Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meet Erik Prince, Master of War

UPDATE: Erik Prince has been implicated in murder
Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Implicated in Murder
A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company...

After reading the first chapter of Master of War by CNN producer Suzanne Simons, I'm already an admirer of Erik Prince, a man who designed his own life from an early age. It seems that he incorporated his parents' conservative values into his life plan, rather than being drawn into any plan of his parents. I am also terrified of Mr. Prince. His personality seems to consist almost entirely of driving ambition, with little room left for contemplation.

The first sentence of Suzanne Simons book is, "Erik Prince's body bounced off the hood of the North Carolina Parks Development pickup truck before vanishing over a steep embankment next to a mountain road." The story goes on to prove that nothing gives this man pause.

Master of War
By Suzanne Simons
Introduction by publisher:

The name Blackwater, the world's largest private military contractor, became infamous early in the Iraq War, when four of its men were seized by a mob in Fallujah, murdered, and hung from a bridge for the world to see. Since then, Blackwater has expanded dramatically; its men have been involved in major scandals, including a shooting spree in Iraq that has now caused the Iraqi government to blacklist the company...

He publicly reassures everyone that Blackwater only works for the U.S., and would never become a mercenary organization for other governments, yet he has another entire company dedicated to doing just that...

In addition, he has a private spying company, run by former top CIA men, employing extraordinarily sensitive methods and technical sophistication, for rent by any interested party...

He has given Suzanne Simons hours of interviews; access to his staff; invitations to join him on trips to Afghanistan; and more. He is a fascinating figure, part deeply conservative, evangelical patriot; part rebellious, go-it-alone kingpin. He is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and his companies are worth billions. His empire dwarfs all of its competitors, to such a degree that even if the military wanted to wash its hands of him, they wouldn't be able to replace him.

Erik Prince Murder Charge: In Troubled ‘Blackwater’s?

August 5th, 2009
Thaindian News

...According to the allegations, Prince supposedly considered himself a “Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and Islamic faith from the globe”. The accusations leveled against Blackwater, portray the organization as one that “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life”...

Shame on Shelia Jackson for thwarting Gompers Charter High School

Gompers’ protest over district’s latest scheme
By Marsha Sutton, SDNN
June 29, 2009


The headline screamed out at me from my computer screen. Gompers Charter, the Little School That Could, needs help once more.

Against all odds, this neighborhood charter school in southeast San Diego - in partnership with the University of California, San Diego - has taken over where the San Diego Unified School District left off. And that fact apparently infuriates some school board members, particularly board president Shelia Jackson, who represents the Gompers sub-district on the board.

Gompers became a charter school in 2005 after years of chronic failure and indifference by San Diego Unified. In a move that garnered national attention, proponents rallied together and managed to persuade a reluctant school board to approve a Gompers charter unanimously.

What made this charter unique is that it transformed itself from a shell of a school battered by neglect and constrained by union-dominated policies and people, to a neighborhood charter school serving neighborhood kids’ needs with the full support and involvement of parents and the community.

Today, under the leadership of charismatic Gompers principal Vince Riveroll and an enthusiastic staff, achievement has improved, detentions and suspensions have declined, and belief in future success has replaced hopelessness and apathy.

A crumbling educational environment has been converted into a middle school that offers promising outcomes at last.

After four years of steady middle school success, Gompers and its board of directors petitioned the school board earlier this year to approve a Gompers charter high school. A unanimous school board once again voted to support the petition, so Gompers will expand this fall and open a high school that will eventually serve students in grades 9-12.

You’d think, given the unanimity of the charter vote, that all five school board members would be supportive of the school, right? Wrong.

Just after approving the high school charter, it became clear that Jackson had plans to construct a bus turn-around in the area where Gompers has its heart set on building athletic fields for its kids.

Obliterating athletic fields so integral to high school success is a back-door entry to derailed dreams and is yet another blow in a long series of attacks against the school. Even after she heard how strongly the school and community opposed the turn-around, Jackson persisted.

The desperate message from Riveroll lays out the problem:

“The San Diego Unified School District is placing buildings on Gompers sports fields starting in July 2009. We must stop this from happening! The San Diego Unified School District is placing a bus station on Gompers property. We must stop this from happening!”

As Riveroll and his board of directors see it, the destruction of the fields in order to provide a bus turn-around for a nearby magnet school that imports 70 to 80 percent of its students from outside the Gompers area is “unfair treatment” of neighborhood kids - especially when there are other viable options for the magnet school’s buses.

“The district is taking away the Gompers field of dreams and giving it to Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School,” Riveroll says.

Jackson has managed to do this virtually unilaterally, and privately. She has not brought the matter before the full school board, perhaps because not all members support her efforts to thwart Gompers’ progress...


by Emily Alpert
June 30, 2009

The charter school is planning a rally Wednesday to protest school district proposals to place classrooms and build a bus turnaround on part of its site...

I finally caught up with school board President Shelia Jackson and bond czar Stuart Markey today to get their thoughts on the plans.

"I'm not sure what all the hullabaloo is about," Jackson said. "The bungalows are a necessary part of the [Millennial Tech] school. They won't interrupt [Gompers'] P.E. program." She argued that contrary to claims made by critics, she had nothing to do with the plans personally. "Whatever has been planned, has been planned by our facilities department."

School board member Katherine Nakamura begged to differ. "This is Ms. Jackson" behind the plan, she said. "And her community is coming to her and telling her in no uncertain terms that this is something they don't want. Does this need to be smack dab in the middle of the athletic fields?"

Stuart Markey, who is overseeing the facilities bond that would help to fund the new classrooms...[said] buildings would be placed no earlier than August if the plans go through. Markey said the issue will go to the school board later in July for a vote.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Usually I give Katherine Nakamura a hard time, but I believe she's on the side of the community here, and I believe she's telling the truth. Shelia, please don't sell out to sweet-talking supporters. Do what's right for the kids. All the kids.]

Read more: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2009-06-29/news/politics-city-county-government/marsha-sutton-gompers-protest-over-district%e2%80%99s-scheme#ixzz0JxFZlhdj&C

Teacher culture: does it explain why there's a higher turnover in small high schools?

New research pinpoints factors that affect teacher turnover
By Sarah Karp
Catalyst Chicago
June 29, 2009

Small high schools, once heralded as a way to build stronger relationships between teachers and students, have some of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the district. This is one of the more interesting findings from the report The Schools Teachers Leave, released today by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Linking teacher personnel data, survey data and information about schools and communities, researchers found that Chicago’s one-year turnover rate is similar to that of other schools in Illinois and across the nation: about 80 percent of teachers stay at their school from one year to the next. But within five years, most CPS schools lose about half of their teachers.

At both the elementary and high school level, small schools had higher turnover than larger schools. Elementary schools with more than 700 students retained 83 percent of their teachers from year-to-year, compared to just 78 percent at schools with fewer than 350 students. Similarly, larger high schools retained 83 percent of teachers; small high schools, just 73 percent...

Much of the report seeks to pinpoint why teachers leave.

At small high schools, researchers said that more intensive work may be required, as teachers are supposed to reach out and bond with students. Also, school conflicts might be more acute...


How easy is it to arrest a parent who complains too much? Just schedule a hearing for her kid, and arrest her there.

It's hard not to be entertained by the following theater of the absurd from Poway.

A parent got mad and sent a 600-page fax to Poway Unified School District lawyers. The district responded by getting a court to order that the parent pay $2 for each page. When the parent didn't pay, the court issued a $25,000 warrant for her arrest.

I'm not making this up. Poway Schools reeeeally wanted to teach parent Lindsey Stewart to be quiet.

On February 14, 2007, PUSD and Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Romo & Rudd (AALRR) filed an application in Superior Court for an order to reissue the bench warrant. Here is a quote from the declaration of Penelope R. Glover in Support of Application for Order Reissuing Bench Warrant:

“I am informed and believe that Respondent has scheduled a hearing at the Poway Unified School District, Extended Student Services Conference Room, 13626 Twin Peaks Road, Poway, California, on February 20, 2007, at 9:30 a.m. and will be appearing personally for the hearing. It is necessary that the bench warrant be reissued at this time... so that service can be effected on Respondent at the February 20,2007 hearing, if she has not been served before then.”

Lindsey Stewart says attorney Justin Shinnefield managed to get 9 witnesses who were under subpoena to stay home.

California screws up NCLB tutor list (SES); refuses to qualify Lindamood-Bell but approves substandard ARC Associates

Ineffective tutors, why does California pay them to continue?
June 28, 10:03 PM

Under No Child Left Behind, outside literacy tutoring is supposed to be offered to schools with low academic scores. State Department of Education agencies are supposed to screen and select tutoring centers that are deemed to be effective...

SES focuses on supplemental instruction or tutoring in English-language arts and/or mathematics for eligible students in Title I Program Improvement (PI) schools. Schools in Year two and beyond of PI are required to offer SES. The SES program augments the PI schools’ programs of instruction to help eligible students meet California’s state content standards."

...However one has to wonder what criteria they are using to select their tutors and how they monitor their effectiveness. I have found out Lindamood Bell, which offers scientifically researched successful programs with well documented statistical evidence or reading gain was NOT approved to be an SES tutor.

According to Tom Mendoza at Lindamood Bell learning process's, the Ca DOE was evasive about their criteria and did not offer any plausible explanation for the refusal.

In contrast, San Francisco based * ARC Associates, was approved by the CDE. ARC associates is the tutoring company.who has worked at Cesar Chavez Elementary School for the past five years and last year made $237,266.71 from the San Francisco Unified School District. This year, the district will pay ARC a projected $559,523 in SES tutoring contracts, according to the San Francisco Unified School District’s Office of State and Federally Funded Programs.

Yet nowhere has the weakness in the tutoring program been more stark than at Cesar Chavez, where tutoring has failed to increase scores on the standardized math and reading tests for most of the last five years. In 2007, test scores actually plunged 139 points, and last year’s scores rose only 10 points despite a growing number of students taking advantage of the subsidized tutoring.

This year at Cesar Chavez, 93 of the 183 eligible first through fifth grade students have been spending two or three hours a week since January getting assistance, but few expect better results on tests. At a school in Program Improvement, all students are eligible to receive tutoring, although some students get priority including those who are failing state tests and first graders who fail a reading test.

Arlene Graham, program liaison for ARC Associates, blamed the low test scores on the difficulty in teaching students whose first language is not English. Chavez’s student body is comprised of 71.6 percent Latino English learners compared to 17.5 percent district-wide. “The reality of working with bilingual children is that they have to go through development academically in their own language, then transition academically into English,” said Graham. “How do we get the English content and meaning to them? There is a lag.”

In contrast, Lindamood Bell made substantial gains with ESL students in 2009 working in collaboration with Vista Unified School District at Olive, their lowest performing school which consisted of many ESL students. See http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m6d8-Vista-unified-school-district-and-Lindamood-Bell-proves-all-students-can-achieve

Reading instructor Amber Lamprecht was able to make 1.4 years of reading gain in 36 hours over 6 months to ESL students. http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m4d22-36-hours-to-change-a-child-life

...Secretary of education, Arne Duncan recently stated that California has "lost it's way" when it comes to education. When one looks at this tutoring situation, he is absolutely right. Why should he give California more funds for education when our current decision makers at the CDE make such poor choices?

*As first reported in Mission Local web site:

SES Providers for Ca: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ti/ap/providers.aspx


Wealthy Washington DC suburb takes steps to better evaluate teachers

One Way to Save Struggling Teachers--Maybe
Washington Post
June 29, 2009

My colleague Dan de Vise provides an intriguing look at teacher support efforts on our front page Monday, in what many seasoned educators think is the best way to help bad teachers--regular counseling and review by experts.

His subject is the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in Montgomery County, a wealthy suburb that can afford the $2 million annual cost. Teachers who are ineffective in the classroom, and all new teachers, are assigned a classroom expert who watches them in action and meets with them regularly, making suggestions and seeing if they work. A 16-person panel---8 principals appointed by the school system and 8 teachers appointed by the union--makes the final decision on whether to keep the teachers or dismiss them so they can seek more congenial employment.

This seems to produce more, rather than fewer, dismissals of ineffective teachers than Montgomery had before. But that is a misleading figure because before PAR, under-performing teachers were often hectored into quitting, and didn’t show up on the stats as being dismissed. The teachers union designed the plan. The superintendent likes it.

My only qualm is that the panel pays little attention to test score data or parental opinions---both of which teachers' unions tend to ignore anyway. Many parents, including me, think those factors should get more weight.

Throwing a Lifeline to Struggling Teachers

Montgomery Program Embraces Peer Review
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post
June 29, 2009

...Union contracts and tenure rules tend to make it difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers. But in Montgomery, the union is teaming with school officials to weed out -- or, better yet, help improve -- teachers who fall short.

Introduced by teachers in Toledo in 1981, peer review arrived in Montgomery 10 years ago and is considered in many quarters a promising solution to the labor-management impasse over teacher dismissals. The National Education Association has encouraged peer review since the mid-1990s. The American Federation of Teachers, which had supported it even earlier, last year passed a resolution calling on affiliates to consider the program.

But no other school system in the D.C. region has embraced peer review, and the program has expanded slowly. Federation President Randi Weingarten said peer review "takes real collaboration between the superintendent and the union leader." Often, the two are adversaries.

Peer review gives Maryland's largest school system the power to dismiss under-performers. It gives struggling teachers a chance to rebuild skills. Of 66 Montgomery teachers in peer review in the 2008-09 school year, 10 are being dismissed and 21 have resigned or retired. Five will remain in review for a second year. The remaining 30 will successfully exit.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Thirty successful teachers out of sixty-six shows that there is some success in the mentoring side of this operation. And one thing I like about the system is that there is some genuine evaluation going on...It sounds like an improvement to the current system, although I would recommend that the district have outsiders come in to do the final evaluations to eliminate politics from the equation. The success rate isn't high enough to rely on in-district individuals making the final decision. It seems that there is more pressure to get rid of the teachers than there is to help them improve.]

"We've changed the whole culture from 'gotcha' to support," said Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

Peer review, which costs Montgomery schools $2 million a year, pairs a struggling teacher with a mentor. Those who improve return to the classroom. Those who do not go before a panel of 16 teachers and principals that amounts to an impartial court. It decides whether to recommend termination or a second year of monitoring. No one gets more than two years...

Burning Moms are edgier than the PTA

Burning Moms use humor to push for education changes in California
By Pamela Martineau
Sacramento Bee
Jun. 28, 2009

They think of themselves as street-theater activists who are willing to get in the face of the powers-that-be to bring equity to the state's school funding system.

So between driving kids to soccer practice and helping with homework, these moms are hooking up online to organize their next rally or blogging about what bill in the Legislature might bring transparency to education finance.

At the Capitol last week, a loosely formed coalition called the Burning Moms staged its second annual rally at the state Capitol to protest school funding cuts.

Instead of marching with placards and chanting slogans, the Burning Moms and their kids built sculptures out of trash and danced to rewritten rock tunes performed by a band called the Angry, Tired Teachers.

Their goal is to make political activism fun and irreverent, while shining a spotlight on a public school system in crisis.

The name Burning Moms is a riff on the annual nonconformist celebration Burning Man.

"We see ourselves as somewhat edgier than the PTA," said Burning Mom Deb McCurdy, who drove to Sacramento from Pasadena with her two kids for the rally. "We're willing to take somewhat more of a risk to demonstrate our passion."

Burning Moms co-founder, stand-up comic and author Sandra Tsing Loh, 47, of San Francisco, likens the grass-roots movement to a "string of terrorist cells."

The Burning Moms (who also include a few dads) will blog online about an issue then decide to show up to protest or help a group organize...

"It's informal and cell-like," said Loh, who also hosts a talk show on National Public Radio on various topics. A few years ago, Loh developed a comedic monologue and later wrote a book called Mom on Fire about her efforts to find a decent public school for her kindergarten-age daughter in San Francisco.

That effort morphed into the Burning Moms, as more mothers contacted her saying they were experiencing similar frustrations with public schools. Now, the moms regularly chat on their Facebook page or on the site askamagnetyenta.wordpress .com about where to find the best magnet schools or to complain about state and national education policies...

Burning Moms rallied at first lady Maria Shriver's conference on women in November to protest its lack of discussion of public education...

California's beleaguered public education system is a crisis they believe threatens the future of their kids and therefore engenders their oft-referenced "burning" rage. (Watch their video on www.theburningmoms.org.)

They say they applaud (and some still belong to) the well-meaning PTA and other booster groups whose members bake cookies and organize fundraisers to raise money for their kids' public schools. But Burning Moms believe they need to start working to better all kids' schools, not just the ones that are fortunate enough to have active booster clubs. It's an equity issue, they say...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Judge finds "extraordinary evil" in Bernard Madoff for fraud against so many

Bernard Madoff

Can you physically harm someone just by cheating him or her out of money that is rightfully theirs?

Are economic crimes indirectly crimes of violence?

They are, and it's time that many people in positions of prestige and power were recognized for the harm they do. It isn't just money if it's someone's livelihood.

Madoff gets 150 years in prison
‘Extraordinary evil’ cited by judge
Bernard L. Madoff received the maximum penalty.
By Beth Healy and Casey Ross
Boston Globe Staff
June 30, 2009

Despite his claims of contrition, Bernard L. Madoff was sentenced yesterday to 150 years in prison for a crime a federal judge called an act of “extraordinary evil.’’

The lengthy sentence - ensuring Madoff will die behind bars - was the harshest possible punishment that US District Judge Denny Chin could impose.

In March, the former investment manager confessed to swindling some of the nation’s wealthiest families and prominent philanthropies out of their fortunes, along with cheating widows, retired teachers, tradesmen, and hundreds of other middle-class investors out of their life savings.

“The fraud here was staggering,’’ Chin said during the sentencing in a packed Manhattan courtroom. “This is not just a matter of money. The breach of trust was massive.’’

And yet investigators are still trying to determine its full scope.

Last night, a person familiar with the investigation said 10 more people are likely to face federal charges over the next few months, the Associated Press reported. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not say whether Madoff’s relatives or former employees are being targeted.

Boston was one of several focal points of Madoff’s two-decade fraud, and yesterday several victims from Massachusetts expressed satisfaction after the sentencing. But they said the prison term is not enough to undo the financial devastation he brought.

“I wish there was some way for him to feel the hurt and the damage he has created,’’ said David Ranzer, a retired broker from Williamstown who said he lost a nearly seven-figure sum to Madoff. “But I don’t think he’s capable of that, and the reason he is not capable of that is the very reason he allowed himself to do what he did.’’

Madoff drew many clients from the networks of Boston’s and New York’s wealthy Jewish communities, often socializing with them in the winter retreat of Palm Beach, Fla. Among them was the Shapiro family of Boston.

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the recovery of money for victims accused Robert Jaffe of Weston, the son-in-law of Carl and Ruth Shapiro, and the brokerage firm at which he worked of steering more than $1 billion in investors’ money to Madoff - when he should have known Madoff was running a fraud. Regulators said Jaffe earned at least $150 million from Madoff.

Jaffe, through his attorney, denied the charges.

Dozens of victims who submitted statements to the court detailed the extreme privation that Madoff’s theft had left them in. Some said they were reduced to living on Social Security, being forced to sell their homes, or returning to work years after having retired.

Madoff tried to address the anger and the emotions in a statement in court. Dressed in a dark suit and looking thinner than in March, when he pleaded guilty, Madoff spoke quietly, almost meekly - in marked contrast to the tearful, angst-ridden statements read by nine victims...


Ten could eventually be charged in Madoff fraud

By Grant McCool
June 30, 2009

U.S. investigators believe 10 or more people associated with imprisoned swindler Bernard Madoff could be criminally charged in the coming months or beyond, a law enforcement source said on Tuesday.

The source, who asked not be identified because of the ongoing investigation into the multibillion-dollar Madoff fraud, said the FBI was "closer to the beginning than the end" of the probe.

Disgraced financier Madoff, 71, was sentenced to 150 years imprisonment on Monday after he pleaded guilty in March to orchestrating a worldwide investment scheme of as much as $65 billion...

"There will probably be more people charged," the law enforcement source said. "It is likely to be 10 or more, but it is going to be a lengthy process that could take months or more."

A spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, which prosecuted Madoff and accountant David Friehling, declined to comment on the investigations.

Federal investigators have declined to identify who is the focus of their inquiries, but they are skeptical of the claims by some people who worked at the Madoff firm that they had no knowledge of the scheme.

Lawyers and white-collar crime experts have said all along that Madoff's decades-long scheme appeared to be too complex to have been the work of one person alone...

The trustee and regulators have sued several businessmen, who made billions in handling Madoff money through so-called feeder funds, charging that they knew or should have known the financier was running a fraud. (Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

Test scores matter for firemen in in Connecticut but not for teachers in California

Why did New Haven create a formula that relied 60% on a multiple choice test? It's not that I have anything against multiple choice tests. It's just that I can think of jobs where such tests are more important, but are not used at all!

Teachers don't take tests to get raises. But they should.

Supreme Court rules in favor of Conn. firefighters

Group accused city of racial discrimination
Boston Globe
By Joseph Williams

WASHINGTON - A sharply divided US Supreme Court ruled yesterday in favor of a group of white firefighters who accused the city of New Haven of racial discrimination, potentially making it much harder for employers to bring racial balance to the workplace, while handing ammunition to critics of high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor on the eve of her confirmation hearings.

The 5-to-4 ruling struck down the decision of a three-judge federal appeals court panel that included Sotomayor, President Obama’s first Supreme Court pick and the first Latino chosen to serve on the nation’s highest court. Since her nomination, conservative Republicans have attacked Sotomayor’s views on racial preferences and stirring up hot-button questions about whether diversity and background should be considered for a lifetime judicial appointment. If confirmed, Sotomayor would replace retiring Justice David Souter, who agreed with her and sided with New Haven in the case.

Conservative legal analysts were quick to link the ruling, issued on the last day of the court’s session, to Sotomayor.

“It suggests that we have somebody who’s quite out of sync with the right approach to the law in this area,’’ said Roger Clegg, who heads the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank.

At the same time, legal analysts said the court’s decision dramatically shifts the affirmative action landscape. Opponents of race-based preferences cheered the ruling as a major step toward a society that doesn’t place significance on color, while supporters said the majority ignored the ongoing need for remedies to past discrimination, virtually wiping out advances made over the last quarter century.

Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program planning at People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the ruling is more evidence that Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding over “a piecemeal dismantling of really, really important civil rights protections.’’

“It’s going to make it harder for the typical employer to make choices in their employment decisions with an eye toward achieving some kind of racial diversity,’’ said Stephen Vladeck, an American University constitutional law professor. “These choices will invariably be seen as discriminatory against whites. The court has been moving this way for some time.’’

At the heart of the case is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to base hiring decisions on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.’’

Although New Haven had tried to make its promotion examination race-neutral, too many whites and Latinos and too few African Americans met the standard for promotion. The city, worried that it would be sued by black firefighters, voided exam results and did not promote any of the white firefighters, even though they scored high enough to advance...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Los Angeles Times: Patrick Judd refuses to allow valedictorian to make a speech...and fires her from her summer job

Being vindictive and malicious to adults is one thing, but Patrick Judd's retaliation against a child in his care is another. Do he and his administrators stay up nights thinking up punishments? Or do ideas just pop into their heads without any effort?

The TAS brass thinks that certain people are so insignificant that there's no need to take any notice of them.

Here's an old saying that might help Mr. Judd rethink this situation (substituting "girl" for "boy"): Always be kind to the office boy, because he's on his way up, and you're on your way down.

What were Lowell Billings and the other trustees thinking when they hired Patrick Judd to be superintendent of The Accelerated Schools? See all Pat Judd posts HERE.

Photo: Christina House / For The Times
Aurora Ponce, 18, speaks about being barred from making her valedictory speech after participating in a student sit-in.

Valedictorian says Accelerated School barred her from making speech
LA Times
By Seema Mehta
June 25, 2009
...Aurora Ponce says she was also deprived of a tutoring job she was counting on to help with coming college expenses after she took part in a protest over school cuts. Officials aren't talking.

Aurora Ponce is senior class president, boasts a near-perfect A average and is UC-bound with plans to study engineering.

But according to the 18-year-old and her supporters, officials at the Accelerated School, a collection of South Los Angeles charter schools, have barred Ponce from making her valedictory speech at Saturday's graduation as punishment for participating in a student sit-in to protest increased class sizes and the elimination of college prep classes. They have also taken away a summer tutoring job and other honors, she said.

"I see it as retaliation," said the South Los Angeles teen. "I just want to speak during graduation."

Officials involved in the actions regarding Ponce did not return calls seeking comment. They include Patrick Judd,
who is in charge of the umbrella organization that oversees the Accelerated Schools; Elizabeth Oberreiter, principal of the Wallis Annenberg High School, Ponce's campus; and Sandra Phillips, principal of the Accelerated School's K-8 school. At least one referred questions to school co-founder Johnathan Williams, who said he was not familiar with the matter and would not release student information to the media in any event.

"All I'll say is this school is doing wonderfully by the children and the families and all the rest," he said. "There's no story here. Everyone is treated fairly here at the Accelerated School and Wallis Annenberg High School."

[Maura Larkins' note to Mr. Williams: If you're not familiar with all the complaints at TAS, then your comments about how wonderful it is are without foundation.]

Dozens of parents and students who protested outside the school Wednesday, many carrying posters calling for Judd's firing, disagreed.

...Critics charge that in recent years, what was once a collaborative environment rich with teacher and parent input has given way to top-heavy management that is not responsive to parents and students and is no longer transparent in its decision-making. These concerns, along with class sizes increasing, popular teachers departing and some college-prep offerings being eliminated, led scores of students to stage a silent sit-in May 15 outside the Annenberg auditorium...

It's unclear how many students were punished, but Ponce said she was immediately escorted off campus without her parents being notified and was suspended for two days. Other punishments have dribbled out since...

Iranian cleric urges firm punishment for protesters
June 26, 2009
Two weeks into turmoil, Iran's leaders turned up the heat Friday as a high-ranking cleric warned protesters that they would be punished "firmly" and shown no mercy.

Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami says rioters in Iran will be "firmly" dealt with if they continue to protest.

"Rioters and those who mastermind the unrest must know the Iranian nation will not give in to pressure and accept the nullification of the election results," said Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami during Friday prayers in Tehran, according to Iran's state-run Press TV.

"I ask the Judiciary to firmly deal with these people and set an example for everyone," Khatami said...


Video shows Honduran troops shooting protesters' bus tires
July 3, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (CNN) -- Honduran soldiers shot out the tires of buses headed for a demonstration in support of ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya, a video obtained by CNN shows.

This image from a cell phone video shows Honduran soldiers shooting out the tires of a bus.

The video, believed shot within the past two days, shows a line of buses stopped on a road in what is reported to be the city of Limones. The city is about 70 miles (112 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

A noisy, chaotic crowd is milling around the buses while soldiers move among them. Some slight pushing can be seen.

"The people united can never be defeated," many crowd members chant in unison.

Gunfire is heard and the crowd grows quieter. More shots are heard and then the video shows soldiers shooting out the tires on a yellow bus. Air hissing from a tire can be heard and the video shows a flattened tire. ..


Student video asks why can't schools find a fair way to fairly evaluate teachers

How come bad teachers get to keep their jobs just because they've been around a long time, while bright, hardworking young teachers are laid off?

One reason is that there is currently no meaningful system to evaluate teachers.

Student's video puts school cuts on personal level

Los Angeles Times
Steve Lopez
June 26, 2009

David Vera took up an L.A. school board member's challenge, using images to portray the harm caused by slashed budgets. Education advocates hope his work gets a wide audience.

David Vera, 18, has his young heart set on becoming a film editor or an actor. So the challenge posted on the door of his film arts class at Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley held obvious appeal.

...The challenge had come from Los Angeles Unified School Board member Tamar Galatzan...

His favorite teacher got a pink slip.

That would be Travis Aranaga, an ambitious young teacher in his third year and loving every minute of his job. Aranaga's parents were both teachers, and he always knew he wanted to follow them into the profession. He went and got two masters degrees and threw himself into the job at Monroe.

But none of that mattered. The school district based its job cuts on seniority alone, and Aranaga's neck was under the budget ax...

"That's a special student," said Barbara Avery, telling me Vera was a delight to have in class, and his French wasn't bad, either. "Every once in a while, you get a kid like that."

Avery agreed. "It's just horrible," she said. "Absolutely horrible."

There has to be a way for teachers, administrators, parents and students to fairly evaluate teachers, Avery said, so that when layoffs are necessary, experience is not the only consideration.

She expects to get some heat for advocating that sort of reform. She's Monroe's co-chapter chair of United Teachers Los Angeles, and the union has staunchly defended basing layoffs on seniority, not evaluations.

I should note that Avery and Aranaga hesitated before speaking their minds, something few of their colleagues are willing to do publicly.
But they felt it was important to do so, and Aranaga added that he felt "hung out to dry" by union leadership.

"I'm not saying old teachers are bad," said Aranaga, "but for every five good ones there's a bad one, and there's no way to get rid of those guys."

Avery said more than 20 Monroe teachers got layoff notices, and it appeared that roughly a third of them would actually lose their jobs.

"And some of those teachers are better than I could ever hope to be," said Aranaga. "In their first year, they're better than I can be."

Here are the videos. The winners are labeled. David Vera's is at the bottom, Monroe High School #4.

Student wins $1.25 million from secretive SDUSD

Steve Cologne, who is representing San Diego Unified School District in this San Diego Unified School District case, is working hard to keep evidence out of court in the Rodger Hartnett case, in which he is representing the folks at San Diego County Office of Education.

Student wins $1.25 million in sex lawsuit
San Diego News Network
By Staff, City News Service
June 25, 2009

A jury awarded $1.25 million to a former student at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Paradise Hills, finding that the principal and others failed to report a suspected sexual relationship between the student and her teacher.

The San Diego Superior Court jury reached its verdict Monday against the San Diego Unified School District for its role in allowing teacher John Kyujoon Lee to engage in a sexual relationship with the student from the time she was 16 until she graduated in 2006.

Jurors awarded a total of $250,000 for past and future psychiatric counseling for the student, now 21, and $1 million for emotional distress and related damages.

Of that total amount, the jury found that Lee was 60 percent responsible and the school district 40 percent responsible.

Lee settled prior to the civil trial for an undisclosed sum. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison after pleading guilty to statutory rape and other sex-related charges for having a sexual relationship with a teenage student in September 2007.

Attorneys for the plaintiff said the main reason for the suit was to “force school districts to pay attention to what is so obviously a growing problem, and to ensure that future kids are free from abuse by their teachers.”

Attorney Steve Cologne, who represented the San Diego Unified School District, said the district is disappointed with the jury award, considering Lee and the student concealed their affair from everyone.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Concealing information is your job, right, Mr. Cologne? Isn't that why schools pay you so much money? I'm guessing that you tried hard to keep evidence out of this case, too.]

Cologne said an appeal of the verdict is possible.

“We’re looking at all our options,” the attorney said.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lompoc School District violates Brown Act to hire personnel manager

"I held them in high regard until today." I know how Sue Schuyler feels. I could have said the same thing about Patrick Judd, Cheryl Cox, Pamela Smith, Bertha Lopez and Larry Cunningham at one time.

It's amazing how people will surrender their ethics and honesty to get a tiny bit of power. It's all the more shocking when it's such a TINY bit of power.

Lompoc: Ex-school board members accuse board of violating Brown Act

First Amendment Coalition
June 23, 2009

Two ex-members of the Lompoc Unified School District school board say that the council majority acted precipitously in a June 2008 by a motion to hire a particular candidate for interim personnel director. The action contributed to board turmoil and a series of charges and denials among board members past and present. -DB

The Lompoc Record
June 23, 2009
By Bo Poertner

During a closed meeting of the Lompoc Unified School District Board of Education in June 2008, two of the members expected only to discuss the possible hiring of an interim personnel director.

Instead, former board members Bob Campbell and Ken Ostini said, they were surprised by the suddenness of a motion to hire Marilyn Corey, who had been interim personnel director in 2002, and the existence of a proposed contract to pay Corey $500 per day.

The actions of the board majority — Sue Schuyler, Anne Bossert and Kris Andrews — were highly inappropriate and perhaps violated California’s open meetings law, according to Campbell and Ostini, both of whom declined to seek re-election in November.

Andrews, Schuyler and Bossert deny that they violated the Brown Act and are reacting strongly to the accusation.

Although Corey wasn’t hired for that position, the discussion at the meeting a year ago threw the board into a tailspin, symptomatic perhaps of the turmoil it has been engulfed in for the past couple of years as it has made deep, painful budget cuts and controversial personnel moves.

It quickly became apparent, Campbell said, that the board majority had been discussing personnel moves privately and reaching a majority consensus outside of a board meeting — a clear violation of the Brown Act.

The board had not advertised to fill the position being vacated by Personnel Director Ragan Fife, and other options had not been discussed, he said.

One of those options, Campbell said, was a suggestion from Superintendent Frank Lynch that Lynch, Fife and Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Tanya Opfermann share the personnel director’s responsibilities temporarily to save money.

“I was just kind of stunned,” Campbell said. “I remember saying, ‘Now, wait a minute here. We’re getting way ahead of things here.’”

Ostini said he was shocked as well.

“I was very surprised that all of a sudden, boom, it just sort of hit us,” he said. “This is the first I’ve seen this contract and we’re getting ready to approve this, and we’ve been sitting here five minutes?”

“The damage that these three school board members have done in the last 18 months will take years to repair, or to heal,” Campbell said. “It’s just no way to operate.”

Andrews, Schuyler and Bossert have a much different interpretation of events.

“Nothing was set in advance. Nothing was agreed to. There is no pattern of collusion, no agreement, no nothing,” Andrews said.

“We would have never done something like this,” Schuyler added. “I’m really disappointed in these two men. I held them in high regard until today...

Supreme Court to school authorities who did strip search: kids get to keep their clothes on

Due to my personal experiences at Chula Vista Elementary School District and what I have learned of other districts, I have long believed that teachers and administrators desperately need to brush up on the American Constitution.

It's a problem when those tasked with teaching American values show so much disrespect toward those values.

Supreme Court rules school's strip search of teen Savana Redding unconstitutional
BY James Gordon Meek
June 25th 2009

Savana Redding leaves the U.S. Supreme Court after her case was heard April 21, 2009. The Supreme Court ruled today that a strip search performed on her in the 8th grade was unconstitutional.

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a strip search of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by administrators looking for banned medication was unconstitutional.

The high court held in the 8 to 1 opinion that a male assistant school principal in Arizona and a female nurse violated student Savanna Redding's rights when they ordered her to partially undress in a fruitless search for a tiny amount of Ibuprofen pain relief pills.

Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the "regrettable decision" by the majority, reveling in the details of the teen drama.

The conservative justice even questioned whether Redding was really strip-searched - arguing that the term is reserved for those required "to fully disrobe in view of officials."

"What was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear," soon-to-retire moderate Justice David Souter wrote in the majority opinion.

The justices described how the Safford Middle School official, Kerry Wilson, told Redding to "pull her bra out and shake it, and to pull out the elastic on her underpants, thus exposing her breasts and pelvic area."

The search - prompted by schoolmates who ratted Redding out as a pill pusher - came up empty.

But the 'tween girl, who had described standing exposed before the school administrators as "humiliating," felt vindicated.

"I'm pretty excited about it, because that's what I wanted," Redding told the Associated Press. "I wanted to keep it from happening to anybody else."

Liberal-leaning Justice John Paul Stevens said Redding's forced nudity - even if partial - was "outrageous conduct."

"I have long believed that it does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude," Stevens wrote.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/us_world/2009/06/25/2009-06-25_supreme_court_rules_schools_strip_search_of_teen_savana_redding_unconstitutional.html#ixzz0JTnPWUQe&C

A discussion of teacher tenure

Click HERE to see all posts on evaluating teachers.

The tenure dilemma: no easy answers
June 24, 2009
by Casey Weiss
Mountain View Voice

...In 1921, California adopted a policy granting tenure to its public school teachers after a two-year probationary period, becoming the first state to do so. Other U.S. states have since adopted similar policies, although many have a longer probationary period.

...As for teachers' legal costs, Dina Martin, spokesperson for the California Teachers Association, said they are covered by CTA dues.

[Maura Larkins comment: Dina Martin forgot to say that CTA pays only if a CTA-approved lawyer is involved. The reason for this is that the union may want certain facts covered up, and they know that the lawyers on their list will keep evidence out of the hearing. Sometimes a whistle-blowing teacher is a threat to the union as well as to the school administration.]

...Many local parents have asked the Voice what steps they can take to protect their children from an errant teacher, in the rare case that it becomes necessary. After a weeklong investigation into tenured teachers' rights...the Voice found that answers to this question were hard to come by.

[Maura Larkins comment: Secrecy is a hallmark of school districts' relationship with the public and parents. In San Diego County, schools are advised by Diane Crosier, director of the County Risk Management Department, not to let parents see accident reports involving their children!]

...Representatives at the County Office of Education and the California Teacher Association said they were not privy to how districts reviewed their teachers' performance...

[Maura Larkins comment: Not privy or not interested? Click HERE to see the starling testimony of one local CTA affiliate president.]

Attempts to find answers at the state level were even less successful. After looking through her database of specialists, Tina Jung, a spokesperson in the Department of Education, said there was no one there qualified to talk about tenure...Several calls to the state Public Employment Relations Board and the California School Boards Association produced the same answer: ask the school districts...

"We are an association," said CSBA spokesperson Brittany McKannay. "We are there to provide information for the school board."


Stimulus is saving jobs at Vista Unified School District

See all posts re Vista Unified.

Stimulus funds help district to bridge gap
Budget cuts had put 200 school jobs at risk
By Bruce Lieberman
San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer
June 21, 2009

VISTA — Federal stimulus money saved Vista Unified School District this past week from a late round of punishing budget cuts.

The jobs of about 200 people were on the line at the district, which enrolls about 23,000 students and employs more than 2,000 teachers and other non-teaching workers.

As recently as June 12, administrators were bracing for the worst because of a grim budget update Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced in late May. The governor projected that public school districts statewide would have to cut $3.6 billion between now and the end of 2009-10.

For Vista Unified, that meant cutting $5 million before the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, and another $9.7 million for 2009-10.

This was on top of $11.8 million the district cut from its 2009-10 budget earlier this spring.

While a district committee combed the budget for more dollars and administrators waited for the state to release more federal stimulus money, a plan was developed to lay off about 200 employees.

Then on June 12, the district learned it would have access to nearly $6 million in additional federal stimulus money. At Thursday's board meeting, employees expressed relief that they'd get a reprieve at least for another year.

“You've made a lot of people very happy,” said Bill Faust, head of the district's union for 1,100 employees who do not have teaching credentials.

It's clear, however, that the federal stimulus money will not be around in 2010-11, and the district will face another round of deep cuts if the economy doesn't rebound, said Donna Caperton, Vista Unified's chief business officer...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dear Randy Ward, how about allowing a broadcast by school inmates along the lines of Brixton Prison radio?

It's long been popular to give school kids the opportunity to present news and information to their peers; now this idea seems to have become popular in prisons. Does broadcasting improve the minds of the people who do it? How could it not? It makes them think; it teaches them to speak.

It's too bad students and teachers can't do probing interviews like the Brixton inmate who interviewed the former government minister who was sentenced to prison for perjury (story below).

A lot of problems in schools could be fixed if they weren't covered up by officials. Instead of selling exposure on public television to commercial interests, perhaps San Diego County Office of Education Superintendent Randolph Ward could create a television broadcast in which the inmates of San Diego schools, along with the public, could give real information to voters and taxpayers about schools.

Prison Radio Shines

Parmy Olson

A tiny prison radio station in London is competing against the BBC for a prestigious award.

...A tiny prison radio station in South London is up for four prestigious Sony awards on Monday night, putting it alongside the some of the top talent of the BBC and other commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom.

Electric Radio in Brixton Prison is run by the Prison Radio Association, a British charity, and broadcasts to just 800 inmates--but it has a rich array of programming...

Its nominations include an award for talk radio and the all-important Interview Award.

...one of Brixton Prison's inmates interviewed former U.K. government minister Jonathan Aitken, who was sentenced to 18 months in Belmarsh prison in 1999 for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The interviewer was half-way through a four-year sentence when he conducted the interview, and the two men were "socially, culturally and educationally poles apart," the Prison Radio Association says. But while Aitken comes across as well-spoken and slightly pompous, Tis' is not afraid to ask probing questions, creating an intriguing interview in which Aitken opens up about his divorce, bankruptcy and experiences in jail. The interview can be listened to here...

[Maura Larkins' comment: Perhaps freedom of speech, though it may be the foundation of our country's success, is not popular with education officials. Perhaps Randy Ward and Diane Crosier, who are supporting their lawyer Daniel Shinoff in his defamation lawsuit against me, believe that anyone who tells the truth about their actions should face a court system that has often helped them cover up their actions. Thank goodness they don't have as much power as officials in Iran.]

Blogger jailed in Iran is dead

March 19, 2009

A young blogger arrested in Iran for allegedly insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an Internet posting has died in prison, his attorney said Friday.

The blogger had been jailed for allegedly insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an internet posting.

Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said Omid Mir Sayafi, reported to be in his 20s, died in Evin prison, which is located in Tehran and known for its wing that holds political prisoners.

Dadkhah said a fellow inmate, Dr. Hessam Firouzi, called him Wednesday night with the news -- and said he believed Sayafi would have lived if he received proper medical care.

Dadkhah said Firouzi, an imprisoned human-rights activist, said that he carried a semi-conscious Sayafi to a prison doctor but that he didn't receive the care he needed.

"It was Dr. Firouzi's opinion that if he would've received proper medical attention, he would not have died," Dadkhah said.

He said Sayafi was buried on Thursday and that his calls to the prison asking for an explanation have not been returned.

Dadkhah said Sayafi "sounded OK" at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday when he last spoke to him by telephone. He said the blogger asked for a book about Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which begins Friday.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which advocates for activists in the country, quoted Firouzi on its Web site as saying Sayafi suffered from depression and had taken extra doses of medication on Wednesday.

The group blamed Iran's government for unsafe conditions in its prisons.

"Iranian leaders have relegated the administration of the prison system to a group of incompetent and cruel officials who are showing their utter disregard for human life," said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the campaign. "If the authorities do not move quickly to hold negligent officials responsible, they are reinforcing impunity and the lack of accountability."

Sayafi was first arrested in April, then released for 41 days before being arrested again. He was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for comments on a blog that his lawyer argued was intended only for a few friends to read.

SDCOE has given millions of tax dollars to its business pals; now it will sell advertizing rights to make up for some of the loss

Instead of selling exposure on public television to commercial interests, why doesn't SDCOE Superintendent Randolph Ward allow school stakeholders to produce a free and unfettered broadcast that gives voters a peek into how our schools are run?

Your company's name here . . .
County Office of Education's courtship of corporate sponsors could raise big cash – and concerns about the lessons learned
By Chris Moran,
San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer
June 24, 2009

For $3 million, the county Office of Education's sixth-grade camp could take a corporate name such as Cuyamaca Outdoor School presented by Mission Federal Credit Union. Or maybe Qualcomm's Camp Cuyamaca.

For $75,000, a company can present the high school girls volleyball championship on ITV, the office's cable channel. For another $75,000, a company president can appear on ITV handing over the trophies to the winning students in a video production contest...

Naming-rights deals once associated with sports and entertainment venues are migrating to public education, leading critics to warn that schools may be venturing down the wrong path.

“One of the purposes of education and of school is to promote reasoning, and advertising by its nature subverts reason, and for that reason alone has no place in the schools,” said Susan Linn, director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston.

The county Office of Education's plan, released last week, would be the biggest corporate sponsorship of its kind in the region...

“In tough economic times, it's very difficult for parents to raise $270 for a week of their children going to school when you're coming from a socio-economic situation where that's a very difficult choice,” said county schools Superintendent Randy Ward...

That Camp Cuyamaca administrators feel compelled to seek private money demonstrates that society doesn't value public education enough, Linn said.

She said a corporate presence in an educational setting carries extra weight because it benefits from the “halo effect” of the tacit endorsement of teachers.

“It's ironic that the kids are going to be really face-to-face with marketing that is going to be inculcating consumerism, which is antithetical to environmental values” that camps try to promote, Linn said.

Officials with the Office of Education insist that the naming rights are not advertising...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do we have a right to know the truth about the mortgage companies that melted down the economy?

Will New Hampshire Supreme Court defend the 1st amendment or the mortgage company?

New Hampshire Court Tramples on Constitution, Reporter's Privilege, Section 230, What Have You
April 8th, 2009
Citizen Media Law Project
by Sam Bayard

A reader recently tipped us off to a troubling ruling from a trial court in New Hampshire:

The Mortgage Specialists, Inc. v. Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, Inc., No. 08-E-0572 (N.H. Super. Ct. Mar. 11, 2009).

In the decision, Justice McHugh of the Superior Court for Rockingham County ordered the publishers of the popular mortgage industry watchdog site, The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter ("ML-Implode"), to turn over the identity of an anonymous source who provided ML-Implode with a copy of a financial document prepared by The Mortgage Specialists, Inc. for submission to the New Hampshire Banking Department.

The court also ordered ML-Implode to reveal the identity of an anonymous commenter who allegedly posted defamatory statements about the company and enjoined the website from re-posting the financial document or the allegedly defamatory comments...

Another week, another restriction of student speech; the principal of high school in Orange, California, has confiscated student magazine

Principal Censors School Paper: Claims "Old English" Font Promotes Gang Activity
June 18th, 2009
by Lee Baker

Another week, another restriction of student speech. S.K. Johnson, the principal of Orange High School in (where else?) Orange, California, has confiscated copies of a student magazine prior to publication. His main complaint about the latest issue of PULP concerns the cover, which features a faux full-back tattoo with the publication’s name and a picture of a panther, the school mascot. The principal alleges that the image promotes gang life and might encourage students to get tattoos, singling out the use of Old English font to create “gangster-style writing.”

While the school has a legitimate interest in preventing the glorification of gang culture, one of Mr. Johnson’s proposed solutions – to affix an addendum or edit the accompanying article on student tattoos to indicate that tattoos are permanent – demonstrates that this is not actually his primary concern.

Although it may be helpful for students to be reminded of the difficulty of tattoo removal, such a concern should not give a school principal the legal right to suppress student speech.

Despite the essentially unlimited reach of Hazelwood with regard to school-sponsored speech (discussed in last week’s post), sanctioning censorship in order to protect students from making bad decisions on icy.skin art almost certainly pushes it too far.

...California state law has more stringent restrictions on censoring student speech, a position supported by a recent paper in the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy.

New York state senate proves that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten

The recent antics of the New York state senate brings back fond memories of childhood when we divided into two groups, each with its own secret hiding place, and tried to discover and enter our opponents' lair.

Who says politics isn't fun?

Albany Democrats Lock Themselves in the Senate Chamber
New York Times
June 23, 2009

ALBANY — Senate Democrats entered the Senate chamber through a back hallway on Tuesday afternoon and locked themselves in, pulling off a sneak attack of sorts in the ongoing battle for control of the State Senate.

The move took the Capitol by surprise, and left Republicans scrambling to plan their next procedural move. Republicans had planned to enter the chamber at 2 p.m. — an hour before the special session called by Gov. David A. Paterson was scheduled to begin...

“At this point, they refuse to enter into an operating agreement,” Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side, told reporters just before he and his fellow Democrats sneaked into the chamber...

Republicans seemed just as caught off guard as the rest of the Capitol. And as news of the Democrats’ move spread, some Republican staff members rushed to the Senate chamber and peered in through the windows to watch the Democrats congregating inside.

Senator George H. Winner Jr., a Republican from central New York, described the Democrats’ move as unnecessary and possibly against the law.

“It seems to me somewhat petulant and or illegal to lock the doors,” Mr. Winner said.

[Maura Larkins' comment: How would Mr. Winner describe Republicans' earlier antics?]

The outer doors to the chamber were kept locked by the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, but some reporters were able to gain access through a back door...

Democratic senators seemed somewhat amused by the situation. Senator Craig M. Johnson, a Long Island Democrat, even took pictures of reporters who assembled in the gallery. The only way in to the locked chamber was through the office of Pedro Espada Jr., the turncoat Democrat whose defection created the deadlock.

...Mr. Espada said he was willing to accept binding arbitration as a way to resolve the leadership dispute.

“The Democratic senators have refused to respond in any significant way to embrace our reforms,” said Mr. Espada, who joined with Republicans two weeks ago to vote to displace Mr. Smith as majority leader and install himself as president of the Senate and Mr. Skelos as the new majority leader. Democrats have rejected that vote as illegitimate.

[Mr. Espada sounds just like some of the kids I once played with. Their goal is to win personally at any cost, including betraying one's friends and the principles one has proclaimed to get those friends.]

...Democrats insisted they would not recognize a Republican leader, and Republicans were planning to move forward with their 2 p.m. session...

Democrats have said that the doors will remain locked until 3 p.m., when they plan to call the governor’s special session to order...

The Senate was left in its first 31-to-31 tie after Republicans orchestrated a coup earlier this month and installed Mr. Espada as the Senate’s president. The Democratic caucus has refused to return to the chamber during the last two weeks unless Republicans accept a power-sharing arrangement.

Supreme Court rules against schools who fail to offer FAPE to students with disabilities

Court says public must pay for private special ed
By JESSE J. HOLLAND - Associated Pres
June 22, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday shifted the landscape for students with learning disabilities, saying parents can in many instances bypass public school special education programs and be reimbursed for private school tuition instead.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of a teenage boy from Oregon whose parents sought to force their local public school district to pay the $5,200 a month it cost to send their son to a private school.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation's special education students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education."
Federal law calls for school districts to reimburse students or their families for education costs when public schools do not have services that address or fulfill the students' needs.

But schools have argued that the law says parents of special education students must give public special education programs a chance before seeking reimbursement for private school tuition. The Forest Grove, Ore., School District said the parents were ineligible for reimbursement because their son had not been in public special education classes.

A majority at the Supreme Court disagreed.

"We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school," said Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion.

In the case before the Supreme Court, the family of a teenage Oregon boy diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- who was identified only as T.A. -- sued the school district, saying the school did not properly address the student's learning problems. The family is seeking reimbursement for the student's tuition, which cost $5,200 a month. The family paid a total of $65,000 in private tuition.

In its appeal, the Forest Grove School District said students should be forced to at least give public special education programs a try before seeking reimbursement for private tuition. If not, lawyers argue, parents would bypass public schools and go directly to private school -- and then ask for reimbursement from school systems already burdened by ever-increasing costs.

School districts "can avoid any liability for tuition reimbursement by providing a free appropriate public education to a child with a disability," said lawyer David Salmons, who argued the case for T.A. But "if they fail to do that, they may be responsible for private school tuition if the parents can show that it's an appropriate case."

The court's decision does not require reimbursement, but Stevens said school officials "must consider all relevant factors, including the notice provided by parents and the school district's opportunities for evaluating the child, in determining whether reimbursement for some or all of the cost of the child's private school education is warranted."...

Is Judge Frank Devaney a slow learner, or simply determined to keep Mexicans out?

Judge Francis M. Devaney

Overturned probation condition is judge's 2nd
Orders kept youths from entering U.S.
By Greg Moran,
San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer
June 23, 2009

The state appeals court struck down the first order as unconstitutional in August, weeks before the second reversal.

For the second time in a year, a state appeals court has reversed a San Diego judge's probation condition that essentially banished a juvenile U.S. citizen to Mexico.

The youth, identified in court papers as Alex O., was 17 when he was arrested in August at the San Ysidro border crossing with about 4 pounds of marijuana. He is a U.S. citizen who lives in Tijuana with his mother, who is not a legal U.S. resident.

Alex pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana, and Superior Court Judge Frank Devaney sentenced him to a year in juvenile camp but stayed that sentence and placed him on probation.

As a condition of the probation, Devaney said the youth could enter the United States only to attend school, visit relatives or work. He also ordered Alex to notify his probation officer when he was to enter the country.

Devaney made that ruling in September. That was just weeks after the state 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego struck down a similar order that Devaney made for another youth.

In that case, Devaney ordered James C. to live with his grandparents in Tijuana, and under no circumstances return for a year. The state appeals court struck down that order as unconstitutional in August because it violated the youth's rights of free association and travel.

Faced with the similar case of Alex O., Devaney again erred, the court concluded.

The youth does not attend school in this country, has no job and no family, so it was unlikely that any of the permitted reasons for him to enter the country would apply, Justice Patricia Benke wrote. The order also prevented Alex from entering the country to attend a movie or go to the beach or the zoo, Benke said.

“In short, although the juvenile court's order is not an express banishment from the United States, its practical effect on Alex is almost indistinguishable from a banishment,” Benke wrote.

Devaney, now a judge in the downtown San Diego adult courts, declined to comment last week.

Deputy Public Defender Jo Pastore, who handled the appeal, said Devaney's order was too broad. While judges have discretion on setting conditions of probation, the law says those conditions have to have some relation to the crime at issue.

“The (appeals) court is saying the problem happened at the border, so if you are infringing on someone's right to travel, it has to be limited and specifically tailored to crossing the border,” Pastore said.

That is why the appeals court upheld one condition — that Alex notify his probation officer before coming into the United States. Such orders are made in other juvenile probation cases, such as when minors want to leave the county.

Benke said requiring Alex to notify his probation officer when he enters the country relates to the crime he committed, and does not hinder his right to travel as a U.S. citizen.

Pastore said Devaney thought he was complying with the appeals court's first decision when he dealt with Alex. But his solution ended up with the same effect.

“It banished him from the entire country, and the court said that is just over-broad,” Pastore said.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DeveloperAlert.org tells what's going on in San Diego

I found a superb blog about local developers called DEVELOPERALERT.ORG. Here are some quotes from the blog:

Development that works

Paul Solomon quit his job as a real estate attorney to pursue a dream of redeveloping obsolete factory buildings in downtown Los Angeles (an area that is now being called the Arts District)... As I spent the day with him in February touring his new development of the "National Biscuit Company" Building, every turn seemed to tender a brand new treasure. Copper doors and windows, maple floors, exposed wood formwork, concrete columns, staircases ascending effortlessly to mezzanines open to below characterized these engaging spaces. It was obvious that the architect Aleks Istanbullu had carefully considered every facet of the design... It was obvious that this building was more than just a source of revenue for him, it was a source of pride... and that is rare.

Here's more from DeveloperAlert.org:

Development that doesn't work

"Developers' money is like heroin to politicians." - Roy P. Disney, March 2, 2008, Los Angeles Times

“We need open, honest government that is working for people, not developers.” - Stephen Whitburn, March 15, 2008, San Diego Union Tribune

Sometimes the real losers in court are the ones who win: $1.9 million music industry victory

Damages of $1.9 million could backfire on music industry
Sat Jun 20, 2009
By Ben Sheffner

The recording industry secured a resounding victory last week when a Minneapolis jury awarded the four major labels $1.92 million in damages after unanimously finding that a 32-year-old mother had willfully infringed on their copyrights by downloading and sharing 24 songs on the Kazaa peer-to-peer network.

But a question arose after the verdict about whether the sheer size of the damages could lead to a backlash against an industry that is already portrayed in some quarters as overreaching. Sony BMG attorney Wade Leak, who testified at the trial, said he was "shocked" by the damages award.

No one expects that the labels will collect the entire amount from Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old Brainerd, Minn., mother of four who testified during the retrial that her ex-boyfriend or sons, then 8 and 10, were most likely responsible for downloading and distributing the songs. Thomas-Rasset lost her previous trial in 2007 and was ordered to pay $222,000, only to achieve a now-pyrrhic victory when the court tossed the verdict because of a faulty jury instruction.

Even for law-abiding citizens who believe that labels have every right to protect their copyrights, a verdict of almost $2 million could be hard to swallow...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Amalia Cudeiro is starting out in Bellevue exactly like Libia Gil started in CVESD

See more on Amalia Cudeiro.

UPDATE MARCH 8, 2011 Steve McConnell said...I do wonder whether we in Bellevue are getting what we thought we were with Dr. Cudeiro. Check out my blog on the topic...

UPDATE: AUGUST 9, 2009 ANONYMOUS COMMENTER REPORTS: "I hear from reliable sources that she's cleaning house at the dictrict, firing old reliables and hiring outside people at MUCH higher salaries. Haven't seen any news reports about this yet but I'm wondering how local parents and educators will react to this kind of drastic change." MAURA LARKINS' COMMENT: Wouldn't it be hilarious if Curdeiro hired Libby Gil's right-hand man Richard Werlin?


Back in 1993 Amalia Cudeiro's friend Libia Gil was hired as superintendent in Chula Vista Elementary School District. Gil said she was just going to listen to other people for the first few months. She went around listening to business people and politicos, everybody except the teachers. And when did she begin to speak? Never, as far as I can recall. The ability to sit quietly and say nothing seemed to be her strongest trait. But she ruled with the help of a few close associates, particularly Richard Werlin, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Gil instituted site-based management, which meant that as long as they kept things quiet, principals were on their own. If a problem developed, Richard Werlin swooped in and started yelling and putting people on administrative leave.

There were few tears when Libia Gil left mysteriously in 2002, supposedly for a job in Virginia. But she never left San Diego, and she never has been hired as a public school superintendent since then, though not for lack of trying.

Amalia Cudeiro and Libia Gil are old friends and business partners. I imagine that the Bellevue School Board has a majority of rigid, right-wing members who wanted someone just like Libby Gil. They picked the right person if that's their purpose.

She's going to listen: where have we heard this before?

New Bellevue schools superintendent says her first assignment is to listen
Seattle Times
March 30, 2009
By Katherine Long

Amalia Cudeiro, a 52-year-old education consultant, will officially become Bellevue's new superintendent in July, although it's likely she'll work informally with the district in the months leading up to that date.

She's a good listener and a no-nonsense administrator who makes her decisions after poring over assessment data.

[Maura Larkins' note: Actually, I think she makes her decisions BEFORE poring over assessment data, as seemed to be the case when she did "research" on Tom Payzant and Libia Gil.]

She holds a doctorate from Harvard University and lectures at the school's Urban Superintendents Program, but as a parent she's known firsthand the frustration of trying to find a school that works for a daughter with a learning disability.

Amalia Cudeiro, a 52-year-old education consultant, will officially become Bellevue's new superintendent in July, although it's likely she'll work informally with the district in the months leading up to that date.

She swings through Bellevue today, her first visit since being offered the job, with a packed itinerary that includes meeting with district officials, signing her contract and talking to the media.

Cudeiro will take leadership of a district considered one of the best in the state, with schools with a national reputation for excellence.

But the School Board wants to make more headway at helping lower-income students perform better. About 18 percent of Bellevue's students are on free- or reduced-price lunch, and more than 80 languages are spoken by students in the district's increasingly diverse schools.

Cudeiro says her first job will be to listen to what others have to say, especially teachers who went on strike six months ago over the district's standardized curriculum. "I am going to have to spend a little time understanding what has been put in place," she said.

Cudeiro's most recent public-schools job was as deputy superintendent of Boston Public Schools from September 1999 to June 2001. After that, with her husband, Jeffrey Nelsen, she founded a consulting firm, Targeted Leadership Consulting. She became an adjunct lecturer at Harvard University's Urban Superintendents Program in June 2004.

As a consultant, she's worked in school districts across the country, helping principals and teachers become better leaders and work together more effectively. The company also diagnoses a district's weak areas by examining data that show how students are doing, then building a curriculum based on that work.

"She has had the unusual experience of having been in literally dozens of school districts," said Tom Payzant, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "She has a frame of reference that's much broader than you'll see in a lot of candidates."

As a consultant, she's done work in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Chicago; Chula Vista, Calif.; Elizabeth, N.J.; and internationally with Department of Defense schools.

Payzant was superintendent of Boston Public Schools when Cudeiro worked as deputy superintendent. He described her as a good listener but someone who didn't hesitate to make tough decisions, such as not renewing the contract of a principal who wasn't doing a good job.

One of her high-profile assignments was to overhaul Boston High, a school with some of the lowest test scores in the district.

Lowell Billings, the superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District in California, worked with Cudeiro's consulting firm on education reform in the diverse district south of San Diego. "Our achievement trends have been rather impressive, and Amalia played an important part in that," Billings said.

He said Cudeiro's work, which focused on developing better leadership skills among principals, helped raise test scores in low-income schools. But it also helped schools in well-to-do neighborhoods, where there was a core of students whose failure rate was masked by the overall success of the system.

As a mother, Cudeiro has also known what it's like to battle the system. She spent years trying to find a Boston public-school program that would help her dyslexic daughter catch up to peers.

She said she eventually "had to make a real tough decision" to pull her daughter from public school and put her in private school.

Cudeiro's daughter is now in college and doing well, she said.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Superintendent Emeritus Libia Gil seems to have hired some new cheerleaders for her new business

For years I've wondered about Amalia Cudeiro and her "research" on former CVESD Superintendent Libia Gil. The "research" seemed to demonstrate breathtaking cluelessness. Now my curiosity has been sated. I find that Cudeiro and Gil are in business together. It also appears that Cudeiro was doing research on herself. According to this biography, she worked for (or currently works for) the districts whose success she proclaimed in her "research."

Also see my "site-based management" page for a peek at some of Libby Gil's more recent cheerleaders.

I recently noted that Richard Hanks and Monica Sorenson have become principals at Chula Vista Elementary School District. I suspect this is an omen that Libia Gil's top-down decision making management style will continue at CVESD, and will continue based on the same principles of doing what's best for the people in charge.

Former Superintendent Libia Gil remade the district in her own image, and it has remained the same even though she herself was pushed out in March 2002. [I suspect she was pushed out not because she broke the law, but because she made such a mess while doing so.]

Gil beat the union (Chula Vista Educators) by co-opting and corrupting its leaders, specifically Jim Groth, Virginia (Gina) Boyd, Tim O'Neill and the board of directors.

It was obvious all along that neither Libby Gil nor her assistant superintendent Lowell Billings believed in the democratic principles they were spouting to sell site-based management. Chula Vista Elementary School District's Superintendent Lowell Billings apparently watched closely and learned from his predecessor Libia Gil, who managed to increase her power without ever saying much of anything.

Billings continues to promote the system as implemented at CVESD, which always involved top-down decision-making, never democracy at the school site.

It also involved laziness and neglect. So things would often get out of hand at various schools, and then the district office would swoop in and fire people, or, if they were political allies, bring them back to the district office for their own protection.

In 2008 CVESD superintendent Lowell Billings had a new problem. The school that was trying to make its own decisions was a charter school. The staff didn't think that principal Erik Latoni should make all the decisions.

Once again, Lowell wanted to swoop in and take control. He threatened to to terminate the charter of Feaster Elementary School because the people who run the school actually work at the school. Instead of "site-based decision-making," this is now being called "a conflict of interest" by Mr. Billings. The meaning of the words changes whenever the people in charge feel it's necessary.

It's probably worthwhile to note that CVESD rehired Daniel Shinoff of Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holtz in 2008. Apparently the board was impressed with Shinoff's work at MiraCosta College. I notice a striking similarity in the arguments used to attack Feaster Elementary and the arguments used to justify the actions of the majority-bloc of trustees at MiraCosta.