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