Walnut Valley begins first day of school

By Kelli Gile, Walnut Valley Unified

It’s back-to-school time in the Walnut Valley Unified School District. Nearly 14,600 students began classes in the 15 campuses on Monday, August 18.

“We had a great first day,” said Walnut High School Principal Jeff Jordan. ”Students and staff were excited to be back. There was an upbeat attitude all day.”

The teens happily chatted at break time, stopped by their lockers, and checked schedules before dashing off to their next class.

Maple Hill Elementary in Diamond Bar opened doors to its completely modernized campus in Diamond Bar.

Everyone was relocated to portable buildings during the $5.6 million construction project last year.

This was the first chance for students and their families to see the new school.

“We made it!” exclaimed Principal Nancy Stingley. “Everybody’s here and inside, everybody’s happy, and everybody’s smiling.”

“Wellyn’s very lucky she’s going to a brand new school,” said kindergarten parent Jocelyn Wong.

Fourth graders Gabrielle Zabresky, Valentina Yonemoto, Carlie Law and Ella Liu were excited to see their new classrooms before the school bell rang.

What do they like best about school?

“We love math – it’s fun!’ the girls exclaimed.

“It’s really nice,” commented parent Grace Wang just outside her child’s classroom.

Fifth grade teacher Shirley Conner greeted students who were lined up before the 8 a.m.school bell rang.

“Welcome back to school. It’s beautiful inside!” she said

“It’s such a gift to us,” beamed fourth grade teacher Tami Berry.

“Everything’s new and wonderful, and different. As we had time to get to know the school, you all will have time to get to know the school,” she told her students.

“It’s going to be a very fun place to learn,” Berry added.

The school has a brand-new interior design, multipurpose room and exterior landscaping. Classrooms feature state-of-the-art technology, skylights and generous storage cabinets. Six hundred new desks and chairs were purchased for the campus.

“It’s big and roomy, everything is clean and new, and up-to-date technologically,” said kindergarten teacher Lisa Esse, who has been at the school for 20 years.

“And every teacher is excited!”

“It’s like a new beginning for us. It’s beautiful, it’s kid-friendly and we have a lot of new technology that we didn’t have before,” said third grade teacher Sue Conrad-Kanstul.

Teachers will now use wireless microphones and be able project assignments using cool mobile stations that adjust up and down, she explained.

Kanstul is happy that she will no longer have her back to the screen while at the front of the class.

“The kids used to say ‘Mrs. Kanstul I can’t see the board.’ And now I can watch what I’m projecting. I would say it’s 21st century.”

“I look forward to another great school year at Suzanne Middle School,” said Principal Les Ojeda.

“We have a great number of returning students and new students that seem incredibly intelligent, enthusiastic and eager to learn.”

Westhoff Elementary celebrated the first day of school with balloons, chalk greetings, posters, music and a staff with welcoming smiles.

“It’s going to be a great school year!” said Principal Denise Rendon.

La Puente girls get new shoes, backpacks

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Local companies gathered Friday to help low-income girls get ready for the new school year in Rowland Unified. The generous gifts included new shoes, backpacks, school supplies and haircuts.

More than 300 students from Villa Corta, Hurley and Northam elementary schools were selected by school staff for the sixth annual Aldabella Scarpa Giveback Event.

The Covina shoe designer started the event as a way of encouraging young women in low-income areas.

“We want these young girls to have an amazing, positive experience and not allow circumstances in their lives to create limits,” said co-founder Monica Gonzales. “We want to show them that our community supports them and we want them to dream big.”

Gonzales and her sister, Ann Marie Smith, went to school at Villa Corta and wanted to do something special for the La Puente school. So six years ago, they began giving a new pair of shoes to deserving students.

Over the years, the event has continued to grow as more sponsors joined the ranks. California Credit Union provides new backpacks filled with school supplies. Other sponsors include Walmart, Global Processing System, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks and Stater Brothers.

Free haircuts were given by Supercuts of West Covina, helped by OMG Hair Accessories.

“The part I like the best is the kids’ smiles,” said Villa Corta Principal John Martinez. “It shows our students that lots of people in our community support them.”

Martinez will welcome 525 students in transitional kindergarten to sixth grade on Monday, when Rowland Unified begins the new school year. The young women will have everything they need to start school.

Families flocked around four tables filled with craft activities courtesy of Home Depot in Industry. The Cake Mamas from Glendora were very popular, giving out their award-winning cupcakes. The backpacks even included coupons for free food from Taco Nazo in La Puente.

Sara Posadas, 12, of La Puente loves the five pairs of shoes she received while attending Villa Corta. Now, she was helping her 8-year-old sister Johana get ready for the fourth grade.

“I was always excited to get new shoes and a backpack,” Sara recalled. “Now my sister is excited too.”

The Romero sisters from Northam Elementary agreed. Dayanara, 9, and Jennesse, 6, were both loaded down with their new shoes and backpacks.

“Their family says this is a big help for them,” translated Principal Martinez.

For the sisters, they incorporated the donation as part of their business model. Smith and Monica Gonzales design shoes for their Covina boutique Aldabella Scarpa at 832 N. Grand Ave. The company donates a pair of “I Matter” tennis shoes to disadvantaged youths for every set sold in stores. The shoes retail for $42.

The sisters say their great-grandfather was a shoe designer in Mexico. He passed his craft on to their grandfather and father.

“They were both cobblers in Monterey, Mexico,” Gonzales explained. “So we always knew the importance of quality shoes.”

The Spanish-speaking women grew up in La Puente, where they learned the importance of education in the Rowland Unified schools. Smith became a educator, serving 24 years as a teacher and administrator.

“It was hard starting a new business during the recession, but our company has grown slowly on-line at www.aldascarpa.com,” Gonzales said. “Today, we employ 10 people, who handle sales of more than $500,000 a year.”

And the Covina company recently added an clothing line to its inventory.

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Rowland teachers train for Common Core

By Richard Irwin

It may be called Common Core, but the teaching techniques are anything but common. As instructors in Rowland Unified discovered during two days of workshops.

School districts have been gearing up for the implementation of Common Core over the past couple of years. Anxious teachers have been learning how to adapt their teaching styles to the new guidelines.

“They’re anxious because it sounds like everything is new,” explained Jeanette Chien, Rowland’s executive director of educational services. “But this is their opportunity to share ideas because we need to teach differently for Common Core.”

She says the goal is to develop students who can think independently. This is quite a change from the memorization that many of us grew up with.

“The instruction will be more rigorous for both the students and the teachers,” Chien said. “But, we need to do a better job of preparing our students for college and careers afterward.”

For more read http://m.sgvtribune.com/sgvtribune/article/dkI6bzAU

Applications open for Spotlight Program at the Music Center

The Music Center today announced that applications are open for The Music Center’s 27th Annual Spotlight Program.  Southern California high school students who are interested in the performing arts are encouraged to apply to participate in Spotlight, one of the nation’s premier arts education and scholarship programs for teens.  

The program, which provides arts training by professional artists and awards more than $100,000 in scholarships, is part of The Music Center’s commitment to helping all students receive outstanding arts learning experiences in their schools and in the community.  

More than 40,000 students have participated in Spotlight to date, and the program has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships to aspiring performers and artists.

Spotlight is free and open to all students who attend high school in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

 Students of all skill levels can apply in one of seven categories, including ballet, non-classical dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, and acting, a new category added this year.  

Those students applying to the acting category must apply by October 1, 2014.  Students interested in all other categories must apply by October 20, 2014.  Applications are available at musiccenter.org/spotlight.

Spotlight was developed by The Music Center to offer distinctive learning opportunities at every stage of artistic development.  According to Jeri Gaile, director of The Music Center’s Spotlight program, Spotlight provides invaluable professional guidance in the performing arts to thousands of Southern California high school students each year.

 “Spotlight is much more than a competition; it provides an opportunity not only for artistic growth, where young artists can improve their audition and performance skills, but also a pathway for personal growth as young performers gain confidence and self-esteem.  Those are skills that are critical for success in life,” she explained.

All students enrolled in the program work with professionals to develop audition skills and knowledge in their performance disciplines.  Those students selected by professional judges to advance as semifinalists participate in master classes, compete to perform at The Music Center and receive cash scholarships.  

Grand Prize Finalists in each category receive $5,000 scholarships.  Honorable Mentions receive $1,000 scholarships and semifinalists receive $300 scholarships.  In addition, selected preliminary students will receive $100 scholarships.

In addition to the new acting category, The Music Center announced several changes to The Spotlight program for 2014, including the discontinuation of the two-dimensional and photography categories in favor of a greater emphasis on the performing arts.  

More opportunities will be added for students to gain insights about preparing for college and careers in the arts and related fields.  This year, the culminating performance will be presented on stage at The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Numerous Spotlight participants have gone on to successful professional careers.  Fifteen finalists are Presidential Scholars, and many more have joined or performed with professional companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, Metropolitan Opera, LA Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, among others.  

They include Misty Copeland, who made history as the first African American female in two decades to be appointed soloist at American Ballet Theatre; Adam Lambert and Josh Groban, pop recording artists; Erik Altemus currently starring in Pippin on Broadway; Yao Guan Zhai, associate principal clarinet of the Toronto Symphony; Gerald Clayton, Grammy Award winning jazz recording artist; and many others.  Many alumni return to the program to participate as judges and class instructors.

 Fredric M. Roberts is founding chairman of The Music Center Spotlight Awards, and Walter Grauman is creator/executive producer.  For more information about The Music Center’s Spotlight program, visitmusiccenter.org/spotlight or join the conversation onfacebook.com/spotlightawards.

Diamond Bar couple engaged where it all began, Quail Summit

Sometimes, you know from the first dance, the first kiss, that she is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. Sometimes, it takes 17 years.

Michael Siacunco and Sarah Lin of Diamond Bar became engaged Friday night at Quail Summit Elementary. Not something you see every day in a public school.

Siacunco, an airman who works in systems engineering at Buckley Air Force Base outside of Denver, recently returned home for leave. He thought it was time for the next step in their relationship. His younger brother, Cody, pushed Michael to ask Sarah, now a cardiac unit nurse at UCLA Medical Center, to marry him.

“I thought it was time for all or nothing, the title of our first dance,” Michael said.

So the young man began his campaign to win over Sarah’s heart. Gathering his friends, Michael planned a special night that would remind her of their time together.

He recruited her friend to “hang out” with Sarah last Friday. The friend took her on some “errands.” They stopped at Chaparral, where friends held up a sign reminding her of the first kiss.

They stopped at Diamond Bar High, where other friends reminded them of their shared past, then the Diamond Bar Center, where the couple had spent so many hours talking about life.

Arriving at Quail Summit, Sarah started crying when she saw rose petals on the sidewalks lit by candlelight, with strings of lights on the railings. A movie screen showed a special video made by Michael.

Friends led her to the amphitheater, where Sarah had chased a little boy 17 years ago. “It was kind of blurred because I was crying so hard,” she said.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story ENGAGED. 

Mt SAC VP Yamagata-Noji receives Rice Diversity and Equity Award

Mt. San Antonio College Student Services Vice President Dr. Audrey Yamagata-Noji was honored recently with the Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award in Sacramento. Yamagata-Noji was named for the award for establishing numerous programs that provide mentorship and tutoring services for underrepresented students.

She has been a champion of diversity and equity programs at Mt. SAC that support student success, including the college’s Bridge Program for first-time college students, the Arise Program for Asian and Pacific Islander students, and the Aspire Program for African-American students.

The award was established to honor community college staff, districts, colleges and programs that have made the greatest contribution toward diversity and equity at community colleges. 

“Dr. John W. Rice wanted all community college students to be treated equally, fairly, and with respect. All he wanted was for everyone to have an equal chance at an education, and the winners of the award today want the same thing,” said California Community Colleges Board of Governors President and Mt. SAC Trustee Dr. Manuel Baca.

The award is named after the former California Community Colleges Board of Governors member and the father of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. 

“For my father, being a part of the community college system was not just a profession, but it was a passion and indeed a mission and a calling,” said former the U.S. Secretary of State, who delivered the keynote address at the 14th annual awards ceremony. “He recognized that education is not a right, it’s a privilege and that someone stood up for him and that he must stand up for others.”

Yamagata-Noji has served as Student Services Vice President at Mt. SAC since 1996. A resident of Santa Ana, she has also served on the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education for over 30 years and is currently serving as board president. 

Rowland Unified passes $147 million budget with $9 million deficit

The Rowland Unified School Board has approved a $147 million budget for 2014-15 with a $9 million deficit. That amount could increase millions more if both sides approve the 8 percent raise reached in Tuesday’s tentative agreement with the teachers’ union.

In March, Rowland teachers declared an impasse in the stalled contract negotiations. The Association of Rowland Educators asked the state to send a mediator to handle further negotiations.

The school district announced the tentative agreement on Thursday. They said it had been reached 8 p.m. Tuesday during the fourth mediation session.

Under the multi-year agreement, teachers will receive a 4 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2013, as well as another salary increase of 4 percent effective July 1, 2014.

The school district’s maximum contribution to employee health and welfare benefits will also increase to $11,000, effective January 1, 2015. And there will be a $1,500 cash-in-lieu payment for eligible employees who elect to opt out of the district’s health and welfare benefits coverage.

“The association is pleased that after a very long struggle that a fair agreement has been reached and can be sent to membership for a vote,” said ARE President Shay Lohman.

“I am thrilled that the teams reached an agreement yesterday,” said Interim Superintendent John Roach. “The school year will begin with all employees focused on meeting the needs of our students.”

During the negotiations, the school board had to approve a budget for the coming school year, which will now have to be amended when the teachers’ new contract is approved.

Ajay Mohindra, Rowland’s interim chief financial officer, pointed out that 82 percent of the revenue next year will come from the new Local Control Funding Formula. Another 10 percent will come from the state, with the federal government kicking in 7 percent.

Total revenues should top $138 million, up from the $133 million received in the last fiscal year. As the new formula kicks in, revenues are projected to grow to $146 million in 2015-16 and more than $149 million in 2016-17.

But Rowland will still have to draw from its ending balance of $52 million to cover the double-digit deficit. That will draw reserves down to $41 million by the end of the next fiscal year, even more depending on the salary settlement.

“Nearly half of our expenditures is for teachers’ salaries and benefits,” Mohindra explained. “When you add the other classified salaries and benefits, that’s 79 percent of our budget.”

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story BUDGET.

Rowland Unified settles contract with teachers’ union

By Rowland Unified School District

The Rowland Unified School District Board of Education announced today that a comprehensive three year (2013-2016) tentative agreement was reached at approximately 8:15 p. m. on July 8 by the RUSD and Association of Rowland Educators (ARE) negotiation teams after meeting with the State-Appointed Mediator for a fourth mediation session.

As a result, there will be no formal negotiations during the 2014-2015 school year and only limited negotiations during the 2015-2016 school year.

“The tentative agreement reached clearly recognizes the dedicated work of our Rowland teachers while leaving the district in a solid financial position for the future. I would like to acknowledge the hard work done on both sides of the aisle by our bargaining teams,” said RUSD Board President Heidi L. Gallegos

Highlights of the Tentative Agreement include: multi-year agreement (2013-2016); salary increase of 4%, retroactive to July 1, 2013; Salary Increase of 4%, effective July 1, 2014; District’s maximum contribution to employee health and welfare benefits increased to $11,000, effective January 1, 2015; $1,500 cash- in-lieu payment for eligible employees who elect to opt out of District health and welfare benefits coverage; late start to continue at high schools for 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years; and reduced counselor ratios.

“The Association is pleased that after a very long struggle that a fair agreement has been reached and can be sent to membership for a vote. We are very grateful for the leadership provided recently by interim Superintendent Dr. Roach and we are excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for RUSD,” said ARE President Shay Lohman.

The tentative agreement will be presented to ARE members for ratification within the next 2-3 weeks. After ratification by ARE members, it will be presented to the school board at its’ Aug. 12 meeting. As part of the District’s review process, the economic provisions of the Tentative Agreement will also be shared with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Each team vowed to work diligently to implement the terms of the agreement once the tentative agreement is ratified/approved by all parties.

“I am thrilled that the teams reached an agreement yesterday,” said Interim Superintendent, John Roach. “The school year will begin with all employees focused on meeting the needs of our students.”

Bargaining team members for the School District were: Ajay Mohindra, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services; Melissa Neal, Director Pupil Services; Jason Gass, Principal Killian; Sergio Canal, Principal Nogales High School; and Douglas Staine, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources.

ARE negotiation team members were: Eileen Fetters, Executive Director of ARE; John Petersen, Teacher Rowland High School; Clare Ruesga, teacher

Rowland High School; Gilbert Navarro, Teacher Oswalt Academy; Sharyn Sigler, Teacher Oswalt Academy; and Yvonne Martini, Teacher Hollingworth Elementary.

Walnut High students compete at Future Business Leaders of America meeting in Nashville

Clockwise from top left: Ricci Lam, Henry Ao, Howard Chen, Adviser Neil Jacoby, Kevin Chen, Zachary Woo and Rhea Lin.

Clockwise from top left: Ricci Lam, Henry Ao, Howard Chen, Adviser Neil Jacoby, Kevin Chen, Zachary Woo and Rhea Lin.

By Kelli Gile, Walnut Valley Unified

More than 10,000 of America’s best and brightest youth traveled to the historic city of Nashville to make some history of their own as they showcased their talents as future business leaders and vied for the opportunity to win over $165,000 in cash awards.

Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL), the largest and oldest student business organization, held its National Leadership Conference in Nashville on June 29–July 2.

Four students from Walnut High School received national recognition at the FBLA Awards of Excellence on July 2.

Kevin Chen competed in Business Calculations and brought home 7th Place. Howard Chen, Ricci Lam, and Henry Ao competed as a team in Network Design and took 9th Place in the nation.

“All of the students worked extremely hard, and I am very proud of their accomplishments,” said Neil Jacoby, Walnut High FBLA adviser.

Participants from across the United States and two countries were in attendance for this exciting conference to sharpen their core business skills, expand their networks, and participate in more than 60 business and business-related competitive events.

The awards were part of a comprehensive national competitive events program sponsored by FBLA-PBL that recognizes and rewards excellence in a broad range of business and career-related areas.

For many students, the competitive events are the capstone activity of their academic careers. In addition to the competitions, students immersed themselves in educational workshops, visited an information-packed exhibit hall, and attended motivational keynotes on a broad range of business topics.

Walnut Solar Car ready to roll in Solar Car Challenge in Texas

Walnut’s solar car looked like a miniature aircraft carrier as it floated down Pomona Boulevard. I expected small jets to land on its flight deck at any minute.

But this futuristic car was only making another test run before the Walnut Valley students load it up for the annual Solar Car Challenge in Texas next week.

The sleek, aerodynamic vehicle was testament to clever engineering by two dozen students from Diamond Bar and Walnut high schools, as well as Suzanne Middle School.

The team will be the only challenger from California in the challenge. But hopes are high that the Walnut Valley team will do well again. Last year, the team captured second place in the open division.

 

 

And the students have learned from their mistakes, building a new car from the ground up. It’s taken a full year to design and develop, but the car, dubbed Horus after the Egyptian sun god, is ready.

The petite pilot, co-captain Rhea Lin, was all smiles as she slid into the sleek shell. Clambering under the large solar panels, only her helmeted head appeared in the custom tear-shaped canopy.

“We’ll do well, the Walnut Solar Car team has worked really hard to finish our new car,” said Lin from the safety of her three-point harness.

In fact, the local teens have been meeting every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to build their solar sailor. Horus is powered only by the rays of the sun.

Read more in Rich Irwin’s story SOLAR.