February 15, 2012
· Artwork will be juried by local artists
· The winning artwork will be made into postcards and sold at Sweet Elena’s Bakery and Café through the month of March 2012.
· For the month of March 2012, the entire proceeds from the artwork will benefit Hamilton House an emergency shelter for displaced and battered woman.

For more information, visit Sweet Elena's here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Monterey Bay high school students and the pressure to get accepted into college

Carmel High student Lily Trytten wrote that "students are still stressed given the message that if they do not get into a good college, they will not succeed. Students are being robbed of their childhoods."

Alex Thurman, her peer at Carmel, wrote a letter to the editor suggesting we write about the pressure to get into the "right" school.

We'd love to. But we need your help. So here's a call to all high school students out there: how's your college search going? are you feeling the heat? where's the pressure coming from: school officials, friends, relatives?

Email me (, call me (753-6755) or write on my blog. Tweet me! @MelendezSalinas. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

If I were a rich, white lady...

OK, maybe it's not very original, but I was trying to come up with something as outrageous as a recent column by a self-described balding white guy, and that's what popped into my beleaguered brain.

Gene Marks, a Forbes columnist, wrote a column titled "If I were a poor black kid." I'll let you read it and imagine the response it's received. I'll also point you to a compilation of counterattacks: all of them have "white guy" in the title.

It occurs to me that Gene Marks is suffering from a disease very prevalent among certain elite circles: cluelestitism. They suffer from an inflammation of the organ that detects societal clues. That's why so many out there still haven't figured out what the Occupy movement is all about: they say they're disorganized, they have no goals, what are they protesting for anyway?

Well, if you can't figure that out, but then you think you can advise a "poor black kid" what he needs to do in order to succeed in life, then the horrible disconnect becomes more obvious.

I've been hanging out with four homeless children. You'll read about them soon in the newspaper. And I can't begin to imagine having the audacity to tell these young humans that all they need to do is to study hard and take advantages of free computers to do well in life, to overcome their extremely difficult circumstances. When their mother's deathly sick. When they don't even know where they're going to live next year.

And no, I won't try to tell you what I'd do if I were a rich white lady. I have no idea what's like to live in somebody else's shoes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Here come the CSUMB graduates!

It's taken them four years -- or more -- to get to this place, where students get to demonstrate the knowledge and expertise they've acquired.

The CSUMB Capstone Festival celebrates the culminating projects of graduating seniors and master's students as they present their work in sessions held by each of the graduating programs.

They are oral presentations, poetry, oral histories, installation art, murals photography, research presentations, online teaching and learning, tabletop exhibits, films and videos, multimedia works, computer visualizations, and who knows what else the students have come up with. These projects are a mirror into what the students have learned throughout their sojourn at CSUMB. And everybody's invited to get a glimpse into this knowledge. For a complete schedule, click here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Salinas City classified employees are "socking" their homeless students

They're the secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers who pave the road for Salinas City School District students to receive an education. And last month, they collected over 1,000 pairs of socks for the homeless children in their district. Last year they collect teddy bears. Cheryl Camany, director of the homeless program, told the employees there was a need for socks, so classified employees launched a campaign called "sock it to them with love". Rosy Arroyo donated over 200 pairs of socks.
"With all the cuts coming our way, we never know when maybe a classified employee will be homeless," said Rosalie Sanchez, Migrant ID&R/Health Coordinator and public relations officer for the district CSEA chapter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Opposition to Student Success Task Force recommendations picking up steam

Last week I wrote how Monterey Peninsula College officials have strongly denounced proposed recommendations to revamp the Community College system, beginning with centralizing operations much like it's done at the UC and CSU systems. The proposed reforms would also reduce the number of classes available for the general public, as emphasis would be shifted to students following a career path.

Sooner than you can say "remediation" I got a letter from Monterey resident Danielle Martin, who's very concerned about the possible loss of classes that may not count towards a college degree, but enrich the cultural landscape of the Monterey Peninsula. Journalism students at City College of San Francisco's Newspaper - The Guardsman - have launched a state wide campaign to denounce the possible impacts this plan would have if implemented. Here's a bit from their press release:

The California Community College span Student "Success" Task Force was formed by California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott for one purpose: to make the difficult choices of how to ration education following a brutal decade of budget cuts across California’s education system. The Task Force produced a document that outlines who they feel should be entitled to California’s education system, and who should be left out. Who they left out though, is any student who is not attending school full time, planning to transfer in two years.
Everyone else is left out in the cold.

And Rick Kappra from San Francisco began a petition at for the governor of California to "Oppose Student "Success" Task Force Recommendations."

The more you think about it, the more it becomes apparent that the "Success" plan would do to Community Colleges what NCLB did to K-12 education in California: all reading, all math, and no fun. That may be OK if you need reading and writing, but what if you need art? What about the soul?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A kind student reader said s/he liked the posting on the computer classes

which prompts me to ask, what kind of postings do you like best? Find more helpful? Interesting?

I asked this of Seaside Principal Mary White, and she said she liked it all -- kind that she is. From reader traffic, I can deduct what kind of stuff is getting attention.

Ms. White said she'd like to see more young people's voices. I agree. Young people out there (and I know your schools probably block my site) what would you like to see in my blog? In the newspaper?

Ms. White also said she'd like to hear from more teachers, particularly from south Monterey County. Do you have some particular stories you'd like to share?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is CORAL Academy a step away from being approved?

We won't know for sure until Dec. 19, when the MPUSD board is scheduled to give its final decision. But Scott Maxwell, a board member with the CORAL charter, is optimistic: district officials approved their request for facilities, and CORAL representatives have been meeting with friendly MPUSD employees, Maxwell says.

The charter petition by CORAL was denied both by MPUSD and MCOE officials in the past, and its members rewrote their petition -- which, I may add, looks very much improved.

If approved, it would be the third charter school approved in Monterey County within the last year.

Marina High students navigate a colorful future

After a year long collaboration between Marina High and Cal State Monterey Bay, representatives from both institutions celebrated last weekend the completion of a mural named after the schools' motto, Navigate the Future.

According to CSUMB,last spring, students at MHS exchanged ideas and drawings with Professor Johanna Poethig’s painting and mural class, and then, this fall, the project was brought to life on a prominent wall at the school’s entrance.

It shows a lighthouse and a yellow brick road with ancient footprints that lead to a universe of endless possibilities. At the base, a compass emerges from the ground while a figure at the right looks through a telescope to the future. A high-tech “teleporter” depicts a light-hearted, science fiction-infused peek into a future technological world.

CSUMB graduate Roxana Keland (’97, Visual and Public Art) has contributed both money and time to VPA’s collaboration with the high school.She described herself as one of the university’s first students and recalled joining with others to paint murals on former barracks that dotted the new campus. Now she sees the Marina High students doing a similar thing, while discovering their own talent.

To see more photos of the project, click here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quilts from Robert Down Elementary second graders for bodies and souls

Second graders from Robert Down Elementary School in Pacific Grove delivered 10 quilts that they helped make to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula today to comfort babies who spend time in the nursery.

The project by Denise Johnson’s class was part of a social studies lesson on caring and kindness. Elizabeth Olney, whose son Corbin is in the class, does sewing projects at the school each year and proposed making the quilts. She received a grant and fabric donations from the Monterey Peninsula Quilters Guild, which also regularly makes quilts for local hospitals. The class made 26 quilts and Olney added four more. They are being divided among Community Hospital and the two Salinas hospitals.
Olney cut the fabric and each child selected the two prints they wanted to use and pinned them together wrong-side-out. Olney sewed the edges with a machine, then the children turned them right-side-out and tied a series of square knots in a grid pattern that will hold the front and back together. Each quilt bears a label with the maker’s signature and a message that they were a gift from the class.
“They were so excited about being able to bring these to the hospital,” Olney says.
The project incorporated lessons in math, art, and social studies, Johnson says, and it also taught the children that in the right circumstances, it’s OK to do something kind for a stranger.

Members of the class, their parents, and their teacher delivered the quilts to Catherine Powers, RN, director of the Family Birth Center, and Zosia Chciuk, RN, assistant director of the intensive care nursery. While at the hospital, they fed the fish in the koi pond and visited the Family Birth
Center, posing for a photo with the Dennis the Menace statue at the entry. They also got to peer through a window in the nursery to see a newborn who will be given one of the quilts.
“These quilts symbolize the support our families receive from the community,” says Powers. “Wrapping a baby in one of these quilts is like the community wrapping its arms around the baby.”

-- Brenda Moore, marketing and communications, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula

Friday, December 2, 2011

UCSC grad and Gabrielle Giffords staff member to be honored in the US Capitol

Gabriel Zimmerman, the first Congressional staff member to be murdered while in the line of duty, will have a placed named after him in the Capitol, the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room.

Zimmerman was killed in the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that took the lives of six people and injured thirteen others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

“The ‘Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room’ will honor the legacy of Gabriel Zimmerman and the thousands of congressional staffer that work in our communities across the country,” said Congressman Sam Farr, who co-authored the bipartisan resolution to honor Zimmerman. “By all accounts Gabe was a person dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the people around him, and now that spirit will be echoed by the people who visit this room and the staffer that use it everyday.”

Zimmerman graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2002, where a scholarship fund has also been established in his honor to celebrate his dedication to public service. The resolution to name the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room was approved unanimously.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Here's a good project for middle and high schoolers

California middle and high school students can compete for $50,000 in prizes by creating a five-to-eight-minute video documentary for entry in the StudentCam, -- C-SPAN's Annual student documentary competition. This year's topic, “The Constitution and You.” The goal is to engage youth in the principles of our democracy to ensure its preservation.

Students are asked to select any provision of the U.S. Constitution and create a video illustrating why it is important to them. Videos must reflect varying points of view on the topic and also include C-SPAN video that supports the topic. Winners in both middle and high school categories receive cash prizes. Teachers listed as faculty advisers, can also win equipment for their schools. One California student videographer and a parent or guardian, will win a trip to Washington, D.C., including a VIP tour of the C-SPAN studios.

Entry forms and completed videos must be submitted online by January 20, 2012. For more information on the competition, please visit the C-SPAN StudentCam 2012 Web site.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Few events are as hard to cover as funerals

And yet, we need to remind our readers that those who get killed are somebody's son, somebody's daughter. A human being whose life was taken unfairly. Capriciously. Maliciously. That's what my colleague and friend Julia Reynolds wants me to remember. She was a lot more than just another statistic, the 13th homicide in Monterey County so far this year.

So I tiptoed my way into Maria de Jesus Ambriz Reyes viewing today. It's so difficult to pry into somebody's grief. But I do it, partially because I know Julia's right: somebody out there killed this child, and this person needs to be reminded of his terrible deed. He needs to know Maria's parents are grieving, a whole school's crying.

Hopefully, the culprit will be caught and made answer for this injustice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

High school students wanted for free computer repair boot camp

There's still room to sign up for a free computer repair boot camp for teenagers.

In partnership with CSUMB, Loaves, Fishes & Computers have created a computer repair boot camp pilot program for high schoolers. It's free, and organizers promise it's also fun!

Loaves, Fishes & Computers, a local nonprofit that refurbishes computers and makes them available for low income individuals is seeking adventurous teenagers to participate in two classes. Prizes will be awarded for various aspects of learning.

The classes are on Sunday, December 4th at 348 Roberts Ave in Seaside (behind Home Depot). The first class is at 8 AM-12 noon, Computer Hardware and 1PM to 5PM Wireless Network Set up.

You can register for only one class. Space is limited and registration is required. Call 393-9260 for information and to register. Or click here for more information.

Junior Otters get award

A four-week summer program for migrant students will be honored this weekend with a Golden Bell Award for collaborative effort.

The Junior Otters program, which brings migrant students from the 4th to 8th grade to Cal State Monterey Bay for intense math and English courses, has been recognized by the California School Board Association with its Golden Bell Award. The program is a collaboration of Monterey County's Migrant Education Region XVI, CSUMB, and El Teatro Campesino, and California Mini-Corps.

The children look forward to their summer adventure because they love the arts component. The Herald has featured the program in the past.

“It is an honor to receive the highly respected Golden Bell award for our outstanding program. Through a strong partnership with CSUMB and El Teatro Campesino we are able to reach out to our migrant student population, providing English language arts and math outside the academic school year,” said Rosa E. Coronado, Director II, Migrant Education Program Region XVI, Monterey County Office of Education.

A delegation of Monterey County officials will travel to San Diego this Saturday to receive the award.

Coming up: higher education leadership, table manners, and folklorico dance

The Fifth Annual Higher Education and Research Leadership Summit will take place Friday, Dec, 2, from 7:30 a.m. at the Monterey Marriott. Featuring a segment on “Higher Education Collaborations - High Impact, Hot Topics” to include presentations by Higher Education Institution Champions and Presidents from CSUMB, MIIS, MPC, NPS and MBARI. Cost: $35. RSVP to Machell Sterbick at 582.3236 or

Tonatiuh, Danzantes del Quinto Sol, will hold a winter recital along with Ballet Folklórico de Alta California. At 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at Sherwood Hall, 940 N. Main St., Salinas. $10 advance, $15 at the door. Come and support this long-lived art troupe from East Salinas.

Table manners: Just in time for the holidays, Kathleen Guice of the Pacific School of Etiquette will hold a class called “Children’s Holiday Table Manners for Everyday: Build Your Children’s Skills in Manners & Politeness” for parents and children’s ages 8-13. On Wednesday, December 7 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. at Eddison & Melrose Food Boutique, Tearoom & Catering, 25 Soledad Drive, Monterey (831) 601-3851. Tuition is $35 and includes course foods prepared by Chef Karen Anne Murray of Eddison & Melrose. Class size is limited and reservations are required. The class will focus on table etiquette do’s and don’ts, top 10 table manners, place setting, proper use and handling of utensils before, during and after the meal, “Oops!” (accidents happen and now what?) For more information call Kathleen Guice (831) 484-9608 or email

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

U.S. Department of Ed deems California's RTTT application "incomplete"

Third time was not a charm.

The federal government announced today it would not accept California's application for a share of $200 million in Race to the Top funds because its application was "incomplete."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson was disappointed about the news.
“I’m disappointed that federal officials have chosen to reject California’s application instead of evaluating it with the flexibility necessary to provide much-needed funding for California’s schools," Torlakson said in a statement. “Our application represented a good faith effort to continue to work toward the federal reform priorities of implementing Common Core standards and improving data sharing among school districts. I had hoped the federal Administration would be mindful of the financial emergency facing California’s schools and the severe constraints it has placed on state resources.”

The U.S. Department of Education accepted the applications of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. South Carolina, another semi-finalist, opted out.

Present and future professionals share the stage

The Monterey Symphony with student musicians from the Youth Music Monterey Honors Orchestra took the stage for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony last weekend in Salinas at the Steinbeck Institute for Art & Culture. According to program director Vanisha Evans Douvon, the young musicians took special effort to be prepared to play side-by-side the professional musicians on the challenging, four-movement symphony.

As an added bonus, American Ballet Theatre corps member Julio Bragado-Young performed in George Gershwin’s “Who Cares?" Bragado-Young is son of Maestro Bragado-Darman, the symphony's leader.

Rave reviews have come in, which means you're probably feeling a bit disappointed you missed the show -- like I do. Not to despair, YMM has lots of events throughout the year, so be sure to catch the next one. Here's their website for more information.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Of Raul Ramirez and the devoping teen brain

Some young people in the Alisal, where assistant principal Raul Ramirez was arrested for allegedly having sex with a minor (and allegedly attempting to destroy the evidence of the liaison) are defending his behavior. "People should stay out of his life," a girl familiar with the situation told me via Facebook. Several of her peers "liked" her comment.

While I don't know the specifics of the situation, it would not be surprising to see a 14-year-old become infatuated with a man in a position of power -- particularly if the girl came from a broken home, where she lacked affection and attention. Not that surprising either is to see a 38-year-old male become infatuated with a young, energetic, attractive girl.

Because Ramirez has been a very popular assistant principal for many years, it's natural to see young people have his back -- and their peer's.

But like I told my Facebook friend, if they had a sexual relationship, it's illegal. Children's brains have not fully developed by age 14 -- or 16, or even 21. It's up to adults to be their prefrontal cortex, to think about the consequences of doing something stupid. Or unlawful. That's why it's so sad to see those who should be doing the thinking leave their brains at the door and allow other parts of their anatomy to do their thinking.

Young people do reckless things because their brains are not fully formed, as described in many studies -- and a great story in last month's National Geographic:

"These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they're still learning to use their brain's new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire.

"The slow and uneven developmental arc revealed by these imaging studies offers an alluringly pithy explanation for why teens may do stupid things like drive at 113 miles an hour, aggrieve their ancientry, and get people (or get gotten) with child: They act that way because their brains aren't done! You can see it right there in the scans!"

We don't know what went on between Ramirez and the 14-year-old girl, but those who stand by the popular educator abound, including a letter writer who calls him "innocent until proven guilty."

Ramirez pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday. Let's hope, for the sake of his wife and four children, that indeed his prefrontal cortex was in charge the whole time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Omedetou, Azama-san!

Yo Azama,Japanese language teacher at North Salinas High and team leader on the Monterey Bay Foreign Language Project has been recognized as Foreign Language Teacher of the Year by the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Azama has been with North Salinas High for a number of years, and has worked with the MBFLP project for over 10 years. He has been profiled for the Herald, where we have learned he's an engaging and much liked teacher.

Here's the original announcement, courtesy of CSUMB.

Congratulations, Azama-san!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Three dozen teenagers collect 7,000 pounds of food. Thee boys break into a house

Which groups gets all the attention?

If you guess the three teenagers who were probable bored out of their brains and decided to go get their kicks, you guessed well. On Friday, I was planning to go out to Alisal High and talk to the philanthropic teenagers, but something more urgent, more compelling was happening a few blocks away. Three teenagers -- probably their classmates -- were caught when they were allegedly trying to rob a house. The full force of Salinas finest was unleashed to catch the would-be bandits -- apparently they had no time to take anything. The Fourth State, always vigilant, was present in full force also to bring those news to the viewing audience.

The result: those teenagers that had worked so hard for so many weeks to do something positive for their community hardly got any attention. Instead, it was the three mischievous teenagers who got the top-of-the-hour treatment.

No wonder those kids at the Alisal get so frustrated. They try to do something positive and nobody pays attention. A few knuckleheads with no adult supervision get in trouble, and we're all focusing on them. It's a distortion of reality that very much upsets many Alisal residents.

So here's to Marian, Ramon, and all the students of Alisal High who went out door to door to collect 7,000 of food: stay on this path. What you're doing is the right thing. Sometimes, doing the right thing doesn't get the attention that you deserve, but in the long run, you'll be better off for it.

And thank you for your good work. We're a better community because of you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A former local reporter fishes himself out of college debt

Even though I never worked with Nick Rahaim, I always saw a special spark, special talents not all mortals posses. Nick worked at the Californian a while back, when I'd already ran for cover at the Herald. Nick didn't last long, and I assumed it was because he'd found something better, like talented reporters often do. Turns out, his student debts were so high he needed a job as a commercial fisherman to help repay them. His adventures working in Alaska to help with college costs are chronicled in this Salon article. Here's a snippet:

"I racked up huge debt going to a high-priced, second-tier university for my undergraduate education. I thought I’d made the most of my college experience: I spent a semester abroad in Paris and was the editor of the student newspaper my senior year. I earned a double major and a solid GPA. But after I graduated, I found myself broke as hell and living paycheck to paycheck."

There are so many stories out there about how young people are being crushed by debt, how their options have dwindled in this horrible economy -- and some people I know wonder what this Occupy movement is all about.

But for all the stories out there, I have yet to see another as compelling as Nick's -- and maybe that's because I know him personally. He's a talented writer, one who will likely be on the best selling lists.

And finish repaying the $70,000 he still owes.

Pizza: the new vegetable

I couldn't resist this one: a battle has been taking place in the halls of Congress to define whether "pizza" -- or the smear of tomato paste on top -- can be defined as a "vegetable" serving. Don't laugh, this is a very serious financial matter. After all, the new food standards being championed by nutritionist would have severely hurt pizza and potato producers bottom line.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new set of dietary guidelines earlier in the year to modify school lunches. What folks at the USDA are trying to do is transform school lunches into something more healthy -- given the obesity problem we have in this country. But lobbyist for the pizza and potato industry fought back, so looks like pizza will remain in the menu for millions of children across the country. Real veggies? Who needs those?

Here's a humorous story about it all. And here's the serious news item.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Legislative Analyst Office predicts $2 billion in "trigger" cuts

Fresh off the press: the Legislative Analyst Office has come up with new revenue projections for California's budget, and it doesn't look good: overall income in the current budget year will be $3.7 billion below the level assumed in the budget approved in June.

Translation: $2 billion of trigger cuts to various state programs, including $100 million cut to the University of California, $100 million cut to CSU, and nearly $1.5 billion cuts in K-12.

It'll be interesting to see where the cuts come from now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Superintendent of MPUSD receives statewide honor

Marilyn Shepherd has received the Marcus Foster Memorial Award for Administrator Excellence by the Association of California School Administrators.

The award is named after a well respected African-American educator who earned national reputation for his work as a principal of the Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. He was the first black superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.

Shepherd was recognized for the changes she's instituted since arriving in the district in 2007, culminating with last year's passage of the $110 million bond.

In the announcement of the award, ACSA officials wrote " one could find no better example of a school leader who exemplifies(Foster)'s spirit than Marilyn Shepherd."

Read the entire text of the announcement here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Latest election results

Elia Gonzalez-Castro, candidate for Trustee Area 4 of Hartnell, has overcome a 16-vote lead by opponent Rosemary Ybarra Fickas and is now leading by 14 votes.

Jon Hill has widened his lead over Richard Glenn in Area 1 of MPUSD, as has Francisco Estrada over Brian Higgins in trustee area four of the Monterey County Office of Education.

In the Monterey Peninsula College Trustee Area 3, Rick Johnson has also marched further ahead over Robert Savukinas.

Stevenson students are National Merit semifinalists and commended scholars

Eleven seniors from the Stevenson School class of 2012 have been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for their academic achievement in the national competition.
Two of them were selected as National Merit semifinalists: Jackie Choi and Hyung Jin (Tom) Kim.

Nine Stevenson students were named National Commended Scholars including Farah Abouzeid, Fiona Alfait, Carolyn Bruckmann, Philip James, Anna Miller, Taliesin (Tilly) Namkai-Meche, Kevin Tang, Roman (Christian) Trenka, and Elizabeth Wickersham.

Students earn a commendation by the National honors program by scoring on the top 5 percent of the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship qualifying test.

The eleven students in Stevenson add to one Seaside High school student and 20 from York who were also recognized by the national organization.

Commended students are named on the basis of a national index score that may vary from year to year. Although commended students do not continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some become candidates for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.

For more details about the National Merit Scholarship program, click here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Upcoming and worthwhile


Supervisory Special Agent Mike Yoder, an FBI agent in the Behavioral Analysis unit, will talk about his work in the area of forensic psychology and sex offenders. He has worked for the FBI for 15 years; currently, he advises on areas of online sexual exploitation of children, missing children, child pornography and cyberbullying. His case consultations on active and cold cases for law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, he also provides training and conducts research in those areas to gain a deeper understanding of the behavior of offenders who commit crimes against children.
The talk will start at 7 p.m., Nov. 17, at the Tanimura and Antle Library, Room 1188. RSVP to Heather Wilde at 582-4332.

MSW program at CSUMB

Potential students are invited to attend an information session for the Master of Social Work Program scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 14. The session will be held in the program’s offices in Beach Hall on Divarty Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. For driving directions and a campus map, click here.
Applications for fall 2012 must be received by Jan. 31. Admission requirements and application materials are available on the web at
For more information, contact Vivienne Orgel at or 831-582-5315.

Shakespeare at All Saints’ Day School

Now in its 23rd year, the school's annual Shakespeare production features students who work in almost every capacity: as actors, stage crew, designers and make up artists. Follow the antics of the two sets of identical twins, the Antipholuses and the Dromios, in the Bard's masterful "The Comedy of Errors." At 7 p.m. on Nov. 18 -19. All Saints’ Day School, 8060 Carmel Valley Rd., Carmel. General admission $10, Students and Seniors $6. For more information or tickets call: 831-624-9171

At the John Steinbeck Library in Salinas

For the little ones: grab your slippers and grab your teddy bear! It’s Pajama Storytime!
At 7 p.m. on Thursdays starting November 17th - join the staff at the John Steinbeck Library for some bedtimes stories, songs, and perhaps a cookie, before you shut your eyes, and go to sleep! Click here for more information.

At the CHP offices in Salinas

Brought to you once again by your concerned California Highway Patrol: “Start Smart” a program to get some sense into teenage drivers. Start Smart addresses traffic safety issues that directly affect new drivers in a way no other program does. Start Smart speaks directly to the newly licensed drivers and their parents/guardians. Learn collision avoidance techniques, collision causing elements, driver responsibilities, and listen to a number of testimonials from parents whose children have perished in collisions, and local area traffic collision trends. At 6 p.m. on November 16th at the CHP office, 960 E. Blanco Road, Salinas.

The class is free of charge and parents/guardians are asked to attend with their teenage driver.For more information or to reserve your seat, contact Officer Robert Lehman, at (831)796-2130

Thursday, November 10, 2011

of elections, trigger cuts, and unraveling a rubber band ball

Last week, at the "Operation Educate" meeting organized by the PTA and the teacher's union, PTA president Tammi Suber compared the situation at MPUSD with a rubber band ball: to get to the bottom of the problem, you have to pull out at many strands. Increased class sizes, stagnant salaries for over-extended teachers, decreased services for students. These are all symptoms of the problem.

MPUSD is not alone. These are the same complaints that are heard at North Monterey County, where class sizes are significantly bigger than at MPUSD. Teachers, who have been bearing the brunt of these increases, succeeded in electing two of their own: Daniel Lee in the Salinas City Union District won a decisive victory against incumbent Bob Eggers, and Mike Deckelmann in North Monterey County was the top vote getter, leaving incumbents in the dust.

Diana Jimenez, who was voted out after 16 years, said she wishes the new elected board members all the luck. "It's a lot easier to criticize from the outside," she told me. "They're going to find out that it's not that easy."

And it won't get any easier any time soon: California Controller John Chiang has just announced the state is way behind in projected revenue -- by about $1.5 billion. Translation: trigger cuts are coming.

It'll be interesting to see how these newly elected representatives handle the cuts that are coming their way. Most importantly, it's time for everyone to see that the blame doesn't lay at the feet of the board, the superintendent, or even the legislature.

Now, where the problem lays may be more complicated, it may not even live inside the rubber ball. But I have the funny feeling the Occupiers are onto something.

As if there was any doubt about the quality of Carmel Unified..

The district was named on the College Board’s 2nd Annual AP District Honor Roll for making significant strides on AP classes.

Fewer than 400 districts in the nation earn this distinction, and only 18 in California got it -- including Carmel. Being named on this Honor Roll means that Carmel high has increased access to Advanced Placement classes while maintaining or increasing the percentage of students scoring 3 or higher in AP exams.

Since 2009, Carmel Unified School District increased the number of students participating in AP from 260 to 301, while increasing the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher by one percentage point. A score of 3 or above in an AP exam could get students college credit or advance placement.

Not surprisingly, administrators are happy about the honor.

“We are pleased to be recognized by the College Board for this accomplishment. It is the result of a conscious, concerted effort by the district to increase all students’ access to rigorous courses and to promote a positive, college-going culture in Carmel Unified,” CUSD Superintendent Marvin Biasotti said.

You can find the complete Honor Roll list here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A new playground for deaf and hard of hearing students

More than two dozen people gathered last weekend at Toro Elementary School to begin assembling a playground for deaf and hard of hearing students. Students from across the county attend the classes.

Teachers and community volunteers, including staff and parents from the MCOE Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, the Corral de Tierra Rotary Club and Church of the Good Shepherd, began the work by “snapping” together and turning bolts on pieces of the equipment supplied by Ross Recreation. Once completed, Ross Recreation will provide the necessary safety checks to meet state and federal guidelines and tests prior to the playground becoming operational. The playground is anticipated to be completed soon, according to Marci McFadden, spokeswoman for the Monterey County Office of Education. A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for next week.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New principal at Monte Vista

Francine Stewart has been appointed as an elementary principal in MPUSD and has been assigned to Monte Vista.

Stewart replaces Julie Ales, the inaugural principal. Ales had come from an out of town district, and her last day was Oct. 26.

Ann Kilty, MPUSD spokeswoman, said Ales left to pursue a career opportunity in another district.

Bravo, Pumitas!

The Pumitas under 12 boys soccer team of El Camino Real Futbol League in Salinas emerged champions of the Clovis Challenge Cup, which took place Oct. 29-30 in Clovis.

The players (Andres Farias, Victor Juarez, Miguel Lazcano, Daniel Vargas, Cristian Reynoso, Gerardo Flores, Bryan Corona, Jorge Tellez, Nigel McGowen, Fernando Miller, Carlos Pacheco, Alexis Valencia, Alan Cortez, Nick Lopez, Pedro Cortes, Jose Trejo, Alberto Villicana, and Carlos Reyes) defeated Clovis COSC 99 Boys Red 3 to 0 in the preliminary round. Then they beat San Luis Obispo Fire by 3-0. They pummeled St Helens FC Lions 12-0 in the semifinal.

The final against Clovis COSC 99 Boys White was decided by penalty kicks 5-3.

A big congratulations is in order to coach Sergio Herrera, assistant coaches Carlos Vargas, Miguel Lazcano and Alex Reynoso, and everyone who contributes to El Camino Real Futbol League. They are keeping children off the streets, showing them healthy lifestyle choices. This is the way to combat gang violence.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Free flu clincs, Alisal goes to Sacramento, and other fun happenings


Free flu clinics, brought to you by the Monterey County Health Department, from 4 to 6:30 pm.
Tuesday, Nov. 8, at La Gloria Elementary in the Cafeteria, 220 Elko Street., Gonzales
Wednesday, Nov. 9, at Seaside High School in the Cafeteria, 2200 Noche Buena St., Seaside
The vaccine is available for anyone who wants it (ages 2 and over)


The State Board of Education will consider approving a plan by State Trustee Carmella Franco to return the Alisal Board to full local control by June 2012 at its Thursday meeting. The Alisal Union School District has been under local control since April 2010, and was recently returned to partial control. Franco retains veto power over the local board decisions. Franco and other board members plan to attend Thursday's hearing in Sacramento.


“Bill Hearing Night” will be held on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at the Salinas Community YMCA in the Youth Center from 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

“Bill Hearing Night” is an important component of Youth & Government, a YMCA program focused on engaging youth with issues in their community by giving them an opportunity to write and debate bills that would improve their community, life, and the state of California. During this event, local high school students will debate three draft bills in front of a panel of business leaders and community members. The panelists will offer pro/con arguments, as well as offer suggestions for strengthening concepts and presentation skills. The students will use this information to determine which bill they will present at the state legislative conference in February of 2012.

The Salinas Community YMCA’s Youth & Government (Y & G) delegation is part of the California Y & G program. Each year, 2,500 high school program participants have this unique opportunity to create a model legislature and court, to learn about our government in an interactive way. At the Y, strengthening community is our cause. We value youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Through this program our focus is to empower our youth and help build their self-esteem.

Lupita Rodriguez, a senior at Salinas High School says, “Youth & Government has changed my life. I no longer am afraid to speak in front of large crowds. Through this program my self-esteem has grown so much.”

For information, please contact Abraham Rosas, YMCA youth development director, at the Salinas Community YMCA.

Did you hear the one about the teacher who makes too much money?

Yeah, no joke.

A recent study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative-leaning think tank, concludes that when wages, benefits, and job security are accounted for, public school teachers are compensated 52 percent more than their skills would garner in the private sector.

At an education forum in Washington this week, reported by Francesca Duffy of Education Weekly, the authors of the study new study on teacher compensation discussed their "surprising conclusion that, counter to popular belief, public school teachers are overpaid."

Duffy's article can be read in its entirety here ( you have to register). Here's a couple of nuggets:

"One goal of the discussion was to promote the idea that states facing budget shortfalls should consider teacher compensation—a sacred cow in many states—as a viable area for spending cuts.

"Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, another conservative-leaning think tank, and co-author of the study, dismissed Education Secretary Arne Duncan's claim that teachers are "desperately underpaid." He contended that the standard regression method, which compares teachers to workers with equivalent education and finds that teachers are underpaid, is flawed because it doesn't consider "unobservable ability." People going into teaching have lower SAT and GRE scores than people who pursue other fields, he said. Thus, in the case of teachers, "years of education could be an overestimate of cognitive skills." In addition, the education major itself is not as rigorous as other fields of study, Richwine said. When teachers and other workers are compared by cognitive ability, he added, "the wage penalty has essentially disappeared."

"Richwine also pointed out that public school teachers on average make more than private school teachers, which he said could be taken as an indication that the public sector could pay teachers less. To support the point, he later said the "experience of the private school teacher is similar in terms of working conditions" to the public school teacher—an assertion that received an audible gasp from the audience."

The way I see it, this is another salvo in the battle to blame teachers for everything that's wrong with this country. First it was the terrible state of our schools, now it's the massive budget deficits the nation, the states, the cities are facing. It's the teachers! The big bankers, they don't count?

Peggy Downes Baskin donates $250,000 to MPC Foundation

Peggy Downes Baskin, a former teacher and long time supporter of the Monterey Peninsula College, has donated $250,000 to the Dr. Peggy Downes Baskin Faculty Advancement Endowment, which was established in her honor by friends and family members.

The last time MPC received professional development funds from the state was in the 2008-09 school year, when less than $38,000 were made available. Because of the state’s current budget woes, professional development funds have dried up.

Baskin and her husband Jack have long been associated with the college. To recognize the couple’s efforts to the success of the MPC Renaissance Campaign in 2002, college officials named the Peggy Downes Basking Information Commons in the Library and Technology Center.

The Baskins also fund an annual $20,000 scholarship to an MPC graduating female student who’s going on to obtain an undergraduate degree from the University of California. Baskin was awarded the 2011 President’s Award in May for her dedication to the college and students.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dear Arlene Krebs -- should you cancel your subscription to the Herald?

A recent series of reductions in our paper are making my esteemed colleague Arlene Krebs reconsider her long time subscription to The Herald. In her letter to the editor, Arlene writes that: "As a longtime Herald subscriber and communications professor, I find myself torn between supporting my local newspaper — "A good newspaper is a nation speaking to itself" (Walter Lippmann, 1922) — and finding that my local paper has little for me to hold onto."

As a journalist, writer, and Herald employee, I read these letters and have a hard time keeping my composure. Not only do I have to say goodbye to those elements that make our newspaper a source of community cohesion -- we bid farewell to Tom Karwin, to Barbara Rose Shuler, and to employees faceless to the community that nonetheless made our lives more bearable in the newsroom: Mike Hale, Ryan Panlilio, Daniel Lopez. As a Herald employee, as a media worker, I have to read these letters that break my heart, that make me wonder.

These are extraordinary times, the digital world is transforming our lives in radical ways, and newspapers are just one tiny sample of these changes. But for all the changes, me and other reporters at the Herald (and editors, copy editors, designers) are trying the best to keep our chin up so we can provide a product that's not only ink and paper: we spend long hours in meetings, pour over documents, sit through countless hours of public testimony, so we can shed some light in our rapidly changing world. So we can continue to have some semblance of community. But it's not enough, I know. Our readers had gotten used to a lot more, and now they're resenting these changes.

Unfortunately, if our newspapers continue with their race to the bottom, more readers will abandon us, fewer good reporters will want to continue doing what we do. And more readers will desert us. Talk about Catch 22.

Arlene, I don't know if you're going to give up your subscription to the Herald, but this I know: it's "journalism" not "newspapers" that's the basis of democracy. Newspapers are suffering, but journalism will survive. The Internet, web-based publications are as good for holding people accountable as newspapers traditionally have. How will journalism be sustained in the digital world, which shape it will take, remains to be seen. But it will be there, I now that. We just have to keep the faith.

And get used to our morning coffee with a laptop open, instead of a newspaper.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bye bye to another principal

Julie Ales, the inaugural principal at Monte Vista Elementary in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District is no longer at the school. Her last day was Oct. 26.

On Monday, the MPUSD board of trustees will hold a special meeting, and appointing a principal for an elementary school district is on the agenda.

Monte Vista was reopened this year as part of a district reorganization to maximize resources and making grade levels more consistent across Marina, Seaside and Monterey. As part of the reorganization, MPUSD officials closed Bay View Elementary and transferred the students to Monte Vista.

Parents who were unhappy with the decision to close Bay View opened their own charter school, the Bay View Academy. The inaugural principal of that school was also let go this month, and John Favero, former administrator at the Salinas Union High School District, was appointed interim principal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Two events coming up for those who care about kids

The Peace Resource Center will host "Children’s Vision of Peace Through Expression and Creativity," a children's art exhibit featuring international peace contest participants.
A reception sponsored by the Community Partnership for Youth, the Lion’s Club of Seaside and CSUMB Social Justice Coalition will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday Nov. 5 at the Peace Resource Center, 1364 Fremont Blvd, Seaside.

And next week: All Saint's Day School presents an evening with Hal Urban, author of five books, including "Positive Words, Powerful Results." Urban has been praised for his passion to help develop people of good character. His presentation will focus on the power words can have and the importance of choosing words wisely. At 7 p.m. Tuesday at All Saints' Day School, 8060 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel. Suggested donation $10.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bay View Academy has acting principal

Veteran educator John Favero has been named interim principal at Bay View Academy charter.

Favero retired in 2009 as director of curriculum and instruction for the Salinas Union High School District after 35 years of service with the district. He had previously served as summer school coordinator and as acting principal at Salinas Union High School.

Favero will be at the helm of Bay View “until we can launch an in-depth search for a new administrator,” said Brian Greenshields, president of the Bay View Academy board. “I don’t know how long that’s going to take.”

Inaugural principal Mitchell Barlas parted ways with Bay View after less than two months into the school year. Bay View Academy was opened by a group of parents from Bay View Elementary who were unhappy with Monterey Peninsula Unified School District for its decision to close the school.

Quidditch, anyone?

You may have seen these youngsters, holding a broom between their legs, chasing a live snitch, throwing quaffles and dodging bludgers. And if they're dressed with the colors of Griffindor, well, it's not a coincidence.

Move over, ultimate freesbie. Quidditch, the hottest sport in university circles, has arrived to CSUMB. Last weekend, the Otters joined the ranks of other nearby universities and held its own Quidditch tournament. With very apropos names like "Sons of Snitches," "Hufflepuff," and "Nerfs," teams of Otters spent two glorious Monterey Bay afternoons chasing after a live snitch (the mechanical ball in the movie) while attempting to dodge balls -- bludgers.

And the winners were, naturally, Sons of Snitches!

If you want to see pictures of the tournament, click here.

Matsumoto of Stevenson shares her cancer battles

Fifth grade teacher Kirsten Matsumoto, a Stevenson parent and two-time breast cancer survivor, shared her experience with Stevenson's Carmel Campus during one of the events designed to raise awareness about cancer.

"Hearing Mrs. Matsumoto speak made me think how many other people are going through this and how I can help,” Hunter Wenglikowski, a seventh grade student, told Elena Rhodes Sexton, the school's spokeswoman.

“Service learning is an integral part of Stevenson’s program,” said Molly Bozzo, Head of the Carmel Campus. “Students have heard from real-life survivors and better understand the importance of awareness and research around this devastating disease."

Students wore pink shirts every Wednesday and their families were encouraged to make donations to the Carol Hatton Fund for Women In Need, a fund that provides financial assistance to women who cannot afford comprehensive and complete breast cancer diagnostic testing. Students raised more than $900 for the fund.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Of great, courageous principals

When I wrote about the three schools that left program improvement a couple of weeks ago, I didn't realize Mr. Esteban Hernandez had performed an act of courage when deciding to abandon textbook-prescribed answers, veered off the script, and instructed his teachers to adhere to standards. Mark O'Shea, professor of education at CSUMB, brought it to my attention, and decided to expound on the issue with a guest commentary.

Here it is:

Perhaps readers of the Herald were pleasantly surprised to see impressive gains in student learning at Bardin Elementary School of the Alisal District. From 2009 to 2011, the school’s academic index rose from 652 to 753. Was this due to some kind of miracle? Another instance of teachers cheating the system? Evidently not. According to the Herald article, Bardin teachers started teaching the content that was tested. Principal Esteban Hernandez claimed that the big improvement came from placing “emphasis on standards rather than the curriculum.” He stated simply, “Its fidelity to standards, not fidelity to state textbooks.” Readers may have concluded, “well, duh.. nice to see that the principal realized teachers should focus on the standards that are tested, why wasn’t this done before?” Unfortunately, Mr. Hernandez had to exercise nearly heroic courage and determination just to bring common sense practices to his school.

From the State Board of Education perspective, standards are to be used to select state-approved textbooks, not planning lessons. Millions of dollars were spent training teachers to use textbook and monitor classroom use of materials. The Board insisted that textbooks and publisher’s supplements are both necessary and fully sufficient to meet all expectations of the standards. Former State Superintendent of Public instruction Jack O’Connell wrote in his Fact Sheet:

“ Adding lessons, deleting lessons, and changing the delivery method of a program … can lead to no results, fewer results, and even negative results. Unless a program is implemented as it was designed and evaluated, there is no guarantee that it will have its intended effect of changing students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Implementing a program without fidelity misuses precious school resources and the time of students, teachers/providers, and staff . Implementing a program with fidelity is the only way to ensure program effectiveness (italics from the source) .

Teachers were specifically admonished not to choose materials they believe will guide students to meet the standards. This policy was so strongly enforced under the Reading First program of No Child Left Behind that county office of education staffers and hired contractors visited classrooms to make sure teachers were using the approved program materials by rote, and that no other curriculum resources apart from the approved programs were visible in the classroom for teachers and students to use. Which raises the question, how could the State Board develop what it proudly boasted to be among the most rigorous of state standards and then insist that teachers not use them for setting learning expectations? Two reasons seem evident: the victory of phonics-based reading instruction over less structured “whole language” approaches and the tantalizing power of state controlled textbook adoption.

California was an eager applicant for federal dollars to purchase phonics-based reading programs and the fidelity requirements that came with the money. Unfortunately, the programs did not lead to sustained achievement gains on the state standards tests, largely because they were designed for success with nationally administered tests. Nevertheless, the State Board extended the fidelity requirement to the use of state-adopted textbooks because it saw its curriculum authority as the perfect hammer for standards, which it perceived to be a nail. As a result of this policy disaster, teachers are expected to rely on textbooks that 1) include lots of extraneous material not in the standards, 2) do not develop key concepts or skills of the standards as evaluated on state tests, or, 3) teach skills and content for a grade level when the state tests the content at a different grade level. Teachers have not been using the standards to set expectations for student learning. The result: principals have been fired, schools and teachers shamed, and California students left behind due to this State Board of Education policy disaster. Hopefully, we can get it right the second time as common core standards role out across the country.

-- Mark O'Shea

Monday, October 31, 2011

Let's beging the season of giving

With two great ways to show how much we care for our community

Adopt a family: The Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County are seeking for individuals or businesses that want to sponsor Club members and their immediate family. Each sponsor is given the name of one or more children and a list of items the child needs. Sponsors then go shopping and drop off their donated items unwrapped. Volunteers come to the Seaside Clubhouse on Dec. 12 to wrap gifts.

Or, if you have no time for shopping, you can make a monetary donation to the club's Holiday Fund. In 2010, the Boys and Girls Club sponsored over 120 families. For more information about Adopt-a-Family or to volunteer to gift wrap, click here or call 394-5171.

Clothe our Own: Two local fitness outfits are conducting a coats and blankets outreach to "Clothe our Own" this Sunday, Nov. 6, from 4 to 7 pm. at Fitness Zoe West, 3074 Del Monte Blvd., Marina.

Donate your gently used or a new coat or new blanket to benefit Dorothy’s Place, Salinas, a place that serves dozens of people every day with food, shelter, and dignity.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Raining on the McParade

Coming up: two "fun" fundraisers where teachers become "McTeachers." After a long day at school preparing for class, grading their students, revising curriculum, yard duty and, oh, yes, instructing children, teachers at two schools get to host a McParty at a McDonalds near you where they get to serve their students and their parents.

A generous 20 percent of what the store sells during the four-hour fundraiser will go to the school. Three local schools have hosted McParties recently -- all in the MPUSD -- and each has raised between $500 and $900 dollars.

Let's see. The revenue at MPUSD went from $5,781.35 in 2008 to $5,191.66 this fiscal year. That is, it's lost $590 per student. A cool $6 million.In real terms, that's meant fewer teachers, higher class sizes, fewer electives, reduced transportation for the students.

Do you know how many McParties the McTeachers would have to host in order to make up for the lost revenue? Let's do the math: 10,670 parties. I wonder how many of those they'd have to host just to reduce class sizes again.

I know, I know, I know, in this day and age of budget cuts, schools can't afford to look down on $500 bucks. So this is what it comes down to: teachers have to do their own fundraisers. They've done it before, for sure, but this one has a different taste to it.

I don't mean to poo-poo on the teachers efforts. My rant is not directed against well meaning adults who are trying to find ways to make up for lost funds whichever way they can.

My rant is against the system. Call it "rage against the machine" if you will. Teachers not only are getting the brunt of criticism this day and age when school reform is in vogue, they also have to show how well they do at serving hamburgers. This is supposed to be the most powerful country in the world, and teachers have to serve fries in order to raise a few bucks?

And corporations are just happy to oblige, contributing to events that get their name out there as philanthropic organizations -- while making a pretty penny on the side.

This is a joke, right?

For what it's worth, if you feel the McCalling, stop by for the McTeachers events: on Thursday, Nov. 3, Trinity Christian High School will host its fundraiser between 4:30 at 8:30 at the Happiest Place on Earth on 610 Del Monte Avenue, Monterey.

On Nov. 17, Los Padres Elementary will host its event from 4 to 8 p.m. at the store on 1365 N. Main St. in Salinas.

North Monterey County Parents want smaller class sizes

It's been a few months since Prunedale mom Monica Williams began her quest for smaller class sizes at her child's school in the North Monterey County Unified School district. So far, kindergarten classes still have about 32 children, a situation Williams knows is not good for children's education.

So last week, dozens of families packed the board room before the trustees regular board meeting, their children sitting on the front. When the trustees came out, Williams reports, they went back out again. With so many children, how can somebody conduct a meeting?

Now imagine making sure they all learn. All packed into one classroom at once...

And to think we may be looking at more budget cuts down the road...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bay View Academy loses its principal

Two months into the school year, the Bay View Academy charter board of directors decided to part ways with Mitchell Barlas, inaugural principal of the school.

Board President Brian Greenshields said he could not comment because it was a personnel matter.

Greenshields said he did not foresee this sudden change in personnel would translate into a setback for the school.

Bay View Academy was formed by a group of parents who were unhappy with the decision by Monterey Peninsula Unified School District official to close Bay View Elementary, a high performing school in New Monterey. They successfully petitioned to open a charter, which opened in August.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Those hard-working students at Seaside High

A huge thanks to Evans Deveraux , Breanna Santillan, and all the great students at Seaside who wrote to thank me for the article I did about their school. It’s great to hear from students, and unfortunately, it’s not a frequent occurrence.

And speaking of accomplished Seaside pupils, seniors Alycia Singletary and Timothy Benton were appointed to California State NAACP youth posts at the California State NAACP convention held in Newport Beach. Singletary, who is President of the Monterey County NAACP Youth Council, was appointed to the Communications Committee while Benton, an Executive Committee member of the local NAACP Youth Council, was appointed Assistant Secretary.

Way to go, Seaside!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Of baking facts and illegal immigration

I've covered immigration -- legal and otherwise -- for more than 15 years, and I don't think there's a topic that evokes as much passion as this one. So, I wasn't surprised about the response I got for the story on CSUMB Otter Republicans holding an "illegal immigration bake sale." A lot of the response is in the comments portion of the article, and since it's pretty much the same arguments everyone throws around, I won't take the time to respond.

But I will respond to this: a female reader who did not identify her name, left a phone message saying she learned in the fifth grade that journalists are supposed to report "what happens, not push their own agendas." And by my own agenda, I assume the reader was referring to my quoting from reliable sources and shedding some light on the assertions that Otter Republicans were throwing.

In other words, I was supposed just to let the Otter Republicans say whatever they felt like saying without verifying the accuracy of their assertions.

Really? Is that what you think journalism is -- or should be -- about?

I think we journalists have gone way to long on just regurgitating facts without holding our sources -- or ourselves -- accountable. For years we reported that the Sherrif's department was getting less money (it wasn't true, but then Sheriff Kanalakis liked to say that, and none of us bothered to check his figures) that global warming doesn't exist (another big lie), that there WERE weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (we know the answer to that one). Very, very few journalism outlets challenged this last assertion, and we went to war on a false assumption, just because we just reported what we were told without bothering to check the facts. Stenographers of power.

So, if a candidate for office tells me Hartnell's President makes a ton of money, am I supposed to just report that? Or if they tell me that President Clinton endorsed them, should I print that too?

Or should I, like I'm asked by readers over and over again, CHECK THE FACTS?

What it really boils down to is this: immigration is such a passionate topic that very few people allow themselves to hear arguments "from the other side." So, when facts are presented to them, they dismiss them as an "agenda" they don't agree with.

And passion often gets mixed up with facts. I sympathize with the young white student who has to work while going to school and feel that Dream Act students are getting a free ride -- I had to do it myself and is no picnic. He is entitled to his feelings. On the other hand, there's young Latinos who feel this backlash is just directed at them because they're people of color. They too are entitled to their feelings.

But their feelings are not facts.

Fortunately, there's a lot of people who are in the middle, still willing to hear both sides of the argument. That's something that doesn't get reported often enough either.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marina, among the best communities for young people

Here's some fascinating news. Marina has been named one of the best 100 communities for young people in the United States by the America’s Promise Alliance, an organization that promotes collaboration to make sure children graduate from high school.

Among the reasons Marina was selected as a 100 Best Community is because of the city's support their youth and the ways city leaders have demonstrated it: building a new teen center, which hosts the Breakfast Club every school day before school opens; establishing the Friday Night Live youth development program; establishing a Recreation Department in 2006 to make recreation a priority in our city; establishing junior high, senior high, and skate park advisory boards with youth; establishing a city skate team which recently won the 2011 State Games of America National Junior Olympic Skateboarding Championship; our three primary service clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions each have programs to support our local youth development; and we have some specialized youth arts development programs like Marina Youth Arts and Spector Dance to name a few of the reasons.

Two things to think about: how will these services help decrease the dropout rate, which stands at almost 16 percent? And, why is a community that's having such a spotty record in student achievement -- as measured by California standarized tests -- considered good for youth?

The answer could be in a complaint commonly heard from opponents to standarized testing: those grades can't be the only way we measure achievement. How do measure their creativity? Their politeness? Their value as human beings?

Marina is definitely onto something. Congratulations, and way to go!

83 percent graduation rate

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Michael Turner and other deserving students

While participating in the media circus that's sprouted around the Everett Alvarez saga, I had a chance to listen to the great things that other great students are doing throughout the Salinas Union High School District. El Sausal Middle School, for instance, grew by 24 points in the Academic Performance Index, and now stands at 711. At Salinas High, API went up by 36 points. Students have celebrated or will celebrate their successes in the near future, so, if you have pictures to share, send them my way.

Also in the good news department, I recently met the high school representatives to the MPUSD board. I'm still waiting for their bios and pictures to include them in my blog (hint hint).

Our endorsement process

I often get asked: when is the Herald going to endorse candidates?

Fair question. Here's the answer: Only God knows for sure.

Our esteemed, overworked, and brilliant editorial pages editor, Royal Calkins, coordinates interviews with all the candidates (talk about herding cats). After a grueling session with all the members of the editorial board (in which I have no part), editorial board members pow wow and make a decision. Calkins then writes the endorsement.

If you'd like to ask Royal when he's scheduling interviews for your district, give him a call at 646-4381 or email him at

Royal's told me he's running a bit behind (so many races, so little time) but that he'll try to get to as many of them as possible. So thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Of elections and cuts -- budgetary and otherwise

So, I was hoping to write as many board election stories as possible before absentee ballots were mailed. That was last week, so obviously I blew that deadline big time.

Partially it's my fault: I didn't get organized -- and I took two days off. Partially it's the news cycle: I was called to report on this scandal or the other, to chase this TV story or other about certain football player, certain high school principal and coaches.

Partially it's the candidates faults: as if it wasn't difficult enough to cover 13 different races -- yes, that's how many districts are having elections -- try chasing 40 plus candidates. Get their pictures. Get their biographical information. Get them to answer basic questions: why are you running? what's the biggest challenge your district is facing?

It shouldn't be hard, should it? After all, it's free publicity. They have to give the same information to Smart Voter. The Herald strives to fairly cover all candidates, so if everyone sends in their pictures*, their answers, etc., on a timely manner, everyone gets a fair shake, right?

I must be in La La Land. And I've only covered three races so far. Three.

I'm not complaining. I love my job, I love the people I get to meet, and I love being part of the issues being debated in our community.

But herding cats is never fun.

So, if I haven't gotten to your election yet, I'm still working hard at it. Please be patient. In the meantime, if you haven't sent me your information, by all means do! Send me your campaign's website! Answer my simple questions! Help me help you!

And good luck on Nov. 8.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A hug to my favorite teacher: Elena Poniatowska

Today is World's Teacher Day, and while all the teachers I know -- and don't know -- deserve a huge hug, I send a special one to my favorite teacher: Elena Poniatowska Amor.

Well, La Poni has never been my teacher in the traditional sense of the word: I've never sat with her in a classroom, nor has she assigned me homework or corrected it. Still, like any good teacher would do, her presence inspires me to keep writing, keep looking for stories that need to be told.

I drove up to see La Poni (as many in Mexico affectionately call her) when she came to California to receive an honorary doctorate from the National Hispanic University in San José -- the ninth or tenth she's received. She spoke to parents, students, fans, and, like she usually does, tackled with her trademark smile an interminable line of people who wanted her autograph.

She responded to interminable reporters' questions with brief, to-the-point answers. Many of those questions she's answered hundreds of times before: why did you chose to retain Mexican citizenship, when you were born in France? "Because I love my country" meaning Mexico. "What's the responsibility of writers who seek social justice in these difficult times in Mexico. What's the work you have to bring to light these testimonials, and the challenges faced? "There's already literature linked to drug trafficking, writers who are writing novels, stories, and reports. Sometimes we feel horror before even opening the newspaper. There's constant reports about what's going on, and there's discontent against President Felipe Calderon. We see killings everywhere. Mexico's becoming a giant cemetery, and that scares tourists away and affects the economy."

It's been said that you support legalizing drugs."I'm not an expert, but that's based on the experience you had in the United States during the times of Al Capone and alcohol. When (alcohol) was legal again, it didn't cause as much destruction. One can imagine that could happen with drugs. I'm not certain, but I know in my country there's lots of small time sellers, people who sell to children outside schools. And the way to avoid that is by improving education, and building universities like this one. But we don't have that habit of giving. Since our government is corrupt, nobody wants to bequeath to the country absolutely anything."

But Señora Poniatowska is at her best when telling the recent story of Mexico's downtrodden — the Indigenous: "all this human energy is there wasting. Nobody loves them, nobody misses them, they're not needed anywhere. They're nobody. They do not exist. So much to do in the world, and there's no place for them. So much lost energy."

And reading poetry by other women, women she admires and never ceases to praise. For this occasion, she chose a poem by renown healer Maria Sabina:

"Porque soy la mujer estrella-dios
La mujer estrella cruz
Porque puedo nadar en lo grandioso
Porque mi agua es la del infinito
Soy la mujer que resiste
Soy la mujer del bien
Soy piedra del sol sagrada
Soy mujer que mira hacia adentro
Soy la mujer Jesucristo
Soy la mujer Jesucristo
Soy la mujer que truena
Soy mujer estrella grande
Soy mujer estrella cruz
Soy mujer luna
Soy mujer luz

Gracias, Maestra Poniatowska, por todo lo que nos sigues enseñando. A big hug to you and all the teachers in the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Coming up for children and their families

Rancho Cielo Youth Campus is opening its doors to the public for the Rancho Cielo Community Family Play Day. It will be a day when Rancho Cielo students and staff show off their achievements and have fun with everyone.

The day will kick off at 9 a.m. with a 5k and 10k morning run, followed by rodeo events for adults and kids, guided hikes, rock climbing, a barbeque picnic, live music and so much more. Free admission. Activities include: basketball shooting contest, fishing derby, archery contest, climbing wall, golf, animals. story time, MY Museum Wheelie Mobile. To register for the race, click here.

The rodeo activities will take place at the Monterey County Sherrif's Posse Grounds. To register, contact Billy Armendariz at 831-970-7288. Three man team/draw events include: ribbon roping, sort & pen, and calf ear tagging; children’s events include: boots race, stick horse race and golden horse show hunt.

For more information, click here or call 831-444-3507

Friday, September 30, 2011

Michelle Lee of Seaside and 20 York Students

Have been named "commended students" by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. in recognition of their outstanding achievement.

In addition, Graham Home, a York senior, was named a semi-finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Students earn a commendation by the National honors program by scoring on the top 5 percent of the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship qualifying test.

Michelle Lee learned of her honor during the Seaside High homecoming rally. She was stunned, and her parents and friends beaming.

The 20 York students who earned the National Merit commendation represent 40 percent of the 2012 Class. They are: Cobi Allen, Eli Block, Karen Chen, Michael Cho, Clara Cushing, Tizoc Franco, Gabrielle Jardini, Sonja Kasky,Haley Lane, Matthew Lindly, Collin McDowell, Gabrielle Micheletti, Angela Ng, Alexander Ody, Mark Reyes, Brandon Saisho, Alex Scott, William Shearer, Aaron Shi, Kristina Uchida.

Commended students are named on the basis of a national index score that may vary from year to year. Although commended students do not continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some become candidates for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.

Are there any other Commended Students in Monterey County we don't know about yet? Let us know so we can brag about them!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of being American and attending U.S's service academies

Deadlines loom large for these two items, but they need a lot of preparation. So start writing and getting your documents and applications together.

First: high school students and their teachers are invited to participate in the sixth annual "Being an American" essay contest, sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute.
Touted as the largest contest of its kind in the country, the "Being an American" Essay Contest explores the Founding principles outlined in the Constitution. The contest is administered by the Bill of Rights Institute, a non-profit educational organization in the Washington, D.C. area dedicated to educating young people about the Constitution and Founding principles.
Students are asked to share their thoughts on the Constitution by answering the following question: How does the Constitution establish and maintain a culture of liberty?

Any student in grades 9-12 who are U.S. citizens or legal residents no older than 19 can participate. Military bases and U.S. territories are also invited to participate. The essay can't be longer than 1,000 words, and will be judged by its adherence to the question, originality, organization, writing style, and depth of analysis.

The top three student winners from each of the five geographical regions will be awarded cash prizes of $1,000 (First Place), $500 (Second Place), and $250 (Third Place). Teacher sponsors for each student winner will also receive a cash prize of $100. For more information, click here.

Deadline to submit essays is Dec. 15. All essays must be submitted online. Winner will be announced in February.

Second: The office of Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) is now accepting applications for nomination to the U.S. service academies. Operated by the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Navy, these academies provide a college education in exchange for a commitment to serve as a commissioned officer.

Candidates must be at least 17 years old but not older than 23 as of July 1, 2012. They must reside in California's 17th Congressional District, be U.S. citizens and must never have been married.

For all service academies (except the Coast Guard), applicants must be nominated by one of several federal officials including the U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and the vice president.

In order to be considered for a nomination, the following information is necessary:

  • A completed application form, available from Congressman Farr's office or Web site (
  • A personal statement not to exceed 1,000 words.
  • An official high school transcript.
  • Official Scholastic Aptitude Test SAT scores. If you have the scores forwarded by the testing center, Congressman Farr Score File Number is 4639. If your scores are shown on your high school transcripts, that is acceptable.
  • Three letters of recommendation, not from relatives.

All materials should be sent to Congressman Sam Farr, ATTN: Julian Chacon, 701 Ocean Street, Room 318, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.Julian Chacon can be reached at For more information, click here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MPUSD has such bad reputation

and Howard Fosler of the New Monterey Neighborhood Association found out last night is undeserved.

Fosler was one of a handful of community members who attended Tuesday night's forum with MPUSD administrators and officials at Monterey High. Led by Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd, the team showed participants -- mostly teachers and administrators -- what the district has been able to accomplish in the last few years.

You wouldn't know it by the disgruntled citizens out there, but despite massive budget cuts, the district is still trying to offer a variety of classes to students, test scores are going up, and thanks to the bond approved last year, all the campuses are getting renovated.

Fosler described MPUSD's work as "remarkable."

"They've been doing a remarkable job under the worst of circumstances," he told me after the meeting was over. After he asked if district officials new what the budget will be in the upcoming year.

No, Shepherd said, because we don't know how the state will be doing -- although there's a strong possibility there will be mid-year budget cuts. The district is prepared for that, she said.

Still, the district got sterling credit rating, which means they can get the best rates for their bonds and save money to the taxpayers.

"I see a lot of hard working people under the most difficult circumstances," Fosler said. "I'm glad I came."

Now, if only more people had seen the presentation.

But it's not too late.

There will be another forum tonight at the Embassy Suites in Seaside, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Check it out, ask questions, see for yourself what the district's doing. Don't take anyone's word for it.

Kudos to CSUMB Hearst Scholar Arienne Arreola

A sophomore biology major from Bakersfield, Arienne is California State University, Monterey Bay’s 2011 recipient of a William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The award is among the CSU’s highest recognitions for student achievement.

This story comes to us via Joan Weiner of CSUMB.

Arienne and the other recipients were recognized at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach on Sept. 20.
The award is given to students who have overcome significant challenges to demonstrate superior academic performance and personal achievements and have demonstrated financial need. Only 23 out of thousand students system wide receive it.
Arienne wants to become a surgeon and be in a position to save lives -- like she would have her mother if she'd had the chance. When she was 2 years old, her mother died of an aneurism while giving birth to her younger brother. “I believe her death would have been preventable if she’d received proper medical care,” she said.
After her mother’s death, Arienne's father left her and her four siblings in the care of her grandparents, both of whom were fieldworkers. In middle school, she began acting out, and was suspended for fighting. Soon after, a teacher intervened and helped Arienne realize she wanted to put her life on a different course. She changed her attitude and began taking school seriously. She found she enjoyed the mental engagement classes offered, particularly solving science and math problems. “It’s like a game or puzzle to me,” she said.
Arienne gained a strong work ethic from her grandparents, but they had little experience or enthusiasm when it came to education. She was determined, however, and became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and attend college. She’s on track toward her goal, majoring in biology with a pre-med concentration and a 3.5 GPA. She did this all while working multiple jobs in order to support herself and help her family.

Congratulations to Arienne. Enhorabuena!