Monday, December 30, 2013

Kudos to USDA's Carolee Bull

Carolee T. Bull, USDA researcher and mentor extraordinaire, received the Secretary of Agriculture’s Honor Award, the highest award given by the Secretary.

Bull received the award for outstanding mentorship and "cultivation" of students in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award on December 11 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Secretary’s Honor Award is the “highest award in agriculture for service to the Nation.”

Bull works at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in Salinas. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency. Here's one story I wrote about her work.

Bull’s program is designed to inspire students—from kindergarten through the university level—about agricultural science in general, with an emphasis on plant pathology. Bull worked in tandem with Hartnell College and California State University Monterey Bay, to develop a successful program for identifying promising underrepresented minority and women high school and college students and mentoring them to become among the most well-prepared and sought-after graduate students in agricultural research.

Six of Bull’s former undergraduate students are now in graduate programs in plant pathology. Three of these Salinas natives are National Science Fellows in Ph.D. programs and one is also a Borlaug Fellow. Bull multiplies her outreach efforts by instilling in her students the need to give back and reach out to other members of the community.

Based on her experience with underrepresented minority students, Bull developed and presented a series of mentorship workshops (“How to Mentor Yourself” and “Mentoring Up and Down the Ladder of Success”) at national and international scientific conferences, to American Phytopathological Society members, and to university departments and institutes.

One of Bull's goals is “to make the Salinas Valley as well known for producing scientists as it is for producing lettuce.” Sounds like she's way on her way for doing it.

Congratulations, Dr. Bull! We've known you rock for years!

Of Alisal texting and traipsing among crop circles

Happy almost new year! Allow me to take a small break from reporting on the exciting world of Crop Circles to bring up some interesting commentary on a story I've reported on previously.

I decided to bring it up because it's the talk among Alisal observers: how Trustee Meredith Ibarra seems to receive her marching orders from brother Jose Ibarra.

For those of you who follow the Alisal, you may recall a heated meeting a couple of weeks ago when Trustee Ibarra kept interrupting the meeting, presumably to prevent several actions to take place. The meeting on Dec. 18 was postponed for the next day, when the actions were actually approved.

Several people noted how Meredith Ibarra kept looking at her iPad, and also how her brother Jose was texting constantly during the meeting. There's not way to prove who they're texting, but you know how it goes. Speculation is rampant that brother Jose is cyber whispering in his little sister's ear what to ask and what to say. This video shows Ibarra texting frenetically -- to the point that he misses questions from his boss, Superintendent John Ramirez. And Meredith Ibarra glued to her iPad.

Who knows what really goes on, but one thing's for certain. New board president Maricela Cruz could not make Trustee Ibarra stick to the meeting, so making her put her iPad away is going to be next to impossible.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and all that stuff

I'll be on vacation until Dec. 30 -- so no posts until then, peeps.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this community. It's truly an honor, and I feel blessed.

Have a wonderful and safe Christmas, holiday, whatever you celebrate. Enjoy the privilege of living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Scuttlebutt, keep your eyes and ears open for me. I expect a full report when I return.

More on the Oasis Charter saga

Well, it turns out I did not have the complete story about the Oasis Charter when I published it's not in danger of closing.

As it usually happens, there's a lot more going on.

As part of their planning process, Principal Juanita Perea is proposing a couple of changes. Either to try to give the charter an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (the now so fashionable STEM) or leave the school as is. For the charter to go STEM, it would need a lab but there's not enough room in the building, so the school would have to give up its 7th and 8th grade to make room for the lab. And that's what has parents up in arms.

Perea told me over the phone that including the 7th and 8th grades in the STEM conversion would require a lot of money and a bigger building, a possibility that does not seem feasible at this time.

But the school could remain status quo, she said.

Parents are very upset because they have not been given adequate information, they say. They also say the information has been changing, which makes it unreliable.

Some also don't like what they describe as Perea's disrespectful attitude towards them. She shuns off their suggestions without even exploring them, Horace Ingraham told me. 

Ingraham is the father of a 7th grader, a girl who has thrived at Oasis, and he's very concerned he won't find a similar school for his daughter if the school decides to end its 8th grade.

A preliminary decision is expected to be made at the charter's board meeting scheduled for Jan. 22.

Or not. Stay tuned.

MPUSD meets the COSCA group

For those of you interested in how the superintendent search is going to go, you should plan to attend today's special board meeting. It's at 5:30 p.m. at the usual place (Instructional Materials Center at Canyon del Rey).

Trustees are going to discuss with the COSCA group -- the consulting firm hired to conduct the superintendent search -- specifics on how the search will go. A particular interest of mine -- and I'm sorry I won't be able to make it, I'm officially on vacation as soon as I post "publish" in this blog -- is whether the trustees will choose to have public forums for the candidates.

It's an idea that's been floated around -- actually, I may have been the first one to propose it.  Have the top three candidates come out and be "interviewed" by the community at a forum.

Trustees have discussed this and other options to get as much community input as possible before picking the next top administrator. Another idea that's been circulating is to have community committees, sworn to secrecy, interview the candidates.

Whatever it is, I'd love to know. If you attend the meeting, do let me know. Scuttlebutt, you know how to reach me! ;)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oasis Charter School in Salinas doing well

As you can probably imagine, my good friend Scuttlebutt sometimes likes to branch out and bring me news from beyond the Monterey Peninsula.

Always alert, Scuttlebutt heard Oasis Charter School in Salinas was in danger of closing.

So I made the required and responsible calls. And turns out, news of the charter's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Oasis Principal Juanita Perea told me the school's doing great. The $2 million a year school's is financially healthy, they're offering music, art, computers, Spanish, and drama. The board just met to draft their strategic plan and to gear up to request a renewal for their five-year charter permit -- which they'll do in 2015.

"We're enhancing our programs, we're bringing AVID training summer so everyone's trained. We just bought musical instruments. We would not be doing that if we were considering shutting down."

The charter's located at a shopping center in Salinas where the school has a 15 year lease -- with 10 more years to go, so space is not an issue.

Perea was wondering where this news could be coming from, and the only idea that occurred to her was that the school has not yet received a federal grant she's expecting to help cover rent. Funny though, the feds gave Oasis their allotment for the school year 13-14 , but have not yet sent the money for the 12-13 school year. That's the feds for you.

In the meantime, Perea had to dip into the school's reserves to cover the rent. 

I wish the federal governmen would pay us what they owe us," she said.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Alisal, MPC, and MPUSD

Ah, so many stories, so little time...

A brief taste of potential good stories.

ALISAL: Three new board members were sworn in at the Alisal Union School District this week, and boy, are they going to make changes soon. Their agenda for Wednesday's special board meeting includes dismissing at least five people who were hired during the Castañeda regime. These soon-to-be-unemployed people include relatives or friends of the Ibarra clan. Union leaders had complained they had displaced union members who'd worked for the district for decades.

Two previously dismissed employees are being re-hired. 

MPC: At a time when perhaps more transparency is needed -- given impending budget cuts -- student journalists of the MPC Pipeline are crying foul because the Associated Students of the Monterey Peninsula College cut its funding. MPC student council president Chris Marshall told me the cuts had nothing to do with MPC Pipeline reporting on his scuffle with Eric Foster.

This ongoing saga is worth at least an entire blog post and perhaps a full blown article in the print edition, since the number of newspaper publications has shrunk considerably in the last few years, and MPC Pipeline is the first paper I see come out recently. That and The Galleon of Monterey High. Story idea for the new year, for sure.

MPUSD: Joanna Greenshields was not the only person blown away by MPUSD trustees saying no to a $5 million cost overrun. I've been marveled by the fact that trustees get sort of "trapped" into positions they can't back out of, and I was wondering how long it would take for them to stop going down dead end roads.

The Digital Schools contract is such an example. They were warned by the Monterey County Office of Education not to try to go its separate way, but the trustees voted for "fiscal independency" anyway. Regardless, it was too late. By then, they had already approved -- unanimously -- a five year, half-a-million contract they could only use if they were fiscally independent. After Monterey County officials deemed MPUSD unable to become fiscally independent, it became obvious they would not be able to use the half-million dollars software they had already committed to buying.

The board seemed a lot more cautious on Monday, perhaps they've learned a lesson or two. Like Jon Hill told me: "This is a board that has learned they don't have to do what they don't want to do."

Which is sometimes more important than doing what you want to do.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

UnChained: for the love of dogs and at-risk youth

Do you love dogs and young people? Here's a chance to volunteer for a nifty organization that brings together a mission to help homeless dogs and at-risk youth.
UnChained, Inc. matches dogs from local shelters and rescue organizations with at-risk youth. Using positive-reinforcement training, the kids learn to train the dogs. The teens learn positive communication with each other, mastery of a skill, impulse-control and future orientation.

In turn, the dogs learn good manners, basic skills and confidence which increases their chances of a successful adoption.

UnChained is asking volunteers who love dogs, kids and have some dog handling experience. Time commitment: Beginning January 2014, 1 or 2 days per week for 8 weeks, 2 school quarters total. 

The organization's winter programs begin January.  Volunteers needed in  Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are Youth Team Leader, Dog Chauffeur and Dog Foster Family. To apply, contact Melissa Wolf, Executive Director at (831) 818-8738 or Click here for more information.

Educational world abuzz about PISA tests: US students remain stagnant

Educators and pundits all over the United States are abuzz about the latest results of the Program for International Student Assessment (cuddly known as PISA) which scores 15-year-old students in 65 countries in math, reading, science and other topics. The students are chosen at random, and the tests are unique because they're not tied to any curriculum. In other words, it's what children really know and how they can apply their knowledge to the real world.

For more information about the test, click here.

The United States ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading. The rankings have not budged much in a decade. 

Students in Shanghai-China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea scored the highest in all three subjects. Switzerland and the Netherland also ranked near the top.

The results have already prompted a wave of commentaries from education analysts and lobbyists. We must spend more in early childhood education if the United States is going to move forward, some say. Others praise the advent of the Common Core Standards as a possible way for the United States to break out of the pack and move up in the educational ladder.

I'd like to point to a nifty graph I found from Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, who concludes that, given the level of poverty in the United States, we're actually not doing that badly. You can find the graph here

But Baker's graph also reminded me of a recent column by Castroville teacher and Herald Columnist Paul Karrer. In his column, Karrer takes issue with a New York Times writer Frank Bruni, who says students in the United States are coddled and that's the reason why they perform poorly compared to other countries. Bruni says the Common Core Standards will mean nothing if students are not challenged to do more.

Karrer responds with the realities of being in a classroom and teaching children with a myriad of problems that affect their learning: broken homes, medical conditions, you name it. Education happens best when children live in environments conductive to learning. And if they come to school with a hungry stomach or worried about whether their families will have a place to live next month, chances are their minds will not be ready to do math.

About one fifth of children in the United States live below 50 percent of median income. Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico have higher share of children living in poverty among ranked countries. Ironically, the United States is the sixth largest economy in the world, based on per capita income. But that income is not being used to reach everyone -- didn't lawmakers just last week cut foodstamps program? Half of the people who receive foodstamps are children, by the way.

People in positions of power refuse to invest in human capital, and as long as investment remains stagnant, education pundits should not expect U.S. students to improve achievement in international rankings, no matter how many educational reforms we undergo. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Carmel parents raffling attractive prizes to benefit education

The Carmel High School Padre Parent group and the Carmel High School Foundation invite the community to participate in a raffle extravaganza to benefit student scholarships.

Grand Prize Package includes two tickets to Super Bowl XLVIII (Feb. 2014) plus $2,000 cash for travel expenses.

Other prizes include tickets to Pebble Beach Food and Wine festival, AT& Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Laguna Seca/LaMans, Laguna Seca/Historic Car Races, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders; wine tasting at Joyce Vineyards; golf at Quail Lodge and Rancho Cañada Golf Club; lodging and dinner at Post Ranch; and more.

All proceeds will go towards scholarships for the senior class of 2014, CHS Foundation endowment scholarships, and Padre Parent student-based needs.

Cost: $25 per ticket, 5 for $100. Winning tickets will be drawn from 5:30 to 6:50 p.m. on Friday, December 20, at the Il Fornaio Rotunda, Carmel.

To purchase tickets or to promote its efforts by selling tickets, contact Cindy Haydock, CHS Padres Parents, at (831) 298-7330,, or download an order form here. Tickets also available at the drawing event on December 20. Need not be present to win.

It's not too late to sign up for a Turkey Trot

Come work off those Thanksgiving pounds! Sign up for a Turkey Trot to benefit youth in foster care.

Peacock Acres, a non-profit dedicated to supporting foster children in Monterey County, will host the 6th Turkey Trot for foster youth in their program this Saturday, Nov. 30. The event will be held in Manzanita Park at 17100 Castroville Blvd. in Prunedale. Race day registration will begin at 8:30 am and the race will start at 10:00 am.

Race registration costs $30, and all participants receive a t-shirt. Registration is available online here. This is a pet- and family-friendly event, and participants are strongly encouraged to bring their four-legged friends.

Proceeds from the Turkey Trot will benefit a new project, The Learning Center at Peacock Acres. The Learning Center is designed to guide foster youth toward completing their high school requirements and preparing them for independent adult life. The unique educational needs and classroom challenges shared by students in foster care are often overlooked, and the Learning Center will increase the chances for personal fulfillment, economic self- sufficiency, and positive contribution to society in the foster youth who participate. A portion of proceeds from this event will also help us provide holiday gifts for our youth.

Peacock Acres has been providing therapeutic foster care since 1980 and currently operates four residential programs: Therapeutic Group Homes for boys age 7-17; Incarceration to Success for boys ages 16-19; Transitional Housing Placement Program for foster teens ages 16-18; and the Peacock Acres Transitional Housing program for emancipated foster youth ages 18-24. To find out more about our programs and the youth we serve, click here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

MPUSD officials still want your input in superintendent search

Last week, trustees with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District zeroed in on the consulting firms they want to hear from before hiring the one that will conduct the superintendent's search. 
And the winners are:  The Cosca Group; Dave Long & Associates; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates; and Leadership Associates. 

You may remember that the consulting firm trustees retained last time did not seem very thorough when vetting its candidates. So the right consulting firm is crucial. If you're inclined to hear them personally, they're scheduled to make a presentation on Dec. 11. 

Incidentally, trustees continue to seek community input for the qualities everyone wants to see on a new superintendent, and they continue to announce a survey will be launched soon to gather more community input. I checked late Monday, and the survey was still not posted, but you never know. If you want to see if it's out yet, check it out here.

And the wheels keep turning...

Common Core for Parents

*** UPDATE *** The Monterey County Office of Education has postponed a parent education night on the Common Core previously scheduled for Dec. 5.

*** The Monterey County Office of Education will host a workshop so parents can hear what the fuzz is all about the Common Core Standards.

There is a major shift in the way teachers will instruct and students will learn. The Common Core State Standards call increased used of critical thinking skills so students can be ready for college or the workplace at the end of high school. Students will be required to explain their math reasoning, collaborate with peers on projects, and demonstrate their abilities to assess content, analyze impacts, express themselves in writing and provide evidence on how they reach conclusions.

The parent engagement nights will be available in English with interpretation into Spanish.

From 5:30 – 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, at the Monterey County Office of Education,901 Blanco Circle, Salinas.

*Child care and refreshments available.

The meetings will assess what participants know and want to know about Common Core State Standards. Additionally, they will provide valuable hands-on strategies on how parents can make a difference in their schools by asking the right questions or at home by providing supplemental learning activities that extend classroom learning. Simple strategies, such as math games and prompt questions to ask during reading sessions or while watching educational programming will be shared so parents can support classroom instruction. Additionally, various resources and tools will be made available in both English and Spanish, hard copy and via Internet.

For more information, contact Claribel Solis at 831.755.0368 or or Jordan Alexander-Santana at

Friday, November 22, 2013

TGIF: if you have no plans for dinner tonight, there's still time to support Maddie

Friends of Maddie Pfefferkuch, a four-year-old who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, are  hosting a fundraiser for her family at The Breakfast Club on Seaside until 9 p.m. today.

Maddie's faced with 16 months of intense treatment, and her family needs a lot of financial support.

So head out to The Breakfast Club,1130 Fremont Blvd. in Seaside, and have some yummy food. Or buy raffle tickets. Or donate here if you can't make it out there. To learn more about Maddie, visit her Facebook page.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Randall Reinstedt is giving away Monterey history books

It's been nearly three decades since Randall Reinstedt first published "More than Memories: History and Happenings of the Monterey Peninsula." The teacher-turned-author has received so many requests for his book, he and his wife Debbie cobbled together some resources to put together another print.

The result, the 2012 reprint of "More than Memories," a comprehensive history of the Monterey Peninsula that includes activities, questions, and other ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms.

And here's the best part. The Reinstedt's are giving away 1,000 copies, thanks to a grant that's making the giveaway possible.

You have until Nov. 30 to make the request. Download an application from here and then submit it to

The books will not be mailed, so it's probably better to be local. There will be local distribution points in the Monterey Peninsula that will be announced in December.

From my quick read, I can see the book is a great resource, so I encourage all fourth grade teachers in Monterey County to ask for a free copy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MPUSD Superintendent search: what Trustees do not need.

I'll chime in the ongoing conversation taking place in Monterey regarding the search for a new superintendent.

And I'll take issue with an idea that was floated by Herald editors in the Nov. 12 editorial  titled "Monterey Peninsula school board needs help." I agree with the idea that trustees need assistance in steering the ship --  although I don't see it crashing against the rocks anytime soon.

The trustees are a very trusting bunch. They should be: once they hire their top administrator, they have to rely on his or her advice. Yes, they have to do their due diligence, but they can't be second-guessing  the person they hired to do a job every step of the way.

Which brings us to the next point: what  kind of person should they hire to do the job. Herald editors suggested the board not only look at conventional places -- i.e. other school districts -- but look outside the box and think about CEOs, lawyers, ex-military, and other folks with managerial experience, even if they don't have experience in the educational realm.

That's what I'll take issue with. It's been tried, and it doesn't work. 

MPUSD doesn't need a general and I don't believe a person from the private sector would do it either. Yes, there are strong managers everywhere, but I don't believe that would be a good fit for this district.  The district needs somebody who can build trust among administrators and from the rank and file -- and having a person with no experience in education would not bode well for him/her from the get-go. Perhaps the district should look into hiring another interim superintendent and groom a candidate from within.

Don't take my word for it. Read these two columns by renown educator Larry Cuban, who describes in this column the thinking behind supporting CEOs, lawyers and other non-educators as superintendents. In this other one, he describes what's happened when non-educators get appointed to the top job.

If you want to skip to the bottom, I'll give it to you.

"The dream of corporate-inspired reformers for nearly two decades that governance changes and non-educators as managers in urban districts will turnaround failing schools and erase the test score achievement gap has yet to materialize."

In other words, it doesn't work. So let's not go there. 

Monterey County girls: explore careers in Science, Technology and Engineering

"Expand Your Horizons" is a conference and career fair for young women, their parents, and educators that will take place this Saturday, Nov. 23, at Hartnell College in Salinas.

The conference is designed create interest among young women around pursuing careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Workshops include: Marine Invertebrate DNA Extraction; Plastics: Reduce, Use, or Recycle; Underwater Robotics; and Water Density/Oceanography. The keynote speaker will be Maryanna Rogers, a fellow at the Design School at Stanford.

For more information about the event or to sign up, click here.

Hartnell Speech Team earns awards

The newly formed Hartnell Speech Team received multiple awards on November 4 at the Mustang Invitational Tournament held at Sacramento City College. The tournament included 24 schools from Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. The team brought five awards to Salinas!

The team was coached by Jason Hough, professor in Communications at Hartnell.

Here's a list of the winners:

Andrea Cervantes, First Place, Dramatic Interpretation
Andres Aranda, First Place, Poetry Interpretation
Karina Neeley, Third Place, Oral Interpretation
Marc Dover, Fifth Place, Oral Interpretation
Ariana Valencia, Fifth Place, Poetry Interpretation

Other teammates and participants include, Julia Felice, Maria Hernandez, Daniel Ibarra, Angelica Jubane, Richelle Mendez, Miguel Padilla, and Alyssa Rendon.

Sounds like the team did a wonderful job on their inaugural performance. I can't wait to see what other triumphs lay ahead!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

State Senator Anthony Cannella recognizes Chualar students

State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) presented awards to Chualar students who participated in Red Ribbon Week on Oct. 31.

Red Ribbon Week was established by Congress in 1988 to recognize 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. The theme of the week this year is “A Healthy Me is Drug Free!”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pacific Grove students show off their talents during Fall Arts Expo

The public is invited to celebrate the creativity of Pacific Grove High School students during the Fall Arts Expo. Students will show off their talents through their works on digital media students, fine art, photography, poetry, culinary arts, theater and music.

The Fall Arts Expo will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5 at Pacific Grove High School library. 615 Sunset Dr., Pacific Grove.

The Mayor of Pacific Grove and local business leaders will be present to judge the students work. There will also be music and food at the event.

Also on Dec. 5, the school will celebrate the opening night of the school play starting at 7:00 pm at the Pacific Grove High School Pagoda Theatre. Tickets to the play will be raffled off at the Expo.

At the Festival of Lights in downtown the Pacific Grove High School band will be playing starting at 6:30 pm.

Salinas Valley Memorial hospital hosts free art therapy workshop for children

Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System is teaming up with certified art and music therapist Jack Cheney to help children heal through art and music. Children ages six through 16 can participate in this multi-media experience for free.

The Art for Healing Workshop will allow children and teenagers to use art and music as tools to discover hidden strengths and insights. Cheney has been a part of the Salinas Valley Memorial System art and music therapy program for years and is passionate about the healing powers of drawing, collage, painting and musical instruments.

“Children facing grief, illness and even ordinary social pressures can find healing through art,” says Jack Cheney, certified art and music therapist. “It’s a joy to help people explore their creative talents and in the process feel better about themselves and overcome challenges.”

The workshop will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 20. All of the art and music supplies will be provided. Registration is required by calling 831-759-1951 or emailing

Thursday, November 14, 2013

CSUMB student offers holiday cheer for foster care children

Emma Ramirez, CSUMB student extraordinaire, garnered a lot of attention earlier this year for a book drive she sponsored to benefit foster care children.

Now, she wants to help foster care children with winter clothing. She's conducting a drive for scarves, gloves, jackets, and all the winter accourterment you can think of.

The drive began this week and ends Dec. 13. Clothes can be dropped off at CSUMB Student Services Building, the dinning commons, or Voices for Children CASA, 945 S. Main St, Salinas. For more information, email Emma at

Lovely to see Emma's still around, keeping up the good work!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Free flu shots at Monterey County Schools

Flu season is upon us, and the Monterey County Health Department is hosting free flu vaccine clinics at schools throughout the county. Open to anyone two years of age and older who is interested in getting a flu vaccination.

Wednesday, November 13 – 4:00-7:00 pm – Seaside High School, 220 Noche Buena Street, Seaside

Thursday, November 14 – 4:00 pm -7 pm - Main Street Middle School, 441 Main Street, Soledad

Sunday, November 17th - 12:30-3:30 pm - Cachagua Child Development Center, 37320 Nason Rd, Carmel Valley

Tuesday, November 19th – 11:00 am -2:00pm - CSUMB, Student Center - West Lounge

Junípero Serra's legacy examined

Nov. 19 marks the 300th anniversary of Junípero Serra's birth, and CSUMB professor Ruben Mendoza, a scholar on the California Mission system, has been busy granting interviews.

An interview Mendoza did for Eternal Word Television Network, a global Catholic radio and television network,  will be aired at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 21. EWTN is available on DISH Network, Direct TV, and Comcast Digital Channel 229. His interview will also be available online here.

Mendoza has also been interviewed for a Catalonian mini-series on Serra, which began airing in the Balearic Islands in September and is expected to air in Mexico in the near future. 

If the mini-series is as good as the promo, I can't wait to watch it.

And speaking of Serra, CSUMB will host a symposium on Serra's legacy on his birthday.

Serra is credited with founding the first nine of the 21 missions in Alta California. The missions were instrumental in the advance of European colonialism, and in the subjugation of Native Americans to the colonial powers.

The symposium will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the University Center living room, and will include presentations by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert Senkewicz, both professors at Santa Clara University. Guest panelists will include Ann Marie Sayers of Indian Canyon; Kathryn England-Aytes, a psychology lecturer at CSUMB; and Father Carl Faria of the Diocese of Monterey.

In conjunction with the symposium, an exhibit of mission photography by Mendoza will open in the Student Center West Lounge at 5 p.m., Nov. 14.

The University Center is located on Sixth Avenue at B Street. For driving directions and a campus map, click here.  Event is free, but a parking permit must be purchased from a dispenser on the lot or here.

RSVP for both events by calling Heather Wilde at or calling 582-3890. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Everett Alvarez students keep an eye on the road

Everett Alvarez students recently took part in a study to observe distracted driving on the road. They were able to watch first hand the myriad of occupations drivers engage in when they're supposed to have their hands on the steering wheel. One of them wrote a report about their findings. Here it is.

My name is Shyla Poudrier and I am the Vice President of the ADAPT club at Everett Alvarez High School. ADAPT stands for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team. We are a co-branded club with the statewide program Friday Night Live. On October 15, 2013 our club participated in Road watch. Road watch is a statewide event where students survey drivers and observe if they are engaging in distracted driving.

This event took place on the corner of Independence Blvd. and Nantucket in Salinas, CA. from 7am to 8am. We observed that of 603 drivers 47 cars were engaging in distracted driving. Of the distracted drivers; 45 percent we using their cell phones in various ways, talking, texting, changing music, etc. Twenty-seven percent of driver driving distracted were eating or drinking. Nine percent of distracted drivers had either a pet on their lap or on the front seat. And lastly, 4 percent of distracted drivers were performing some type of personal grooming; ie, putting on makeup, brushing hair, etc.

These statistics were collected in just one hour. Road watch is a statewide event and the statistics showed us that there were more than 7, 000 documented cases of distracted driving throughout the state. These statistics allow us to be aware of distractions while driving that can not only harm us but other people in our community."

I hope being able to watch how people get distracted discourages you, Shyla, and your teammates from engaging in distracting behavior when you personally are behind the wheel. That would be the best result you could report.

Marina to host town hall meeting about schools

Marina Councilman Frank O'Connell will be hosting a townhall meeting to discuss updates on Marina schools, recruitment process for new superintendent, and the joint use agreement between the city and Monterey Peninsula Unified School District for school facilities.

Speakers include: MPUSD Board members Diane Creasy and Tom Jennings, Mayor Bruce Delgado, MPUSD Executive Director Maintenance, Operations, Transportation, and Technology John Silvestrini and Recreation Director Terry Siegrist.  Refreshments will be provided.

The town hall meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12 in the Community Room of the Marina Library.

MAOS Mom extraordinaire chimes in controversy

Joanna Greenshields, reader extraordinaire and another keen observer of MPUSD, added her two cents in the ongoing dialogue the district's having about the future of MAOS. You can find it here.

But because she addresses a very important point that could be missed in the conversation (something that I've already alluded to in previous posts) I'll highlight it here. It revolves around the issue of people coming forward with credible information when they want me to write a story.

This is an excerpt from Ms. Greenshields' comments:

One of the difficulties for Ms Melendez has been getting accurate information on the underlying story of why MAOS would be seeking autonomy from the current administration.

People with accurate knowledge and an understanding of the complexities currently facing MAOS and MPUSD,  are either unable or unwilling to have an open, honest dialog with her about how we got to the point of charter exploration.

And there you have it. I'm asked all the time: do a story about this or that. Half of the time I'm chasing my tail because I'm trying to get information and people won't talk to me. Mr. Jensen writes to me: don't write until you get all the answers. Well, I'm not getting any answers, but hopefully, if I write what happens at a board meeting -- all on the record, thank goodness -- something else can pop up.

So, if you have a story for me, you know where to find me. I'm waiting patiently.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The biggest takeaway from the MPUSD election

MPUSD trustees, this message's for you.

And it's a message that I was going to send later in the month, as you come closer to select a new superintendent -- but I reserve the right to re-send the message later in the year ;)

The community has spoken. And the community really wants a leader they know and trust.

Isn't that what teachers and other people have been telling you for years?

So Mr. Tim Chaney ran a good, hard campaign, but he's a newcomer to the community. To his credit, he's very close to winning a seat on the board, and perhaps we won't know until Friday whether he actually makes it. 

And here's Carole Dawson, a respected community leader who's voluntereed for several organization over the more than two decades she's lived among us.

She practically didn't lift a finger for the campaign, and she's close to nabbing that seat.

If you count the votes cast for Richard Gold, who has lived in the community also for over two decades, you can tell Monterey residents decidedly voted for trust.

It's not just the election that's making me write this. It's what's happening in your district, from MAOS on down.

You need a leader who can be trusted. And trust does not just blow in from the bay like the summer fog. It's built over time, it's earned.

And unfortunately, given the current circumstances, it can easily be shattered. Think about that.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Reading between the MAOS and MPUSD lines

Sometimes, the most fascinating stuff to come out of board meetings it's what's left unspoken.

Take the Monday night meeting of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. I thought I was losing my mind when I kept thinking to myself, why are they doing this? Why do teachers want to take the Monterey Academy of Oceanographic Science away form Monterey High and make it its own charter? What's the real reason?

I've been asking myself this question over and over again. I even asked marine biology teacher Geoff Von Saltza, but I never felt I received a satisfactory answer.

So the question came up again, Monday night, from some people in the audience.

Why do the teachers want to do this?

English teacher Ron Woods said, in not such few words, they want more control. Echoing Woods, Von Saltza said (see the videos) that MAOS has always been a teacher-driven program, and that they want to return it to its original mission.

So they want more control.

Then Monterey High principal Marci Plummer got to the podium and told trustees something like this:

"I’ve offered and I've extended during the entire process the opportunity to work with us on an alternative proposal, a schedule within a schedule so we could begin articulation. I have a memo I wrote about our meetings (documenting) some of the things MAOS needed and we have achieved 10 out of 11 objectives around course curriculum... "

(Mmm. There's people at MPUSD who actually take notes during meetings. Fascinating.)

Plummer went on. She's made some hires for MAOS. And she also offered all the teachers who are willing the opportunity to work with her to design a master schedule.

So the teachers want more control and Plummer has tried to make concessions. At least, that's what she said.

Then came the most poignant commentary of the evening, from MPUSD keen observer Pam Silkwood and mom of two MAOS students. The idea of a charters is innovative and out of the box, it should be encouraged and pursued, she said. But the plan as presented lacks details, and besides, the charter petition is just a symptom of a bigger ailment at the district.

"It's an example of lack of collaboration between teachers and administration," Silkwood said. "I have respect for both parties. A MAOS charter is like putting a band-aid on a gouging wound."

There you have it. The real reason why MAOS teachers want out of Monterey High is because they seemingly can't work with administrators.

At least that's what I thought until Tuesday evening. Then Scuttlebutt came a'calling, and the rug was pulled from underneath my chair.

I've covered the district long enough to agree with Pam Silkwood in one thing: this is symptom of a bigger ailment. It's worrisome because the district is looking for a new superintendent, and it makes me wonder how effective he or she will be working in this atmosphere of distrust.

And it makes me very sad because in school we ask students to learn to collaborate and work together, but we can't get the adults to do that --not just at MPUSD, but everywhere I turn in education. So how realistic is it to ask that of young people?

Also, we ask of our youngsters not to lie, and it turns out, adults do it ALL THE TIME. And I wonder, how can anybody work with people they can't trust???????

That's how Scuttlebutt pulled my rug. Because, it turns out, some of the adults in the room Monday night were not being completely honest about what's happening in the district. It's not the first time I've heard these claims, so by now I'm giving them more credence.

Excuse me, everybody. I need to go throw up.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Marina High has talent

Students at Marina High participated in a talent show to raise funds for their prom.

And what talent!

Montana Billings signed "Climb" by Miley Cyrus.

Everyone got together at the end of the show to sing Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours."

And they all had a grand time!


Friday, November 1, 2013

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal visits Seaside High School

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal visited Seaside High School on Wednesday as part of Achieve UC, a series of events designed to inspire students to apply and attend college.

Blumenthal shared some personal history with about 200 students from all grades. He told them how he and his sister were the first to attend college, how college taught him about the world, and how he dreaded his English classes but ended up loving writing, according to Raul Ebio, interim director for early academic outreach at UC Santa Cruz.

Deciding whether to go to college "isn't really about jobs and money, but it is true that college graduates make a lot more money over the course of their lives than than students who stop after high school," Blumenthal said.

Chancellor Blumenthal also bragged about UC Santa Cruz's marine sciences, astronomy, and genome programs on campus. President Barack Obama awarded Professor Sandra Faber the National Medal of Science. Professor David Haussler was one of the first to crack the genomic code.

Blumenthal also made a deal with Seaside: if the school can pay for transportation to UCSC, the university will pay for dinner before attending the Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation, a favorite event on the City on a Hill.

Chancellor Blumenthal ended his intervention by urging students to go to college, regardless of which one they attend.

"Yes, I'm biased. I think UC Santa Cruz is a great school. But my message today is un-biased: Go to college, wherever you choose. What matters is that you go to college. If you choose a UC campus, we will help you in every way we can. So, work hard, keep your grades up, and realize your dreams!"

I hear the students were not the only ones impressed. The administrators were swooning. It's not every day that a university chancellor visits a high school, they said.

Pretty cool, huh?

The School Success Express Tour's coming to Salinas

California schools are undergoing tremendous changes.

Not only are they in the midst of implementing new learning goals, they will also have more money to do it in the upcoming years.

The money will be particularly important to schools that serve students whose first language is Spanish -- also called English learners -- and students in low income families.

In an effort to get input from the public, the California Endowment is bringing a bus across the state called the School Success Express Tour,a tour of 12 cities where parents and students are invited to help shape implementation of the Fair School Funding law.

The forum will take place at Los Padres Elementary School, 1130 John Street in Salinas. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the forum will begin at 6:00 p.m.

Fair School Funding is expected to increase money per student in most low-income schools. At Alisal Union, for example, there will be an almost 87 percent increase in funding over the next seven years. Other low-income districts are projected to receive a similar increase.

Debbie Aguilar needs help

Debbie Aguilar is the face of comfort in Salinas. After losing her son Stephen to gang violence more than a decade ago, Debbie took on a crusade to try to stop young Latino males from killing one another.

She's a frequent speaker in schools, she organizes vigils, and lobbies legislators to get funds to combat violence.

Debbie's usually the first supporter when a young man gets killed in Salinas. She's there to embrace family members and offer support through her group "A Time for Grieving."

Now, Debbie desperately needs some comfort of her own.

In the span of two weeks, Debbie's lost her mother and her husband. Her mother Carmen died about two weeks ago, and her husband Oscar Sergio Clam Aguilar  died just this week. Debbie now has to deal not just with the impact to her family but the financial burden two funerals are taking on her.

She's not being shy about needing help. There will be a car wash/bake sale starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday at 44 John St. in Salinas.

She's also taking donations on Rabobank account 501954746.

Debbie's helped a lot of people throughout the years, and now that she support, hopefully a lot will step up to comfort her.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Country singer Lizzie Sider brings anti-bullying message to Pacific Grove

Lizzie Sider, a 15-year-old budding country artist, made a stop in Pacific Grove last week during her California tour to promote bullying prevention.

Sider is collaborating with PACER, a parent training and information center for families of children and youth with all disabilities. October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, and the singer is performing her song “Butterfly,” which is partially based on how she overcame being teased.

Judging by the photos I received, looks like Sider fired up the students in Pacific Grove. Why didn't you go to Monterey? Scuttlebutt tells me the bullying over can get ugly...

Salinas City Elementary celebrates Donna Alonzo Vaughan

The community of the Salinas City Elementary School District threw a big party last week to celebrate the grand opening of the multipurpose room at Los Padres Elementary School district.

Community members with the Salinas City district decided to name the room after Superintendent Donna Alonzo Vaughan to honor her unwavering and passionate dedication to children.

Everyone was there, including the ubiquitous green scissors of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce. Donna's husband, William Vaughan, used them for the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
 Donna died in June and left a huge void in the district and in people's hearts. Now there's a place that will properly honor her memory for many years to come.

Wherever she is, she's giddy with happiness.

I miss you too, Donna.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monterey Peninsula students, here's a chance to earn $10,000

Applications for the $10,000 Investment in Community Graduate Fellowship by the Willis W. and Ethel M. Clark Foundation will be accepted through Jan. 31.

The Investment in Community Fellowship is awarded each year to a deserving graduate student who was born, raised or lived on the Monterey Peninsula and who intends to return to the area and be of service to the local community after completing his/her graduate degree.

The award can be used to cover the ordinary costs of graduate school including tuition, books, room, and board.

Students have to be enrolled full-time in an advanced program of study. They have to prove they are receiving above average grades. They have to demonstrate commitment to volunteerism and public service. They need to have intention to remain connected to the Monterey Peninsula through work or residence.

Fellowship to be awarded Spring 2014. For more information about the Clark Foundation and the fellowship click here.

Greenfield Union also looking for a new superintendent

Greenfield students performed remarkably well under Trevor McDonald, and trustees want to capitalize in past years' gains with another good superintendent.

I've covered education long enough to know leadership makes a HUGE difference. And leadership not only comes from the superintendent: it also comes from trustees, principals, and teachers themselves.

"We are so proud of our students, teachers, and staff for what we have been able to collectively accomplish over the past few years, but we have much more to accomplish in the years to come,"  Greenfield Union Board President Art Salvagno said in a statement. “Having already generated so much positive momentum, I am confident we will receive interest from a number of strong candidates.”

District officials began advertising the position regionally earlier this month. Deadline to apply is November 8. The district’s Board of Trustees (which could be very different after the Nov. 5 election) anticipates interviewing a select number of candidates in January 2014 and announcing their final selection soon thereafter.

Ah, so many stories to cover in a 7.5 hour day....

Monday, October 28, 2013

More on the MPUSD transcripts

My good friend Scuttlebutt is abuzz about the transcripts issue at MPUSD. Apparently, the story I wrote about the topic last week struck a raw nerve with some folks at the administration. If you didn't have a chance to read it, here it is.

Scuttlebutt tells me some administrators are challenging the accuracy of the story. Some are saying I did not get the story quite right.

Weird. Usually, when my stories are incorrect, my phone's ringing off the hook and my email bulges with demands to set the record straight. Always happy to oblige, by the way.

In case you don't know that about me, I'm always willing to admit when I'm wrong -- as painful and embarrassing as that is.

What's also really weird about this, is that Ruben Zepeda himself was reading the story as it was posted in the web late Tuesday, and had a chance to correct some minor errors before they actually were memorialized in the print edition. He correctly pointed it it was 92 students whose records were changed, not the number that originally posted in the web. There was a quote he didn't quite agree with, so I took it down.

Thank you, Dr. Zepeda, for catching those before going to press.

If Dr. Zepeda was able to read the story and point out minor details before it went to press, I'm sure other administrators could have done the exact same thing. So what happened?

So, if anybody has any other quibbles with my story, I'll be happy to listen and run a correction if appropriately. You all know how to reach me.

In the meantime, Scuttlebutt has me on the hunt for more juicy information. Ah, so much to investigate in a 7.5-hour day....

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Literacy Summit: the first step on a long road ahead

If you attended the Literacy Summit, thank you!

If you didn't, you missed a very informative event. Although we heard from people who are near and dear to Monterey County -- Sylvia Panetta and CSUMB President Eduardo Ochoa, for instance -- there were also newcomers to the community and great experts in the issue of demographics and literacy.

The aim of the Literacy Campaign of Monterey County was to bring speakers who would discuss the issues of low-levels of literacy in Monterey County -- and the nation for that matter. As many of you already know, we face great challenges in our community as we try to educate our young and prepare them for an economically productive future. Only about a third of third graders in Monterey County score proficient or above in English language arts, and experts believe students start falling behind after the third grade if they don't read proficiently.

Francine Rodd, executive director of First Five Monterey County, made a presentation about how the learning has to start even earlier: as soon as babies are born, or when they're still in the womb. The first few years of a child's life are critical for brain development, and if mothers don't read to their children or don't engage with them, the children will have a hard time catching up later, according to a video presented by Rodd.

But the most compelling presentation -- in my opinion -- came from USC Demographer Dowell Myers: today's babies are tomorrow's taxpayers. If these children don't grow up to be educated adults, they won't be able to hold productive lifestyles, and they won't be able to support the retiring generation. They won't be able to pay into Medicare and Social Security to support the older generations, they won't earn enough to buy the homes, the "nest eggs" of retiring boomers.

Helping the next generation is not altruism. It's self-interest.

In order for the next generation to be productive, we need to help our children now. Better child care needs to be available. More programs for young parents to help them raise their children. A movement to make literacy Monterey County's first priority.

Friday's even was a great first step. At the end of the day, attendants chatted in small groups about what they're willing to do to promote literacy. There was a lot of enthusiasm and energy in the group, so it'll be interesting to see what ideas come to life.

Here's a snippet from Dowell Myers presentation. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alisal, being sued by teachers left and right

This is another one of the stories I'll get to eventually.

Alisal Union School District employee Liz Nájera Ramirez has filed a claim against the district alleging sexual harassment by Jesus Lepe, principal at Frank Paul Elementary. A few days ago, before the Alisal Board went into closed session, Nájera Ramirez accused Trustee Lilia Cortez Garza of lying to a newspaper by saying she didn't know anything about her claim.

Like all trustees, Cortez Garza is informed during closed session of all legal claims against the district.

Nájera Ramirez goes on to make pretty severe accusations against Lepe, who's also running for school board in Greenfield Union Elementary School District. This is not the first time I hear of these allegations, and apparently, there are two claims against Lepe filed with the district.

My editor filed a public records request to obtain the claims, but so far, we have not received response from the Alisal.

You can watch Nájera Ramirez make her accusations here.

It's not surprising to see the Alisal once again return to the spotlight, given its history. But I think the elections have ratcheted up the overall level of nastiness. 

It'll be interesting to see who wins the election. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Millennium charter's looking for a new home?

The paint hasn't probably dried in the new, state of the art studios of the Millennium High School Charter, but administrators could be looking for another site for the brand new high school.

According to the Salinas City Council minutes, Salinas administrators are in discussion with Millennium officials to rent Sherwood Hall, the gathering place in North Salinas. Sherwood Hall has meeting rooms and a theater, and until recently was being administered by the Steinbeck Center.

From the get go, it looked like the 93 or so students in Millennium's inaugural class were under really tight quarters at the school, which is on the same campus as the Monterey County Office of Education. And next year, the charter's expected to receive at least another freshman class of about 50 students.

Stay tuned.

All sorts of fun stuff happening at MPUSD

Rarely are MPUSD board meetings boring. Monday's was particularly fascinating.

Judging by the students reports to the board, things are peachy at the high schools.

The district bid farewell to military liaison Luis Villegas, and said hello to new liaison Elaine Vrolyks.

The most fascinating part was the unscripted one: Monterey High student Darrick Jory pleaded with trustees to do away with the district's current grading system. The system, which mirrors the grading on California Standarized Testing of Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic, allows students who get a 45 percentage point a passing grade, something that's rubbed people the wrong way for a while.

Robert Purcell, a Seaside High freshman who previously attended Stevenson, made a passionate plea against eliminating the current block schedule. Robert is articulate and thorough, a teacher's dream.

Apparently, he's not the only one against eliminating block scheduling, a proposal that's going around the district's halls.

Then came the former teachers. Nobody told them the district was changing health care coverage, so they were surprised to receive an email from CalPers telling them they would no longer be in their plan. They were particularly upset with the Union, whom they felt had abandoned them.

Then there was the euphoria of the Dual Language Folks. A new, dependent charter will be formed at Marshall Elementary to host the Dual Language program, and Monday was the formal presentation of the charter petition.

Ah, so much to cover in a 7.5 hour day. Eventually, I'll get to these stories. Or so I hope.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A personal plea for literacy

If you did not read the story I wrote for Sunday's edition of The Herald, I urge you to do so.

It's called "Third-Grade Literacy is Key for Later Success," and it tackles the thorny issue of our literacy shortcomings in Monterey County -- and nationwide. You can find it here.

Here's where my plea comes in: please join us this Friday for an important event. The Literacy Summit will gather Monterey County folks interested in seeing literacy levels go up as a way to help everyone improve our standards of living. Increased literacy is linked to better health outcomes, higher incomes, and better lifestyles over all. Children who enjoy reading enjoy school have a higher chance to stay in it for the long run. Communities where children attend school regularly and find healthy after school activities -- like reading a book -- have less crime.

But promoting literacy is something we should all embrace, and that's why I'd love to see you at Friday's event. The event is designed for all of us to learn more about why this is important and how we can become more involved and help.

If you've already signed up, thank you. If not, please consider attending.

For more information about the Literacy Campaign, or to sign up for the summit, click here

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A perilous situation in Greenfield

Drive around the streets of Greenfield in the afternoon, after school's over and before parents come home from the fields.

You'll see them by the dozens, maybe the hundreds. Children roaming the streets unsupervised, ready to cause some trouble.

It's not the children's fault. They have nobody to look after them, nothing to do. So they seek refuge in the library (I've heard reports of staff describing their facilities as the "town's babysitter"). 

Yesterday, when the TechMobile from the Media Center for Art, Education & Technology showed up, about 40 children happily overwhelmed the teacher with their demands for attention.

So, what happens when there's no TechMobile? When the library closes? The children are still there, playing ball by themselves.

Or getting recruited by older, more street savvy kids. Being instructed in the arts of causing trouble.

Folks, our unsupervised children in Greenfield today are our gang problem tomorrow. And I say "our problem" because this needs to be tackled collectively. Their parents, they're in the fields making money for their families and creating wealth for Monterey County. Specially these days of a reduced workforce (yes, all those reports of fewer immigrants crossing the border are true) harvesters are being asked to work longer hours so vegetables don't rot in the fields. By the time parents make it home, they've been away from their homes for 16 or 17 hours. Plenty of time for the kids to get in trouble.

Something needs to be done, and soon. We've already seen crime levels in the Salinas Valley spike in recent years, and if this amount of unsupervised children continues, it's only going to get worse.

Let's hear some ideas. Let's see somebody step into action. Keep me posted.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Matsiko's baaaaaaack!

If you missed your chance to see the Matsiko World Orphan Choir when they came to the Monterey Peninsula earlier this year, you're in luck.

The talented youngsters are coming back, and will perform from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at the Cypress Community Church, 681 Monterey/Salinas Highway 68.

The group of 17 children represent the International Children's Network, an organization that helps orphaned and poor children from several regions of the world. Through the network, families in the U.S. can "adopt" a child and help him/her get an education.

RSVP is required. Admission to the event includes a donation for the children to Matsiko. For more information or to RSVP contact Vanessa Howard, 277-2796 or

Family day for charity and scholarships at Carmel High School

The Carmel High School Foundation and the students of Carmel High School are sponsoring a race and a family day  to raise funds for scholarships and to benefit the community as a whole.

The event will take place Oct. 27, and will feature:

A 5K race,
A 2K fun run/walk
Family day for charity

Registration starts at 8 a.m. at Carmel High School. The race begins at 10 a.m.

Race entry fees are $35 for adults, $10 for students, $5 for kids ages 6-12, and $65 for families. For more information, or to register, click here.

Race fee includes a student-designed T-shirt. Race proceeds benefit student scholarships.

Family Day for Charity is a free community event and it will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers ask community members to bring donations of  non-perishable food, new socks and cash.

All contributions for Family Day for Charity will go to local charities, including MEarth, The Carmel Valley Angel Project, Hope Center Food Pantry, Big Sur Health Clinic and Legal Aid for Seniors. Family Day is sponsored by Carmel High School student clubs and organizations.

For more information regarding the 5k/2k run, or to donate, contact Kelli Foy at Carmel High School Foundation, 915-9831. For information about Family Day for Charity, or to donate, contact Diana Vita at Carmel High School, 624-1821.

CSUMB students shine at SACNAS

Thirteen CSUMB students took part in the annual conference of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, which this year took place in San Antonio, Texas.

Three of them took top honors: Timothy Fuller, a senior marine science major, received the top prize in the general ecology category. He studies thermal adaptation in the European green crab.

Sean Windell and Mary McCormick, graduate students in the Applied Marine and Watershed Science program, were awarded first- and second-place honors, respectively, for their oral presentations in marine science. Windell’s work examined the value of habitat diversity in marine reserves; McCormick studied intertidal foraging habits of fished and protected spiny lobsters.

For more information, click here.

The science department at CSUMB has been growing some amazing talent, and they continue to impress. Go Otters! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teachers and union leaders convene in Pacific Grove

Ahh. Asilomar. It always bring out the best in all of us, and among all of us.

 This past weekend, about 400 teachers and members of California Teachers Association gathered in our beautiful corner of the world to listen to Dean Vogel, president of the association, Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the state employee union, and about current issues in the schools such economic justice and school funding, the history of unions, state budget updates, the Common Core State Standards, labor law rights, and the new Local Control Funding Formula.

 Here's Dean Vogel chatting with some teachers.

And here Yvonne Walker talks to John Colombo of MPUSD. (Both photos courtesy of Mike Myslinski of CTA)

If you're curious about what Vogel had to say, here's a link to a portion of his speech. And here a link to a portion of Walker's as well.


Alisal students earn accolades

Last week, the Alisal Union Board of Trustees recognized 71 students who obtained a perfect score in the California Standard Tests.

Sixty-eight of them got a perfect score in Math

Two earned a perfect score in English

One received a perfect score in Spanish.

The students names were read, then they shook hands with administrators and officials, had their pictures taken, then they had cake. It's good to see schools celebrating their students!

Monday, October 14, 2013

MPUSD listening forums worth attending

Two community listening forums took place today, and from what I was told and from what I observed, they are really worth attending.

The community forums are the first step in the district's search for a new superintendent. 

K-12 Consulting is doing a good job putting together sessions that bring people together in a way that's conducive to real listening. They start by asking everyone to think about the district's mission statement. Then about its values. Then participants are asked to split into small groups and discuss what the district is doing well, what can be improved, and what does the future of MPUSD look like.

Tonight I heard some of the most substantive, heartfelt, honest conversations about the district in the four years I've covered it.

And there's more listening sessions coming up.

From 9-11 am – King Elementary School(Cafeteria), 1713 Broadway Ave., Seaside.
From 2-4 pm – Monterey High School (Cafeteria) 101 Herrmann Dr., Monterey.
From 6-8 pm – Los Arboles Middle School (Cafeteria), 294 Hillcrest Ave., Marina.

Participation was a bit low at the first two forums, so I hope to see more out there tomorrow. You won't be disappointed. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The ghost of Marilyn Shepherd still roams

A gentle reader alerted me to a document produced by former MPUSD Superintendent Marilyn Shepherd dated June 2013. It's a review of the special education department of the Oakland Unified School District. You can find it here.

The reader fumes: how come she didn't do that for MPUSD?

Another reader retorts: how long was Shepherd employed at Oakland? While she was at MPUSD?

To be sure, I contacted the Oakland Unified District and I received this document. Shepherd appears to have been hired to produce the special education report in April. As you probably remember, she begun her leave of absence in January. 

What's more interesting to me, is that the agency who hired her, Strategies for Success, had many contracts with MPUSD up until the time Shepherd left.  Kathryn Catania, I'm told, was very good friends with Shepherd.

I find all of this fascinating. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 7, 2013

MPUSD students learn the "cowboy way"

About 200 students from La Mesa, Monte Vista, and King elementaries spent a day in the sun, learning the "cowboy way" during the annual Cowboys in the School event at the Carmel Valley Trail and Saddle Club on Thursday, October 3rd.

Students caught a glimse of the vaquero life through music, roping stations, hat shaping stations, and several other demonstrations that make our past come alive. It is during the fourth grade when California students learn about the Mission period, a crucial time in the state's history. These type of events no doubt make the lessons in the classroom feel more relevant.

During the school year, volunteers with the Monterey Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival work with local educators to introduce the concept of Cowboy Culture and the influence of the vaquero to a diverse group of elementary school students. This "Cowboy Way of Life" program helps to teach youth self-esteem, ethics, values, writing, art and history. Young people also participate in the "Open Mic" event during the festival weekend. Monterey County has a long historic cowboy tradition that is celebrated at the Festival events.

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brickman.

Carmel's Kai Garren completes swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco

Regardless of how beautiful the weather was on Sept. 28 -- and it was a gorgeous day -- the waters of the San Francisco Bay are always cold.

No matter. All Saints’ 4th grader Kai Garren took part in the 11th Annual ‘Swim with the Centurions’ and completed the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco in 48:22 minutes. He finished 159 in a field of 316 swimmers throughout the world as the event’s youngest swimmer. He swam with his teammate Samantha Albano from Monterey Bay Swim Club and Greg Knowles from Monterey’s ‘Kelp Krawlers.’

In the morning, Kai joined his fellow swimmers on a ferry that took them to Alcatraz. They jumped into the choppy waters and battled the currents on their swim toward San Francisco. They swam in a large arc in order to get to the landing site at Aquatic Park, as with a straight-line swim they would have been swept out toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

The water was slightly warmer than Monterey Bay. Kai and Samantha practiced open ocean swimming with Greg for a month in Monterey Bay prior to the Alcatraz race.

‘Swim with the Centurions’ is organized by Water World Swim, which has offered open-water swimming events and training programs over 15 years. You can find them here.

Congratulations, Kai! We can't wait to see what your next adventure will be.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ciclovía: the price to pay for peace. Is it worth it?

For a few months now, all I hear coming from youth circles in Salinas is the efforts being made to put together this free, fun day for the entire family. In a city with few options for youth to have outdoor recreational activities, Ciclovía has been the shining beacon on a foggy Central Coast day.

Since I knew all about it, I'm sure SUBA folks also knew about it. And as my colleague at The Californian Jeff Mitchell wrote in his column, the organization heartily endorsed it a few months ago.

Now they want to backpedal. Business owners along East Alisal Street, one of the most congested in Salinas, fear they'll lose money because Sundays are their busiest days.

To make sure you all know what I'm talking about: Ciclovía Salinas will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  this Sunday. To make it a safe event for everyone to walk, skate, and bike along East Alisal Street, the busy thoroughfare will be closed to traffic from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. This has riled some businesses along the corridor, who say they'll lose customers in one of their most profitable days.

I'm thinking they're not the same business owners who complain about violence in the streets. Or those who say nobody comes to Salinas to patronize them because the city's bad reputation is keeping potential customers away.

Let's get one thing straight folks: desperate problems demand desperate measures, and if violence is to be eradicated from Salinas, everyone needs to do his or her part.

And be willing to sacrifice a little.

No, Ciclovía won't be the magic solution that will suddenly wipe out crime from Salinas. But magic solutions don't exist. It will take a lot of tiny efforts and creative ideas to combat this scourge.

I applaud the young people of Salinas for putting this effort together. They've done their due diligence, asked permission from the proper authorities, and now you want to shut them down?

No wonder sometimes young people in this town find no hope. There's little to do, they come up with a solution, they take the proper steps, and now you want to tell them "Never mind."??????


How much is peace worth to you, guys?????

Let's us all do our part to make this a better place to live. I for one will volunteer this Sunday to help control traffic and make it a safe event.

And if you want to volunteer, you still can. Contact Irma Guerrero at the Monterey County Health Department, 831-386-6890 or email: You can also contact Natalie Oliver, 831-262-1110 or Andrea Manzo, 831-717-1384.

What are you willing to do to make Salinas a better place to live?

MPUSD kicking superintendent search into high gear

The Monterey Peninsula Unified School District will officially launch anew its superintendent search with a series of community forums intended to discern preferences for the district's top leader.

Here's your chance to express your views on what a new superintendent should have. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
Or not.

There will be five forums over two days.

Monday, Oct. 14
From 2-4 pm – King Elementary School (Library), 1713 Broadway Ave., Seaside.
From 6-8 pm – Monterey High School (Cafeteria), 101 Herrmann Dr., Monterey.

Tuesday, Oct. 15
From  9-11 am – King Elementary School (Cafeteria),
From 2-4 pm – Monterey High School (Cafeteria)
From 6-8 pm – Los Arboles Middle School (Cafeteria), 294 Hillcrest Ave., Marina.

For more information, and to register for a forum, click here.

MPUSD is also seeking volunteers for its Superintendent’s Search Community Committee. For more information and to register, please attend one of the Community Forums click here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Marshall West presents Dual Language Charter Plan

It will be a double hitter: parents and supporter of the Dual Language school at Marshall West will host a celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Marshall West Elementary cafeteria, 225 Normandy Dr., Seaside

There will also present their plans to transform the school into a charter. There will be a potluck, music, and entertainment. Come meet the school's dedicated families, learn about the 2014-2015 charter school plan, and celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.

Come meet the first ever Salinas Youth Poet Laureate

As part of First Friday Art Walk, the city of Salinas will host a poetry reading for youth featuring Miguel Angel Frias, the first Salinas Youth Poet Laureate.

I'm sure he'll be signing autographs.

Come listen to his poems and meet some of the other inspiring youth poets in Salinas. These youth poets are between the ages of 13 and 19 years. They will be reciting their original art work.

The City Art Exhibit area also has the famous Lester D. Boronda paintings on display. The event is free.

From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 4, at the Salinas City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave.

For more information call: 758-7476

It's International Walk to School Month, and schools in Seaside are celebrating.

Martin Luther King Jr., Ord Terrace and Del Rey Woods elementary schools in Seaside will join schools from around the world to celebrate International Walk to School Month in October.

Students from Del Rey Woods will be walking to school on Wednesday, October 3 along with parents, teachers and community leaders.

The Del Rey Woods event will begin at 7:15 am with students, parents and community leaders walking from Mal’s Market on Noche Buena to Del Rey Woods Elementary.

On October 16, King Elementary will celebrate International Walk to School Month by walking from the Monterey County Social Services Department on the corner of Broadway and Noche Buena starting at 7:20 am and walking with leaders to the school.

Ord Terrace will have their event on October 23, and will meet at the Boys and Girls Club on La Salle at 7:20 am and will walk to the school with parents, teachers, and Monterey County Health Department employees.

All students who walked at the events will receive a healthy snack, a small prize, and will be able to sample strawberry or cucumber infused water.

International Walk to School Month was celebrated at more than 4,000 school events across the United States in 2012, along with children and adults in 40 countries around the world.

These events raise awareness of the need to create safer routes for walking and bicycling and emphasize the importance of increasing physical activity among children, improving pedestrian safety, reducing traffic congestion and protecting the environment. Also, they build connections between families, schools and the broader community.

This is the third Walk to School Day in Seaside organized by the Monterey County Health Department in collaboration with the CA4Health community transformation grant and the Network for a Healthy California.

You can find more information about Walk to School Day in the USA here, the National Center for Safe Routes to School here,  and International Walk to School Day here

Friday, September 27, 2013

Financial relief coming South Monterey County High School District's way

Governor Jerry Brown has signed a budget trailer bill to reduce the interest rate on South Monterey County High School district emergency loan. The bill includes language that will allow it to repay its debt to the state in a shorter amount of time that originally designed. School districts in Oakland, Vallejo and Contra Costa County have already benefitted from refinancing their emergency state loans.

The school district received a $13 million emergency loan in 2009 as it was projected to be fiscally insolvent. By law, the school district was forced to finance with the state-run California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (I-Bank). At the time, the interest rate for I-Bank was at 5.44 percent. In California, only three other school districts have emergency loans and their interest rates are below 2 percent.

"This is a huge victory for the students of South Monterey County," said Sen. Anthony Cannella, co-author of the bill. "The school district is paying $1.2 million annually in debt and carrying the highest interest rate any school in California has ever paid. This relief means major savings to the district and will allow it to restore programs focused on student achievement."

MPUSD trustees to talk about superintendent search

Maybe it was the summer. Or the fact that, after the last superintendent search, the community was so exhausted there was no energy left to give.

But nothing like a good rest and a bit of controversy to spark things up.

MPUSD trustees will meet at a special meeting Monday to talk about the search for a new superintendent. They won't be the ones choosing, but rather, they want to set the wheels in motion so a new superintendent can be picked by the new board.

The meeting's open session is set to start at 5:45 p.m. at the usual place -- Instructional Materials Center, 540 Canyon Del Rey, Monterey.

It'll be interesting to see how the latest upheaval related to a proposal to change the math requirements at the high school level plays out. Math teachers are not happy, and they have not been shy about publicizing their concerns.

Stay tuned. 

Free tutoring to students at the Salinas Union High School District

The Salinas Union High School District is hosting a "provider fairs" to inform families about free academic tutoring available to them.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Federal education reform law, many public school students from low income families are eligible to receive free tutoring under a national program called Supplemental Educational Services (SES). In SUHSD, the schools that offer SES are Alisal High, El Sausal Middle, Everett Alvarez High, La Paz Middle, North Salinas High, Harden Middle, Salinas High and Washington Middle School.

Through SES, a child is eligible for extra help in English, Math, and Science if he or she is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at school or attends a Title 1 school that the state has identified as not making adequate yearly progress for two years. Parents choose a tutoring service from a list of approved educational providers developed by the state. The tutoring services are paid for by the school district and are available before or after school or the weekends.

The provider's fairs will take place:

From 5:30p.m.-6:30p.m. on Tues., Oct. 8 at the large gym room at Everett Alvarez High.

From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 9 at the cafeteria of Alisal High.

From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 15 at the large gym of Salinas High.

From 5:30 to 6:30 pm. on Wed., Oct. 16, at the small gym of North Salinas High.

Monterey Peninsula College candidates set to debate

Marina in Motion, a non-partisan, no profit organization established to discuss local and regional issues, will host a candidates forum for the race to represent Marina on the board of trustees of Monterey Peninsula College.

MPC's President Walter Tribley announced recently he's seeking to cut $2.5 million from the college's budget, one of the many pressing issues the college will be facing in the upcoming months.

Three candidates are challenging incumbent Margaret-Anne Coppernoll:  Charles Fuller,  a translator and editor; former Mayor Gary Wilmot, and Attorney Leigh Rodriguez. At least three candidates will appear at the forum.

The forum will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at the City Council Chambers, 211 Hillcrest.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Major reshuffling at Pacific Grove Unified

It's like musical chairs at Pacific Grove Unified.

Mariphil Romanow-Cole, principal of Forest Grove Elementary School, resigned after accepting a position at the Monterey County Office of Education.

So Craig Beller, former principal of Forest Grove Elementary School and current principal of Pacific Grove Adult School and Pacific Grove Continuation High School, will replace Romanow-Cole.

To replace Beller, Barbara Martinez will leave her assistant principal position at Pacific Grove High School and become Interim Principal of Pacific Grove Adult School and Pacific Grove Continuation High School. 

Replacing Ms. Martinez as Interim Assistant Principal of Pacific Grove High School will be Sean Keller, current English teacher, recently awarded his California Administrative Services Credential.

And now for the punchline (attention teachers in neighboring districts who want to flee -- you know who you are). Pacific Grove  is recruiting for a highly qualified English teacher to replace Keller’s classroom position for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year. Cross training is currently taking place with the anticipated start date being Monday, September 30, 2013.