Monday, April 14, 2014

Shame on those CVESD teachers who are intentionally making kids anxious about standardized tests

I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader and the Chula Vista Star-News in reporting the implementation of Common Core standards in Chula Vista schools. Star-News Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did the Reader's Susan Luzzaro.

Kristin Phatek
Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better
solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

See all posts re Common Core from CVESD Reporter blog.

UPDATE April 15, 2014:

I just spoke to Anthony Millican at CVESD, and he tells me that it is not at all true that if a student "failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade." I hope that Susan Luzzaro at the Reader will publish this fact, since her article offers no contradiction to this quote in its first paragraph.

Mr. Millican notes that many teachers are delighted with Common Core. I'll bet the students of those teachers are also delighted. Why didn't Ms. Luzzaro quote any of them?


I'm sure that there are many classrooms in Chula Vista Elementary School District where confident, competent teachers--and their students!--are completely relaxed about upcoming standardized tests. In fact, those kids probably think that taking tests is fun.

But what about the teachers who simply don't know how to teach well? They are having hissy fits, and pointing the finger at Common Core Standards. There is nothing at all wrong with Common Core Standards. It's just that many teachers don't grasp the concept of a basic concept. That's what Common Core is all about: basic concepts.

Historically, a large percentage of teachers have taught mostly by rote, without teaching kids how to think. Also, there are some pretty good teachers who simply don't like to go into depth when teaching a subject. They like to teach a concept and then move on. This method is NOT used in countries with highly successful education systems.

These two types of teachers are intentionally upsetting children so that parents will come in and complain about Common Core instead of complaining about the teacher.

Why isn't this parent asking why 70% of kids don't understand basic facts? Has she not been paying attention for the past decades as student performance has gone down? Does she know during those decades fewer and fewer teachers have come from top colleges? The average teacher these days is simply not up to the job. As teachers have become weaker, the job itself has become harder.

So why doesn't the district simply teach the teachers how to teach? Perhaps you think that the district is run by brilliant minds? Administrators tend to be people who were very immersed in teacher culture and school politics when they were teachers. They played the game. They followed the right people. Don't expect them to have a particularly good understanding of the educational process, and don't expect them to know how to teach teachers.

Has Ms. Phatek wondered whether there might be a better solution to her children's problem than getting rid of Common Core?

Perhaps she might consider this solution to the problem: Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing or laying-off any teachers!

San Diego County parents should have access, as do parents in Los Angeles, to information showing how much the students in each classroom are learning each year, as measured by year-by-year changes on standardized test scores. The Los Angeles Times published these "value-added" scores for each teacher. Why doesn't any San Diego news source publish our information?

Amazingly, it was revealed that students of the most admired and highly-regarded teachers frequently showed remarkably little improvement. You can always find teachers and parents who think they know who the best teachers are, but it turns out they're often completely wrong.

Of course, test scores are only a clue, not a final determination, as to whether a teacher is doing a good job. Proper evaluation would consist of regular observations, interviews and test scores of both students and teachers. In the current system, most principals have very little knowledge about what most of their teachers are doing in the classroom. Often, years go by without a principal spending more than a few moments in a teacher's classroom. And in my 27 years teaching in CVESD, not once did any principal ever sit down and talk to me about my thinking about how to educate children.

If teacher performance were evaluated effectively, there would be an added bonus: administrators could be chosen from among the best teachers.

But the district administration isn't the only problem. There's also the teachers union. The one thing you can count on the California Teachers Association to do is to protect incompetent teachers. The parent in the article below who claims that Common Core is "advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education" is doing what the teachers union calls "staying on message". She certainly sounds like she was coached.

The test isn't creating a problem, it's exposing a problem that has existed for years.

Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents

“My son had been experiencing headaches”
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

One night last year, Gretel Rodriguez was playing the word game Hangman with her son who attends HedenKamp Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. He chose an unusual word. When Rodriguez asked him why, her son said he was learning it for the California State Test. Then he said he was nervous — worried that if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade.

Rodriguez said in an April 7 interview, “My son had been experiencing headaches, then when he told me his worries, I made up my mind to opt him out of any standardized exams.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Rodriquez ask the school district if test results might be used to hold a child back? Did she ever consider helping her child to get the problem into perspective? Does she normally try to teach coping skills to her child? Does she teach her child to search out the facts before dissolving in fear? I suspect that the teacher might have been manipulating his or her students emotionally instead of dealing with his or her own fears about test results. Was the teacher really afraid of what might happen to himself (or herself)?

Also, I'm wondering why the reporter who wrote this piece, Susan Luzzaro, fails to tell us if this child's fear is based on reality. Why doesn't Ms. Luzzaro report on this important question? Luzzaro's entire article seems to be based on the belief that the district actually flunks kids who do poorly on the test.]

Rodriguez is one of many parents, locally and nationally, who are choosing to opt their children out of testing.

“By opting my son out of standardized tests I’ve also ensured he doesn’t have to take the SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] test this year as well,” Rodriguez continued.

In 2012, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was one of two companies that split a $330 million Department of Education grant to develop a computer-based test aligned with Common Core Standards.

In 2014, students will be taking a Smarter Balanced field test, or a test to test the test — based on Common Core Standards. The test will be administered to California students between March and June.

Rodriguez has another son who is a special-education student in the Sweetwater Union High School District. At first he told his mother that he wanted to continue taking the standardized tests and Rodriguez agreed.

Recently he changed his mind and asked his mom to opt him out. Rodriguez said she was happy about his decision because the new Common Core test has no modifications for special-education students or English-language learners.

The Phataks have three children in public schools. Two of them go to Salt Creek Elementary in the Chula Vista Elementary School District; their older son attends Eastlake Middle School in the Sweetwater district.

When asked which tests she was going to opt her children out of, Kristin Phatak answered, “All of them.”

Phatak believes that “tests designed by publishing companies are not a good measure of my children’s progress. They also encourage teaching to the test.”

Regarding the Smarter Balance test aligned with Common Core, Phatak stated, “I firmly believe that test is being designed to fail the children, and in turn fail the teachers and the schools. It’s an attack on public education.”

When asked why she believes the test is designed to fail, Phatak resonded, “When you start looking at the money behind new Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balance testing, you begin to question both of them. Venture philanthropists, like the Gates Foundation, have poured millions into advancing an agenda that I believe is geared toward privatizing all education.

[Maura Larkins' comment: The Gates Foundation? Phatek sounds pretty paranoid to me. Why wouldn't Bill Gates simply be trying to do for education the same thing he does for health--giving away huge amounts of money in an effort to make life better for people around the globe? Or perhaps Phatek has simply been influenced by teachers who don't want to improve their performance.] "In states like Kentucky, where the Smarter Balanced Consortium test has already been used, the student failure rate was 70 percent. New York also had disastrous results with their Common Core exam. The push is to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. You can’t fail the teachers unless you fail the kids.”

Phatak encourages “parents who wish to be in tune with their childrens’ education to go to the Smarter Balance website and take the pilot test that corresponds to their child’s grade level.”

Phatak said she began talking to other moms about opting out last year. She is “shocked” because so many are coming up to her this year and telling her they are opting out.

Phatak is in contact with parents across the United States through her Facebook page, though she is not a member of a national opt-out organization.

“There are no consequences for refusing to take the tests,” Phatak said. “They [districts] cannot hold a child back.”

Opting out is not new to San Diego. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal carried a report on 212 Rancho Bernardo students who refused to take standardized tests. Rancho Bernardo parents expressed reasons similar to Chula Vista parents. They felt there was “no personal incentive for their children to labor over tests that aren’t included on school transcripts or are required for high school graduation.”

I was intrigued by the difference between the San Diego Reader (above story) and the Chula Vista Star-News (story below) in reporting this issue. Reporter Robert Moreno provided a much more balanced view of the issue than did Susan Luzzaro.

Common Core receives mixed reviews
Robert Moreno
Chula Vista Star-News
Sep 28 2013

California's newest testing method is getting high praise by education officials in the South Bay, but some parents in the area’s school districts are giving the new testing measure an F.

The Golden State signed on for the model on Aug. 2, 2010, with full implementation this school year. Forty-five states — including California — use the Common Core method of testing.

John Nelson III, E.d.D, assistant superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said the new testing model places higher standards on students than the STAR testing did.

“We (the district) believe that these new Common Core standards reflect the academic need of all students to be successful,” he said. “We know that the old standards, we’ve learned a lot of good lessons from them; however, when it came to being college- and career-ready, the standards fell short.”

Nelson said under the STAR testing standards, students entering college were not prepared and as a result, dropout rates at the university continues to be high.

Common Core tests students from K-12 in math, English, science and social science. The tests and curriculum are based more on the use of critical thinking skills than memorization.

While the elementary school district approves the new testing measures, some parents are not getting with the Common Core program.

Kristin Phatak has a son in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and another in the Sweetwater Union High School District. She is opposed to the Common Core because she said it is “dumbing down” the education standards.

[Maura Larkins' comment: How does Kristin Phatek come up with this stuff? I'm guessing that she like the old rote-memory method of teaching that left students unprepared for college. Kids were left with very little understanding of basic concepts, and a whole lot of memorization that tended to be forgotten. I agree with John Nelson that the new concept-based instruction is better for kids.]

“California and Massachusetts were known in the nation as having some of the highest standards in the United States,” she said. “They did not use California or Massachusetts standards to rate these standards, they actually lowered the standards, and so by California signing on to these standards, we have in effect lowered our standards.”

Nelson said the Common Core is not dumbing down education standards, but rather deepening the understanding of learning. He said it is more critical thinking-based than the STAR testing.

Phatak claims that the Common Core puts local school districts in violation of the Williams Settlement Act.

The class action lawsuit was filed in 2000 and argued agencies failed to provide public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities and qualified teachers. As a result of this, for every student in a classroom, the school must make available one textbook for each student.

Phatak said because there are no textbooks available for the Common Core, teachers are struggling to come up with their own curriculum with Common Core methods.

[Maura Larkins' comment: What is this woman talking about? You can use ANY textbook to teach Common Core. But teachers who rely on textbooks to guide every step of instruction are simply failing to understand how to teach basic concepts. For one thing, the teacher should be guided by what her students know, and how well they are learning. The teacher's instruction should largely be coming from the teacher's brain rather than a textbook, and should be using his or her own words. The teacher should be making heavy use of the white board and a marker--and should be putting manipulatives in students' hands.

“What’s happening now is that the publishers have not come out with the textbooks for Common Core, yet the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater School District have decided to go ahead and implement it,” she said.

Nelson said the Common Core is not solely dependent on textbooks.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Hear, hear!]

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding in the community, Common Core is not about the curriculum, it’s about how we teach,” he said. “Literature is literature. Now we did achieve use of more complex literature but Common Core is about changing the instructional practice of teachers.”

Monica Cervantes is another parent who is against the Common Core. She has a child attending Tiffany Elementary School in Chula Vista. She said the elementary school district adopted the model without conducting research to see if it will actually work.

“I think before you implement any type of curriculum, you have to make sure it works,” she said. “If you go back and look where it was implemented first there is a lot of downfall with this.”

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently announced that the Sweetwater Union High School District is receiving more than $8 million in state funding with the transition to the new testing model.

Manny Rubio, director of grants and communications with the Sweetwater Union High School District, said a portion of that money could be spent on new textbooks used in preparation for the Common Core.

The Sweetwater District is adhering to the Common Core too, because Rubio said the testing is mandated by the state, and therefore they have no choice but to implement it.

“This is something that is coming from Sacramento. It’s our mandate as far as following the law that they’ve issued.

My understanding is that ... we do not have a choice (to not implement the Common Core),” Rubio said.

Rubio said the district is implementing a Common Core curriculum for teachers this year with pilot testing for students. He said come next school year, the district will have mandated testing.

Tina Jung, information officer for the California Department of Education, said the adoption of the Common Core is not mandatory. She said it is up to the local school districts, not the state, to decide if they want to implement the testing.

“It is completely voluntary on the states and schools,” she said. “We can’t tell districts what to do. California is a local control state, that means local districts have more control than the state.”

Jung also said if a district accepts money from the state for Common Core, then that money must be used for Common Core purposes.

Because she did not want her child to take the Common Core test, Phatak withdrew one of her children from Tiffany Elementary school. The child is now being home schooled.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't Phatek help her child cope with anxiety instead of taking such a drastic measure. I have a suspicion that there's a lot more going on in Phatek's family than is revealed here.]

Cervantes said she plans to opt her child out of Common Core testing.

“We (parents) can try to stop this because this was adopted and not mandated by the state,” she said. “We have a choice, it is not mandated. They chose to adopt this.”

According to the California Department of Education’s website, the Common Core describes what each student should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade.

The name Common Core derives from the testing method that uses a set of national standards that apply to every school, district and state that has adopted the Common Core model.

Rubio said parents “will not” have a choice of opting a child out of the testing.

But while Rubio mentions that students can’t opt out, California’s education code says differently.

According to Education Code 60615, a student can opt out of testing.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted,” the code reads.

Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram

I just noticed that the San Diego Union-Tribune has published a hysterical commentary on this subject by Lance T. Izumi. Mr. Izumi's rant contained an interesting fact:

...Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram, an architect of California’s previous top-ranked state math standards and a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee, harshly criticizes the rigor of Common Core’s math standards: “With the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the [Common Core] math standards end after Algebra II. They include no pre-calculus or calculus.”...

Professor Milgram wants every kid in California to learn calculus!?!

That's ridiculous. I took calculus in high school, and it didn't do me one bit of good because I didn't understand the basic concepts well enough. I got an A in the class, not because I understood the material, but because I learned and applied formulas. I had to take calculus over again at UCLA. I also took vector calculus, and when I graduated I thought I knew math.

Even though I wasn't interested in going to graduate school at the time, I decided to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) at that time. I figured I'd never again do as well on the math section of the GRE than when I was fresh out of college math classes.

I was wrong.

I spent the next fifteen years teaching basic math concepts to fourth and fifth graders. I taught those basic concepts like they were going out of style. As a result, I myself came to understand those concepts really, really well.

Then I took the GRE again. My GRE math score went up 100 points, from 640 to 740.

My big improvement was due to focusing on elementary math concepts. I have had proof in my own life that if you want your kid to be really good in math, you must make your kid really learns basic concepts. And you shouldn't worry one bit whether your kid takes calculus in high school.

Will Susan Luzzaro continue to turn her back to
requests for more even-handed reporting?

I sent the following email to the Reader on April 17, 2014:

Regarding this story:
Standardized tests shunned by South Bay parents
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
April 10, 2014

In the very first paragraph, Susan Luzzaro quotes a parent saying that her child was worried that "if he failed the test he wouldn’t get promoted to the next grade."

Ms. Luzzaro makes absolutely no effort in the article to assure Readers that the test is not actually used to flunk children. This is not good journalism.

I urge the Reader and Susan Luzzaro NOT to leave this false impression dangling in the minds of readers. Luzzaro should issue a clarification about the matter.


eastlaker April 10, 2014 @ 12:41 p.m.

So, the testing is being done initially on materials the students have not been given. Gee, how fair is that?

Especially when not only the students will be evaluated, but the teachers will be evaluated.

[Maura Larkins' response to eastlaker:

The teachers are supposed to teach kids how to think, not just teach them specific facts and rules.

A good test measures thinking ability. That's why teachers who don't know how to teach reasoning and logic hate them so much. If you call that "teaching to the test," then teaching to the test is a good thing.]

oneoftheteachers April 10, 2014 @ 6:36 p.m.

First of all, let's dispel the myth that corporations fostered:our educational system was broken. The US has some of the best universities in the world attended by graduates of our American public schools.

[Maura Larkins' response: No one is saying that American universities are broken. They're so good that people from all over the world come to attend them. Unfortunately, no one is breaking the door down trying to get into our average K-12 public school because so many students are failing.

It's interesting that there is only ONE comment one this page (at 9:50 a.m. on April 17, 2014) that even suggests looking at this issue differently.

Bvavsvavev had the courage to say: "I am not an expert in education, so I don't know the answers. What I do know is that change is needed, money is needed, and testing is needed. The hows and whys can be left to experts to figure out."

Of course, he is immediately shot down by the regular commenters.

Interestingly, the Reader is the only news outlet in San Diego or elsewhere that prevents me from making comments. The reason was not that I made an improper comment, or even a comment that the Reader didn't like. In fact, the very first time I tried to sign up to make comments I was unable to do so. Who could have set this up? I suspect that Susan Luzzaro might have originated the idea. Susan Luzzaro's husband Frank, a former teacher and union official at Chula Vista Elementary School District, has made it clear to me that he doesn't want me revealing events at CVESD, at least not those that involve him. I once contacted the Reader to complain about not being able to make comments, and the result was that I was allowed to comment on this one story! Obviously, there is little effort at the Reader to provide a public forum. It's very much a controlled environment, run by political paymaster Jim Holman.]]

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mother of Chula Vista student calls former teacher's behavior "the ultimate betrayal"

John Kinloch

Chula Vista Elementary School District has a history of covering up or ignoring safety issues. They need to create at least a rudimentary system of observations of teachers to protect children--and to improve education. Principals tend to spend most of their time with their favorite teacher friends. In my experience, many principals have a few teachers who spend large amounts of time in the principal's office, giving advice (or, in some cases, instructions) to the principal. These principals spend almost zero time observing the teachers who aren't part of their office furniture.

EXCLUSIVE: Mother of Chula Vista student calls former teacher's behavior "the ultimate betrayal"
By Derek Staahl
Channel 6
Apr 8, 2014

CHULA VISTA – The mother of a Chula Vista teen who testified that he was molested by his former second grade teacher is speaking out for the first time.

“It's the ultimate betrayal. He betrayed my son. He shamed him. He brought his whole life down,” the boy’s mother said. She agreed to speak with San Diego 6 on condition of anonymity.

The boy’s former teacher, 42-year-old John Raymond Kinloch, is behind bars awaiting trial on 44 felony counts, Deputy District Attorney Enrique Camarena said.

The San Ysidro man is accused of sexual misconduct with five boys. Of those, Kinloch is accused of physically molesting two of them, Camarena said. Most of the charges against Kinloch are connected to the former student, who is now 17.

“He took so much away from my son. Even though my son is strong and everything, I know that it's eating him up inside. It's eating me up inside,” the mother said.

The woman told San Diego 6 that she and her son viewed Kinloch “like a family member.” After Kinloch taught the boy in second grade at Feaster Charter School in 2003, they kept in touch and developed a close friendship. Over the next several years, Kinloch became a father figure for the boy, the mother said.

“He went to birthday parties, he went to family reunions, he took my son to games – basketball games,” she said. “When I had heart surgery, when I had cancer, I confided in him. I always looked at him, like ‘Wow, this guy -- he's like a dad to my son.’”

The woman said the student’s biological father left when the boy was about 3 years old.

Kinloch and the boy maintained a close relationship from 2003 until 2012, when he was first arrested on suspicion of child pornography after an investigation by the San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Once news of the arrest broke, the woman says her son opened up to her about what had happened over the last nine years.

“I said, ‘Did he ever touch you? Did he ever say anything inappropriate? Did he ever, you know, do anything?’ And he dropped his head. That's when I knew,” she said. She encouraged her son to go to the police, and he became the centerpiece of the criminal prosecution against Kinloch.

Kinloch is accused of improperly touching and kissing the boy, along with asking him to remove his clothes and taking pictures of him naked, according to court documents. Kinloch has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial has been delayed until August 25.

The woman has filed a lawsuit against the former teacher, the Chula Vista Elementary School District, and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

“Mr. Kinloch was in his classroom at school, disrobing this child with the door locked. That's negligent supervision in my mind,” Elaine Heine, the mother’s attorney, told San Diego 6.

The lawsuit, filed in August, also argues that the Chula Vista Elementary School District negligently hired Kinloch because he was a known distributor of child pornography.

In 1998, Kinloch agreed to testify in Great Britain about his involvement in a child pornography ring. In exchange for his testimony, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to offer Kinloch immunity, and he was never charged, Camarena said. Kinloch was hired by the school district two years later.

“He should never have been a teacher. And I keep saying if he had never been a teacher, my son wouldn't have been going through this for the rest of his life,” the mother said.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District has filed a lawsuit against the federal Department of Justice, trying to determine why Kinloch’s background check raised no red flags.

See video.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Dear [insert name of school here]: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.

Read the Devastating Letter by a Harvard Sexual-Assault Survivor
By Asawin Suebsaeng
Mother Jones
Apr. 1, 2014

On Monday, the Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, posted an anonymous letter written by a student and sexual-assault survivor. The student details the aftermath of the alleged assault that occurred last year, and discusses how Harvard University administrators profoundly failed her. (This sort of thing is hardly unique to Harvard; rape and sexual assault on college and university campuses across the country is a huge problem, as is too often the administrative response to such cases.) The letter, titled "Dear Harvard: You Win," was published one day before the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.

Here is an excerpt (read the whole thing—which is obviously tough to get through—here):

More than anything, I'm exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.

I've spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably. Several weeks ago, in a grey room on the fourth floor of the Holyoke Center, my psychiatrist officially diagnosed me with depression. I did not budge, and I was not surprised. I developed an anxiety disorder shortly after moving back to my House this fall, and running into my assailant up to five times a day certainly did not help my recovery.


Dear Harvard: I am writing to let you know that I give up. I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only—quite literally—to save my life. You will no longer receive emails from me, asking for something to be done, pleading for someone to hear me, explaining how my grades are melting and how I have developed a mental illness as a result of your inaction. My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened. Today, Harvard, I am writing to let you know that you have won.


The last time I met with my resident dean, I told my dean about my depression, and how I thought it had been caused by the lack of validation and empathy I had received from the Harvard faculty. I said that it would be immensely helpful for me to know that my dean, not as a school official but as a human being, understood my pain and empathized with it. I asked my dean to take a step back from the situation and to admit that I had not been served well by the Harvard system. My pleas were met with a refusal to comment and an argument that it was not an administrator's role to criticize Harvard's sexual assault policy.

If my resident dean refuses to question the current policy we have in place, then I will. Dear Harvard: You might have won, but I still have a voice. And I plan on using it as much as I can to make things change.

In response to this letter, the Undergraduate Council, Harvard College's student government, announced the formation of a task force to involve students in discussion of Harvard's sexual assault policies.

Harvard University public affairs did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Southwestern College trustee Humberto Peraza calls for Sweetwater Superintendent Ed Brand to resign

Humberto Peraza

Several years ago I tried, with no luck, to interest Humberto Peraza in the problem of school corruption and dysfunction. I presented evidence of wrongdoing by Bertha Lopez and her fellow trustees at Chula Vista Elementary School District. It sure took a lot to get Peraza to speak up. He waited until Bonnie Dumanis indicted fifteen school officials and their associates. In fairness, I must admit that Peraza was very polite and respectful to me. Perhaps he would have done more if his boss at the time, Bob Filner, had given him the go ahead. But Peraza shouldn't pretend that Brand's sins are of recent vintage. Ed Brand was behaving badly long before Jesus Gandara came to town. I assume Peraza doesn't want to talk about that because too many powerful people might get unwanted attention if officials started taking an interest in what was going on at Sweetwater and other districts BEFORE all those famous dinners with contractors took place. For the record, the corruption I was talking about was directly harming students. It was not just about squeezing a few meals out of contractors.

Trustee Peraza calls for resignation of SUHSD chief Ed Brand
Written by: Jaime Pronoble / News Editor
Southwestern Sun

As the Sweetwater Union High School District careens toward a possible March 18 teachers strike, Southwestern College Trustee Humberto Peraza called for the immediate resignation or termination of the district’s superintendent, Dr. Ed Brand.

Ed Brand

“This superintendent should be fired right away,” said Peraza. “We should not wait and just sit there for his contract to run out (in November)when he’s completely destroyed this district and continues to do damage to it on a daily basis.”

Peraza said he is “disgusted” by Brand’s handling of the negotiations with the district teachers and his use of threats and bullying tactics.

“Ed Brand was supposed to come in to help fix the situation from what was a corrupt regime,” said Peraza. “I don’t know who in this community thought that it could be any worse than what (former superintendent Jesus) Gandara did, but somehow, someway, Ed Brand has found a way to make this situation far worse than it was.”

Community leader Stewart Payne also called for Brand’s immediate resignation saying he has made conditions at the district “unhealthy.”

“(The district) had issues before he came back,” Payne said, “but (Brand) has certainly made conditions and the environment in the district worse.”

After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations between the district and the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA), the teacher’s union, classroom teachers are gearing up to strike as early as Tuesday. SEA President Roberto Rodriguez said the district is not negotiating in good faith and has not cooperated with state mediators.

“(The district) has been showing up for mediations, they have been here every meeting,” said Rodriguez, “but after four sessions of mediation, we got our first proposal from them at the last session, and it wasn’t a credible proposal from our point of view.”

Peraza, said the situation at SUHSD has gotten out of hand.

“The fact that the leadership of this district has allowed this to come to a point where they are about to strike and leave a lot of kids without an education for who knows how long is unbelievable,” said Peraza.

Rodriguez said striking is not what the teachers want to do, but most have indicated they feel they have no choice.

“Our goal isn’t to strike, it is to settle the contract with the district as soon as possible,” he said. “However, we want to make sure the district understands if they keep dragging their feet the way they have been, our members are ready to take the ultimate action.”

A letter from Brand said it is unlawful for the SEA to threaten a strike while engaged in impasse mediation, but Rodriguez said his claim is not true.

Rodriguez said the SEA filed an unfair labor practice with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) on a contract violation by the district. He said district negotiators changed the amount of money the district contributes toward teacher health benefits.

“We negotiated an agreement last year,” said Rodriguez. “In October, the district unilaterally announced they were going to contribute less money than had been negotiated. By changing the condition of the contract unilaterally, that is a violation of contract.”

District negotiators denied any violations.

Peraza acknowledged that it might seem unusual for a trustee of the community college to call for the resignation of the superintendent of the high school district, but he said he could no longer stand by quietly.

“Sweetwater has a lot of great teachers and dedicated employees, but the place is a train wreck and Brand is driving the train,” he said. “We owe it to the kids in our community to fix this mess and we can’t start to do that until Brand is gone. He needs to leave right now.”

Southwestern College Elections 2012
October 20, 2012
Southwestern Sun
Compiled by: Albert Fulcher, Thomas Baker, Angelica Rodriguez, Amparo Mendoza, Serina Duarte, Enrique Raymundo

Governing Board Vice President Humberto Peraza was appointed last August during a time of turmoil and controversy. He said he decided to run for election to the board to continue his work to reform SWC and clean up the college’s reputation following the “pay for play” scandal that led to numerous felony charges against former college administrators and board members. He is a small business owner, and formerly policy director for San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso, regional director for Senator Barbara Boxer and district chief of staff to Congressman Bob Filner.

Married with two young boys, Peraza said he has coached soccer, football and Little League baseball. His wife is also a professional.

“We are a family that is constantly on the move,” he said. “That is a full-time job in itself. My parents, my aunts and my wife’s parents all live here so our family is a South Bay family. This is our home and I want to make sure that the education is good for our kids.”

Peraza said he brings experience and knowledge of the community to the college and this has fueled his efforts to reform old policies and demand transparency.

“Ultimately, I want to do something that leaves something for our children,” he said. “I am running so that the board stays on the right track. It has pushed in the right direction and hired a new superintendent. We have done more things in one year than most boards and governmental entities have done in three or four. You have instructional, ethics and campaign reform. We started the community benefits agreement. Countless things in between are happening and have been accomplished.”

Peraza said community members still have concerns about accreditation, Proposition R and past corruption. He said the current board majority is reforming the college and that “house cleaning” continues. “(The previous) board has been completely wiped out,” he said. “There is a new superintendent in town and she wiped out the (corrupt) staff. We continue to push and create reforms.”

Peraza said it takes people of courage to stand in the face of adversity.

“I have enjoyed working with this board and the superintendent to continue changes,” he said. “It has been my honor and I would consider myself lucky if I can continue to do it for four more years. We are still in the tunnel but we can see the light at the end. Perception is important. Doing the right thing, being a transparent, open government creates trust on campus in the community. I am running to continue to make those reforms, see that finished and see Southwestern College become the shining example for the rest of the region.”

Peraza said budget is the biggest challenge today and if Proposition 30 fails SWC faces “devastating” cuts to classes and programs.

“My hope is if that Prop 30 passes, that gives us a little more flexibility to stay within the budget, to be able to handle the services for the people and the students that we service right now,” he said. “That is important to make sure that we can actually educate people and that we have the faculty, staff, teachers and counselors. I don’t think anyone can come up with a sweeping solution and if they say they can, they are lying to you. If someone has a solution for a $10 million budget cut, I would love to hear it. I think that our solutions have to be looked at long term.”

Peraza said he has advocated for revenue generation as an alternative to constant cutting. He said the stadium is an example of an underutilized college resource and could generate revenue hosting local and international professional soccer, rugby and concerts.

“I have heard from experienced educators that up to 25 community colleges will close and cease to exist if the tax initiative does not pass and that is a very scary thought,” he said. “Things (in California are) getting worse and worse.”

Peraza said Senate Bill 1456, based on the Student Success Task Force Recommendations, has good ideas but is also troubling. Passed last month, the legislation narrows the mission of community colleges to transfer and certificate attainment. It will require all incoming freshmen to declare majors and have an educational plan aimed to get them through community college in two years instead of the current average of four.

“The whole thing about having people coming in and deciding what their major is going to be and turning it into almost like a factory, you are in and out in two years, not everybody works that way,” he said. “There are many students that do not know what they want and they come to community college for exactly that reason.”

Working students have it much tougher these days, Peraza said, and cannot take as many classes as the new legislation will require.

“Some will be left out in the cold and that is my biggest concern,” he said. “Not everybody is the same. It cannot be this cookie cutter ideal that everybody fits into this one box. It doesn’t work that way.”

Speech and press freedom are essential, Peraza said. He pledged to always fight for First Amendment rights for all while he is on the board.

“Student reporters (in colleges have) freedom of the press,” he said. “To me, the free press is untouchable. It should not be impacted in any way or influenced by anyone on this campus, including myself, and the administration. There should never be a time, like the (past) administration that tried to block printing of the newspaper just because they do not like what you write.”

Peraza said he is working to introduce a local hiring process that helps veteran and disabled-owned companies.

“One of the reasons is to ensure that local people get (college construction) jobs,” he said. “People that are paying for those bonds should be the ones (who benefit). If we can do that we can revitalize our local economy rather than money going somewhere else.”

Peraza said he is able to make tough decisions.

“We need the people with the most courage,” he said. “I am not worried about where else I am going to go, or where I am going to be. I am here to make sure that students get educated when there are cuts. What is the most important thing on this campus? Educating students, period.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Quinones, Ricasa, Cartmill, Cabello weigh pleas vs. fighting

The district attorney does not want trials in school official corruption cases because too much information would come out. I consider it a joke to be prosecuting officials for having dinner with contractors when far more serious corruption exists in San Diego County schools.

Quinones, Ricasa, Cartmill, Cabello weigh pleas vs. fighting
Annie Malcolm loans a crucial $500
By Susan Luzzaro
March 21, 2014

No one can estimate the cost to taxpayers for the South Bay scandal that involved pay-to-play charges and millions in Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District bond money. But the costs continue to add up for defendants.

Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quinones plead guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor March 18. In a phone conversation March 19 Quinones said, “I made the decision to plea because of my family. The pressure and the expense are too much. Even at the last minute though, when I was standing in front of Judge [Ana] Espana, I still wanted to keep fighting.”

Quinones noted her felony charge was just over $500. Her plea stated: “In 2007, I was an elected School Board member of the Sweetwater Union High School District. I accepted gifts from Henry Amigable in 2007 with a total value in excess of $500 and I did not report them. The maximum amount of gifts one may receive from one source per year as of 2007 was three hundred and ninety dollars. Henry Amigable provided these gifts with the intent to influence my vote on business awarded to Gilbane, his employer.”

There is some confusion about whether Quinones will step down from the board immediately. It was not part of her plea agreement. According to deputy district attorney Leon Schorr, trustee Arlie Ricasa had indicated prior to accepting a plea deal that she would step down. Quinones made no such agreement.

Clouding the issue of Quinones’s trustee seat, Judge Espana has recently boiled some corruption felony charges down to misdemeanors — it’s anyone’s guess what will happen April 28 when Quinones is sentenced. (Southwestern College’s vice-president, Nicholas Alioto, for example, plead guilty to a felony, which Espana later reduced to a misdemeanor.)

Sweetwater’s attorney Dan Shinoff was contacted by email regarding Quinones’s trustee seat, however he did not respond by the time this story was filed.

Prohibitive legal costs compelled former Sweetwater trustee Arlie Ricasa and trustee Jim Cartmill to start defense funds.

Ricasa pleaded guilty in December to a misdemeanor. Her largest defense donors were family members. New Image Computers also donated $5000 to her defense.

Cartmill has been charged with wrongful influence, filing a false instrument and accepting a bribe among other things. Through his business Let’s Talk Health, he loaned his defense fund $20,000. Annie Malcolm, wife to David Malcolm, a former port commissioner who was obliged to step down due to conflict of interest charges, donated $5,000 to Cartmill’s defense.

Justice has been meted out for South Bay corruption defendant Gary Cabello in a different way. Cabello worked for several bond underwriting firms and was involved in transactions for both Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District.

On October 28, 2013 he plead guilty to two felony counts.

In addition, on March 18 the Securities and Exchange Commission barred Cabello from association with any broker, dealer, investment adviser and barred him from participating in an penny stock offerings.

No doubt as the April 28 trial date approaches — the remaining defendants will be weighing the price of a plea bargain against the price of a trial.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mayor Cheryl Cox confronts Sweetwater Union High School District; CVESD Supt. Escobedo needs to do a LOT MORE than work on "relationships"

Mayor takes aim at Sweetwater during speech
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox delivers final state of the city, addresses issues at Sweetwater
By Allison Sampite-Montecalvo
Feb. 25, 2014

CHULA VISTA — Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox delivered her final state of the city address Tuesday night to a packed city hall, using the forum to zero in on the Sweetwater school district, which she said needs to improve its relationship with the community...

Cox said the Sweetwater Union High school District's problems continue to affect the city’s reputation and students’ future. A major issue in the district has been the prosecution of four of five school board members on corruption charges. One has since pleaded guilty and resigned...

Cox said she’s done watching poor governance get worse.

[Maura Larkins comment: I see no indication at all that Sweetwater has gotten worse. Mayor Cox seems to be forgetting decades of bad behavior. Or perhaps Cox is only worried about contractor kickbacks, not the deeper corruption that affects students directly.

Does Mayor Cox think that the Mary Ann Weegar case was a result of better governance than what SUHSD has at present? And does she think Bonny Garcia gave better legal advice than Dan Shinoff does? Just over two years ago attorney Dan Shinoff took over Bonny Garcia's duties as SUHSD's lawyer for day-to-day advice. Shinoff continues, as he has done for over a decade, to defend the district when it gets sued. The board seems to think that Shinoff is good at silencing public comment about the district, but Mr. Shinoff seems to have lost his touch in that regard. He doesn't appear to have been much help to San Ysidro School District recently. Does Mayor Cox think that perenniel SUHSD Supt. Ed Brand suddenly became corrupt?]

See all SDER posts re Dan Shinoff.

“I am compelled to confront Sweetwater’s current problems through my ability to convene community members in constructive conversation,” she said. “It’s clear that the district is an asset that reflects on perceptions the city.”

In essence, she said it’s time for the district to overcome its bad reputation.

...In a statement released the following day, Sweetwater district superintendent Ed Brand said that putting learning first has been and will continue to be, the commitment of the district.

“Is the Sweetwater Union High School District going through a difficult time? Yes," Brand said. "Are there actions that we can take to improve the district? Of course there are. We appreciate the concern of Mayor Cox and welcome a dialogue on how to move forward."

Francisco Escobedo, superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said her comments were poignant.

“I understand where she’s coming from and I look forward to improving our relationship and collaboration with Sweetwater,” he said.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Escobedo is right not to attack Sweetwater. He needs to clean up corruption at CVESD, but he has shown absolutely no interest in any such effort.]

Councilman Rudy Ramirez said he was glad to hear her weigh in on the issue.

“I like that she stepped out on Sweetwater,” he said. “It was a little uncharacteristic and edgy for her.”

[Maura Larkins' comment: Edgy? Are you kidding, Mr. Ramirez? It's about time someone made an issue of school corruption.]

Cox also discussed the concept of unifying the Sweetwater district with local elementary school districts, a proposal brought up last month by fellow Councilwoman Mary Salas.

“The idea of unifying K-12 was … in response to what I perceive to be frustration with the Sweetwater district,” she said. “First, it doesn’t address the issue of better governance, and second, minus the support of districts themselves, unification is dead on arrival.”

[Maura Larkins' comment: Good point! The unification project does NOT address the issue of better governance. Cheryl Cox knows that there are problems at CVESD. I suspect that she was pretty disgusted with CVESD by the time she left.] Cox, who will be termed out of the mayor's office in the fall, said the culture at Sweetwater should change at the top before a conversation about unification can be had.

“We’ve turned things around at city hall in the face of dire circumstances,” she said. “The same can be done at Sweetwater.”...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Alioto, Dominguez, Salcido, Wilson plead guilty

Why did this case result in puny plea bargains? My guess is that no one in downtown San Diego wants the public to learn about the true scope of corruption in our schools. This whole circus seems to have been about who gets to stay in the education establishment rather than actually cleaning up the establishment. There's absolutely no reason why business as usual will not proceed in our educational institutions.

It's not that I wanted harsher punishment for these defendants. Absolutely not. I think these people are just fall guys. I would like to see a public trial in which these people could talk about the culture they encountered when they first got involved with Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District.

Alioto, Dominguez, Salcido, Wilson plead guilty
Written by: Lina Chankar / Senior Staff Writer
Southwestern College Sun

Four more former Southwestern College officials pleaded guilty to felonies and misdemeanors in the South Bay Corruption Case. Former administrators Nicholas Alioto and John Wilson along with former trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez all likely avoided prison sentences by admitting guilt to one count. They joined former superintendent Raj. K. Chopra as former college officials guilty of crimes related to Proposition R funding.

College employees expressed disappointment over the lenient sentences approved by Judge Ana España and the San Diego County District Attorney, but also relief that the scandal and criminal proceedings may be finally winding down. Of the 15 defendants in the case, 12 had direct links to SWC either as officials, employees or contractors. Defendants originally faced 262 charges in what District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called the “largest corruption case in the history of San Diego County.” As of press time, 11 of the cases have been settled through plea bargains.

Salcido was originally indicted on 14 counts, including extortion, perjury and accepting bribes. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for filing a false document. Her sentencing is April 22.

Also pleading guilty to criminal charges were former SWC contractors Paul Bunton, Henry Amigable, Jeff Flores and Gary Cabello. SWC EOPS Director Arlie Ricasa pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for crimes committed as a Sweetwater Union High School District trustee (see adjacent story). Charges against former SWC Interim President Greg Sandoval, a former SUHSD trustee, are pending. Sweetwater trustees Jim Cartmill, Pearl Quiñonez and Bertha Lopez still face charges, as does former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara.

All defendants had extensive affidavits detailing the charges against them. Most were more than 100 pages. Chopra originally faced 13 charges — nine felonies — including perjury, receiving a bribe and conflict of interest. He pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of filing a false document. Chopra will not make any more court appearances, said his attorney Michael Attanasio. Chopra was fined and will perform community service, said Attanasio, but amounts are pending.

Former SWC facilities director Wilson pleaded guilty to one felony, as did former trustee Dominguez. Former vice president of business Alioto originally faced 12 counts, including bribery and perjury, but was allowed by the DA to plead guilty to just one felony. Alioto, Chopra and Wilson will be sentenced Jan. 7.

Former Seville Construction executive Amigable cooperated with prosecutors in exchange for a misdemeanor plea deal. An email he sent to SWC construction contractor Flores explaining how Dominguez could influence Chopra was described in an affidavit.

“Had a good dinner this evening with George (Jorge) Dominguez Board member at Southwestern College, his wife, Greg Sandoval and his wife and Angela and I,” wrote Amigable. “Greg encouraged George to support us to get the Program management assignment at Southwestern College. Right now the President of the college Raj Chopra has gotten real close to George. George believes he can influence Chopra right now because he needs his board support. He is going to set up a lunch with the President and let us pitch to him directly why they need to hire a PM (program manager) right away they want to go over John Wilson. In addition, George is going to try and influence who will be put on the selection committee.”

SWC officials were treated to expensive dinners, extravagant wine and cocktails, theatre tickets, sporting events and other gifts in exchange for support and favors for Proposition R contractors and hopefuls. Some dinners approached $3,000 with wine and bar tabs of nearly $600.

Proposition R-related events have rattled the college since 2008 when the $389 million construction bond passed. Chopra punished college employees who spoke against passage of the measure and layed off at least one classified employee for not supporting the bond.

Chopra, Alioto and Salcido engaged in an assault on the student newspaper and its faculty when it began investigating irregularities in contracting, campaign contributions, extravagant gifts to college administrators, and secretive transactions at the college’s educational foundation in 2009. Alioto twice froze newspaper funding, refused to authorize payment of printing bills and publically accused the adviser of financial mismanagement. Chopra physically assaulted a journalism student and the newspaper adviser, then offered the adviser “whatever it is you want” to influence his students to stop the investigations. In 2010 Alioto ordered campus police to arrest three staff members of The Sun. When four armed officers approached the newspaper building the adviser locked them in his office and refused to turn them over. A two-and-a-half hour standoff ensued and a crowed gathered. Police left when Professor Robert Unger, a lawyer, convinced them that their action was illegal and they needed to leave.

Alioto also took control of the newspaper’s advertising revenue and failed to collect more than $11,000 over a period of 12 months. Journalism students billed the college for the funds in 2011, but the request was ignored. In September 2010 Chopra directed former Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Mark Meadows to order The Sun to cease publication until after the November 2010 governing board elections. Journalism students raised private funds and printed the September 2010 issue of The Sun in Los Angeles County. The issue broke the story of Alioto accepting luxurious vacations and other gifts from contractors and potential contractors. The Sun also published investigations about unreported campaign contributions to Salcido, Dominguez and current board president Terry Valladolid. Valladolid cooperated with the DA and has not been indicted.

Salcido and Dominguez were defeated at the polls by Norma Hernandez and Tim Nader. Days before the new board majority assumed office, Salcido, Dominguez, Valladolid and former trustee Jean Roesch voted to give Chopra a $100,000 severance package and he resigned before he could be fired. Alioto resigned in March 2012, followed by more than a dozen other Chopra allies in the administration, including the VP of human resources and the campus police chief.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CVESD teacher removed for requesting massages: another member of the Castle Park Family causes a scandal

Stephenie Parker-Pettit

Comments regarding this post can be found HERE.

Stephenie Pettit has been placed on administrative leave for requesting massages from students. (See Channel 10 News story below.)

No one, including the police, has found that there was any hint of wrongdoing in Ms. Pettit's classroom--only bad judgment.

(Updated Mar. 14, 2014) But a parent has made me realize that Ms. Pettit's actions could result in serious harm to students in the future because they conditioned children to touch an adult on request. Even worse, kids were given class currency to do the touching. If CVESD used my plan for master teachers, this would not have happened. Our system puts untested teachers in full and solitary control of classrooms right after getting their teaching credentials. There is no close oversight or support to guide them.

Superintendent Francisco Escobedo will need to be careful in this case. A couple of members of his administration have more to hide than a few massages.

Asst. Supt. Sandra Villegas-Zuniga and Human Resources director Peg Myers will want to go easy on Ms. Pettit. They will want to continue the district's policy of avoiding investigations. It's a good policy when the people with the most to hide are not the ones the district is targeting. Ms. Pettit might say more than they want to hear if she were pressed for information.


Let's compare two situations: kids giving massages in the current case versus a report that a teacher might come to school and shoot everybody in an earlier case involving Peg Myers and Stephenie Pettit. Why was there NO investigation in the earlier case, while the police were called in in the second case? Because no reporters were interested in the earlier case.

The fact is, CVESD doesn't do thorough investigations to keep kids safe. Instead, it tries to protect its reputation. Too often this means covering up truly illegal actions by staff. As soon as as a report of child molestation surfaces in any school, a district administrator runs over to the school and threatens all the teachers that they'd better keep quiet. And they do keep quiet. The public has the right to vote for board members, but clearly does NOT enjoy the right to know what's going on at school districts.

Stephenie Pettit would NOT be the target of any investigation in the earlier case, but she'd be a star witness. She knows the truth about the reports of "fear for their lives" by teachers Jo Ellen Hamilton and Linda Watson when they taught at Castle Park Elementary in 2001. Pettit knows the role that Peg Myers played in the cover-up of crimes by Robin Donlan and other teachers.

And Sandra Villegas-Zuniga and Francisco Escobedo also know, or they should know.

Asst. Supt. Sandra Villegas-Zuniga might want to review her bizarre dealings with Peg Myers.

Peg Myers at her deposition

When Myers was the site representative at Castle Park Elementary School about ten years ago, she kept a tight rein on Stephenie Pettit in order to make sure that illegal actions were kept hidden. Stephenie Pettit was not involved in the original illegal actions, but she did keep her mouth shut after she found out about them. Later, when Myers was President of Chula Vista Educators (CVE), she continued to use her position to cover-up events at Castle Park in 2000-2001.

When she was President of CVE, Myers apparently impressed Villegas-Zuniga as someone who would help the district manipulate teachers. After sitting across from Myers at the bargaining table for a number of years, Villegas-Zuniga convinced Myers to clamber across the table to the other side and accept the job of Director of Human Resources. Obviously, Peg's intimate knowledge of individual teachers, and the workings of the teacher union, have been very helpful to the district in intimidating teachers. [Yes, I know that the district website claims that Myers is in charge of "classified" staff. Don't be fooled. She spends at least some of her time intimidating teachers.]

So here's the problem in the current situation. Stephenie Pettit knows the details of who was involved, and what actions they took, during the years when a large number of violations of civil and criminal laws were committed at Castle Park Elementary School, the district office, and the teachers union. The near-destruction of a school by power-hungry teachers and administrators was just the boost Peg Myers' career needed, and she has catapulted dramatically to higher positions since she was just an ordinary teacher at Castle Park Elementary in 2001.


The effects of the decade-long teacher meltdown at Castle Park Elementary--that resulted in the school having 11 principals in 11 years--continue to ripple through the district.

It staggers the imagination to realize how many teachers involved with Castle Park Elementary's descent into a miasma of dysfunction have continued to make news long since the Chula Vista Star-News and San Diego Union-Tribune lost interest in supporting a troublesome group of teachers, parents and administrators that brought the school to its knees during their years of arbitrary power.

Pam Smith and Larry Cunningham

Current Chula Vista Elementary board members Pam Smith and Larry Cunningham oversaw the cover-up of illegal actions by CVESD employees at the school in 2000-2001. (I was a teacher at Castle Park Elementary, with Stephenie Pettit and Peg Myers, at that time.)

Former CVE president Jim Groth wanted a replacement who would continue the teacher versus teacher culture that he had helped create. Peg Myers fit the bill perfectly. See all Jim Groth blog posts.

It should be mentioned that current member of the statewide CTA board of directors Jim Groth played a big role in the concealment of illegal actions. He was then, and still is, a member of the Chula Vista Educators board. I imagine he's already hopped in his car and driven over to the district office to remind the administration that the district and the teachers union need to continue the cover-up.

After the district paid $100,000s of taxpayer dollars in legal fees to lawyers Dan Shinoff and Mark Bresee for their successful efforts to protect teachers and administrators who had committed crimes, the prevailing teachers apparently felt invulnerable. They delighted in their arbitrary power to do whatever they wanted and get away with it. What else could the district expect when it had fired a teacher (me!) simply for demanding an investigation, and for refusing to come back to work until something was done about the relentless harassment of me by teacher thugs.

Kids are being harmed every day in CVESD classrooms by cruel and/or incompetent teachers and administrators as well as those with faulty judgment. The district needs to take steps to prevent and mitigate harm to children.

Former CVE President Gina Boyd. See Gina Boyd's deposition HERE.

Robin Donlan, notorious along with her husband for $7 million Wireless Facilities stock options fraud case. See Robin Donlan's deposition HERE.

The rogue teachers were led by Robin Donlan, a personal friend of both Peg Myers and former CVE president Gina Boyd. Gina Boyd was a member in extremely good standing of the self-styled "Castle Park Family". The self-styled "Castle Park Family" resisted all efforts by a string of principals (averaging one principal per year for 11 years) to get them to settle down and do their jobs. I myself was a target of the ruling teachers. Administrators Libia Gil and Rick Werlin did the bidding of those teachers.

Before my lawsuit was even finished, five teachers were transferred out of the school during the summer of 2004. Stephanie Pettit was one of the "Castle Park Five" group that included the notorious Robin Donlan, Peg Myers, and Nikki Perez.

This district keeps finding that its favored employees have big problems. Perhaps an effective evaluation system for teachers would help? But no, that would interfere with the politics that currently guides employment decisions at the district. And the district wouldn't have hired Peg Myers if it didn't want to keep politics in the forefront of district decisions.

I doubt that the district will try to fire Mrs. Pettit. She knows too much about criminal actions by teachers and administrators. I predict a settlement.

And as far as the parent who says Stephanie should not teach again, I don't see how voluntarily giving a massage to a teacher could seriously harm a child. The situation is no more serious than if Stephanie were rewarding kids to fan her. The problem with the behavior is that the students are being asked to treat the teacher like a queen rather than a professional. The touching was clearly NOT sexual. It's only wrong because kids shouldn't be performing personal services for teachers--like combing hair, cutting hair, shining shoes, etc. Of course, Stephenie used poor judgment, but she's been taught by the district and the teachers union that she and other teachers with political connections are free to indulge any whim without repercussions.

A more important issue is that kids are being damaged by teachers every day in CVESD classrooms. There is psychological damage being done by cruel, rigid teachers who take pleasure in causing pain. Stephanie did not cause pain to the kids who volunteered to give her massages.

It would be interesting to know what else was happening when the kids were giving the teacher a massage. Was she teaching them at the same time? This could very well be the case. But there are so many classrooms where teachers spend huge amounts of time NOT interacting with their students that it would be very dangerous for anyone to criticize Stephanie even if she had not been teaching while receiving a massage. She could easily get plenty of witnesses to talk about the time wasted in classrooms while teachers are doing something other than teaching. I could write a book about it.

Stephanie deserves the due process than she herself helped to deny to me. Lawyer Dan Shinoff of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz took tax dollars for his successful efforts to keep Stephanie from being deposed in my case. I would be happy to deposed in any case she might file--which is exactly why I think that the district won't try to fire her. Here's my deposition in the current defamation lawsuit against me by Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. Stutz is quite miffed, it seems, that the Court of Appeal says I have a constitutional right to discuss the lawyers who act on behalf of public schools.

Though I was not able to depose Stephanie, I was able to take the depositions of Castle Park Family members Gina Boyd, Peg Myers and Robin Donlan. (I recommend clicking on these links for these depositions if only to see the hilarious expressions on the faces of teachers who don't like being asked to tell the truth.)


Channel 10 News and San Diego Union-Tribune have covered this story. Let's see if Channel 10 will investigate further the failure of school districts to do meaningful evaluations of teachers. The SDUT has been covering up for CVESD for years. I hope they will start to cover the real stories instead of only the sensationalistic ones.


Researches say that 10% of teachers are doing a bad job, failing to add value to their students' academic abilities. Many teachers have serious personality problems. But the fact is that CVESD really doesn't know its teachers. I never met a principal who really observed and really talked to staff members to find out what they were up to.

It's time that ALL teachers in CVESD were properly evaluated.

Chula Vista teacher removed from job, accused of soliciting massages from students
Kandiss Crone
10 News

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Some parents at a South Bay elementary school told 10News they couldn't believe what their kids said went on inside their third-grade classroom.

"This behavior, to my son, has become so normalized that he did not report it to me," said parent Andy Stumph.

Some parents say Salt Creek Elementary School teacher Stephanie Petitt solicited massages from the students during reading time in exchange for $10 in class money. The parents also say Petitt also encouraged the third graders to give each other massages.

"The most children I've heard at any one time that was massaging the teacher was seven -- one on each leg, one on each arm, one on each shoulder, one playing with the hair," Stumph said.

The parents voiced their concerns at a school board meeting Wednesday night but weren't happy with the outcome, so they contacted 10News.

Chula Vista Elementary School District Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said Chula Vista police were called in to investigate but did not find any criminal wrongdoing.

"This behavior is absolutely not acceptable. We have professional standards at Chula Vista," Escobedo said.

Escobedo said Petitt is no longer teaching at the school, but is still employed with the district.

"She's on administrative leave; these allegations we take very seriously and we have to do due process to investigate," Escobedo said.

Parents say that's not enough, and they worry the teacher's actions could have a lasting impact on their kids.

"If there's a goal to be had ... Mrs. Petit would never be able to teach again," parent Samantha Trickey said.

Three parents pulled their children out of the school, 10News learned.

The district says a long-term substitute will replace the teacher.

Teacher on leave over massage claims
U‑T San Diego
Feb. 14, 2014 - She reported back to work Monday and taught her class after investigations by the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Chula Vista ...

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Arlie Ricasa pleads guilty, resigns Southwestern College board position

UPDATE: See new guilty pleas in Feb. 2014 by officials and contractors connected to Southwestern College.

Arlie Ricasa is Southwestern College's EOPS Director. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for crimes committed as a Sweetwater Union High School District trustee.

See all posts on Arlie Ricasa.
Ricasa pleads guilty, resigns board position
Lina Chankar
The Sun, Southwestern College

SWC EOPS Director Arlie Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor in the South Bay corruption case and resigned from her position on the Sweetwater Union High School District Board of Trustees.

Ricasa, who faced 33 criminal counts, including 16 felonies, will avoid prison by admitting to a single count of filing a false instrument.

Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said Ricasa made the following admission of guilt:

“I received, reviewed, understood and biannually voted on Sweetwater’s conflict of interest code delineating the Form 700 reporting requirements sent to the Sweetwater Board by the Superintendent. In 2009, I was an elected School Board Member for the Sweetwater Union High School District. I accepted gifts from Rene Flores (SGI) in 2009 with a value of $2,099 and I did not report them. The maximum amount one may lawfully receive from one source per year is $420. Rene Flores provided these gifts with the intent to influence my vote on business awarded to Seville Group Inc.”

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis originally charged Ricasa with the most counts of any of the 15 people indicted in the sweeping corruption case. According to a D.A. Affidavit For Search Warrant, Ricasa had accepted the following items:

1) $1,741.70 – Dinner and wine with her husband Ed Bagaporo, and SGI President Rene Flores.
2) $313.18 – Amigable for dinner with her husband.
3) $3,600 – SGI contribution to Ricasa’s campaign for State Assembly District 78.
4) $13,600 – From SGI for various political campaigns in 2007 through 2010.
5) $1,380.22 – From Henry Amigable to “wine and dine.”
6) $208.78 – Dinner with Amigable on May 12, 2007.
7) $132.98 – Dinner with her husband and Amigable.
8) $3,600 – Contributions from SGI for 2008 State Assembly campaign in June 2007.
9) $1,800 – SGI paid for the sponsorship of Ricasa’s daughter, Natalie Bagaporo, for Leadership Council in July 2009.
10) $5,000 – from SGI for campaign contributions in Sept. 2010.
11) $5,000 – from SGI for campaign contributions in Oct. 2010.

These and other gifts and contributions need to be reported on California Form 700, Schorr said. Ricasa failed to report any gifts or other reportable interest in 2008 and 2010, which is signed under penalty of perjury. The D.A. affidavit stated that Ricasa, trustee Pearl Quinones, trustee Greg Sandoval and superintendent Jesus Gandara all violated the California Political Reform Act Government Code section (8711-91014).

After a lengthy investigation that included raids on their homes, defendants were accused of bribery, perjury, conflict of interest, filing false instrument, offering a thing of value to a member of government and conspiracy to defraud another of property.

After Ricasa’s guilty plea, Schorr said that in every case there is the potential to negotiate an agreement to settle the case without going to trial.

Ricasa’s supervisor, SWC dean Beatrice Zamora-Aguilar, said Ricasa is a dedicated educational professional who cares about students.

“I trust her judgment,” Zamora said. “All of the work she does, anything that has to do with any kind of reporting and budgeting, I provide oversight to. I’m a very careful and meticulous manager and I feel comfortable with any of the information she puts forward.”

Schorr said he is moving forward with the case against other Sweetwater officials and the D.A. is prepared to go to trial.

SWC President Dr. Melinda Nish said she referred the matter to the acting vice president of human resources Lynn Solomita and the college’s legal counsel to see if the guilty plea has an impact on Ricasa’s $125,000 position.

“It was in her capacity as a Sweetwater elected official that the violation occurred,” said Nish. “Unless there is some nexus with her employment here, it has no bearing on her employment. So I’m asking for both HR and legal advice, and that’s where we’re at with it.”

Nish said if any disciplinary action is taken it would be a personnel and confidential matter and would not be discussed publicly. She said she would like to see Sweetwater issues put to rest.

“I’m really pleased that Southwestern has done a lot of work to clean up what it does and how it does it,” she said. “Sweetwater is our educational partner and I would hope the sooner they get their business cleaned up the better for all of us in the South Bay. So I’m looking forward to this coming to closure.”


But that's why Bonny Garcia was hired by the district, right?

Trustee cleared in flap over contract

Company listed wrong address
By Chris Moran
June 6, 2009

CHULA VISTA — No, everyone seems to agree now. The construction firm that got a $7 million contract from the Sweetwater Union High School District board last week is not located in the home of a board member's relative.

A construction industry Web site that compiles such minutiae mistakenly gave Rialto-based RC Construction a Chula Vista address. No big deal, except that the erroneous address happens to belong to the nephew of board member Arlie Ricasa.

“Peculiar,” Ricasa called it. “Bizarre,” said the school board's attorney.

To the attorney for a construction company that competed against RC Construction for the job but lost, it's suspicious.

“How is it possible that the address that they put to RC Construction, out of all the millions out there, belongs to Arlie Ricasa's (relative)?” asked Andrew Berman, attorney for HAR Construction in Chula Vista.

In an e-mail to Sweetwater attorney Kris Vaca that was part of the public record of the meeting, Brian Tyson of Reed Construction Data wrote, “We mistakenly added RC Const. Chula Vista, a company that had been in our database since 1995.”

Tyson did not return a phone call and an e-mail seeking further clarification.

Tyson's e-mail states that Reed has corrected its mistake and now lists RC Construction's proper Rialto address. RC Construction says it has never had a Chula Vista address.

“This is information that was totally inaccurate,” Ricasa said.

She said that neither she nor anyone she knows of in her family has a connection to RC Construction. Her nephew Domingo Ricasa, who owns and lives in the home at the Chula Vista address, works for a telephone company, she said.

Sweetwater attorney Bonifacio Garcia vetted the matter, concluded that it was all a big mistake and cleared Ricasa to vote on the contract. Ricasa said she regularly recuses herself on votes that affect Southwestern College, where she works, or community organizations for which she serves as a board member.

But she has no connection whatsoever to RC Construction, she said, and she participated in the vote on May 27.

In 2003, a grand jury report faulted Sweetwater – but not Ricasa specifically – for appointing Ricasa's husband to the volunteer citizens committee in charge of overseeing the work done through a $187 million bond measure passed in 2000. The grand jury did not allege any wrongdoing.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Why does "fiscal conservative" John McCann want to spend $1.4 million on special election instead of simply appointing a successor to Arlie Ricasa?

John McCann discussion with Mary Adato
Photo from San Diego Reader

Kevin O'Neill

Arlie Ricasa. See all posts on Arlie Ricasa.

Board must act
Carlos R. Davalos
Chula Vista Star-News
Jan 23 2014

Outspoken critic of the Sweetwater Union High School District, Kevin O’Neill, urged district officials to take immediate action to fill a vacated seat at a Thursday press conference in front of the district headquarters.

“I, as a resident, of this district have great concern about the district’s seemingly inability to move the appointment process forward on the vacancy with Ms. Ricasa’s force(d) removal,” said O’Neill, who is a member of the district’s bond oversight committee.

O’Neill accuses district officials of purposely letting the “clock run out” on a provisional appointment, so that the district can go to a special election.

O'Neill has expressed interest in either being appointed or elected to the position.

“I believe that they can better control the outcome of an election then they can of an appointment process,” he said.

At a special board meeting in January, Trustee John McCann said he wanted to move forward with a special election by mail.

O’Neill said he questions McCann’s intentions as to why he wants a mail ballot.

“A mail ballot particularly in a special election is going to favor white male Republicans and you’re not likely to get a good response from the general district,” O’Neill said. “On the other hand, voters in this district have never done a mail ballot.

O’Neill notes in the press conference that McCann used the stance of being a fiscal conservative when running for the district, and O’Neill said he can’t understand why McCann wants a special election if the district can’t afford the $1.4 million for the election.

He also said Superintendent Ed Brand is on a two-weeks vacation during a time when a decision on the process of filling the seat needs to be made.

“The timing of it all leads me to believe that the power block doesn’t want an appointment and that they don’t mind spending the money to get what they think will be a better outcome for their interest.

In the end, O’Neill said he just wants the district to publicly make a decision of what their plans on filling Ricasa’s seat entail.

O’Neill said he has sent e-mails and called board members to ask for an update of the process. None of his correspondence has received a reply.

McCann did not return calls from The Star-News seeking comment. A district spokesman was also available for comment.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mary Salas proposes unifying Chula Vista Elementary and Sweetwater Union High school districts

Mary Salas with Hillary Clinton

I'm pleased that Mary Salas and others want to clean up Sweetwater Union High School district, but simply turning the place over to Chula Vista Elementary School District isn't going to accomplish that. CVESD has ethics and performance problems, too.

Voters need to take responsibility for the way their schools are run. CVESD isn't as bad as Sweetwater, but it's performance is nowhere near what it should be. Voters don't like to think that the policemen who guard them or the educators who teach their kids are less than completely trustworthy, but citizens should screw up their courage and demand transparency from public agencies. Once problems are exposed, they can be solved, or at least prevented from becoming more serious.

Schools have too much secrecy. Wrongdoing thrives in darkness; sunshine alone will go a long way to preventing future abuses of the public trust. If CVESD and SUHSD do combine, transparency must be required of the new district.

But what if exposing CVESD and SUHSD secrets would result in too many people being exposed as corrupt? How will you run the new district if too many people must resign or be fired? Where would you find trustworthy people to take their places? Will you go to districts that are carefully guarding their secrets? That doesn't make much sense, does it? You won't have any real basis to think that those people would be any better.

It's sort of like the war in Iraq: Bush's big mistake was disbanding the Iraqi army. Instead of getting rid of everyone with a history, you keep them on board to keep doing the job, and watch them carefully. The US should have followed the advice of its own experts and kept the Iraqi army intact. Give amnesty, then keep discussions and documents out in the open, not behind closed doors.

Corruption is widespread, and most of it is in schools whose officials have NOT been indicted. There's no reason that the people of San Diego County should have to foot the bill for a slew of prosecutions. The new district should tell the voters the truth, release information and documents--perhaps redacting names--and then make sure that bad acts are not repeated.

Voters need to know exactly what went wrong when they weren't looking, so they'll know what to watch out for in the future.

Proposal: Combine Chula Vista School Districts
The proposal would place elementary schools and Sweetwater high schools in Chula Vista under one district
By Rory Devine
NBC San Diego
Jan 29, 2014

Students in Chula Vista go to schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District for grades K through 8, then high schools in the Sweetwater Union High School District. A city councilwoman is proposing the two districts combine amid the Sweetwater scandal. NBC 7’s education reporter Rory Devine has more.

A Chula Vista City Councilmember has presented an idea that would change the way school districts in the city look.

Students in Chula Vista go to schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District for grades K through 8, then high schools in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

Councilmember Mary Salas wants to unify elementary schools and those Sweetwater high schools located in the city of Chula Vista under one district.

“A lot of parents have expressed extreme satisfaction with the elementary school district. Yet by the time they get to middle school, then they start shopping around for different options,” Salas said.

“The continuing of education is the number one priority,” she said.

The idea of merging the school districts has come up before, but has taken on renewed importance in light of a corruption scandal brewing in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison says the shuffling would impact schools in surrounding areas.

“That’s going to be my biggest concern, how the finances are going to work out on this,” Morrison said.

On Tuesday, Salas told the council that details of a potential merger would be worked out by the San Diego County Office of Education. But she says the process must begin, especially given the ongoing scandal in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

“I don’t think it should be looked at as a complete answer, but certainly if the high school district has been mired in conflict and dysfunction for years and years, it does affect a lot of things,” she said.

Sweetwater board member John McCann supports this idea.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District says this is a complicated process and more research is needed.

If the proposal does move forward, Salas says she thinks it could be done in a year.