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For CUSD, 2014 was a transformative year

Grade-A environmentalism

In May, Vista del Valle won Grades of Green’s third annual Trash Free Lunch Challenge, a kudos that comes with a $1,000 reward. Vista nabbed the award after reducing the amount of waste produced at the school by 95 percent, going from nearly 1,000 bags of trash per year to less than 100.

Vista shared the top honors with Parrass Middle School in Redondo Beach, with both schools beating out 22 other K-12 schools in Los Angeles County. Vista’s remarkable disappearing act involved the entire campus, with kids learning to conscientiously sort their lunchtime trash. Recyclable items go into the proper receptacle, while biodegradable food goes into the school’s compost heap. After the compostable foods have broken down, the remains go to nourish the soil of Vista’s thriving garden.

The school is using the money it won to create an outdoor kitchen at the garden site, where students can taste the fruits of their labor.

 

Modeling excellence

In November, the Claremont Unified School District’s continuation school, San Antonio High School (SAHS), was named a Model Continuation School. The honor is jointly awarded by the California Department of Education and the California Continued Education Association.

SAHS garnered the title after its application, detailing the strengths of the campus, caught the attention of the Model Continuation School board. They paid a visit to the campus and were duly impressed.

Principal Sean Delgado said that the elements of the school’s culture that he stressed in the application included the widespread use of technology, the many beneficial community partnerships—such as the use of Claremont Colleges’ interns to help run the high school’s large garden and associated Food Justice Program—and the warm relationship between students and staff.

“It validates the hard work of a lot of people—the hard work of our teachers, who go above and beyond, of the kids who come here and transform themselves educationally and also parents,” Mr. Delgado said of the coup.

A pretty good gig

Claremont schools have been obtaining iPads at a fast rate, given that under the new Common Core standards, state testing—which will begin this spring—will be undertaken online by students using tablets.

In the past year, CUSD has gained 600 new iPads, taking the number of tablets available to students to a grand total of 2,600. This is on top of the 2,000 or so desktop or laptop computers at various Claremont school sites.

The purchase of the tablets, which is expected to continue as needed, albeit at a slower pace, has been underwritten by a combination of district funding, contributions from the Claremont Educational Foundation and fundraising on the part of Parent Faculty Associations at various schools. San Antonio High School is ahead of the curve, with an iPad in the hands of nearly ever student.

Kids in Claremont schools are currently becoming accustomed to using iPads for educational purposes via apps, including some whose aim is to help students create media-rich presentations. Sometime in the future, CUSD students may also find themselves perusing their textbooks on iPads.

Aware that digital education is the wave of the future, the district has made sure that the majority of iPads it purchases have 32 gigabytes of memory in order to support computerized textbooks, according to Director of Technology Damon Rapp.

In addition, while CUSD textbooks are currently all print versions, any new textbooks selected—including the “California GO Math!” series adopted this year for K-6 students—must have a digital version available for future use.

Get on board

In November 5, 2013, four candidates ran for three spots on the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education. The winners, incumbent Steven Llanusa and newcomers Dave Nemer and Nancy Treser Osgood, first took their places at the dais at a December 2013 school board meeting. Mr. Llanusa also had the distinction of being named president of the school board.

At a school board meeting held on December 18, 2014, Mr. Nemer and Ms. Treser Osgood expressed their satisfaction with their first year on the board, which they characterized as a learning experience. Mr. Nemer, joking that he had been a tabula rasa or blank slate at the beginning of his “freshman year,” thanked the senior board members and district personnel for showing him the ropes. Ms. Treser Osgood expressed special gratitude to Mr. Llanusa for his collaborative spirit, warmth and humor.

Nothing that Mr. Llanusa often writes a limerick befitting transitional times on the board, board member Hilary LaConte tried her hand at a rhyme in honor of the outgoing president: “There once was a pres named Steven/Who had us all achieving/The year was so smooth/No room to improve/So thanks to our pres named Steven.”

Mr. Llanusa said he was flattered but insisted that credit for the smooth year go to the entire board, a sentiment he repeated in a subsequent COURIER interview.

“The board has functioned so well as a whole, and I think that sort of cooperation has permeated throughout the district.”

Assistant superintendent bids adieu

November 20, 2014 marked the last board meeting for Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Bonnie Bell, whose four-and-a-half years with the district have coincided with one of the most transformative periods in curriculum in recent history.

Ms. Bell presided over the district’s transition to the new Common Core curriculum, organizing staff training and a number of meetings familiarizing parents and other stakeholders with the new form of curriculum and assessment.

Ms. Bell will become Superintendent of the Lowell Joint School District in the Whittier/La Habra Heights areas. She takes with her experience gained during a 30-year-plus career in education, beginning with a tenure as classroom teacher.

At the December 18 school board meeting, Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources, presented a candidate for the post of assistant superintendent of educational services for board approval. Out of 43 applicants, six of whom were interviewed, Myrlene Pierre was recommended for the job. The board unanimously approved her appointment to CUSD.

A feature on Ms. Pierre will appear in an upcoming COURIER.

 

Making new princi-pals

There was also a change-up at various elementary schools this year.

When Mountain View’s principal Clara Dehmer became assistant principal of student services at Claremont High School last February, Natalie Taylor—who spent a decade as a classroom teacher at Oakmont Elementary School—stepped in as interim administrator. At the beginning of this year, Ms. Taylor became Mountain View’s official leader.

Ms. Taylor started as a substitute, exclusively working in CUSD, and never looked back. Among her accomplishments is introducing a new, streamlined mission statement for the school: “Mountain View believes all learners can reach individual academic success through critical thinking and collaboration.”

The Chaparral Roadrunners also received a new leader in the form of Principal Lisa Yamashta. While at USC, Ms. Yamashita changed her original college major from chemical engineering to education, her science background is likely to help her get students excited about STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), which are considered more important than ever.

Mr. Ward noted that Ms. Yamashita’s strength at working with special education students and English learners was a key reason for her hiring.

Play therapy

St. Patrick’s Day was a lucky day for kids at Danbury Elementary School, Claremont’s K-6 site specializing in educating kids with physical disabilities and health impairments. Danbury held an open house that day, showcasing its new Occupational Therapy Clinic.

Checking out the new digs, school board member Dave Nemer dubbed it “stealth therapy,” because the room features a state-of-the-art gym that looks more like a playground. Kids can soar on swings, roll in a barrel, grapple their way up a climbing wall and balance and bounce on a large inner tube. The Occupational Therapy Clinic, which took about three years to create—from concept to completion—also includes an office, a conference room and a speech therapy room.

They are also enjoying the expertise of some new personnel at Danbury, including two occupational therapists, Elyse Steffens and Jeniffer Blacksher. With Danbury’s 75 students, as well as special education students from other CUSD sites, receiving therapy locally as opposed to being transported to other OT gyms, the district will save an average of $160,000 per year, according to Danbury Principal Stephen Hamilton.

At your service

This August, just before school started, CUSD held an open house for its new Service Center, located on the same property as the district’s Kirkendall Education Center.

The 8,400-square-foot steel manufactured building, with a customized interior, is considerably more streamlined than the district’s previous Service Center, a 70-year-old monstrosity that was a sprawling 10,000-square-feet-plus in size.

“You had to go from room-to-room and everything was open. It was like a catacomb,” Service Center Director Rick Cota said.

The old Service Center property was sold at auction in May of 2013 and fetched a $7 million price from homebuilder D.R. Horton. 

The cost for construction of the new Service Center came in a bit over the $1.6 million bid. Mr. Cota said he and his department are pleased with the results. “It feels efficient,” he said. “There’s no waste of space.”

Up on the rooftops

With California experiencing a historic drought, everyone has been praying for rain—everyone except for administration at Claremont High School and the staff of the CUSD facilities department. This is because, for years, Claremont High School has experienced serious leakage problems on roofs throughout the campus.

Those whose spirits have been dampened by the ongoing problem will be relieved to hear that at the last school board meeting of 2014, the board voted that the district can send roofing improvements at CHS to bid.

The Garland Company has inspected the roofs at CHS and concluded that, with the exception of roof on the newly renovated Don P. Fruechte Theatre for the Performing Arts, which celebrated its grand opening in March of 2013, every roof on the campus must either be replaced or repaired.

The folks at Garland say the job will cost the district about $2 million, which will come out of the district’s Capital Reserves. District personnel and the board are eager to see what kind of bids come in for what is widely agreed-upon as CUSD’s most pressing capital project.

—Sarah?Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com