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!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My trusted source Scuttlebut suggested I profile Charlie Page

and while I'm still getting to the profiling part, getting to know Mr. Page would be a good start.

Mr. Page, a board member for the Monterey Peninsula College, invited me to lunch so he could give me an introduction to his life, and give me copies of the books he's written -- in preparation for his profile. Mr. Page will end an 8-year stint as trustee at the end of the year, so I though it'd be a good time to write about his history with the College, and Monterey.

Several people suggested the idea. He and his wife have done so much for the college, they say. This space was built because of her, they say, and they turn to point to the Caroline Page Courtyard at the college.

In the brief time I talked to Mr. Page, I could see the love for the college in particular, and education in general. "I went to Stanford, but I really got my education at MPC," he told me. "The college has done so much good for so many people. We're so lucky to have it."

As we sat for lunch, several people walked by and said hello to Mr. Page. He's lived here for so long, he's been such an important part of the community, I imagine many have interesting stories to tell about him. If you're one of them, please feel free to share!

From the "Imagine College" series

Update: if you want to "walk" with Seaside High and CSUMB officials, and promote the "Imagine College" program, Saturday is your chance: meet the group at 8 a.m. at the school, then leave to visit about 275 freshmen. Some will be ready to meet you, some will still be in PJs, but it's a very rewarding experience, administrators say.

Folks involved with "Imagine College," a project to inspire high school students of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District to plan for their higher education always seem busy. This weekend, they'll hold their "Imagine College Walk for Success" when school board members, retired teachers, community representatives, and CSUMB Service Learners, will walk door-to-door to inform Seaside High families of freshmen students about the four-year, $4,000-scholarship available to their children.

Imagine College is a joint project of CSUMB and MPUSD, where high school students spend summers at the university learning cool stuff -- like how to make videos, etc. Seaside High students are also eligible for a $4,000 scholarship as part of the same program. So Seaside freshman, if someone's knocking on your door Saturday morning, you'll know who!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A pledge to graduate

The freshmen class of Gonzales High School, along with their grade 9 homeroom teachers, pledged last week their commitment to graduate in June of 2015.

That's four years of homework, exams, getting up early every day and attending every single class. That's a marathon. The students are making a big commitment, and they should be applauded.

But it will also be worth it. People earn more money when they have more education, so they'll reap the benefits in the long run.

”I am so proud of these students for making this commitment and promise to themselves and one another," Principal Barbara Lawrence-Emanuel said. "I am also thrilled with the dedication their teachers are showing.”

The Gonzales High School Class of 2015 includes over 200 students, most of whom signed the banner. Photographer Anthony Montoya captured the freshmen class advisor Tina Raeder, principal Barbara Lawrence-Emanuel, teacher Jose Moreno, and students Ernesto Casillas, Lucio Bahena, Jacqueline Mora, Raylynne Balli and Juan Guerrero.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The indefatigable Helen Rucker

It's not uncommon to run into ubiquitous Helen Rucker anywhere: at city council meetings, grand openings, the local grocery store.

So it's not surprising that the long-time educator has come to our attention once again for endowing a scholarship in honor of her late husband, James,

A retired teacher and librarian and longtime community activist on the Monterey Peninsula, Rucker donated $25,000 to permanently endow a scholarship she has funded annually since 1998.

The announcement was made during the annual Fort Ord Alumni Association scholarship luncheon award on Sept. 14, where 10 scholarships were presented to CSUMB.

The awards bring to 122 the total number of scholarships – all in the amount of $1,000 – given by FOAA since its scholarship program began in 1997.

Rucker encouraged others at the luncheon to support FOAA scholarships, and she described her own philanthropic giving as an expression of personal priorities, not personal wealth.

"When people ask me, 'How do you do it, Helen?,' I tell them it's about how you care to spend your money," said Rucker, who is also a board trustee for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

She described how her husband credited the Army for giving him the chance at an education. He joined the military with a seventh-grade education, earned a GED while in uniform, then, as a 40-year-old retiree, took advantage of veterans benefits to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“He was dedicated to learning. It’s appropriate that a scholarship be created in his name,” she said.

This year, the Platoon Sergeant James Rucker and Helen B. Rucker Scholarship was awarded to Denice Vallejo of Salinas.

“I’m proud to present the James Rucker Scholarship to Denice because she’s a returning student,” Mrs. Rucker said.. “The only thing I can say to you, Denice, is ‘pass it on.’ ”

Vallejo, who grew up at Fort Ord where her father was stationed, explained that she helped her children and her husband with their studies. “I quizzed them on their homework, I edited their papers,” she said. Then she decided it was time to pursue her own education. After earning two community college degrees, she came to CSUMB.

Many of the scholarship recipients are first-generation college students. Some are the children or grandchildren of soldiers who served at Fort Ord. Several are military veterans.

Other recipients and the scholarships they were awarded:

• Col. Robert Furney and Mary Furney Scholarship: Evangelina Ochoa, Monterey
• Merilyn D. Georgevich Scholarship in memory of John Kretzer: Lisa Odenhal, Roseville
• Gen. William Gourley and Molly Gourley Scholarship: Cierra Bailey, Livermore
• Fort Ord Alumni Association Scholarship: Gladys Vargas, Stockton
• Gen. James Moore Jr. and Joan Moore Scholarship: Glenni Rankin, Redlands
• Gen. E.O.C. Ord Scholarship: Ryon Hoffman, Marina
• 1st Sgt. Willie B. Smith Scholarship: Hayley Tharp, San Jose, and April Medina, Salinas
• Gen. Joseph Stilwell Scholarship: Javier Martinez Cabrera, Freedom

What's wrong with these adults?

A teacher having sex with her student. A school board member sending sexually explicit text messages to a young boy.

Closer to home, an enraged parent attacking a football coach.

Yes, I know media has a penchant for exaggerating and blowing minor incidents out of proportion.

But seriously, a 24-year-old holding a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy? And a 37-year-old woman elected to uphold the public's trust "sexting" also a 14-year-old? You can't make this stuff up.

Then we hear about Manuel Rivera of Salinas, who did not contest child molestation charges for abusing his students but had the gall to tell the judge he suffered from "erectile dysfunction" and could not have done anything to these young men.

I'm getting sick to my stomach.

To top it off, we have Raynald Adams of Seaside,who's accused of attacking a football coach Wednesday afternoon, when school was still in session, in full view of students.

Really? Are these the examples we want to set for our children? Is that how we're teaching them to solve their differences? With an ax handle?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Planning for college?

Two local events will help parents guide their children on their road to college. The first one is this Saturday, by JoAnn Schaper, independent college consultant and Steve Shapiro, CPA CFP, free and open to everyone. Speakers will provide an overview on college choices, the application process, the financial aid process and strategies for reducing the impact of college costs. From 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Monterey Public Library. This program is not sponsored or endorsed by Monterey Public Library or the City of Monterey.For more information, contact Steve Shapiro at 831-588-7418.

The second event is further down the road: College Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities. Professionals from public and private colleges will discuss how students with learning disabilities can find success in college. This workshop will highlight the many higher education options for students who learn differently. The emphasis will be on developing a working partnership between the college and the student.
The presentations will cover transition issues and strategies for students once they have been admitted. The three presenters will be Tom Merrell, M. A., Special Education, Director of Academic Support Services University of San Francisco, Disability Specialist, David Tylicki, Learning Disabilities Project Coordinator University of California, Santa Cruz, and Duffy Grant, Higher Education Consultant.

This workshop will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Chartwell School, 2511 Numa Watson Rd, Seaside. For more info, click here.

MPC celebrates grand opening of its Marina campus

and it's looking for new members for its bond oversight committee.

Bond funds made it possible for the Monterey Peninsula College to build its Marina campus, which will have its grand opening party Friday. And now there are three vacancies on the board, people who would represent the community at large. New members would be appointed by MPC trustees at its October meeting, deadline to apply is Oct. 1.

The Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee is charged with monitoring bond-related expenditures at Monterey Peninsula College. The committee was established following voter approval of the college’s $145 million bond measure in November 2002. The committee consists of 10 members and meets quarterly. Committee members must reside in the Monterey Peninsula Community College District, be 18 years or older, and may not be an employee, vendor, consultant, or contractor for the District. For applications, call (831) 646-4114.

Now back to the party: there will be a celebration Friday starting at 1 p.m. at the brand new MPC Education Center at Marina, 289 12th St. Get to tour the campus and see what the college is up to in its brand new building.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wanna know what MPUSD is up to?

Come visit with Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd as she makes the rounds on community forums, when she'll update the community on student achievement, district finances, bond projects and the like.

Three to chose from: Monday, Sept. 26, at Los Arboles Middle School, 294 Hillcrest Ave, Marina
Tuesday, Sept. 27, Monterey High School, 101 Herrmann Dr., Monterey
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - Embassy Suites Monterey Bay, 1441 Canyon Del Rey Blvd, Seaside

All forums will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm.

Hartnell gets $11 million

When Congressman Sam Farr sent us notice that Central Coast colleges were getting nearly $5 million in grants, we didn't know at least one of the grants was for five years. In fact, Hartnell's getting more than $2 million for five years -- nearly $11 million.

On Tuesday, at the first joint meeting in recent history of trustees for Hartnell and Salinas Union high, the mood was definitely giddy. Administrators and teachers had just received notice of the grant -- which will serve to help Latino students enroll in careers in science and math -- and they were celebrating. High fives, hugs, bonhomie all around.

Then they got down to business. The meeting was about learning ways in which the school district is coordinating efforts with the college to make sure students have a smooth transition from K-12 to higher ed. Turns out they're doing plenty -- although efforts are not always well advertised or understood.

Latinos, one of the fastest growing groups in the country, are underrepresented in math and science-based careers, and this grant is aimed at addressing that gap. Hartnell is already doing a lot of work to encourage Latinos to get into the sciences, so it'll be interesting to see how these funds further those efforts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Casey Bowler bids farewell to San Antonio School Board

San Antonio Superintendent Linda Irving and board president Mary Ann Martinus, bid farewell to three term Board Member Casey Bowler. He has served through a wave of financial school challenges, major facility projects and high growth in student achievement. “He has had an impact on the district and he will be missed,” shared Irving. “We wish him and his family all the best as they start their new life in Fontana, CA.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Attention candidates

It's come to my attention that not everyone who's seeking to be elected for the several seats available at Monterey County schools has an email address. Or even listed a phone number! I'm going to begin rolling out election stories as soon as possible, and if you're one of those candidates please get in touch with me so we can get you in the paper. You can reply to this post, email me at, phone me at 753-6755, tweet me @MelendezSalinas, or Facebook me!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Going back to local control after 10 years

For those folks in King City who are anxious to return to local control, here's some encouraging news: California Chief of Schools Tom Torlakson formally returned full local control to Emery Unified School District, 10 years after the school system was taken over by a state administrator as part of a $1.3 million emergency loan. Now the loan has been repaid.

Partial powers were returned to the nearly 800-student district in 2004, although the state trustee continued to have veto power over locally-elected officials.Only eight of California’s 1,043 districts have been placed under state control -- including King City. Emery Unified is the fourth district to fully repay its emergency loan and regain local administrative and financial control.

Because King City's 13-million loan was granted under special legislation that's making it more costly -- and more difficult to pay -- district officials estimate it's going to take 20 years to pay it back.

Going to Hawaii and beyond

Isael Rubio, a senior biology major at CSUMB, had a chance to participate in the recent annual meeting of the American Phytopathological Society in Honolulu, where he made a presentation about his research.

Rubio, a product of Alisal public schools, has published research articles in scientific publications and is working at the USDA’s Ag Research Service in Salinas, investigating bacterial plant pathogens and disease. His work with radishes, arugula, cauliflower and other veggies important to local growers.

His mentor at the Ag Research Service, Carolee Bull, told CSUMB's Joan Weiner: “His presentation was well received and through discussions with a number of scientists, he helped our laboratory to develop new collaborations with scientists from Europe and the U.S. He specifically sought out and met with several scientists, graduate school representatives and graduate students from various top-tier universities in order to inform his choice for graduate school in plant pathology.”

In the photo, Isael is explaining his work to Philip Brown of Alf Christianson Seed Co. Burlington, WA, at the American Pathophytological Society meeting. (Photo taken by Bull)

Isael's work was facilitated through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center at CSUMB. Undergraduate research can help young students find a solid path early on in their careers, and prepare them for graduate school.

In praise of Isael, Carolee Bull sent an e-mail to the UROC staff and faculty, saying:

“I thank all of you for the opportunity to work with this amazing young man. His work has significantly benefited the USDA/ARS research program.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Manuel Lopez of Everett Alvarez goes to China

Government and economics teacher Manuel Lopez spent a month in China this summer studying how fast the country’s still growing and what are the consequences of this growth.
Lopez, a 20 years veteran of education, and 70 other colleagues from northern California went to China on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship, and besides learning about the culture first hand – visiting its museums, archeological sites, and attending lectures – Lopez focused on studying China’s infrastructure and how some of it appears to be detereorating as quickly as it’s built.
He’ll apply the lessons learned to his own classes on globalization.

“I went to some sites where you have older people working with no safety wear, boots, or hard hats. You have 70, 80 year old people working in these different sites” and no regulations, he said. “When you have these people doing these types of jobs, it’s only a matter of time before they have accidents.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

High school juniors: here's a challenge worthy of your talents

Deadline is coming up to apply for the highly coveted post of high school representative to the State Board of Education, a one year term filled with day-long meetings and endless learning of how California schools bureaucracy works. Imagine how that could look in your college entrance applications!

Although the appointment is not made until the summer by the governor, deadline to apply to be considered is Oct. 14, so those who are interested should get ready.

Any California resident enrolled in a public high school and who will be enrolled in good standing in the 12th grade in 2012-13 may apply. The term is for one year from Aug. 2010 through July 2013. The selected student has to attend the board meetings in Sacramento -- which are usually two or three days every other month. Travel and lodging is covered by the State Board, plus a $100 stipend for the days served.

For more information, visit the California Department of Education website.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day for Kids and other fun activities coming in September

The Boys & Girls Club of Monterey County is gearing up for its annual Day for Kids celebration! The Day for Kids celebration will take place at the Salinas Clubhouse and is one of hundreds of events taking place across the nation, encouraging active play between young people and adults.

The "Day for Kids" is open to the public, and it includes: a "get fit" challenge, bounce house and obstacle course, spelling and math bees, dunking booth and spinning wheel game, My Museum "Wheelie Mobilie", stations for tatoo artists, penny toss, crafts and more.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Boys and Girls Club in Salinas, 85 Maryal Dr., behind the Rodeo grounds.

The Salinas Public Library has a series of programs for children ages 3 to 7 to learn new ideas through old and well liked songs

  • At the Farm. Ever wonder what else “Old MacDonald” had on his farm? Without a single “e-i-o,” we’ll take a trip down to the farm through a world of imagination and play. From 3:30 to 5 p.m. at El Gabilan (Sept. 20), César Chávez (Oct. 4) and John Steinbeck (Oct. 5).
  • I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. What’s a train? For that matter, what’s a boxcar or a caboose? Before your child is riding a rocket ship, let him or her learn the bygone wonders of the railroad, through a world of play, including puzzles, games and toys. From 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Cesar Chávez (Sept. 20), John Steinbeck (Sept. 21), El Gabilan (Oct. 4).
  • A Puzzling Place. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then we’ll put together picture after picture, from the simplest of puzzles, to 100-piece floor puzzles. Join us for an afternoon of play, as your children sharpen their wits! From 3:30 to 5 p.m. at El Gabilan (Oct. 18), César Chávez (Nov. 11), John Steinbeck (Nov. 2).
  • Scary Creatures. Are spiders scary? Does a shark drop in for a “quick bite?” Does a lion floss between meals? Join us for an afternoon of imagination and play, as we learn about these “scary creatures” through games, puzzles and toys! From 3:30 to 5 pm. at César Chávez (Oct. 18) John Steinbeck (Oct. 19), El Gabilan (Nov. 1).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An ongoing debate on testing

In case you missed, a guest editorial by Castroville teacher Paul Karrer inspired a spirited debate in the pages of the Herald and with some of my readers. In his piece published Aug. 31, Karrer said teachers are cheating because high-stakes testing are pushing them to do so. He cited some of the ways teachers fudge with the numbers.

Principal Mary White -- a very nice lady, very enthusiastic about her students --almost had a conniption after reading the article. In her own response to the Herald, White called on Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Kotowski to enquire about his accusations for Karrer to provide names of teachers, principals and schools that have been found of cheating.

Ah, the joys of debating ideas. With all due respect to Ms. White, I'm going to side with Gary Kreeger, a Del Rey Oaks reader who was siding with Karrer.

Karrer was not talking about local teachers, or principals or districts. He was talking about what's been happening in the country for years. Some of what he alluded to have been scandals of major proportions -- like the cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools, where an investigation uncovered that 178 teachers and principals in 44 public schools were found of routinely changing their students' test answers to make them appear as if they were improving. And the increasing push around the country to tie teacher's pay to their student's performance. If your job will be determined by how many of your students do well, wouldn't the teachers be "motivated" to make sure their students' test scores shine?

I'm also going to side with Ms. White. I've watched test scores in California and Monterey County steadily increase, no sign that there's cheating going on -- except for the increased use of California Modified Assessments, which is not cheating per say, but it's a way to fudge the numbers, as statitician Doug McRae is fond of saying. More on that for another day. There's no rampant cheating in California that's been uncovered.

McRae, an expert on testing, likes to say that tests have a place. True: if you want to get into grad school, you better shine on your GRE. So children need to learn how to take them. And, if the tests were used solely as an evaluation method -- not to ridicule or punish -- maybe they would be more palatable. That's what this former teacher writes in EdWeek. But what Karrer was talking about, what makes many teachers upset, is that the tests have become an end, not the means: they're used to label schools as failures, soon they could be used in California to measure teacher's performance, and in this era of budget constraints, children are left with endless hours of drilling and not enough hours of developing their analytical skills. These are the "incentives" that are pushing some teachers -- not locally that we know of -- to cheat.

Respected educator Larry Cuban calls it a "bias towards numbers in judging teaching" approach. Schools are applauded if they gain certain amount of points in the API, they're deplored if X percentage of their students don't perform proficient. But how do we measure a teacher who listens to his/her students with respect and kindness? Who lowers himself to eye level and explains to a second grader why it's wrong to fight during lunch? A teacher who spends nights and weekends grading papers? A teacher who models for their students how to be a decent human being?

That's what Karrer is talking about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Martin Luther King Academy makes "safe harbor"

and students celebrated!

MLK was the school at the Alisal Union District that made the greatest point increase -- from 630 to 669, 39 points! Newly arrived Principal Kristi K. Burns threw a party complete with pom poms and ice cream. Last year, MLK was the lowest performing school in the district, so everyone is ecstatic. If the school meets all their targets again next year, they'll be out of program improvement!

Way to go, MLK!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writing for my blog vs. writing for the newspaper

The ongoing saga at the Alisal Union School District has brought me something else to write about: a kind reader of the Monterey Herald (presumably also of my blog) left a very angry message about my "slanted" reporting about the Alisal. Although this woman did not leave exact details of the story she was referring to (or leave her name or phone number so I could seek clarification) I believe she was referring to the blog post I wrote last week, a response to a KSBW editorial by Joseph Heston.

Because the caller said Trustee José Castañeda should be gone, and that I should remain neutral, I'm going to assume she interpreted my comments as defending Castañeda.

I wasn't.

But I wasn't calling for his resignation either.

All I said -- or tried to say, perhaps unsuccessfully -- was that Heston didn't know the community, and that I did not believe the community would recall Castañeda (rightly or wrongly, I won't take sides on that one). I said Castañeda was well liked in his community (I never said I liked him or disliked him).

Maybe it was the fact that Heston, in a follow up editorial, quoted me as saying: "For some, Castañeda is even a hero."

I didn't say I consider him a hero. I said "some" consider him a hero. I also wrote that some community leaders don't have a stomach for his "tenuous relationship with the truth," as described by the prosecutor in his perjury case. I was quoting both sides. How's that slanted?

It's not the first time that I've been accused of "unbalanced" reporting, and I'm sure it won't be the last. It's interesting to note that the caller technically accused me of bias, and that Castañeda's supporters generally don't talk to me because they don't like my reporting. If I'm being accused of being unbalanced on both sides, I must be doing something right, right?

But I want to leave with an important message: my stories in the print Herald will always be objective: just the facts, no opinion. My blogs are different: they're written in the first person (verboten in the newspaper). I cheer for our students triumphs, I cry for their untimely deaths. I offer a glimpse of what may be going on behind the scenes. I'm trying also to bring some national news into local perspective. And it's a work in progress, so if you have suggestions on what I should be covering, I'd welcome them.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Guardians of the ocean

It sounds like a best selling novel, but in reality, it's the distinction being earned by five local schools for their stewardship of the seas.

Carmel Middle School, Carmel River School, Monterey Bay Charter, Ord Terrace Elementary and Pacific Grove Middle School are being honored practically as we speak. Rep. Sam Farr was scheduled to be headlining the ceremony this morning at Carmel River School. Each school has shown a commitment to protecting the world ocean by participating in reduce/reuse/recycle activities to limit the amount of waste that goes into our landfills, banning latex balloons on school campus, and reducing single use plastics in school lunches.

Funds for the project were provided by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. To receive funds, a school makes a commitment to be an ‘Ocean Guardian’ by proposing a school- or community-based conservation project. After successful implementation, the school receives a banner designating it as an Ocean Guardian School.

Four of the five schools each received a $6,000 grant from NOAA. Ord Terrace requested only $3,500 and received that amount, according to NOAA. It was the second $6,000 award for Carmel Middle School, which has now received $12,000.

And for those schools who would like to become Guardians of the Ocean, here's instructions on how to do it!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ya salieron los resultados de exámenes estatales

Es un ritual anual. El estado publica los resultados de los exámenes que se les aplicaron a los estudiantes en la primavera. De los exámenes depende si la escuela se considera "buena" o "mala" (lo pongo entre paréntesis por que hay muchas personas que no estan de acuerdo con las categorizaciones). Buenas o malas, las categorizaciones las usa el estado para castigar a las escuelas que no estan logrando buenos desempeño, y en el caso de los distritos Alisal en Salinas y Greenfield en la ciudad del mismo nombre se usaron para que el estado asignara un encargado.

En está página encontrará una definición básica de lo que los resultados significan.

Y en esta, el árticulo que escribí (en inglés) sobre el impacto de los exámenes en el Condado de Monterey.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monterey County's traveling band heads to San Francisco

Sure, after traveling to China and D.C., going to San Francisco may not seem like a big deal. But when you are one of only six bands selected to compete for a piece of $25,000 in cash prizes, well, that's a big deal.

The North Monterey County High School Band and Color Guard has been chosen to perform at San Francisco's "Fleet Week" Celebration "band challenge on Monday, Oct. 10 -- only one of six selected from hundreds throughout Northern California. First prize gets $10,000, second $5,000, and the other four band $2,500. They band gets money, no matter what, to cover at least transportation costs.

Each band gets 12 minutes to perform whatever their hearts desire. At the end of the competition, all six bands join the United States Marine Corps Band to perform "The Stars and Stripes Forever.

"This just happens to be the Monday of our Homecoming," writes director of bands D.L. Johnson. "What a great way to start our Homecoming week of activities and performances with a great positive event for our kids."

Good luck to North Monterey High! We can't wait to see you win first prize!