School board meeting features poignant kudos, pointed questions
Last Thursday’s school board meeting started with a special recognition for a man who has made a big difference for the students of the Claremont Unified School District.
Local therapist and clinical social worker Kirby Palmer was thanked for his ongoing support of mental health within the district, in particular for the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Assembly he leads every other year at Claremont High School.
The most recent of these was an emotional affair held in the CHS gymnasium in November that, among other poignant moments, featured a personal account from a student who lost a family member to suicide.
“Please talk to someone and don’t commit suicide,” she urged at the rally, at which every attendee was given a wallet-sized Ask4Help Card.
One side urges the cardholder to talk to someone—a counselor, clergy, doctor, parent or friend—if they are feeling suicidal. The other side shares information how to help when someone has uttered seven life-saving words: “I need to use my yellow ribbon.”
Mr. Palmer feels strongly that depression can, in virtually every case, get better. It’s about reaching out.
“Years ago, suicide was kind of the unspoken disease or problem. We want to bring it out of the closet and say that it’s okay to talk about it—it’s nothing shameful,” he told the COURIER.
Mr. Palmer was presented with a certificate of appreciation and photographed with Superintendent Jim Elsasser and the school board, but the recognition extended beyond a photo op.
District luminaries expressed their heartfelt appreciation for doing what a teary-eyed School Board President Hilary LaConte called “such a good job talking about a topic that’s scary to us.”
“I’m almost speechless now because you’ve done so much, helping [students] to think about their lives and how to move onto the next step,” school board member Sam Mowbray added.
The February 19 gathering also featured a presentation on Claremont After-School Programs (CLASP), a volunteer-powered program aimed at supporting at-risk elementary school children in the district.
CLASP participants meet after school throughout the week in five neighborhood locations: the Claremont Presbyterian Church, Blaisdell Community Center, Claremont Village Apartments, Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Wheeler Park Recreation Building.
There, the kids receive homework help and tutoring, healthy snacks and enrichment activities such as recreation, field trips, family meetings and celebrations. At four of these centers, transportation from school to the center to home is provided.
In 2013, local evaluation consultant Jack Mills, a former CUSD school board member and longtime supporter of CLASP, undertook a study of the impact of CLASP on its participants.
Two years later, Mr. Mills, who received his doctorate from Claremont Graduate University in the program evaluation, research methodology and applied social psychology, took to the podium with his findings.
His report, which was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, demonstrated that among CLASP participants, the number of students considered below to far below average had decreased by 5 percent in English Language Arts.
School board member Dave Nemer praised Mr. Mills for the thoroughness and integrity of his report and, in a punny way, noted his devotion to the district’s at-risk students.
“If anyone thinks there aren’t volunteers doing great things in Claremont, they don’t know Jack,” he said.
Past CLASP president Teddy Warner also spoke. She noted that the afterschool program would benefit from greater communication between teachers and volunteers as to the specific challenges faced by students, particularly in the area of math.
She also asked that as the district plans further training in the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum, they consider including CLASP volunteers. “If the teachers are having trouble and the students are having trouble, believe me, the volunteers are having trouble,” she said.
The meeting was dominated by words of praise for the work of those in the district and the community. One parent, however, took a moment during the public comment portion of the meeting to share a note of concern.
Nuh Kimbwala said his son, a freshman at Claremont High School, was cut from the track and field team for no apparent reason. The teen had no academic, behavioral or attendance issues, Mr. Kimbwala said. His concern stemmed from being unable to get a satisfactory justification for the coach’s action.
Mr. Kimbwala said he when he spoke to the school’s athletic director, Rick Dutton, the administrator was “unable to articulate board policy.”
“Why [reinstitute] these rogue coaches who go above board policy?” Mr. Kimbwala posed to the board. “It’s an inequity and an injustice, and I hope there’s a timely and complete response.”
Mr. Dutton subsequently said there is no blanket board policy governing the cutting of students from sports teams. Instead, he said each sport has its own policy. Longtime track and field Coach V. Amarasekara, as always, made a clear point of distributing her team policy to students and parents, Mr. Dutton said.
Many students are cut from the team every year and such decisions are based on ability, according to Mr. Dutton. The team absolutely must be trimmed because the size can become unmanageable, the athletic director emphasized.
He reported that last year’s track and field program featured 170 young athletes, adding that, had no students been cut, that number would have grown to well over 200 students.
The next school board meeting will be held on Thursday, March 5 at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center, 170 W. San Jose Ave. in Claremont.