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Proposal to rename Portola Middle School generates controversy

Some El Cerrito residents are raising questions about a proposal to rename Portola Middle School in El Cerrito after Fred J. Korematsu, the late Japanese American civil rights activist.

Supporters faced off against opponents Tuesday at the second of four community meetings focused on the proposal, according to a story by correspondent Rick Radin.

Several Japanese-Americans spoke in favor of the name change at the Fairmont Elementary School meeting, while some other residents favored keeping the current name or renaming the school after El Cerrito benefactor Sundar Shadi or Spanish pioneer Don Victor Castro. The new Portola Middle School is being built on the site of the former Castro Elementary School.

District resident Ray Dennen called our newspaper to elaborate on concerns he expressed at the meeting. He questioned the neutrality of a committee evaluating the proposal, which includes Board President Charles Ramsey, a strong supporter of the name change.

Ramsey suggested the name change and the board voted to refer the proposal to a three-person committee on May 14. The board could vote on the proposal next month.

But Dennen said he and some others who think the district is moving too fast may ask the board on July 25 to postpone the decision until the fall, since many area residents are on vacation during the summer.

District spokesman Marcus Walton said Ramsey supports the proposal to educate students about standing up to injustice. But Dennen says he’s not satisfied that the district has made a compelling case to rename the school. And, if there is a community consensus to rename the school, he said the community should be able to choose between several options, instead of just one.

Portola is currently housed in portable classrooms on the site of the original 61-year-old campus, which was torn down in 2012. It is bordered by Navellier Street, Portola Drive and Moeser Lane. The new school will be located at 7125 Donal Ave. in El Cerrito.

You can weigh in at two remaining community meetings: at 7 p.m. June 26 at Harding Elementary, 7230 Fairmount Ave. in El Cerrito; and at 7 p.m. July 1 at Stege Elementary, 4949 Cypress Ave. in Richmond.

More information is available by calling 510-231-1151 or by visiting http://www.wccusd.net/Page/4506. The district has posted 26 pages of comments received so far, but omitted those without names, due to the abusive nature of some calls.

Do you think Portola MS should be renamed for Korematsu?

Correspondent Rick Radin contributed to this report.

Posted on Friday, June 20th, 2014
Under: Education, El Cerrito, Walnut Creek School District | 3 Comments »

Hands-on learning opportunities in high schools could grow in state

Students at DeAnza High in El Sobrante got to strut their stuff Tuesday, when state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, visited the campus.

Student “ambassadors” led the legislators, press and business reps through the school to see classes that help prepare students for college and careers. Each student must choose between three “academies,” focusing on health, law or technology.

In the health academy, teacher Kenyetta Haynes explained the importance of strong communication skills to students. Student Romina Pelaez, 16, of Richmond, told me these skills will serve students well throughout their lives.

The senior wants to major in psychology in college, then become a neurologist. Last summer, Romina said she had an internship in a dental office where she did filing and prepped the room for patients.

Internships are a hallmark of “linked learning” programs that link what is being taught in the classroom with the real world, making the learning relevant to students and motivating them to explore a variety of career options. Steinberg and other officials visited the campus to generate community and business interest in competitive grants through a $250 million Career Pathways Trust set aside in the state budget to fund similar linked learning programs statewide.

Health academy student Brandy Phillips, 17, said she thinks it’s a good idea to offer career-oriented classes to more students so they can receive the same kinds of opportunities she and her classmates have had.

“Once they get into an area, they will find a calling in it,” she said. “I want to be a nurse practitioner because I feel like I have good communication skills and it’s something I would be good at. It wouldn’t be ‘work’ because it would be something I’d be happy to do every day.”

Brandy said the academy also offers students the opportunity to become Certified Nursing Assistants through Contra Costa Community College and begin working while still in high school.

Some health academy students are studying diabetes in an integrated curriculum that even includes their Spanish class, linking coursework so they can see connections in their community. Similarly, law academy students visit courtrooms to see justice in action, said Judge Judy Johnson, who works with the program.

“In an academic framework, we bring it home to them when they see a defendant in court being arraigned and told what the charges are against them,” she said. “Or sometimes they’ve seen people taken away and incarcerated for a crime they’ve been convicted of committing.”

Law academy senior Michael Reyes, 17, of El Sobrante, said he is learning valuable life skills such as public speaking, collaborating with partners and backing up arguments with facts. He plans to major in criminology and dreams of becoming a district attorney.

“I think the law academy really set me up to pick my profession,” he said. “We had a mentor program with 25 local lawyers and judges. I feel like I got a head start on my college career.”

Technology academy students build robots and participate in robotics competitions. The school also offers Advanced Placement courses, said Principal Bob Evans.

“You can’t give up on any kid,” he said. “Every one of our kids is going to be successful in some way.”

Yet, many DeAnza students must overcome challenges to stay focused on schoolwork, Evans said. Sixty percent are bussed in, many from the often violent Iron Triangle. Some have parents in jail or don’t have enough food for dinner.

“Most of our kids have lived in multiple homes and don’t know where their next home is going to be,” he said. “This is a safe haven for them. We have to look at every student individually and think: ‘How can I support them?’”

DeAnza High is in the West Contra Costa School district. Other East Bay districts with linked learning programs are Antioch, Mt. Diablo and Pittsburg in Contra Costa County, and Oakland and San Lorenzo in Alameda County.

More information about linked learning is available at http://linkedlearning.org.

Posted on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Education, Oakland school district, Pittsburg school district, San Lorenzo school district, Walnut Creek School District | 4 Comments »

Cuts to Careers in Teaching program at Hercules High could mean fewer opportunities for students

The Careers in Teaching program at Hercules High has garnered widespread attention, including a front page story in this newspaper on Friday that featured student Camille Winfield, who is blind, working as a Teacher Cadet with Hanna Ranch Elementary students.

But Winfield and teacher Sarah Creeley, who has mentored several Teacher Cadets over the past decade, told the West Contra Costa school board on July 24 they were concerned that cuts to the class from three sections to one could limit opportunities for future Hercules High students.

“I cannot exaggerate the power of the connections that are made by these Hercules High School Teacher Cadets who go into their own community to help children, at times revisiting their own former classrooms,” Creeley said. “It seems as though the Hercules High School administration, with the support of the school board, is trying to push out this class by cutting it down to one section despite continued high enrollment since its inception.”

Creeley pointed out that Hercules High teacher Janet Headington won the prestigious Warren Eukel Teacher Trust award in 2009 for her work with students in the program. Winfield won a 2013 Regional Occupational Program award of excellence for her work with Creeley’s students as a Teacher Cadet. And Justin Jones, another Teacher Cadet in her class, was named 2013 “Youth in the Year” in Hercules, Creeley said.

“This is a program that has garnered many awards,” she concluded. “Whatever you can do to bring it back up to three sections would be very much appreciated.”

Winfield said the children showed her love every day, when she worked in their classroom.

“Some of them have told me that they would love to be Teacher Cadets when they are older,” Winfield said. “It’s just upsetting to me to know that the experience could go away.”

Creeley added that Winfield gave a powerful presentation about what it is like to be blind to third- fourth- and fifth-graders at Hanna Ranch Elementary.

“That never would have happened if we hadn’t had the teacher cadets,” she said.

Creeley has also sent a letter to this newspaper expressing fears that the program is in jeopardy. The 2013 Hercules Educator of the Year, she wrote, is Michelle Thibault, who teaches at Hercules Middle School and is a former high school Teacher Cadet.

“I hope that the leaders of Hercules High School will listen to our Hercules community leaders and students,” Creeley wrote, “and return this exceptional Hercules High School program to three classes to help Hercules children!”

In response to an e-mail from another Hercules resident about this issue, West Contra Costa school board President Madeline Kronenberg wrote that “the program was still in effect, although the specific scheduling had changed.”

“The program is not being removed,” she wrote, “and in fact, in our strategic plan we are highlighting the need for the district to expand the direction of this type of program district-wide…”

Creeley fears the rest of the district’s gain could be Hercules High School’s loss. In an e-mail to Kronenberg, wrote that the scheduling change amounted to one class of 40 students, even though 85 students expressed interest in enrolling.

“If you hope to start other Teacher Cadet programs in other high schools, I am all for it,” Creeley wrote. “I have seen first hand how powerful this program is. Hercules must not be punished by losing our Teacher Cadet program and teacher to another school.”

Trustee Todd Groves, who was elected in November after pledging to try to mend rifts between Hercules residents and the district and give more autonomy to schools, also responded to Creeley’s concerns in an e-mail.

“The board is charged with policy setting at the highest level,” he wrote. “I personally favored allowing sites more flexibility as a campaign pledge. I will look further into the issue, but cannot promise any outcome.”

Do you think the district should cut the number of Teacher Cadets at Hercules High, while starting up the program at other schools?

Posted on Friday, August 2nd, 2013
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 17 Comments »

Fusion Academy and Learning Center coming to Walnut Creek

In January, a new 6th-12th grade alternative private school called Fusion Academy plans to open in Walnut Creek.

It will be the third Bay Area campus introduced in the past six months and the eighth campus to open in the state since February, 2010, according to a news release I received today.

More information about the school — which features flex schedules, one-to-one teaching and no homework — is available at an informational meeting from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the Blackhawk Country Club.

Here are details from the news release:

“Fusion Academy & Learning Center Walnut Creek is modeled after Fusion Academy & Learning Center Solana Beach, which has provided one-to-one teaching and life skills programs to students for more than 20 years. Students may attend Fusion Academy full time or enroll in after-school programs as an educational supplement.

The Walnut Creek campus will be open Monday-Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., providing students and families with optimal flexibility with scheduling.

‘We’re excited to continue our growth across the Bay Area and throughout California with the opening of our campus in Walnut Creek,’ said Michelle Rose Gilman, founder and president of Fusion Academy. ‘While many traditional schools do an excellent job in educating children, there are some children whose needs require an individualized approach, an education that is tailored specifically to their interests to maximize engagement and retention. Our objective is to reach those students.’

Parents interested in learning more about Fusion Academy Walnut Creek are encouraged to attend an informational meeting at Blackhawk Country Club (599 Blackhawk Club in Danville) on Wednesday, October 19 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For more information about Fusion Academy & Learning Center Walnut Creek, please call 866-620-7922 or visit http://www.fusionwalnutcreek.com.

About Fusion Academy and Learning Center:

Fusion Academy and Learning Center offers students in grades 6 through 12 an alternative to the traditional classroom setting through one-to-one teaching and customized academic programs. Through individual mentoring, teaching and custom-tailored programs, each student’s unique talents are both recognized and encouraged in a positive environment. Fusion Learning Center offers one-to-one tutoring, mentoring, independent studies and test preparation, as well as a rich music and art program.”

Do you believe families in the Walnut Creek area would benefit from this new education option?

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2011
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 2 Comments »

Walnut Creek Intermediate girl represents county in National Spelling Bee

Congratulations to Kate Anoufrieva, a Walnut Creek Intermediate eighth-grader, who represented Contra Costa County in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday and Wednesday, after winning the county bee in March!

Although Kate didn’t advance to the semi-finals today (Thursday), her school is thrilled that she made it all the way to the national competition, where she competed against 274 of the top middle and high school spellers from around the country.

“We are just proud of Kate and her accomplishments and so proud of her representing WCI and the whole Walnut Creek school district,” said Kevin Collins, principal of Walnut Creek Intermediate. “I can’t rmember ever having a student from here going to the national bee. It’s just a tremendous honor for Kate and we are truly just so proud of her.”

Kate and her mother traveled to Maryland, where she took a written test consisting of 25 words on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, Kate participated in two preliminary spelling rounds, where she correctly spelled “aerobicize” and “Eocene” (a geologic time period.)

Judges selected 41 semi-finalists based on students’ performance on the written test, as well as the preliminary rounds. The bee didn’t release the results of the written test to the media, but representatives told me in a phone interview that Kate must have been eliminated based on her written test.

Here are the words on the written test:

1. fourteen
2. drowsy
3. wasteland
4. secrecy
5.generate
6. normalize
7. youthquake
8. unswerving
9. remembrance
10. electromagnetic
11. appointee
12. oracular
13. theatricality
14. benediction
15. quietive
16. jiggety
17. infobahn
18. calenture
19. bonobo
20. pinealectomy
21. Kafkaesque
22. monodomous
23. vitelliine
24. acetarious
25. hukilau

You can watch the championship round online today at http://www.spellingbee.com/about-bee-week.

Do you think spelling is an important skill?

Posted on Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Under: Education, Walnut Creek, Walnut Creek School District | 1 Comment »

Walnut Creek police investigate suspcious package near Buena Vista Elementary

By Theresa Harrington

The Walnut Creek police issued the following community alert at 8:11 a.m. today (Tuesday):

“Police are investigating a suspicious package near Buena Vista Elementary School**. Avoid area.

The Walnut Creek Bomb Squad is responding to the north parking lot of Buena Vista Elementaty School to investigate a suspicious package that was left in the lot. Residents on Alvarado Avenue have evacuated or are sheltering in place. San Juan Avenue is closed to traffic. Alvarado Avenue is closed to traffic from Buena Vista Avenue to San Juan Avenue. Buena Vista School staff have been notified and students will remain in the school buildings. It is suggested that people stay out of the area until further notice.”

Further details are at https://local.nixle.com/alert/4641066/?sub_id=215768

Posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Under: Crime, Education, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Man reportedly approached Buena Vista Elementary student in Walnut Creek

By Theresa Harrington
The Walnut Creek School District has sent out the following warning regarding a man who reportedly approached a Buena Vista Elementary student last week:

“August 30, 2010
Dear Walnut Creek School District Community,
We had a serious incident at Buena Vista School on Friday evening. A fourth grade student was leaving the Buena Vista campus after 5:00 p.m. by herself after attending our after-school program.
A man described as white, approximately 55 years old, with blond hair, approached the fourth grader in an older large white model convertible. He spoke to her first in his car and then on foot. The adult did not touch or threaten the student.
The student ran home, informed her parents. The Walnut Creek Police Department were contacted immediately and responded immediately.
WCPD recommend that all of us remind students:
Avoid walking alone when walking to and from school.
Do not talk to strangers.
Report any suspicious or awkward situations immediately to an adult and/or the police.
Your student’s safety is our highest concern.
Sincerely,
Patricia Wool, Ed.D.
Superintendent
Walnut Creek School District
pwool@wcsd.k12.ca.us”

Posted on Monday, August 30th, 2010
Under: Crime, Education, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »