Friday, October 04, 2013

Castle Park Middle School: I can't believe they painted over the windows

I can't believe they painted over the windows. Do they want the kids to feel like they're underground?

Less than a year ago Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced $60 million in grants to the Castle Park area. More recently, Castle Park Middle School wanted the place to look nice for Mr. Duncan's recent visit.

See all posts re Castle Park Elementary School from this blog and from CVESD Reporter.

Chula Vista school hurries to get ready for Arne Duncan
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
Sept. 4, 2013

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is paying Sweetwater Union High School District a visit. Duncan is on a Southwest bus tour and will be at Castle Park Middle School September 13.

Why Castle Park Middle? In 2012 the U.S. Department of Education awarded $27.8 million in Promise Neighborhood grant money to a section of west side Chula Vista, which includes Castle Park Middle School.

South Bay Community Services is the lead agency in administering the grant and provides “wrap around” social services to students and families.

The agency is funded through the Sweetwater school district to provide after-school programs for students—which comes into play at Castle Park.

The principal of Castle Park Middle is Robert Bleisch. He is credited with turning schools around with a model he developed at Granger Middle School, although critics say the teachers, not Bleisch, turned the school around.

The model, now being applied to Castle Park, emphasizes attendance. The policy is enforced by escalating repercussions for students beginning with Saturday school, followed by after-school hours, and ending with appearance before an attendance board at the local police department.

One source for this story says, “Kids are rounded up at 2:30 and taken to the O room for the after-school program, some respond negatively.” Another source said, “Parents on the east side would never stand for this program.”

Preparation for Duncan’s visit to Castle Park Middle is frenzied.

First the media. On August 23, the Chula Vista Star News carried a story titled: “Attendance Numbers are up at Castle Park.”

Then Castle Park Middle got a facelift. New solar panels are being installed; new red flags wave in front of the school, and new banners bearing the name of every college in the country are draped around the campus. But the most sensational accoutrement is the fresh red paint—right over the windows of classrooms facing Second Avenue.

According to trustee Bertha Lopez, several teacher and constituents complained to her about the painted windows. She emailed Superintendent Brand on August 23 about constituent concerns regarding student headaches and safety. She contacted board president Jim Cartmill. Neither of them responded.

Over the Labor Day weekend two sources contacted the Reader. Beyond the concern with the red windows, sources raised concerns that either the student body or district money is being spent to the tune of $40,000 to gussy up for Duncan. One item, sources reported, was a stage that allegedly cost $25,000.

Principal Bleisch did not return phone calls by September 3.

Manny Rubio, spokesman for the district, responded to a public record request about the expenses on August 28 with these words, “The district is not making any additional expenses for Secretary Duncan's visit.”

However, on September 4, Sweetwater’s Chief Financial Officer, Albert Alt, responded to an email query with this update: “Some of the purchases are general fund, some are ASB funds….In any event, all of the expenditures are legal expenditures.”

Castle Park Promise Neighborhood gets a visit from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan--but has there really been a turnaround?

Less than a year ago Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced $60 million in grants to the Castle Park area.

Castle Park Elementary, the troubled school I attended as a child and taught at as an adult, certainly deserves a break. But I'm not sure that's what it's getting, even with $60 million in grants to the neighborhood.

Here's the problem: the culture of the school district and teachers union is as bankrupt as ever. Improved attendance has little impact when the dysfunctional culture of the district and the teachers union remains the same.

Here's a comment by a reader of the Chula Vista Star-News:

Sosocal says:
Sat, Sep 14 2013 04:30 PM

What could have been a great opportunity for honest dialogue unfortunately turned into something quite different: the Secretary of Education being spoon fed Ed Brand's scheme of the hour. Yes, principal Bleisch has created quite a stir, but what is the substance? Some might say, as long as the kids go to school and the district gets the funding, it's all ok. But is it?

We need honest answers regarding the finances of this district. We need honest answers from those who purport to represent us, but who really represent their own careerist issues.

What are the students learning from this? I hope the public is learning that they need to be involved.

I agree with the commenter. The network of corrupt officials in San Diego schools is fostered by San Diego County Office of Education. SDCOE protects officials who should be long gone. Why can't some of the $60 million in grants be used to clean up corruption in South Bay? Because the people involved in the grants are closely connected to the school districts, and they all protect each other. The public needs to know more about what's going on in schools, behind the red-painted windows.

See all posts re Castle Park Elementary School from this blog and from CVESD Reporter.

A Promise Neighborhood staff member works with students after school in the Castle Park Elementary computer lab in Chula Vista, Sept. 19, 2013. The software, paid for by the Promise Neighborhood is helping students improve their reading skills. Photo By Christopher Maue

See all posts re Castle Park Elementary School from San Diego Education Report Blog and from CVESD Reporter.

How A Federal Grant For Promise Neighborhoods Is Changing A Chula Vista Community
By Kyla Calvert
October 3, 2013

CHULA VISTA, CA — Ten-year-old Emily Jimenez Ayon wants to be a doctor. To do that, she knows she’ll need to go to college. And to get there she’s willing to make some sacrifices. For the moment that includes giving up her QiunceaƱera, which is kind of like a coming out party that many Mexican-American families throw for their daughters’ fifteenth birthdays.

Last year, a partnership of almost 30 organizations in Chula Vista's Castle Park neighborhood received a five-year grant to provide "cradle-to-career" support for the neighborhood’s children and families.

“I want to save the money for when I get into the university," she said.

That’s right – she wants the money to go toward the cost of college. Her mother, Gladys Ayon, said this is a new outlook for her daughter that came after a few weeks of summer camps provided through a program called Promise Neighborhood.

“Before, we didn’t talk a lot about it," Ayon said in Spanish. "But the people from Promise came with the mentality of helping the mothers from the time they’re pregnant and helping them so that their children do well, and little by little, get to college.”

Castle Park’s Promise Neighborhood program is one of about a dozen Promise Neighborhoods operating across the country. The federal government has set aside about $100 million over the last three years for programs like these. Last year, a partnership of almost 30 organizations in Castle Park received a $28 million, five-year grant to provide what’s being called "cradle-to-career" support for the neighborhood’s children and families.

“We saw a lot of gaps in services and we saw a lot of what was keeping kids from being successful in school or keeping kids from going to college,” said Kathryn Lembo, CEO of South Bay Community Services, the group leading the Promise Neighborhood. “You had parents – 96 percent of the parents – saying they wanted their children to go to college and they talked to their kids about it. But then when you asked them what they were talking to them about, it was that, “we can’t afford it, you can’t go to college.”

But changing that mentality is a tall order in a neighborhood like Castle Park, where English proficiency is low, two-thirds of adults don’t have a high school diploma and more than half of households do not have a full-time breadwinner. That’s why they have to start early.

“There’s an early learning network and that has to do with preventing any gaps or getting rid of the gaps kids have even before they enter school," Lembo said.

A preschool that opened this year on the Castle Park Elementary campus where students are learning in English and Spanish is part of that network. It also includes newborn home visits by staff from family clinics and parenting classes called Universidad de Padres, or Parent University. Those classes are giving Gladys Ayon tools to get involved with her daughter’s education.

“This helped me a lot because in my daughter’s classroom everything is in English and the teacher gives me all the work in Spanish so I can explained it to her," Ayon said. "Now I communicate a lot with the teacher. It helps me with my daughter because I struggled a lot with English.”

Ayon is also spending more time on the school’s campus. Not just in classes – but planting and tending a once-neglected garden that parents took over as a result of those Promise Neighborhood classes. She says her two daughters are eating fruits and vegetables they would have refused before - or that she never would have thought to give them.

Evidence of Promise Neighborhood programs is everywhere on campus, from in-class and after-school tutors to an after -school computer lab where students catch up on reading skills.

The school’s resource teacher, Kim Callado, said they're also getting a direct connection to important services.

“We had a family that needed immediate help with shelter, so we went through the Promise Neighborhood, we ask them if they could do a referral then they helped them through the whole process,” she said.

Those connections have only been in place since school started at the end of July, but Callado said they’re starting to pay off.

“We’re still working on it, but yes, we’ve already seen a difference because we’re getting so much support on calling parents, asking them why they’re absent," she said. "So last week we were celebrating that we did really well with our attendance.”

But being on campus isn’t enough to make the Promise Neighborhood idea work.

On a recent afternoon the Promise Neighborhood’s Promotoras were getting ready to go knocking on doors to recruit for one of their programs. Cyndi Gonzalez became a Promotora after years of volunteering at her son’s school, Castle Park Middle, which is one of the four other schools that are part of the Promise Neighborhood.

“We are the eyes, the ears and especially the voice of the community," she said. "We’re there to inform the community of everything that we’re learning and we’re also there to navigate them through all of the programs.”

The Promotoras are neighborhood residents – so Gonzalez believes parents trust them in a way they may not trust school administrators. If parents are more comfortable, they’ll open up and let Promotoras know what services they may really need.

Gonzalez saw first hand what the influx of support and extended school day programs meant at her son's school.

“I would hear every morning, ‘I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to go to school.’ And it was a struggle,” she said.

But – along with Promise Neighborhoods came a new philosophy.

“It holds them accountable for not going to school, for not doing their homework," she said. "And he would have to make up his days on Saturdays. I stopped hearing that every morning 'I don’t want to go to school,' because he knew – there’s consequences.”

Now, he’s in high school outside the neighborhood, but he knows college is in his future. Gonzalez's family is planning for him in ways they didn’t for his older sister.

“We didn’t have all the information," she said. "I’m sure the school had it, but it wasn’t accessible, readily accessible to us at the time and I think that’s one of the reasons why I got involved also, because I wanted to share that information with the community also.”

When the five-year grant ends, the schools and organizations will have to find other ways to keep the successful programs running, Lembo said.

They’ll be gauging success in a lot of different ways -- tracking things like how many infants and toddlers have access to medical care somewhere other than an emergency room, asking parents how much they read to young children and harder data like high school graduation, college enrollment and test scores...

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to hold town hall forum in Chula Vista
Forum held at Castle Park Middle School
Channel 10 News

SAN DIEGO - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior U.S. Department of Education staff are scheduled to conduct a town hall forum on education Friday morning in Chula Vista.

The event at Castle Park Middle School will conclude the officials' fourth annual back-to-school bus tour, which has included 15 events in 11 cities in the southwestern United States.

Duncan is scheduled to kick off the forum with a pep rally at 9 a.m., when he's expected to make remarks on the role communities plays in educating children.

"The strength of America's economy is inextricably linked to the strength of America's education system," Duncan said before beginning the bus tour.

The town hall topic will be "Promise Neighborhoods," which the Department of Education describes as "cradle-to-career initiatives that call on the entire community to provide comprehensive place-based supports such as high-quality early learning, rich after-school activities, health and wellness services, and crime prevention."

Breakout sessions on a variety of topics will follow.

Castle Park Middle School is one of four schools in Chula Vista that belongs to the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood, which received a federal grant last year of almost $5 million.

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood

South Bay Community Services provides the most comprehensive range of services and programs for families, children and individuals in South San Diego County. Our programs are for everyone at anytime in their lives when they need it the most. With the continuous support from community members and generous sponsors, we are able to respond to the overwhelming needs of our community . . . touching the lives of more than 50,000 annually.

South Bay Community Services (SBCS) has been part of the community since 1971 providing the most comprehensive range of services and programs for families, children and individuals in South San Diego County. Our programs are for everyone at any time in their lives when they need it the most.

SBCS began as “Our House”, opened by the City of Chula Vista in an effort to combat the groups of “long-hair” teens who were using and dealing drugs in Memorial Park. Our House was a drop-in center where teen drug users could go for counseling and drug rehabilitation. Its success brought about the need for growth and a board of directors. And grow we did. Soon, Our House came to be called South Bay Community Services and has been growing with the needs of the community ever since. Today, we have a staff of more than 400 with many stationed throughout South San Diego County at shelters, clinics, police departments, schools, affordable housing facilities and family resource centers. SBCS is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) with a main office located at 1124 Bay Blvd.

There have been many notable milestones reached throughout the years...

1982 Kathryn Lembo takes role of Executive Director...