Monday, December 31, 2012

Teens, show your talent

Do you think you have what it takes to sing, dance, and act or play an instrument? Would you like to show your talent to your friends and family?

If you are in middle or high school, you can sign up for the Teen Talent Extravaganza and showcase your talent for the Salinas Community.

Deadline to register is January 28, 2013. All participants must attend dress rehearsal on January 30, 2013 – 5:00pm

The Teen Talent Extravaganza will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, at the Steinbeck Institute for Art and Culture, 940 N. Main St., Salinas. 

To register call 758-7306/ 7587476 by January 28. For more information call: Salinas Recreation Center 758-7306

Monday, December 24, 2012

MPC's Doug Garrison nominated for a statewide award

If you read the profile I wrote about Doug Garrison, who just retired from leading the Monterey Peninsula College for six years, you'll notice no mention about his nomination for the 2013 Harry Buttimer award.

My bad. There was just so much material I had to leave out a lot. But this tid bid is important.

The award, given by the Association of California Community College Administrators, will be given in February and it honors those who excel in their administrative duties.

"Over the years this award has come to represent the highest level of excellence in administration," writes Susan Bray, executive director of the association, in a letter notifying Garrison of the recognition. "'Integrity, principle, compassion, strength in leadership, contributions to colleagues and the profession, contributions to the college and the community…' are some of the criteria that each of our outstanding nominees have possessed, and the same qualities that were outlined and detailed extensively in the many letters of nomination we’ve now received on your behalf."
 Congratulations, Dr. Garrison. Your nomination speaks to the many qualities widely attributed to your leadership.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Safe Routes grant to benefit Monterey Peninsula students

The Monterey County Health Department has received $375,000 as part of a Safe Routes to School grant from the California Department of Public Health’s Kids’ Plate program. The Safe Routes to School grant will bring pedestrian and bike education to schools as well as traffic enforcement around the schools and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The 21-month long grant begins on March 1, and will benefit Ord Terrace Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Highland Elementary, Del Rey Oaks Elementary, and Marina Vista Elementary.

While a large majority of students live within one mile of their schools, many of the parents still drive their children to school. This reduces the exercise a child gets and increases traffic around the schools.

The lack of exercise may contribute to the high childhood obesity rates in Seaside, which is at 46 percent, the third worst in Monterey County. Furthermore, driving children to school causes major traffic congestion around schools in the mornings and afternoons.

A unique feature of the grant is having the children practice with a mock town brought to their school. As part of the mock town, students will work with pretend traffic situations such as cars backing up in driveways and/ or drivers who are distracted, and learn to recognize these problems and how to protect themselves.

Rose Ferrero Elementary in Soledad could be a National Blue Ribbon School

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson nominated Rose Ferrero Elementary in the Soledad Unified School District as one of the 35 California public schools worthy of receiving a National Blue Ribbon. 

 “I applaud the principals, teachers, staff, and families whose commitment to learning has led to success in the classroom,” Torlakson said in a statement. “Schools nominated for this significant recognition are performing at very high levels or are making impressive strides in student progress under challenging circumstances.”

Schools are eligible to be considered for the 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools Program if they meet either one of two performance criteria:

Exemplary High-Performing Schools: Schools that achieve at least the 85th percentile statewide in the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in English-language arts and mathematics on the state assessments. Schools nominated in this category may or may not have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Exemplary Improving Schools: Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from a disadvantaged background that are also among the top 10 percent of schools in the state showing the greatest improvement in the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in ELA and mathematics on the state assessments over the last five years.

Congratulations, Rose Ferrero! We'll be cheering for you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Palma student, former CASA foster child donates hundreds of stuffed animals

 Former CASA foster child Ryan Moses knows what is like to grow up under difficult circumstances.
At six he found out his parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol and a week after his seventh birthday his father was in jail and his mother had abandoned him. In and out of foster homes and back with his father before another stint in jail Ryan almost gave up hope.

By the end of sixth grade, he went from one foster home to another, until his CASA representative said, enough.

“After staying at the group home for a year the place was going to be shut down and I was going to be moved to yet another home,”  Ryan told Celeste White of White Page Communications. “Luckily my CASA sponsor caught wind of that and said this has to stop, he doesn't deserve this anymore; he deserves a better life. So, she told my social worker that she would take me in and be my guardian. I knew that God was the one that did this. I would pray and pray that I could just go back home, but God had better plans for me. He wanted me to live a better life than what I have been living.”

Ryan, 15, now in his sophomore year at Palma School in Salinas, and still living with the Walkers, has decided to give back to the organization that helped him when he was in need. With the help of ‘The Know That You Matter Club’ of Palma, he collected more than 500 stuffed animals to be donated to children sponsored by CASA, children just like him.

“We are very proud of Ryan and the rest of the members of  here at Palma.” said Brother Patrick Dunne, president of Palma School “We have an obligation to be there for these children. That’s why we do what we do.”

There's a huge need for children in the foster care system to get court appointed advocates, people who can advocate on their behalf. Voices for Children, formerly known as CASA, provides free training and support for caring adults who want to help these children.

Their next information session will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Starbucks Del Rey Oaks, 441 Canyon Del Rey Boulevard Del Rey Oaks. For more information about Voices for Children, click here.

* This story and photos come to us via Celeste White of White Page Communications

David Clemens of MPC goes to Boston

Monterey Peninsula College English professor David Clemens has been elected to the Modern Language Association  delegate assembly as a special-interest delegate for two Year Colleges.

Clemens founded and coordinates the MPC Great Books Program and is a prolific writer on higher education issues.  His work has been published in the National Association of Scholars and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy,  Academic Questions, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside English, Teaching English in the Two Year Colleges, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers’ Forum. In January, Clemens will attend the 128th annual Modern Language Association Convention in Boston.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

MPUSD to begin search for new superintendent

New MPUSD board president Curt Parker, still green on procedures, failed to include an agenda item to accept Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd's resignation for Monday night's meeting. Not to worry, a special meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. to accept it and to begin the search for a new superintendent.

What do you want to see in a new leader for the district? It's your time to voice your opinion.

Incidentally, after being at Monday's meeting, I had yet another revelation on why Dr. Shepherd may have decided it's a good time to call it quits. Yes, I had a conversation with her in which she said she's leaving of her own volition, because it's a good time to do something else. Nothing or nobody is pushing her out, said.

At Monday's meeting, however, the board received a report of the district's financial situation, and even though the district has very good reserves, I don't see how the district will go on without huge budget cuts. The district is deficit spending to the tune of $8 million, so in three years those reserves will be essentially wiped out if those cuts don't come along.

It's going to be interesting. Stay tuned.

CSUMB's Barbara Sayad takes Carmel children to Nepal

Barbara Sayad, a lecturer in the Health, Human Services and Public Policy Department at CSUMB, took sixth graders at Carmel Middle School on a virtual tour of Nepal on Monday, when she shared her experiences from a trip she took to the Asian country.

Language arts teacher Shelly Glennon had recently assigned "The Homeless Bird", a novel by Gloria Whelan which narrates the life of a 13-year-old girl in India who's sold into marriage. The book,  music, art and stories of life in south Asia had so moved the Carmel students that they went into the community to raise funds for Empower Nepali Girls, a non-profit that gives out scholarship to needy girls in Nepal.

The students raised $5,700, according to Sayad, enough to send 57 girls to school for a year. Sayad will give the money to a professor at CSU Fullerton, the organizer of the CSU's yearly trek to Nepal, who will be bringing the money along with a backpack full pen-pal letters to the rural Himalayan villages this month.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monterey County students attend Met performance

Franca Gargiulo of Occhiata Productions in Monterey tells us that more than more than 470 Monterey County students, many for the first time ever, went to the opera Saturday to see a live performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.

 Did they board a plane and travel to New York to attend a concert at the Metropolitan Opera? Nah. The students attended the performance thanks to the Met's program "Live in HD", which shows in movie theaters throughout the country to bring the Met to our backyard. The students saw Aida at Century Theatre in Monterey.

More than 10 schools and 4,000 students participated in the classroom multimedia, which included interactive presentations and curriculum which explained the story of Aida. Schools participating in Saturday’s event included Boronda Meadows, Kamman School, Martin Luther King Academy, Roosevelt, University Park of Salinas; Fairview Middle School, Gonzales, Main Street Middle School and Soledad High School, Soledad, North Monterey County Middle School, Castroville and Rancho Cielo, Salinas.

The next Met show at the local movie theaters will be on Saturday Jan. 19 at 12:55 p.m. The show: Donizetti's Maria Stuarda

Can we add anything meaningful to the conversation about Sandy Hook?

A horrific tragedy took place Friday. Twenty innocent children and six of their brave teachers were gunned down. It was our national conversation for the entire weekend.

At newsrooms across the country -- ours at the Monterey Herald is no exception -- we often find ourselves asking, how can we contribute to the conversation -- not just in this event, but any other national tragedy? Do we ask local schools if they're beefing up security? Do we ask if we have enough mental health professionals for our young males? Do we ask parents if they fear for their children's safety? I wonder if any of it makes sense, when trying to figure out something so incongruent.

But here I am, asking our readers: what questions should we ask, at the local level, that would address our concerns about a mass shooting across the country? Or have you heard enough, read enough, from other outlets? Maybe I can curate a page with resources for families, if that's what's needed. Call me, email me, tweet me, light a fire and send smoke signals. I want to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Was MPUSD's Marilyn Shepherd forced out?

By now, I'm used to all sorts of rumors coming from Monterey Peninsula Unified. I usually try to chase them in a vain attempt to substantiate them, and most of the times, rumors are just that: unsubstantiated gossip.

The latest: that Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd, who announced Monday night that she's retiring at the end of the school year, was actually forced out.

If that's the case, nobody will say it on the record, naturally. It would be a personnel matter, something that would expose board members to litigation if in fact they asked Shepherd to resign and then blabbed about it.

But here's why I'm convinced this is just one of the many unsubstantiated rumors that surround MPUSD as persistently as the summer fog embraces the bay: the trustees genuinely like Dr. Shepherd. They respect her leadership, trust her advice, and ultimately, vote to support her proposals. They say it over and over again, every meeting, every chance they get.

Since I began covering the district more than two years ago, I've heard constant rumors that Shepherd's losing the support of the board. Then  I go to the meetings, I see one or two board members question her intensely about one proposal or another, sometimes even getting the superintendent a bit flustered; but in the end, her proposals get approved. Usually the decisions are unanimous. Once or twice, she's gotten a dissenting vote. Rarely two. All these votes tell me she's still trusted and respected. In June she got her contract extended until 2015, with only Jon Hill voting against it solely because he wanted to see stricter accountability measures in it -- not because he opposed Shepherd's presence in the district.

I've covered boards where trust for superintendents had eroded, where trustees began negotiating an exit for their top administrator, and MPUSD is far from being one of them.

But what do I know? I've only sat at three out of every four MPUSD trustee meetings for the last two years. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dan Soudran brought a 30-foot gray whale to Greenfield

Some days I get to meet amazing people. Today was one of those.

Dan Soudran, founder of Community Science Workshops, came to Greenfield to show students at Vista Verde Middle School the skeleton of a 30-ft whale that got beached on Half Moon Bay.

Soudran came up with the idea of starting community science workshops about two decades ago, and his network has nearly a dozen in rural areas like Greenfield and Watsonville. I've been wanting to interview him for a while, so today, even though I was supposed to be on vacation, I came in to talk to him.

It was a real treat. Dan's energy and enthusiasm for getting children inspired about science is contagious. The students really got into exploring the bones, even tried to use a cow hip like a mask.

Plus, he likes Antonio Machado, one of my favorite poets! In the middle of our interview, he quoted Machado's most famous poem, "Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar."

There are no roads. We make the roads as we walk.

What a treat! Dan, come back soon!

Pacific Grove Unified will get manual recounting for parcel tax vote

There will be a public recount for local ballot Measure A, Pacific Grove Unified School District’s parcel tax measure, Monterey County Elections officials announced Monday.

Results tallied by Monterey County election officials reflected that the measure failed by less than one percent, with 6,102 votes in favor of and 3,092 votes against the measure. Parcel taxes need 67 percent of the vote to be approved.

The request for a recount was made by the Pacific Grove Unified School District on December 5. Any request for a recount of any ballot contest must be filed within five days of certifying the election, which was Friday, December 7, according to elections officials.

The manual recount will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, and will continue every day until it's complete.

Friday, December 7, 2012

So long, Doug Garrison!

Monterey Peninsula College officials are hosting a retirement party for President Doug Garrison. He leaves after six years in Monterey and  three decades of service in the California community college system. 

The celebration will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. December 12 at the Marriott Ferrante Room. For more information or questions call 831-646-4272 or email

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Youth voting, civing engagement and knowledge

Perhaps because of the presidential election, civic engagement among youth emerged as one of the topics that piqued my interest. So I was happy to learn that CIRCLE, a center for the study of youth engagement at Tufts University, has formed a nonpartisan commission to analyze data on young Americans’ civic knowledge and voting, then issue recommendations for how to improve both.

The commission was formed in response to controversies about recent voting laws (for instance, new state photo ID laws in several states) as well as debates about civic education in schools and colleges.

The commission begins with no position on the existing or proposed policies; its deliberations will be influenced by new data collected during and immediately after the 2012 election.

The commission will be comprised of a bipartisan group of 14 scholars and experts from across the country and will conclude its work in the spring of 2013 with a comprehensive report outlining recommendations on how to strengthen the civic participation of America’s youth.

For more information about the commission, click here.

I can hardly wait for the report!

Documentary on Michelle Rhee soon to hit the airwaves

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools and now the CEO of Students First, will be featured in a Frontline documentary in January. Find more details here.

Rhee's now Sacramento's First Lady, and remains a controversial figure in education. She received much praise for what were perceived great gains in the D.C. schools during her tenure, but those gains came into question later when it was discovered that the erasure rate in exams throughout the district was higher than normal.

Rhee was featured in "Waiting for Superman" and promoted "Won't Back Down," a dramatization of parents taking over a school. She's a personality worth knowing, so mark your calendars.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Former Monterey Peninsula student living her dream in Las Vegas

Unlike my colleague John Devine, I seldom hear from former MPUSD students. Imagine my pleasure when I received an email from Cathy Poochigian, class of 2000 at Monterey High.

Poochigian attended Bay View Elementary, Walter Colton Middle School, Monterey High and Monterey Peninsula College. She calls herself a proud " product of MPUSD" who still have ties with Colton Middle School and Vickie Lucido's drama department (costuming their annual spring musical for the last 6 years).

Earlier this year, she was named MGM Grand Hotel and Casino's Employee of the Year, which she says it's a big accomplishment for a kid from a small town in Monterey.

"I currently work as a Wardrobe Attendant for Cirque du Soleil's KÀ at the MGM Grand and have just been promoted to Production Coordinator for our show," she said in an email message.

"From volunteering with local food banks to being the face of MGM Grand and a model employee, this year has has had had so many windows of opportunity ready for me to push open. I feel like I am a great example of how amazing things can happen to students who went through the Monterey school system and credit my instructors who encouraged me throughout my educational years. People say 'Merry Christmas and have a happy new year'. I say, 'what an amazingly happy new year it has been!'"

Congratulations, Cathy, and happy holidays to you too!

Monday, December 3, 2012

School Bonds 101 -- a financial lesson for the ages

Thanks to the report in the L.A. Times, I've now fully jumped into the bonds bandwagon. Suffice to say, it's not fun.

A recap: an L.A. Times report rang alarm bells on Capital Appreciation Bonds, which accrue enormous amount of interest and could sock the taxpayers with huge repayments for funds borrowed through bonds to build schools, etc. I blogged about it last week. 

The issue, as usual, is a lot more complicated than that. No wonder sometimes experts hate us journalists for being overly simplistic.

Don't take my word for it. Take a look at the documents that spell out the obligations that both buyers and sellers get into when trading bonds. Series D of Hartnell bonds, sold in 2009, can be found here. The most recent issue of MPUSD bonds can be found here

Naturally, I don't expect anybody to read them. That's my job. So by the end of the week, expect a full report. In the meantime, pass the aspirin. 

English learners and the Stanford project

When I wrote an article about English learners and the Common Core a couple of weeks ago, I failed to link to the Understanding Language Project at Stanford University. The team is working on developing teaching resources to share, something that could be very useful as schools work on implementing the Common Core Standards.

The project will host a webinar to discuss their unit "Persuasion across time and space," a unit for 7th graders that analyzes a series of texts in the context of the Common Core. I was lucky to attend a workshop on this unit taught by Prof. Aída Walqui, who piloted the program in Oakland to much success. So English teachers out there, I highly recommend the webinar!

#FreeToTweet: could you win a $5,000 scholarship?

Last year, Marina Abigail "Abby" Hoffman, now a freshman at UC Berkeley and a graduate of Steven, tweeted her way to a $5,000 scholarship for her message about the First Amendment.

Could the winner be you this year?

Beginning at midnight on Dec. 1 through 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 15, (yea, I'm arriving late to the party) students at a high school, community college or university ages 14 and up can tweet their support for the First Amendment with the hash tag #FreeToTweet, which will enter them in the “Free to Tweet” scholarship competition.

Last year’s campaign received more than 17,000 submissions in one day, including a tweet of support from the White House.

Students can enter the scholarship competition by tweeting a message of support – using the hashtag #FreeToTweet – for the First Amendment. A panel of educators and First Amendment experts will review the entries and award five $5,000 scholarships.

Judging criteria and complete rules can be found here. Updates on the event can be followed on Twitter at @FreeToTweet2012.