Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Education supporters to be honored - Students to receive computers at luncheon

News release

The Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau are hosting their annual Business Appreciation luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at the Elks Lodge from noon to 1:30 p.m. The theme for this year’s event is Partnership Roundup! It is an opportunity to thank the many local companies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals who support our schools every day.

Companies, nonprofit agencies, and individuals provide schools with resources, awards, and incentives for students, plus food for school activities. Many business leaders also share their time and expertise by participating in career days and the Principal For a Day programs. These activities help teachers give students the skills needed for success, and the luncheon is an annual event to show that appreciation.

The following people, businesses, and nonprofit organizations are among those who will be honored on Oct. 14 for their contributions to the listed school districts:

  • CoastHills Credit Union will be honored by Allan Hancock College 
  • Ben Heighes will be recognized by the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council
  • Tommy Minetti, Paul Silveira, and The Ellen Degeneres Show will be thanked by the Guadalupe Union School District
  • Community Health Centers of the Central Coast will be honored by the Santa Maria-Bonita School District
  • Pacific Coast Energy will be thanked by the Orcutt Union School District
  • Cal Coast Machinery will be recognized by the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District
  • Hanson Aggregates will be honored by the Blochman Union School District

The Partnership Roundup! luncheon will include the distribution of eight computers through the Computer Connections program, a joint venture between the Industry Education Council and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce. More than 200 students and their families have received new computer packages through the program for under-served children. This year’s major sponsors were the Wells Fargo Bank Foundation, Waste Management, Altrusa International of Golden Valley, Charter Brokerage, Lineage Logistics, Tunnell Roofing, and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau.

For reservations, please contact the Chamber at, or call Jennifer Harrison at 925-2403, ext. 815. For questions about the Santa Maria Valley Industry Education Council and their partnerships, contact Peggy Greer, SMVIEC Liaison at or at 349-0443.

Empathy important

Radio Commentary

Understanding others begins with empathy. It is the act of putting yourself in another’s shoes.

Often teenagers can have difficulty in this area because their own problems seem to loom so large in their minds. The teenage years are the period when it is hardest to genuinely feel the emotional plight of others.

To help develop empathy, it is important to be a really good listener. When your children are speaking to you, regardless of the topic at hand, always listen to them with respect.

React to your teenager as you would to an adult friend. Make a real effort to listen as much as you talk.

When you have information to convey on an important topic, speak for half a minute or so, and then stop and let your child have a chance to react.

Accept the fact that most teens will complain sometimes. Let them air their grievances fully and completely. Try not to interrupt while they are expressing their feelings.

Most importantly, take time to have relaxed conversations alone with each of your children on a regular basis.

Frequent talks will help you spot difficulties before they become real problems.

It’s important that all involved be encouraged to talk AND to listen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teen search for identity

Radio Commentary

Limiting children’s exposure to objectionable material is a top priority for parents. A good start is to resist putting TVs or computers in your children’s bedrooms.

Instead, put the TV and computer in areas of the house where everyone has access to them. Choose a place where you can talk with your pre-teens and they can talk with you about what they’re watching on TV or doing online.

There is little doubt that TV and Internet content can overload preteens with violent, confusing images.

By having the TV and computer in a common area, you can all enjoy them and discuss content together.

Don’t underestimate the power of your influence. Children will rarely thank you for your sound advice or act grateful when you set limits, but chances are really good they will listen and act accordingly.

Children want to know the opinions and values of their parents. They are only likely to tune out when adults lecture, preach, or scold. For this reason, it can be helpful to express opinions indirectly.

For example, in commenting on a sit-com character’s behavior, you could say, “It looks like she’s being awfully irresponsible about her friend’s safety.” See what kind of discussion you can generate with your child.

When you’re just talking about a TV character, your children are less likely to get defensive. Success is more likely if you approach these topics in a non-threatening, open manner.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Radio Commentary

Toddlers love to help around the house.  Older children become far less excited about doing chores.  They have busy schedules of homework, extracurricular activities, and friends.

But chores are a good way to give young people responsibility for a needed task, and remind them that they are contributing members of the family.

Here are some tips for getting your children to chip in with family chores:

First, make sure the chores are age-appropriate.  It’s not a good idea to send a young child to take the trash outside by herself, for example.  You can do it together, though, and help her learn until she is ready to do it alone.

Also, start young.  When a child is in preschool, give him easy chores to get him in the habit of helping out.
A five-year-old can help clear the table, or put away his clean clothes.

Make sure your children feel they were successful in completing their chores, especially given that the goal is to help them gain self-confidence.

Acknowledge when the chore is complete, and be sure to thank your child for the effort expended, every time.
It also helps to make a family chore list to remind everyone of what is expected, and to let them have the satisfaction of checking off work that’s been done.

Mixing in a new chore can keep things interesting, along with rotating chores for different children.  Remember, anyone can help out and feel good about it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ensuring world leadership

Radio Commentary

Modern technology has made the concept of a “global village” quite real.
We can communicate with people in other nations and watch events occurring anywhere on the globe almost instantaneously.

This means we must make sure that our children have an education that prepares them to excel in this global marketplace.

Many industrialized nations continue to invest heavily in education. Important keys to development overseas have been sound public education, extensive school-to-work transition programs, and continuous worker training and education.
The former executive director of the North American Institute for Training and Education Research wrote that other countries have earned a global competitive edge by making sustained investments in education and training for all their citizens.
He asked: “Is it not time for America to do the same?”

We talk a lot about the importance of education, but the truth is that we still have not yet put together the national will to provide the resources and support that would truly make a difference.

People often say, “This isn’t the time.”  That prompts the question, “If not now, when?”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting organized

Radio Commentary

Growing children may look and even act mature, but they will not yet have the planning skills you might wish for more often than not. They may need some help to keep their world organized.

Here are some tips to help your children build the skills they will need to keep their lives running smoothly:

Decide what is important. Your children may not need to have every aspect of their lives organized, so figure out together what activities or times cause the most stress and make sure routines are set for those.

Does the morning routine always cause stress? Plan this out carefully. Is soccer practice driving everyone crazy? Develop a plan for when the gym bags get packed.

Stick to the routine. Once you make plans, be sure to follow them as well as possible. This will help your children understand how routines can keep life running smoothly. Reinforce that connection. Say things like: “We got to practice with no problems today — your morning checklist really worked!”

Reinforce your child's successes. Acknowledge the times when children are able to stay organized, and help them problem-solve when the routine doesn't work.

Stay involved. Once your children get a handle on a routine, they will still need your support. Check in and ask how the routine is working. This will also make it easier for you to help brainstorm problems and solutions if obstacles arise. These are important life lessons. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

C.L.A.S.S. Act — Attendance Matters

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools and
         Joyce Dudley, District Attorney, County of Santa Barbara

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s 2015 report on truancy and absenteeism, In School + On Track, states that 83% of students chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are unable to read on-level by third grade. Even more staggering, the report adds, is the fact that students who cannot read on-level in third grade are 400% more likely to drop out than kids who can.

This September marks the third annual School Attendance Awareness Month campaign. Its goal is to remind educational communities, advocates, policymakers, and families about the importance of attendance and its role in academic achievement.
The Attorney General estimates that nearly 8% of elementary school students in California are chronically absent. Nearly a quarter million California school children are currently at risk of falling seriously behind in their studies.

All In.  The good news is chronic absence and truancy are problems we are tackling head-on here in Santa Barbara County.

Local efforts to fight chronic absenteeism date back to the late 1990s, when the district attorney’s office, in conjunction with several county school districts and other county departments, instituted the Truancy Intervention and Parent Accountability Program (TIPAP).

The program had a successful 11-year run, but in 2008, TIPAP was eliminated due to budget cuts. The ensuing effect on truancy—defined as a student having three or more unexcused absences—was as unfortunate as it was predictable: a jump from 21% in 2008 to 31% in 2009.

It was the dramatic jump in truancy rates, coupled with the knowledge that those rates can lead to dimmer prospects for students’ futures, that led to the 2011 Grand Jury Report, “Where is the Truancy Program in Santa Barbara County?”

The reality is that poor attendance track records bode poorly for students’ futures and their ability to be contributing citizens. According to studies, 70% of prison inmates are high school dropouts. A 2012 PBS Frontline documentary offers additional troubling facts: over 30% of 18- to 24-year old high school dropouts live in poverty. And 16- to 24-year old high school dropouts experience incarceration rates 63 times greater than those of college graduates.

The Grand Jury report was a watershed moment. That jump in truancy rates from 21% to 31% in a single school year was a clarion call for us as a community to do something.

And that’s precisely what happened.

The Board of Supervisors asked us what we needed. Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Steve Lavagnino in particular provided both strong advocacy and leadership. We put together a budget proposal of about 1/3 the cost of the previous program, with the understanding that this incarnation needed very broad buy-in from local school districts and other government and community organizations.

Faced with the statistics, the buy-in came rather readily. Assistant Chief District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss tells people, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” It’s an effective pitch, because it’s true. School districts, the sheriff’s office, probation officers, and other community organizations were all in.

Numbers Don’t Lie.  While the numbers that inspired the initial Grand Jury report were deeply troubling, the data chronicling the success of the newly-revamped program is considerably more heartening. “For three years running,” says Deputy District Attorney Adam Howland, “Santa Barbara County truancy rates have been significantly below the state average.” The numbers for the 2013-14 school year—the most recent available data—are the lowest registered in Santa Barbara County in six years.
But the real success is captured in the data behind the Community Leadership in Achieving Student Success (CLASS) Program. “We sent over 18,000 letters last year to students throughout Santa Barbara County the first time they were truant,” says Truancy Program Coordinator Corina Trevino. “Of that number, less than 2% had to be referred to a school attendance review board, or SARB.” A SARB is convened when a student has 14 or more days of unexcused absences.

Even more impressive, however, is the community intervention efforts that address the issues of that 2%. “We had 342 students meet a SARB last year,” says Howland. “But the SARB recognizes that a student’s failure to go to school is usually symptomatic of other issues. We take the approach that this program is about fostering student success—even in challenging circumstances—and not about merely enforcing compulsory educational laws. Of those 342 students we met,” he concludes, “only 10 were placed on informal probation. Those are astonishing results.”

Indeed they are. It is precisely for this reason that Attorney General Kamala Harris has commended the Santa Barbara County program as an example for the entire state as to how to achieve the goal of returning students to school without necessitating criminal intervention.

Now that’s a CLASS act.  Attendance truly does work.

Views of parent conferences

Radio Commentary

From a child’s standpoint, a parent-teacher conference brings two important parts of the child’s life closer together — school and home.

Children usually feel good that their teacher and parents know each other because they are all such important influences and role models.

As a result, after the conference, parents usually are better able to help their children with school work.
During the conference, teachers can show parents the learning growth that has taken place for their children. Plus, teachers can pass on enjoyable details or special concerns about learning.

In turn, parents can learn of special services available for children who need them.
They can find out how individual differences are taken into account in teaching, and how that can apply to their child.

For their part, parents can help teachers learn more about home activities and situations that may affect learning.

The teacher can be more effective when positive feelings exist between home and school. For this reason, parent-teacher conferences create a win-win situation that goes far beyond the specific exchange of information that takes place.

They set a tone of cooperation and support that can be very influential on a child’s attitude toward learning.

They also establish lines of communication that can prove critical in times of challenge. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Innovations in Education - October 2015

Talking with Teachers - Brandon Sportel

Brandon Sportel
2015-16 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year
Canalino School, Carpinteria

Children and crises

Radio Commentary

Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, an airplane crash, an earthquake in a far-off place, or a fire or a shooting closer to home, parents and other caregivers must meet the challenge of reassuring children during times of crisis.

The way caregivers respond has a huge impact on how children will be affected.

To help, a booklet from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, called When Terrible Things Happen: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Their Children, offers some good advice.

For example, infants and toddlers, ages zero to three, can’t understand how a crisis or a loss has changed their environment.

But they can recognize and respond to changes in adult behavior.

The best thing you can do for infants and toddlers is to keep a routine and resume normal activities as soon as possible.
Pre-school children, ages three to five, may not talk about their feelings openly. Talking while playing games can help children of this age group express their thoughts more easily.
School-age children, five to 12 years old, have more understanding of how and why things happen. They will want to ask questions. Parents can help by talking, listening and answering their questions honestly and directly.

We cannot control a natural disaster or local catastrophe. We can only control how we react to them, especially with our children. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

No free lunch

Radio Commentary

More than two dozen “lessons for life” were outlined in a book written by Marian Wright Edelman, best known for her position as president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Edelman wrote the book as a letter to her own children, but the wisdom that permeates it can serve as a lesson for us all.

The first lesson is quite simple: There is no free lunch. Don’t feel entitled to anything you don’t sweat and struggle for.

She writes:  “Each American adult and child must struggle to achieve, and not think for a moment that America has got it made.

Especially in the days of instant fame and celebrity through the sports and entertainment fields, it is sometimes difficult for young people to keep their lives and their goals in perspective.

Edelman reminds us that rewards are so much richer and more fulfilling if we have earned them through our own hard work.

She says we must teach our children, by example, not to wobble and jerk through life, but to take care and pride in work, and to be reliable.
A life well lived is embodied in those who serve others, who share their successes, and who give back to those who have helped them.

Many of us know of philanthropists who have accumulated great wealth but are moved to share it in ways that benefit others.
Those we admire most are those who do it quietly without fanfare or without need for public acknowledgment. They do it not for self-glory, but for what they see as the public good.

It’s a good value to instill in all our children.

Friday, September 18, 2015

63rd annual Breakfast with the Authors slated for Saturday, Oct. 3

News release

Members of the community will be able to enjoy a delicious quiche brunch and conversation with world-renowned children’s authors and illustrators at the 63rd annual Breakfast with the Authors, sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3, in the SBCEO auditorium, 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road.

Confirmed authors and illustrators include Caroline Arnold, James Burks, Julie Dillemuth, Mary Ann Fraser, Mel Gilden, Joan Bransfield Graham, Valerie Hobbs, Michelle Robin La, Rebecca Langston-George, Sarah Lynn, Greg Trine, Lee Wardlaw, and Mark London Williams.

Registration deadline is Sept. 23. Pre-registration is required and can be done online at More information and registration materials are available at or by contacting Rose Koller at 964-4710, ext. 5222, or

Teen search for identity

Radio Commentary

Young children tend to accept the values of their parents without question. They have been exposed to few alternatives, so they rely on their parents to understand what is right and wrong.

As children grow older, however, they begin to think about a variety of options and they are likely to question the values around them. This is a normal process that almost all teens will go through.

The act of questioning should not be viewed as a challenge to the beliefs of the parents. Rather, it is a normal means of consolidating a set of values as the foundation for the practices of a lifetime.

Friends are important in this process. Teenagers need reactions, and their fellow teens will listen and give honest opinions.

The key for parents is to shore up their teen’s self-confidence and not over-react to ideas that might be floated out just for effect.

Teens who are unsure of themselves, and want to be accepted, are more likely to give in to negative peer pressure. They want to be liked and they want to have their ideas approved. They will seek that approval wherever they can find it.

Teens who have plenty of confidence will be affected by input from their friends but are less likely to be dominated by it. They have a sense of inner strength and self-worth that they will not want to jeopardize.

So be sure to show your teens you love and respect them. Knowing they can count on you helps with their decision-making, and helps keep them grounded in the values of the family unit.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Schools and skills

Radio Commentary

There is no thrill quite like the one that comes from mastering a challenge.

Remember the first time you realized the marks on a page were words, and you could understand them?

Or the first time you looked through a microscope, played an instrument, or understood what someone was saying in another language?

U.S. schools seek to give that same opportunity to every child every day by helping students set high standards and specific goals.

Education also gives students life skills like self-discipline, patience, and knowledge about the importance of sharing. Students learn to pay attention when others are speaking.

Many schools also teach children how to solve disagreements through conflict resolution. Extracurricular activities, from student government offices to volunteer projects, also offer chances to learn life skills.

Author Thomas Henry Huxley wrote: “Perhaps the most valuable result of education is the ability to make yourself do the things you have to do, when they ought to be done, whether you like it or not.”

And former Xerox CEO David Kearns added: “Education not only imparts the great lessons of history, citizenship, and science, it also teaches people to think, to solve problems, to take risks, to be an entrepreneur, and an innovator.”

That is, in fact, the great strength of the American public school system and always has been. It deserves our support.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Young Learners Preschool opens in Lompoc

News release

The Santa Barbara County Education Office is proud to announce the opening of a new preschool for the 2015-2016 school year. The Young Learners Preschool, located at La Canada Elementary in Lompoc, opened in August. The center teachers are Rosalinda Fletes and Sylvia Hernandez.

Young Learners Preschool is established to serve income-eligible families with children aged three or four years old by Sept. 2, 2015. The school offers two sessions. The morning session is held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.; the afternoon session runs from noon to 3 p.m.

The Young Learners Preschool is the sixth Lompoc preschool operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office. The other SBCEO-operated preschools in Lompoc are La Honda, De Colores, Just For Kids, Early Steps, and Learning Place.

If parents would like to be placed on the registration list, they should call Ana Hernandez at 964-4710, ext. 4409.

Good parent books

Radio Commentary

Raising children is not a science, and no single book on the subject has all the answers. Many experts — and many parents — disagree on the best practices. Still, it can be comforting and helpful to read the parenting “classics.”

For generations, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was considered the gold standard of advice, and many people still use it that way.   Others disagree.

The following books have also been best-sellers for years:

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp, provides sensible and sweet solutions for new parents.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish, offers respectful advice to lessen stress in family interactions.

John Medina’s Brain Rules for Baby focuses on infancy through age 5.
1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, by Thomas Phelan, gives three easy steps to help kids cooperate.

Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen, has been helping frustrated parents for more than 25 years.

And finally, The Baby Book, by Dr. William Sears and three other members of his family, offers sound advice on physical, medical, and emotional needs.

At the end of the day, after reading some of these classics for reference and conventional wisdom, it’s important to trust your heart and your judgment. No one knows your children better than you do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Study skills support

Radio Commentary

Researchers agree that parents who coach their children in essential study skills can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.

Parents can help by having a time and place for designated studies. They should stress the child’s sense of responsibility in completing all assignments thoroughly and accurately.

Some specific skills that parents can support include the following:

  • For time management — help students list goals and schedule deadlines. Discuss ways to maintain that schedule day in and day out, even when other activities seem to interfere.
  • For reference materials and libraries — take children to the library and show them how to find and use the reference materials available. 
  • Becoming comfortable with a library helps enormously as children’s academic assignments become more complex. 
  • For listening skills — children can practice listening to instructions and other verbal messages at home. Remind them that there is a difference between hearing and truly listening.
  • For oral presentations — encourage children to discuss their activities, and practice oral reports at home.

The more comfortable they become with the techniques of oral presentations at home, the more successful they will be in the classroom when those skills are needed.

Home is where study skills are learned and refined, with parents’ help. Helping children develop these skills will yield lasting, long-term benefits, while helping your children become life-long learners.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Helping students

Radio Commentary

Parent involvement with their children’s education increases the chances for success in school.

Studies show that children whose parents are involved in education are more motivated in the classroom. And motivated children become students with many opportunities for a bright future.

But just how do parents go about walking that fine line between being helpful and over-managing their children’s school work?

Here are some guidelines that have proven helpful for some parents:

  • Read with your children every day. You can read school assignments, or books that are just for fun.
  • Provide enrichment materials, like children’s books, magazines, and educational toys. Be sure to show your own delight in reading.
  • Provide quiet, private work spaces where children can study undisturbed and monitored. Insist that no TV is playing within earshot. Try to limit phone calls during homework time as well.
  • Help your children schedule homework into their daily routine of sports, music, family events, and long-term projects. Sometimes the prominent placement of a large calendar can make a big difference.
  • Reward good grades with recognition and praise for the effort.

Involved parents DO make a difference.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Raising great teens

Radio Commentary

Teenagers need their parents more than ever.

And though they might protest or seem uninterested, teens do consider their parent’s opinions and values when making decisions.

Here are some pointers for maintaining a good relationship with teens:

First, be actively interested in your teens’ life. Know who their friends are and make an effort to meet their parents as well.
Talk WITH your teen, not AT him. Try to avoid arguments. If things get heated, take a time out from the conversation and come back to it when you are both calm.

Share your thoughts with your teen. Teens are old enough to understand what is going on in the world. Talk about the news.

Take your teen to work so she can see what the work world is like. Talk to him about what he thinks he might do after high school. Let your child know your own stressful circumstances. Children see and hear more than we think.

Make sure to schedule some one-on-one time with your teen. Everyone has busy schedules, but it’s important to take advantage of short times available with undivided attention  — for example, when you are both in the car together.

Take a few minutes to sit in his room when you go in to say goodnight, and talk about things.  Family dinners are also a good time to talk, so try to eat together as often as possible.

Find an activity you can enjoy together, whether going to the gym or watching the news.  It all makes a difference.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cirone on Schools - Michael Kiyoi

Michael Kiyoi
Crystal Apple Award Winner
San Marcos High School
Santa Barbara Unified School District

Testing purposes

Radio Commentary

Tests are an important part of a child’s education. Still, it is important to keep in mind what tests can and cannot show.

A test can indicate what a student knows about a given subject. It can also show the types of reasoning a student finds difficult or easy to do.

A test can also reveal what a student still needs to learn. It can point out weaknesses and challenges, and show where further instruction could make a difference.

What a test cannot show is how hard a student has tried. It can’t show the amount of studying that took place or the effort that was put into trying to learn the material.

For some students, it takes little effort to do well on tests. They instinctively know what kinds of answers are being sought by the nature of the questions.

Others study very hard but find it more difficult to show what they know, so they may not score as well.

Parents need to make sure children know that whatever they score on a test, they are stilled loved. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget and very important to children who are trying hard to do their best.

All children want to do well on tests. But realistically, they simply won’t be able to do so 100 percent of the time.

Make sure your children know you support their efforts, not just the numbers they are able to attain.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Resolving homework problems

Radio Commentary

Homework hassles can often be avoided when parents value, monitor, and guide their children’s work.

But sometimes this help is not enough. Problems can still arise. If they do, teachers, parents, and students may need to work together to resolve them.

You may want to contact the teacher:

  • If your children are unwilling to do their assignments.
  • If the instructions are unclear.
  • If you can’t seem to help your child get organized to tackle the assignments.
  • If neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of an assignment.
  • If the assignments are frequently too hard or too easy.
  • Or if your child has missed school and needs to make up work.

Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a problem. Give the teacher a chance to work out the issue. Be sure to give the teacher’s suggestions a chance to work.

Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit, understanding that the teacher wants to help your child, even if you disagree about the method.

It’s easier to solve problems if teachers and parents view each other cooperatively.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Defining moments

By Bill Cirone

A friend of mine, who knows I’m an avid baseball fan, sent me an email last week. His note contained a link to a short film entitled “Love is Stronger,” produced by ESPN. It featured a young college ballplayer named Chris Singleton. Chris’ mom was senselessly gunned down in the Charleston, SC church shooting earlier this summer.

As media outlets have widely reported, the shooting was motivated by bigotry and hatred. The 21-year-old who is accused of this hate crime has reportedly said he sought to provoke a race war with his murderous acts.

Clearly, he didn’t know Chris Singleton.

I challenge anyone to watch this 18-minute clip and not get choked up. Chris’ poise, magnanimity, and maturity are inspirational.

Less than 24 hours after his mother was killed, Chris and his younger sister attended a vigil at the local high school where his mother was the track coach. “We already forgive [the shooter] for what he’s done. And there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.”

An incredulous reporter parroted back his words to him, in the form of a question, apparently uncertain she understood what this grieving young man had just said. “Yes, ma’am,” was his simple reply.

A number of Chris’ friends and coaches concede their doubt as to whether they could have said as much were they in his shoes. Count me among them. Truly, truly remarkable.

While Chris’ story is unique and undeniably moving, the truth is that stories possessed of transformative power are all around us, even right here in Santa Barbara County.

I have the pleasure of speaking with educators and administrators on a daily basis. We know that teachers can inspire students to do great things. Indeed, most if not all of us can talk about a teacher or coach who had a formative influence on our lives as school children.

But often I try to “flip the script,” and I will ask educators to share a story about how a student inspired them in meaningful ways. And I have never stumped a teacher with that question.

During a break at a recent leadership retreat, I asked just such a question of the County Education Office’s Transitional Youth Services (TYS) manager, Ms. Bonnie Beedles. Her program does unheralded but vitally important work with students throughout Santa Barbara County. They provide supplemental educational services to homeless youth and students in foster care, as well as form partnerships in support of schools, social service agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

A little known and unfortunate fact is that approximately 8,000 of the nearly 68,000 students in Santa Barbara County are considered homeless, as defined by the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. And, on average, about 240 of our school-aged children are in foster care.

Bonnie told me about two of them.

They were third and fifth grade sisters, whom I will call Brittany and Ashley. School officials knew the girls had been previously taken into foster care, so when they began missing a lot of school, the registrar called TYS asking for assistance in locating them. After some coordinating with local social service agencies, Bonnie’s staff located the girls, living in the front half of an uninsulated, unheated garage for $600 a month. The girls were battling chronic respiratory issues as well as sleep deprivation and malnourishment. Mom had recently lost her job and was having considerable difficulty balancing a job search and tending to her frequently sick daughters.

The TYS worker helped address the family’s most immediate needs by using donated money to purchase a space heater and mattresses. She then helped connect the family with Transition House so they had a stable living situation while saving up for appropriate housing.

Before long, the girls’ health began to improve, and so, too, did their attendance and concentration on their studies. Mom was able to focus on her job hunt, and eventually secured employment. “Educating our community’s most vulnerable children,” Bonnie concluded, “often means that we must first help remove the barriers to accessing their education.”

Towards the beginning of the short ESPN film, Chris Singleton makes a simple yet profound pronouncement. “We’ve overcome bad things,” he says. “But when you overcome bad things, they turn into good things.” Bad things are indeed all around us; a brief survey of the week’s headlines will remind us of that. But while those bad things surely affect us, they don’t have to define us. As Chris Singleton and Brittany and Ashley remind us, we are also equipped with the power to overcome. Those should be our defining moments.

Time management skills

Radio Commentary

Many students aren’t fully prepared to make the jump from elementary to secondary schools because they lack time-management or other organizational skills.

In elementary school, students typically spend most of their time with one teacher, at the same desk every day. In middle school or junior high, however, they begin moving from class to class, and must take responsibility for their own time management.

Here’s how students can be helped to make the transition:

Consolidation is the key. Give students the proper organizational tools. A weekly planner and the right notebook can make a bigger difference than you might imagine.

Recommend that students use a three-ring binder for all subjects, with dividers to separate the subjects, and plastic pockets to hold loose papers and items like pens and pencils.
A weekly planner is also helpful for recording assignments. Parents can sign off on it once a week. The planner should contain a section for recording grades. This way both students and parents can keep track of progress.

Be sure to set up a proper work environment. Children need a quiet workspace. Music and TV are both distractions, whether students realize it or not.

Create a schedule to replace daily reminding. The act of reminding students to do the same things over and over again becomes tedious and can waste valuable time.

These practices really help.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Parents’ checklist

Radio Commentary

Parents often ask what they can do to help prepare their children for school.

The most important parent involvement comes from setting a tone of respect and appreciation for education in general, and for school rules in particular.

Here’s a checklist that has proven helpful for many families:

  • Did my child get a good breakfast this morning? Children learn better when they arrive well-nourished. 
  • Did I provide a nutritious lunch or money to buy one? 
  • After school, did my child have a chance to tell me what happened today and to share concerns or excitement? 
  • Did my child use the agreed-upon time to complete all homework? This should be the number one priority each night.
  • Did I make time to help my child with any problems that arose? Explaining things right away can often make the biggest difference.
  • Does my child have any tests tomorrow? If so, has the needed studying been done?
  • Have I read with my child? Has she read alone? 
  • Will my child get to bed at the regular time each night?

These are good questions to pose. They provide the basic building blocks for success in any classroom.

Friday, September 4, 2015

More activities for baby

Radio Commentary

Babies can be hard work because they have so many needs. Most important are their needs for love and attention. Babies can also be delightful and wonderful fun.

Here are some activities they particularly seem to enjoy.

First, babies like to see. They can't see all the colors right away, but they do like to follow things with their eyes.

Your baby will like contrast and brightly colored things. Most of all, she wants to see your face.
Babies also like to hear. Your baby will get used to your voice pretty quickly after he is born.  Soon after that, he will love hearing new sounds.

Babies love music and singing, especially songs that have clapping and rhyme. You can use the “old standards” or even make some up as you go along.

The best way to introduce your child to new words is to talk to him as you do things, even if he can't talk back. Tell him where you are going and what you are doing.

Most importantly, read out loud to your baby. Reading should be part of your child’s daily routine from the time she is born. Point to and name the pictures in the book as you read.

Babies also like to touch. Your baby will start to hold on to you early on — your finger, your hair, your glasses, or earrings.  Simple toys, like soft books or rattles, are also always fun.

Enjoy these things together.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Schools of Thought with Bill Cirone - Ed Cora

Ed Cora
Guadalupe Union School District

Local Leaders - Phil Alvarado

Phil Alvarado
Retired Superintendent
Santa Maria-Bonita School District

Talking with Teachers - Cynthia Boortz

Cynthia Boortz
Cabrillo High School, Lompoc Unified School District
Crystal Apple Award Winner

What parents should know about high school

Radio Commentary

Beyond the school calendar and what classes your students will take, you should also be familiar with graduation requirements and which classes prepare students for college and careers.

It’s important for parents to understand the school’s academic and social standards.

Here are some tips for staying informed:

  • Obtain and read everything the school offers. Gather newsletters, handbooks, notices and course descriptions, most of which is also available on the school’s website. Read it all.
  • Get to know the staff. Know everyone from the principal and school support personnel to the teachers. Make an appointment for face-to-face meetings. Plan your questions before you arrive.  
  • Talk to other parents. Information about special programs, scholarships and required classes can all come from other parents. It is especially helpful to talk to parents who have older children.
  • Ask questions. That’s your right. And the staff at local high schools are eager to answer all your questions.
  • Finally, check homework. You can get a lot of information by seeing activities and assignments.

Looking at schoolwork not only lets you know what your child is doing, it also tells him or her that you believe school is important. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Finding hope at boys camp

News release

Los Robles High School recently announced the winners of this year’s poetry writing contest for its upcoming book Finding Hope. The highest honor, Poet Laureate of 2015, was awarded to Joshua C. The Poet Laureate designation is awarded in recognition of the student whose portfolio of poems presents the highest degree of quality and originality.

Garnering first place in the competition for best theme poem also went to Joshua C. for his poem Misunderstood. Second place for best theme poem was awarded to Tyler A. and Juan G. earned honorable mention.

Los Robles High School is operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) at Los Prietos Boys Camp, a juvenile detention facility for boys that is operated by the county Probation Department.

The high school first compiled and printed bookstore-quality poetry books in 2009 and has privately published a new poetry book annually ever since. Special thanks go to Jan Clevenger and the Solvang Rotary Club, whose generosity underwrites the books’ printing.

As part of the poetry unit, students study an array of poetry forms, including haiku, limerick, and free verse. Each year’s book also has a theme, and students are encouraged to pen the best poem based on that year’s theme.

Each student who composes at least one poem of sufficient quality and effort will have it printed in the book and be awarded a paperback copy of Finding Hope. Winners of the contests are given hardcover copies of the books.

Awarding the designation of the Camp’s Poet Laureate began in 2013 after a sign was erected at the site of the original camp. The sign is in recognition of William Stafford, who worked at the Los Prietos Camp as a conscientious objector during World War II, when the camp was a Civilian Public Service camp.

Stafford did much of the same work the boys at the current camp do – assisting the forestry service in trail clearance, working in the kitchen, as well as community service projects. In his spare time, Stafford often had a pen in hand and composed both prose and poetry. He eventually wrote a book entitled Down in my Heart about his days at Los Prietos, and in 1970 Stafford was named what is now known as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

It was after seeing the sign and learning about the accomplishments of Stafford and his relationship to the original Camp that Los Robles High School decided to select a poet laureate. Each January the Camp’s current poet laureate is invited by the Friends of William Stafford to read his poetry at their annual gathering held at the site of the original camp on the anniversary of Stafford’s birth.

Lofty goals

Radio Commentary

Recognizing the importance of education to our national well-being, the early leaders of our country created publicly funded schools to educate children from all walks of life.

They were seeking to do more than just teach children reading, writing, and math.

They believed that a system of publicly supported schools ought to accomplish seven major goals:

  • prepare people to become responsible citizens
  • improve social conditions
  • promote cultural unity
  • help people become economically self-sufficient
  • enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives
  • dispel inequities in education, and
  • ensure a basic quality level among schools

These goals are worthy of our great democracy. But they are hard to measure.

In fact, many of these goals can only be evaluated over a span of many years, when we can finally see how students have applied their learning.

We hear critics of public schools call for alternatives that shift funding and responsibility for education to the private sector. And we hear calls for ever-more reliance on test scores to measure school achievement.

When we weigh these ideas, it is important to remember the whole picture of what we seek from public education.

We need to weigh suggestions against the lofty goals we had in mind when public education was first conceived. They remain essential in a democratic and free-market society.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Family involvement

Radio Commentary

When people hear the term “parental involvement in school,” they usually think it means taking part in PTA activities, helping to chaperone field trips, or volunteering in the classroom.

It’s important to remember that another form of parental involvement is even more crucial — taking part in education at home.
This means encouraging children to read, monitoring their homework, reading to them, placing reasonable restrictions on TV viewing, and making sure they go to school every day.
It also means talking to children about why school is important.

Many children do not always get such attention. In some cases, both parents are working and are simply too tired at night or are not inclined to do so. In single-parent families, often it is impossible for a parent to cover all these bases.

Many modern children spend at least as much time watching TV as they do in school. And, of course, if students don’t attend school regularly, they can’t benefit from what it offers.

Parents have to be around the house to supervise; they have to put pressure on their children to turn off the TV and do their homework or read. They have to make sure their kids go to school even when there is some small reason for staying home.

This kind of parental involvement is hard work, and relentless work, because it must be constant. But it’s hard to think of anything more important parents can do for their children.