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    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 authoritized 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. 



    Computer skills, safety highlighted during first Digital Citizenship Week

    To highlight its effort to help students learn to use their computers safely and responsibly, Los Angeles Unified held its inaugural Digital Citizenship Week March 14-21, hosting a series of campus assemblies that focused on ways to make smart choices in today’s high-tech world. Tamar attended an assembly at Nevada Elementary School in West Hills, where students used their newly acquired tech skills to present a digital demonstration about online safety and responsibility. Nevada was among the 47 schools that received Ipads during the first Phase of the Common Core Technology Project, which will be expanded this fall to 43 additional schools.  Tamar is also introducing a resolution that would establish Digital Citizenship Week as an annual event. To learn more about how LAUSD is teaching students to be good digital citizens, see here.


    Enadia community garden helps 'green' the charter school's coffers

    The garden at Enadia Technology Enriched Charter offers a variety of seasonal produce.The prices are good -- a buck for five oranges, $2 for a head of vibrant green broccoli.

    And just minutes from harvest, the fruits and vegetables can't get much fresher.

    The main selling points, however, are the location of the garden and the identity of the "farmers" who planted the seasonal crops.

    At Enadia Technology Enriched Charter, students are growing produce in a community garden on campus and selling it at a weekly market. It’s proving to be a lucrative enterprise, generating a couple hundred dollars every week for the 250-student elementary school tucked into a quiet neighborhood in West Hills.

    “This is just an incredible project, and such a great opportunity,” said Heather Jeanne, who has been principal at Enadia since July. “It’s a win-win for the students and the community.”

    Created in 2011 by a cadre of parents and community volunteers, the garden is a lush combination of fruits, vegetables and decorative flowers. The crops – student-planted and picked – depend on the season. Recent harvests have included wildly popular kale -- which sold out within minutes – along with radishes, beets, citrus and a variety of lettuce.

    Enadia is also selling monthly memberships to Muir Ranch CSA, a Pasadena-based nonprofit which, for $20 a week provides a selection of 7-10 types of vegetables. The boxes of produce can be picked up during the school’s farmer’s market, which is held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays.

    Visitors to the school can also take a moment to tour the drought-tolerant garden – a certified California native habitat -- that Jeanne maintains in the center of campus.

    “What an imaginative and creative way to teach students about healthy food and healthful eating,” said Board Member Tamar Galatzan. “This is a wonderful resource and an example of a great school doing a great thing for its students and the community.

    Seasonal produce goes on sale at 2 p.m. Thursdays at Enadia Technology Enriched Charter, 22944 Enadia Way, West Hills.


    Top Obama official visits Daniel Pearl Magnet High School

    Massie Ritsch, a former newspaper reporter now working for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, shares career advice with journalism students at Pearl Magnet High School.Clustered in front of a speaker's podium emblazoned with the logo of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, student reporters reviewed their notes and checked the setting on their cameras, waiting in the campus auditorium for the press conference to begin. Without fanfare, Massie Ritsch, the chief spokesman for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, strode onto the stage, took his place at the microphone and began fielding questions from the press corps.

    That the reporters were students enrolled in the school's journalism magnet didn't dissuade Ritsch from taking their questions seriously, as they grilled him about the new Common Core curriculum, teacher evaluations and how technology is changing education. 

    A student asks a question during the mock press conference.“ The best ideas are not happening in Washington," said Ritsch, officially Duncan's assistant secretary for communications and outreach,  "They’re in the schools in the states."

    At Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, classroom practice frequently intersects with real-world experiences like the press conference with Ritsch, who visited LAUSD on March 17 to highlight the importance of community participation and support for school success.

    Ritsch has a soft spot for Board District 3, as he was formerly an education reporter for the San Fernando Valley edition of the Los Angeles Times. In his opening remarks, he recalled that he was a working for the Times in 2002, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the school’s namesake, was kidnapped and murdered by Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan.  He was assigned to interview Pearl's parents in their Encino home -- a story he noted was one of the most difficult he ever worked on.

    "It’s the kind of story you hope you never have to do as a reporter," he said.

    The 24 students seated in the auditorium had prepared and practiced their questions in advance, reading from their notebooks when Ritsch called on them. Several times, he threw the question back to the students, insisting that they -- better than he -- are the experts on what is working in American schools. He also shared several talking points on the need for quality professional development and access to technology that sounded like they could have come straight from President Obama himself.

    Junior Jake Dobbs asked Ritsch whether Common Core is creating a federally run education system, and seemed satisfied with the response that the new, more rigorous curriculum is a movement that has grown up from state interest.

    “It is good to have the input of a government official,” Dobbs said. “I wanted to see what they’re trying to do to improve education.”

    Ritsch was also given a tour of the high school by several student ambassadors including seniors Michella Mousaed and Yvonne Gonzalez.

    Students offer a tour of the school while others document the experience.“I’ve been giving tours since freshman year,” said Mousaed. “I was excited to have the opportunity to give this high-profile visitor a tour. We planned what to wear, what to say, and how to make the tour hit all the important details about our school.”

    Ritsch also visited journalism teacher Adriana Chavira’s class where he did a Q and A session with the students.  He offered a brief personal biography explaining his path from Princeton University, where he was managing editor of the student newspaper, to the Times and the Department of Education. 

    “In every job I’ve gotten, someone has gotten my resume to the attention of the hiring manager," said Ritsch, 37. "Then, once I got in the door I had to sell myself.”

    Ritsch's two-hour visit was documented by a student camera crew of Gary Balyezan, Orlando Munoz and Robert Linares. They skillfully walked backward dodging various obstacles on the campus.  The students in the media class will take their footage and edit it to hand in as an assignment just two days later.  All aspects of the experience were designed to give students real-world experience from the press conference to the reporting deadlines.

    Now that he is on the other side of the camera, Ritsch said that he does his best to keep reporters “happy and fed” by being straightforward and honest with them.

    He joked about how appropriate it is for a journalism school like Daniel Pearl to have the shark as the school mascot.

    “In public relations jobs, you often feel like you’re in a pool of sharks.”