Friday, August 31, 2012

A very significat item coming to the MPUSD board

MPUSD officials will consider "fiscally accountability" -- that is, whether the district is to become much more independent from the Monterey County Office of Education when it comes to financial issues.

As many of you know, MCOE provides a significant amount of oversight over schools finances, and in some cases, like in the case of King City, can have significant influence over how districts spend their money. How "fiscal accountability" could change that, I'm not sure, but I'm eager to find out next week. MCOE officials will also talk about it at their board meeting on Wednesday, a day after MPUSD. Last week, Alisal officials considered it, and I understand there's at least two more districts in Monterey are already on that path.

What does it mean for the districts exactly, and for MCOE? Stay tuned. Or go to the meetings:

Tuesday, 7 p.m., at Instructional Materials Center, Del Rey Oaks
Wednesday, after 9:30 a.m., at MCOE, 901 Blanco Circle, Salinas

Why not swapping Bay View Academy with the proposed child care center?

Who knows how far this idea would go, but at a community meeting organized today by MPUSD Jon Hill, a couple of people wanted to know this:

Since the district is barely going to open a child development center -- at the former site of Bay View Elementary -- and since Bay View Academy is growing, wants to grow even further to add a middle school, why not just let them take over the Bay View building? Why not start the child care center at Del Monte from scratch, and let the charter have the Bay View building?

Who knows how far this idea will go, but Monterey community members want the idea explored.

One thing's for sure: Bay View is a wound that won't be healing for some time to come.

Alisal students dream of Washington D.C.

About 60 students from the government class of Ruben Pizarro at Alisal High have launched a fundraiser effort to pay for their trip to Washington D.C. to attend the inauguration of the next U.S. president.

"The opportunity for these seniors from Alisal High School to witness firsthand what they are currently studying in their Government classes will leave a lasting impression on their young minds and certainly shape the way they view their country’s government," Pizarro said when announcing the event.

"Dreams of DC" is the name of the club, and they have until Nov. 5 -- the day before the election -- to raise as much money as possible so they can all give their down payment on their trip. They'll be holding car washes, food sales, raffles, talent shows, carnivals, and do all within their power to get money for their trip.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that not many people get to be a part of," said in a statement Laura Padilla, a senior government student,

"This trip can plant a seed in us that will make us grow into more proactive and involved citizens," senior Sergio Reyes added.

The group would go to DC from Jan 18 through Jan 22, which would cost almost $2,000 per students. In addition to witnessing the inauguration, the trip would include a visit to the White House, the Smithsonian Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, the works. Many of the students have had very limited opportunities of travel, so they're certainly eager to go across the country to attend a historic event.

Dreams if DC is asking for donations. They are tax deductible and can be send to Alisal High School, c/o Washington DC trip, 777 Williams Road, Salinas, CA 93905.

Go Trojans! Start saving for thick coats, Washington in the winter's mighty cold.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Salinas High School Aradhana Sinha continues to earn accolades

16-year-old Aradhana Sinha, a senior at Salinas High School, is one of three finalist for the Outstanding Young Scientist Award of the California Association of Professional Scientists. On Sept. 31, Aradhana will find out if she's the winner at a luncheon in Sacramento.

Aradhana's project “Triforine Sensitivity in Lettuce: Year Two” has idenfied a gene in lettuce that makes it sensitive to a popular chemical in fungicides. Sinha's project has been earning recognition everywhere: she won 1st place at the Monterey County Science Fair and 3rd place in the plant biology category at Intel's International Science & Engineering Fair.

The winner will receive a $1,000 cash award and the two runner-ups each receive a $500 cash award.

We keep getting good news about your good work, Aradhana, (and your brother Kapil). You both make Monterey County proud!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jose Ibarra now an administrator at the Alisal Union School District

If you've ever been to a meeting of the Alisal Union School District -- or any other local board that's dealing with controversy -- you've probably seen Jose Ibarra. A self-assured, purposeful man, he has a knack for fiery oratory and grand pronouncements. He was one of the driving forces behind the firing of former Alisal Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas, the resignation of at least two board members, and after Hartnell Trustee Elia Gonzales Castro publicly called another elected official a bully, Ibarra and his army showed up in force at a Hartnell board meeting to call on Gonzales Castro and let her know his organization, the May First Alliance, was watching.

Ibarra has always struck me as someone who's deeply committed to a cause, and very strong on his convictions. Imagine my surprise when I saw him last week at the board meeting of the Alisal, when it was announced he's been hired as an administrator for the education services department, and speak to the board almost deferentially. To be sure, he told them he was going to still call on them whenever he felt appropriate, but that was not the tone he was employing with his new, ahem, well, employer.

There was no fiery rhetoric, no threats. Only kind -- submissive?-- words.

Maybe he has to be nice to his little sister, Trustee Meredith Ibarra?

This is what I find fascinating: Meredith Ibarra was able to get elected to the Alisal board by crying foul on her predecessor's alleged nepotism -- her predecessor's nephew had a small contract with the district. Now Ibarra is employing her own brother. OK, maybe she didn't have a hand on his employment -- Jose Ibarra has worked for the district before, but not as an administrator. It sure looks suspicious, though.

If we couple Jose Ibarra's hiring with the treatment some employees are facing for speaking out to the community -- namely, retaliation -- many say it's not taking long for the "new" board to behave like they accused the "old" board of doing.

Maybe this revolution has already become a bureaucracy. We'll see.

"Won't Back Down" -- let's go to the movies!

Well, by now you've probably heard the buzz: the movie "Won't Back Down" is coming to a theater near you Sept. 28.

The film portrays two moms, one a teacher, and their quest to reform their children's school using "parent trigger" a controversial law that allows parents to demand wholesale reforms -- including the conversion of their school into a charter -- if they gather enough signatures. Read more about it here.

The movie's garnered a lot of attention already, given how controversial "parent trigger" has been. The law exists only in a handful of states, including California, but so far, the only group of parents to enact it in Adelanto, Calif., continues to fight with the their school board so they can pick a charter operator. Here's the latest news.

A reader came up with the idea. Why not have a screening of the movie in Monterey and then discuss it?

Well, how about it?

My bosses gave me the green light, so now I'm trying to see if we can host a "viewing" at a local theater. It would be fun to meet afterwards and talk about it. What do you all think?

The date's rapidly approaching, and it may be too soon to organize an event. If it's not possible, we could always host a live chat some other time. Unfortunately, I'll be out of town for a conference on Sept. 28.

I hope we can make this happen. It'd be an amazing educational opportunity!

More information sessions coming up on "Deferred Action"

Congressman Sam Farr will host an information session on the "Deferred Action" program for immigrant youth this Friday, Aug. 31, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at El Sausal Middle School in East Salinas.

Also present to answer question will be James T. Wyrough, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, San Jose Field Office, Doug Keegan from the Santa Cruz County Immigration Project, and Jorge Sifuentes from Catholic Charities.

Deferred Action is a program authorized by the Obama administration to stop deportation proceedings for young immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States before they were 16, have committed no major crimes, and have finished high school or a GED.

An estimated 8,000 people in Congressional District 17 - which includes San Benito, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties -- could be eligible, and judging by the workshops already conducted, there's a lot of interest in participating.

Theresa Carbajal, a counselor at Hartnell, says her students are being told local attorneys are charging a pretty penny to fill out the forms, so she's helping organize an event being called "Central Coast Dreamers Marathon." Scheduled for Sept. 8 and 9, organizers are trying to go all out with it: music, food, you name it. And, of course, help filling out the application for free. Organizers are still looking for volunteers, so call Yuliana Vasquez or Laura Cabrera at the office of Assemblyman Luis Alejo at 759 8676 or email for more information.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Want to hear more about a child care center at Bay View Elementary?

Perhaps you've heard that MPUSD administrators are proposing to start a new child development center at the former Bay View Elementary site -- complete with a child care center and a diagnostic clinic. I wrote a story about it here.

Trustee Jon Hill is inviting community members to participate on a tour of the school this Friday, Aug. 28, at 1:30 p.m. It should be interesting. STAR test results will be out then, so I'll try to make it, but won't make promises.

You all have fun!

Updtate 8/28/12: Hill told me in an email he helped organize the field trip because several community members asked for "an opportunity for an informal conversation." Key staff members will be there. Hill's goal is to get the message out to parents and other interested community members about this project.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to school: a new chance to start biking

Mari Lynch, Monterey County bicycling enthusiast extraordinaire, would like to remind everyone that biking is a fun and healthy way to get to school. And the start of classes is also a great opportunity to launch new habits. In her blog, Mari lists a few local schools that make it easy for their students to bike (Pacific Grove Middle School, Jack Franscioni Elementary in Soledad).

Do you know of any other school that has a good bike-to-school program? Send me or Mari the info.

Also, Bike Party has come to Salinas! It will be the first Friday of the month, and it already began in August, so the second installment's coming up next week, Sept. 7. Check it out here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

It's a new year at CSUMB

students are moving in today, and some even had the opportunity to shake hands with their new president, Eduardo Ochoa.

Faculty and staff also heard his ideas during his state of the university address, delivered Thursday.

We've had the chance to talk to Dr. Ochoa, both at the editorial board and in an interview with yours truly, so I'm glad the faculty has had that same opportunity.

For those of you who've missed it, here's a transcript of his speech. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pity the poor children, follow the money, and don't shoot the messenger

MPUSD officials and administrators unwittingly stepped into a minefield when they accepted offers by Salud Para La Gente to open a dental clinic at the Cabrillo site.

I didn't make it to the portion of Monday's meeting, when Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas CEO Max Cuevas and his supporters urged Monterey trustees not to approve the contract with Salud Para La Gente. But based on conversations I've had afterwards with interested parties, it can't have been pleasant.

For what I know, major reforms in the federal health care system are coming down the pike, and there will only be limited dollars to local providers, which has unleashed a very ugly fight among them. My guess is it's only going to get uglier.

What concerns me, frankly, it's services, specifically, services for low income children. Had MPUSD not approved the contract with Salud, who knows how long it would have been until children in Seaside had access to dental care. According a preliminary report by CSUMB, there are no dental health clinics for low-income people in the Monterey Peninsula.

I'm not taking sides here. All I'd like to see is children's health needs taken care of. I hope cooler heads prevail and this quarrel doesn't become nastier than it already has.

Monterey High art teacher Cat Melone

has been chosen by the California Art Education Association to receive the Exemplary Program Award for 2012. The California Art Education Association recognizes people and programs within their membership who contribute to the teaching of visual arts in an exemplary way.

Here's a video Ms. Melone made for the school's video catalog, explaining requirements for her class, but most importantly, displaying some of her students artwork. Pretty impressive. Check it out!

And congratulatios, Ms. Melone!

Update: I spoke with Ms. Melone Monday, and here's my mini-interview with her:

Melone first began teaching at Monterey High in 2005, so this is her 8th year at the school – including the first one as a temporary teacher. She told me she tried to connect with the community and be as environmentally friendly as possible in her work.
“We make sketchbooks out of old binders, old pairs of jeans,” she said. “I’m always learning new things from other teachers, always looking for professional development in and outside of the art field.”

Does she get discouraged, in this era of budget cuts, that arts don’t seem to be as appreciated as other subjects?

“It’s hard to run an arts program with zero budgeting, we get everything donated. It’s discouraging but this is the reality, we’re not going to let that push us down. I’m always reaching out to the community for donations, we recycle for them, we have a great community. And our staff is incredibly generous.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A showdown coming to the Alisal

A showdown is expected at the Alisal Union Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday to protest the administration's decision to remove the director of the Alisal Family Resource Center.

Apparently, Rodriguez was given direction to move services out from the Alisal Family Resource Center, a well known and beloved organization in the heart of East Salinas, into surrounding, district schools. For 20 years, the center has provided a wide variety of services ranging from cooking classes to English as a second language.

Administrators wanted to go on a different direction, my sources tell me. They removed Rodriguez because she would not comply with their directives.

But most of the center's funding comes from grants, not from the district's general fund. Funders were not happy to hear their moneys would not be used the way it was originally proposed.

Now, the rumor mill is spinning the tale that Superintendent John Ramirez will reinstate Anabelle because he's planning to run against Nancy Kotowski for superintendent of schools when she's up for re-election, and a controversy of this size would not serve him well for a county-wide election. It'll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. And in the upcoming election. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The 50th anniversary of Captain Cooper School is coming up...

And Carmel Unified School District Officials would like you to share your memories for their celebration.

The big bash will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 15, at the school in Big Sur. Community members, alumni and staff are welcome.

For more information click here or RSVP at 667-2452, extension 11.

Philip Deutschle, astronomy instructor, wins national recognition

Philip Deutschle, co-chair of the Science Department at Salinas High School and adjunct astronomy instructor at Hartnell College, has earned the Thomas J. Brennan Award by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement related to teaching astronomy at the high school level in North America.

An astronomy instructor at Salinas High since 2003, Deutschle efforts led to the opening of an observatory at the school in the summer of 2010. The observatory is open to the public one night a week during the school year, and many community members witnessed the Venus transit earlier this year at Salinas High through this effort.

Deutschle has helped his high school students obtain paid internships at the Fremont Peak Observatory in collaboration with Hartnell’s Science and Math Institute. Andy Kreyche, Hartnell’s planetarium educator, nominated Deutschle for the award.

In the photo: Shawn Laatsch, board member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, presents Philip Deutschle with the 2012 Thomas J. Brennan Award at the ASP Annual Meeting Awards Banquet in Tucson, Arizona, on August 7. Courtesy of Hartnell College.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Attention Pacific Grove parents: Matt Bellace is in town

Pacific Grove Middle and High school students had a chance to hear comedian/motivational speaker/clinical psychologist Matt Bellace this morning, and from the sound of their laughter, I could tell they had a blast. Find out more about him here.

Bellace brings an anti-drug message that's funny, entertaining, and resonates with young people. These days when drugs are so abundant, is very important to start delivering this message to our kids as early as possible.

Bellace will have a presentation for parents at 7:00 P.M. at the Performing Arts Center of Pacific Grove. Don't miss it. You won't be disappointed.

All the news that's fit to print

about Hartnell College you'll find them here, in the president's weekly report.

Every since Willard Lewallen arrived in Hartnell a month ago, he began putting out a weekly newsletter with tidbits of what's going on on campus -- and nationwide. Pretty informative. Check it out.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sunday a day of painting for parents and students at Olson Elementary

The Olson PTA spent Sunday morning sprucing up the drab looking playground for kindergarteners. The results were so festive! Kudos not just to Tara Devlin, Hyacinth Schnute, and Dawn Aronson for cooking up the entire event, but to all the parents and students who lent a hand. What a way to start the school year!

Update: if you're interested in donating to Olson PTA (or just keep up with their work) find them here.

How to reform schools

In light of some changes at MPUSD (namely, new principals and what not) I've been having an interesting conversation with some parents and employees who shall remain anonymous about what works for schools. One of the parents seems frustrated with the system as a whole, and I found a column that tells me she's not alone. These days, everyone seems frustrated with how efforts to reform schools seem to go nowhere.

Two very good points that Peter Schrag makes in his column: "In a state that now ranks in the bottom ten nationwide in school spending, and among the lowest in the ratio of teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians per pupil there’s a long list of suspects."

There's a saying people toss around "don't throw money at a problem." Money, however, does fix a lot of problems.

It takes a village (and Fulbright scholars) to stuff back packs

Under cloudy skies and the occasional sprinkle, an army of volunteers helped stuff backpacks Saturday for the "Stuff the Bus" campaign of United Way Monterey County.

What a production. It takes a lot of effort to make sure every backpack has a more-or-less even distribution of supplies: pencils, paper, erasers, markers, notebooks. Because the need is always greater than the available resources, chances are not all the backpacks have the same supplies. At the end, the group ran out of backpacks so the supplies were placed inside recyclable shopping bags.

It's uplifting to see how many in the community care about needy children. Fatima Dias of United Way says that about 1,300 backpacks were stuffed and ready to be delivered today.

Carlos Diaz, coordinator of homeless services for MPUSD, arrived at around noon to pick up the backpacks he'll deliver to students in his district. Last year there were 650 students considered homeless, but chances are not all of them will get a backpack.

And a group of Fulbright international scholars now receiving their training at Monterey Institute of International studies drop by to help. And took tons of pictures.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Luis Valdez at CSUMB

What can I say. Luis Valdez is one of our local treasures. And I can't do him justice on a 12-inch story, so I decided instead to upload the video I made of his keynote address Tuesday at CSUMB for the Junior Otters program. Enjoy. Here's the story.

It's back to school. Volunteer

Donate time, supplies or money to the current efforts of the Boys & Girls Club as they help their members go back to school.

The Clubs (in Seaside and Salinas) will be collecting money, materials, and volunteers from until Sept. 7 so they can in turn help the hundreds of students that fill their halls. They have 58 volunteer positions available and huge needs. For more information, click here.

Salinas youth: serve on your own commission

It's never to early to become involved in local affairs, and the city of Salinas has an opportunity for you.

If you are between 13 and 18, live in Salinas, and would like to share the concerns of your peers to the larger community, this opportunity is for you. The Youth Commission is made up of 28 members selected by the Mayor and City Council members. The Youth Commission identifies and promotes concerns of the youth in Salinas, makes recommendations to the City Council regarding recreational programs and activities affecting youth and give opportunities to young adults to learn about and participate in local government. The commission usuall meets the second and fourth Monday’s of each month at 6:30 p.m.

Term of office commences at time of appointment. For more information or an application click here or contact the Salinas City Clerk’s office, 200 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, 93901, 758-7381, Monday through Thursday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Cyber adventures: children learn to love robotics and computer science

About two dozen middle schoolers had a chance to participate in "Cyber Adventures: the Joy and Beauty of Computer Science," a week-long program offered at the Alisal Campus of Hartnell College. The Lyceum of Monterey County, the Naval Postgraduate School and Hartnell College all collaborated to make this program possible. The students also went on a field trip to MBARI and NPS, participated in a robotics competition, and judging by their smiley faces in the photos, had a blast!

This was the first time this event took place, so I hope to see it next year!

The good folks at Carmel Presbyterian

have been doing a lot of good work lately. Not only are they tutoring children at the Martin Luther King Elementary, they also came to spruce up their school!

My story in today's paper did not include any of the photos of their work, so I decided to include them here. Thanks for all you do!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Paul Kerrer's piece on remembering James Holmes

Castroville Elementary School teacher Paul Kerrer was interviewed by the Herald about his recollections on James Holmes, the alleged shooter of the Aurora massacre earlier this month.

Later he wrote a piece on his memories about Holmes that first appeared in the New York Post and this week in EdWeek.

While I haven't been a big fan of "testimonial" pieces (I was at the World Trade Center once, my third-cousin met Bill Clinton, what not) the Aurora killings have turned my mind around. My family left the theater two hours before Holmes was said to kill and wound dozens.

But there's a more important element to testimonial pieces, like Kerrer's. They remind us that Holmes is like us, a person who attended fifth grade in our midst, a young man who has a family, parents, uncles and cousins who are very likely suffering immensely.

It reminds us that tragedies like this can happen to any of us. Just like the victims can be our sisters, our nephews; the perpetrators too can be our relations. So we need to be compassionate, not just to the Aurora families, but to Holmes' as well.

Back to school: whooping cough vaccine needed for 7th graders

Students starting middle school need to have their pertussis booster shot, or else they won't get admitted into school. Last year, the campaign to have all California middle and high schoolers vaccinated resulted in 31,000 students in Monterey County receive their booster shots, according to the Monterey County Health Department, and this year they don't want to let up in their efforts.

There won't be a massive campaign this year -- only 7th graders need the booster shot this year -- but Monterey County Health clinics will host free or low cost immunization clinics, Monday throuth Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

Alisal Health Center, Suite #202 559 East Alisal St, Salinas, 769-8870
Seaside Family Health Center, Bldg. B, 1150 Fremont Blvd, Seaside, 899-8100

For more information from the Health Department, click here.