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School board meeting showcases new leaders, achievers

It was a busy and packed school board meeting last Thursday, with the first order of business being a tendering of applause for outgoing school board president Steven Llanusa. After a quick election, Mr. Llanusa’s seat was taken by school board member Hilary LaConte, which makes for her second term as board president.

School board member Nancy Treser Osgood will serve as the board’s vice president and Dave Nemer is now clerk. As always, Claremont Unified School District Superintendent Jim Elsasser will serve as the board’s secretary.

Then it was on to a number of items of interest, including the presentation of the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) for both Vista del Valle and Sycamore Elementary schools.

For both schools, presenting the annual report on the school’s performance in meeting last year’s goals and on progress toward this year’s aims involved some winging it. Schools are required to present an SPSA each year under No Child Left Behind, the bulk of which involves academic goals. And yet, given that this is the first year that Common Core assessments will be undertaken by students, school site councils  have been without an official manner of measuring improvement in subjects like math and English Language Arts (ELA).

Still, both Vista and Sycamore shared that they had significant growth in the number of teachers reporting that they were comfortable with the philosophy and methods of the Common Core standards. Those standards, in a nutshell, involve teaching fewer concepts with more depth; having the concepts students are studying reach into multiple subjects; requiring students to explain how they come by their answers on homework and tests; and making sure kids grasp the real-world applications of everything they learn.

Vista is currently using benchmark assessments that, in the area of ELA, they borrowed from another district and that, in the area of mathematics, have been devised by the school’s staff in a cooperative effort. When asked whether they could share these measuring tools—which are particularly critical during this transitional time—Principal Dave Stewart said they can and they have. Both elementary schools were lauded for their emphasis on whole child development and for their commitment to student learning.

Recently, CUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services, Bonnie Bell, left the district after 4 ½ years to become superintendent of the Lowell Joint School District in the Whittier/La Habra Heights area.

At last week’s school board gathering, Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources, presented for board approval a candidate to replace Ms. Bell. Myrlene Pierre, whose 30-year career in education last found her serving as director of educational services and of Gifted and Talented Education at the Magnolia School District, was unanimously approved as the district’s new assistant superintendent of educational services.

Mr. Ward noted that Ms. Pierre, who has also worked for the Anaheim City and Compton Unified school districts as well as at schools in the greater New York City area, beat out 43 applicants for the job.

Sustaining schools

It’s the season of giving, a sentiment represented at the meeting via a presentation by Ron Mittino, head of Sustainable Claremont’s Schools Action group. Sustainable Claremont, he announced, is donating $2,550 to the district to be divided among Green Team leaders at various school sites.

Thus far, six schools have Green Team leaders, who are in charge of such efforts as recycling, reduced energy use and programs that use school gardens to teach kids about healthy food and sustainability. These include Vista, Oakmont, Mountain View, Sycamore, El Roble and Claremont High School. The money is nominal, Mr. Mitino emphasized, but he hopes it will provide some compensation and support to volunteers doing a very important job.

Sustainable Claremont’s contribution to Claremont Schools is up from $2,000 last year, money that was used as a contribution toward the salary of CUSD Garden Coordinator Dessa D’Aquila. Ms. D’Aquila is now in her third year as the district’s garden coordinator, and is also now teaching an ROP class at San Antonio High School, the site of a flourishing food justice program.

Sustainable Claremont is able to give more because they are thriving, Mr. Mittino said in a subsequent interview. Just this month, the nonprofit organization, which is independent but works cooperatively with the city and Claremont schools, moved into new digs, an office generously supplied by the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. The group also welcomed a part-time staffer this month in the form of Sustainaibility Coordinator Alexis Reyes. Ms. Reyes, a recent UCLA graduate, was valedictorian when she graduated from Claremont High School.

Funding for Sustainable Claremont comes from a number of sources, including: Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Program’s ongoing participation in the Energy Champion Program; seed money from the city; membership fees; and money from the city’s recent second-place win in the Cool California Challenge, an energy usage reduction effort spearheaded by Sustainable Claremont.

There was also a moment of celebration when the boys of Claremont High School’s varsity water polo team got resounding applause for a stand-out season. Under the leadership of Coach Kristin McCown, the intrepid members of the Wolfpack “pooled” their talent to turn out CHS waterpolo’s first CIF championship in decades.

The next meeting of the board of education is set for Thursday, January 15 at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com