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Cover Story April 19th, 2007

  Untitled Document

cover

by lyle e davis and evelyn madison

Jesus is 12 years old. He has a shock of hair that the most talented and expensive hair stylist in Beverly Hills could not make look good. His ears stick out a bit. He lives in the barrio in a low income apartment. Mom and dad work constantly just to keep up with rent, groceries, and the like. He doesn't have great grades. But the kid is smart.

Last Saturday, we took 65 kids and adults hiking to Palomar Mountain. For much of the hike Jesus, who had ridden with me, walked beside me. He talked . . . I listened. It's amazing what these kids know. They may not be getting A's and B's in school but it is clear they are learning. And remembering.

"Mr. Davis," he asked, "do you know the Constitution?"

"Do I know it? Yes. Do you mean can I quote it? No. Do you?"

"I only know some of it. Do you know the First Amendment."

"Well, yes, a bit of it. Do you?"

"I don't remember all of it but I remember some of it."

"Let's hear it."

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. . .

'. . .that's all I can remember."

"Jesus! That's great! I'm very proud of you! You know, I'm a retired broadcaster and I had to rely on that amendment in doing my work. Yet I never memorized it. You have. I'm very, very impressed and proud of you. I'm going to your school Monday and talk to your principal and your teacher and let them know how proud I am of you."

Earlier in the day, while driving up the mountain, I'd ask the kids different questions about animal and plant life. One, Francisco, consistently used logic to come up with his answers. We talked about why turkey vultures (aka "buzzards") are bald.

He, in time, came to the logical conclusion that it was so bacteria would not collect on their heads as they ate carrion. I pointed out clumps of mistletoe and he came to quickly understand that it was a parasitic plant, he learned of the American tradition of kissing under mistletoe and observed that no such tradition exists in Mexico, although mistletoe grows there as well.

Francisco seemed to have a natural "feel" for things biological in nature. I asked him if his teacher made biology fun.

"Not really," he said.

Most of these kids attend Grant Middle School. It has a campus population of approximately 1260. There are caring teachers there, and the administrators are outstanding people who are also very caring. Some are totally dedicated, putting extra hours into their job, often putting their own money into buying art supplies and other items for the classrooms. There are, unfortunately, others who are watching the clock, waiting for their pensions to arrive.

Those of us who work with the schools get to know who the top administrators are, who the top teachers are. We also get to know who the average to mediocre teachers are. We tend to remember the former, and shake our heads in resignation at the latter.

Unfortunately, that's often all we can do, shake our heads in resignation. Administrative and district officials often have their hands tied when it comes to weeding out the less than competent, the less than dedicated, the less than talented teachers. The reason? The CTA (California Teacher's Association). This powerful union spends millions of dollars lobbying the legislature to get bills passed that protect their self interest.

One knowledgeable official with whom we spoke estimated that there are perhaps 15% of faculty members who are the cream of the crop; outstanding, dedicated, talented, caring. There are another 60% that range anywhere from average to mediocre. That totals 75%. This means that approximately 25% of our faculty is simply incompetent and do not belong in education.

To me, this is frightening.

One might argue, in the case of Grant Middle School, that part of the problem is trying to adequately teach 1260 kids . . . some of whom are royal pains in the asses, others of whom want to learn but need a bit more attention than can be gotten in crowded classrooms and on a crowded campus, still others who are natural and gifted students that learn quickly with a minimum of supervision. But the kids who cause the most problems in school probably represent only 10% of the population. At Grant Middle School, that is still approximately 120 kids that can and should be helped. They can be helped and motivated with the right teachers. But we need to be able to weed out that 25% of teachers that are not capable of motivating and teaching children.

About a year ago we discovered a lad, Marcos, who amazed his driver, a retired geologist, with his knowledge of and interest in geology. They talked all the way to the Anza Borrego desert and back. Mr. (Jack) Pomeroy, the geologist, told me, "Lyle, this kid is smart! He's a brain! He's well read, he knows a lot of the minerals. He has big ideas about his life. He's impressive."

Later my CPA, who had also joined us on the trip, had occasion to talk to Marcos and he, too, was impressed with the kid’s mind.

"That kid is sharp! He must be an "A" student.

Sadly, he was not.

The following Monday I checked with Eric Nordin, the principal. We checked the kid's grades and he was pulling C's, D's and F's.

"Something is wrong here, Eric. This kid is smarter than that."

"Let's check his cumes."

We did. Sure enough, he had cumes of 97, 98%. The kid WAS smart. He DID have a capability of learning. But he wasn't doing it in the classroom. His cumes were based on what he had accomplished in elementary school, before he entered middle school.

To his great credit Eric agreed to schedule a SST (Student Study Team). This is a meeting where the student's teachers, the student, and the family meet to determine if there is something that can be done to maximize potential. The student has to agree to a contract wherein he submits homework and performs to a certain level. The teachers offer help, counseling, whatever is needed to help the kid make it. I was invited to attend. First time out, the kid and his family showed up.

The kid didn't show up for the second SST, nor did his family.

It appears at first blush that Marcos' problem might be simple laziness. But could it be lack of motivation? Could it be that somewhere along the line, either in elementary or middle school, he bumped into a teacher, or teachers, that not only did not motivate him but turned him off to learning? He had proven he had the ability to learn. How did that learning stop? Was it laziness of the student? Or had the system failed him?

We know of several outstanding teachers who draw raves from their students. One science teacher in particular has her students rushing to her room during lunch hour just to be with her and to continue learning. (That teacher was a Biology Teacher at what was then Grant Middle School, now renamed Mission School. She is now teaching 7th grade at Rincon Middle School. Her name is Sue Scott). There are lots of smiling faces, lots of laughter, lots of learning. There are other teachers at that same school where the students actually fear the teacher and want nothing to do with the individual.

One of the things that troubles me most about the present system is that 10% of kids are not getting the education or motivation that they should be. I see them measured by standard tests and are told they are C, D or F students. They eventually see themselves as failures and then art imitates life and they become what they see themselves as. Failures. They stop trying. They stop learning. They wind up in dead end jobs.

The problem here is that I see these kids on the hiking trail, out on the flight line, at the museums, on any given adventure. We talk. They clearly are retaining things from school, they clearly are interested, even anxious to learn. . . but they are not being reached by their teacher(s). Or, they might be reached by one teacher and turned off by another. I don't know what the answer is. But I do know that something is not working. We have fertile minds that begin to go fallow through neglect. I am taking a close look at charter schools as they have so much less red tape to deal with that they can hire teachers on merit, can pay the teachers on merit, can attract top teaching talent and allow that talent to do what they do best, to motivate and to teach. The charter school established thus far in Escondido has a waiting list of students who are desperate to attend. To my mind a top notch teacher is invaluable. They should be paid, at a minimum, $80,000 to $100,000 per year.

We have a new superintendent that has impressive credentials in turning education programs around and getting the best out of students by getting the best out of administrators and faculty. I've seen the administrators and faculty work and it's hard for me to imagine them working any harder. The good ones, at least. Perhaps the answer is in working smarter; in setting higher expectations for the kids, or perhaps setting higher expectations of our faculty and somehow manage to deal with the powerful teacher's union. Our Superintendent, Nick Retana, has done this before in Texas. He is blunt, outspoken, and has a reputation for getting the job done. And, he has successfully dealt with strong teacher's unions.

We'll see. I hope it works. There are simply too many minds going to waste out there.

It's depressing to see that happen. It is, however, invigorating to see that the potential at least exists. We simply have to find out what it is that we need to reach the potential in these youngsters.

Epilogue

The above is an essay I wrote in May of 1998, several years after we founded an organization known as “Los Caballeros de Aventura,” (The Gentlemen of Adventure). We shall update the actors in the above scenario in a moment.

The organization came into being as a means to help divert young kids, Latino primarily, from joining gangs. The premise was, keep them busy with discovering the adventure of life . . . by taking them hiking every month, letting them fly real airplanes, taking them to museums and other adventures. If they are kept busy doing these things . . . they would have neither the time nor inclination to join gangs or get involved in negative activity. The Program was a brilliant success. We still see kids from this era today. They stop by to introduce us to their family, their wife, their children. They turned out to be pretty doggone great kids . . . and now, young adults.

What has happened since the above essay was written?

Superintendent Nick Rentana got involved in a controversial brouhaha and the school district bade him farewell.

Eric Nordin, the principal of what was then known as Grant Middle School, and is known today as Mission Middle School, transferred up to Fallbrook. He has since passed away at much too early of an age. He was a brilliant administrator and a very caring human being. We were proud to have known him and worked with him.

We’ve lost touch with Marcos; Jesus is now 21 - we’ve lost touch with him as well.

Several of the teachers and administrators I was pleased to have worked with are still in the school system. Henry (Henrietta) Heiland is a teacher at Rock Springs School in Escondido. When I worked with her she was the Assistant Principal at what was then Grant Middle School. She has gone back into the classroom as she missed the close contact with kids.

I remember the big smile, the smiling, eager look in her eyes as she would go out on the playground, first thing in the morning, during lunch hour, and after school, meeting with the kids, talking to them, encouraging them, hugging them. She had the look, the feel, the warmth, that we want all of our teachers to have.

I’m pleased that she is teaching our kids. She is one of those teachers who will do all she can to not only recognize the innate talent and skill in learning ability in a student, but encourage him or her to pursue their dreams.

I see a lot of kids with fire in their eyes; a burning desire to learn,” she says. “That’s particularly evident in elementary school. Sometimes, when they reach the middle school level, some of that fire dissipates. We need to keep those kids motivated. They need to want those fires to continue to burn right into high school and then on to college.

Being a teacher is often about memories: “Quite often I’ll have young adults come up to me and say something like, ‘Remember me? All those times when I was sent to your office for disciplinary reasons you told me you believed in me. All those times I acted like I wasn’t listening. I was listening. .. I just want you to know that I made something of myself. And I wanted to say thank you.’

That’s worth more than a million dollars to me . . . to any teacher.

Henry hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years. She still has that radiant smile . . . still feels as young as some of her students . . . and she still welcomes the challenge. She’s at school at 7:30am, often with her kids meeting with her well before their scheduled classes . . . and they’re there again at lunch time. Three days a week they meet for an hour after school. The kids pack the room.

We teachers who love working with kids have ‘the magic.’ We’ve been blessed with the ability to relate to kids, to listen to them. We have an absolute passion for working with kids. I often will ask for the kids from lower-scoring academic areas as they are an even greater challenge. To bring the light of learning to their minds is a feeling I can’t possibly describe. We can only hope they retain that love of learning as they move on in school.

Teacher of the Year nominations are currently in the hopper. These aren’t political contests . . . they are nominations from the staff . . . a peer review of sorts. The staff nominates those teachers they feel have earned their honor.

At the end of this article we will list those teachers from within the Escondido School System who are nominees.

Riding to the Rescue?

There’s at least one organization that just might be in a position to help recognize “the best and the brightest” within our school system and help them use their basic ability to learn and advance.

The Escondido Community Foundation, brainchild of successful businessman Jack Raymond, has come together under the umbrella of the San Diego Community Foundation. The Escondido Community Foundation is a group of successful and dynamic people who have come together with a goal of giving back to the community they love. It is a connection of people who care with causes that matter. They have pooled their money to form an endowment fund and to award grants to non-profit organizations to help them achieve their goals and benefit the community.

The overall area of funding that has been selected is Education and Youth Services.

That struck a chord with us as we thought this might provide a conduit whereby ‘the best and the brightest’ of today’s youth could be recognized and then assisted in the furtherance of their education. In concept, ‘the best and the brightest’ could be any student, regardless of economic or social circumstance. It could be a youngster from a modest, middle-class, or even a privileged neighborhood . . . or it could be a Jesus or Marcos, who lives in the barrio . . . . economic status/ethnicity would not be the criteria.

Learning ability and a desire to learn more would.

It seems to us, and most teachers with whom we speak, that there is a need to recognize and motivate these kids who are under-achieving. The kids who, with a bit of encouragement, could become tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants . . . or, teachers.

But how do we go about it? There are several other proposals the Escondido Community Foundation is reviewing. One proposal would involve the concept of more after-school diversionary programs, another would involve programs that had a “ripple effect,” with students providing mentoring to students who follow them; still another would focus on increased focus on literacy, teaching the younger kids to read more efficiently, yet another proposes more access to skate parks and recreation. Personally, I would like to see a strong focus on Science and Technology . . . concentrate on students who, regardless of ethnicity and economic background, have an interest in the sciences. Help them to grow that interest and become scientifically literate, participate in the enrichment activities in the sciences, and have the capacity to choose careers in science and technology so they can actively contribute to the scientific and technical innovation of the San Diego region. Wouldn’t it be great to see some scientists come out of the Escondido school system? Sadly, California is the lowest in the nation for providing science education.
We can change that and this Foundation just might be the means to that end.

But I am only one voice. All of these proposals will be examined and the panel will make a decision as to which education/youth service public service areas will be invited to submit proposals.

A bit of background about the Escondido Community Foundation:

It’s in business to give money away. It’s called philanthropy. Its members contribute money toward an endowment fund and then the members, collectively, determine where the money goes; which non-profit organizations serving Escondido receive how much money.

Presently, there are 86 members, and 71 founders. Available for grants this year, $70,500; with $85,750 in the endowment fund. If you’re interested in giving back to your community, you should consider joining. A donation of $1000 makes you a member . . . a commitment of $1000 a year for five years will make you a board member. Half of the money raised goes immediately into grant making . the other half goes into a permanent endowment fund housed at the San Diego Community Foundation.

100% of membership contributions goes toward grantmaking or the endowment fund.

If you have an interest, call Heather Dugdale at (858) 385-1595.

The San Marcos Community Foundation has a somewhat similar plan, though it is not restricted to Education and Youth Services. Applicants for funding from the SMCF must offer projects that are of specific benefit to San Marcos . . . as does the Escondido Community Foundation require that the funding benefit the Escondido community.

They are happy to review proposals that address education and youth services. You may wish to go to their website:

www.sanmarcoscommunityfoundation.org.

After reviewing the website, if you have further questions you may call San Marcos City staff Andrea Rouse or Donna French at 760.744.1050, extension 3116.

The cities of Vista, Carlsbad and Oceanside have a similar foundation plan either in place or are working in that direction.

We strongly believe that each community has an undiscovered number of “the best and the brightest.” We need to go to work and identify them, support them, and help them become tomorrow’s professionals.

Each of us remembers a teacher, or perhaps several teachers, who had a powerful and positive impact on our lives and our learning. A teacher who motivated us. A teacher who “had the magic.” We need to bring those undiscovered students and those teachers with magic together.

What follows is a listing of teachers that you as parents, or as students, have a right to be proud of. They are nominated by the staffs at each school . . . a peer review as it were. These are the teachers that have the special ‘magic’ to excite and motivate our youngsters.

Candidates for Teacher of the Year Award

Escondido Union School District

Education Center Brad Pascoe
Bernardo Sue Gaskell
Central Sarah Cowles
Conway Judy Crabtree
Farr Carolyn Leffler
Felicita Paul Harding
Glen View Olivia Kennedy
L. R. Green Rob Shepherd
Juniper Suzanne Catalanotto
Lincoln Joan Goncalves
Miller Jim Blanchard
No. Broadway Theresa Hathaway
Oak Hill Mary Jo Marx
Orange Glen Sandra Burton
Pioneer Lorraine Silva
Reidy Creek Amanda Steeg
Rock Springs Cynthia Striblen
Rose Astrid Martin
Bear Valley Cyndi Griffiths
Del Diso Veronica Anderson-Cain
Mission Carla Cardona
Hidden Valley David Bridgewater
Rincon Trent Smith

District Teacher of the Year

Elementary: Paul Harding Felicita
Middle School Veronica Del Dios
Anderson-Cain

San Marcos Unified School District

Diana Brown Alvin Dunn
Andrea Holmes Carillo
Lael Donaldson Discovery
Linda Davis Knob Hill
Ellen Roston La Costa Meadows
Marcia Terwilliger Paloma
Sherri Faulkner Richland
Suzie Sherwin San Elijo Elementary
Christy Flores San Marcos Elementary
Kyle Matthews Twin Oaks Elementary
Kathy Tuttle San Elijo Middle
Michelle Gray San Marcos Middle
Tanya Ross Woodland Park Middle

Oceanside Unified School District

Kelly Crouthamel Del Rio
Diane Stoecker Garrison
Leslie Anderson Ivey Ranch
Barbara Marukelli Jefferson
Freddie Chavarria Jefferson MS
William Garbat McAuliffe Elem.
Martha Stickles Mission
Michael Walsh Nichols
Renee Trelease Palmquist
Vicki Gravlin San Luis Rey
Stacy Hurd Santa Margarita
Jacqui Walker Stuart Mesa

District Teacher of the Year

Elementary Wm. Garbat McAuliffe Elem.
Middle School Freddie Chavarria Jefferson
Vista Unfied School District

Leslie Manwaring - elementary teacher
Beth Duncan - middle school teacher
Keith Gruaman - high school teacher

Carlsbad Unified School District

Erin Johnson Aviara Oaks Elementary
Mary Martin Aviara Oaks Middle School
Blake Maxon Buena Vista Elementary
Marlene Bullard Calavera Hills Elementary
Kathryn Goeltz Calavera Hills Middle
Katy Heritage Carlsbad Seaside Academy
Meredith Raymundo Hope Elementary
Karen Stencil Jefferson Elementary
Janis Mulvey Kelly Elementary
Michelle McArthur Magnolia Elementary
Katie Jordan Pacific Rim Elementary
Peggy Hodge Valley Middle School

Finalists:

Katy Heritage Carlsbad Seaside Academy
Janis Mulvey Kelly Elementary
Karen Stencil*** Jefferson Elementary

*** CUSD Teacher of the Year

 

 

 

 

 


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