Sunday, October 11, 2015

Anti-Vax Measure Won't See the Ballot

Posted By on Sun, Oct 11, 2015 at 9:21 AM

Efforts to repeal California’s new mandatory vaccination law have failed.

Signed into law in June by Gov. Jerry Brown, the new law requires that all children be vaccinated for a variety of infectious diseases before attending school, closing a long-standing exemption for families that opted not to vaccinate due to religious or personal beliefs. The law has faced a fierce backlash from a parents who fear vaccinating imperils their children’s health or is against their religion, and saw the law as an infringement on their rights. A repeal effort spawned almost immediately.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

HSU Gets Sexual Assault Funding

Posted By on Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 12:30 PM

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Humboldt State University announced recently that it won a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to reduce sexualized violence on campus. It's part of a $8.5 million nationwide effort at 27 colleges.

The funding will allow the university to expand its Check It program, which the Journal wrote about in February, as well as work with community programs designed to reduce and respond to sexual assault.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sidney Dominitz: 1941-2015

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 12:27 PM

Sidney Dominitz in Trinidad, the town he called home for 40 years. - FACEBOOK
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  • Sidney Dominitz in Trinidad, the town he called home for 40 years.
Sidney Dominitz, a longtime Humboldt State University journalism lecturer and editor of the Northcoast Environmental Center’s EcoNews, died early Saturday morning of complications from a heart condition. He was 74.

A fixture on the North Coast for roughly 40 years, Dominitz is remembered by friends and colleagues as a man whose sharp wit and warm heart spilled through his editing pen as he improved the work of those around him. A born copy editor, Dominitz devoted nearly three decades of his life to editing the EcoNews, using his mastery of the English language and wealth of newspaper experience to fight for the forests, waterways and wildlife he loved.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Last CAASPP Efforts: How Humboldt Students Scored

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 10:27 AM

  • stock image

School just started, but test scores are already out in one area — the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).The test, which measures students' mathematics and English skills, was only implemented spring of this year. How does Humboldt measure up? Not real well.

Over a quarter of students in third through eighth grades do not meet the state standards for English or math. The mathematics number rises to nearly 46 percent of fifth grade students, and a full half of 11th graders. What does that mean? Well, according to the state's website, it means that half of this year's senior class will have to do a lot of catching up if they want to do well in college. Or, as the state's website puts it, these students have "not met the achievement standard and need substantial improvement to demonstrate the knowledge and skills in mathematics needed for likely success in entry-level, credit-bearing college coursework after high school."

But take heart — Humboldt students were on par with students across the state, meaning that if you're grading on a curve, we're pretty okay. The CAASPP website cautions that, since this is the first year the testing has taken place, it's to be used as more of a "starting point," a baseline for future performance. Lori Breyer, school support and accountability coordinator at the Humboldt County Office of Education, said they expected the results to be "a little bit lower, just because this is a brand new test."

The CAASPP, part of new Common Core requirements, is a successor the previously used Statewide Testing and Reporting (STAR) system. One major difference is technology: The days of #2 pencils and bubbles that have to be filled in just so are past. CAASPP testing for English and mathematics takes place online. (Science is still a paper-based test, but an online version is due in 2017.)

Breyer said the CAASPP is an improvement in some respects from the STAR testing.

"What I heard from kids, including my own daughter, is that they had fun with the test," she said. "It's engaging. It's gone away from the paper bubble to an interactive test. It's requiring some skills on how to use a computer. One of the wonderful results is a better emphasis on technology."

Breyer said that the CAASPP test has not had a stifling influence on educational methods.

"I've worked with a number of districts over the summer, their focus is not on test," she said. "The focus is, what are we doing on a daily and a weekly basis? If we're doing a good job there, we know we'll get a good score." 

To see how your district did, click here.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Supreme Court Denies School Contract Case

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 2:59 PM

The California Supreme Court has denied a Fresno school district’s request to review an appellate court ruling that was strongly critical of its use of no-bid contracts — a ruling that school contractors across the state fear may set a legal precedent that leaves them on the hook to repay millions of dollars in past contracts.

The ruling addressed the topic of newly popular lease-leaseback school construction contracts, which skirt the competitive public bidding process and allow districts to hand-pick the contractors they want to work with. The case and lease-leasebacks — particularly how they both relate to Eureka City Schools’ recent $50 million bond — are detailed in this week’s cover story, which can be found here.

Here’s a quick primer on lease-leasebacks from the story:

Outlined in the state education code, the lease-leaseback arrangement allows a district to lease its property to a contractor for a nominal fee — usually $1 a year. The contractor then finances and builds whatever project the district desires — say a new school — which it then leases back to the district for a monthly fee that covers both the financing and the construction. This allows districts to spread the costs of new building or renovation over decades and, once the final bill is paid off and the term of the lease is up, the property ownership reverts back to the district. But in creating this new funding avenue, the Legislature realized subjecting it to the competitive bidding process could become a nightmare for districts, leaving them to consider too many variables for a low-bid-take-all process to account for. So the Legislature made lease-leaseback construction arrangements exempt from competitive bidding requirements.

Recently, however, districts throughout the state have been using the arrangements specifically to skirt competitive bidding by essentially disguising construction processes that have no contractor-financing element to them as lease-leasebacks. In these cases, the district leases the property to the contractor, who builds out the project, and the district pays off the construction as it’s done using bond revenue. When building is complete, the property reverts back to the districts. But the appellate court said this violates the spirit of the law.

The immediate impact of the ruling is simply that it sends the case — in which a Fresno tax payer challenged Fresno Unified School District’s awarding of a $37 million contract to build a new middle school Harris Construction — back to the superior court that had dismissed it. But the ramifications of the ruling is that there is now case law in California stating two things: that a district’s awarding a contract to a company that previously consulted on the project represents a conflict of interest (akin to a fox guarding the henhouse, according to the plaintiff’s attorney in the case) and that, to be valid, lease-leaseback arrangements need to include both genuine contractor-financing and lease components.

On its face, this interpretation would render scores of contracts throughout the state illegal. Because state law stipulates that a contractor who performed work for a district under an illegal contract can be forced to repay the money gained from said contract, the ruling has caused a sizable stir in education and construction circles, with a host of contractor lobbying firms unsuccessfully launching an 11th hour push to have the Legislature amend state law to retroactively make these contracts legal.

San Diego attorney Kevin Carlin, who represented the plaintiff in the Fresno case, described the situation as follows: “Now that the contractors have been caught with their hand in our schools’ cookie jar, they are asking Sacramento legislators via last-minute gut and amend language that is retroactive to let them keep all the cookies they have taken from our schools under their illegal contracts.”

Carlin hailed the failed lobbying effort and the Supreme Court’s decision as wins for schools, students and taxpayers. Meanwhile, Fresno Unified officials told the Fresno Bee the court’s decision was “unexpected” and that they were huddling with their lawyers to figure out how to proceed. (The Bee story also includes the tidbit that both the FBI and the Fresno County District Attorney's Office have launched investigations into Fresno Unified's handling of the contract.)

In asking the Supreme Court to review the case, Fresno Unified also asked the court to de-publish the appellate court's ruling to prevent it from setting a precedent. That request was also denied.

What this means for Eureka is unclear. District officials have maintained that they crafted their lease-leasebacks — one with Dinsmore Construction for work on the Lincoln campus and another yet-to-be finalized one with DCI Builders for work on Alice Birney — with the Fresno ruling in mind. Carlin, however, reviewed the Dinsmore Construction agreement and said he believes it clearly violates the law.

Read more about the situation in the aforementioned cover story, which also details how Eureka’s school bond campaign is believed to have been the most expensive in county history, raising $68,000. The story also explains that, of the money raised, $67,950 came from 12 businesses, seven of which are currently under contract — or have agreed in principal — with the district to perform Measure-S funded work. Three more have been pre-qualified by the district for future bond work. (See the graphic below for more details.)

Journal attempts to reach Gregg Gardiner, who chaired the Citizens in Support of Eureka City Schools campaign, to ask about exactly how the campaign secured these donations have been unsuccessful. But, we’ll update this post if he gets back to us.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Connecting Freshmen to the Klamath

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 1:48 PM

The Klamath River near Ishi Pishi Falls. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • The Klamath River near Ishi Pishi Falls.
A small group of Humboldt State University’s largest-ever freshman class got a VIP-worthy introduction to the county last week through one of the North Coast’s most important resources: the Klamath River.

More than 60 students cut their summer breaks short to head up to Arcata early this year as part of an experimental new program designed to enhance learning and retention rates in HSU’s science programs.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

HSU's Incoming Students by the Numbers

Posted By on Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 2:14 PM

  • Courtesy of Humboldt State University
With a record influx of 1,429 new students, Humboldt State University has broken down the class of 2019 (hang on to your optimism, future super-seniors) by gender, ethnicity and from whence they come. A quick glance tells you women outnumber men by 28 percent. Students who identify as Hispanic/Latino form the largest ethnic group at 44 percent, according to an accompanying press release from the university. And you might have to cool it on making fun of Los Angeles, as some 38 percent of incoming students have traded smog for fog.  
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Great Teacher Dropout

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 at 4:23 PM

A national teacher shortage, as reported Aug. 19 on National Public Radio, is hitting close to home. Humboldt County is among many regions struggling to attract qualified candidates to its schools and, as students head back to the classroom, some administrators are wondering who will be there to greet them.

“The districts locally are going to be starting with a deficit” said Debra Kingshill, who heads the personnel department at the Humboldt County Office of Education. Kingshill advertises for teaching positions on the HCOE’s website. She said that they have gotten more “creative” about finding candidates, advertising nationally as well as locally. “We’re trying to cast the net a little bit further. There are some workarounds, some different credentialing options.”

The website is currently displaying seven permanent teaching positions, five substitute teaching positions, and many ancillary jobs such as aides and bus drivers, for a total of 125 jobs in all. Substitute teachers are also in high demand, but their ability to compensate for the lack of teachers may be limited.

“We’re having trouble finding qualified subs,” says Garry Eagles, superintendent of schools, adding that substitute teachers cannot teach the entire year.

Eureka City Schools and the McKinleyville Unified School District advertise separately from the HCOE, and are seeking a total of 11 credentialed positions as well as substitutes.

Both Eagles and Kingshill attribute part of the problem to an overall dearth of jobs in Humboldt County. While there may be ample jobs for credentialed educators, their spouses may not be willing to relocate to an area with so few employment opportunities.

“The applicant pool is very thin for the jobs that are here,” said Eagles. “We have some specialty assignments in education, school psychiatrists for example, where we can’t find any applicants. I used to get 12 to 15 applicants for superintendent positions, now I get three, four, five. Not all are necessarily qualified either.”

Eagles said that, statewide, fewer people are going into education as a career. The California State University system, traditionally the largest supplier of education professionals, has seen large drops in students studying education due to tuition increases and the effects of the recession. Eagles says that the lack of stability and widespread layoffs during the recession caused many people to choose more lucrative fields of study. The recession has also had an unintended impact on teacher numbers. Many educators who opted not to retire as planned during lean years are now leaving the classroom, and there are few candidates left to take their place.

Still, said Eagles, things might be picking up. When he spoke to the Journal on Wednesday he had just finished presenting to a “very promising” class of future special education teachers at Humboldt State University. Their numbers are up slightly from last year, he reported, a possible sign of good things to come.

“Educators are always optimistic,” he said.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Jefferson Project Fights Summer Hunger

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 11:19 AM

Park your bike and come inside. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Park your bike and come inside.
"We had kids getting off the school bus and telling us they were hungry," says Heidi Benzonelli, president of the Westside Community Improvement Association. The WCIA's community center, the Jefferson Project, is located in the old Jefferson Elementary School and offers and oversees free programs to community members, including after-school care. Jefferson Elementary closed in 2005. Benzonelli says the programs provide a way to counter the "social disruption" that happens when children are bused to schools far away from their homes. 

"The community center provides social identity" she says. "The West Side has the highest ethnic diversity and lowest median income in Eureka. We believe that if we invest in the children, we invest in the community. One of the things we found is a multi-generational dependence on cheap, processed food."

Erin Rose Davis plucks a weed from the kale patch. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Erin Rose Davis plucks a weed from the kale patch.
With the help of several local businesses and organizations, Jefferson launched a free summer meal program last year. Food for People helped distribute food in 2014, and by 2015 the program had a fully certified kitchen. It also had its garden approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which allowed local kids to plant seeds, tend plants and enjoy the full farm-to-table experience.

Local high-schooler John Georgia volunteers for the program, earning his food handlers certificate. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Local high-schooler John Georgia volunteers for the program, earning his food handlers certificate.

Along with providing healthy food for children under 19, the community center also offers a free summer enrichment program to West Side residents. Public schools often serve as an important safety net for low-income kids, filling nutritional gaps and providing childcare for working parents. When school lets out, many families struggle. The Jefferson Project gives them an alternative. It also helps provide job training for teens and adults. With a fully-certified kitchen, volunteers can earn their food handlers certification. A California Conservation Corps crew also recently earned college credit in green building by helping renovate an energy-efficient meeting space.

Beans spill over a mural. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Beans spill over a mural.
The lunch, served at 1 p.m Monday through Friday, includes balanced servings of grains, protein, fruit and vegetables. A snack is also served at 3 p.m. Many of the vegetables are grown in the adjacent garden, which relies on water from a rainwater diversion system. The building's gutters feed into basement storage and then the water is pumped into external storage tanks. Benzonelli says that passer-bys will occasionally turn off the drip lines that are watering the vegetables or call with concerns that they are "wasting water," but she says no one should worry: City water is not being used, and nothing is going to waste.

The program emphasizes locally-sourced, organic food, with fruits and vegetables at every meal. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • The program emphasizes locally-sourced, organic food, with fruits and vegetables at every meal.
Benzonelli says that Eureka Natural Foods has been a big supporter of the project as well, donating lots of organic food for the kids. The store will also invite shoppers to round up their purchases August 24-30, donating the extra cents to the Jefferson Project via the "Change for Change" program. On its busiest days, the community center feeds as many as 30 children.

Friends Patti Henderson and Victoria Heiser catch up over lunch. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Friends Patti Henderson and Victoria Heiser catch up over lunch.
Although the salad was the last dish standing on most diners' plates, the kids had no problem wolfing down the pizza on a whole-grain crust, the glasses of milk or slices of juicy watermelon. Friends Patti Henderson and Victoria Heiser, sitting together at one of the small round tables, said they liked the watermelon the best. Victoria has been attending the meals along with her father, a parent volunteer, since the beginning of the summer, and invited Patti to join her two weeks ago. The two also attend school together.

"She's really good at math," says Patti of her friend.

"Well, she's really good at science," says Victoria of Patti.

"Victoria is really good at climbing things," says Patti, and they both giggle. They are both, they say, really good at building things.

This year they also helped in the garden.

"We picked lots and lots of flowers," says Patti.

Afterwards, Patti and Victoria joined the throng of children competing to do the dishes. The winner always gets a prize. 

"We're teaching the kids how to cook, and doing the dishes is part of cooking," says Benzonelli. "It's hard to quantify the social benefit of a program like this."
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Welcome Back Wailaki: An Extinct Native Language Rebounds

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 at 12:45 PM

Robert Wilkins (in blue) leads a community class in Wailaki with fellow student Blaze Burrows (wearing black, at rear.) - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Robert Wilkins (in blue) leads a community class in Wailaki with fellow student Blaze Burrows (wearing black, at rear.)

There is no hello in Wailaki. The traditional greeting, "en tchong, en tchong shun da" translates to "Good, good my friend." The language, part of the Athabascan linguistic family and spoken originally by Native Americans in the Eel River Valley, has been considered extinct for close to 50 years. Now, thanks to the efforts of a group of teenagers, their dedicated teacher and the painstaking work of several linguists, it may be time to say en tchong to Wailaki once more.

Garberville resident Ben Schill is one of a team of linguists who has spent the last decade transcribing written descriptions of the Wailaki language from primary sources and attempting to determine their pronunciation. Much of this is guesswork, as the language was poorly recorded and not widely studied before its last native speakers died in the 1960s. Members of the Wailaki tribe were among many removed from their tribal lands and then forced to speak English. The majority of Wailaki descendants currently live on the Round Valley Reservation in Covelo, which is where the language’s unlikely renaissance truly took root.

“I wanted to speak my own language,” says Darin Merrifield, freshman at Round Valley Highschool, “No one in my family spoke it. It feels pretty awesome. You just got to get used to the sounds.”

Merrifield is one of 14 students enrolled in the Round Valley Language Project, where students can opt to study Wailaki for their core curriculum language requirements.

“I tell the students that it wasn’t really by choice that the language was not spoken," says teacher Cheryl Tuttle, who started the project in collaboration with the University of California Berkeley Linguistics Program and the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival. "If something was stolen from you, you have the right to have it back.” 

Tuttle's students have spent the year studying basic nouns and verb tenses as well as helping teach classes for community members who want to learn the language. She says the class has “become kind of a family” and generated a huge emotional response.

Robert Wilkins,15, says that the language “just makes sense” to him.

“I am Wailaki myself. I love it. It’s part of me. I feel at home when I speak it. It makes a lot of sense when I’m talking about a mountain lion, for example. The Wailaki word Bin-da-choh (“Its Mouth Big”) describes it better," he says.

The class marked a milestone recently by speaking in Wailaki at the Round Valley school system’s Head Start graduation. Next year, the students will begin developing curriculum for young speakers in the Head Start Program.

Lorenzo Lambertino, now a lecturer at San Jose State University, worked on restoring the Wailaki language as a graduate student. He says he “almost cried” when he saw the video of the graduation ceremony.

“I’m so proud of these kids," he says. "It’s a Herculean task but little by little the language is coming back.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct an error in the description of Lorenzo Lambertino's work restoring the Wailaki language.

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