Friday, June 30, 2017

Partnerships have made the difference

Radio Commentary

Partnerships are the central thread that runs through the fabric of all we have done here at the Santa Barbara County Education Office for the past three and a half decades.
Since this will be my last commentary before retiring, I would be remiss to leave office before publicly thanking and acknowledging our partners, large and small, who have made the difference in the lives of local families and children, and the schools that serve them. It is so impressive that our community embraces the concept “we are all better together.”
Members of our community — businesses, philanthropic organizations, institutions of higher learning, and private citizens — have all recognized the critical value of education as the cornerstone of democracy and the foundation of America’s future.
It has been said that individual snowflakes are fragile, but when they band together they can stop traffic. That’s what we’ve witnessed countywide — people and organizations banding together as a unified force to support students and schools. It has all made a difference. No individual organization could have done it alone.
I have often quoted Katherine Graham, whose famous statement captures so well what I believe all our partners feel when they help local children: “To love what you do, and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”
It has been a true privilege and an honor to work alongside you and serve the children, parents, schools, and citizens of Santa Barbara County for the past 34 years. Thank you for your caring, investment and support, and the impact you have had on children.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Children of addicts

Radio Commentary

Research shows that one in four young people lives in a family where a person abuses alcohol or suffers from alcoholism.
Children in these situations need to know they are not alone. Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a disease. When one member of the family has this disease, all family members are affected.
Children need to know it is not their fault. They didn’t cause the disease and they can’t make it stop. They need and deserve help for themselves.
It is critical to know that young people with addicted parents are four times more likely to become addicted if they choose to drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.
They need to keep firmly in mind that they can’t get addicted if they don’t drink or use drugs.
Children in these situations should talk with an adult — a teacher, school counselor, or school nurse, a friend’s parent, a doctor, grandparent, or neighbor — anyone who will listen and help them.
They can also ask a school counselor or social worker to recommend a support group. 
These are great places to meet other young people struggling with the same problems at home. 
Children should know it is important to find caring adults who can provide the guidance and support they need to stay healthy.
They will feel better and can have a safe and productive life. It’s in their power if they understand these facts and act.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer tips

Radio Commentary

During the summer and year-round, it’s good to bolster the three R’s for your children. To start, have your children keep a diary of their activities.
Also take time every day for the whole family to read. Even 10 or 15 minutes is fine. Have your children follow a favorite newspaper comic strip.
It’s also fun to have them write letters or send postcards to relatives and friends.
For math reinforcement, they can review cash register receipts, checking for accuracy when you’re unloading groceries.
You can also teach youngsters to compute gas mileage. If you hold a yard sale, allow them to make change.
You can also help children get organized. Have them start a collection of anything. It could be rocks, stamps, baseball cards, bottle caps, labels, marbles, leaves, or bugs.
Have the children arrange them in some orderly fashion by categories, by color, or alphabetically. They could even keep a written log to go along with the collection.
You can also ask youngsters to organize photos in an album by date or activity.
Or, they can save newspaper or magazine photos of favorite athletes or heroes to create a scrapbook. These ideas can add to summer fun while bolstering the 3 R’s.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Setting TV limits

Radio Commentary

When you consider Saturday morning cartoons, computer games, advertising, and movies, it can be worrisome to think about the media’s impact on children.
How can you set family standards for violence and other questionable content?
A resource called “Parenting in a TV Age,” published by the Center for Media and Values, answered some of these questions.
First, parents should take charge of children’s TV watching or computer-game use by setting limits on how much they will be allowed to watch or play. Typical limits include two hours a day, or 10 hours on a weekend.
Parents should also encourage daily alternatives, such as sports, games, hobbies, reading, chores, and playing with friends.
It’s also a good idea to get a locking device on your TV to bar access to certain cable channels and to consider similar filters for online sites.
Parents should decide ahead of time what “strings” to attach to viewing a popular show that may contain troublesome content. For example, children might be allowed to watch a certain program only if they agree to spend 15 minutes afterward discussing it with you.
Perhaps most important of all, parents sometimes forget their crucial role as a model for their children. Be willing to set limits on your own viewing.
Model the media behavior you would like your children to follow.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Boating, sun safety

Radio Commentary

Summertime usually involves water recreation, which can be a source of great family fun. It also poses some dangers.
So it is important to teach your children water safety rules, to help protect them when boating, swimming, or enjoying other water sports.
First, have children learn to swim, but never alone — use the buddy system.
They should know the items that can be used to help save someone in trouble — a rope, an oar, a branch, or a life preserver, for example.
They should never swim where there is no lifeguard on duty. When on a boat, they should always wear a life jacket and stay seated.
Another great danger associated with water sports has to do with the sun. Many people believe that a tan looks healthy, but prolonged exposure to the summer sun can be very dangerous.
In fact, excessive sun exposure during the first 20 years of life is a key risk factor for all skin cancer. And young children are especially vulnerable.
To help protect your children, keep infants up to six months old out of the sun or shaded from it. For young children, use sunscreen liberally, at least 30 minutes before exposure, and reapply often.
Use extra protection in areas with reflective surfaces such as water. And beware: A cloud cover only partially reduces radiation. The sun won’t feel warm until it is already too late.
With the right precautions in mind, summer can be a time of fun and enjoyment for all ages.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Swimming safety

Radio Commentary

Children have great fun swimming in pools or at the beach. But it is important that children stay safe any time they are around water.
All children should know how to swim well enough to survive an emergency. They should always swim with a buddy who has the ability to help them if needed.
Children should stay out of the water if they are overheated or overtired. They should never dive unless they know the area well enough, and they are certain the water is deep enough.
Make sure children check with a lifeguard about beach and surf conditions before swimming in the ocean.
Tell them if they ever think they are being pulled out by a rip current, they should stay calm. Instead of fighting the current, they should swim parallel to the beach. Once they feel free of the current, they should then swim to shore.   
Finally, children should not overestimate their swimming ability. Weak swimmers should stay in the shallow end of a pool, or within an area marked off for them with buoyed lines.
In the ocean, swimming short distances parallel to the shore is safest.
Swimming can provide great exercise and fun. But it is important that children understand the dangers and stay “water safe.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summertime activities K-3

Radio Commentary

Young students need activities that help them learn and stay sharp over the summer, and parents can choose from many simple ones for their children who are in kindergarten through the third grade.
Sorting and stacking helps teach classification skills. Ask your child to match and stack dishes of similar sizes and shapes. 
Also have children sort silverware — forks with forks, spoons with spoons. 
This is like recognizing the shapes of letters and numbers.
You can also use comic strips to help with writing. 
Cut apart the segments of a strip and ask your child to arrange them in order. 
Then ask your child to say the words of the characters out loud.
It also helps to encourage hypothesizing or guessing. 
Use objects such as soap, a dry sock, a bottle of shampoo, and a wet sponge. Ask which objects will float when dropped into water in a sink or bathtub. 
Then drop the objects into the water one by one to see what happens.
This all helps make learning fun, and it keeps young minds active over the summer months.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Community opportunities

Radio Commentary

Over the summer, look for opportunities in the community to engage your children.
Public libraries, YMCAs, and community centers are among the places that host free activities for young children and families, especially in the summer.
There are also some vibrant online groups for parents where moms and dads keep each other informed about local events, regular playgroups, and resources.
You can search for these groups on Facebook, MeetUp, or Google, but be careful to make sure you are accessing groups that focus on positive family supports.
A clearly worded description and active moderators are signs that the group is well-maintained and will have helpful information.
There are also a variety of Family Centers, which are great places for free playgroups and social activities. Parents and children can meet other families, learn about community resources, and take part in activities.
We are so fortunate locally to also have a wonderful zoo. The Goleta Railroad Museum has rides for little ones, and all museums have a variety of children’s programs.
The beach is another great place to take children of all ages, and local libraries have story-reading programs on a regular basis.
Santa Barbara County is filled with community treasures for children. Seize the opportunity! 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thank you and farewell

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

My time in office is short, and the list of thanks I owe is long. Very long.

As the nation prepares to celebrate July 4, I want to thank first and foremost the Santa Barbara County community for the privilege and honor it has been to work as your elected representative in a system of governance and representation that is unmatched on our planet.

Our nation remains strong because of the foresight and wisdom of the founding fathers who constructed a nation based on freedom and equality for all.

It has been particularly rewarding to be able to take part in the system of public education that has always been the cornerstone of our great democracy — a melting pot where children from all walks of life, all religions, all races, all levels of income and ability, come together and work side by side, learning together, and learning from each other, all equal. This is the lifeblood of democracy, and it is how we make sure it stays strong and continues to thrive.

It has always been vital to remain vigilant and not take these freedoms for granted.

The late Frosty Troy, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from Oklahoma, was one of the most outspoken supporters of public education I have ever met. We happily invited him to Santa Barbara County on several occasions so that the public could hear first-hand his wisdom, his commonsense, and his passion. “I am your public school,” he once wrote, “a 200 year-old experiment giving America the strongest economy in world history. And we are as diverse as this great country.”

He added, “When the buses roll up, my doors are flung open to children of all shapes, sizes, levels of ability. They speak more than 100 languages. I represent home schooling at its best for I am the home school of 10 million latchkey children.”

He added that “many of the children who drop out are those who arrive undisciplined, unwanted, unloved; some strung out on drugs and alcohol; some abused and neglected. The miracle is that my doors are open to all of them and many are reached, not by textbooks alone but by teachers who know there is more to a child's life than rote learning. For thousands of kids, the only hug they ever get they get in school… Aren't feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and nurturing the little ones spiritual injunctions in all the great religions of the world?”

Thanks to the vision of our forebears, America had a 100-year head start on every other nation in creating universal free public education. Today, with all its flaws, it is the finest system in the industrial world.

As Frosty said, “Some of you would dim my lights, leaving in the shadows the poor, the halt, the blind, the lame, and the special education student. Do as you will, but for me, I will stand proudly in my neighborhood — America's last egalitarian institution, my arms embracing the finest educators, administrators, and support personnel in the world, dedicated to helping our children realize the American dream.”

Another passionate supporter of public education, the late Harriet Miller, who was born on the Fourth of July, served as superintendent of public instruction for the state of Montana before she became more well-known locally as mayor of Santa Barbara. She delivered a remarkable speech as Montana’s state superintendent in March of 1962. See how her words resonate so powerfully today:

“There are forces at work today whose business is fear and suspicion. These forces masquerade in a wide array of disguises, some apparently quite respectable. By inference and innuendo, by oversimplifica¬tion to the point of falsehood, by shameless appeals to emotion and ignorance and prejudice, these forces are working to destroy the fabric of America by turning us against each other. Their method: create deadly suspicion; their goal: divide and conquer. This has become the new un-Americanism.” She said we must not fail “in preserving the tradition of American education and the American way of life.”

I believe the words that Frosty and Harriet stated so passionately bear repeating in these very fraught times for public education. Their views reflect so well my ongoing vision for our children and our communities, united in our quest to be a unifying force in our country and to meet every child where he or she stands, and enhance those God-given potentials to the very best of our abilities. That’s what public schools have always done, and that’s why they have always been the glue that binds the members of our democracy.

I hope we will never lose that vision or passion, for the sake of our children and the future they represent. It is our sacred duty to pass on to future generations the gifts we have all received by working side by side in public classrooms, learning from each other and from the heroic teachers who will receive a special form of immortality by living on in the children they have touched. My passion for public education has not diminished in any way, and I hope that torch will go forward in the hearts of all of you. For that, I thank you all.

TV and information

Radio Commentary

Children used to acquire knowledge of the world in a gradual, controlled way. They learned how to behave by watching adults and modeling their actions.
The slowly developing reading skills of young people restricted them mostly to stories and facts that were deemed suitable for their age level.
But times have changed. Today children are flung quickly into the realm of adult knowledge.
Certainly the mass media bombard children with messages at every turn. Rock and rap song lyrics, DVDs, and advertising all play their parts. Television, the Internet, and computer games are also major players.
Messages in ads, TV programs and games — in print, online, and even some content on the nightly news — would have been shocking to see just one short generation ago.
Young viewers can’t always distinguish between the drama and trauma of reality shows and adventure shows, and the day-to-day routine that most adults live.
Without proper guidance, children can grow up dissatisfied with lives less exciting and glamorous than the TV heroes they admire or those on their computer screens. Those figures can avoid handling conflicts that can’t be solved in 22 minutes — or worse, in 22 seconds.
Creating a family of media critics is one answer to this challenge. “Talking back” to the TV or computer screen is a good first step. And remember to be aware of media content, and use good judgment in your selections.
These steps are a key to raising healthy, well-adjusted children.

Monday, June 19, 2017

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. 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.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reading over the summer

Radio Commentary

Summer gives children a good break from the stresses of the academic assignments and tests they face during the school year.
But it is important to keep some skills active so that children don’t completely lose the drive to learn and to read.
Studies show that children who read during the summer make gains in their reading skills. Those who do not read over the summer can experience learning losses.
Here are some ways to keep your child learning and reading throughout the extended break from the classroom.
First, have plenty of reading material around your home.
Storybooks aren’t the only thing that young people can read for fun. Be sure to have newspapers, magazines, and informational material on hand that might spark the interest of a young reader.
Continue to read aloud with children. Take them to see a local storyteller — or be one yourself. Don’t forget to improvise different voices or wear a silly hat to make the story that much more interesting.
What’s important is to keep the reading skills active. 
It’s also critical to reinforce for young people the idea that reading can be fun and exciting. It can cure boredom and expand the mind. It can provide great adventures and help them meet really interesting people.
And it’s a great way to spend your time. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

TV rules

Radio Commentary

I’m Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools.
In setting up rules about television viewing — especially over the summer — be sure to monitor what your children watch.
Encourage them to choose programs that make them think; that are free of violence and sex; and that feature characters whose values are similar to your own.
When watching TV with your children, ask questions like, “Why do you think that person did what he did?” Encourage your children to ask questions as well, and answer them honestly.
Limit overall television viewing time. During commercials, review what you just watched and ask children to predict what will happen next.
Turn off the television if you see things on it that you don’t like — but be sure to explain to your child why you are doing so. Say: “I don’t like what those people are doing because . . .”
Remember that when children are watching TV it takes them away from other activities like reading and sports. Plan games, trips to the library, and trips to parks and playgrounds to take the place of TV.
Have reference materials or a computer near the TV so additional information is available. Have your child look up new words in a dictionary, or look at an atlas to find places mentioned in a show. This way it’s fun and educational.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Planning for shopping

Radio Commentary

It can be trying, and even stressful, to shop in a grocery store or mall with a small child. Here are some steps that have helped other parents in the same situation:
First, before the shopping trip even begins, plan ahead by explaining the rules.
Say: “Stay close to me.” “Use your quiet voice,” and “No begging for candy or toys.”
Select a secret word or signal that you can both use to get the immediate attention of the other.
Role-play at home about how to act at the store. Agree on the rewards for good behavior. A favorite snack food or a stop at the park are good examples.
Promise to read a story or play a game at home.
It also helps to pack a treat. Bring a nutritious snack, such as raisins, cut-up apples, or nuts.
Bring a storybook. Keep a supply of little action figures or small toys handy. Try bringing a favorite blanket, toy, or book from home.
For a small child, tie a favorite soft toy to the handle of the shopping cart or stroller.
Check your child’s emotions. Is your child too tired or hungry to shop? Are you? If the answer is yes, postpone your trip or find a sitter for your child.
Don’t wait until the end of a tiring day. Go when you and your child are rested.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer activities

Radio Commentary

Summer can continue to be a time of learning for young people, and it’s important that parents keep that in mind.
As a family, choose an important news event to follow for a day or two. Ask each person to find as much information on the topic as possible — read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch TV news, or check online. Then talk about what everyone has learned.
You can also make a family game of discussing a special issue. For example: “Teenagers should be allowed to vote.” Or, “There should never be any homework.”
Ask your children to think of all the reasons they can to support their views. Then ask them to think of reasons opposing their views.
Which views are most convincing?
For variety, you can assign family members to teams and have them prepare their arguments, pro and con.
Exercise also helps keep the mind sharp, and summertime is a great time for fitness. Ask your children to do at least one kind of exercise every day. For example, they could run or walk briskly for 10 minutes. 
When possible, they should walk, instead of riding in a car, for any distance less than a mile.
Have your children create their own week-long exercise plans. Try to think of a modest reward for sticking to the plan. Then exercise right along with your children, for everyone’s health.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Teen partying

Radio Commentary

Where there are teenagers, there will be parties, and summer vacations are often a likely time for these to occur. 
If your teenager is attending a party, here are some key points to consider:
Know where your teenager will be. Get the name, address, and phone number of the host. If the party's location changes, have your teen let you know the new location.
Contact the parents of the party-giver to verify the party location, offer your help, and make sure that an adult will be present. You’ll also want to confirm that alcohol and other drugs will not be allowed.
Transportation to and from the party should also be discussed.
Let your teen know that you or a specific person can be called on for a ride home, no questions asked.
Discussing possible scenarios ahead of time gives teens a good idea about how to respond in a variety of situations.
Another important point to consider is curfew. Let your teen know when to be home. Stay up or have your teen wake you when he or she gets back. You may find it’s a good time to ask how the evening went.
Sleeping over at the location of the party may also be appropriate, but talk to your teen and the host's parents ahead of time.
Communication is essential. Build a sense of trust with your teen and you're more likely to get honest information. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Latchkey suggestions

Radio Commentary

Many parents worry about the need to leave children home alone while they work. Here are some tips that can help ease your mind.
First, make a set of rules and post them where they can’t be missed. Some useful items for the list include:
Children should go straight home and not speak with strangers on the way.
They should always keep the door locked.
They should always answer the phone, but never say they’re alone. They should say their parents can’t come to the phone, take a message and hang up.
If children find a door or a window broken, they should go straight to a trusted neighbor and call a parent or the police.
Drill your child on how to call the police and give your complete address clearly.
Children should have clear access to emergency numbers, and know what to do in case of fire, or when the smoke detector goes off. Have a fire escape plan.
Set up a telephone routine if you can be at a phone each day when the child is due home. Call and say hello, and have the child call you back. Work out an alternative so children can be assured human contact if you are unavailable. 
If you’re going to be late getting home, let your child know well in advance. 
Even young people who are quite confident about staying home alone can have some nagging fears set off by a strange noise or an ambulance siren.
Many schools have programs for children of working parents. Remember, you’re not alone.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Partnerships have made the difference

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

Partnerships are the central thread that runs through the fabric of all we have done here at the Santa Barbara County Education Office for the past three and a half decades. I would be remiss to leave office before publicly thanking and acknowledging our partners, large and small, who have made a difference in the lives of local families and children, and the schools that serve them. The willingness to step up and help has been inspirational at every level.

Members of our community — businesses, philanthropic organizations, institutions of higher learning, and private citizens — have all recognized the critical value of education as the cornerstone of democracy and the foundation for America’s future.
I am so grateful for their participation and efforts on behalf of our schools and our children. I am also very proud of the sheer breadth and depth of the partnerships we have helped nurture through the years. Some of these partnerships have supported the arts, as with the annual I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival, the Children’s Creative Project, and the awarding of a Performing Arts Teacher of the Year. Others have helped recognize and support outstanding teachers, through Teachers Network Grants, Crystal Apple Awards, the Teacher of the Year award, the Distinguished New Educator award, and many other programs. Technology access has also been the priority of the nationally acclaimed Computers for Families program, initiated in partnership with the highly regarded Partners in Education group. Other examples include the Volunteer Project, the Intern Project, Principal for a Day, and the Celebration of Partnerships. Environmental education has been supported through partnerships like West of West and others.

These are just a sample of the truly innumerable partnerships that make a difference countywide; listing all of them would require pages upon pages. It is so impressive that our community embraces and recognizes the concept that “we are better together,” working in partnership, and I truly believe that partnerships in this county are second to none. What a credit to the caring, the heart, and the level of responsibility reflected in all those who have taken part.

It has been said that individual snowflakes are fragile, but when they band together they can stop traffic. That’s what we’ve witnessed countywide — people and organizations banding together as a unified force to support students and schools. It has made all the difference. No individual organization could have done it alone.

I have often quoted Katherine Graham, whose famous statement captures so well what I believe all our partners feel when they help local children: “To love what you do, and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

On behalf of the schools and children of Santa Barbara County, I want to say again how grateful we all are for the support, the caring, and the impact partnerships have had, and the difference they have made for our next generation of leaders and workers.

Thank you all.

The story about blueberries

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools
Some may know the story of Jamie Robert Vollmer, a former business executive and attorney, who currently works as a consultant to increase community support for public schools. He actually became a “convert” during a presentation he was making at a teachers in-service program.
He was the keynote speaker at the time, and felt it was important to be brutally honest with the teachers in the auditorium. He told them that if he ran his business the way they ran schools, he wouldn’t be in business very long.
He was an executive at an ice cream company that became instantly successful when People Magazine chose its blueberry ice cream as the best ice cream in America. He was representing a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools, so his heart was in the right place.
As he tells it, he was convinced of two things at the time he gave that speech to the teachers: first, that public education needed to change. He felt schools were designed for the Industrial Age and not in tune with modern needs. He also felt strongly that educators themselves were a major part of the problem, resisting change, protected by tenure, bureaucratic. He thought if schools looked to a business model, they could improve dramatically: zero defects, total quality management, continuous improvement, etc.
I love one line he uses in telling the story: “In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced – equal parts ignorance and arrogance.”
Everything changed for him after the speech when a teacher in the audience raised her hand. She praised his ice cream and asked about the premium ingredients. He responded with pride about all the particulars. “Mr. Vollmer,” she then asked, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”
He saw the trap had sprung, but replied truthfully that he sends the blueberries back.
The teacher went in for the kill, pointing out that teachers can never send back blueberries. “We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all. Every one. And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s a school.”
Her comments were well received by the audience, as you can imagine.
What was interesting was Vollmer’s instant transformation. He heard it. And he got it.
Vollmer has since visited hundreds of schools. He understands that they do not control the quality of their raw materials. He says schools depend on the “vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream.” He knows they are “mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.”
Schools must continue to improve. There is no doubt about that. But Vollmer is right that schools cannot do this alone. “Changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission, and active support of the surrounding community,” he writes.
“Schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs, and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools; it means changing America,” he wrote.
His blueberries made a good story.