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    Millikan robotics team competes for VEX world championship title

    Quantum Flux, the team of six Millikan Middle School students that holds the state championship in robotics, is competing this week for in the VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim.

    The tournament, which runs through Saturday, is considered the world's largest educational and most highly competitive robotics program. The Millikan students will be competing against more than 760 teams representing 26 countries.

    After seizing the prestigious “Excellence Award” at the state championships, Team Quantum Flux is the only middle school in Los Angeles Unified to advance to the latest competition.

     “I feel this is an extraordinary achievement by the kids,” said Carlos Lauchu, Director of the Science Academy at Millikan. “Their dedication to their own success has gone above and beyond all of my expectations.”

    The team's m embers are Jocelyn Shen, Jeffrey Shen, Aeden Gasser-Brennan, Marcos Perez, Seth Nicholson, and Isaiah Schwarz.

    Each year, more than 500,000 students in the classroom and through after-school competitions worldwide, turn robotics into a captivating, hands-on sport that challenges both brainpower and teamwork skills.

     Competitors at this level make up the world’s sharpest, most ambitious, technology-focused elementary school, middle school, high school, and university students. These young prodigies have committed their time and energy throughout the season designing, building, programming, and developing their own unique competition strategies.




    Galatzan schedules May 8 town hall to discuss 2014-15 budget plan

    With debate of Los Angeles Unified’s budget set to begin in earnest, school board member Tamar Galatzan has scheduled a town hall meeting for May 8 to discuss the $6.8 billion spending plan.

    The proposal is the first to be developed using the Local Control Funding Formula, the system devised by Gov. Jerry Brown to provide districts with more money to educate low-income students, English-learners and foster youth. Los Angeles Unified expects to spend about $332 million in 2014-15 to provide the additional support required by LCFF.

    The new system also requires that the district submit a written explanation – a blueprint of sorts – for how its budget will help the three special categories of students and how the effectiveness of its programs will be measured. That plan will be reviewed by a panel of parents, who will make recommendations for how they think the money should be spent.

    To help the public understand the new funding system, Galatzan has scheduled the town hall from 6-7:30 p.m. at Grant High School, 13000 Oxnard St., Van Nuys. The speakers will include Matt Hill, the district’s chief strategy officer, and Rowara Lagrosa, who oversees the Parent and Community Services Branch.

    “There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the new system, and how it could impact local schools and students,” Galatzan said. “I want to make sure that parents and residents understand the new system and how it will change the future of public education.”

    The budget for 2014-15 will mark the first time in six years – ever since the state sank into recession -- that Los Angeles Unified hasn’t had to deal with devastating program cuts and layoffs.

    In fact, Superintendent John Deasy released his budget as part of a three-year plan that predicts a steady increase in funding that is expected because of the improving state economy and the passage last year of Proposition 30, a half-cent sales tax to fund California’s public schools.

    Thanks to LCFF and Prop. 30, Los Angeles Unified expects to have about $300 million in discretionary money. The debate is expected to be vigorous over the next two months as the school board balances the demands for employee raises, smaller classes, more support staff and cleaner campuses.

    The budget is expected to be approved on June 24, a week before the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

    “While $300 million sounds like a lot of money, we aren’t going to have enough to do everything that everyone wants,” Galatzan said. “That’s why it’s important that we hear from the community about what is important to them, and that we communicate our challenges as we take the first steps in recovering from the financial crisis.”



    Career-tech Expo shows that Valley students know how to dream big

    Aspiring movie producer Marissa Navarro helped organize JFK High's inaugural CTE Expo. For many students, high school is when they dream about someday working as architects, landscape designers, digital artists or movie producers.

    But Marissa Navarro and her classmates are already living their dream, thanks to an ambitious career-technical program at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. Overseen by 15-year architecture teacher Aaron Kahlenberg, the CTE program provides work-based learning that incorporates both academic and occupational lessons.

    “I put all the power in the students, and teach them to use their imaginations,” Kahlenberg said during a recent interview. “They’ve already gone through the experience of producing something, so they can go on to do anything they want.”

    Kennedy’s program offers classes in architecture and digital arts, but other Los Angeles Unified are designed to promote careers in areas like health science, manufacturing, natural resources and business and finance.

    Zania Avalos' sod house.The results of the students’ creativity were showcased last month during a CTE Expo hosted by the Industrial Management class at Kennedy High, with students from Cleveland, Hollywood and San Fernando High schools also participating.

    The show was organized by senior Marissa Navarro, who plans to attend Chapman University this fall. The aspiring film producer is an unwavering advocate for the district’s CTE programs, and for SkillsUSA, a national organization that promotes leadership and community service among technical students.

    “There is a career in CTE,”Navarro said. “You just have to have a dream.”

    The visions and aspirations of the hundreds of CTE students were on display at the inaugural Expo – films, artwork, woodcrafts, corporate logos and architectural models of sprawling yards and futuristic homes.Jon Cossack used pipes to create a xylophone.

    There was a geometric design created by Kennedy High student Sylvia Garza and a xylophone made of plumbing pipes made by classmate Jon Cossack. Spectators also were drawn to a mythical clay-and-sod house created by Zania Avalos.

    Misael Perez, who graduated from Kennedy’s CTE program in 2010, returned for the Expo, to visit with Kahlenberg and see the projects created by the next generation.

    “He plants the seed inside our hearts and minds,” Perez said. “He pushes his students to keep moving forward. He gives us a taste of what reality is going to be.”


    Valley students participate in the annual Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival

    Hundreds of fifth-graders dance onThe Music Center plaza during the Blue Ribbon Children's Festival celebrating the arts.

    Fifth-graders from around LAUSD, including youngsters from seven schools in Board District 3, spent a recent morning singing and dancing on The Music Center plaza as part of the Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival celebrating the performance arts.

    Held annually since 1970, the festival gives students the opportunity to attend a professional performance at the landmark Music Center and to put on a show of their own. During this year's three-day event, kids watched a routine by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, then joined together on the plaza to perform a dance they'd practiced for weeks at their individual schools.

    Among the participating schools were Calahan Community Charter, Dixie Canyon Charter, Haskell Elementary, Haynes Charter for Enriched Studies, Mayall Street Elementary, the Multicultural Learning Center and Tulsa Street Elementary.

    The festival began in 1970 as part of a commitment to engage young people in the arts, and is one of California’s longest ongoing free arts education programs.  More than 700,000 children have participated in the festival since its inception, and for many, the festival is their first experience at a live performing arts event. 


    Vigil set, fund drive launched for victims of deadly Orland bus crash

    A vigil will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday for victims of the deadly April 10 bus crash, while the union representing Los Angeles Unified police officers is collecting donations to support those lives were impacted by the tragedy.

    The vigil will be at Dorsey High School, 3537 Farmdale Ave., where crash victim Jennifer Bonilla was a senior.

    Bonilla was killed, along with four other students and three chaperones, when the charter bus carrying them on a trip to Humboldt State University was struck head-on by a FedEx truck in Northern California. The drivers of both vehicles also died in the fiery crash.

    In addition to Bonilla, the students were identified as Denise Gomez and Ismael Jimenez, both 18-year-old seniors at Amino Inglewood Charter High School; Adrian Castro, 19, of El Monte High School; and Marisa Serrato, 17, of Norte Vista High School in Riverside.

    To support victims and their families, the Los Angeles School Police Association has established the LAUSD Family Support Fund, in cooperation with Friends of Safe School USA. Send checks made out to the LAUSD Family Support Fund to the California Credit Union, P.O. Box 29100, Glendale, CA 91209-9971. Donations can also be made at


    El Camino Real, CHIME charters OK'd to redevelop 4 closed campuses

    Note: The following story has been updated to provide links to the proposals by El Camino Real Charter and CHIME Institute. The charter operators have redacted proprietary information from the proposals.

    The Los Angeles Unified school board has authorized two charter organizations to move forward with plans to redevelop four West San Fernando Valley campuses that have stood vacant since they were closed more than 30 years ago.

    During its April 8 meeting, the board voted 6-0 in favor of plans by El Camino Real Charter High to take over and renovate Highlander, Platt Ranch and Oso Elementary schools. CHIME Institute was selected to redevelop Collins Street Elementary.

    “We are really excited about the opportunity to move forward and to put these campuses to an educational use that will benefit the community,” said Board Member Tamar Galatzan, whose district includes the Highlander and Platt Ranch campuses. “The district is committed to working with the charter operators and their neighbors so that we can replace these vacant campuses with high-quality projects just as soon as possible.”

    The total cost of the redevelopment projects is $40 million, based on preliminary estimates. Charter operators say they will use cash reserves and apply for state grants to help pay construction costs. They also plan to ask the district for bond revenue, which can be issued as a so-called charter augmentation grant.

    The four campuses were among the two dozen that were shuttered in the early 1980s, as enrollment plummeted in the wake of court-ordered busing. Some of the closed campuses were reopened or leased to private schools, but the four schools in the West Valley remained boarded up and vacant.

    In September, the school board issued a request for proposals to redevelop the campuses, with top priority given to charter operators. Officials from the Facilities Division reviewed the preliminary proposals, and forwarded their recommedations to the board.

    With the approval of those recommendations, the district will begin negotiating in earnest with the charter operators on the specifics of their plans. Facilities officials estimate it will take 18-24 months for the plans to be developed and approved.

    Here are the basic plans that will be presented to the board for approval:

    Collins Street Elementary: CHIME proposes creating a 480-student high school, which would complement the elementary school it operates at Collier Street Elementary (another of the closed LAUSD campuses). It estimates it will spend $12 million to raze and rebuild the classrooms, renovate the auditorium and resurface the playground.

    The district received three other bids for the Collins Street plan.

    Highlander Elementary: El Camino plans to spend $12 million to renovate the West Hills campus, where it will open a new K-8 school.

    Oso Elementary: El Camino plans to demolish the classroom buildings and to use the site for an “outdoor educational science center,” which would be used by its high school and K-8 students. The estimated cost is $6 million.

    Platt Ranch Elementary: El Camino plans to spend $10 million to open a continuation high school that would serve 500 students, with new classrooms and an athletic field. The charter currently operates a 200-student continuation school on its existing campus, which would be relocated and expanded to the new site.

    El Camino was the sole bidder for the Oso and Platt Ranch sites.

    Residents have long demanded that the district take action on the closed campuses, which have become community eyesores. Officials say they have been stymied in their efforts because demand for a traditional public school isn’t strong enough to reopen the campuses, and they don’t want to use general fund money to raze the sites. State law prohibits the use of bond revenue solely for demolition.

    The proposals were unveiled during a community meeting Thursday night, where board member Steve Zimmer expressed regret that residents have had to cope with having the blighted campuses in their neighborhoods.

    “What we have now is what we have now, and we’re taking the best path forward,” he said.




    Fun, fantasy mark annual World's Fair at Millikan Middle School

    Games, food, student shows and cultural displays were featured during Millikan Middle School's annual World's Fair. The springtime fund-raiser is a tradition at the performing arts magnet in Sherman Oaks.


    Galatzan encourages safe habits during Distracted Driving Month event

    Board member Tamar Galatzan joined law enforcement officals at a press conference launching Districted Driving Month."Texting, Twittering while driving--is it more important than you or your loved ones?"

    That's question LAUSD board member Tamar Galatzan posed during a press conference at Birmingham High School at the California Highway Patrol launched April as Distracted Driving Month. 

    Joining her at the April 2 event were officers from the CHP and the LAPD's Van Nuys Division, and Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks. 

    "I see too many close calls in the mornings when I drop off my kids at school," said Galatzan, a deputy city attorney who has two sons. "We parents have enough distractions on the road without looking down at a cell phone."

    With statistics showing that distracted drivers cause eight out of every 10 collisions, law enforcement officials will be cracking down this month on motorists caught using their cell phones or other unapproved devices while on the road.

    Players from the University of California Los Angeles football team, as well as Miss Teen California, were there as well to speak about how important it is for young people to drive without distractions. Motorists ages 15 to 20 are they are four times more likely to be involved in a crash for every mile they drive, officials say.

    A mother whose son died in a distracted-driving related crash spoke movingly of how his life would've been different if he had lived. He was a star football player at his school. "When I looked in his emails after he passed, I found that college football scouts had been emailing him." Her story brought many to tears. "Blasting the car radio, not wearing seatbelts, telling the driver to drive faster ... It was all fun until it wasn't."


    Deasy: Vergara the next step in the fight for youth rights

    Superintendent John Deasy testifies for the prosecution in the closely watched Vergara lawsuit.

    Testifying as the first prosecution witness in the landmark Vergara lawsuit, Superintendent John Deasy spoke of the difficulty in firing incompetent teachers and his belief in the need to change job-protection laws.

    During a speech Monday, the schools chief took a different tack, casting the closely watched case as a civil rights issue – one that affects Los Angeles Unified’s ability to guarantee that every student will have a high-quality teacher.

    “We are still struggling some 60 years later to enact the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education,” he told about 100 students, educators and residents during a forum at the University of Southern California. “I am troubled how, today, we can witness such unequal, non-protected classes of youth at a single institution called public education. Our work is not done.”

    The suit filed by Beatriz Vergara and eight other LAUSD students against the State of California challenges five laws dealing with teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal processes.

    Prosecutors argued that the laws interfere with the constitutional guarantee to an equal and high-quality education, saying that low-income and minority students are more likely to get the least-effective teachers as a result.

     The California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers have joined the state in fighting changes in the law. They say the laws protect teachers’ rights to due process, and are successful in promoting a strong academic environment conducive to student success.

    Fifty witnesses testified during the month-long trial -- a series of district superintendents, education and public policy professors, students, and teachers. The case is now in the hands of Los Angeles Superior Court judge Rolf Treu, who is expected to issue a decision by early summer. Experts say his ruling is likely to be appealed.

    During the event at USC, Deasy summarized the arguments he made in his testimony.  He said laws governing how districts can firing grossly ineffective teachers are onerous and prohibitively expensive, and that he believes the process to determine tenure should take longer than the current 18 months.  He also spoke out against the last-in, first-out process now used to determine which teachers are let go when layoffs occur.

    “Why not use height?” he said. “We (should) honor the profession by basing teachers on more than their date of hire.”

    Deasy's speech was followed by a panel discussion that included law professor Susan Estrich, education professor Julie Marsh, and education and public policy professor Katharine Strunk. Each agreed with Deasy in questioning the efficacy of the current laws.

     Marsh noted that California is one of only nine states that allows seniority-based layoffs. She noted that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs may allow for a broader conversation about students’ rights in this country.

     Estrich said that even as a lawyer it came as a surprise to her that tenure is enshrined in state law and is not just a product of collective bargaining agreements.  She faulted the teachers unions for being resistant to change and for slowing much-needed reform.  She explained that a victory for the plaintiffs would put pressure on the Legislature to fix the problem.

     Deasy suggested that regardless of the outcome, the case provides an opportunity for labor partners to take the lead in suggesting changes for collective bargaining in California.

     About the fundamental questions of teacher quality and student achievement, Deasy said, “It’s just not going to go away.”



    North Hollywood High lauds classmates as national Cyberpatriot champs

    Top: Displaying certificates from Board Member Tamar Galatzan are Team "Azure" members, from left, Coach Jay Gehringer, students Isaac Kim, Issac Kim, Travis Raser, Jake King, Henry Birge-Lee, North Hollywood Principal Randy Delling, and Tamar's District Director David Azevedo. Above, left: TV crews interview the national champs. Right: The Cyberpatriot trophy is filled with team medals and microchips.

    A five-member team from North Hollywood High School took home the gold this weekend at the national Cyberpatriots competition in Washington, D.C. 

    The team dubbed Azure beat out nearly a dozen other finalists from around the country in a contest that tests students' ability to prepare, protect and defend computers and networks from viruses and hackers. 

    Each of the students receives a $2,000 scholarship for winning the contest, in which teams must fend off high-pressure attacks from cyber-sleuths.

     "They were up against the best of the best and came out on top," said Alvaro Cortes, executive director of Beyond the Bell, the Los Angeles Unified division that oversees the after-school program. "I think it's just awesome."

    Coached by computer science teacher Jay Gehringer, the team is comprised of juniors Henry Birge-Lee, Isaac Kim, Issac Kim, Jake King and Travis Raser. Five other teams from North Hollywood competed in the initial rounds, but only Team Azure made the finals.

    North Hollywood joined the Cyberpatriots program three years ago and sent a team to the finals last year.

    "This is an incredible accomplishment and shows that hard work and dedication pays off," said Board Member Tamar Galatzan, whose district includes North Hollywood.

    Team Azure from North Hollywood HS won the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. From left to right: George Muellner, Chairman of the Board of the Air Force Association; Jose Gonzalez, LAUSD Beyond the Bell; students Isaac Kim, Jake King, Isaac Kim, Travis Raser, Kathy Warden; Corporate VP of Northrop Grumman; student Henry Birge-Lee; head coach, Jay Gehringer; Bernie Skoch, CyberPatriot Commissioner. Photo courtesy Air Force Association

    The team spent the week in Washington, touring the Capitol and meeting with Congressmen Tony Cardenas and Brad Sherman and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

    "I think the strength of this whole year has been the people they’re meeting," Gehringer said.

    Created by the Air Force Association (an entity separate from the Air Force), the CyberPatriot competition aims to inspire students towards careers in cyber security or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines critical to our nation's future. The competition has grown from eight teams in 2009 to over 1,500 in all 50 states and Canada this year.