NASA’s JPL engineers talk to Shelyn Elementary students in Rowland Heights

JPL engineer Anita Sengupta is talking to Shelyn Elementary students this morning in Rowland Heights.

JPL engineer Anita Sengupta is talking to Shelyn Elementary students this morning in Rowland Heights.

Two engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will talk to Shelyn Elementary  students this morning in Rowland Heights.  The engineers will discuss their work on the Curiosity Mission to Mars.

Dr. Anita Sengupta will explain her work for Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing on the Red Planet.  On Aug. 5, NASA landed its most capable robot on Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission placed 2,000 lb rover, the size of a compact car, on the plains of Mars.

The rover will search for organic compounds, study the climate and geology, and continue the search for life.  One of the most challenging aspects of the mission, from an engineering perspective, was safely landing the rover on the surface.

The entry descent and landing (EDL) system used a heat shield to accommodate its hypersonic entry conditions, followed by a supersonic parachute, and eight retro rockets for the powered descent phase.

For its final terminal descent, a maneuver called the sky crane was used where the rover was lowered on tethers for touchdown. The JPL engineers will  talk about the motivation for Mars Exploration and how the MSL EDL engineering challenges were tackled with computational modeling and cutting edge experimental techniques.

Business and civic leaders become principals for the day in Rowland, Hacienda-La Puente schools

Business and community leaders from across the San Gabriel Valley learned what it is like to be a school principal as they support schools and student scholarships at the annual “Principal for a Day” event today.

Schools across Bassett, Hacienda La Puente, Rowland Unified School Districts, and the La Puente Valley Regional Occupational Program open up their doors and invite community leaders to be “guest” principals that morning.

A luncheon was held at the Industry Hills Expo Center with special guest speakerAlysha Del Valle, traffic reporter for KABC-TV Channel 7 Eyewitness News.

Thanks to corporate sponsors, 10 high school scholarships, three Adult Education scholarships and one ROP scholarship were presented at the Principal for a Day Luncheon.

Rowland superintendent to step down, search is on for replacement

 By Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo

After a tumultuous year, Superintendent Ruben Frutos has indicated he is willing to step down into his old position while the district searches for a replacement.

The school district directed its staff Tuesday night to send out proposals for search firms to begin the process. The “request for proposals” will be in the mail next week, according to the district.

Board President Heidi Gallegos said the board may have a list of search firms by its next meeting on March 25.

A search for a new superintendent could take between four and six months, she estimated.

Board members, parents and members of the teachers union said Wednesday the move toward securing a new superintendent ended a year of tension that often resulted in hundreds of people attending board meetings and picketing on the street, and union members waving signs demanding Frutos step down.

In February, the Association of Rowland Educators formerly asked the board to search for a new superintendent, after a survey of its members revealed only 3 percent of teachers who responded wanted him to stay.

“The association definitely got what we wanted. Absolutely,” said John Petersen, ARE president. “But it was really a community issue and the community was pretty vocal (Tuesday) night.”

Read more in ROWLAND.

Rowland Unified looking for new superintendent

STATEMENT BY GOVERNING BOARD OF THE ROWLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT AND SUPERINTENDENT

 At this evening’s regular Rowland Unified School District Board of Education meeting, the Board and Superintendent shared that Ruben Frutos has expressed a preference and recommended that the Board commence a search for a new Superintendent. The Board directed staff to gather information and proposals from qualified search firms. A report back to the Board is expected at the March 25, 2014 Study Session.

 Mr. Frutos continues to serve as the District Superintendent. His current contract remains in effect through June 30, 2014.

 It was also reported at the meeting that the Superintendent discussed with the Board a return to the Deputy Superintendent of Administrative Services position starting in July. The Board of Education is expected to consider and take action on these matters at the next regular Board Meeting scheduled on April 16, 2014.

Rowland Unified teachers want a 10 percent raise

By Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo

Raises for teachers are just some of the major issues before the school board Tuesday night.

The board Tuesday will hear from Douglas Staine, assistant superintendent of human resources, on the status of ongoing labor talks with Association of Rowland Educators (ARE)  and with the California School Employees Association (CSEA).

The district and its teachers are moving closer on the issue of salary hikes.

ARE moved from 12.5 percent over two years to 10 percent over one year. The district moved its offer from 3.5 percent to a 4.5 percent salary increase over two years.

The district also proposed increasing its maximum health benefits contribution for teachers by $850 over two years.

The district is concerned about the teachers’ proposal for a one-year pay hike for this year, retroactive to July 1, 2013. “This was a significant departure from prior sessions because both teams had been exchanging two year compensation proposals for 2013-14 and 2014-15,” according to the district’s “Negotiation Update” released Feb. 25.

Petersen said the union negotiators consolidated their offer into one year because the teachers are not sure what to expect from the district next year. He was positive about the district’s funding presentation from Ron Bennett, a consultant hired by RUSD.

But the teachers said there is too much uncertainty in scheduling of teacher training days and in other aspects of work days. “We are trying to develop a system where we have a plan. In this district, in the last decade, plans change from month to month.”

Petersen added: “It is the culture of the district. It has everything to do with trust and controlling our working conditions.”

Beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience earn an annual salary of $45,180 at RUSD, which is ranked 18th out of 47 school districts, according to a salary survey from the Los Angeles County Office of Education dated June 2013. Arcadia Unified was No. 1 with starting salaries at $49,874; Bassett Unifed was near the bottom at $38,776. Charter Oak was last at $38,495.

Teachers with a master’s degree and listed as the maximum salary step for RUSD earn $69,216, for a ranking of 21 out of 34 districts for which there was comparable data, according to the LACOE report.

RUSD operates 19 schools in Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Puente, Industry and West Covina — with 15,000 students. Board meetings are held at district headquarters, 1830 S. Nogales St., at 5:30 p.m. for the closed session and 7 p.m. for the regular session.

Rowland school board to “discuss” superintendent’s contract

By Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo

The fate of the Rowland Unified superintendent — including the next phase of his contract —is one of the major issues before the school board Tuesday night.

Board members of the Rowland Unified School District are scheduled to vote on an amendment to Superintendent Ruben Frutos’ contract. The district is tight-lipped about whether that means retaining Frutos for a longer period of time. His contract runs out June 30.

For almost a year, teachers, parents and community members have staged protests, wrote letters and emails and pleaded in person before the five-member board to open the superintendent’s position to other applicants by conducting an extensive search.

The Association of Rowland Educators officially asked for an open search on Feb. 4, saying the 700-member teachers union has no confidence in Frutos. He has not served as a teacher or principal and has not proven himself a worthy leader, according to ARE President John Petersen.

The request for a superintendent search, however, is only a discussion item and not scheduled for board action.

“A member of the community brought this forward and under our board policy, we are respectfully putting it on the agenda,” Board president Heidi Gallegos said Monday. “We will have a discussion.”

Gallegos declined to elaborate on the amendment of the superintendent’s contract, only to say it will first be discussed in closed session.

RUSD operates 19 schools in Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Puente, Industry and West Covina — with 15,000 students. Board meetings are held at district headquarters, 1830 S. Nogales St., at 5:30 p.m. for the closed session and 7 p.m. for the regular session.

Mt SAC wins gold medals in SkillsUSA contest

Mt. San Antonio College vocational education students won four gold medals, three silver, and a bronze at the SkillsUSA regional competition held recently at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and seven qualified to advance to the 47th Annual State Leadership Conference competition on April 24-27 at the Town Country Resort and Convention Center in San Diego. 

Rhiannon Britney (West Covina) and Kevin Velasquez (Ontario) won gold medals in technical drafting and will advance to the state competition. Sukhdev Singh (Chino) won a gold medal for technical design and will advance to state. In the electronics technology competition, Jose Gomez (Azusa) won first place and Cesar Bustamante (Anaheim) took the silver medal. Both will advance to the state level. In telecommunications cabling, Samuel Arrieta (Monrovia) took second place and Hyun Cha (Rowland Heights) won third place with both advancing to state.

Other competitors for Mt. SAC were Carlos Galdamez (West Covina) with a silver medal in technical drafting, Trevor Lauritson (Pomona) with a fifth-place finish in technical drafting, and Rodrigo Del Villar (El Monte) with sixth place in the computer maintenance technology competition.

First-place winners at the state competition will advance to the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference slated for June 21-27 in Kansas City, Missouri. 

The SkillsUSA championships are showcases for the best career and technical students in the country. Contests begin locally and continue through the state and national levels. More than 5,600 students are expected to compete at this year’s national event. 

SkillsUSA is a nationally affiliated vocational club representing secondary and post-secondary students in the trade, technical and health fields. The vocational education organization represents more than a quarter million students in over 13,000 chapters nationwide.

Diamond Bar soccer player scores in fight against cancer

By Staff Writer Richard Irwin

Marissa Favela has fought hard to play in the first-round of Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoff against visiting Mayfield.

While teammates were battling on the field, the Diamond Bar High School girls soccer player took on cancer.

The 16-year-old recently returned to school and the sport she loves so much. Though still recovering her strength, the midfielder has scored goals in the last two games.

But just returning to the soccer field has made her a winner in the eyes and hearts of her coaches and teammates.

“I think she has inspired all of us,” coach Matt Brummett said. “It changes your perspective. While we were fighting on the field, Marissa was fighting for her life.”

The junior has been playing on the Brahma’s soccer team since her freshman year. She had been named to this newspaper’s All Valley Team for her play. She scored the game-tying goal in a 2013 quarterfinal playoff against Bishop Amat that sent the game to overtime.

Fortunately for Favela, her playoff dreams are not finished.

Coach Brummett was impressed when the young woman asked to return to the soccer team in midseason.

“She had such determination to play on the team again,” he recalled. “Marissa’s tough, fighting for everything.”

Though still recovering from surgery and chemotherapy, Favela felt it was important to return to the team when she returned to the local high school.

“My illness began when doctors discovered a benign tumor on my ovary last year,” she explained.

Surgeons removed the tumor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. But another tumor appeared, so doctors decided further surgery would be followed by several courses of chemotherapy.

“I was too sick to return to school, so I studied at home the first semester,” the Brahmas standout said. “The chemo made me nauseous and very tired.”

A third tumor was removed shortly before Christmas. Now, doctors screen her every six weeks with an MRI.

Throughout her ordeal, Favela’s spirits have been buoyed by family and friends such as teammate Angie Puerta.

The 17-year-old junior would visit her friend at Children’s Hospital as well as at home in Diamond Bar.

“I was very sad because she was so sick, but I was grateful when she began to feel better,” Puerta said. “I know how much she loves soccer, so I wasn’t surprised when she came back to the team.”

Favela, who has dreams of playing at Oregon State University, admits her strength and stamina is only half of what it was before her illness. But she says she feels a little better every day.

Favela didn’t look like anyone overcoming an illness at Wednesday’s practice, she looked like her old self, getting ready for another playoff run.

“We’re dedicating our season to her,” said Assistant Coach Jameson Campbell. “She’s a tremendous ball handler, so I know she’ll help us in the playoffs.”

Jeopardy champion visits Walnut Elementary School

Walnut Elementary students Jeremy Cai, Daisie Leng and Jimmy Wu played Jeopardy! with Ken Jennings, the game’s biggest winner of all time.  Photo by Kelli Gile

Walnut Elementary students Jeremy Cai, Daisie Leng and Jimmy Wu played Jeopardy! with Ken Jennings, the game’s biggest winner of all time. Photo by Kelli Gile

By Kelli Gile, Walnut Valley Unified

About 180 Walnut Elementary students got a special visit from Jeopardy! champion and New York Times bestselling author Ken Jennings on Feb. 14. Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak on the popular game show hosted by Alex Trebek.

He told the Walnut students they wouldn’t remember him because he was on Jeopardy! a decade ago. But their principal did.

Principal Janet Green said she watched Jennings on the show for weeks and weeks and weeks and could not believe how phenomenal he was.

“He is like the Kobe Bryant of Jeopardy!,” she told the students.

Jennings stopped by the Walnut school to visit with the excited group of third to fifth graders during his book tour for his brand new series, Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guides.

Kids can earn whiz-kid status with the Maps and Geography and Greek Mythology books. The popular series helps them become experts and learn how to wow their friends and families with clever facts and the best stories.

“I’m always exciting to be at an elementary school and see your happy, smiling faces. And I’ll bet you guys are excited too because you got out of class for this!” he joked.

The children giggled at his silly stories and jokes

“Ten years ago I was on Jeopardy!, but now I write children’s books,” he shared with the group assembled in the multipurpose room.

He told the students they tape the show months and months in advance. And they tape five shows in one day.

Jennings played the game on 75 shows. He was on Jeopardy! a total of six months. He flew from his home to Los Angeles for the tapings.

“I would play for two days and ten shows and win a crazy amount of money,” he said.

“And I couldn’t tell anybody where I was because they didn’t want to ruin the surprise,” he said. Only his boss and wife were in on it.  Jennings couldn’t share his big news his parents, friends or co-workers.

“I had this totally excited secret double life and I couldn’t tell anyone!”

After each show his head hurt from all the thinking, his feet hurt from standing, and even his thumb was sore from the clicker.

“It was very intense,” he said.

Jennings even had to find a way to borrow 75 ties on the sly from his friends.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve always been a huge fan of Jeopardy! because knowing stuff equals success,” he stated.

As a child, the author loved to read crazy facts books and delighted in sharing quirky tidbits with his family. And he also watched game shows every day.

“They had smart people who won fabulous prizes,” he said.

At age 10, his family moved to Korea where there was only one English language television channel on the American Army base. He began watching a lot of Jeopardy!.

“I just loved it. I just thought they were the smartest people I had ever seen,” he said.

Jennings decided that’s what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“You don’t have to have a super brain to be on the show,” he said. And he told the kids they are so much better at learning things than adults.

“I always wanted to be a writer. First I wrote books for grown-ups about maps,” he said.

Jennings said he became a children’s author when he realized kids would be more interested in learning about them. He also couldn’t find books full of crazy facts for his own kids.

“I had a hard time finding them, so I thought what if I just wrote them?”

Jennings said there’s going to be a bunch of other Junior Genius Guides too.

“The idea behind these books is learning stuff is fun if you’re learning about it in a fun way,” he said

He said even if a map seems boring, there’s always something cool like the names of the weirdest towns like Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky; Accident, Maryland; Ding Dong, Texas; and Burger Town, North Carolina. The kids howled at the silly names.

He shared some fun facts about the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, volcanic heads on Easter Island, the Great Sphinx of Giza, and the Little Mermaid statue in Denmark.

“I totally thought old-time statues would be boring, but it turns out that there are lots of cool secrets that I didn’t know,” he said.

And that’s idea behind the Junior Genius books. The series slogan is “it’s much better to know something about everything, than everything about something,” he said.

He encouraged the children to enjoy their classes.

“Everything is interesting if you look at it the right way. You should like every subject and learn about everything. And that’s a little tricky,” Jennings said.

“It means it’s better to know a little about every subject, not just having one favorite subject,” he explained.

Jennings told the kids that what they’re learning in school is actually going to pay off later.

“Maybe you’ll be more interesting, or a better person, or maybe you’ll go on Jeopardy! and break my record!” the author said.

Jennings answered several questions from the audience and then played a round of Jeopardy! with Walnut Elementary students Jeremy Cai – third grade, Daisie Leng – fourth grade and Jimmy Wu- fifth grade. The topics were geography and Greek mythology, of course.

The assembly was presented through Mrs. Nelson’s Book Fair Company.

La Puente student receives Young Leaders Scholarship

Jose Comi of La Puente is a recipient of the Young Leaders Scholarship from the National AIDS Memorial Grove.  The program received a record number of qualified applicants from which nine recipients were selected for their active roles of public service and leadership in the battle against HIV/AIDS. 

 Comi is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He hopes to one day use his education to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, this national scholarship program accepted applications from both college-bound high-school seniors and college undergraduate students.

 The nine recipients – four high-school students and five undergraduate students – will each receive $1,000 to $2,500 in financial support to continue their education.  The program also encourages continued community service on behalf of individuals touched by HIV/AIDS.