Saturday, March 10, 2007

Monrovia School Link ~ Number 190 ~ March 10, 2007

Well folks, this is it. Last Monrovia School Link, at least for the foreseeable future. Also, a parting shot about the Monrovia Library vote. (By the way, if someone really wants to express a different view about the library vote, I'll send those comments out as one post-final issue.) I'll talk a bit about those things below, but first, here's what's coming up at this Wednesday's School Board meeting.
~brad@sacklunch.net

During the study session at 5 p.m. the board will discuss the status of the Monrovia High School facilities.

At the regular meeting at 7:30 p.m., the board will honor the Monrovia High School student delegation that participated in the California YMCA Youth and Government program in Sacramento, and will vote for two candidates seeking election to two seats on the California School Boards Association.

Also, here's a list of upcoming open houses:

Canyon Oaks High School / Mountain Park School - Tuesday, March 27, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Canyon Early Learning Center - Tues., March 27, 2007, 6:00 p.m., (Picnic @ 5:00 p.m.)

Clifton Middle School - Wednesday, April 4, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
Santa Fe Middle School - Wednesday, April 4, 2007, 6:00 p.m.
Bradoaks Elementary School - Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Wild Rose Elementary School - Thursday, May 24, 2007, 6:30 p.m.

ADIOS ~ I originally started this newsletter because I believed there was something wrong with the Monrovia School District and I figured the thing to do was to go to the board meetings and write up what I saw. After a number of meetings I began to feel that I was right, that there really was something wrong, and I started to say so fairly loudly - occasionally rudely (I apologize for those times) - and for quite a long time. I felt the board members needed to be more active in exercising leadership and that too much was being decided in study sessions hidden off from view in a back office, and that even though those meetings were open to the public, the venue was entirely too uninviting and intimidating for residents to attend.

Those were a couple of my complaints - though there were plenty of others. But since then we've had two elections and some awesome people have joined the board. I think Clare Chesley and Bryan Wong brought about an absolute turnaround on the board, and all for the best. (Either one of them would be great for some higher office.) Later Ed Gililland joined the board along with Chris Rich and Clarence Shaw. The only one of these individuals that I didn't endorse at one time or another was Shaw, but I've got to say that I really like Clarence. He is a gentleman. Even though I didn't endorse him he always greets me like a long-lost friend. Super nice guy.

Anyway, my point is that I believe the board - and the district as a whole - has made some really great progress. I'm impressed. But that is one reason I don't feel this newsletter is as necessary as it once was.

Also, as some members of the community have pointed out, over the years the quality of this newsletter has been uneven. One reason for that has been because I don't have the time to devote to it. I'm busy at work; I'm a partner in a little publication called The Orange Cat (www.theorangecat.org), which lists events to take your kids to in the San Gabriel Valley (it's free if you'd like to sign up); I'm on the board of a little nonprofit; plus, there are some other activities that take up my time, including - somewhat to my own surprise and certainly to my wife's - taking an oil painting class. I guess I just wanted to try something radically different. Anyway, I think what really brought home to me my busyness was that the last board meeting fell on the day when my daughter and I go out for our daddy-daughter date. I had forgotten about our date and at the last minute I had to choose between the board meeting or our date. The date won.

Further, Maritza Diaz, who was doing much of the writing for the newsletter, has a new schedule at school and is no longer able to write the newsletter. She had taken a big part of the task off my shoulders (thanks Maritza), and I found it difficult to replace her.

Having said all this, let me express a little dream. I really have felt for some time that the city could use a good, independent, online news source, not antagonistic to the city government, but not controlled by it either. Maybe not the kind of opinion journal that I have written here, but more or less what local newspapers used to be years ago, where a reporter would actually go to school board and city council and planning commission meetings and write up what happens there, and publicize local events, and do feature stories about local people, and provide a forum for people to express their opinions and generally be kind of a glue that helps bind the community together. I realize the economics of the newspaper business probably don't allow that anymore, but I think maybe the economics of the Internet would allow it (The Orange Cat, for instance, is kinda sorta profitable, though I look forward to the day when I work for it at more than minimum wage.) So, if anybody would be interested in that, I'd be happy to chat. I'm not sure - because of my schedule - that I'd be able to participate more fully, but I'd be willing to chat.

So, from now on, you can keep in touch with what is going on at the district through the Web site. The agenda is always on line there. Here's the district's web site: http://www.monroviaschools.net/

THE LIBRARY ~ I'm glad the library measure passed, though I still think libraries are primarily for books and I wish that we'd get more than 30 percent more books when we're getting 100 percent more library. But still, despite my doubts, I voted for it. But I've got to say that when I got in that voting booth - and even though I had already decided to vote for the measure - I came within a whisker of voting "NO WAY!" Here's why:

While I'm all in favor of people expressing their opinions (I've been doing it here for years) I strongly feel that that when you step into the polling place you should stop getting opinions. The only thing you should get is what's written on the ballot, and that should be as objective a description of the issue as is humanly possible.

But what I saw when I stepped up to the polling booth was a disgrace! It was an advertisement in favor of the library. It said the current library is "small and outdated" (a pure judgement call) and it made no mention of the cost, either the total cost for the new library or the cost to individual taxpayers. The whole thing was worded to encourage a favorable vote, and I think that was utterly unfair.

But here. You can judge for yourself. Here is the description in its entirety:

"Shall an ordinance be adopted to rebuild the small and outdated Monrovia Public Library at its current site according to new earthquake, fire safety, energy efficiency and handicapped accessibility standards, with expanded children's reading areas, upgraded computer technology, new study rooms for students and quiet reading areas, by imposing a special parcel tax with expenditures subject to annual independent audits and no expenditures for administrator's [sic] salaries?"

Okay, I'm done ranting. Maybe again someday. Bye for now. Best wishes and God bless.


Also on the Web at www.monroviaschoollink.com


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Monrovia School Link ~ Number 189 ~ February 28, 2007

Looks like kind of a thin agenda this Wednesday.
~brad@sacklunch.net


There will be a study session a 6:30 p.m. and the regular meeting at 7:30.

HONORS ~ The Monrovia Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Education will honor the following employees for outstanding service: Jan Marlia, Clerical Assistant, Clifton Middle School; Bob Drew, Teacher, Clifton Middle School; Patricia Hobbs, Food Services Manager, Mayflower Elementary School; and Beth Lojeski, Teacher, Mayflower Elementary School. Also, the board will honor Harold "Duke" Freyermuth as the 2007 Golden Apple recipient, presented by the Northwest San Gabriel Valley School Administrators Association.


Also, the board will ...

~ receive a "Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Needs Analysis." (Sounds like a cure for insomnia.)

~ "receive for first reading proposed revisions to Board Policy Sections: Philosophy & Goals; Community Relations; and Administration."

~ proclaim March 5-9, 2007, as the "Week of the School Administrator" and March 5-9, 2007, as "National School Breakfast Week."


Also on the Web at www.monroviaschoollink.com

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monrovia School Link ~ Number 188 ~ February 14, 2007

The hot news is that there'll be full-day kindergarten in the fall. More below. Also, it was kinda fun to go back and attend a board meeting after being gone quite a while. I thought President Bryan Wong did a great job keeping things moving. I spoke to him after the meeting and he said he wants to try to have one really meaty discussion at the end of each meeting, like tonight's discussion of full-day kindergarten. I was also - surprisingly - rather impressed by the creativity shown in coming up with the new "Physics of the Automobile" class. Don't snear just yet. Read about it below; I think you might be impressed, too!
~brad@sacklunch.net


FULL-DAY K ~ This fall Monrovia will have a new full-day kindergarten program, so children in the program will get an hour-and-a-half longer day and will get out of school an at the same time as their older first, second, and third grade siblings. In listening to the discussion, it appears there has been a lot of demand for the lengthened program, and the only worry on the part of the board was the cost, about $45,500 in start-up costs and $155,000 in continuing costs. After some back and forth about the money and to what extent that might be offset by the additional revenue from the state that would come from having more students, Board President Bryan Wong said that if the program causes parents to enroll an additional 24 or so students (who could be handled without hiring more staff), the program would come within $30,000 to $40,000 of paying for itself. Then Superintendent Louise Taylor mentioned that if some of the students stuck with the district that it would pay for itself. I dunno. That sounds a bit understated to me. If just a few of each year's kindergarteners stick with the district that means 12 YEARS of extra money from the state. Anyway, the district is going to begin letting parents know about this option right away.

MORE ADA ~ The board got a report about how its plan to increase attendance by one percent is going. Since the district gets paid by the state on the basis of Average Daily Attendance (ADA), a one percent increase in attendance would mean an extra $300,000 for the district, according to Chief Business Officer Linda Dempsey. So far, she said, there has been an average one-quarter percent improvement, though it has not been exactly evenly distributed. Tied for first place are Monroe and Santa Fe. In last place, Mayflower. Here are the numbers for the regular schools:

Bradoaks + .21%
Mayflower - .01%
Monroe + .55%
Plymouth + .23%
Wild Rose + .36%
Clifton + .24%
Santa Fe + .55%
MHS + .02%

Board President Bryan Wong said increasing attendance is one of the best ways to increase revenue since there is no cost to it. So he asked parents to schedule their children's doctor - and other appointments - for after school or on days off.

BUDGET ~ Speaking of money, Linda Dempsey said that for 2007-08 the district will have about $42.2 million, about a million more than last year.

ENROLLMENT ~ While attendance is up, enrollment just keeps slipping. Boosting attendance while enrollment slides seems a bit like swimming against the tide, though maybe the all-day kindergarten program can help. Anyway, here are the numbers:

2002-03 - 6,696 students enrolled
2003-04 - 6,569
2004-05 - 6,438
2005-06 - 6,265
2006-07 - 6,247
2007-08 - 6,126 (projected)
2008-09 - 5,954 (projected)
2009-10 - 5,824 (projected)


CAR PHYSICS ~ When I first heard of the proposed new high school course, Physics of the Automobile, it sounded a lot like an inflated title for "auto shop," but as I read the report and heard the discussion I was pretty impressed with what seems to be a very cool and innovative plan. The idea is to teach physics using the automobile. Listen to part of the description: "Students will learn about mechanics, energy, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics using the many systems of the automobile." Assistant Superintendent Jim Coombs said the district has been working with University of California officials to get the course approved by the UC, which means the UC system would accept the course as a really truly physics class. Superintendent Louise Taylor said the UC folks were initially skeptical, but got excited about it after discussing it. Wong said it is a "fantastic way to teach what is often perceived as a stale subject." I tend to agree. Any time you make vague theory more concrete you make it a lot more interesting.

ASTRONOMY ~ In addition to auto physics, the district approved an astronomy course at the high school. Coombs said that unlike most schools, Monrovia High is blessed in having its own observatory, which - while old - is being improved by volunteers. He said the telescope was taken to be refurbished and the refurbishing company wanted to buy it as an antique - not because it was bad, just old.

SUMMER SCHOOL ~ The board set the dates for summer school as June 18 to July 26 for high school classes and June 18 to July 19 for elementary and middle school programs.

RSS ~ Now you may recall that in a foolish fit of enthusiasm last issue, I commended the district for having an RSS feed on its web site. Well, I'm going to take part of that back. I went and actually subscribed to the RSS news feed and found the most recent item was of Betty Sandford resigning from the board, dated waaaaaay back in September 2005, when woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Now I know the district has sent out a lot of press releases since them, and every one of them should be up there and linked to using RSS.


Also on the Web at www.monroviaschoollink.com

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Monrovia School Link ~ Number 187 ~ February 11, 2007

I like the district's new online agenda. You just go to the district website (www.monroviaschools.net) and click on the "Current Board Agenda" link in the left column. This takes you to the latest agenda, in PDF format. Okay, that's fine, but what I really like is that by clicking on any of the boxed items (anything with a little rectangle around it) you can dig down and get the full staff report for any particular item on the agenda. One of my hobby horses over the years has been the need for greater openness, and this is a nice move even further in that direction. Plus, if you use an RSS reader, there's an RSS feed. (If you're not familiar with RSS, I'll 'splain below.) Double cool. Thanks MUSD!
~brad@sacklunch.net

Here's the basic schedule for this Wednesday's meeting:

Study session at 6 p.m. in the board room.
Closed session at 7 p.m.
Regular session in the board room.


And here are a few items on the agenda that caught my eye:

- 5.1.g: Wild Rose Elementary's PTA raised $2,000.00 for the school's art program and gardening club.

- 6.1.2 and 6.1.3: The board will approve "Physics of the Automobile" and "Astronomy" as courses at the high schools.

- 8.4: The board will consider adopting a resolution to provide a full-day kindergarten program for the 2007-2008 school year.

- Back to School Nights:
Monrovia High School -Thursday, February 22, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Monroe Elementary School - Thursday, March 1, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Mayflower Elementary School - Wednesday, March 7, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Canyon Oaks High School / Mountain Park School - Tuesday, March 27, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Canyon Early Learning Center - Tues., March 27, 2007, 6:00 p.m., (Picnic @ 5:00 p.m.)
Clifton Middle School - Wednesday, April 4, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
Santa Fe Middle School - Wednesday, April 4, 2007, 6:00 p.m.
Bradoaks Elementary School - Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Wild Rose Elementary School - Thursday, May 24, 2007, 6:30 p.m.

RSS ~ RSS, which stands for "Really Simple Syndication," is a way to have your computer (or an online service) check for new information from a news source you have subscribed to, such as the school district. Every few minutes or so your RSS reader goes around and checks to see if anything new has been posted. If there is something new, it lets you know. The beauty of it is that you don't need to subscribe or unsubscribe to an email list; you just tell your RSS reader to start or stop looking for news from that source, and you have subscribed or unsubscribed. I use an online service called bloglines.com.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Monrovia School Link ~ Number 186 ~ January 30, 2007

I don't usually send out agenda information about study sessions, but in this case I got a special request and I'm glad to help. If you are interested in the district's kindergarten program, you might want to attend tomorrow.
~ brad@sacklunch.net


Wednesday (tomorrow) at 5:30 p.m. the board will have a study session to discuss full-day kindergarten, collective bargaining, the board’s vision policies, and to do a board self-evaluation.

Lynn Matthiesen wrote to say that "a bunch of us from Mayflower are planning to attend, but I'm not sure how many people are aware of this meeting. As the parent of two daughters who have already attended half-day kindergarten, and a son starting this fall, I really hope that all-day kindergarten passes. These poor kids are being taught in kindergarten what we learned in first grade! There really needs to be more time for them to have more developmental learning and playtime."

Also on the Web at www.monroviaschoollink.com

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