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