Thursday, November 29, 2012

More on the PR firm hired to smooth wrinkles at MPUSD

The boss of bosses at the Herald, Royal Calkins, wrote an interesting column regarding MPUSD and their hiring of K-12 Insight to improve community relations.

I wanted to share it here because, in this day and age of electronic communications, I'm not sure Internet readers saw it. So here it is.

MPC's Walter Tribley 3.5 year contract approved

Monterey Peninsula College trustees unanimously approved a 3.5 year contract for incoming president Walter Tribley. He's scheduled to begin service Dec. 17.

His annual salary will be $205,000, minus a 2 percent wage concession for 2012-13, for a total of $200,859. He'll receive similar health and other benefits as other administrators, a $625 monthly expense allowance and $625 monthly car allowance.

Tribley will be earning considerably less than his predecessor, who was hired at $215,000 in 2008 and has earned a 5 percent increase every year minus wage concessions like all the rest of the staff.

Willard Lewellyn, hired to lead Hartnell College in the summer, has a yearly salary of $225,000 plus benefits, a $450 monthly allowance for use of his personal car for college businesses and $5,000 for moving expenses.

Of school bonds and other demons

The widespread practice among school districts of selling "Capital Appreciation Bonds" is coming into sharp focus this week after the L.A. Times published an investigation on the topic. Here's the link.

School districts statewide have been resorting to selling Capital Appreciation Bonds since the economic bubble burst and pushed down property values. Administrators began to use these bonds banking with the belief that property values will go up, so taxpayers would not be adversely affected.  I've also heard from district administrators they plan to refinance the bonds before they become due so the payments are not as high as they're being made to sound on stories like this.

Nine districts in Monterey County have resorted to this type of bonds since 2007: Alisal Union, Bradley Union, Carmel Unified, Gonzales Unified, Greenfield Union, Hartnell College, Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey Peninsula Unified, King City Elementary, and Santa Rita Elementary. Together they've issued about at least $104 million in bonds to finance school construction and renovation.

To my untrained eye, it looks like the only bonds that should raise eyebrows are in Bradley, Carmel, Hartnell and Santa Rita because of their high repayment ratio. But I'll have a chance to look at them more closely in the days to come.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

California funding "deferrals" tool

District administrators not only fret about budget cuts, but about "deferrals." It's the money they're supposed to be getting but it's being used in Sacramento to close budget gaps. Talk about borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. 

Doing research for a story I'm writing for tomorrow's paper, I found this cool tool in the web, courtesy of Ed Voice. The database allows you to find out how much the state "deferred" in payments to districts for the 2011-12 school year.

For MPUSD, it was a cool $8 million.
Salinas City Elementary, $10 million.
Salinas Union High, $21 million.

It's money that's owed to the districts, but they can't use it. So they go and borrow, usually with some interest rates attached.Ultimately, it's the taxpayers who foot the bill.

Mmm. Not sure how that will change now that Prop. 30 passed, but will definitely find out.

A 30-foot gray whale is coming to Greenfield

Two weeks from now, students from Vista Verde Middle School in Greenfield will have the chance to view and touch a complete skeleton of a 30-foot gray whale.

The Greenfield Science Workshop program, which is part of a network of science workshops across California, will bring the whale exhibit.  The exhibit travels in a modified truck and is used as a natural science resource to engage students in science education.

Dan Sudran, founder of the network of workshops, salvaged the whale bones that make up the traveling exhibit.  The young gray whale first washed up on Pescadero Beach in June 2011. Sudran asked for permission to remove the dead whale’s remains, and with little time to act, he relied on a team of volunteers and friends to dig up the bones and carry them to his backyard in Pescadero. He  cleaned the bones and built a structure that would allow for the safe travel of the skeleton in a donated truck.  A real human skeleton, the rib of a blue whale, as well as cow, deer, and even gopher bones accompany the exhibit.

I've been to the workshop in Greenfield, which is truly magical. Being around the children and teachers you realize how much students gain when they receive an opportunity to explore. The whale exhibit sounds like another great opportunity.

The exhibit is scheduled to return during February 2013 to visit Oak Elementary School.

Monday, November 26, 2012

November is national adoption month

and there's tons of teenager out there waiting to join a family.

I've been meaning to write about adoption for a while for two reasons: one, November is adoption month, and we get bombarded with messages about opening our homes to children less fortunate.

Two, a good friend of mine, mother of two gorgeous adopted boys, began blogging recently. Naturally, she's been blogging about adoption. You can read her blog here.

For those of you with children out there, you'll know how hard it gets when they hit the teenage years. Their hormonal levels spike through the roof, and previously lovable boys and girls become aliens from Planet What's the Matter with You Today.

Not surprisingly, children in their teenage years have the most difficulty finding permanent homes. And it's at this time when they most need it: it's the time when they'll be making decisions that will affect them their whole lives: whether to drop out or finish high school; give into the drugs temptation. If they set out on the wrong path, the chances for them to re-chart it will be slim.

Adoption is not for everyone, but if you're curious, here you can find more information.

Mary Claypool sworn into Monterey County Board of Education

Top Seaside community activists gathered at the Monterey County Office of Education last week to witness the swearing in of Mary Claypool as the newest trustee on its board.

Claypool, a business consultant, former executive director of the Monterey County Business Council, and columnist for The Herald, was appointed to fill the Trustee Area 6 seat left vacant in September with the resignation of Byrl Anderson-Smith.

Claypool will serve the remainder of the term, which expires Nov. 2013.

Claypool has served on various parent-teacher associations, worked directly in classrooms, and currently serves as a member of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Bond Oversight Committee. She has 42 years of experience working as a budget/management analyst for local government, including the City of Seaside and County of Monterey. She holds bachelor and master degrees from La Salle University.

In the picture, Monterey Peninsula Unified Trustee Helen Rucker swears in Claypool in under the watchful eye of Mel Mason, president of the Monterey County chapter of the NAACP. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Speaking of "CAVE" people and MPUSD

I knew my story about MPUSD hiring a communications firm would spark reaction. And Monterey resident and mother extraordinaire Joanna Greenshields didn't disappoint.

Here's an email she sent to MPUSD administrators and board members in response to my story:

I hope that these folks from Virginia are fluent in Spanish (CMS- Not that I could tell). 

The largest group of parents in MPUSD are Hispanic and very specific issues have to be addressed by people who are culturally and linguistically capable and sensitive. 

The other issue I see is that MPUSD personnel are some of the biggest naysayers. 
Many staff are unwilling to support district goals and many more won't put their own children in the very schools they teach in. How is that supposed to inspire confidence in the rest of us? 
My own experience with a few members in the top tier administration has been thoroughly entertaining at times! 
I have been lied to, I have been ignored, I have had administrators at board meetings roll their eyes, smirk and make sarcastic comments after I have raised an issue. 
Why would anybody but a bloody idiot get pulled in to that snake pit on a regular basis? 
It is embarrassing to see district staff try to argue a point on behalf of "the party line" when they are ill prepared and uncomfortable, but they have been sent out in to the firing line to sell the latest twaddle to the deaf public anyway. 
This has been my own personal experience and I know many other parents and community members that have experienced exactly the same. 

 I will say that the Board members have never acted inappropriately, nor have they made me feel like a " CAVE " person. Honesty, integrity, and total transparency are an absolute must for this administration. The superintendent sets the tone. Enough said!

Mrs. Greenshields raises an issue here that I've heard from many corners of MPUSD -- not just Monterey. Many don't like the top-down approach to decision making that appears to be the norm in the district. Thus, decisions that are arrived to this way keep building pressure in several corners until they finally bubble up, and explode one way or another.

If nothing else, maybe K-12 Insight will help take the community's pulse and see what kind of decisions would be more palatable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monterey youth: apply for the Immigrant Youth Achievement Award

Here's one of my favorite dreams: that one of the young, talented immigrants I've profiled wins the American Immigration Council’s annual Immigrant Achievement Awards.

José Hernández, I'm looking at you! ;-)

But anyone else from the Central Coast would make me happy.

The Immigrant Youth Achievement Award celebrates high-achieving young immigrants, whose personal accomplishments and contributions demonstrate the impact young immigrants are having on our nation every day.

Here's the requirements:

• Candidates must be between the ages of 14 and 25 years of age on April 11, 2013;
• They must be an immigrant to the United States, including those who have become naturalized citizens.
• His or her accomplishments must reflect more than personal success and should have evidence of a commitment to making a positive impact in their community or the world around them;

For more information and submit a nomination, click here. Only emailed submissions are accepted. Deadline: February 1, 2013.

Monterey children with special needs: this movie show is for you

The idea comes from Aaron and Kelly Schneider, parents of a child with ASD who have recently moved to Monterey County.

After experiencing a "sensory film screening" in Ohio, they approached Jeremiah Leach, general manager at the Century Theater in Monterey about hosting a similar event here. At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24, families with children with special needs will have the chance to watch Wreck it Ralph in its non 3D version in an environment that let's them be. Cost: $6.50 per person.

 The movie theater would like to have an estimate of how many people will be attending. Call 831.373.8051 or email to let them know you'll be attending.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

College graduates: apply for the Capitol Fellows Program

Interested in learning more about the legislative process in California? Apply for a fellowship from the Center for California Studies!

The fellowships include the Jesse Marvin Unruh Assembly Fellowship, Senate, Executive, and Judicial fellowships.

Applicants must be 20 years of age by September 1, 2013, and they must have completed a bachelor's degree on any major. Graduate, postgraduate and mid-career applicants are also encouraged to apply.

Legislative Fellows are placed in the Capitol office of an Assemblymember or Senator and perform a variety of tasks in different issue areas. Responsibilities may include drafting and staffing legislation, writing committee analyses, responding to constituent letters, writing speeches, meeting with constituents, tracking legislation, or researching policy issues.

Deadline to apply for a fellowship is February 11, 2013. Each fellowship has different qualifications and application requirements, but most require the applicant to be at least 20 years of age at the start of the program and have completed a bachelor's degree by September 1, 2013. Fellows in each program work for about 11 months, receive health benefits, and a monthly stipend of $1,972. They work as full-time members of a legislative, executive, or judicial branch. Fellows are assigned workloads equivalent of full-time staff.

For more information about the programs and their application requirements, please visit the Center for California Studies website here.

Candance Thille talks about "Disruptive Innovation" at CSUMB

The CSUMB's President's Speaker Series kicked off last week with a talk by Candace Thille, director of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thille's specializes in applying results from research about learning to the design of open web-based learning or MOOCs (massive open online courses) which  are all the rage right now. Most major, prestigious universities have added these type of courses (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) to their curriculum, something's that's really turning higher education upside down.

CSUMB's President Eduardo Ochoa is enthusiastic about the possibilities of revamping education using new technology tools.

 If you want to see Thille's talk, click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Salinas City Elementary to host dual immersion parent conference

Dual Language Program Advocates and the Salinas City Elementary School District will hold its 2nd annual dual immersion parent conference at Boronda Meadows Elementary School from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 17th.

 Dual immersion is a method that teaches students in two languages.

The conference is free and is geared toward prospective parents of incoming preschool, kinder and first graders and current dual immersion parents. Separate tracks for each session (in Spanish and English) will focus on areas specific to either group.

Enrichment activities will be provided for children in attendance.  Dual language expert Rosa Molina will deliver the keynote speech and host one of the breakout sessions.

Boronda Meadows is at 915 Larkin Street, Salinas.

To register click here or or call 831-607-9360. Walk-up registration is welcome.

Dual Language Program Advocates exists to promote and support dual language programs that develop bilingual, bi-literate and bicultural students in the city of Salinas and the state of California. For more info on dual immersion programs, click here or here.

Hartnell to break ground for Technical Training Building

Hartnell College will host a groundbreaking ceremony for the Technical Training Building at the Alisal Campus from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 15.

It is the second major building project at the Center for Advanced Technology, which opened last year. A 16,500-square-foot facility, the Technical Training Building will be LEED certified and house the automotive technology, heavy duty diesel technology, and sustainable construction programs.

Majors now offered at the Center for Advanced Technology include agricultural business and production, food safety, agricultural and industrial technology, welding, sustainable design and construction, automotive technology, including heavy duty diesel technology, and computer science, along with general education classes that support those majors.

Mary Caypool appointed to Monterey County Board of Education

Seaside business leader Mary Claypool has been appointed to fill the seat in Trustee Area 6 of the Monterey County Board of Education effective immediately.

The seat became vacant in September with the resignation of Byrl Anderson-Smith. Claypool will serve the remainder of the term, which expires Nov. 2013.

Claypool has served on various parent-teacher associations, worked directly in classrooms, and currently serves as a member of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Bond Oversight Committee. She has 42 years of experience working as a budget/management analyst for local government, including the City of Seaside and County of Monterey. She holds bachelor and master degrees from La Salle University.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jose Castañeda now a Salinas councilman

Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew Liu reminded me via Tweeter (gotta love social media) that I predicted José Castañeda - his former client - would be re-elected by his constituents at the Alisal.

I did. Here in this post. Seems that I had totally forgotten about it on election night. 

Castañeda, current board president of the Alisal Union School District, won a decisive victory on his quest for a seat on the Salinas City Council, capturing so far 53 percent of the vote. He bested union-endorsed Margie Wiebush, who's received so far about 32 percent; and well-heeled, Salinas Valley Leadership candidate Josh Kuzmicz, who barely got 15 percent even though he spent the most on the race.

Supporters for mayor elect Joe Gunter, who had gathered to celebrate his victory at the Grower's Pub, gasped in disbelief when the T.V. screen flashed the news of Castañeda breaking away from the pack. Like Joe Heston, they seemed very removed from the reality of the Alisal.

Here's my takeaway from the election: Boots on the ground can beat well financed candidates. Obama and his organizing machine was able to withstand the power of Citizens United and the obscene amounts of money it brought. Castañeda declared no money spent for the election, and judging by the lack of signage in the neighborhood, he didn't. He relied on the goodwill he's built among his neighbors, the muscle of the May First Alliance, and the general distrust people of the Alisal seem to have of outsiders. Neither Wiebush nor Kuzmicz speak Spanish, which is practically the first language of District 1.

It'll be interesting to see how far Castañeda gets on the Salinas City Council. At the Alisal Union board, he forever played the game of the contrarian, voting against the majority until he helped drive them all out and new members more amenable to his own views were elected. He never saw the need to build alliances, and eventually, he proved he didn't need to.

I'm not sure that's going to get him very far in citywide politics, but what do I know?

Will we be looking at a complete makeover of the Salinas City Council a few years from now, brought to you by Castañeda and his allies? Or will Salinas Valley Leadership learn the rules of a game it's not used to playing?

Stay tuned.

Ramon Resa at Marina High

Pediatrician and inspirational speaker Ramon Resa will be talking to students at Marina High in two assemblies on Nov 30.

His visit is sponsored by Festival in the Schools, a branch of the Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival.

For more information about Dr. Resa, click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Veteran's Center to open at Hartnell College

Hartnell College will host a grand opening for the Hartnell College Veterans Services Center from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9.

The Veterans Center is organized as a one-stop shop for Hartnell student veterans and their families to ease the transition from military service to college and civilian life with a comfortable gathering place that provides essential services.

The center will offer assistance and updated information on any matter of military veteran benefits, college student services, and transition issues that include academic and social support. The center is also the home to the college veterans club.

For more information about the open house or the center, contact Belen Gonzales at 831-755-6822 or

Monterey high school filmmakers: here's another chance at a contest

Student filmmakers throughout California are invited to “Direct Change” by submitting videos for a statewide contest to prevent suicide and change minds about mental illness.

The contest is part of statewide efforts to prevent suicide, reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness, and to promote the mental health and wellness of students.

I'm hearing a lot of noise about this lately, and I'm actually planning to interview a family that's struggling with mental illness, depression and suicide attempts. It's a lot more common than we imagine, so hopefully efforts like this will increase much needed awareness.

Here's the details of the contest:

Open to high school students in California

Students have  to develop a 60-second public service announcement about suicide prevention or eliminating mental illness stigma during the 2012/13 school year.

Winning team and associated school earn a $1,000 cash prize

Enters each school into a drawing for a free suicide prevention program

Winning students and schools are recognized at an award ceremony in Sacramento at the end of the school year

For more information, submission guidelines, and entry forms, click here.

Entry deadline to submit final PSA’s is at 12 a.m.  March 1, 2013.

Questions? Email

Here's a pet peeve about fundraising for schools

It always warms my heart when I see children selling chocolate bars for a field trip, or when parents chase after you at the supermarket so they can get the 2 percent or something of your purchase for their school. Even though education is a right, we should not take it for granted, and in fundraising we become aware and make our children be aware of how costly it could be.

(Often I see these fundraisers as remainders that schools don't have enough to educate children: not enough music teachers, not enough funds for transportation for field trips. But that's another story)

Here's my peeve. It's usually the wealthiest among us, those of us who are blessed with wealthy friends and neighbors, who get to raise more money for schools when the schools are probably already doing well. The poorest among us, with no social connections, no healthy tax base, no affluent neighbors, who need more money for their schools and are probably least likely to raise funds by going door to door selling candy.

The problem is likely to be exacerbated in cyberspace. Low income families are less likely than affluent ones to be online. They are less likely to try to raise funds through or, sites that specialize in channeling money for your favorite causes.

Call it a conflicted relationship. I understand the value of these sites (hence the plug), as I understand the value of fundrasing. But my heart aches when I think the activity likely has little impact in areas where it's most needed.

In a perfect world...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Your child's brain: Princeton neurobiologist in Carmel

This sounds exciting for parents, new and experienced:  as part of its Parent Lecture Series, the Carmel Public Library Foundation will host Princeton Professor Sam Wang, a neurobiologist and author of "Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College."

The presentation and signing will take place at 7 p.m.  November 13, 2012 at the Sunset Center, Carpenter Hall between 9th and Mission in Carmel.

Limited seating, so arrive early. Suggested donation: $10.

Proceeds benefit Carmel Public Library. For questions call (831) 624-2811. Or click here.

Salinas Union High Wins "Transformation Award"

Salinas Union High School District has been recognized as one of five educational institutions nationwide for implementing innovative online learning programs by K12, a private provider of curriculum and online education programs for students in kinder through high school.

Salinas Union High was recognized for its flexible time program that helps at-risk students complete their credits. Salinas Union High School District has a substantial high-risk student population, with 60 percent English Language Learners and 70 percent qualified for Title I funding.

According to K12, which only recognizes organizations that are using its programs, the district decided to implement a  district-wide credit recovery program after successful pilot in 2011. Their approach was to provide different options for students at each of the four comprehensive high schools and two alternative schools, where more than 25 percent of students are parents and can take advantage of onsite child care. The options ranged from before and after school classes, to in-class time, to a 4-hour block class for targeted at-risk students.

Salinas has implemented a unique sign-up process that requires students to meet with teachers and administrators during the first few weeks of the online program, to ensure they are engaged. This process has proven to dramatically increase completion rates. After one year, the district has seen excellent results, with 465 students successfully recovering credits.

I can't wait to go over to one of the sites and see up close how it's working. 

Bolsa Knolls students recognized by Anthony Cannella

State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) presented awards to more than 100 students at Bolsa Knolls Middle School who participated in Red Ribbon Week on Nov. 2.

Red Ribbon Week recognizes the efforts of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who was murdered in the line of duty. Every October, schools around the country encourage young people to lead a drug-free life.

That's a message we all know should be repeated loud and often, so good for the Bolsa Knolls students!

Monterey Peninsula College gets funds renewed for minority outreach

Monterey Peninsula College will receive up to $1.85 million over the course of five years to continue the TRiO Math/Science Upward Bound Program, which seeks to encourage low-income and first-generation high school students to pursue math and science majors in college and eventually careers in the field.

 The program, a six week academy, simulates college by having students from all over the United States live at the University of California, Santa Cruz and study marine biology through classes in marine biology, mathematics, communications, foreign language, and computer skills. Students also attend a personal development class to increase their understanding of themselves, others and the college experience.

The program has been in place at MPC since 1990.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monterey Peninsula College rolls Day of the Dead, College Day and Election Night into one giant party

They say it's better late than never, and MPC will host its Day of the Dead activities about a week after the actual celebration takes place. Good thing difuntitos don't care about that stuff.

But that's not all. The same day, the college will host an Election Night Party, and a Career and Transfer day. They'll be busy on Nov. 6, for sure.

The Dia de los Muertos festivities will take place from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m, and will include food, music, dancers, inflatable games and rides for students, faculty and the entire community. At the same time, the Career and Transfer Resource Center will be hosting over 50 national and area Colleges and Universities for Transfer Day, which happens once a year from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Student Services patio area.

 Capping off the day, the Associated Students of Monterey Peninsula College will be hosting its 2012 Election Night Party. Food, refreshments, inflatable games and rides will be provided, as national and local election results come in from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the MPC Library’s Sam Karas Room and Caroline Page Garden.

 Sounds like fun. I can't wait to see the pictures.

Jeanne Herrick, teacher extraordinaire, going over to the Alisal

After working at the Monterey County Office of Education for a number of years, teacher extraordinaire Jeanne Herrick and county's assistant superintendent of educational services told me she's going over to the Alisal Union School District.

That's definitely great news for the Alisal and its students. Ms. Herrick is a dedicated educator with great compassion for underserved students, a kind soul who just sees the best in people. It must be hard for MCOE to be losing her. It is for me. I hope I can still count on her knowledge to make sense of the confusing world education bureaucracy is.

Good luck, Ms. Herrick!  

College night and Transfer Day at Hartnell coming up

Attention high school seniors: Hartnell College will host a college information night on Wednesday, November 7, for all high school seniors and others who are planning to attend college next fall.  Representatives from more than 40 colleges and universities will be on hand to answer questions and give information and advice on college enrollment.

This 27th annual Salinas Valley College Night will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Student Center on the Main Campus at 411 Central Avenue in Salinas. It will be an invaluable opportunity for students and their parents who are researching and selecting colleges to get information from college and university representatives about admissions requirements, academic programs, financial aid, and student support services.

College representatives also will be on campus in the morning for Transfer Day, which is designed for community college students to learn about transfer requirements and opportunities. Transfer Day will run from 9 a.m. to noon in the College Center. For more information, please contact Hartnell’s Transfer and Career Center at 831-759-6007.

San Antonio students go for Romney

Today students at San Antonio School in south county received a civics lesson by 8th graders with the older pupils guiding their younger peers in the importance of voting.
 After watching videos of the presidential candidates, listening to presentations on the issues, and discussing what they all meant, the students voted and here's the results:

Presidential Vote
Obama - 78  (48 percent)
Romney - 85 (52 percent)

Prop 30 - Tax Increase
No - 106  (65 percent)
Yes - 56 (35 percent)

Prop 37 - Food Labeling
No - 77  (52 percent)
Yes - 72  (48 percent)

Given current polls, it doesn't seem likely the students will be predictors, at least not on the propositions. Maybe in the presidential election? Who knows. The important issue here is that the little ones are being schooled in the importance of voting. So they'll urge their parents to cast their ballots tomorrow, if they haven't done so.

Happy election day, everyone! I can hardly wait.