Tuesday, May 31, 2016

MPUSD superintendent headlines Monterey County Business Council luncheon

PK Diffenbaugh, superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, will be the featured speaker during the monthly luncheon of the Monterey County Business Council.

Luncheons organized by the council are for members only. Find an application for membership here.

Diffenbaugh will be talking about recent district accomplishments and plans to continue moving the district forward.

The lunch will take place from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, at Bayonet Grill, 1 McClure Way, Seaside. Cost: $25 advance, $30 at the door. For information call  (831) 216-3000.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Foster care organizations honored

Four organizations that provide services for children in the foster care system were honored by the Monterey County Board of Education for their support of these young people and their role in their development. Voices for Children CASA, Peacock Acres, Door to Hope, and The Epicenter told their mission, success stories, and personal connections to the foster care children and youth in Monterey Count during a ceremony on Tuesday. Two high school students who have been in foster care shared their emotional stories of experiencing numerous home placements and overcoming obstacles as they found self-confidence and success.

National Foster Care Awareness Month is a month set aside to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children in foster care find permanent homes, healthy connections, and the resources to lead a successful and rewarding life.

Teressa Jimenez, Director of Development and Jasmine Flanagan, Therapeutic Learning Center Educational Coordinator from Peacock Acres share their mission and success stories during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Monterey County Office of Education.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Soledad performance of "The Woman who Outshone the Sun" not to be missed!

Don't miss the last performance of "The Woman who Outshone the Sun," a cautionary tale of Zapotec origins adapted to the stage by Luis Xago Juarez of Baktun 12 and set it in the Pinnacles region near Soledad.

The play captures the spirit of the original cautionary tale and celebrates caring for the land and creatures of this unique environment, and it's performed by Soledad students from the 4th, 5th and 6th grades.

Two hundred twenty students from five after-school sites in Soledad worked with a special Arts Council for Monterey County interdisciplinary teaching artist team for several months to create the original musical. They also created backdrops and costumes as part of the program. Many will participate in the final show presented at Frank Ledesma Elementary School on Thursday at 7 pm.

“This has been such a great year - thanks to all of our partners. Now that we are ready to showcase their talents, we are so excited that all these elements have come together so well!” said in a statement Ellen Berrahmoun, arts education director of the Arts Council. Team teaching artists include Emily Morales (theater), Carlos Cortez (theater), Jose Ortiz (visual arts), Orlando Castro (music) and Christy Sandoval (dance).

The performance takes place at 7 pm. on Thursday, May 26, at Frank Ledesma Elementary School: 973 Vista De Soledad, Soledad. Not to be missed!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Deadline to apply to Young Assemblymembers Program is June 17

Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo (D-Salinas) is accepting applications from high school and first year college students who reside or attend school in the 30th Assembly District for his 2016 Young Assemblymembers Program. The four-week program focuses on developing leadership skills and empowering students to become leaders in the community.

This year’s program is scheduled for July 5-29, with meetings every Tuesday and Thursday from 2-5 p.m. at Alejo’s Salinas District Office. The program is available at no cost to the participants or their families.

Students who complete the program will receive a special recognition certificate and a letter of recommendation from  Alejo, and have an opportunity to tour the California State Capitol.

This will be the final year for Assemblymember Alejo’s Young Assemblymember Program. Alejo will be leaving the Assembly at the end of this year. Alejo founded the program in 2011 to provide young people of the Central Coast region an opportunity to learn leadership skills the importance of civic participation and higher education.

The Young Assemblymembers Program application deadline is June 17, 2016. The application form is available online here or at the Salinas District Office, located at 100 W. Alisal Street, Suite 134.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Monterey County high school graduation rates on the rise

High school graduation rates in Monterey County are up, a trend that can be seen across all groups. In some cases, graduation rates are even higher than California's rate overall, according to the California Department of Education.

The graduation rate for all students went up from 80 percent in 2013 to 84.5 percent in 2015, a 4.5 point increase. California went up only 1.9 points to 82.3 percent in the same period.

Biggest increases were seen among English Learners, who went up from 67.3 percent to 73.1 percent the same time period, a 5.8 point increase. In California as a whole, 69.4 percent of English-language learners graduated in four years.

Students with disabilities also saw increases: 65.5 percent graduated in 2015, compared with 59.2 percent in 2013, a 6.3 point increase.

So much to to day about this data, but I will not have time to dig into it this week. More to come. Stay tuned.

MPC trustees to receive preliminary report by consultant

Monterey Peninsula College Trustees will hear a preliminary report by Sacramento-based Collaborative Brain Trust Consulting; a firm hired in November to conduct a comprehensive audit of the college. Said study was meant to include analyzing current enrollment practices and develop a finance plan.

The report will take place at 2 p.m. Friday, May 20, a Lecture Forum 103 on the school's Monterey campus, 980 Fremont Street, Monterey. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Teens express their views on social justice -- through art

Carmel High students were prompted to react artistically to the racially motivated killings in Charleston, North Carolina when nine churchgoers were killed by a white supremacist last summer.

The result will be on display at 2 p.m. Sunday, during the opening of the "Teens, Art and Social Justice"  exhibit at the Monterey Peninsula Justice Center, 1364 Fremont Blvd.

Art and graphic design classes were inspired to react to the tragic event and other issues such as Black Lives Matter, bullying, the environment, LGBTQ rights, and mental health, which are important to teens. Students created art pieces expressing their ideas about social justice, using various mediums, including digital graphic art and oil painting

The works displayed are from the classes of art teacher, Steven Russell and graphic design teacher, Holly Lederle.

The MPJC Art Gallery is open 1 – 5:30 Wednesday and Friday. The exhibit may also be viewed during events at the Monterey Peace and Justice Center, 1364 Fremont Blvd., Seaside.

The exhibit will be on display through June. 

Hartnell to honor two alumni during commencement ceremony

Gary Tanimura and Jeff Nessen Schmidt will be honored as this year’s Distinguished Alumni during Hartnell College graduation ceremony on May 27 at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas.

Tanimura will be the commencement speaker and Schmidt will be recognized posthumously.

This honor is conveyed to former students of Hartnell College who have made significant achievements in their field or in service to the community.

Gary Tanimura, vice president of production at Tanimura & Antle, graduated from Hartnell College in 1969 with an associate’s degree. He has remained involved in the college and is a founding member of the Ag Steering Committee and was President of the Foundation Board. Jeff Nessen Schmidt graduated from King City High School in 1941 and attended Hartnell College (then called Salinas Junior College). In January 1942, a few days after turning 18, Jeff enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He went on to attend the University of Texas and Midshipmen's School at Columbia University, and was the top student in his M.I.T. Radar Academy. Jeff ended the war studying at Bowdoin University in Maine and returned to California to earn his engineering degree from U.C. Berkeley. Mr. Schmidt died on January 2. For more information about the 2016 commencement for Hartnell College, click here.

Monday, May 16, 2016

MPC refinances one of its bonds, saves money in the long run

Monterey Peninsula Community College District officials have refinanced a portion of its bonds to get lower interest rates. Which means that taxpayers will end up paying less for them in the long run.

The bonds will now carry an interest rate of 2.8 percent, down from 5 percent. The rate will begin in 2017 and will continue until 2034. By refinancing its bonds, college officials say they have saved the community about $30 million since 2005.

“The Measure I Bonds have literally transformed our Monterey campus and allowed the district to serve our communities better by adding centers in Marina and Seaside," College President Walter Tribley said in a statement.

Approved in 2002, Measure I brought $145 million into MPC that was used to renovate old facilities and build new ones. Some of the projects financed were the renovation of the pool, the students services center and the Marina campus.

Math pays for Will Calciano during the Mathletics competition

Will Calciano of York School earned the $1,000 Richard Morgantini Scholarship for being the top-scoring student taking the advanced calculus exam during the 48th annual Mathletics Competition Saturday, May 14, at Salinas High School.

Mathletics is a math contest held annually to encourage excellence in math, and recognize the achievements of individual students and the schools they represent.

Nearly 300 upper elementary, middle and high school students from 36 Monterey County public and private schools participated in the event, which tests students in one of ten levels: fifth grade math, sixth grade math, seventh grade math, eighth grade math, integrated math 1, integrated math 2, algebra 2, math analysis, calculus AB and calculus BC.

First, second, and third place winners in each level received an Olympic-sized medal and gift card. In addition, top-scoring schools for each of the ten tests were awarded certificates.

More than 100 students were recognized for the top-scoring abilities, be it with a medal or an honorable mention. You can get the full list of the winners here.

Friday, May 13, 2016

AAUW Monterey awards $9,000 in scholarships

The American Association of University Women -- Monterey Peninsula Branch just awarded $9,000 in scholarships to six students, including MPC graduates Joy Johnson and Zulema Cortez Cuevas and CSUMB students Adriana Lopez-Romero, Karina Pizano, Sandra Cervantes, and Vanessa Tejada.

For more information about the organization and its programs, click here.

All Saints' J.T. Byrne wins at California History Day

*UPDATE: I'm correcting a previous version of this post by adding a student who was left out from the finalists list and to change the status of the students. 

All Saints’ Day School student J.T. Byrne, a seventh grader, was named California State co-champion for his project “Exchanging Baseball Diamonds for Sand Lots During World War II: Nisei Baseball and Internment” in the individual junior documentary category.

A total of 1,215 students from all over California participated in the National History Day state contest on May 6-7. J.T. will represent California in Maryland June 12-16, 2016, at the National History Day Competition at the University of Maryland, College Park.

J.T. is the fourth All Saints’ student in six years to advance to the National History Day competition. Two years ago Molly Mancina won the National History Day competition for her documentary on ‘The Rights and Responsibilities of Photojournalists.’

Fellow All Saints’ students Graziella Cosentino, Courtney Hand, Heidi Hansch,  Nina Harmer, and Kat Popky were also finalists.

“My passion has always been baseball and I saw this as an opportunity to not only show the important role baseball played for the Japanese American community but also to put a spotlight on a part of American history that is not yet very well known," J.T. said in a statement. "Talking to local historian Tim Thomas and later Mr. Miyamoto, who played baseball right here in Monterey on a Nisei team, was eye opening and made me want to educate the public. The National History Day Program is the perfect vehicle for that.”

National History Day (NHD) is a yearlong academic program focused on historical research for 6th to 12th grade students. Each year, more than half a million students participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history, interviews, the Internet, and historic sites.

Congratulations, J.T.! Have fun in Maryland!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Highway 68 ROV Club Wins Again at MATE Underwater Robotics Competition

The Highway 68 ROV Club "Sea Sweepers" finished first overall for the fourth consecutive year in the MATE Monterey Bay Regional Underwater Robotics Competition in Aptos. The team now advances to compete in the International ROV Championship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex., in June.

This year's competition simulates the use of underwater ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) in the Gulf of Mexico and on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Teams are required to complete several underwater mission tasks, submit a 25-page technical report, and make a technical sales presentation to working marine science and engineering professionals who serve as competition judges. The “Sea Sweepers” had the highest scores in two of the three competition elements.

The “Sea Sweepers” team includes Salinas High School students J.P. O’Dell, Tyler Allen, Michael Georgiarou, Jack Hyland, Hanna Hitchcock, Chase Oleson, and Brian Ishii, independent student Montana Sprague, and John Yeager from York School. Working in Yeager's garage beginning in the fall, the group designed and built a very sophisticated ROV that could be transported to Jupiter for exploration of Europa’s oceans.

The Highway 68 ROV Club is independent and privately funded, so they welcome contributions and local business sponsorships. For more information, click here or contact the team’s coach and mentor, Kurt Yeager at kurt@seasweepersrov.com .

Go Sweepers! Good luck fundraising and traveling to Houston!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book fair en español!

The PTA of the Dual Immersion Academy in Salinas is hosting a book fair with materials in Spanish.

Open to the public.

The fair began Tuesday and continues today from 8:30 am to 6 pm, and Thursday from 8:30 am to 3 pm.

The academy is at 1114 Fontes Lane • Salinas.

For more information, call 831-753-5615 or click here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monterey High teacher Aristotle Constant wants your support

There could be fireworks -- or at the very least, lively public comments -- during Tuesday's regular board meeting of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, as supporters of English Teacher Aristotle Constant  promise to show up to support him.

Constant, an 18-year-veteran of Monterey High, was told last week he's being "'involuntarily transferred" to another school. Constant did what many in his position would do in a similar position: reach out to the community.

Last week, a Facebook page appeared announcing Constant's impending transfer. You can access it here. It's asking community members to call or email the superintendent and board members to prevent Constant be sent to another school.

Constance's die could be cast as the district issued a terse response that points out to the teacher's contract.

"All personnel are employees of the district and not of one particular school or department. The Superintendent and/or Executive Director of Human Resources is authorized to reassign and transfer all personnel provided the affected employees remain in their areas of certification and occupational competence. Employees shall not be reassigned or transferred outside the scope of their certificates-and/or major and minor areas of study without their written consent and appropriate action by the Board of Education."

Stay tuned. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

In addition to a Gates Millennium Scholar, Everett Alvarez has a Questbridge scholar

One of the things I love about covering education is how much of an education I get on a regular basis.

For instance, I've never heard of the Questbridge scholarship before. This week I found out about it, thanks to Yasmin Marquez, a Everett Alvarez senior who just became a Questbridge scholar.

A Questbridge scholarship is not as generous as a Gates Millennium scholarship (awarded this year to two North Salinas High students and another from Everett Alvarez -- see my story here) but I would not say 'no' to it. It's worth over $200,000 for four years, and it covers room and board, travel, books, with a combination of federal grants and other assistance. Students have to be matched with a top university that will accept them, and Marquez will be attending the University of Southern California.

Marquez is a first generation student. At Alvarez she earned a 4.428 GPA and has participated in  volleyball, theatre, National Honor Society, California Scholarship Federation, Puente Club, Interact Club, Math and Science at Alvarez (MASA).

"Over the summer, in my community, I volunteer as a tutor for the migrant education program. Also, I participated in the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council, and I helped plan Ciclovia Salinas, totaling approximately 420 hours of service in my community.

She plans to major in Business Administration and Public Policy, and she plans to return to Salinas to help improve the community.

Love my fellow Trojans. Fight on!

Everett Alvarez teacher Jordana Henry flanked by scholarship winners Rebeca Escamilla and Yasmin Marquez

Salinas student wins Central Coast Writers short story contest

Victoria Mazariegos, a senior at Millennium Charter High School in Salinas, is the top winner in the first Central Coast Writers short story contest for Monterey County high school seniors. Mazariegos won $500 for her story, “The Boy Who Found His Ears,” the tale of a deaf boy who discovers refuge, solace and hope in a graffiti-covered freeway underpass.

Congratulations to Victoria and her parents, Eduardo and Silvia Mazariegos. Victoria plans to attend the UC-Davis in the fall with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.

The short story contest of the Central Coast Writers is designed to encourage and inspire the next generation of creative writers, as well as to carry out its mission of educating writers of all ages and interests. Open to all Monterey County high school seniors, the contest awarded over $1,000 in prizes and was themed around a photograph of a graffiti-covered tunnel taken by member Ken Jones.

Judging was conducted by members of Central Coast Writers with backgrounds in either education or publishing, and was based on the overall quality of the writing, the development of the story, and the mechanics of writing. Retired educator and College Board consultant Leslie Patiño was the contest chair.

Other awards included:

Second place—Katharine Tinney, Salinas High School
Third place—Jenna Garden, Salinas High School
Honorable mentions—Sheldon Ozaeta, Millenium Charter High School; Andrea Resendiz, Greenfield High School; Tatjana Tam, Carmel High School

The winning stories are posted on the Central Coast Writers website,

Congratulations, writers! Write on!

Leslie Patiño and Victoria Mazariegos

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A big hug to all Monterey County teachers!

Many thanks to everyone who heeded my call and nominated a wonderful teacher to celebrate on National Teacher's Day. As it's often the case, only one could be picked for the honor, but I wanted to give a shout out to other teachers who are also wonderful.

Here's my honorable mentions. Drum roll, please!

May Higuera, 2nd grade teacher at King School in Seaside.

Higuera works very hard to make sure that students gain a love of reading. She writes grants so she can buy books to give to students and their families, and has spearheaded "Read Across America" for over 20 years -- did I mention "Read Across America" is my favorite education holiday? As part of her efforts, Higuera hosts Family Reading Night at King,  a very special event that compliments her efforts to increase literacy in her school.

Paul Karrer, 5th grade teacher, Castroville Elementary School

Paul is the type of teacher that is not only greatly concerned for the well being of his students, but also for the well being of his fellow teachers. He has an amazing rapport with his kids, and does a lot for and with them, even to jogging around the field with them during their P.E. time. He keeps in touch some of his former pupils. Paul's also a great writer, a frequent contributor to the Herald's opinion pages, where he shares his expertise about the world of education.

Teri Flanders, social studies teacher at Los Arboles Middle School in Marina

It is usually one teacher who makes History Day happen in those schools that participate, and Teri appears to be it for Los Arboles, She does a lot of the heavy lifting because she wants the kids to have an opportunity to do the research, write papers, make presentations -- in other words, to have a rich educational experience.

Ruben Pizarro and Jose Gil, Alisal High.

It's not just the teaching that makes them beloved. Pizarro and Gil -- who happen to be brothers-in-law -- devote countless of hours outside the classroom to mentor students -- not just their own students, but from all over the city. Pizarro founded the Dream Academy a few years ago to expand his students horizons through travel, and Gil founded the Gil Basketball Academy to provide youth with an after-school hoops program. Both programs are extremely successful.

I'll keep other nominations in my pocket for features in the very near future. Stay tuned.