Wednesday, December 31, 2014

International School of Monterey to hold open house

International School of Monterey, a charter school, will host an open house from 9:30 to 11: 30 a.m. on Jan. 10. The public will get a close look on how the school operates.

School administrators are also accepting applications for the 2015-16 school year for grades K-8. Applications will be received until 5 p.m. Jan. 27, and a lottery will be held at 5 p.m. on Feb. 10 for the spots available. All events will take place at the school at 1720 Yosemite Ave. in Seaside.

For more information, call 583-2165 or click here.

CSUMB’s first class of nursing get their pins

CSUMB’s first class of 10 nursing graduates participated in a pinning ceremony on Dec. 20. Their commencement ceremony will take place in May.

The ceremony marked a milestone for the students and for the university. The idea of a nursing program was discussed in CSUMB’s early days, but actual planning did not started until 2008. The first students were admitted four years later.

“As a pioneer, I feel like I have helped lay the foundation for future nursing classes,” said Jennifer Riccobono. “The students in our graduating class have set the bar high.”

The ceremony is a tradition in nursing that dates back to the days of Florence Nightingale, when a pin was a way to identify a nurse. At the pinning ceremony, nurses receive pins unique to their program.

CSUMB offers the only bachelor of science in nursing degree in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties. The program started in 2012 in collaboration with four regional community colleges. Students begin their education at one of the two-year schools, spend time in a "blended" learning environment, and then complete their studies at CSUMB. They receive an associate degree in nursing degree from their community college and a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from CSUMB.

In the summer of 2014, a second track was added that allows already-employed nurses with associate’s degrees to earn a BSN while continuing to work. Classes are offered on campus, online and at local hospitals to make it easier for working nurses.

Interested in attending Millennium Charter High School? Apply now

Millennium Charter High School is accepting applications for the 2015-16 school year. Deadline to apply is 5:00 pm on March 31st. Millennium officials anticipate that there will be more applicants than spaces available for next year’s ninth grade class, and under California Education Code, charter schools that have more applicants than spaces available must hold a public lottery.

The lottery will be held at 5:30 PM on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 in the Black Box Theater at the Monterey County Office of Education, 901 Blanco Circle, Salinas.

Millennium will hold an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 21 at its facilities at the Sherwood Community Center, 940 N. Main St., Salinas.

For more information, call 758-7952 or click here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A happy ending for the housing problems of international students at CSUMB

You may remember I reported about the housing woes faced by international students at CSU Monterey Bay, who complained administrators were charging them more than U.S. students. You can find the full story here.

Students met with CSUMB administrators last week, and there's a happy ending to the story. Students who ended up sharing a small room -- to the tune of $525 each -- will get a $600 refund.

"I am very pleased to tell you that we were able to find a solution," German student Moritz Bartsch wrote in an email. "Vice president Dr. Higgs and Provost Bonnie Irwin were very cooperative. For the first time since all this started we were talking to people that took our concerns seriously."

Students were able to voice their concerns during a two-hour open forum, Bartsch said.

"I am confident that the CSUMB learned from this experience and the next International students will not have to deal with injust housing policies," he said.

Ronnie Higgs, vice president of student affairs, also said students were satisfied with the solution.

"They felt that the administration responded fairly and heard their concerns," he said in an email. "I received several positive compliments from the international students regarding the resolution."

Cyberpatriot season is over

And the future computer programers did great!

Hartnell College faculty and students mentored approx 65 high school students in the national cybersecurity competition program, CyberPatriot, reports computer science instructor Joe Welch. The teams spent hours learning about networking, operating systems, and computer security, in preparation for three competition sessions held in November and December.

Mentored teams and mentors are listed here:

William Starling mentored the King City High School team, Wendy Fernandez the Gonzales High School team, Jennifer Westerbeck the Alisal High team, CPO Israel Gonzalez, USN was in charge of the Everett Alvarez High NJROTC team, and finally, Liz Koenig was in charge of the Notre Dame High School team.

Welch said staff, faculty and teaching assistants from Hartnell College worked tirelessly in mentoring high school students towards studies and careers in computer science fields. A big shout out to all of them!

Not to be outdone, three of the Seaside High School teams qualified for the silver tier, and one team qualified for the gold tier, reports teacher Tessa Brown. She'll find out how the teams placed going into the regional round of the competition this week. "All of the students continue to have a great time learning cyber security," she said. "It is amazing to see how their skills have improved over the past few months. They are already talking about how competitive they will be next year."

It's fun to see these kids get into computer science. I can't wait to see how far they go next year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pacific Grove Unified rethinks idea of merging elementary schools

Last month I reported about a proposal at Pacific Grove Unified to merge its two elementary schools and make one K-2 and the other 3-5.

It's an idea that had been floated before and went nowhere. Officials were hoping to give it plenty of time for community discussion before actually bringing it to a vote.

But the resistance was still there, and this time, there was not even a formal discussion about it. Adminstrators pulled it off the agenda before the meeting took place. Here's an explanation of what happened directly from Superintendent Ralph Porras.

"We met with the teachers from both elementary schools regarding the reasons and timing of reconfiguration. This was important because they are the educational experts and are responsible for delivery of curriculum and instruction, which are both at the heart of the reconfiguration model. It was clearly communicated that the time and conditions were not right for this significant change. Community members from both elementary schools also communicated this same sentiment the District and Board. The Board accepted this message and pulled that discussion from the agenda. Our schools are providing excellent service to students and families, and are continuing to address the challenges presented by progressive educational reform. We will continue to support that effort in ways that best suit all stakeholders."

So there you have it. Robert Down and Forest Grove will remain as the are for the considerable future.

Chess tournament for young ones at Seaside

The good members of Victory Temple and the NAACP are putting together a chess workshop followed by a tournament for children ages 5 to 18 this Saturday, Dec. 13. Open to all!

The game of chess will help students to develop abstract thinking, build self confidence, think before acting, strengthen critical and analytic thinking, learn sportsmanship and have fun!

Workshop begins at noon at Del Monte Manor Community Center, 1466 Yosemite, Seaside. Followed by the tournament. Sounds like tons of fun.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just in time for the storm, MPUSD board meetings to be broadcast

Let's say you live in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, and you've been dying to go to the board meetings but you can't find a babysitter. Or it's raining cats and dogs and you don't really want to get wet.

Now you'll have no excuse.

Beginning this week, MPUSD began broadcasting their meetings live on Comcast Channel 24 or on the web here.

The meetings will also be rebroadcast on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and the Tuesday following the board meeting at 7 p.m.

Board members began discussing the possibility of broadcasting the meetings a few months ago, as part of their efforts to show the community they're committed to transparency. Hopefully, many community members will take advantage of the service. See you on TV!

Sixth graders from all over Monterey County visit CSUMB

A slew of sixth graders descended upon Cal State Monterey Bay in the last few days to learn more about what the university has to offer them.

It was five days of about 2,000 students coming to get a taste of the university life. Sixth graders from the Alisal Union, Gonzales Unified and Salinas City Elementary school districts visited CSUMB. Since the program began in the spring of 2009, more than 12,000 Monterey County sixth-graders have visited campus.

The students promise to do well in school, work hard, get good grades, graduate from high school, and pursue a college degree.

In return, Interim Coordinator of TRiO Student Support Services Omar Murillo promised that the university will save a spot for them if they complete high school and meet other basic requirements. As part of the promise, the university will work with the students and their parents to help arrange financial aid.

Each student received a poster that explains what they need to do to prepare for college on a year-by-year basis starting in the sixth grade; a certificate for them to sign acknowledging their promise to prepare for and attend college; information on the outreach and support programs available at CSUMB; and a letter to their parents explaining the event and asking them to frame and display the certificate.

And they got to take pictures with Monte Rey, the university's mascot. What joy!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Stevenson's Chapman Caddell makes impression at national cancer surgeon's gathering

Chapman Caddell, a junior at Stevenson School, had the unprecedented opportunity as a high school student to present at the national Musculoskeletal Tumor Society’s Annual Meeting and speak before a room of roughly 200 of the country’s best cancer surgeons.

While interning at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in 2013, Chap attended multiple surgeries and clinics every week, and commenced research regarding the best surgical approach to address metastatic femur fractures as a consequence of metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

“This was my first time conducting clinical research,” Chapman said. “I obviously learned a lot about clinical research in general and the topic at hand, but the best thing I got out of it was knowing that my research would have a real-world impact. I want patients to benefit from my conclusions, and I really think they will.”

Following his retrospective analysis of more than 10 years of surgical records and follow-up for 56 patients, Chapman took the lead in drafting a paper summarizing the results and proposing the best surgical method. In early 2014, Chapman completed the paper, entitled The Treatment of Diaphyseal Femur Fractures in the Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. The paper, co-written with MD Anderson Chief Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr. Valerae Lewis, and several other MDA surgeons, was submitted for podium presentation to the 2014 Musculoskeletal Tumor Society’s (MSTS) Annual Meeting.

This spring, Chapman learned that out of 160 abstracts, his paper was one of 30 selected for podium presentation. And last month, Chapman delivered his team’s presentation at the 2014 National MSTS Annual Meeting -- and underwent questioning on the dais.

According to Dr. Lewis, while it was probably the first time a 16-year old had ever made a podium presentation at a national surgical conference, Chapman’s presentation and handling of difficult questions were excellent.

“Chapman did an excellent job working with the Department of Orthopedic Oncology at M.D. Anderson. It was commented that his composure and maturity far exceeded his chronologic age. His intelligence and hard work was noted by several of the faculty members with whom he had the opportunity to work. Not only was his presentation well received, but he did an excellent job of fielding questions from the audience," said Dr. Lewis.

Congratulations, Chapman. Very impressive accomplishments for such a young man.

story contributed by Stevenson School public information office.

CSUMB students also gather top honors during SACNAS conference

Not to be outdone by their Hartnell peers, CSU Monterey Bay students took first and second places during the recent conference of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

SACNAS is a 40-year-old nonprofit organization that fosters Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists from college students to professionals.

The annual conference showcases work aimed at fostering scientists from Latino and Native American backgrounds, who are often underrepresented in the sciences.

CSUMB was represented by 15 undergraduates, four graduate students and four students from other schools who were part of last summer’s Monterey Bay Regional Ocean Science Research Experience for Undergraduates based at CSUMB. They presented research posters in ecology and evolution, general biology and marine biology.

Awardees were:

• Alison Aceves, marine science major, took first place in ecology and evolution. She spent last summer working at the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University, studying host-parasite interactions of salmon in the Columbia River.

• Emily King, marine science major, took second place in marine biology. She also spent the summer at the Hatfield Center, researching larval fish behavior.

• Briana Becerra, biology major, took second place in ecology and evolution. She spent the summer at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, researching forest ecology

• Danielle Perry, a participant in last summer’s Ocean Science REU at CSUMB and a student at the University of New Haven, took first place in marine biology. She spent the summer working at Elkhorn Slough.

“The conference attendees I spoke with were highly complimentary of our students in how they presented their research, the quality of their work and their overall professionalism at the conference,” Corey Garza, associate professor in the Division of Science and Environmental Policy told the Cal State Monterey Bay News.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

CSUMB President Eduardo Ochoa tweeting from the White House!

CSUMB President Eduardo Ochoa is in our nation's capital to take part on the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, an initiative of President Barack Obama to support students across the country to increase college attainment.

And he's tweeting! Follow him here.

During White House College Opportunity Day of Action, participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A spokesperson for CSUMB said the university's commitment to increasing the number of graduates in STEM fields involves its CSIT-in-3 program with Hartnell College, which allows students to earn a computer science degree in three years through year-round study.

Ochoa served as assistant secretary for higher education in the Obama Administration before coming to CSUMB as president in 2012. He was invited to the event by Cecilia Munoz, President Obama’s domestic policy adviser, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

CSUMB sees freshmen applications jump more than 5 percent

Freshmen applications for Cal State Monterey Bay went up 5.3 percent this year over last year, with approximately 15,391 first-time freshmen applying for admission next fall.

The university’s total number of applicants is 12 percent higher than two years ago when 13,753 applied, said Ronnie Higgs, the university’s vice president of student affairs and enrollment services.

CSUMB also had 3,713 upper-division transfers apply, an increase of 1 percent.

It is the first year that the university will limit enrollment, with first priority given to students in the three surrounding counties of San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz. Approximately 44 percent of the applicants will receive admission letters to the university.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hartnell students take top honors at science conference

Two Hartnell students were recognized for outstanding research presentations during SACNAS conference, the largest STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) diversity event in the country.

There were 918 undergraduate student presentations total with 99 awards given in eight multidisciplinary categories.

The 2014 SACNAS Undergraduate Student Poster Presentation Awardees from Hartnell were:

* In Biochemistry/Biophysics - Jazel Hernandez, “Quantifying Butanol Production of a Genetically Engineered Halophile”

* In Engineering – Jhanic Ramos, “PV Cleaner Robot”

Both students participated in the Hartnell College STEM Internship Program. Jhanic Ramos was part of the group of students working with a team from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Baskin School of Engineering. This was a joint effort between UCSC and Hartnell as part of the National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education program.

Jazel Hernandez was part of the team of students from UCSC, Baskin School of Engineering, iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team. Jazel’s team also participated in the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston, Mass., where they earned a bronze medal. The Giant Jamboree competition celebrates university students as they showcase their achievements in Synthetic Biology.

Jhanic Ramos is in the process of applying to transfer to UC Berkeley and UC Davis and wants to specialize in neurosurgery.

Jazel Hernandez plan is to attend UC Santa Cruz in the fall and go on to medical school to specialize in pediatric oncology.

Way to go, ladies!

Christmas program at Madonna del Sasso

Madonna del Sasso School will be having its annual Christmas program,"The Christmas County Spelling Bee" on December 17 at Sherwood Hall, 940 N. Main St., Salinas

Although there is not admission charge, donations will be collected to benefit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. There will be two performances: a dress rehearsal at 11 am and an evening show at 6 pm.

All Madonna del Sasso students (preschool through eighth grade) perform in this pageant, and they're enthusiastic about sharing their talents with the community.

Carmel mock trial team shines in San Francisco

You may remember I wrote about the Carmel mock trial team and their participation in the Empire Mock Trial in San Francisco, an elite competition where participation is limited to a select few teams. Read the article here.

The competition took place Nov. 20-24, and the Carmel team did not disappoint. It was the first time they participated in the tournament, and they earned forth place among 24 teams that came from different parts of the United States and abroad, teacher Bill Schrier reported.

"We went against schools from Little Rock, Arkansas; Springfield, Ohio; Canada; and a Southern California team. We won three of those four trials, and one of our witnesses, Mindy Morgan, won a trophy for being one of the best witnesses in the tournament. Each team member also showed tremendous personal improvement," he wrote in an email.

Way to go, team! Now, let's get ready for the Monterey County competition!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Girls get heavy dosis of science at Expanding Your Horizons

More than 300 girls, parents and teachers attended the fifth annual Expanding Your Horizons Conference and career fair on Nov. 22 at Hartnell College.

The girls attended two hands-on workshops that gave them opportunities to interact with professionals and work closely with their peers. The workshops included the study of marine invertebrates, underwater robotics, water density and oceanography, and more. During the workshops the girls completed a number of stimulating activities such as extracting DNA from multiple sources with common household items. They built, hypothesized, and tested underwater robots. Some got to use the latest technologies from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to peek into the largest, most mysterious habitat on earth.

Then they had a chance to hear about possible careers in science from 16 organizations including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Peninsula College’s Engineering and Nursing Programs, and Hartnell’s NASA SEEMA.

Overall, judging from the photos, the girls seemed to have a great time. Good job, Lyceum of Monterey, for putting it on.

Everett Alvarez students grow food, donate it to Dorothy's

Everett Alvarez students are not just learning about agriculture, but philanthropy, through their work growing vegetables at the school.

The Future Farmers of America chapter of the school grew, harvested and donated  vegetables to Dorthy’s Kitchen on Tuesday Nov 25th.

Students participating in the program have been going through procedures to allow them to sell their products out of their Eagle Produce Store on campus. While waiting for the permission to be granted, the Environmental Horticulture class that is part of the Agriculture Program decided to begin growing celery, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage, red cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in their garden.

“Before starting this project, we really didn’t know what could go wrong,” said Gracie Robles, “all we knew is that we could grow vegetables for others, so we did.”

Vegetable plugs were planted around the end of August and students began to maintain the area.

“Water was a big concern,” said David Robles, “we knew about the drought so micro sprinklers is what we installed.”

As the plants continued to grow, the class was introduced to pests that many local farmers are currently fighting. “It only took a week or two and then aphids began attacking our plants, “ said  Alicia Reyena.

“Something called a Bagrada bug ate all of my cauliflower before it even started,” said Joe Perez. “Mr. Wyrick told us later that the Bagrada bug didn’t even exist in California 6 years ago.”

Students in the class gained valuable lessons about controlling the transfer of pests from one country to the next and the impact it can have on agriculture production. By the time, the students harvested their crops they were proud of what they could provide the community and what they had done.

“Three large boxes of celery came out of our garden box,” said Donato Robles.

 “I’m really proud to be donating what we grew to the community, I just wish there was some peanut butter for the celery,” said jokingly Bridget Sandoval. 

 -- Edgar Becerra (Everett Alvarez High FFA Reporter)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Washington Union families will attempt to break a Guinness World Record

Families within the Washington Union School District will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread village on Sunday, December 14, 2014.

And they are inviting everyone to help them!

In order to accomplish this new record, the gingerbread village needs to consist of 144 houses and 16 other village structures (minimum).

So here's how they're asking the Monterey/Salinas community to help:

 Bake and decorate a gingerbread house or other village structure, and bring it to the event.

 All houses and buildings must be made from gingerbread only.

 Structures may be constructed and decorated with other edible substances such as icing or candy.

 Each building must be at least 5.9 inches in at least one dimension (height, length or width).

 Completed 2014 Guinness Challenge forms must be submitted with each entry.

In support of this world record, a famous chocolate company has donated a pallet of candy to help families decorate their gingerbread entries. The candy will be used at a special gingerbread house decorating party from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 7 at Washington Union School. The party is open to all local families, and up to 150 people are expected to attend. The cost to attend the gingerbread party is $20 for WUSD students and $25 for students outside the district. Admission includes:

 Pre-baked gingerbread pieces for one house

 Colored icing to build and decorate

 Assorted candies

 One red apron with the WUSD Guinness Challenge logo

Additional information about the WUSD Gingerbread Challenge, recipes, entry forms, and the gingerbread house decorating party can be found here.

The 2014 Guinness Challenge is organized by WUSD Parents’ Club. The district-wide organization is made up of parents and teachers who share the common goal of fostering a strong sense of school spirit. Funds raised through the club’s services and special events are used to purchase classroom supplies and fund scholarships for special educational events.

Sounds like a good way to launch the holiday season! Much luck to the Washington Union community. Do we get to eat the gingerbread village afterwards?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hartnell students talk a good talk

Kudos to the Hartnell College Speech Team, which had its best showing in the team’s history on at the Mustang Invitational Tournament last month, held at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.

The team was among 18 schools from three states; schools included Rice University, Colorado College, and the University of San Diego.

Team members earned several individual awards, including:

· Adrian Flores- 1st place Novice Poetry Interpretation and 3rd place Novice Dramatic Interpretation
· Lourdes Tinajero- 1st place Novice Prose Interpretation, Top Novice Dramatic Duo Interpretation
· Chris Rendon- Top Novice Program of Oral Interpretation, Top Novice Dramatic Duo Interpretation
· Victoria Garcia- 3rd place, Open Communication Analysis
· Meritzy Ayala- 3rd place, Novice Informative Speaking
· Sarina Atkins- 6th place, Novice Informative Speaking

The individual results secured the squad a 3rd place overall team trophy, only the second time the Hartnell Speech Team has scored high enough in a combined team effort to earn such an award. The team award is a cumulative score based on individual performances. The team is heading to UC Berkeley on December 6 and 7, 2014 for their next competition.

Good luck in Berkeley, chic@s!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

High school students welcome to Hartnell College night

Hartnell College and the Transfer and Career Center will host the 29th Annual Transfer Day and College Night in the Student Center at 411 Central Avenue, Salinas, on Thursday. More than 40 university representatives are expected to attend to meet with students and answer questions regarding the transfer/admissions process.

Transfer Day, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

College Night, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Representatives from CSUs, UCs, privates, and out-of-state will be providing information. Some of the schools attending include: Academy of Art University, Brandman University, CSU Monterey Bay, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fresno State, Holy Names University, San Jose State University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, and University of New Mexico. Last year 54 institutions participated.

This year Hartnell is expecting over 500 high school juniors and seniors to visit the campus during Transfer Day. Gonzales High School will bring a group of 50 students during College Night.

College Night is geared toward promoting the various university programs with high school seniors and their families. This is a great opportunity for them to survey different college options and learn about specific programs and their student support services offered at each campus.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Common Core: come hear all about it

Mary White, associate superintendent of education services at the Monterey County Office of Education, and teacher and columnist Paul Karrer will talk about the Common Core Standards, what they are and how they're being implemented in schools during the the League of Women Voters of Monterey County luncheon at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Presentation is free at the  Unitarian Universalist Church, 490 Aguajito Road (junction Hwy 1 and  68), Carmel. 

For more information, contact Lorita Fisher at or 375-8301. 

Navigator supporters show up to MCOE meeting

Administrators for Navigator Schools, the charter operator based in Gilroy that wants to expand into Monterey County, say they had about 100 supporters attend their appeal hearing last week.

"We had over 100 Navigator supporters from both our schools and from Salinas," Sharon Waller, director of expansion, wrote in an email. "We chartered two buses that picked up folks from both places. It was so exciting to see so many supporters in the audience and to hear them (about 30 speakers) speak favorably about Navigator coming to town.

Navigator petitioned to open a charter school at the Alisal Union  and the Salinas City Elementary  school districts. They were both rejected by the trustees, and Navigator administrators opted to appeal the process with the Salinas City Elementary. Trustees with the Monterey County Office of Education are expected to vote on the appeal on Dec. 3.

It will be interesting to see how that goes. Navigator officials say they plan to have lots of supporters on the date of the vote as well. Stay tuned.

The Literacy Campaign has new chief -- my old boss

Joe Livernois, former editor for The Monterey County Herald and funny man, was just named interim executive director for the the Literacy Campaign for Monterey County. Which means I'll get to be his boss now!

I'm excited. As a reporter, columnist, editor and writer, Joe knows the importance of literacy to change people's lives, so he'll be great for the organization. In a press release, he said "As a journalist and writer, my advocacy for literacy might be considered a rather selfish venture. But, at its core, the mission of journalism is to educate readers to both the realities and the magic of our world. Literacy and an enthusiasm for reading are significant tools that empower citizens to function in society."

We've been doing great work at the Literacy Campaign. Just last week, we hosted about 40 families for an all-day conference to empower parents to be more engaged in their children's education. Although the organization's mission is to serve as a catalyst among literacy providers throughout Monterey County, it's events such as the parent's conference that remind us why we need to continue doing our work.

With so many stories lately about the challenges  Monterey County children face to improve their educational attainment, everything we all do to encourage more reading helps. What we're doing at the Literacy Campaign is giving families and literacy providers the tools they need to be inspired to read more, learn more, become better prepared academically, for the sake of their families.

Welcome a board, Joe!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Millennium Parents: an example of what's right in Monterey County

Monterey County has been in the news a lot lately for the challenges it faces raising its children. It's sobering and can be a bit discouraging, so I'd like to offer an example of what can be done right.

Meet Eleazar and Alba Sosa and Jesús and Esperanza Capiz. They are all immigrants from Mexico, field workers living in the Salinas Valley, and they are all raising academically successful children and wonderful human beings.

Both set of parents have children who earned the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which will cover all their educational expenses and open the door to other opportunities. Kevin Capiz, now studying math at Stanford University, and Randy Sosa, now at the U.S. Naval Academy, are two of only three students in Monterey County to ever receive the coveted scholarship. About 50,000 students apply nationwide every year, and only 1,000 receive it.

As part of my volunteer work for the Literacy Campaign for Monterey County, I had the opportunity to host a workshop for parents with the Sosa's and the Capiz's during the Engaged Parents Conference on Saturday at Hartnell College. They generously gave up their day to share with other parents their experiences raising academically successful children. 

Eleazar and Alba Sosa have lived in Greenfield for decades. Jesús and Esperanza Capiz have made King City their home since 1988. Both couples made raising their children a priority ever since they were little: during the presentation on Saturday, Jesús Capiz shared how the family had no money for cable or even a television set, so they spent afternoons playing with their children and teaching them   shapes and colors. Alba Sosa would drag her children into the kitchen so they would read to her as she cooked -- even if they didn't want to. The couples shared philosophy and practical advice on the every day hard work of raising children.

Both couples are strong believers in bilingualism -- even as their command of English is limited. They insisted from the get go the children had to learn Spanish, and all their children communicate perfectly in English and Spanish. 

They make it sound so easy, but they also spoke about the frustration and the hard work.  Eleazar  sometimes catches a nap in the car while waiting for his daughter to finish a 4H meeting. Yeah, sometimes they don't feel like driving to Fresno or Modesto for cross-country competitions, but they do it nonetheless. They know the best gift they can give their children is their constant presence, on the sports fields and in the classroom. They don't drive fancy cars or have elegant furniture, but their choices have made it all worth it, they say. Randy went to Australia to compete in cross country, and their youngest daughter, Jocelynn, is now being invited to the same competition as well.

Which means more work for the hardworking parents: they'll have to start selling pozole and tacos to raise money for the trip. They sigh, shrug their shoulders, and do it with a smile on their faces.

It's not magic. It's hard work and commitment. But it also takes strong convictions and a strong social network, something that our immigrant families, having left families and traditions behind, often lack.

Eleazar, Alba, Jesús, Esperanza, you are an example for many in this Salinas Valley, and across the United States. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Charts are beatiful. Check out this one, courtesy of MCOE

For the third year in a row, the Monterey County Office of Education has published a report to the community on the county's state of education, an effort aimed at highlighting the good things that are happening in education these days.

If you are a Herald reader -- or follow my blog -- you will find very little news in the report. Most of the articles are about issues we've already covered here. Of course, they look more nifty in a booklet all of their own.

But there are a few articles worth mentioning. The one about Common Core on pages 6 and 7. The one about new funding rules on pages 8 and 9.

And my personal favorite, the chart on English learners as they progress towards proficiency in English on page 5.

It's illuminating. Worth a story. I'll get to it one of these days.

Find the report here.

Salinas parents turn in signatures to recall Salinas City Elementary Janet Barnes

Building a Better Board, a grass-roots organization driving efforts to recall Salinas City Elementary trustee Janet Barnes, has turned in 2,621 signatures to the Monterey County Registrar of Voters.

Elections chief Claudio Valenzuela said they have 30 working days to verify the signatures. Organizers need 2,291 valid signatures for the recall to qualify for the ballot.

Building a Better Board, a group of parents mostly from Mission Park Elementary, are hoping to recall Barnes in an effort to weaken support for Superintendent Juvenal Luza. Their aim is to eventually have another superintendent take over the district.

Navigator appeal coming to the Monterey County Office of Education

Perhaps you've noticed I've been doing quite a bit of coverage about a small charter operator that wants to come to Monterey County. It's called Navigator, and you can find an article about the national controversy on charters here and a description of one the Navigator schools,  Gilroy Prep, here.

Navigator asked to open two charters, one in the Salinas City Elementary School District, and one at the Alisal Union School District. After getting rejected from both districts, Navigator administrators appealed the Salinas City petition to the Monterey County Board of Education.

Trustees with the Monterey County Board of Education will hear the appeal at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the offices on Blanco Circle. I regret I won't be there, as I have an important issue to attend to on the other side of the country. So I'll be checking in to see what happened.

Scuttlebutt, I expect a full report!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts visits Mary Chapa in Greenfield

Mary Chapa Academy in Greenfield  received a special visit on Friday, October 24, from Jacques Rodrigue and a team from the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.

The foundation was formed in 2009 by the famed Louisiana artist better known for his images of the Blue Dog.

After a tour of the school, Rodrigue presented students with an overview of works of George Rodrigue and led them through a morning of creativity. Students painted their Blue Dog in any setting in the world that they could possibly imagine.

On Saturday, the foundation sponsored a Family Day at the Rodrigue Gallery in Carmel, where a team led students and their parents in creating Blue Dog ornaments, masks, face painting and a tour of the gallery.

The visit concluded Monday with a field-trip for all fifth grade students to Carmel, where they were led through arts integrated science projects.

In May, El Camino Real Academy in the Greenfield Union School District was selected as one of 10 schools in California for the Turnaround Arts program, a signature of the Obama administration that uses arts to helps narrow the achievement gap.

El Camino Real, which was originally split from Mary Chapa in 2011 as part of reforms aimed at increasing test score, was merged again with Mary Chapa this summer. Mary Chapa gets to keep the turnaround arts designation, principal Sonia Aramburo said.  

As part of the program, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers will "adopt" Mary Chapa to engage with the students and motivate them to learn. One of these days he'll come visit. We can hardly wait...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting your teaching chops at a charter school

In case you've missed it, I've been writing about a small charter school operator, Navigator Schools, and its attempts to open two schools in Salinas.

My most recent story is here, and it addresses the charter controversy at a national level.

As you can probably imagine, it's often hard to include in a story all the information you request or come across as you research these issues. For instance, I had asked two Gilroy Prep teachers to give me their input on how's like to teach at a Navigator School. I didn't find a good place to include their views, so I'll post them here, edited.

Bri Gottlieb has been been teaching for three years, her last two at Gilroy Prep. This year, she trained new staff on classroom management styles and student culture. When I visited the school on Oct. 7, Gottlieb was teaching her students how to use cubes to measure length. She was using a very catchy song to teach units of measure, a method used frequently at the school. 

Other topics I asked her about: how does she keep up with the energy level (there's a lot of movement involved in the teaching at Navigator)? How much coaching they have? Here's more of her story, in her own words:

"We have many songs and chants so it is easier for the kids to remember steps and strategies. Some examples of math concepts we have songs and chants for are rounding, subtraction regrouping, word problems, money, fractions, time, multiplication, doubles facts, etc. The students get very into them and you can see them mouthing the songs to themselves during tests and independent practice.
"Some days are harder than others to keep up the energy because on Mondays the kids are sleepy so we ( the teachers) tend to do more of the talking. After working for this school for the second year, you get used to walking and using hand motions with instruction. I find I have more energy because I am used to moving around so much. I have joked around that I should wear a pedometer to see how many steps I walk around in a day. I find that the more I move around, the more the kids get excited and more engaged to learn.

"There is a lot of coaching involved. Every week a coach will observe the classroom (sometimes tape) and then meet with the teacher some time later in the week. During the coaching meetings, we go over strengths and two action steps to work on for the following week. I have found that I have become a better teacher from the feedback from my coaches. It is a very positive coaching model that helps improve my teaching skills all around. I am more conscious about constantly learning and more focused on certain actions that I want to improve on. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective on something I want to improve on as well. Before I came to this school, I didn't realize how collaborative a school could be. Most schools are very inclusive to the teachers and teachers work independently. It is very hard to grow as a teacher in that kind of environment. If I have a great idea that works for a better grade, I e-mail my fellow colleagues and they use the idea. It is a better environment to work in and to grow as a teacher. We are all working for the kids and to help them succeed in their education which is the way it should be." 

It's Karaoke time at Salinas high schools

Tomoki Kuwana, a Japanese language instructor at North Salinas High, is organizing a karaoke contest for all students in the Salinas Union High School District.

Would you include students from other school who take Japanese? I asked him.

That's a great idea, he said. So, if you are a Japanese language teacher at any other district in Monterey County, bring your students to the contest!

When: 4:00PM, Thursday, November 13.

Where: Theater at Everett Alvarez High, 1900 Independence Blvd., Salinas.

Cost: Free Admission

For more information, call: 831-796-7500

Monday, October 20, 2014

Of the Alisal and the need for public relations

At the most recent board meeting of the Alisal Union School District, there was an item that seemed like a no-brainer. A three-month, $18,000 contract with PRx Digital, a public relations company, to help them spin a better tale about the Alisal.

This is how administrators made their case: "The District badly needs professional assistance in fairly laying out the facts of the Alisal story -- both achievements and continuing challenges. Over the past five year, the District experienced an environment where facts were distorted by sensational media reporting and politicized, extremist public comment."

To put it mildly.

So this San Jose company -- with veteran journalist Marcos Cabrera on board -- would have tried in three months to convince Alisal trustees their job was needed. And given the amount of scrutiny this contract faced, you would have thought it was $18 million, not $18,000 they were considering to approve.

A couple of trustees -- including Noemi Armenta -- did not want the job to go to consultants because union members are generally opposed to consultants. But she and other board members wanted somebody to be hired part time. Or on an interim basis, to see what kind of results it would give them. So I was wondering, wouldn't the three-month contract with PRx have done the job? To demonstrate to trustees that it may actually be a good idea to hire a professional to help with public relations?

There's a reason why this item is of particular interest to yours truly. A communications professional at an organization makes the job so much easier. This person (when they're truly on top of things, because they not always are) helps you find the appropriate administrator to answer your questions, helps you coordinate photo shoots (so much in demand in this day and age of digital media) and in general can serve a very good public relations purpose. They probably will not help you find the dirt in your organization (something that journalist must and love doing), but dogged journalist would have plenty of time to do that when a public relations expert is on board ;)

Now I hear the Alisal is actually looking for a full time director of communications. And in the meantime, all we keep getting from KSBW is stories about former trustee Jose Castañeda. I wonder if a director of communications will be successful in steering broadcast news in other directions.

And speaking of public relations, veteran communications pro and media darling Marci McFadden has jumped from the Monterey County Office of Education ship and landed on the MPUSD one. Finally, somebody who will help me set up drama-free photo shootings!!!!! I can hardly wait, Marci!

And who will land on the MCOE boat? That will be very interesting indeed. 

Marcos, you should apply!

Everett Alvarez High FFA students attend agricultural leadership conference

Twenty-eight 9th grade agriculture students from the Everett Alvarez High School FFA chapter attended in the the annual FFA Greenhand Leadership Conference in Paso Robles earlier this month.

The conference is designed to assist students with career information and with help designing a personal plan that will help them reach their career objectives.

“I had a terrific time”, said Freshmen Everett Alvarez FFA member Enrique Munoz, “I learned a lot about the opportunities that the FFA has to offer in providing us skills to succeed at school and towards a career.”

The FFA establishes various levels or “degrees” during one’s FFA experience in high school. The “Greenhand” degree is the first level a student can obtain as a first-year high school agriculture student/FFA member. The FFA provides more extensive leadership conferences for sophomores, juniors, and seniors based on the level and degree earned by each student. The Everett Alvarez FFA will be recognizing over 200 students for their FFA Greenhand and Chapter Farmer (2nd year members) degrees in December.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to meet students from other schools”, said EAHS 9th grader Rebecca Wells. "The  event was a lot of fun and I learned a little more about what I might want to do in life.”

Participants at this year’s Greenhand Leadership Conference included: Sabrina Avilia, Nathaniel Conner, Guillermo Dorado, Rebecca Gonzalez, Esmerelda Huerta, David Juarez, Amanda Linsey, Enrique Munoz, Juan Perez, John Ramirez, Yesenia Ramirez, Haley Ramirez, Aiden Reyes, Adileiny Suarez,Samantha Tiscareno, Rosario Zepeda, Monica Gonzalez, Angel Hernandez, Rebecca Wells, William Acuna, Omar Montejano, Andrew Person, Juan Baltazar, Victor Guerrero, Nelly Perez, Rogelio Peinado, Jamie Quezada, and Ricardo Yniguez.

FFA members at Alvarez have been busy this month. Its officers also attended a leadership conference in Hollister a couple of weeks ago. The officers attending the conference included Julissa Marroquin, Javier Garcia, Marisol Lopez, Anthony Ortiz, Edgar Becerra, and Rodrigo Ramirez.

Thanks Nathaniel Conner, Everett Alvarez FFA Greenhand Reporter, for giving us the scoop. And thanks to Travis Wyrick, FFA advisor, for letting us know about your travels.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Monterey County teachers: this one is for you

The State Board of Education is recruiting experienced teachers now practicing in science, history–social science, world languages and/or health to apply for membership on the Instructional Quality Commission. The commission is responsible for advising the State Board of Education on matters related to curriculum and instruction. Appointed members serve four-year terms.

I can think of a few good teachers in the area that I'd love to see join this commission! To find an application, click here.

For questions, contact Thomas Adams, Executive Director, Instructional Quality Commission and Director, Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division at 916-319-0881 or

Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Monday, October 20.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Andre LaMothe of Carmel, Robert Andersen of Seaside, and Laurencia Walker of Marina are this year's recipients of the Investment in Community Fellowships by the Willis W. and Ethel M. Clark Foundation.

The Investment in Community Fellowship is awarded to deserving graduate students who were born, raised or live on the Monterey Peninsula and intend to be of service to the local community after completing their graduate degrees.

Andre is pursuing a Doctorate in dentistry at UC San Diego with emphasis on dental/oral surgery, and is attending dental school at UCLA.  Being born and raised in Carmel, Andre’s goal has always been to return to the Peninsula after graduation. He says the $10,000 fellowship award brings him one step closer to helping people on the Monterey Peninsula discover the joy of healthy teeth.

Robert Andersen is pursuing a Master of Healthcare Administration and Inter-professional Leadership through the UC San Francisco School of Nursing. He earned a $5,000 fellowship. He intends to return to the Peninsula after graduation to be near friends and family in his hometown of Pacific Grove.

Laurencia Walker is pursuing a PhD in Higher Education Administration and Policy at UC Riverside, and was the recipient of a $5,000 fellowship.

She plans to research the experiences of low-socioeconomic students participating in academic retention programs at the community college level.

Monterey County students: enter an essay contest, win an award.

Mission Mortuary in Monterey is sponsoring the first  youth essay contest titled, “What Does Thanksgiving Mean to You?”

“Thanksgiving Day is so much more than turkeys and pies. Our hope is to provide an experience for the young people in our communities to strengthen their writing, research and interviewing skills while enriching their understanding of the meaning of Thanksgiving," said Nick Bermudez of Mission Mortuary. The contest is open to all Monterey County middle and high school students. 

Deadline to submit entries is October 31.

Entrants will be accepted from middle or high school students in Monterey County, regardless of whether they attend public, private, charter or home schools.

Entries must be a personal essay, between 500-525 words. Six prizes will be awarded. A $500 cash prize will be awarded to one each middle and high school first place winner; $200 will be awarded to one each middle and high school first runner-up winners and $100 will be awarded to one each middle and high school second runner-up winners.

Results will be announced at 6 p.m., November 6, during the awards ceremony to be held at at Mission Mortuary, 450 Camino El Estero, Monterey, CA 93940. Winners and their parents or guardians must be present to receive their prizes.

For more information, call Nick Bermudez at 831-375-4129.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Naval Postgraduate School celebrates Hispanic Heritage month

Members of Yaocuauhtli Danza Cultural were the guest performers during the Naval Postgraduate School celebration of Hispanic Heritage month on Wednesday.

“We’re excited to have been invited to your beautiful campus today,” said Carol Ruvalcaba, a dancer with Yaocuauhtli. “We’re dedicated to promoting healthy living to our dancers and participants. We focus on strengthening the identity of the Mexican community through the teachings of indigenous traditions of their ancestors.”

Along with the performance, NPS’ Multicultural Heritage Committee gave a presentation highlighting influential Hispanic/Latino leaders—civilian and military alike.  Astrophysicist, researcher and university administrator France A. Córdova was honored as the youngest person to ever be named the chief scientist at NASA. She is the first Latina to be sworn in as director of the National Science Foundation.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Total recalls at the Alisal, Salinas City Elementary districts

Well, the attempt to recall recently elected Alisal trustee Guadalupe Guzman appears to be going nowhere.

Relatives of former Trustee Meredith Ibarra took out recall papers against Guzman early September, but the effort did not qualify and nothing more has happened since then, Monterey Registrar of Voters Claudio Valenzuela said Thursday.

I decided to get updated information because there's rumors a recall movement is brewing against Salinas City Elementary Trustee Foster Hoffman. Hoffman frequently votes against the majority who votes with Trustee Janet Barnes, now facing a recall attempt herself. Supporters of her recall need to collect nearly 2,300 signatures by Oct. 28 to submit it to the voters. 

Valenzuela tells me his office has received inquiries for a potential recall against Hoffman, but no paperwork has been turned up yet. Stay tuned.

Salinas youth ages 13 to 18: this one is for you

The City of Salinas is seeking applications from teens who are interested in serving on the Youth Commission.

The Youth Commission is comprised of twenty-eight members, ages 13to 18, who help identify and promote concerns of the youth in Salinas. The commissioners make recommendation to the city council regarding recreation programs and activities affecting youth and give opportunities to young adults to learn about and participate in local government.

The commission generally meets the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30pm. Term of office commences at time of appointment. Applicants need to be a resident of Salinas and between the ages of 13 and 18 years of age.

Interested parties may obtain additional information or an application at the Salinas City Clerk’s office or the Library and Community Services Department, 200 Lincoln Ave. Salinas; or by calling  758-7381 or 758- 7217, Monday through Thursday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Or you can download an application from here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Alisal administrators say no to Navigator Charter

As you probably remember, Gilroy-based charter schools operator Navigator wants to open two schools in Salinas, one in the Alisal and another in the Salinas City school districts. You can read more about it here.

As could have easily been predicted, the unions that represent school employees showed up in force to express their concern with Navigator. Here's the story I wrote about it here.

So it wasn't very surprising to see that Alisal administrators are actually going to recommend trustees deny the school.  They're expected to vote on this on Wednesday at their regular school board meeting.

Navigator's scheduled to have its hearing at the Salinas City Elementary School District on Monday.

It won't surprise me if Navigator decides to appeal the decision to the Monterey County Board of Education.

What comes after that is anybody's guess, although I may want to venture an educated guess. Hit me up if you want to hear what it is.

Friday, October 3, 2014

South Monterey County Youth: the Salinas Valley Fair wants you

The Salinas Valley Fair is seeking young adults for its Junior Fair Board. As many as twenty-five members are selected to volunteer throughout the year on behalf of the Salinas Valley Fair. Their efforts include assisting at fair events, providing outreach, event planning & developing and coordinating events within the fair.

Salinas Valley Fair  is seeking junior board members between the ages of 14 and 21 and enrolled in a high school or equivalent program at the time they begin their service.

Candidates must demonstrate an interest in leadership by showing examples of where they have taken initiative at school and within their communities. The selection process includes an interview and winners will be notified by mail.

Ideal candidates are those who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and selflessness. Selected students participate in monthly board meetings as well as special projects throughout the year. An average student will commit about 3 hours a month to the JFB leadership program.

Applications are due October, and can be downloaded from the fair's website here. They should be mailed to the Salinas Valley Fair, 625 Division Street, King City 93930.

Pacific Grove residents inform community about Measure A school bond measure

The Yes on Measure A committee will be holding an information event at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, October 7.

The event will feature speakers discussing how Measure A, an $18 million bond measure to be used for updating  technology needs at the Pacific Grove Unified School District. Proceeds will be used to buy computers, laptops, and update the districts internet infrastructure to give students the tools they need to succeed in the modern educational landscape.

Refreshments will be served. The event will be held at Peninsula Christian Center, 520 Pine Avenue, Pacific Grove. Free and open to the public. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dual Language Academy of the Monterey Peninsula rocks on Hispanic Heritage

I decided to pay a visit to the brand new Dual Language Academy of the Monterey Peninsula -- the best decision ever taken by Monterey Peninsula Unified trustees.

Parents of the dual immersion program at Marshall West had been lobbying for more autonomy and to strengthen the program.  They were even thinking about becoming their own charter, and they sought inspiration from folks at the Bay View Academy charter.

In the end, they didn't have to spin off from the district. Administrators saw the wisdom to keep the parents in the district, so now the school remains at MPUSD and could perhaps serve a model for parental participation and enthusiasm.

Their Hispanic Heritage celebration was amazing. Children danced and sang, parents packed the multi-purpose room, and there was a great atmosphere all around. There's a lot of good energy in the school that I hope it's contagious and doesn't wane.

Here's a couple of performances, in case you missed them.

King City teacher, PG graduate, wants your help to raise $100K

Michael Jones, a 1st grade teacher at the King City Union School District, wants you to vote for his project so the district can get $100,000 from the "Thank a Million Teachers."

Jones, a graduate of PG high, MPC and CSUMB, wants the money to fund digital art classes throughout King City elementary schools.

"Our rural district is competing against two projects from highly populated areas in Nevada and Arizona. The best chance we have is finding advocates that will help us spread the word throughout California and finding believers in Arts in education," he wrote me in an email.

"My proposal is for digital arts centered after-school sessions as well as a summer session. It will benefit all of the elementary schools in my district. I am hopeful that the initial materials outlay will create sustainability for this project. We will work on mixed media projects, integrating traditional art techniques with digital photography and other digital input technologies. We will have community art shows to involve our community and show what amazing things can happen when arts are supported."

The winner will be decided by internet votes, so Jones needs people to vote early and often for his project.

The voting starts October 1 and endd on November 30. You can vote here.

 Good luck, Mr. Jones!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Madison Stander, a Monterey eleventh grader who's being home schooled through the Ocean Grove Charter School, has been nominated to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Washington, D.C., November 14-16, 2014.

The Congress is an honors-only program for high school students who want to become physicians or go into medical research fields. The purpose of this event is to honor, inspire, motivate and direct the top students in the country who aspire to be physicians or medical scientists, to stay true to their dream and, after the event, to provide a path, plan, and resources to help them reach their goal.

“The Congress is a once in a life time chance to explore what I want to do in life,” Madison said. “I am really looking forward to representing not only the Monterey Peninsula, but also the State of California in Washington, D.C."

Madison was nominated to represent California's Ocean Grove Charter, based on her academic achievement, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of medicine.

Madison intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in biology then go on to pursue a degree in medicine, to ultimately become an orthopedic surgeon.

During the three-day Congress, Madison will join students from across the country and hear Nobel Laureates and National Medal of Science Winners talk about leading medical research; be given advice from Ivy League and top medical school deans on what to expect in medical school; and a lot of other really cool activities having to do with the medical field.

Madison began participating in the Junior Auxiliary Program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) this July and is already halfway towards accruing one-hundred hours of service that will make her eligible to volunteer in the emergency room.

Madison's definitely going place. We can't wait to see how far she gets!

Matsiko's back in town!

The Matsiko Children’s Choir, a group of adorable children who sing like rock stars, will be visiting the Monterey Peninsula from Sep 30 through Oct 3.

The Matsiko Orphans Choir was started in 2008 by the International Children's Network (ICN), and is comprised of at-risk children from Peru, India, and Liberia. The children tour the United States for one year, and return home to inspire their communities.

The children serve as ambassadors of their nations and share their lives and culture through song and dance. The performances often include cultural dances, dramatic performances, and drum routines. Proceeds generated by the choir's tour and merchandise sales go directly to support ICN's worldwide programs.

Matsiko will have a community performance at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, at the Marina Community Center, 211 Hillcrest Ave., Marina. For more information, click here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Of 'educated' cities, national rankings and English learners

Many Salinas residents were upset by a recent analysis that ranked their city as second least "educated" in the United States. If you missed the hoopla, here's a story I wrote about it.

In spite of the metrics that were used for the analysis -- and its hurtful conclusion -- I believe there's value in the conversation that ensued. Particularly around trying to diversify the local economy so we don't lose our college graduates to Silicon Valley or other parts of the country. Just last week I met a smart, dedicated young woman who told me she was ready to return to L.A. this summer -- where she earned her bachelor's degree -- because she couldn't find a job in Salinas.

So yes, let's talk about what we can do to increase educational and job opportunities for our students (the study did not take into account people younger than 25, so  whether or not they're "educated" is surely irrelevant to WalletHub, right?). Let's try to find creative solutions to our budgetary problems. Let's try to increase literacy among our farmworking population.

But one thing we should NOT do is blame this issue in our English Language Learners. If anything, we have a broken system that fails to recognize what an asset it is to be able to speak more than one language. Instead, we want to blame low academic performance in our young kids who grow up speaking Spanish at home. So why have double immersion programs spread so much if they're ineffective? Why is it that children who attend bilingual schools do better than in monolingual schools? Why is it that research shows bilingual people are smarter?

Last week, a day after the WalletHub study was published, a letter writer came close to blaming Spanish language speakers for the Salinas dishonor. Michael McMillen from Salinas wrote that "extremists .. would insist on full literacy in their native language; this means that there would be no English-Language instruction until roughly ninth grade."

First of all, I've never seen anybody ask children in the United States have no English language instruction until the 9th grade. Every bilingual program you see, be it dual immersion or structure English immersion, has instruction in English. Second, children are not learning "survival English." They're being taught academic English. Maybe their vocabulary is limited and they are behind their native English-speaking peers, but not taking advantage of the fact that they already speak a universally accepted language -- spoken by 470 million people on this planet -- would be a real shame.

So instead of blaming English learners for our educational woes, perhaps a more reasonable response would be, how can we make sure all of our children speak more than one language so they can be prepared for this globalized economy? Now, that would be a conversation worth having.

Stevenson students grow, harvest, and barter their own foods

Stevenson School hosted a Harvest Festival and Farmers’ Market this week at its Carmel Campus to celebrate the arrival of fall. Students harvested vegetables and herbs from the school’s organic garden and then prepared breads, salsas and homemade treats to share with their friends and families. Instead of using money, students traded seeds, sticks and leaves for treats and crafts.

“By harvesting their own food and sharing it with our community, the kids are learning about sustainability and the many benefits of using locally sourced, fresh foods, “ said Molly Bozzo, head of the Carmel Campus. “The garden is also used an important educational tool throughout the year, and across all grades.”

From planting the seeds to nurturing the plants as they grow to turning the soil after the harvest, students care for and maintain the school’s garden. Under the instruction of the school’s garden coordinator, the garden is incorporated into the curriculum and is often used in science experiments and nature observations.

The school plans to create a cookbook, Goodies from the Garden, from the recipes created and shared from this week’s festival.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Monterey County Office of Education gets nearly $3 million to address youth violence

A day after it was announced that, once again, Monterey County leads California in youth violence, the Monterey County Office of Education says it's received $2.8 million to tackle the problem.

The money comes from three grants. A $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's School Climate Transformation Grant to implement Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support -- PBIS -- in several schools. PBIS is a method that reinforces positive behavior as a way to decrease disruptions in the classroom, and therefore, student suspensions and expulsions. The funding will also address better understanding and response to the underlying causes for youth to act out and engage in violent behaviors (i.e., mental health and trauma).

A $100,000 grant comes from the National Forum to Prevent Youth Violence, also to support PBIS.

A $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Mental Health Services to offer a Youth Mental Health First Aid Program to train adults to identify and address the mental health problems and issues of Salinas’ students aged 12 to 18.

A cadre of politicians, educators and law enforcement officials will have an official announcement next week, with details about how it'll all work out.

Stay tuned.

UCSC gets $3.3 million Gear Up grant to work with MPUSD students

The UC Santa Cruz’s Educational Partnership Center has been awarded a GEAR UP federal grant to serve students in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

The GEAR UP program is designed to help prepare middle and high school students for college through academic and financial aid advising, tutoring, college field trips and other college-going activities.  It also includes professional development for teachers as they implement the Common Core State Standards to prepare students for college and career.

The grant will fund UCSC’s outreach to local underserved students and amounts to approximately $468,000 annually and close to $3.3 million dollars across seven years.

The U.S. Department of Education funded 10 state and 31 partnership grant applications, 7 of which were in California.

UCSC's Educational Partnership Center currently oversees two other GEAR UP grants: one in South Monterey County and the other in the Pajaro Valley region. The EPC coordinates new and longstanding student academic preparation efforts of the University of California, Santa Cruz with the goal of increasing access and opportunity to postsecondary education for students across the Monterey Bay and Silicon Valley/San Jose regions.

Other recipients of GEAR UP grants in California include, YPI Charter Schools, Humboldt State University, Los Angeles Unified School District, CSU Monterey Bay, and Cal State San Bernardino.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"12 Years a Slave" now available for high schools nationwide

As part of a national educational initiative, the acclaimed film, book, and study guide “12 Years a Slave” will be available to America’s public high schools.

This nationwide educational effort was the brainchild of director Steve McQueen and Montel Williams, and now “12 Years a Slave” educator toolkits are available to all public high school teachers timed to the 2014-15 school year.

Educators who gain permission to teach “12 Years a Slave” to their students will receive a free kit which includes: a DVD copy of the film (edited version with disclaimer/parental consent requested); a paperback copy of the Penguin book; the “12 Years a Slave” printed study guide; and a letter from Steve McQueen. Any U.S. public high school teacher with permission to add this to the high school curriculum can go  here click on the button for teachers to opt in and request an educators’ toolkit for their school.

Let's face it, "12 Years a Slave" is a brutal movie. But it's also an important part of our history that should not be forgotten, so it'll be great to see high school teachers include it in their curriculum when teaching American history. Plus, it's edited to make it more suitable to younger audiences. I hope many teachers bring it into their classrooms.

Monterey Peninsula College trustees are scheduled to extend the contract for President Walter Tribley until 2018.

His original contract approved in 2012 was for 3.5 years, an annual salary of $205,000, minus a 2 percent wage concession for 2012-13, for a total of $200,859.

Salinas City Elementary raises salaries for teachers and everyone else

Trustees with the Salinas City Elementary Union School District approved late Monday a five percent salary increase for teachers (starting Aug. 1), classified employees (starting July 1 for those employed for at least a year with the district), and effective July 1 for supervisors, superintendent and assistant superintendents.

Yes, Superintendent Juvenal Luza gets a five percent raise, like everyone else. Jerry Stratton, associate superintendent of business services, likes to remind people that Luza is one of the superintendents in the area who makes the least amount of money: $168,000 per year -- plus $11,223 in health benefits and an annual vehicle stipend of $900.

Most employees in districts throughout Monterey County got raises after new moneys came in with the Local Control Funding Formula. One of the stories I'll get around writing one of these days.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Millennium: the little charter that's producing videos

Students with the Millennium Charter High, a school tasked with providing hands-on learning for students, it's debuting its very first documentary.

It's called "Del Monte Express, The Little Train That Did," and it's the first of a 10-part series titled “People and Places."

For the first episode, students and teachers together researched, wrote the script and with the help of the Monterey County Office of Education Media Center for Art, Education & Technology produced it.

A live screening will be held Friday at 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at the Millennium Charter High School at 901 Blanco Circle in Salinas. It will also be aired on Comcast 26, LPTV Channel 38, and Charter Channels 17, 19 and 21. The screening will be preceded by a refreshment hour at 6 p.m.

“This first episode of People and Places will not only entertain and inform, it will show our viewers the caliber of work Millennium Charter High School students produce. We are thrilled to have this premier and are looking forward to our next episode, “Old Man Rivers,” which is already in pre-production,” said Principal Peter Gray.

You can watch a one-minute promotional trailer of the documentary here.

Top Monterey County education officials gathered in Hartnell

And they were not talking about the WalletHub study.

Officials from the Salinas Union High, Salinas City Elementary, Alisal Union, Monterey Peninsula Unified, and likely other district that I failed to notice gathered Tuesday at Hartnell to hear about existing partnerships and programs going on at the college.

They heard about the CSIT-3 program, designed to give students a bachelor's degree in three years. Read all about it here.  They heard about the NASA partnership now bringing STEM education to some schools in the Salinas Valley. Read all about it here. They heard about Hartnell's health professions partnership.

And they seemed to get a lot out of it.

"We all thought the summit was excellent," said in an email Monterey Peninsula Unified Trustee Debra Gramespacher. "The college administration has a well organized program to deliver career technology degrees to its students. I am especially impressed with the condensed 3 year Computer Science degree, the equivalent of a 4 year college degree, which is awarded in partnership with CSUMB."

Ask the MPUSD superintendent

If you missed the latest (the second?) installment of "Ask the Superintendent," the electronic newsletter of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, I highly recommend it. You can find it here.

I like the tidbits about the food services department -- the largest restaurant in Monterey. I'd never thought about it that way. Pretty impressive, if you think about it. 

I also enjoyed the superintendent's video message. This is really a good way to give the public a look to what's going on behind the scenes, directly from the horse's mouth as it were. So the auditors are in town, huh? I can't wait to see their report. 

The fuzzy feeling and PK's willingness to become a transparent figure makes me doubt the results of a recent report by the The Brookings Institution. The report concludes that superintendents, while quite visible, appear to make no difference in student achievement. Superintendents stay on the job for a short period of time (we already knew that) but student achievement does not appear to improve the longer they stay on. If you want to take a look at the report, here it is.

Now, what the report does say is that "in the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement." And it is the system that both PK and Board President Jon Hill have been saying need to be changed.

Let's see how that goes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hartnell College to host summit with K-12 leaders

Hartnell College trustees will hold a summit along with elected officials from the K-12 districts in its feeder area.

The summit will include a review of existing partnerships and collaborative efforts focused on student achievement and success. There will also be time to explore additional partnerships and collaborations that will contribute to student achievement and success. The Monterey County School Boards Association is co-sponsoring the event.

The Summit is scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, September 16, 2014, at Hartnell College Main Campus, Building C, Room 124 (Steinbeck Hall) 411 Central Avenue, Salinas.

Monterey alumna recovers yearbook, diploma

It was her good deed of the year. Monterey High Principal Marcie Plummer delivered Kathleen MacNeill a duplicate high school diploma and a copy of her yearbook, which MacNeill lost in a fire in 1989.

MacNeill, who now lives at The Ridge Rehabilitation Center in Salinas, called Monterey High asking to see about getting a copy of ther yearbook for her senior year. MacNeill was class of 1965 and is hoping to attend the high school reunion -- if one's being planned.

"She contacted us to see if we had a yearbook," said Monterey High Principal Marcie Plummer. "Through conversation we learned that both her yearbook and diploma were lost in the fire years ago."

And now she has them back.

Monterey area high school junior and seniors: this one's for you

Want to travel to our nation's capital with all expenses paid to study the federal government in-depth? Here's your chance.

High school principals have until Oct. 1 to nominate students for the United States Senate Youth Program, which sends students to Washington, D.C. to learn about the federal government.

The California Department of Education coordinates the competition in California. Students must be nominated by their high school principal to participate and they have to be juniors or seniors currently enrolled in any California public or private secondary school. In addition, they have to be serving in an elected or appointed capacity in student government or a civic or educational organization.

California Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson will select four finalists, including two delegates, a first alternate, and a second alternate. The two delegates will participate in an intensive study of the federal government as guests of the U.S. Senate from March 7–14, 2015, in Washington, D.C. The Hearst Foundation, which sponsors the program, will pay all expenses for the delegates, including transportation, hotel, and meals. In addition, each of the delegates will receive a $5,000 college scholarship from the Foundation. Alternates attend the events only if the delegates are unable to participate. The two delegates and two alternates will be introduced at the State Board of Education meeting in Sacramento next January.

For more information on the nomination process, go to the United States Senate Youth Program Web page of the California Department of Education here or contact David Carriker in the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction at 916-319-0173 or I'd be great to see delegates

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Laura Markham comes to Carmel

The Parent & Teacher Lecture Series of the Carmel Public Library Foundation will host Early Childhood Psychologist and Parent Educator, Dr. Laura Markham for a presentation and book signing.

Markham is the author of "Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" and founding editor of Markham assists parents in transforming their relationships with their children. She has appeared on the Morning Show and speaks to parent and school groups across the country.

Proceeds from the evening benefit the Carmel Public Library Foundation whose mission is to fund 100 percent of the collections, programs, equipment and services for Carmel Public Library, ensure free library service perpetuity.

The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept, 16, at Carpenter Hall, Sunset Center, Lincoln St & 9th Ave, Carmel.

Cost: Free and open to the public. $10 suggested contribution. Proceeds benefit Carmel Public Library.

Salinas resident Jesus Ochoa Perez wins CSU Trustees' Award

Cal State Monterey Bay sophomore Jesus Ochoa Perez has been chosen for a CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. He and the other award winners were honored on Sept. 9 at the CSU board meeting in Long Beach.

The award is among the highest student distinctions in the CSU and is accompanied by a scholarship. Awardees must demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need. Many of the honorees have prevailed in the face of disability, language and cultural barriers, intense personal loss or homelessness.

“The compelling life stories of these extraordinary student scholars are a testament to the transformative power of public higher education,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White. “Through the generous support of our donors, many of whom are first-time contributors to the Trustees’ Award program, we are able to help these scholars create a bright and successful future.”

Jesus lived with his parents and three siblings in one room during part of his childhood, leaving him no quiet place to study. His parents, farmworkers from Mexico, were determined that their children would not face the financial hardships and the physical ills of working in the fields.

This semester, Jesus is starting his second year at CSUMB, where he is a math major with a 4.0 grade-point average. A service learning requirement led him to an elementary school where he tutored first-graders in math – and discovered his passion for teaching. He volunteered far more than the number of hours required and continues to tutor elementary school students. He also found time to be a volunteer youth soccer coach.

Jesus is determined to be a success story from his East Salinas neighborhood by earning a teaching credential and returning to his high school to teach math.

Almost 450,000 students attend the 23 campuses of the CSU system. Only one student from each campus is honored with the Trustees’ Award. The program began three decades ago with scholarships endowed by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. Since then, the generosity of current and emeritus CSU trustees and other supporters of the university has allowed the program to expand.

CSU Trustees’ Scholars are nominated by their campus presidents. For more information about the program, click here.

Carmel High on the top one percent of U.S. high schools

Carmel High School continues to reap accolades. The most recent award comes from the Daily Beast, an online offshoot of Newsweek, which ranked Carmel High 247th on their list entitled "Top High Schools 2014."

It's been a good year for Carmel High (dare we say, a decade?) So far, Carmel has been named among the top high schools in the nation in:

· U.S. News and World Report's "2014 Best High Schools" (#286 in the nation, #52 in the state)

· Newsweek’s "America's Best High Schools" (#191 in the nation)

· Washington Post's "America's Most Challenging High Schools" (#196 in the nation, #24 in the state)

“This validates that our conscious efforts to make college an option for all students are paying off," Superintendent Marvin Biasotti said in a statement. "Receiving recognition from multiple respected publications gives the students and faculty reason to be proud of their hard work.”

To identify the top schools in the nation, the Daily Beast first surveyed a pre-qualified group of over 700 top-performing schools. It then assessed each school on six factors, with graduation and college acceptance rates weighed most heavily. Other criteria included college-level courses and exams, percentage of students with free or reduced lunch, as well as SAT and ACT scores.

To read more about the Daily Beast's Top High Schools 2014, click here. (Come for the top schools, stay for the charters)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Monterey Peninsula College trustees hold special meeting on early childhood education center

Trustees for the Monterey Peninsula College will hold a special meeting at 2:30 p.m. on Monday to talk about the future of the early childhood development center.

There has been a lot of changes in the center in recent years due to budget cuts, and more changes are expected for the same reasons. Find out what's ahead during this presentation and information session.

No decisions will be made. The meeting will take place at 2:30 p.m. at the Library and Technology Center, Sam Karas Room 980 Fremont Street, Monterey, California. See you there!

Monterey County libraries need litercy tutors

Did you know there are more than 100 people in Monterey County waiting for a literacy tutor?

Help change someone's life by becoming a tutor with the Monterey County Free Libraries Literacy Program. Find out more about being a tutor on the library website here and attend new tutor training sessions September 8th and 10th.

Or call 831 883-7597 for more information.

Navigator Charters will have open hearings in Salinas next week

If you read the article I wrote for the paper last week, you probably already know Navigator Schools, a Gilroy-based system of charters looking to expand, has applied to open two charters in Salinas. You can find the story here

Next week, Navigator officials will have a chance to make their case. Their first hearing will take place Tuesday at a special meeting of the Salinas City Elementary School District board of education. The meeting will start at 5 p.m. in the district's main office, 840 S. Main St., Salinas.

The second meeting will take place on Wednesday during the regular meeting of  the Alisal Union School District board of trustees. Open sessions begin after closed session (which starts at 5:30 p.m.) Alisal trustees meet at Bardin Elementary, 425 Bardin Rd., Salinas.

See you there!