Friday, May 29, 2015

Press conference convened by Bill Cirone to present the 2015 QAD “Project Upgrade” grant to four local schools

News release

Press conference convened by Bill Cirone,
Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

to present the 
2015 QAD “Project Upgrade” grant to four local schools

TIME CERTAIN, 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, June 2
Multimedia Arts & Design Academy, Santa Barbara High School, 
700 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara

Each year, the Santa Barbara-based global software company QAD calculates a percentage of its profits for reinvestment into innovative projects that allow students to spend hands-on time with technology. Total grants awarded this year were $64,822. Recipients included Santa Barbara High School ($21,605), MAD Academy ($10,000); Hollister Elementary ($23,217), and Foothill Elementary ($10,000).

Speakers include Mr. Bill Keese, QAD Senior Vice President, Research and Development; Ms. Ellen Barger, Santa Barbara County Education Office Assistant Superintendent; Dr. Dave Cash, Santa Barbara USD Superintendent; and Mr. William Banning, Goleta USD Superintendent. Brief MAD Academy and Computer Science Academy tours available following the grant presentations.

Audience: MAD Academy students and teachers, Computer Science Academy students and teachers, county and school district administrators, MAD Academy board members, and select parents.

Estimated presentation time: 20 minutes

Estimated tour length: 20 minutes

For information, contact David J. Lawrence, 964-4710, ext. 5282

Childproof yards

Radio Commentary

While exploring the outdoors this summer, curious youngsters can sometimes face hazards in their own backyards.

So take a look at the yard where your child plays and check very carefully for any danger spots.

Make sure wading pools and buckets are emptied after use to prevent drowning or bacteria growth.

Make sure all pools are surrounded by a fence and a self-latching gate. Check all locks and latches to make sure they are functioning properly.

Also check that the spaces between railings in a fence are narrow enough to prevent children from getting their head stuck between them.
Also check for thorny or poisonous plants. And make sure clotheslines are out of reach. They are appealing play items but have proven harmful.

It makes sense to store all lawn tools and chemicals out of reach of young hands.

Make sure deck stairs have child guards and that all furniture is kept away from deck railings, to prevent young climbers from getting into trouble.

Finally, make sure wooden decks or chairs are free from splinters. What might not affect an adult can be quite painful or even harmful to young skin.

Using common sense is the best rule of all.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Building motor skills

Radio Commentary

Children’s work is play. Much is learned through simple games and activities. In fact, play is important in helping children build basic motor skills like running, jumping, throwing, and catching.

Play helps build muscles and aerobic capacity in young bodies. It allows children to release energy and tensions.

Play also teaches social skills. It can increase self-esteem, help strengthen and build attention spans, and improve physical coordination.

To help your child develop basic motor skills during playtime you might consider the following activities:

Use bright, colorful balls when playing ball games because these are easy for children’s eyes to follow.

It helps keep their attention and makes it easier for their eyes to follow the motion.

Use slow, consistent pitches when tossing to your child. Practice makes perfect — for them and for you!

Practice the same skill in different ways to keep your child interested. Run races today. Play tag tomorrow. The skills are the same but the game seems very different. This helps prevent boredom or distraction.

Give brief instructions that are easy to follow, like “Watch the ball.” Long-winded explanations about why it’s important to watch the ball can lead a child’s mind to wander.

Remember that children tire easily, so keep periods of vigorous activity short. When children are young, it’s always better to schedule several short activities rather than one long one.

It helps keep you fresh as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Work ethic

Radio Commentary

Author and child advocate Marian Wright Edelman wrote a book for her children, “The Measure of our Success,” that outlines 25 lessons for life.

In it, she states: “Don’t be afraid of hard work or of teaching your children to work. Work is dignity and caring, and the foundation for a life with meaning.”

She writes that far too many children of privilege, of the middle class, and of the poor, are growing up without a strong work ethic, and too many are growing up without work at all.

It once was a given that children would work, sometimes after school, sometimes during weekends, always during the summer.

Though the goal was to earn money, these jobs were also a way to instill a work ethic, providing meaningful use of a young person’s time.

Edelman said too many people today are obsessed with work for the sole purpose of “ensuring their ability to engage in limitless consumption.”

She adds: “An important reason much of my generation stayed out of trouble is that we had to help out at home and in the community, and did not have time — or energy — to get into trouble.”

This is not the case with many of our children today. Leisure pursuits are highly valued by young and old alike.

Recreation, sports, and entertainment have filled the space once reserved for employment. And many of the values learned in the workplace are finding no method for delivery in a society obsessed with fun and pleasure.

There is dignity in work, and it’s never too early to learn that lesson. We short-change our children if we imply that fulfillment can be gained only from activities that are fun. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

TV as positive

Radio Commentary

Watching TV can be a positive activity for children if viewed in the right context.

Watch a program with your children that takes place in another part of the United States, or another country, and find the site on a map or globe.
Read a story from that area, learn about that place’s history, or cook a meal from that culture.

Help your child develop an understanding of time by comparing lengths of TV shows. Compare a half-hour show to a one-hour show, or to a two-hour movie.

Teach your child how to tell time by comparing the current position of the clock hands to the time when a specific show comes on.
You could teach a child the days of the week in the same way with a calendar.

Develop simple word problems using television. For example: “If there are six commercials and each is 30 seconds long, how many minutes of commercials will you watch during this program?”

Watch the news with your children and follow a story. Watch the same story on different channels and discuss the differences and similarities. Find the same topic in the newspaper, a magazine, or on the Internet and compare the coverage.

It is almost impossible to eliminate TV viewing. By talking about it, and making it a learning experience, you can help make television a positive part of your child’s life.

Suicide Prevention

Radio Commentary

Change is a natural part of the teen years, but some changes are more serious than others. They may be warning signs of depression or even potential suicide.

If a teen shows signs of a serious problem, encourage him to get help. Warning signs include: 

  • Major changes in eating or sleeping habits.
  • Severely violent or rebellious behavior. 
  • Withdrawal from family or friends.
  • Running away.
  • Persistent boredom or trouble concentrating. 
  • Unusual neglect of appearance.
  • Radical personality change. 
  • Preoccupation with the theme of death. 
  • Giving away prized possessions, and 
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts, even jokingly.

Parents can help a depressed teen. First, listen. Don’t dismiss the problems as trivial. To him they matter a great deal.

Be honest. If you are worried about your teen, tell him. Professionals say you will not spark thoughts of suicide by asking about it.

Share your feelings. Let your teenager know she’s not alone. Everyone feels sad or depressed occasionally.

Get help. Find a physician, psychologist or qualified professional. Don’t wait for it to “go away.” Simple depression can escalate to the point that the teen may think of suicide as the only way out.

If you see signs of depression, take them seriously. You could be saving a life.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Verbal and nonverbal messages

Radio Commentary

Communication has two parts, verbal and nonverbal. Both aspects convey vital information to the listener.

Verbal, of course, is the portion that is spoken out loud. It includes the words used and how they are put together.

Nonverbal communication is everything else — it includes facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, hand movements, and other indications of meaning, whether intended or not.

For this reason, it’s important to be very aware of what tone of voice you are using when you speak to your children.
Often it’s not what you say but how you say it that conveys your underlying message.
Children are particularly good at picking up on these cues, especially with their parents.

Pay attention to how loudly, softly, quickly, or slowly you speak.
Remember that you also communicate with eye contact and facial expression.
If you are looking away it can signal that you are either preoccupied or not being completely direct.
Saying something too quickly, or too sharply, can undermine the message.

Be sure that all your messages are consistent, in word and expression.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Creating connections

Radio Commentary

Several types of activities can help create and maintain connections with your children as they get older.

Share a hobby. Explore an interest that you both enjoy, whether it’s rollerblading, playing golf, or skimming through fashion magazines or websites. Time spent this way can result in hours of naturally-flowing conversation.

Look at baby pictures. A walk down memory lane is a great way to bring up other awkward topics including the many physical and emotional changes that occur throughout your child’s life.

Make time in the car for conversation. The moments you have together in the car can help you share important information and emotions.

You can also learn a lot about your child if you pay attention to conversations with friends while they’re riding in the back seat.

See your child as others do. Many parents only see their children when they’re at home. Get involved with your child’s school or summer program. Volunteer to help with extracurricular programs, such as theatre, clubs, or sports.

You may discover new and wonderful aspects to your child that you otherwise would have missed.

All these activities help you create and maintain connections as your children travel into adulthood. They also form the basis of shared experiences and close relationships throughout a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Altogether fitting and proper

News release

In one of the most powerful speeches in American history, Abraham Lincoln sought to pay tribute to those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” on the bloody battlefield of Gettysburg in early July 1863. As our country prepares to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in its wars and conflicts through the years, it is fitting that we consider some fundamental elements of citizenship that we as parents and educators hope to encourage in the developing minds of our children. While each of the three elements discussed below have historically strong military associations, they are by no means exclusive to the profession of arms. Rather, I would argue that these ideas are every bit as important for a civilian populace to learn, internalize, and demonstrate, too.

Respect. While the U.S. military has a rich tradition of customs and courtesies, our understanding of respect is by no means limited to “Yes ma’am,” “No sir,” standing at attention, and sharp salutes. Indeed, “respect” has a much wider application. The Golden Rule, generally defined as treating others as you would like to be treated, has its roots in antiquity, and is instilled in most youngsters in some of their earliest learning environments. Yet, as I have noted in these pages before, at some point along the path to adulthood, that admonition to treat others with dignity and respect is often exchanged for rancor, partisanship, and expressions of self-interest. I sincerely hope that this erosion in common decency and valuable dialogue is reversed. It is relatively easy to be respectful of those whose ideas and opinions accord with our own. The challenge, however, is to extend that same respect to those with whom we disagree. In order to recapture a discourse that is constructive and edifying to our society, we would do well to remember the importance of treating others with respect.

Courage. The examples of courageousness in our country are simply too numerous to count. From the bold signatures that 56 Founders put on the Declaration of Independence, to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on that crowded Montgomery bus, to the intrepid battlefield gallantry of Medal of Honor recipient and California native Clinton Romesha, American history is replete with instances of ordinary people undertaking extraordinary actions. But acts of courageousness need not be so conspicuous as the three examples I provide above. Bravery can just as easily take the form of doing the right thing when no one is looking. Indeed, those moments that test our integrity, which many of us encounter every day, can be more imposing or challenging than the more obvious opportunities for a demonstration of courage. “Right” and “easy” do not often go hand-in-hand, but it is our personal and collective commitment to the former that will have positive, lasting impacts on our families, our schools and workplaces, and our communities.

Sacrifice. On the last Monday of every May, our country pays tribute to those brave women and men who paid the highest price. But we should also be willing to accept a much broader understanding of sacrifice. In a recent conversation I had with Colonel Keith Balts, the current wing commander at Vandenberg, I learned one of the Air Force’s core values: “Service Before Self.” There are countless ways for us to demonstrate subordinating our own interests to a greater good. Perhaps it comes in the form of sacrificing our time and our talents by volunteering in our local community. Sacrifice can also come in the form of charitable contributions. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, American donations to charities have increased by over 20% since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. One need only conduct a casual survey of any given day’s headlines to know that there are many societies less fortunate than ours. But the ways in which we can help ease the burdens of those in need are legion, too. There is nobility in sacrificing some of our abundance in an effort to improve the lives of others. And doing so invariably makes the world a better place.

“The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here,” Lincoln said with characteristic modesty and understatement in his Gettysburg Address. “But it can never forget what they did here.” Our 16th president was correct: it is imperative that we remember. In modern times, Memorial Day weekend is too often associated with mattress sales, new car deals, and appliance closeouts. But this weekend I would encourage you to give consideration to the more substantive, lasting ideas of respect, courage, and sacrifice. These ideas have long been — and must continue to be — essential to the growth and development of the extraordinary country in which we live. 

Decrease in biking

Radio Commentary

Just a few generations ago, in the 50s and ’60s, half of all children bicycled or walked to school. Today, only one in 10 does so.

In fact, even among school-age children who live within two miles of school, only about two percent ride bicycles to get there.

These figures have implications for health, fitness, and safety.

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition cites several major reasons for the decline:
  • As we widened roads for cars, we decreased safety for bikers and walkers, leading to a lack of space for children to walk and bike safely.
  • Excessive media stories about the dangers of child abductions, gun violence, drugs, and often other real-but-overblown-concerns add to a sense of danger and worry for parents.
    The truth is that automobiles are by far a bigger threat to children than all these other potential threats combined.
  • With both parents working, for longer hours, many try to compensate through the perceived ‘gift’ of driving children around.

These changes have contributed to increased rates of obesity among young people.

They have also helped foster a loss of independence that comes from bicycling.

As was the case with recycling and smoking, it will take changes of awareness and attitude to change this condition. We should all try to help.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

County preschools earn prestigious distinction

News release

“We know that the first five years,” Bill Gates told a group of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders in a 2007 speech, “have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.”

It is this recognition of the importance of a strong intellectual and emotional foundation that inspired members of the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Child Development Program as they recently sought re-accreditation for the six state preschools in Santa Barbara County.

The office oversees a number of vital initiatives which directly impact young children and their families, including school age family education, the child care food program, Health Linkages, and state preschools for Santa Barbara County. It is the lattermost program that occupied a great deal of their time for the last several months. But the efforts of county officials and the preschool site supervisors recently paid off. In April, all six of the state preschools in Santa Barbara County were simultaneously awarded full accreditation by the National Association of Educators of Young Children (NAEYC), the regulatory and accreditation body based in Washington, D.C.

That puts the Santa Barbara County state preschool program in some pretty exclusive company.

Child Development Program Director Trudy Adair-Verbais and her team started on this journey almost 12 years ago. It was their idea to seek the initial accreditation for all the county preschools in one initiative.

“When we did it the first time,” she says, “we were one of the first offices to put forward all of our schools at once. The industry standard at the time was to submit just a single school or site. People told me we were crazy. But I felt strongly that we would be better served going at it from a team approach. Each teacher could support other teachers, and as an administrator, I could better support the process if we underwent it together.”

“It was a collective commitment to excellence,” says Adair-Verbais. “And we knew it was a huge undertaking. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide that this is what you’re going to do. It is a lengthy, detailed process,” she concludes, “but the teachers and supervisors at those schools, as well as my staff and I, felt very strongly about.”

NAEYC’s standards are based on a very specific, lengthy set of criteria that outline what constitutes a quality early education experience for kids. They accredit programs for infants and toddlers, preschool, after-school care, and family childcare.
“You have to achieve demonstrable measures of quality,” says Kathy Hollis, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services for the County Education Office. “NAEYC is known for applying intense scrutiny; it a very high quality review process. But Trudy’s team wanted to achieve national accreditation,” Hollis continues. “It took them two years of intensive prep work to get there.”

The assessors conduct classroom visits, interviews, portfolio reviews, training documentation, observations of health and safety records, handbook reviews, and other items that ensure teachers are meeting children’s academic, emotional, and physical needs.

“Their team is looking at over 140 different indicators of quality,” Adair-Verbais says. “They don’t leave a stone unturned.” After their site visit, the inspection team returns to Washington to score the programs they just reviewed. It is an anxious waiting period, but for three successive reviews, Santa Barbara County has exceeded standards at every site.

Congratulations to the state preschools and site supervisors who did so much work en route to full accreditation:

La Honda State Preschool at La Honda Elementary (Site Supervisor: Rosalinda Fletes)

Just for Kids State Preschool at Hapgood Elementary (Site Supervisor: Rebecca Arreola)

Learning Place State Preschool at Crestview Elementary (Site Supervisor: Shari Bostwick)

DeColores State Preschool at Clarence Ruth Elementary (Site Supervisor: Anna Patterson)

Santa Ynez State Preschool at College School District (Site Supervisor: Lynda Wright)

Los Alamos State Preschool at Olga Reed Elementary (Site Supervisor: Luz Bernal)

You say you want a revolution

News release

Left to right: Jim Hurley, CEO of Santa Barbara-based
education company Lesson Planet; Matt Zuchowicz,
director of educational technology services; SBCEO
“I have eight programmers who work for me,” a smiling Jim Hurley said as he talked with the assembled students. “Four women and four men. And let me tell you,” he concluded, his voice brimming with excitement, “It is obvious from the energy and enthusiasm they bring to work every day that they love what they do. So keep at it. Keep learning, keep improving, and keep doing great work!”

Hurley, CEO of Santa Barbara-based education company Lesson Planet, wasn’t speaking to an upper-level computer science class at UCSB. He was addressing the attentive, bright-eyed third grade students of Heather Cash, teacher at Brandon Elementary in the Goleta Union School District.

Cash was one of eight Santa Barbara County teachers who, with several of their students, gave engaging presentations at the 2015 Showcase of Innovative Learning, held at the Santa Barbara County Education Office Auditorium on May 6. Hurley’s Lesson Planet was one of the leading local technology company sponsors of the event. He, along with Matt Zuchowicz, Director of Education Technology Services for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, visited several of the schools that had participated in the Showcase to applaud the efforts of those students and teachers.

“At this point it is almost passé to say that technology is revolutionizing the education experience for school kids,” Zuchowicz says. “But the fact is, it’s true. And it’s especially gratifying when I get to connect local technology companies who are doing amazing things in the private sector with schools and teachers and students who are eager to push the ‘technology envelope’ in the classrooms.”

“It’s fun to watch that dynamic unfold,” Zuchowicz continues. “You really do get the sense that it is a mutually beneficial experience, for both the corporations and the students and educators. They feed off each other’s energy.”

That energy was clearly present when Hurley and Zuchowicz visited Russ Granger’s auto shop class at San Marcos High School. “Auto shop in high school for me was oil changes, mounting and balancing tires, and an occasional tune-up,” Granger says. “Auto shop for my students is using programs like SolidWorks and SketchUp to create 3D CAD designs for their Electric Motorcycle Project. They blog about their experiences in electric vehicle forums. They use Photoshop and Illustrator to design the graphics and logos. My students are constantly thinking critically and using technology to problem solve in a transportations-based environment.”

Clearly, this is not your father’s shop class. It’s not even your younger sibling’s classroom. Hurley, taking his smart phone from his pocket, reminded Cash’s third graders of the rapidly evolving state of technology. “This really is a super computer,” he marveled. “And by the time you guys are fifth graders, the technology inside these things will be twice as fast, twice as powerful.” Cash’s students, who use Google Sites to archive and curate the year’s accomplishments, as well as all those other students and teachers in Santa Barbara County making innovative use of technology, are, to use Cash’s term, “true digital natives.”

In addition to Granger and Cash, special thanks go to the following Santa Barbara County teachers who, with their students, gave presentations at the Showcase: Brian Malcheski (Open Alternative School, Santa Barbara Unified School District); Candice Grossi (Fillmore Elementary, Lompoc Unified School District); Paul Muhl (Santa Barbara High School, Santa Barbara Unified School District); Chris Parra (Ellwood School, Goleta Union School District); Sara Metz Outland (Miller Elementary, Santa Maria-Bonita School District); and Sharon Ybarra (Taylor Elementary, Santa Maria-Bonita School District).

To learn more about the Innovation Showcase, or about ways in which Santa Barbara County Schools are incorporating developing technology in their learning environments, contact Matt Zuchowicz, director of educational technology services, at 964-4710, ext. 5247.

Reducing gun violence

Radio Commentary

Sadly, firearms are second only to motor vehicle accidents in their claim on young lives.

Research indicates that educational efforts aimed at persuading young people to behave responsibly around guns are limited in their effectiveness.

Parents must monitor children’s exposure to guns and protect them from unsupervised use. Any stored guns in a home should be locked, unloaded, and separated from ammunition.

Community leaders can also help. They can promote young people’s safety by sending unequivocal messages that gun violence is not an acceptable way to resolve conflict.
It’s also been shown that requiring safety features on guns can reduce unintentional shootings among young children and adults.

In addition, emerging technologies will enable manufacturers to personalize guns and prevent unauthorized users from operating them.

Most important, as a society we must limit the flow of illegal guns to youth. Federal and state laws regarding gun sales should be tightened so that fewer weapons are accessible to young people.

The physical, economic, and emotional toll of gun violence against young people is unacceptable, regardless of one’s position on adult ownership and use of guns.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Building esteem

Radio Commentary

Building self-esteem in children can be the most lasting gift an adult can give.

Take a tip from Thomas Edison, who had thousands of failed experiments when trying to invent the light bulb.

With each failure, Edison said he learned something that didn’t work, so he was one step closer to finding something that did.

That attitude can be found in most successful people. They don’t seem to think in terms of the word ‘failure.’ They talk about a ‘glitch,’ a ‘problem,’ or a ‘snag.’

And even when something doesn’t work as planned, they try to learn from the experience.

We can all help teach this mind-set to our children.
When they don’t succeed, we should help them find something to learn from the experience.
A good question to ask is: “What would you do differently next time?”
Sometimes that lesson is more important than the task that didn’t get accomplished.

We should always let our children know we’re proud of them for trying. That support gives them the confidence to try again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I Madonnari

Radio Commentary

The plaza of the Old Mission will again come to colorful life when Santa Barbara’s Italian Street Painting Festival is celebrated over Memorial Day weekend, May 23 to 25.

I Madonnari, which is part Renaissance fair, part performance art, and one of Santa Barbara's most popular open-air festivals, will once again transform the plaza at the Mission over Memorial Day weekend.

My office sponsors the program, run through our Children’s Creative Project, as a continuing means of fostering art education and expression for young and old alike.

It is also a major fund-raiser for the Children’s Creative Project.

The Project uses professional artists-in-residence to provide quality arts instruction in the visual and performing arts.

The Project also brings professional performing arts groups to Santa Barbara to work with our school children.

These performers reach over 50,000 children in scores of elementary schools every year.

The Children’s Creative Project is more essential than ever. Every dollar raised is used to support visual and performing arts instruction in our schools.

At the I Madonnari festival, pavement squares sponsored by businesses and organizations are made available for local artists, architects, and school children.

Don’t miss out on this local tradition, starting May 23 at the Santa Barbara Mission.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Brandon Sportel named county’s Teacher of Year

News release

“My goal is not to become a master at manipulating an environment. Rather, I try to use what I know, I feel, and what I have learned to provide a safe, supportive, engaging, and productive learning environment for students.”
Brandon Sportel
Brandon Sportel
They say that good things come in small packages. But sometimes, good things also come in bunches. That has certainly been the case lately for Brandon Sportel, Special Education teacher at Canalino Elementary School in Carpinteria. In February, Sportel was named Teacher of the Year in the Carpinteria Unified School District. In early April, Sportel was honored with the prestigious Milken Educator Award. That distinction goes to only one teacher per state, and comes with an unrestricted cash award of $25,000.

Perhaps it comes as little surprise, then, to announce that Sportel has also been selected as the 2016 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. County Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone made the announcement and introduced him May 14 during the monthly meeting of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education.

 “Brandon brings remarkable energy, innovation, and compassion to the classroom every day,” Cirone said. “And it’s not just those in his classroom or school who benefit. His contributions to Special Olympics as well as his involvement with local colleges that are grooming our next generation of special education teachers make him an extraordinary asset to our community, too.

“Our teachers serve over 67,000 students in 20 school districts,” Cirone continued. “Being selected Teacher of the Year — and representing all the fine teachers throughout Santa Barbara County — is a tremendous honor. We are delighted to count Brandon Sportel among our ranks of great educators.”

Sportel was just one of a number of exceptional nominees for Teacher of the Year honors. He was selected after a comprehensive review process conducted by a six-person committee. The committee consisted of administrators, a PTA representative, local business leaders, and last year’s Teacher of the Year, Vieja Valley School teacher Allison Heiduk.

Sportel will become the county’s designated representative on July 1, when he succeeds Heiduk as Teacher of the Year, and his nomination for consideration as California’s Teacher of the Year will begin sometime in the fall of 2015. The state winner will then move forward in the competition for 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

Sportel’s Carpinteria students, colleagues, and supporters throughout the county will be pulling for him.

“Brandon has a unique ability to reach students with a combination of warmth, understanding, and structure that allows them to find success in the face of often significant challenges,” says Canalino School Principal Jamie Persoon. “His commitment to all kids,” she continues, “not just those on his roster, and his team approach to making students successful is what makes him stand out as an exceptional leader.”
Sportel graduated from Michigan State University in 2001 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. He was hired in 2006 by the Carpinteria Unified School District as the third to fifth grade Special Day Class teacher for students with mild-to-moderate disabilities at Aliso Elementary, and later moved to Canalino. In 2007 he received his Master’s Degree in Education from CSU Northridge.

“My goal is not to become a master at manipulating an environment,” Sportel says. “Rather, I try to use what I know, I feel, and what I have learned to provide a safe, supportive, engaging, and productive learning environment for students.”

As this award — and others — suggest, Sportel’s approach works. “He is one of the most talented and gifted special education teachers I have known in my career,” says Kendall Forrester, Director of Special Education for the Carpinteria Unified School District. Adds Newhall School District Superintendent Paul Cordeiro, who worked with Sportel for eight years, “He is an elite teacher who treats his students with love and respect. In turn, his students give their best efforts.”

His demonstrated excellence is not limited to the results he gets in the classroom, however. “His high level of expertise is evident, and though he demonstrates these abilities daily, he is a lifelong learner and regularly attends staff development and training to remain cutting edge in his field,” Forrester notes. Eager to share his expertise with others, Sportel also gives presentations on trends in special education at CSU Channel Islands. He also mentors student teachers and student psychologists from Channel Islands, Antioch, Westmont, and UCSB.

Sportel says he gets tremendous satisfaction from observing the gains his students make in the classroom. But he has also seen firsthand the benefits special needs children enjoy from physical accomplishments as well. “One area of community involvement that I’m particularly proud of is my participation in the Special Olympics for over a decade,” he says. “During these events, having the community by my side promoting confidence in our students is amazing.”

Despite the many successes Sportel has enjoyed in the classroom, he remains sensitive to the larger issues faced by the special population he serves. “We spend much of our time collecting and analyzing academic data in professional learning communities,” he observes, “but how much of that time are we using to put our heads together and figure out how to encourage students to express themselves appropriately and routinely?”

That is indeed a pressing question, and one for which Sportel will be uniquely positioned to seek answers in his role of Teacher of Year. As Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year, Sportel will be available to speak countywide. He can be reached at 684-4141, or by calling Steven Keithley, Director of Teacher Programs and Support for the Santa Barbara County Education Office at 964-4710, ext. 5281.

Advising preteens

Radio Commentary

I’ve heard some parents express concern that their preteens don’t listen to them.

This is because preteens may adopt an oblivious attitude or appear to “tune out.”

But parents should not underestimate their influence. Preteens want to know their parents’ opinions and values. They only tune out when parents lecture, preach, or scold.

So, a helpful tool for communication with preteens is to express your opinions indirectly.

For example, you might comment on the behavior of a television character to get a point across.

If a character is driving recklessly, you could say, “It seems he’s being awfully irresponsible about his friend’s safety.”

This kind of statement is usually more effective with preteens than a direct statement like “How could he be so reckless?” or “Don’t you ever drive like that!”

Along the same lines, if your preteen wants to see a movie that you consider controversial, you might go see it with her and then ask her opinions about it.

Instead of lecturing about how bad the movie was, ask what she thought about the characters’ actions and decisions.

This will not only give you insight into her thinking, but can help you get your values across.

Finally, modeling the way you want your children to act can be a very useful way of ‘giving advice’ silently. It works. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day of Teacher

Radio Commentary

Today is the California Day of the Teacher, which encourages our community to salute some of the unsung heroes and heroines in our midst.

Teachers embody our society's belief that universal public education is key to meeting the challenges of a changing world.

They strive to make every classroom an exciting environment where productive and useful learning can take place and each student is encouraged to grow and develop.

Our teachers reach out to foster the well-being of each student, regardless of ability, social or economic background, race, ethnic origin, or religion.

Teachers also motivate individual students to find new directions in life and reach high levels of achievement.

This year, May 4 to May 8 was designated Teacher Appreciation Week by the National PTA. It is a time for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our communities.

It is fitting that this month we take time to remember and salute the teachers who mold and educate our children and have such impact on the future of our society.

Please join me in saying ‘thank you’ to our teachers for their skill, patience, dedication, their hard work and their results. They make a difference every day, and we are all very grateful.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Listen to your kids

Radio Commentary

One of the simplest parent tips is one that is often overlooked because it is so obvious:

Listen to your children.

As the saying goes, there is a reason we are given two ears and one mouth.

For parents it is tempting to reverse the ratio and do more talking than listening. After all, there is so much we want our children to learn and do. We are the source of much knowledge, and there is a powerful urge to share it often.

And, of course, talking to children is very good for them. It helps them acquire more of the subtleties of language.

But children also need to talk and to be heard.

When you listen carefully to what children are saying, you send the clear message, “You matter to me. I care about what you have to say. Your ideas and opinions are worthy of being heard.”

Those are powerful messages for children to absorb.

The best advice is to slow down, face your child, even get down to his level, wait, and listen carefully to what he or she has to say.

Avoid the temptation to talk over your children. Don’t finish their thoughts, even if their speech is halting or they are searching for words. Let them find the words on their own, or help with gentle prompting.

Don’t hurry your child to get on with it. Be patient. The time you spend listening will bear long-terms dividends for both of you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival planned for May 23-25

News release

The I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival will celebrate its 29th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 23, 24, and 25 at the Santa Barbara Mission. A ceremony at noon on Monday, May 25, on the Mission steps will introduce and thank the major festival sponsors and featured artist Blair Looker as her street painting is concluded.

I Madonnari, the first festival of its kind in North America to present the performance art of street painting, is presented by and raises vital funding for the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

The festival features 150 street-painting squares drawn with chalk pastels on the pavement in front of the Mission. As the public watches, 300 local artists transform these pavement canvases into elaborate compositions in unexpectedly vibrant colors. The spaces range in size from 4-by-6 feet to 12-by-12 feet and in price from $150 to $700, each one bearing the name of its sponsor — a business, organization, family, or individual. The festival is sponsored in part by The Berry Man, Loreto Plaza Shopping Center, Mesa Lane Partners, Yardi, Daniel and Mandy Hochman, Bella Vista Designs, and Union Bank. Members of the public can sign up at the festival’s information booth to receive a brochure to be a street painting sponsor or an application to be an artist next year.

This year’s featured artist, Blair Looker, can be viewed from the Mission steps as she creates a 12-by-16-feet painting. Visitors can view the progression of her work (and all the street paintings) from 10 a.m. Saturday through Monday. Artists Sharon Namnath and Melody Owens will assist Blair with her featured street painting.

Blair Looker is a working artist, musician, and educator with 26 years of street painting experience. “Street painting is my passion and public art is my venue,” says the former ceramic artist with several major public art installations in downtown Santa Barbara. Blair is also a teacher with 25 years experience. For the past 12 years she has taught both art and music to the nearly 500 children of Isla Vista Elementary School. In addition to her art, music, and teaching, Blair serves on the boards of the Goleta Education Foundation and the Looker Foundation. She has been married to Tom Ridenour for 27 years and they have a daughter, actress Rebecca Ridenour.

An expanded area for children to create street paintings will be located at the west side of the Mission inside a private parking area. Some 600 Kids’ Squares are available. When completed, they will form a 40-by-60-feet patchwork of colorful paintings. Throughout the three-day event, the 2-by-2-feet Kids’ Squares can be purchased for $12, which includes a box of chalk.

Live music and an Italian market will be featured on the Mission lawn throughout the three-day event. The festival’s fabuloso Italian Market offers authentic Italian cuisine produced by the Children’s Creative Project Board of Directors. According to Board President Phil Morreale and Market Coordinator Bryan Kerner, this year’s market will include lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, pasta, pizza, calamari, Italian sausage sandwiches, gelati, coffees, and specialty items designed from prior years’ festivals including T-shirts, posters, note cards and more.


Street Painter: Ann Hefferman
Photographer:  Macduff Everton

I Madonnari is produced by the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The organization is the first to create a festival in North America featuring the public art of street painting. After traveling to a street painting competition in Italy, CCP Executive Director Kathy Koury created the concept of sponsored street-painting squares as a fund raiser and produced the first local festival in 1987. The late Father Virgil Cordano and the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial committee members also worked with Koury to include the I Madonnari festival in the yearlong series of official events that celebrated the Santa Barbara Mission’s bicentennial.

The festival has continued to grow and now is being replicated in more than 100 cities throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In November 2014, five I Madonnari street painters — Ann Hefferman, Blair Looker, Melody Owens, Phil Roberts, and Meredith Morin — traveled to Santa Barbara’s sister city of Puerto Vallarta to create street paintings with local artists and children. Koury has continued to work with Santa Barbara and Puerto Vallarta Sister City representatives to further develop the festival that has taken place in the city’s main plaza since 2006. The project is co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara-Puerto Vallarta Sister City Committee.

Street Painter: Jay Schwartz (original artist Thomas Hart Benton)
Photographer: Macduff Everton

Street painting, using chalk as the medium, is an Italian tradition that is believed to have begun during the 16th century. Called “Madonnari” because of their practice of reproducing the image of the Madonna (Our Lady), the early Italian street painters were vagabonds who would arrive in small towns and villages for Catholic religious festivals and transform the streets and public squares into temporary galleries for their ephemeral works of art. With the first rains of the season, their paintings would be gone. Today, the tradition lives on in the village of Grazie di Curtatone, Italy, where the annual International Street Painting Competition is held in mid-August.

Street Painter: Meredith Morin
Photographer: Macduff Everton

Festival proceeds enable the CCP to sponsor fine-arts programs conducted by professional artists during school hours for 50,000 children in county public schools. Through resident artist workshops, 75 artists provide lessons in visual and performing arts for more than 35,600 children. Fundraising from the I Madonnari festival helps to continue the CCP’s work to support annual performance events and other activities.

On April 22 at the Santa Barbara Bowl, the CCP presented free performances for 4,800 elementary schoolchildren who experienced Las Cafeteras with special guest Jorge Mijangos and Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles who performed music and dance of Veracruz, Mexico. The performances were presented in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation Education Outreach and ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! Funding support comes from Santa Barbara Bowl Education Outreach, The Towbes Foundation, and the I Madonnari Festival.

This school year 50,000 children at 92 school sites will view some 500 performances presented by multicultural touring companies featured in the CCP’s Arts Catalog. To support this program, festival proceeds also provide every county public school with a $200 arts credit to help pay the companies’ performance fees.

For festival photos or more information about the Children’s Creative Project or I Madonnari, or to arrange artist interviews, contact Koury at 964-4710, ext. 4411, or go to To interview featured artist Blair Looker, call 453-4094.

Reading maps

Radio Commentary

Reading maps is an important skill for everyone to master, whether the map is on paper, a computer, or a GPS screen.

Help by putting your child’s natural curiosity to work. Even small children can learn to read simple maps of their school, neighborhood, and community.

Go on a walk and collect natural materials like flowers or leaves to use for an art project. Map the location where you found each item.

Create a treasure map for children to find hidden treats in the yard or inside your home. This can even be a great idea for birthday parties. Encourage children to play the game with one another, taking turns with hiding the treasure and drawing the map.

See if your child can find your street on a county or city map. Point out where your relatives or your children’s friends live.

Point out different kinds of maps, like state highway maps, city or county maps, and bus route maps. Discuss their different uses.

Before taking a trip, show your children a map of where you are going and how you plan to get there. Look for other routes you could take and talk about why you chose the one you did.

Children sometimes like to follow the map as you travel. If you are on a long trip, you can point out what town you have just reached and ask children to find the next town on your route.

All these activities help with geography skills year-round.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Relaxed and receptive

Radio Commentary

High-stakes testing is a fact of life. Students of all ages will take standardized tests throughout their school careers.

While some students are naturals at test-taking, others need help to do their best.

A publication titled “Principal Communicator” outlines four conditions that can help parents help their children feel confident about tests.

They all start with “R”: being Receptive, Relaxed, Ready, and Rested.

Being “Receptive” is important. Parents can help young people develop a receptive attitude toward school in general, and testing in particular.

They can do this by making sure students understand that testing is merely a part of the learning process and that it is a measuring stick for how much they have learned.

The second “R” is for “Relaxed.” Anxiety can block the best-prepared student from doing well on a test.

It’s important to help children avoid getting hung up on how hard a test might be, or the negative consequences of doing poorly.

Being “Ready” — not cramming at the last minute — and being “Rested,” by getting a good night’s sleep before the test, are also vital.

Make sure your child knows you have confidence in them to do well, but that your approval of your child as a person does not depend on a test score.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Venoco, Inc. Crystal Apple winners announced

News release

Outstanding educators from North and South County who received the 2015 Venoco, Inc. Crystal Apple Educator Awards will be honored at the annual Education Celebration sponsored by the Teachers Network of the Santa Barbara County Education Office on May 21 at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton.
Nominated for this award by their peers, the Venoco, Inc. Crystal Apple Educator Award recipients are recognized for their dedication, their instructional and motivational skills, their ability to challenge and inspire students, and their ability to interact with students, staff, and members of the local community.
Each year, school employees, parents, and students are invited to nominate educators they feel have provided exceptional service to students. Venoco, Inc. Crystal Apple Educators receive a special crystal apple plaque and a $500 stipend, provided by the program sponsor, Venoco, Inc.
“We are so pleased to be able to acknowledge the exceptional work of these outstanding educators,” said County Superintendent Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the program. “They represent the hundreds of professionals working day in and day out to make a difference for the students of Santa Barbara County.”
“Venoco is proud to acknowledge the exceptional accomplishments of this year’s Crystal Apple honorees,” said Marybeth Carty, Community Partnership Manager for Venoco, Inc. “This peer nominated award allows us to recognize the best of the best, and express our thanks for the daily dedication and faith our local educators apply to the supremely important task of helping our children thrive.”
This year’s Crystal Apple winners are:

North County

Elementary Teacher: Estela Montes, LUSD Language Academy, Lompoc Unified School District
Classified Employee: Theresa Sanchez, Ontiveros Elementary, Santa Maria-Bonita Unified School District
Secondary Teacher: Cynthia Boortz, Cabrillo High School, Lompoc Unified School District
Certificated Support Provider: Terri Noe, Manzanita Charter, Santa Barbara County Education Office
Administrator: Olivia Bolaños, Santa Maria-Bonita SD, Santa Maria-Bonita Unified School District

South County

Elementary Teacher: Jan Marie Silk, Carpinteria Family School, Carpinteria Unified School District
Secondary Teacher: Michael Kiyoi, San Marcos High, Santa Barbara Unified School District
Classified Employee: Cindy Husted, Aliso School, Carpinteria Unified School District
Certificated Support Provider: Elizabeth Christen, San Marcos High, Santa Barbara Unified School District
Administrator: Jamie Persoon, Canalino Elementary, Carpinteria Unified School District

For more information, call Steven Keithley, Director of SBCEO Teacher Programs and Support, at 964-4710, ext. 5281.