Candidatos de MUSD Hablan Sobre Desempeño Académico de Estudiantes

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Estudiantes del Distrito Unificado de Montebello han regresado a la escuela y los candidatos para dos puestos en la Junta de Educación dicen que quieren asegurarse que los estudiantes esten en camino a ingresar a la universidad o con una carrera después de la graduación.

A través de los años, el distrito escolar predominantemente latino, ha hecho grandes avances en la mejora de la tasa de graduación, que de acuerdo con el Departamento de Educación de California se sitúa actualmente en el 94 por ciento.

Read this article in English: MUSD Candidates Take on Student Performance

“Es el más alto en años”, cuenta David Vela, miembro de la Junta quien está postulándose a la reelección.

Vela y el presidente de la Junta, Edgar Cisneros, se enfrentarán entre si y ante sus retadores Joanna Flores de Commerce y Nancy Hernández de Montebello en las elecciones del 3 de noviembre. La junta de MUSD supervisa diecisiete primarias, seis escuelas intermedias, cinco preparatorias y dos escuelas de continuación en Bell Gardens, Commerce,  Este de Los Ángeles, Montebello, Monterey Park y Pico Rivera.

El Distrito une sus números de graduación a su baja tasa de abandono del 1.4%: Ambos el condado y el estado tienen las tasas de abandono de más del 3%, mientras que cerca de tres veces más estudiantes abandonan el distrito vecino de MUSD al oeste, el Distrito Unificado de Los Angeles.

Pero Flores dice que las tasas de graduación no cuentan toda la historia. Ella dice que las mediciones académicas muestran que demasiados estudiantes todavía se están quedando atrás.

“Cuando comparamos el Distrito con otros en el estado nos quedamos cortos”, dijo la oponente para un asiento en la Junta.

 

Estudiantes del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello utilizan computadoras para tomar sus exámenes. (Archivo de EGP)

Estudiantes del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello utilizan computadoras para tomar sus exámenes. (Archivo de EGP)

De acuerdo con datos del estado, sólo dos de 17 escuelas primarias de MUSD han alcanzado la meta estatal de 800 en el Índice de Rendimiento Académico API: Montebello Gardens y Potrero Heights. Macy Intermediate es la única escuela media para llegar a la meta, pero ninguna preparatoria ha alcanzado la puntuación de 800 en la evaluación orientada a medir el rendimiento y progreso académico de las escuelas públicas.

Mientras que los candidatos de la junta escolar pueden sacar resultados de exámenes pasados para incrementar su posición, el sub-superintendente Art Revueltas le dijo a EGP que los resultados de API son una cosa del pasado. El año pasado estudiantes fueron introducidos al Consorcio de Asesoramiento Balanceado Inteligente (SBAC). El nuevo examen es diferente a los anteriores de lápiz y papel, ahora los estudiantes toman un examen en computadora que incluye secciones de respuestas largas sin límite de tiempo; los estudiantes incluso están permitidos a tomar el examen por segunda vez.

“Es imperativo que no comparemos estos resultados con cualquier otra cosa”, dijo. “Vamos de naranjas a manzanas”.

Los resultados de SBAC aún no se han revelado, pero Revueltas dijo que espera que los estudiantes obtengan buenos resultados porque SBAC pondrá “a prueba lo que los maestros enseñan en el aula”.

Sin embargo, es difícil alejarse del uso de los datos de prueba en la evaluación de desempeño, Por ejemplo, de los 2,114 estudiantes que se graduaron el año pasado, sólo 583 se inscribieron en los cursos A-G requeridos para las admisiones de Cal State y la Universidad de California.

Vela dice que los miembros de la Junta están conscientes de la desigualdad y han adoptado iniciativas innovadoras para mejorar la situación, como por ejemplo las 10 vías curriculares ofrecidas en todo el Distrito.

A través de las vías, los estudiantes toman los rigurosos cursos A-G destinados a prepararlos para la universidad y una carrera, como ingeniería, artes culinarias, computación  o  salud.

Todavía no está claro cuántos de estos estudiantes llegan a algún tipo de universidad después de la graduación.

Flores, profesora en el Colegio del Este Los Ángeles, cree que la participación de los padres es clave para el éxito del estudiante. Ella quiere que el distrito escolar este más comprometido con los padres y les dé un papel de liderazgo para lograr que los estudiantes de MUSD estén preparados para la universidad.

“Como primera generación graduada de la universidad, sé lo difícil que es tratar de navegar a través del proceso de la universidad”, dijo Flores.

Vela está de acuerdo y dice que el Distrito ha iniciado programas para ayudar a los estudiantes a entrar a la universidad. Señala la colaboración de MUSD con la organización no lucrativa College Bound Today, que se ofrece en todas las preparatorias y empata a un número selecto de estudiantes con mentores para guiarlos a través del proceso de solicitud de la universidad. El año pasado, el 100 por ciento de los estudiantes en el programa se matriculó en la universidad, dijo Vela.

Según Revueltas, el 80 por ciento de los graduados de MUSD terminan una carrera de 2 o 4 años. Un 2 por ciento adicional se enlista en el ejército.

Los datos muestran que, incluso aquellos en la universidad tienen problemas. Durante el año académico 2013-2014, poco más de 1,500 de los más de 10,000 estudiantes de MUSD tomaron exámenes de nivel avanzado. Para la mayoría de las universidades se requiere una puntuación de 3 para recibir crédito por el curso de la universidad, pero muchas universidades sólo aceptan las puntuaciones de 4 y 5.

Ese año, sólo 363 estudiantes que tomaron el examen recibieron una puntuación de 4 y apenas 158 recibieron una puntuación de 5. El problema, sin embargo, no es exclusivo de MUSD: Alrededor del 15 por ciento de estudiantes de preparatoria de los grados 9 a 12 del LAUSD inscritos en cursos AP sólo obtienen una puntuación de 3 o menos, según el Departamento de Educación.

La desconexión se puede encontrar en la demografía socioeconómica del alumnado, de acuerdo con Flores. De los 29,000 alumnos matriculados en el Distrito, casi el 96 por ciento son latinos y casi el 87 por ciento califican para comidas gratis o a precio reducido, debido a los bajos ingresos familiares.

Para Cisneros, la tecnología puede ser un gran ecualizador. Dijo que MUSD está haciendo que los estudiantes sean más competitivos mediante la mejora de su acceso a la tecnología y la modernización de la infraestructura.

“Yo quiero que tengan acceso a la tecnología que se va a utilizar en el mundo real”, dijo.

“Quiero ver clubes de computadoras, robótica y tecnología en cada escuela”, dijo con entusiasmo.

Los costos, sin embargo, a menudo pueden ser un obstáculo para la velocidad y la calidad de la ejecución de esos programas.

Asegurarse que las escuelas están cumpliendo con las normas fundamentales comunes, requerir a los distritos que estén tecnológicamente listos ha sido un reto incluso para los vecinos al oeste de MUSD, señala Vela.

El último Plan de Responsabilidad de Control Local (LCAP), que distribuye fondos adicionales para las escuelas con gran número de estudiantes de bajos ingresos, los estudiantes aprendices de inglés (EL) y los niños de crianza será de vital importancia en la aplicación de la tecnología en las aulas, dijo Vela. La fórmula de financiación revisada tiene como objetivo reducir la brecha de logros en las escuelas de más pobre rendimiento.

Alrededor de un tercio de los estudiantes de MUSD son estudiantes aprendices de inglés, un número mayor que en el LAUSD.

En el distrito escolar de Montebello, cerca del 98 por ciento de los estudiantes aprendices de inglés hablan español. Otras lenguas incluyen cantonés, armenio, vietnamita, mandarín y una docena más. El año pasado, el 9 por ciento de los estudiantes aprendices de inglés fueron reclasificados como Dominantes Fluidos del Inglés, la mayoría de ellos para el tercer grado, dijo Revueltas.

Revueltas señala sin embargo que el número de estudiantes aprendices de inglés está disminuyendo debido a un menor número de inmigrantes que se están mudando al Distrito.

Mantener financiación LCAP dependerá de la asistencia, algo que mejoró el año pasado, pero sigue siendo un reto para el tercer distrito escolar más grande del condado de Los Ángeles, reconoció Cisneros.

Revueltas dijo que la disponibilidad de fondos LCAP permite tener clases con tamaños más pequeños en las escuelas primarias, guarderías de día completo y mejorar el acceso a la tecnología en todo el distrito.

“Cada año el reto es algo diferente, pero la prioridad es siempre el rendimiento estudiantil”, dijo Revueltas.

Con la elección de la Junta Escolar a sólo dos meses de distancia, titulares y aspirantes deben comenzar los detalles de sus planes para lograr ese objetivo.

Nancy Hernández no respondió a la petición de EGP para hacer comentarios.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

MUSD Candidates Take on Student Performance

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Montebello Unified students have returned to school and candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education say they want to make sure students are on track for college admission or a career beyond graduation.

Over the years, the predominately Latino school district has made great strides in improving its graduation rate, which according to the California Department of Education currently stands at 94 percent.

“It’s the highest it’s been in years,” boasts Boardmember David Vela, who is up for reelection.

Vela and Board President Edgar Cisneros will face off against each other and outside challengers Joanna Flores of Commerce and Nancy Hernandez of Montebello in the Nov. 3 Election. The MUSD board oversees seventeen elementary, six intermediate and five high schools as well as two continuation or day schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

The District ties its graduation numbers to its low 1.4% drop out rate: Both the county and state have drop out rates of over 3%, while nearly three times as many students drop out of MUSD’s neighbor to the west, L.A. Unified.

But Flores says graduation rates don’t tell the whole story. She says academic measurements show too many students are still falling behind.

“When we compare the District to others across the state we fall short,” the school board challenger said.

According to state data, only two of MUSD’s 17 elementary schools have reached the state goal of 800 on the API Academic Performance Index: Montebello Gardens and Portrero Heights. Macy Intermediate is the only middle school to reach the goal but no high school has achieved the 800 score on the assessment aimed at measuring the academic performance and progress of public schools.

While school board candidates may pull out past test results to bolster their positions, Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas told EGP API scores are a thing of the past. Last year students were introduced to Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. The news exams differ from the pencil and paper tests in years past, now students are taking a computer-based exam that includes long answer sections without a time limit; students are even allowed to retake the test.

“It’s imperative we don’t compare these results to anything else,” he said. “We’re going from oranges to apples.”

SBAC results have not yet been released but Revueltas said he expects students will perform better because SBAC will “test what teachers teach in the classroom.”

It’s hard to get away from using test data when evaluating performance, however.

For example, of the 2,114 students who graduated last year, only 583 were enrolled in A-G courses required for Cal State and University of California admissions.

Vela says board members are aware of the disparity and have adopted innovative initiatives to improve the situation, such as the 10 curriculum pathways offered across the District.

Through the pathways, students take rigorous A-G approved courses aimed at preparing them for college and a career, such as engineering, culinary arts, computer graphics or health.

It’s not yet clear how many pathway students go on to some type of college after graduation.

Flores, a professor at East Los Angeles College, believes parent engagement is key to student success. She wants the school district to become more engaged with parents and to give them a leadership role in getting MUSD students college-ready.

“As a first generation college graduate, I know how difficult it is trying to navigate through the college process,” Flores said.

Vela agrees and says the District has initiated programs to help students get into college. He points to MUSD’s collaboration with the non-profit College Bound Today, which is offered at all high schools and matches a select number of students to mentors to guide them through the college application process. Last year, 100 percent of the students in the program enrolled in college, Vela said.

According to Revueltas 80 percent of MUSD graduates end up at either a 2-year or 4-year college. An additional 2 percent enlist in the military.

The data show that even those on the college track struggle. During the 2013-2014 academic year, just over 1,500 of over 10,000 MUSD high students took Advanced Placement exams. For most colleges a score of 3 is required to receive college course credit but many universities only accept scores of 4 and 5.

That year, only 363 students tested received a score of 4 and a mere 158 received a score of 5. The problem, however, is not unique to MUSD: About 15 percent of LAUSD’s 9-12 high school students enrolled in AP courses only to obtain a score of 3 or below, according to the Department of Education.

The disconnect can be found in the socio-economic demographics of the student body, according to Flores. Of the 29,000 students enrolled in the District, nearly 96 percent are Latino and nearly 87 percent qualify for free or reduced meals due to low family incomes.

For Cisneros, technology can be a great equalizer. He said MUSD is making students more competitive and marketable by improving their access to technology and modernizing infrastructure.

“I want them to have access to technology they are going to be using in the real world,” he said. “I want to see computer, robotics and technology clubs at every campus,” he said enthusiastically.

Costs, however, can often be a deterrent to the speed and quality of implementing such programs.

Ensuring schools are meeting common core standards, requiring districts to be technology ready has been a challenge even for MUSD’s neighbors to the west, Vela points out.

The latest Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which distributes additional funding to schools with large number of low-income students, English Learners, EL, and foster children will be vital in implementing technology in the classrooms, said Vela. The revised funding formula is aimed at reducing the achievement gap at poorer performing schools.

About one third of MUSD students are English learners, a number higher than in LAUSD.

In the Montebello school district, nearly 98 percent of English learners speak Spanish. Other languages include Cantonese, Armenian, Vietnamese, Mandarin and a dozen more. Last year, 9 percent of English learners were reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, most of them by third grade, said Revueltas.

Revueltas points out however that the number of English learners is decreasing because fewer immigrants are moving into the District.

Keeping LCAP funding will depend on attendance, something that improved last year but remains a challenge for L.A. County’s third largest school district, acknowledged Cisneros.

Revueltas said the availability of LCAP funds allow for smaller class sizes at elementary schools, full day kindergarten and improve access to technology district-wide.

“Every year the challenge is something different but the priority is always student achievement,” Revueltas said.

With the school board election just two months away, incumbents and challengers should start to detail their plans to achieve that goal.

Nancy Hernandez did not respond to EGP’s request for comment.

MUSD Students Head Back To School

August 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Nearly 65,000 students in the Montebello Unified School District said goodbye to summer and hello to the new school year this week.

Students from transitional kindergarten to adult school returned to classrooms equipped with backpacks and pencils. This year, transitional and full-day kindergarten will be offered at all 17 elementary schools in the district, which stretches across Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

Students at Washington Elementary in Montebello can’t hide their eager smiles during their first day of school Monday.   (Montebello Unified School District)

Students at Washington Elementary in Montebello can’t hide their eager smiles during their first day of school Monday. (Montebello Unified School District)

“We are extremely excited to offer rigorous and engaging programs this year for our entire District community of students,” said MUSD Board President Edgar Cisneros, who Monday welcomed parents and students back to school at Washington Elementary.

Montebello Unified Realigns Top Posts

July 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

After years with co-superintendents, the Montebello Unified School District has returned to its previous administrative structure with just one superintendent at the helm.

The school board voted June 25 to promote Susanna Contreras-Smith to the top post of Superintendent of Schools effective July 1. Contreras-Smith has served as superintendent of education since 2013; Co-Superintendent Cleve Pell will now serve as the District’s new chief financial and operations officer.

MUSD created the dual superintendent positions in 2011 both as a cost saving measure and to give the school board more time to conduct a national search when Edward Velazquez left to become superintendent of the Lynwood School District. Long-time district administrators Cleve Pell and Robert Henke were made official co-superintendents for a term that was to run through August 2012. Each was given a $25,000 pay boost, the combined amount substantially less than what a new superintendent would have cost MUSD.

(Montebello Unified School District)

Susanna Contreras Smith, was promoted June 25 to Superintendent of Schools at Montebello Unified School District. (Montebello Unified School District)

“Our District is under great leadership and in qualified hands with both Cleve Pell and Robert Henke. Between these two; they have nearly 80 years of experience working within the Montebello Unified School District,” said then-MUSD Board President, David Vela. He added the District would save “about $15,000 a month by tapping into the talent we already have” while the nationwide search for a permanent superintendent is underway.

But the position was not filled until now.

Contreras-Smith started her career in education more than 40 years ago at MUSD as an instructional aid, going on to become a teacher, principal and take on other leadership roles. She returned to MUSD in 2012 as associate superintendent of accountability and compliance, later replacing Henke as co-superintendent when he retired.

“With more than 40 years of experience – both in the classroom and as an administrator – I cannot think of anyone more capable and well suited for this position,” Pell said.

With the changes to district budgets with the LCAP (Local Control Funding and Accountability Plan) and LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), Pell’s new position was created to shift his focus on the district’s long term fiscal planning, according to district officials.

Born and raised in Boyle Heights Contreras-Smith previously told EGP that despite having opportunities elsewhere she decided to return to MUSD to give back to the community where she grew up.

“I will continue to work collaboratively with parents, teachers, staff and our community partners to ensure all students have access to a stellar 21st century education,” Contreras-Smith said.

 

 

Mental Health Awareness Coming to Montebello Schools

May 18, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Social workers at all four high schools in the Montebello Unified School District will conduct interactive activities next week to teach students techniques aimed at releasing tension, coping with stress and providing information about the various peer-support groups on campus.

The programs have been scheduled to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.

Christine Mariano, a social worker at Vail Continuation High School in Montebello, says the district wants to reduce the negative stigma tied to accessing mental health services.

“Mental health comes in all shapes and forms” and not everyone readily recognizes the signs, Mariano said Tuesday.

Students often believe they only need to speak to a social worker or counselor if they are “crazy,” Mariano explained, adding she’s seen it all.

Vail High School student Jorge Leal speaks about his day with on-site social worker Christine Mariano.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Vail High School student Jorge Leal speaks about his day with on-site social worker Christine Mariano. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Yes there’s schizophrenia, yes there’s bipolar or suicide,” but these illnesses start with other feelings before that, she said. That’s “why we’re here,” to be proactive, she said.

The National Institution of Mental Health reports that about 8 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, however, only 18 percent of the teens received mental health care.

According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, “Early and effective mental health treatment can prevent a significant proportion of delinquent and violent youth from future violence and crime.”

“It also enables children and adolescents to succeed in school, to develop socially and to fully experience the developmental opportunities of childhood,” the report states.

Many students experience low self-esteem, depression, aggression or anxiety, but don’t understand how those feelings relate to mental health, says Mariano, who has also helped students deal with the loss of a loved one.

These problems are especially prevalent at Vail High, a continuation school whose 400 or so students were referred by their home school because they were at-risk of not graduating on time.

“We want them not to be ashamed… everyone deals with anxiety,” said Mariano. For students, feelings of anxiety can be triggered by a romantic breakup, speaking in public, a traumatic experience, school workload, troubles at home or with social situations.

For 17-year old Jorge Leal, who learned earlier this year he would soon be a teen father, the support he has received from Mariano has helped him adjust to the big changes coming in his life. He told EGP he thought he was handling his emotions well, but soon realized the benefit of having someone to talk to about his situation.

“I like to deal with my problems on my own, but I know she is there if I need her,” Leal said about Mariano.

He admits he was at first confused when his guidance counselor recommended he speak to the school’s social worker, not having any idea what that meant or what would be involved.

“I thought it was psychological, with testing involved,” the teen said. “I wondered if they thought something was wrong” with me.

But that wasn’t the case, he said.

According to Leal, he’s never been in trouble for fighting at school, but he decided to join a peer-group focused on dealing with aggression as a way to help him prepare for his new role as a father.

“They taught me techniques I can apply to my life, ways to manage anger,” he explained.

It took time, but Leal says he eventually came to see the peer-group and Mariano as resources to help him deal with the anxiety and stress he would have otherwise tried to deal with on his own, but perhaps not as successfully.

According to Mariano, the school and her goal is to help students deal with their issues, large and small, “so they don’t resort to something negative,” like drugs, drinking, getting into fights, or hurting themselves, she said.

Next week, as part of MUSD’s focus on Mental Health Awareness Month, some district students will be given a stress ball and taught breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help them cope with the stress in their lives.

Having an outlet to vent and taking the time to relieve tension allows students to acknowledge and address their emotions, according to Mariano.

“It’s okay to have feelings,” she explained. “We just want to teach them the skills to cope with them.”

Something’s Cooking at MUSD High School

April 30, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

When the third period bell rings at the Applied Technology Center in Montebello, students like Jeeb Gonzalez get to work chopping vegetables, measuring ingredients, plating appetizers and cooking everything from breakfast burritos to fried chicken in the school’s state-of-the-art kitchen.

The pleasing aromas from their culinary creations fill the air, sparking pangs of hunger in anyone nearby.

But food is not the only thing students in ATC’s Culinary, Hospitality, and Educational Foundations (CHEF) pathway have been cooking up.

For the last couple of months, the students have been busily planning for the grand opening of their very own, on campus student-run bistro.

Bistro XV, named for the year of the school’s first graduating class, formally opened Wednesday with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony at the café where school staff and visitors can now buy breakfast and lunch meals prepared entirely by students.

Students at the Applied Technology Center chop and prepare ingredients for their student-run bistro.  (Montebello Unified School District)

Students at the Applied Technology Center chop and prepare ingredients for their student-run bistro. (Montebello Unified School District)

“These students are doing everything you would be doing in a bonafide restaurant,” said ATC Principal Sterling Schubert.

Not only do they do the cooking, they also take care of all the details that go into running a restaurant, according to Schubert.

We never dreamed we would one day be serving the food we cook to paying customers, Senior Kimberly Moran, the bistro’s business manager told EGP

Students said they had been pushing school administrators to let them open a restaurant on campus since 2011, when the program first started.

“Now, we finally get to open and serve people,” Moran said excitedly.

“Now you get to see how passionate we are: You get to see how much effort and love we put into every order,” she said.

Moran may only be 17-years-old but she has all the same responsibilities an adult restaurant manager would have, including overseeing the not-for-profit student-led enterprise’s finances.

Similarly, Executive Chef Jose Cruz and Gonzalez, who serves as sous chef, oversee work in the kitchen, making sure all food orders are up to their standard before they go out to the customer.

As a group, the class discusses the restaurant’s budget, taking into consideration the cost of ingredients before placing orders and developing the Bistro’s menu.

This is nothing like what a typical high school student does, explained Cruz. “I don’t think you can describe the experience,” he said.

Students in ATC’s CHEF pathway attend class in a multi-million dollar kitchen referred to as the “teaching lab.” The equipment they use is of the same quality and caliber found in some top commercial kitchens, says Debbie B. Silveira, an instructor in the culinary arts program.

The goal is for the bistro to eventually be self-sustaining so that it does not have to rely on what it can get from the school’s budget, Schubert said.

The bistro — which currently serves chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and even nopales — has its own separate entrance that allows visitors to enter from the street rather than having to go through the school.

The CHEF pathway is one of four comprehensive, pathways offered at the small school that closely mirrors college and careers. About 160 of the school’s 650 students are in the program. ATC’s instructional approach is project-based learning that requires critical thinking, communication and working as a team. The classes are taught by instructors who have experience in their respective fields.

ATC students in the Culinary Hospitality Foundations Pathway have class in a state of the art kitchen.  (Courtesy of Sterling Schubert)

ATC students in the Culinary Hospitality Foundations Pathway have class in a state of the art kitchen. (Courtesy of Sterling Schubert)

Students working at Bistro XV “are licensed to prepare and serve food to the public,” said Silveira, explaining the students passed the tests required to receive a California Food Handler Card.

The students have also catered events throughout the District as well as a teacher’s wedding.

Gonzalez told EGP that one of his best times in the program came two years ago when the students were given the opportunity to cater a UCLA event at the Rose Bowl. That’s when he decided to pursue a career in culinary arts, Gonzalez said.

“How many high school students do you know have been to the Rose Bowl and catered an event there,” chimed in Cruz, his face beaming with pride.

“We’re high school students, but we have the [same] real world experience of someone in college.”

Bistro XV is open 9:50-10:10am and 12:10-12:45p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays. ATC is located at 1200 W. Mines Ave. 

Schurr High Student Wins National Poetry Award

April 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A Montebello high school student has joined an elite group of poets from across the country, wining national recognition in a contest that drew over 300,000 entries.

Roberto Miranda may only be a junior at Schurr High School, but the young poet has the heart of an old soul, according to the announcement from the Montebello Unified School District.

Miranda’s poem “Gatherings” demonstrates a perspective beyond his years, earning him a Silver Medal in the prestigious 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Out of the 300,000 submissions, only the top one percent is honored for exceptional achievement, according the District.

“Every student at Montebello is encouraged to think critically and creatively – both within the classroom and about their future,” Montebello Unified Board President Edgar Cisneros said. “We are so proud of Robert for this impressive accomplishment and for being a stellar example of how greatly we value the arts and its capacity to pave the way for bright futures for our students.”

The selection by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers in New York puts the 16-year-old Miranda in an esteemed group of past award winners such as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham and author Sylvia Plath.

An “avid reader” since the eighth grade, Miranda draws upon an eclectic range of scholarly influences from British playwright Oscar Wilde to American surgeon and essayist Dr. Richard Selzer.

“What I like about Selzer is the lyrical quality of the language,” Miranda said. “It’s poetry in prose and beautiful writing.”

Under the tutelage of English instructor Betty Harbison, a 27-year teacher at the school and founder and sponsor for the campus writer’s group, Spartans of the Plume, Miranda’s writing flourished. “I’m the one dashing off to the post office moments before the deadline,” Harbison said. “It is well worth it. We have so many talented writers.”

In 2014, Miranda’s entry for the National PTA Reflections Arts Program advanced to the state level, he also garnered plaudits in the annual Creative Communications Poetry Contest. Previously, “Gatherings” won a Gold Key for poetry in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards regional level, while his short story “A Requiem” – a harrowing piece about a man with terminal cancer more concerned with his ailing mother – took a Silver Key.

“I’m only starting to realize the implications of winning this award,” Miranda said. “I feel humbled because I didn’t expect my poem to go this far.”

Miranda is the opinion editor for his school newspaper Spartan Scroll and his latest piece advocates the return of teaching cursive writing.

Education Leaders Want More Control

April 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

San Gabriel Valley area education leaders say they are frustrated by the lack of control they have over spending decisions in their school districts on everything from textbooks to curriculum to Local Control Funding, and the state’s penchant for handing down unfunded mandates.

School districts are mandated to implement all kinds of state curriculum changes, whether the funding is there or not, said Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) Board President Edgar Cisneros. Yet when advocates requested approval of a statewide ethnic studies requirement, legislators quickly shot them down because funding is suddenly an issue, Cisneros told EGP.

Sen. Tony Mendoza’s “State of Education” address was held last week in Montebello at MUSD’s Applied Technology Center high school and attended by dozens of superintendents, district board members and teachers from Mendoza’s 32nd Senate District – which includes Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Whittier, attended. The program also included a Q & A with an analyst from the State Legislative Analyst’s Office.

While participants generally seemed relieved that the proposed 2015-16 State Budget includes a $7.6 billion bump for k-12 education, several school officials lamented that much of the new revenue will go to pay off debt and unfunded curriculum mandates such as Common Core.

Sen. Tony Mendoza gives his first ever “State of Education” address at the Applied Technology Center in Montebello last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Sen. Tony Mendoza gives his first ever “State of Education” address at the Applied Technology Center in Montebello last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The added money is “barely making us positive,” said MUSD Board Member David Vela, referring to the district’s budget.

The state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which allocates more money to schools with higher percentage of “high needs” students – low-income, English Learners and youth in foster care  – has given schools more control over how to use those funds to tackle the achievement gap in those groups, but according to Vela, it’s not enough.

“How can you expect us to play around with that money when all we’ve been doing [for some time] is cutting our debt,” caused by years of state cuts to education funding, Vela said.

He described the difficulty of introducing new technology into the classroom and offering new curriculum, such as dual language immersion and ethnic studies when funding is not available, drawing approving nods from other attendees.

When it comes to what school districts want, like the ethnic studies requirement, there’s never enough money, said a frustrated Cisneros. “It’s just an excuse they use to derail bills,” he said, claiming state officials “are really uptight” about mandating the curriculum because “they would be required to fund it.”

There’s a huge disconnect between the governor’s office and school districts when it comes to the so-called local control over funding, said MUSD Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith.

With the comfort of being on home turf, MUSD officials led most of the discussion and questions directed at Cabral.

Cisneros cited MUSD’s years-long inability to order updated versions of already approved textbooks because state officials wanting to save money suspended California’s Department of Education’s ability to approve new textbooks, a prerequisite to district purchases.

“I think they need to get it done or give us the power” to select and buy textbooks, Cisneros complained.

Money issues continued to be the hot topic as Edgar Cabral, a fiscal and policy analyst with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, answered questions from the audience.

Cabral was asked if there are plans to extend Proposition 30, a temporary increase in the sales tax and on incomes over $250,000 a year approved by voters in 2012 to fund K-12 education and community colleges. The tax is expected to have raised $7.9 billion by the end of the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year, however revenues will decline when some provisions sunset later this year.

Superintendent Steve Pell pointed out that funds for programs like special education have already been cut and additional cuts will hit MUSD hard. “We want to have an outstanding program, we’re trying really hard, but there’s not enough money,” he said.

As for the state backing new bonds to pay for needed capital improvements to equipment and facilities, Cabral said Gov. Brown is concerned about state debt and believes bonds should be passed at the local level.

Then “the state should make it easier for local cities to implement their own bonds,” responded someone from the audience.

State officials are not realistic when it comes to the cost of fixing aging infrastructure, countered Vela. He said school districts like MUSD do not have the same ability as the state to raise large sums of money. A million dollars will not go very far in L.A. County’s third largest school district, he noted.

“The state needs to get out of Sacramento, come out and tour Montebello,” he said. “We know we have a senator that will fight for us, but he can’t be the only voice.”

Sen. Mendoza agreed. He said Gov. Brown’s expectations about what school districts could do with LCFF revenue were unrealistic. He supports passage of a facilities bond, but cautioned that residents should think of the bond as adding another credit card in the state’s wallet.

But “Our public schools need it; it’s long overdue,” Mendoza said.

Ultimately, the question of extending a facilities bond will most likely go to the voters if successfully placed on the ballot by the governor or legislature, explained Cabral.

Mendoza – a former teacher who taught students in East Los Angeles – said if passed, the three bills in his education packet would protect children by enhancing consequences for drug trafficking and manufacturing near schools; creating greater oversight of charter schools, and requiring day care center workers to be immunized.

Cisneros told EGP the district needs to advocate for issues it believes in and get involved the way it did last week when 35 Bell Gardens Intermediate students traveled to Sacramento to push for a bill they co-authored with Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia that would encourage the inclusion of the Mexican Repatriation in history textbooks.

“We don’t do enough to lobby” state lawmakers Cisneros told EGP. “We need to voice our political support for the things we believe in.”

MUSD Approves Ethnic Studies Requirement

February 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Montebello Unified School District took the first steps in implementing an ethnic studies graduation requirement, following in the footsteps of nearby districts and becoming the third largest district in the county to approve such a resolution.

MUSD’s board of education unanimously approved the resolution last week during its board meeting.

Board President Edgar Cisneros called it “long-overdue historic moment for our community.”

“Many people will look to us” to see how we implement it, he said, adding that many other districts have already used MUSD as a model in other programs.

The resolution calls for the expansion of ethnic-specified courses such as African American studies, Asian American studies, Latino/Chicano studies, Armenian studies and Native American studies. More importantly the study of race, class, gender and sexuality will be established as a high school graduation requirement.

The purpose is to produce “more well-rounded MUSD students who respect and appreciate one another and people from diverse backgrounds, communities, cultures and nationalities,” Cisneros said.

The ethnic courses will begin to roll out within the next four years. And beginning next year, students will be given the opportunity to enroll in Chicano studies at local community colleges.

“The board wanted to take action sooner rather than later,” said Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas, referring to the fact that the item was not originally on board meeting agenda for last Thursday.

The district intends to form a 15-member ethnic studies advisory committee to figure out the specifics of the requirement, such as when the requirement will be enforced and whether the course will replace an existing high school graduation requirement or increase the number of credits required to graduate.

The committee will be made up of two high school students, two parents, four certificated employees, two classified employees, two administrators, two district office personnel and one professor with an ethnic studies background.

They will also meet periodically with the dual language immersion program advisory committee.

Revueltas told EGP the majority of MUSD students are Latino and the District has been encouraging teachers to include some diversity in their curriculum.

“It’s not just about a course, it has to be infused in everything we teach,” Revueltas said. For example, “if we teach about art let’s teach about Diego Rivera,” he elaborated.

The District has in the past offered elective courses in Mexican-American studies, minority cultures in America, multicultural studies and supports a strong dual language immersion program.

Since 2007, Latin American literature has been taught at Schurr High School.

“Many teachers already do this, this is just formalizing it,” he said.

According to MUSD, 32 languages other than English are spoken in the school district that encompasses Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello, Monterey Park and parts of East Los Angeles, with Spanish, Cantonese and Armenian being the primary languages.

“It’s about diversity, not just Latinos,” said Revueltas “What does the rest of the world look like?”

Last year, El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera became the first district in the state to require their students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. Los Angeles Unified followed shortly after in December, however the curriculum has yet to be implemented district-wide.

Critics worry that such requirements will cause scheduling problems for students, especially those taking advanced placement courses and English Learners who are already limited on how many electives they can take.

One of the last high school requirements added in the District was economics, said Revueltas. Currently MUSD requires students to take three years of physical education, one more year than most districts.

Cisneros told EGP there is room for ethnic studies to take up some of the elective units required to graduate. He suggests freshman can take the course as part of freshman studies as one possible way to implement the requirement.

There is substantial research and evidence that well designed and well taught ethnic studies curricula produces positive academic and social outcomes in students, according to the resolution.

In 2010, the National Education Association affirmed that ethnic studies has a “positive impact on students of color”

“The learner has to connect to the learning,” echoed Revueltas

“Students want to learn more about themselves,” said Cisneros. “They want to learn that different is not really different compared to the rest of the world.”

MUSD Aborda Preocupaciones sobre el Borrador de LCAP

June 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A principios de este año, el gobernador Brown aprobó una nueva fórmula de financiación de control local que da más dinero para apoyar a las escuelas con un gran número de estudiantes que son de bajos ingresos y a estudiantes de aprendizaje de inglés o en hogares de crianza para dar servicios de apoyo para los grupos con “alta necesidad”. Un requisito importante para la financiación es la participación de los padres y estudiantes en el proceso.

Después de meses de trabajo se determinó cómo se deberían utilizar estos nuevos fondos estatales para mejorar los servicios para los estudiantes de “necesidad alta” en el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello (MUSD). La semana pasada los administradores pidieron a los padres y otros interesados a mirar el borrador del plan y proporcionar retroalimentación antes de que se vaya a la directiva para su aprobación definida a finales del mes.

Padres protestaron ante el Distrito Unificado Escolar de Montebello que el LCAP no estaba traducido al español. (EGP foto por Nancy Martinez)

Padres protestaron ante el Distrito Unificado Escolar de Montebello que el LCAP no estaba traducido al español. (EGP foto por Nancy Martinez)

Sin embargo, en una audiencia pública reciente, un padre señaló que tal tarea sería difícil teniendo en cuenta que el documento de 34 páginas aun no había sido traducido al español, el idioma de muchos de los padres con hijos en las escuelas de MUSD.

“Eso se debía haber hecho” ya, el Miembro de la Junta Edgar Cisneros dijo en estado de shock después de oír que el Control Local de Fondos y Plan de Responsabilidad (LCAP por sus siglas en inglés) no estará disponible hasta este viernes, pocos días antes de la reunión de 18 de junio de la junta donde se presentará para su aprobación. “Esto es nuevo para mí”, dijo en respuesta a la preocupación de los padres.

El Presidente de la Junta David Vela dijo a EGP que él “no estaba muy contento” de que la traducción se retrasó,  las traducciones al español deberían haber sido incorporadas a lo largo del proceso de planificación. La junta previamente “mencionó” la necesidad de que se haga, dijo, pero el personal no siguió indicaciones.

Aunque entiende que el retraso se debe probablemente a las numerosas revisiones hechas, casi 10, antes de que se presentó ante el consejo escolar la semana pasada, Vela le dijo a EGP, “Esto es algo que pagamos a la gente para hacer”. Este nivel de rendimiento se puede factorizar en el futuro a la hora de tomar decisiones sobre el personal”, dijo. “Estamos tratando de presentar el proyecto a la comunidad … en estos momentos estamos tomando las acciones correctivas”, dijo.

De acuerdo a Sonia Valencia, madre de familia, lo más importante,  es que el LCAP del distrito no era fácil de entender.

“El público en general no ha recibido una explicación de los documentos en los términos del laico” se quejó la madre de familia ante la junta. “No creo que todos los padres lo entenderán”, dijo, en referencia a la jerga educativa que dijo llena las páginas del documento.

Aunque un número de grupos de padres y maestros, testificó en la audiencia pública que la LCAP fue explicada minuciosamente por el personal, cuando se compararon los planes desarrollados en algunos distritos vecinos,  el LCAP de MUSD carece de muchos de los detalles de las acciones o los cambios específicos que se llevarán a cabo el próximo año, como resultado del cambio de financiación específica.

El Distrito Escolar Unificado de Alhambra, por ejemplo, ha preparado un LCAP de 86 páginas que presenta los datos de rendimiento de los estudiantes, incluyendo números separados para estudiantes de aprendizaje de inglés. El documento se recalca en una forma fácil de leer, incluso incluye una sección titulada “¿Qué puede ser diferente/mejorado para los estudiantes?” después de que se obtenga cada meta por el distrito cuyo objetivo es el cumplimiento de una de las ocho prioridades ordenadas por el estado: el acceso a los servicios básicos, el rendimiento estudiantil, el compromiso del estudiante, participación de los padres, el clima escolar, la aplicación de las normas comunes básicas del Estado, el acceso al curso, suspensiones y expulsiones.

El LCAP de Montebello, por otro lado, muestra el tipo de datos que se utilizan, pero no incluye la realidad de los números en el documento. Estos datos pueden ser útiles para definir claramente las áreas de mayor necesidad y para medidas futuras.

El distrito de tamaño mediano tiene escuelas en las ciudades de Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello, Monterey Park y partes del este de Los Ángeles, Pico Rivera y Rosemead. Según el Departamento de Educación de California, cerca de 30.000 estudiantes asisten al distrito en una de las 16 escuelas primarias, 6 escuelas medias, 5 escuelas secundarias, la escuela comunitaria diurna y una escuela pequeña con grados del Kinder al octavo.

La Asistente del Superintendente de Servicios de Negocios de MUSD, Cheryl Plotkin le dijo a EGP que las escuelas individuales podrán decidir muchos de los específicos en función de sus necesidades.

En el pasado MUSD ha dicho que su marco actual de aprendizaje integral ya cumple las ocho prioridades estatales destinadas a que estudiantes estén listos para sus carreras y preparados para la universidad.

Vela le dijo a EGP que el distrito se ha preparado para estas metas académicas en los últimos dos años y por lo menos ha establecido una “línea de base para cumplir con lo básico”.

En la reunión del consejo del 8 de junio, varias de las personas que hablaron en la audiencia utilizaron su tiempo para decirle a los miembros de la junta directiva y el personal del distrito lo que esperan ver incluidos en el plan final.

El padre de tres hijos, Roberto Hernández, dijo que espera que el distrito considere utilizar más libros de texto digitales. También hizo un llamado para más opciones de idiomas extranjeros en el Centro de Tecnología Aplicada o ATC y añadió que hay una necesidad de mayor supervisión en el patio de la escuela.

La Miembro de la Junta Lani Cupchoy dijo que proveer materiales didácticos adecuados, tales como libros electrónicos y el aprendizaje digital es una de las áreas más importantes y definidas de la LCAP, el otro es el desarrollo de un currículo riguroso por los profesores.

Cupchoy le dijo a EGP que ella personalmente abogó por programas especializados, como STEM (Ciencia, Tecnología, Ingeniería y Matemáticas), Dual [Idioma] Inmersión, las artes visuales y escénicas, jardines comunitarios y GATE (Educación para Dotados y Talentosos); todos los cuales se reflejan en el proyecto propuesto.

Cupchoy dice el LCAP se dirigirá a la baja tasa de graduación entre los estudiantes aprendices de inglés, que de acuerdo con el distrito en la actualidad se sitúa en el 63%.

Vela dijo que los obstáculos más grandes al crear el LCAP fue asegurarse que había inclusividad actual, pero le aseguró a EGP que los esfuerzos fueron para incluir cada asociación y los padres fueron invitados a las más o menos 10 reuniones que se llevaron por todo el distrito.

Cupchoy asistió a varias de las reuniones de extensión LCAP como el enlace de la junta escolar, pero de acuerdo a Vela, en respuesta a las quejas de la comunidad sobre la falta de asistencia de los miembros de la junta en las reuniones de planificación LCAP, él está comprometido a asistir a más reuniones a como vaya progresando el proceso.

El presidente de la junta escolar también dijo que la gente tiene que entender que esta es la primera vez que MUSD está pasando por este proceso y que el distrito no recibió fondos adicionales para contratar a más personal para ayudar a preparar a el LCAP o mantener todas las reuniones adicionales. “Esta es la primera vez, la gente asume que el distrito tenía los recursos para este gran cambio”, dijo. “Estamos haciendo limonada con muy pocos limones”.

Vela dijo a EGP que él quiere que LCAP sea más “accesible” para los padres y está tomando los comentarios de este primer borrador muy enserio.

“Esta es una curva de aprendizaje, hay mucho espacio para mejorar”, dijo. “Quiero asegurarme de que se trata de lo más cercano a la perfección” posible, dijo. “Y si eso significa que tengo que contratar más personal, lo haré”.

Los distritos escolares tienen hasta principios de julio para presentar sus LCAP del estado para su aprobación.

El LCAP se encuentra disponible en el sitio Web MUSD y copias en papel están disponibles en la sede del distrito y en las escuelas.

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

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