Monthly Archives: October 2009

Note on NHUHSD election

Editor’s note: Four candidates are running for three seats up for grabs on the Northern Humboldt Union High School District, which oversees McKinleyville and Arcata High Schools. The candidates are incumbent Sarie Toste, incumbent Mike Pigg, incumbent Dan Johnson and Dana Silvernale. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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NHUHSD candidate Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson cropBy Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

Q. Why do you want to run for another term on the NHUHSD board?
Dan Johnson: It’s really about the kids. As a citizen of any community, you’ve got to volunteer, and I try to put my emphasis on children, because I have three of them. I enjoy the school board. I’ve been on it for about a year, and it’s a place where I can make an impact.
Q. Do you support trying to get a school bond passed to improve the McKinleyville and Arcata High School campuses?
Johnson: There’s a lot more information I need before I could vote yes or no. I don’t know how much the tax would be, or what impact it would have on the school. It’s ultimately the decision of the public.
I think the community needs sports fields, and it needs a good performing arts facility in Arcata, given that arts are such a huge part of the curriculum. I don’t know of any other way that they’re ever going to get it. There aren’t a lot of other opportunities to fund construction on schools any more.
Q. Why do you want a bond as opposed to a parcel tax?
Johnson: I’m not familiar with the parcel tax, what the difference would be.
Q. Would you support splitting the district into two “virtual” districts so that only McKinleyville voters will be able to vote on a bond that would benefit Mack High, and only Arcata voters will be able to vote on a bond that would benefit Arcata High?
Johnson: It seems like a reasonable approach. That might be the biggest decision that the board makes, because at the end of the day, we have to let the voters decide whether or not they think the community needs this.
Q. Would you allow companies and individuals that might directly benefit financially from the passage of the bond to contribute money to the election campaign committee?
Johnson: My inclination would be to limit the contributions that people can make to $99. We did that when we were trying to pass a school bond in Jacoby Creek. That way you don’t end up with anybody that feels like they’re buying off the situation.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Johnson: My big push is to not affect the kids. If we had to cut, we’d look at everything – athletics, the arts, the academics, and make the cuts equal across the board.
One way we’ve been able to do budget reductions but keep programs is by increasing class size. Nobody likes to do that, but at least it still keeps the program there.
In L.A., the average class size is 45-50 kids per class. Here we’re just over 30. Even if we had to go to 35, we’re still way below state averages.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Johnson: We do a fantastic job of going out and getting grants. This year alone, we got a grant for working with homeless kids, and grants to let our kids travel to Costa Rica.
Another idea would be to create a foundation for both high schools. Jacoby Creek has done that quite successfully. Last year they had a foundation auction, and earned $40,000, money that went right back into the school for computers and classroom supplies.
Q. What would you do to improve vocational education for students who choose not to attend college?
Johnson: Keep giving it! The school district right now does a great job. We have a culinary program, a shop, the building trades program. Our company has hired a number of people out of that building trades program over the years.
Identify vocational needs – computer technology, bookkeeping, and make sure we’re offering them to our kids, so they can make a contribution to society when they graduate.
Q. Students who are members of various minority groups often drop out before graduation because they do not feel accepted within the school. What, if anything, would you do to make students who are:
people of color;  gay or lesbian; or physically or mentally disabled,
feel safe and accepted in school?
Johnson: I didn’t realize we had a problem with that. Our drop-out rates are 7.9% over a four-year period. That is half of the state average, which is 15.6 %. The county average is 15.5%.
The diversity on our campuses is amazing. I would continue to identify pockets of populations who feel like they don’t fit in, and make sure that there are opportunities for them to fit in. We live in a very diverse world, and it’s critical for everybody to have the ability to co-exist.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Johnson: In the ten months that I’ve been on the board, I believe all our decisions have been unanimous, either for or against. The board that is there now works very well together. There really haven’t been any controversial issues.
Q. What is your occupation?
Johnson: I own Danco.
Q. How long have you lived within the area encompassed by the NHUHSD?
Johnson: I’ve lived in Arcata for eight years. I’ve lived in Humboldt County my whole life.
Q. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make? Why?
Johnson: There aren’t any changes I’d try to make right now. I think the administration does a good job, and the board gets along very well. I don’t have an agenda. I just want to be there, to offer my knowledge of the community, and to serve as a sounding board for the parents and the kids.

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NHUHSD candidate Mike Pigg

Mike Pigg 002By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

Q. Why do you want to run for another term on the NHUHSD board?
Mike Pigg: I believe in our schools. We have two good school systems – Arcata and McKinleyville. I like what the administration and the teachers are doing. It’s a positive space, and I want to be part of that, continue with its success, and support the people in those positions.
O. Do you support trying to get a school bond passed to improve the McKinleyville and Arcata High School campuses?
Pigg: I do, but I want it to come from the community. Arcata High’s needs are different from McKinleyville’s needs. I want to listen to both, and see how we can best improve those schools.
Right now they’re talking about a football field, but we haven’t brought everyone into the room to talk about it yet. There’s just a few interested parties that have kids and want a bond.
I see the benefit of gyms and improving the fields for our community.
For example, at Jacoby Creek School, everyone uses that basketball gym, from adults playing pick-up basketball at night, to all the school needs, to dance classes. It gives a covered arena to a variety of people.
There’s a lot to look at. We need some open community meetings.
O. Would you support splitting the district into two “virtual” districts, as was discussed in a recent board meeting, so that only McKinleyville voters will be able to vote on a bond that would benefit Mack High, and only Arcata voters will be able to vote on a bond that would benefit Arcata High?
Pigg: Yes.
Q. Why do you want a bond as opposed to a parcel tax?
Pigg: I’d have to study that more, before I could answer that fairly.
Q. Would you allow companies and individuals that might directly benefit financially from the passage of the bond to contribute money to the election campaign committee?
Pigg: I don’t know how that would work.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Pigg: I would want [Superintendent] Kenny Richards, the teachers, and the students, staff, and parents to help us decide what programs we need to cut. We get to veto or to vote yes, but it’s got to come from the people who are in the program.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Pigg: Just make sure we have people writing grants on a regular basis.
Q. What would you do to improve vocational education for students who choose not to attend college? Pigg: What are the needs of the students? They’ve got to come to the board meetings if they’re coming up short. We have woodshops, we have car shops, and we have [training in] building houses. We have a few business courses.
Q. Students who are members of minority groups often drop out before graduation because they do not feel accepted within the school. What, if anything, would you do to make students who are people of color; or gay or lesbian; or physically or mentally disabled, feel safe and accepted in school?
Pigg: I don’t think we have a big issue there. There isn’t segregation. People do feel safe at Arcata High and McKinleyville High. We have very little gang pressure. We have a sheriff on campus.
As long as we provide a safe environment, then it comes down to the student. They have to be assertive, join clubs, start hanging out with people, and blend in. I don’t feel like we have an issue, and if we do, then people need to let the board know.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Pigg: The biggest one was when Shane Brinton wanted to send out a flyer about a [cervical cancer] vaccine. That was one of our biggest arguments in the past four years. I didn’t think it was the school’s right to promote a new vaccine that we’re not confident about.
That was a tough decision, because I am for kids’ health.
We did a great thing with [Assistant Superintendent] Brian Stephens’ new lunch program.         We’re keeping more people on the campus. They’re eating healthier things; they have a salad bar. But that came from the administration, not the board.
I’m really proud of the Community Day School. We’re keeping between four and 30 kids off the street, and we’ve integrated some of them back into school. I say “we” but it wasn’t the board; it was the administration that came up with that. They bring these ideas to us, and we just approve them or disapprove them.
Q. What is your occupation?
Pigg:I sell real estate, and I coach cross-country, track and field, basketball, mostly on a K-8 level.
Q. How long have you lived within the area encompassed by the NHUHSD?
Pigg: All my life. I grew up in Arcata and went to Arcata High.
Q. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make? Why?
Pigg: Look into this bond and see if the schools need it; have community input on it from the students and the teachers. Arcata High is talking about a center arts activity building, a bigger multipurpose room for performing arts. McKinleyville is talking about a football field.
Those suggestions might not be what we need. We might need to remodel our schools, upgrade them…
If the community supports a bond, then I support it.

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NHUHSD candidate Dana Silvernale

DanaSilvernaleBy Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

Q. Why do you want to serve on the NHUHSD board?
Dana Silvernale: Because I’m a Special Education teacher, and I have students that have transferred into the high schools. I’m concerned about making sure that they get the support they need to be successful.
Q. Do you support trying to get a school bond passed to improve the McKinleyville and Arcata High School campuses?
Silvernale: I have mixed feelings about it. We are taking on one deficit after another with bonds. The roots of the problem are in Sacramento, and that’s where the problem needs to be solved.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Silvernale: I know I have a learning curve in front of me, and that’s part of it. But I do know that once you start cutting programs, you get into a downward spiral.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Silvernale: hat’s on my learning curve agenda, too.
Q. What would you do to improve vocational education for students who choose not to attend college?
Silvernale: Even if kids are going to college, they need skills for earning a living, so they don’t have to work for minimum wage. Very few kids can go to college without working. All kids should be able to go into their community as high school graduates with some skills they can use right away.
I’m looking at community-based apprenticeship programs. Business people in the community and parents have a very positive response to that idea.
I’d like to see kids apprentice with local farms. The farmers want to see more kids apprenticing, and increase the number of farmers in Humboldt County
At Braden Auto Body, in 1996 they had an apprentice from McKinleyville High and he’s still working for them.
Q. Students who are members of minority groups often drop out before graduation because they do not feel accepted within the school. What, if anything, would you do to make students who are people of color; or gay or lesbian; or physically or mentally disabled, feel safe and accepted in school?
Silvernale: Kids with behavioral issues belong on that list. Those kids are very misunderstood. They are crying out for help.
A lot of parents have told me that they’re concerned about bullying. Parents don’t feel that they’re getting enough support from administration on those issues. The cutbacks have worsened these types of difficult situations, because now we don’t have our counselors.
We did a lot of working with Friendship Groups [in Eureka] in the past, and a lot of counseling with kids, and those services have been cut back. In Friendship Groups, kids get together with a counselor, and talk together about their lives in school  The kids are referred by teachers because they’re concerned about their emotional well-being – kids with anger management issues, or are being bullied, or don’t have support at home.
There’s a high drop out rate among the Special Education students at Arcata and McKinleyville. It’s four times what it is in the general population for the schools overall. At Arcata High, one in four Special Ed kids drop out. At McKinleyville, the dropout rate is 40 percent for Special Education kids.
There are a lot of supports in place; there is a great staff, but there’s something lacking, and I want to find out what that is. My idea for doing the research is to engage grad students at Humboldt State doing research projects for their Master’s degree.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Silvernale: I’m glad that “Spare Change” just got their approval to do their performances in assemblies this year. That’s a giant step in the right direction. The board resisted them for a long time. But you’re burying your head in the sand if you try to shelter kids from what they already know.
I didn’t want the board to cut out the aides to Special Education. They did that back in June, and I don’t know if they ever got re-hired. That was when I decided to get involved with the board.
Q. What is your occupation?
Silvernale: I’m a Special Education teacher in the Mattole Valley district. I work largely with children who are being home-schooled. I go to their homes, and help them with their reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Q. How long have you lived within the area encompassed by the NHUHSD?
Silvernale: Since 2002.
Q. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make? Why?
Silvernale: I want to expand the opportunities that are available to the kids. They have wonderful support for the kids that are good students and that are college bound. The kids that are struggling are not doing so well. I want to give them more support.
I support the Farms to School program, and would like to see the schools buying local produce from farmers.
I’m concerned that the classes in the high schools are getting very large. One high school teacher told me he had forty kids in his class. When the classes are that size, the kids can’t get individual attention.
Both CR and HSU are complaining that our high school graduates don’t have adequate writing skills. That’s something that you can only remedy with individual attention.
I would want to see more arts in the schools, simple, fun projects  that don’t require great talent, but bring kids together.

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NHUHSD candidate Sarie Toste

Sarie Toste cropFrom 10/14/09 issue

 

By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

Q. Why do you want to run for another term on the NHUHSD board?
Sarie Toste: I’ve been involved in education for many years as a career. I taught in the McKinleyville district for many years, I was interim superintendent at Trinidad and Jacoby Creek, and I retired as an administrator.
This is a way for me to give something back to the community, where I can have a direct impact on the lives of our students. I feel honored to serve the community that raised me.
2. Do you support trying to get a school bond passed to improve the McKinleyville and Arcata High School campuses?
Toste: I’m not ready to comment on that yet. I need to hear more from the community.
3. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Toste: None. Considering the lack of financial resources we’re faced with, our situation is pretty stable. When we’ve had to make cuts, we’ve tried to keep them as far away from the students as possible.
4. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Toste: We have some outstanding grant-writers in our district, and they’ve been very successful in bringing in money through grants, enabling some programs to continue.
At Arcata High School, I’m on a committee for the Career and College Center. We’re going to have a pancake breakfast and try to raise some funds to help provide services to our students. 5. What would you do to improve vocational education for students who choose not to attend college? Toste: I’d like to see more partnerships with our local businesses to assist our vocational students. I toured a home that the HROP [Humboldt Regional Occupational Program] kids built. This is a house that the students built with the partnership of Ace Hardware, Miller Farms, and many other businesses around here.
These kids may not be going to college, but they know how to do things that the other kids don’t know how to do. They did the electrical, the plumbing, and built this fantastic home.
All of our students should be encouraged to further their education – it doesn’t have to be college.
6. Students who are members of various minority groups often drop out before graduation because they do not feel accepted within the school. What, if anything, would you do to make students who are: people of color; gay or lesbian; or physically or mentally disabled, feel safe and accepted in school?
Toste: I’m not sure we have a high number of students that are not graduating. Our staff doesn’t allow children to fall through the cracks, regardless of their color or their race or their status. Our counselors are outstanding. Our teachers take the time to reach out to students who are having difficulty. We’re providing as many services as we can to these youngsters.
7. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Toste: A decision I certainly agreed with was expanding our services – transportation, the lunch program – to include other districts.
The hardest, most challenging decision was to eliminate or downsize our staff.
8. What is your occupation?
Toste: I am retired. I just retired as a Learn to Earn [school savings bank program] administrator, a program I started when I was a school administrator. About 110 schools, 80,000 children in California and Oregon participate in this program and are banking.
When I retired from the schools, the Learn to Earn program asked me to be their administrator. I went to every school in Humboldt County, and went into the classrooms and talked to the kids about the importance of saving their money.     We started this program in 1996. And now we have kids who bought cars when they turned 16 with money they saved in school, or used it for college!
Now I’m on the KEET-TV board, which takes up some time, as well as some other boards.
9. How long have you lived within the area encompassed by the NHUHSD?
Toste: Most of my life.
10. If elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make? Why?
Toste: I wouldn’t want to make many changes. I would want to continue with the ongoing practices of our board, which is doing a wonderful job of meeting the needs of our students. We have a great high school district, and we’re also serving other districts as well.
I want to see our kids succeed. I want to see them glow with success!

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Note about MUSD race

Editor’s note: Four candidates are running for three seats up for grabs on the McKinleyville Union Elementary School District Board of Trustees. They are incumbent David Smith, Tim Hooven, Justin Zabel and Don Rosebrook. Their interviews are printed below on this blog.

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McK Union School District candidate David Smith

musd.David Smith crop

From 10/21/09 issue

 

By Elaine Weinreb

Press Staff Writer

Q. Why do you want to run for another term on the MUSD board?
David Smith: I believe we all have a responsibility to be involved with the community. I’m fortunate to have support from home, and to have the kind of job that gives me the flexibility to be involved.
I feel that I have something to offer. It’s been a very good experience so far.
Q. Since January, how many MUSD board meetings have you attended?
Smith: I’ve been to every one. I’m taking some evening courses to finish my college degree. Even when my evening courses conflicted with my school board responsibilities, I was dutiful, and took care of my school board responsibilities.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Smith: That’s hard to say. When we have to make specific cuts, we try to involve the community and different stakeholders. We end up with a priority list, and do what we’ve got to do to make the budget work.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to hire back many of the people who got lay-off notices.
We looked at several contracts we have, where we out-sourced for our services, to if we can reduce expenses by handling it in-house. We saved about $35,000 to $40,000 a year by taking back our own Special Ed transportation program.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Smith: One item that has to do with finances is enrollment. A lot of people choose to send their children to school elsewhere, and that’s a concern.
We also have a good number of people who choose to come here, whether it’s for the immersion program or a variety of other reasons.
We should try to make our schools as attractive as possible, with different enrichment programs.
Q. Did you support the idea of making Morris a full language immersion school? How do you feel it is working out?
Smith: That was a very difficult issue. Initially they recommended that we reconfigure by grade level so there would be a mixture of immersion classes and traditional classes at both school sites. That generated a lot of strong emotion. So we decided to make Morris just be the immersion program, and bring all the [other] kids to Dow’s Prairie. I felt that was a worthy compromise.
About 75 students were significantly impacted; they were attending Morris School and were then switched to Dow’s Prairie. For some of them, it was a difficult transition, but for the most part, the kids were accepted and have been integrated into the group. It’s gone very smoothly.
Q.  Do you believe that the Citizens Oversight Committee should meet more than once a year, or have any more authority than it already does?
Smith: I feel confident that the system the way it’s set up will work efficiently. The committee is functioning within its realm and within its authority.
Q. What would you do to improve staff morale?
Smith: Is there a problem with staff morale? It’s important that everybody feel that their opinions are looked at and that their contribution is important.  When our financial and employment situation is more secure, as this budget situation gets dealt with at the state level, and people see that down the road compensation and benefits can keep pace with inflation, that will help.
Q. Parents sometimes transfer their children in other districts, to take advantage of what they perceive as better educational opportunities. What would you do to improve education for McKinleyville’s gifted children?
Smith:  That’s one of the things we’re trying to look at as a board: what are different enrichment programs that we can offer? The problem is always funding.
The site committees and PTO’s have a lot of latitude to think outside the box, and on a local level to be able to implement programs and come up with funding ideas for them. As a board, we encourage that greatly, and support it as much as we can.
Of the 40 people who have transferred into our district from other districts, about 30% of them said on the application that they were coming here specifically for the language immersion program.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Smith:  Once a decision is made and once a vote is passed, it is important that the board as a whole support it. During the public comment period, if I’m opposed to something I’ll talk about it, but once the decision is made, that’s the will of the board, whether it passes five to zero, or three to two.
One policy I supported was keeping a 10% level of funding in our reserve account, even though state law requires that we only have a 3% reserve. Over the years, as a board, we’ve stuck to our guns about keeping 10% in reserve.
Within the last year, we had to make a transfer out of our reserves in order to cover payroll costs. If we did not have that 10% reserve, we would not have been able to meet those needs.
Q. What is your occupation?
Smith: I own an insurance agency.
Q. How long have you lived in McKinleyville?
Smith: Since 1989. Just over 20 years.
Q. If re-elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make?
Smith:   We need to take a hard look at the different programs that we outsource, and see if there are things we can handle in-house that would net us savings.
Parents should be able to go on to a website and get information about how their child is doing. There should be a seamless, instantaneous way for parents to get that feedback.

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