Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Walk to School Day coming up

Want to improve your health and advise Monterey on how to make safer routes for students to walk and bike?

Take part of "Walk to School Day" on Oct. 3 -- although Monterey's making a week out of it.

 Monterey city officials are sponsoring a week-long event to promote pedestrian safety and the enviromental benefits of walking for students who attend Colton School.

Currently, most students arrive at Colton by school bus, MST bus or car. During "Walkt to School" week, students will be encouraged to walk from home or “Drop-off and Walk” locations approximately one mile from the school. Those who bus to school will be allowed to count their walk from home to the bus stop.

Healthy snacks and water will be provided each morning to those who participate. Students who walk all or most days will receive special prizes such as gift certificates to local eateries, movie theaters, laser tag, miniature golf and the iTunes store.

The Physical Education class with the most collective days and miles walked at the end of the week will be rewarded with a class party. Some of the barriers to walking and bicycling to Colton and other schools in the area are the steep topography, distance, pedestrian infrastructure near the school and lack of adult supervision on campus before first period.

The week-long experiment will result in recommended new pathways and solutions to be included in a citywide bicycle, pedestrian and transit plan called "Monterey on the Move."

But Monterey is not the only city participating.

There are four schools in Seaside signed up (Seaside Middle, Martin Luther King, Ord Terrace and Del Rey Woods) and who knows how many more I haven't seen. So let me know!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Free tutoring available at Salinas Union High district schools

The Salinas Union High School District is hosting "Provider Fairs" to educate families about free academic tutoring available to them.

Through a national program called "Suplemental Educational Services," a student is eligible for extra help in English, Math, and Science if he or she is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at school.

The tutoring services are paid for by the school district and are available before or after school or the weekends.

The fairs will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m the following days and locations:
  • For La Paz Middle and Alvarez High: Oct. 2, at La Paz Middle School, 1300 N. Sanborn Rd. 
  • For Washington Middle and Salinas High: Oct. 4 at Salinas High, 726 S. Main St. 
  • For Harden Middle and North Salinas High: Oct. 9 at Harden Middle, 1561 McKinnon St. 
  • For El Sausal Middle and Alisal High: Oct. 11 at Alisal High, 777 Williams Rd. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Young innovators wanted: earn a $20,000 prize

Are you a high school student? Do you have a solution to a community problem (for example in education, health care, or the environment)? If your idea is brilliant, you could earn up to $20,000.

The Westly Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on empowering California youth, sponsors the Westly Prize, which recognizes young innovators in California with creative solutions to community problems. 

 Up to four $20,000 prizes will be awarded through a competitive selection process.Two of the prizes will be given to high school students. Two other prizes will be awarded to university students or professionals 28 years old or younger. To be considered, the ideas of young innovators living in California need to have the potential to improve the lives of people in their communities.

Candidates are evaluated based on several criteria, such as whether their innovation is an advancement over existing solutions to a community problem.  The innovation can range from a new technology (like a software app) to a new service or process (like an innovative literacy program). Candidates must also show that they have prototyped and tested their innovation with some success and that there is potential for broader impact.

 “We want to empower the best and brightest young minds in California to be entrepreneurs for their communities,” said in a statement Steve Westly, Chairman of the Westly Foundation and former California state controller.  “Our goal is to help bring their ideas to life and encourage them to start non-profits and companies that will benefit California and beyond.”

Applications are due by November 2, 2012. Candidates must submit an application and a short YouTube video showcasing their innovation. Westly Prize winners will be announced in December or January. For more information about the Westly Prize or to submit a nomination or application, click here

Monterey county high school students: join the presidential debate

This is such a neat idea, I hope some high school students in Monterey County take it up (and invite me to watch).

Education organization EXPLO has just launched an initiative to encourage productive, civil conversation about political and civic issues. It's called "Join the Debates" and it's a website where high school students from all over the United States can sign up to exchange their ideas about the presidential debates.

"Many are concerned about the poor state of public discourse around political and civic matters," Moira Kelly, Executive Director of EXPLO, said in a press release. "The goal is to directly engage young people in meaningful conversation and demonstrate that reasonable people can disagree -- and that there's a civil way to make that happen."

 The plan is to have small, diverse groups of high school students gather online for about an hour after each debate to discuss them. The conversations will take place at 8 p.m. Pacific Time on October 3, 11, 16, and 22.

For more information on the project and to register as a student or facilitator, click here. And let me know if you plan to participate!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mountain Bike fun for the young ones coming near you

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day is a family event to get the little ones out and about on their two-wheels, out in the fresh open air and off the couches. It's organized by the Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association and it features rides for students of all ages and ability levels -- even a toddler event. Visitors get a ticket for prizes -- and three bikes will be given away.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at Toro Park, 501 Monterey-Salinas Highway 68.

For more information, click here or email

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monterey higher-learning embraces veterans

Three local higher learning institutions in Monterey have been listed in the 2013 Military Friendly schools, a directory that recognizes colleges, universities and trade schools working hard to ensure America’s military service members, veterans, and spouses are successful in their studies.

The schools listed are:
Monterey Institute of International Studies
Cal State Monterey Bay
Monterey Peninsula College
The full list can be found here.

The 2013 list of Military Friendly Schools was culled after examining 12,000 schools approved by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Given the Monterey Peninsula military history, it's not surprising to see they have systems in place to support veterans in their efforts to come back home.

Another email against Monterey's Shepherd surfaces

Periodically an email accusing the Monterey Peninsual Unified School District of being dysfunctional begins traveling through the cyber grapevine.

It usually goes like this: discontent in the district is growing, there are serious problems rooted in "irresponsible, dysfunctional and toxic leadership" and the only way to stop them is to demand the Board of Trustees hold Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd accountable.

The emails usually end up in my mailbox. I puzzle over what to do with them. Write a story about the growing discontent in the district? The discontent seems to have held steady since I began covering MPUSD in 2009. That more board members are questioning Supt. Shepherd? There was a rumor that she was losing support back in 2010, when the board was about to place a bond measure on the ballot. Well, we know how that story ended.

There were suggestions Shepherd was losing support earlier this year, when she was questioned harshly about a couple of budget issues. Yet, the only one to vote against renewing her contract -- and only because it did not include accountability measures -- was Jon Hill, the new trustee on the block.

At Monday night's meeting, two board members voted against two separate proposals by her-- one each. This minor resistance notwithstanding, Shepherd seems to have the backing of the board more than ever.

How's her support eroding, then?

Am I supposed to report on the "toxic" leadership? And how can I do that, when nobody will speak on the record? Not even those who have left, now that they should have no fear of being fired?

It is clear that Shepherd is disliked by many, that she makes unpopular decisions, that she rubs people the wrong way. But how are these emails useful? The drafters acknowledge they don't want to get Shepherd fired, just to hold her accountable. And for her to answer questions.

The same questions that she gets asked over and over again, the questions that make her roll her eyes.

So what's the end game here? For Shepherd to undergo a personality makeover? For her to stop making unpopular decisions? And how will she guess what decisions will be unpopular?

Or maybe, maybe, the emails are just and end to itself. To let Superintendent Shepherd and the Board know that people are watching. With a magnifying glass.

So, if people are watching so intently, how come nobody in the public said a peep about "fiscal accountability"? Am I the only one who believes this is mega-important?

Or is this decision destined to become an "unpopular" one?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Salinas high to hold information session on Deferred Action

Deferred action, a program by the Obama administration to give work permit to undocumented youth who arrived in the United States as minors, is the major change to immigration rules in almost 20 years, and potential petitioners have a lot of questions about it.

Interestingly, I haven't seen any informational event scheduled in the Monterey Peninsula. From what I hear, there's demand for these sessions over there too.

The Salinas Union High School District will host a free information session on Deferred Action. Information to be provided are eligibility requirements and on how to begin to prepare a case. The presentation will also include a panel of attorneys to available to answer questions regarding the petition process.

The event will take place Saturday, Sept. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center of Salinas High School, 726 S. Main St., Salinas. For more information, call Julia Grant at 796-7867 or Laura Orozco at 796-7869.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A culture of high expectations

In the education beat you often hear the word "expectations." You frequently hear educators claim it's all about expectations: if you hold students to high standards, they'll rise to the challenge and show you what they're capable of.

Given other realities such as poverty -- a child who comes to school hungry is going to have a hard time concentrating, and learning -- I've been always skeptical about the concept. How are expectations alone going to help improve children's education?

Well, this morning I heard a report that definitely got me thinking. NPR journalist Alix Spiegel interviews a Harvard professor who's been doing long-term research on the topic. Check it out!

The report made me think of Seaside Principal Mary White. The entire MPUSD community's been raving about Dr. White and the miracle she's performed at the previously troubled school. Whenever you speak with Dr. White, she'll tell you the secret: expectations. And a lot of work.

Sounds like Dr. White's onto something.

Attention Monterey County juniors

Go to Sacramento and represent students concerns at the California Board of Education!

If you'll be a senior in high school next year (2013-14) and you're amazing (I'm looking at you, high school board representatives) you may want to apply for your ultimate bureaucratic experience. A diamond in your resume.

The California Board of Education is accepting applications for student board member, a young person who can attend all the meetings of the State Board (at least two days every other months and other meetings as necessary) and have enough energy to review all the documents pertaining to the decisions to be made.

Should you be ready to accept the challenge, applications must be received in the State Board of Education Office no later than 5 p.m., Friday, October 19, 2012.

Click here for more information: or contact the California State Board of Education, 2013-14 Student Member Application, 1430 N Street, Suite 5111, Sacramento, CA, 95814; by telephone at 916-319-0826, or by email at

Any student who is a California resident and enrolled in a public high school, will be a senior in good standing in the 2013-14 school year, and who will be available to attend a statewide student leader meeting November 3-7, 2012, is eligible to apply.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Chicago strike and what's a stake for teachers

Make no mistake, the Chicago strike is one of those crucial moments in history. It will determine, like my colleague Claudio Sanchez of NPR says in his story here, the relationship between the Democratic party and teachers unions for years to come.

We may not have seen this battle unfold locally, but it's coming. The Obama administration has been demanding states implement some sort of evaluation for teachers' performance. The fight to find one in California is alive and well, and it will eventually trickle down to the districts.

More importantly, and something that's not mentioned in my tocallo's piece, or anywhere else, is reformers efforts to de-couple student achievement from economic status. By trying to link teacher's performance to student's performance, the reformers want to say: no matter how poor a child is, no matter how horrible his home circumstances are, he or she can achieve on par with everyone else. How can this be possible?

From where I stand, that's the real fight, but nobody talks about it in this terms.

Getting financial accountability cold feet

The four largest school districts announced their intentions to seek some sort of financial independence from the Monterey County Office of Education last month, and at least one of them seems to be getting cold feed. For more information, read the story I wrote on the topic here.

Administrators and trustees with the Salinas Union High School District sounded a bit wary of what it would mean for them to become "fiscally accountable" at a meeting Tuesday night. Superintendent Tim Vanolli said it had not been clear to him the amount of work it would take to stop depending on the county to run Salinas high checking account. Trustee Lila Cann said it was "very scary" to think of the district being independent of the county.

It'll be interesting to see what route Monterey Peninsula Unified, Salinas City Elementary, and Alisal Union Elementary take. Stay tuned.

Marina does it again!

For the second year in a row, Marina has been named among the best 100 communities for young people.

Marina is recognized for its efforts in supporting young people and in improving graduation rates.

Marina will receive a $2,500 grant, signage identifying the community as one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People, and access to America’s Promise Alliance’s community development resources.

The community will host a celebration at Teen Center from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept 16.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jose Hernandez of Salinas, Hearst Scholar

To say that José Hernández is having a fabulous year is an understatement. First, he gets selected to go to Harvard and represent Salinas for the launch of Lady Gaga's Born This Way foundation.

Now he gets selected as one of the 23 scholars in the California State University system.

Way to go, José!

"I'm really excited and really happy for being a nominee for this scholarship," José told me in a message.

José, a junior at Cal State Monterey Bay, works as a youth assistant at the Salinas Public Library and is getting a degree in health and human services. And is riding on cloud 9!

For more on the announcement, click here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Boomerang Roomie: a story worth checking out at the Weekly

An interesting conversation taking place in the United States is how young adults are taking longer to spread their wings and make it on their own. The topic is perfectly exemplified by a story in the latest edition of the Monterey County Weekly: The Boomerang Roomie, about how a few local young men and women are coming back home after finishing their college education. Check it out here.

For parents who believe this is a worrisome trend, experts advise them to chill out: recent research shows the human brain is somehow taking longer to mature (maybe it always has but the research has never been there to prove it): according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal "people are better equipped to make major life decisions in their late 20s than earlier in the decade.

"The brain, once thought to be fully grown after puberty, is still evolving into its adult shape well into a person's third decade, pruning away unused connections and strengthening those that remain."

So yes, young men/women are taking a lot longer to mature, to decide what they need/want out of life. Which poses some interesting educational challenges: at a time when budget cuts are the norm, when more emphasis is being placed on pushing students through the system quickly, how many are going to have the mental maturity to make it through? How many would still need a few years to be better students?

Definitely worth pondering.

Funding college: that is the question

College costs are soaring, and more than ever, information is needed to make wise decisions about financing our children's education. So this workshop comes in handy.

The Center for the Advancement of Language and Literacy at Chartwell School will offer a free workshop called "Funding College: Important Financial Information to Know."

Speaker Steve Shapiro will discuss some important information parents need to know about funding college. Questions are welcome and students are invited to attend. Steve Shapiro is an accountant and a member of the National College Advocacy Group

From 6:30 to 8: 30 p.m. Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at Chartwell, 2511 Numa Watson Road, Seaside CA 93955

For more information, click here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Coral Academy goes to Sacramento

You have to admire the tenacity of CORAL Academy members. The group Monterey group has been trying to get their charter school going in the Peninsula area or thereabouts for about five years, and so far they seem undeterred. After getting rejected by the Monterey Peninsula Unified School Board twice, and twice getting their appeal rejected by the Monterey County Board of Education, the board will have their day at the California Board of Education in Sacramento in the upcoming months.

On their website, the group still anticipates to open in 2013. If the state grants them charter status, it could still be possible.

Click here for more information about CORAL, including their charter petition.

MPUSD gets often accused of not being "transparent"

yet it's one of the schools district with the most easily accessible public documents in Monterey County.

This is not meant to diss to any district, rather, is a "kudos" to the system MPUSD launched a few months ago -- maybe more than a year? The system allows for the archival and easy access over the Internet of most the documents the board of trustees receive at their meeting. It's the easiest way to find information, and if you are in the information business, it's really a blessing. It's run by an outside vendor, and it's found here.

Take a look, by contrast, at the system used by the Monterey County Office of Education. Except for their agenda and minutes, no other board document is easily accessible in their website, and the search button sometimes doesn't even work. Trustees receive their packets on paper, and if you want copies, somebody has to make you a physical one -- or scan it. Here's the link to the available documents.

Again, this is not meant as a diss. The public information department at MCOE is one of the friendliest, most responsive, most efficient in the county. Whenever I ask for documents or information, they usually provide them within a reasonable amount of time. It's their system that seems to be in need of an upgrade.

It occurs to me that, if the human resources system MPUSD is using right now is as efficient as the system used to post their agendas, I can see why they'd prefer it over a paper system like the one used at MCOE. And this entire reflection comes on the heels of what I see is a major dispute brewing among districts over what system to use to process their financial information -- we're taking about the tracking of millions of dollars here. Find more about that emerging disagreement here and stay tuned.

It will be all teens at the Monterey Bay Film Festival

You'll have a chance to see some teen talent in action this Saturday, when the work of youth from all over Monterey County is showcased at the Monterey Bay Film Festival at CSUMB at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the World Theater. And it's free!

That's just one of the many activities that are taking place this weekend during the film festival. Check out the schedule here. And go check out for yourself how talented our teens are.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marina, one of the best cities for young people again?

Marina residents and cheerleaders are crossing their fingers they are once again named one of the "best 100 cities" for young people in the United States.

You may recall they received the honor last year, so expectations are high. The award will be announced nationally on Sept. 12 at 9 a.m. eastern time. Stay tuned.

It's campaign season

And the League of Women Voters of the Salinas Valley want to inform you about Propositions 30 and 38, the tax measure on the November ballot slated to benefit education in the state.

The event will take place Tuesday, Sept. 11, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Oasis Charter school.

Oasis Charter school, 1135 Westridge Parkway, Salinas.