Students Recognized for Success in College-Level Spanish Course

The Lemon Grove School District has offered the Advanced Placement program for middle school students since 2008.

They came to school at zero period every day and worked Saturdays to earn college credits. Enrolled in one of the few middle school programs in California to offer Advanced Placement Spanish, the youngsters erased the doubts of other districts that believed the high-level courses were too much for middle school students to handle.

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, 12 students were honored by the Lemon Grove School District for their success last year at Palm Middle School in the AP Spanish class and for outstanding performance on the Spanish language advanced placement exam, which showed the students perform as well college students in the subject. Each child received a Certificate of Excellence.

Superintendent Ernie Anastos said the students’ recognition was a credit to their hard work and district leadership over the past four years. He said the advanced program was created with the goal of providing college-level work to students.

“By providing that work for them, they inspired to do more and succeeded in doing more,” he said.

Anastos said the program prepares students for their futures and provides credits for college language requirements, with special studies in Spanish writing, speaking and listening skills. He said the students were motivated and dedicated as they achieved their goals over the years. The program has a 50 percent pass rate that “put Lemon Grove on the map.”

“It is a testament of their focus and the program that was created to provide them with the college-level experience,” he said.

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About this column: Making the Grade features outstanding student activities and school programs in the Lemon Grove School District.


Trustees Take Action to Support Educational Tax Initiatives

ImageStark fiscal outlook is center stage as governing board votes to support Proposition 30 and Proposition 38 to avoid drastic mid-year cuts.

Trustees of the Lemon Grove School Districts unanimously passed a resolution in support of two educational tax initiatives at Tuesday’s governing board meeting. Board members also accepted the 2011-12 unaudited actuals.

Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s “Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act,” stands to avoid a statewide education funding loss of approximately $5.5 billion. Proposition 38, Civil Rights Attorney Molly Munger’s “Our Children Our Future,” calls for an increased personal income tax effective in January 2013 with revenues flowing into the California Education Trust Fund and distribution of funds in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Dr. Gina Potter, assistant superintendent of business service,s said that the upcoming November election is extremely important for public education in California.

Potter said the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and many other education advocates support both Proposition 30 and 38. She said in August, a University of Southern California and Policy Analysis for California Education poll showed 55 percent of voters supporting Proposition 30, and 36 percent opposing it; Proposition 38 showed 40 percent support, and 49 percent opposition.

She added that if both tax measures fail, the LGSD would be punched with a mid-year budget cut of up to $1.7 million.

“Our district has been proactive in dealing with this potential fiscal problem and our board-approved 2012-13 budget reflects a plan to address this possible budget reduction,” Potter said. “Additionally, we are grateful to our staff members for negotiating three furlough days in the event the education tax initiatives fail.”

Potter said the three furlough days would reduce the student school year from 180 to 177 school days if the taxes fail to pass, protecting student’s instructional time as much as possible.

Governing board member Katie Dexter said the CSBA delegate assembly voted to support both propositions after a very lengthy discussion.

“The final rational was that something has to pass and get some money coming back into education,” Dexter said. “Bottom line, support one or support the other. This resolution does not say it is supporting one or the other but supports what the CSBA is trying to do—getting Sacramento moving in the right direction.”

Superintendent Ernest Anastos said he strongly urged the governing board to adopt a resolution provided by the CSBA to support approval of the November ballot tax initiatives.

“Proposition 30 is very significant to all of us and needs all of our support,” he said. “There are concerns if the other initiative passes rather than Proposition 30, trigger cuts will still be activated.”

Pierre Finney, president of the Lemon Grove Teacher Association, said the LGTA is taking proactive steps to keep children in the classroom, not losing academic time, and keeping students learning and teachers teaching by kicking off a phone-bank campaign in support of Proposition 30.

“We will have teachers phone banking every night from now until Nov. 2,” she said. “We may be asking the board and administrators to join us in this effort.”

Marilyn Adrianzen, business services coordinator, said that each year school districts throughout the state have had to make multi-year budget reductions.

“This has caused significant upheaval to our state’s public education system and has forced districts like ours to initiate layoffs, negotiate furlough days, move forward with school closure, reduce or eliminate school programs, assign principles to more than one school and more,” she said.

In presenting unaudited actuals, Adrianzen said multi-year budget reductions amounted to $4.3 million in fiscal year 2012-11, $2.9 million in 2011-12 and $4.3 million in 2012-13.

“We know that in 2013-14 we will be facing more budget cuts,” she said. “Although this is not good news it is evident that our district has placed student learning at the center of our efforts despite our limited resources.”

In a 3-0 unanimous vote, the governing board adopted the resolution in support of both propositions. Trustees Blanca Brown and Larry Loschen absent from the meeting.

Liberty Charter High School Finds New Home at Palm Middle School

Charter school moves from La Mesa to Lemon Grove to expand student population and academic programs.

Just months after being closed by the school district, Palm Middle School is finding new life as the campus of a recently expanded charter high school. After years of searching for a larger location, Liberty Charter High School is calling Lemon Grove home. It aims to train the leaders of the future.

Making the move from La Mesa, Liberty Charter High School offers grades 9-12, and has about 100-123 students per grade level. Its curriculum prepares students to attend any four-year college with prep, AP and standard courses.

Executive director Debbie Beyer said the school trains students to be leaders, academically prepared and ready to take their place as literate citizens in the community and nation.

“We believe we are training the leaders of tomorrow—21st century learners that must have the skills to function in a very different world than the adults around them grew up in,” she said.

Ernie Anastos, superintendent of the Lemon Grove School District, said creating another high school option for students in Lemon Grove is a great benefit to the community. He said about 40 graduates of Palm Middle School will attend Liberty Charter this year.

“It has an excellent track record, both academically and fiscally, and will be a good neighbor,” he said.

Beyer said the school has a diverse student population with a high percentage of English learners, including Arabic speaking students.

“We serve a significant Hispanic population, as well as African Americans,” Beyer said. “We have at least eight languages other than English spoken on our campus.”

Alongside a rigorous academic program, Beyer said there is a leadership program at each grade level and an internship program for juniors and seniors.

“Leadership, literacy and technology are our three distinctive strands,” said Beyer. “We have been approved as a Microsoft IT Academy. Students will leave Liberty with job-ready technical certifications.”

The school is operated by Literacy First Charter Schools. Classes being Aug. 27.

Anastos said the charter school’s arrival is a benefit in light of reduced spending over the past five years due to the state budget crisis. The $300,000 license agreement between the district and Literacy First helped avert the closure of a second school, he said.

With the Lemon Grove Academy for the Sciences and Humanities scheduled to open Sept. 4, the district did not have funds to keep Palm Middle School open and possibly needed to close an additional elementary school.

“Fortunately, Liberty Charter High School was looking for a new location,” Anastos said. “We are using the funds we receive from our licensee, Literacy First Charter Schools, to offset operating costs throughout the school district.”

Beyer said the charter school has looked for a permanent location for the high school since it started. She said the hope is to build a partnership with the school district over years.

“As we’ve grown, we’ve looked for larger facilities that would meet our needs and ultimately our complete needs as we envision building out the entire high school program 9 through 12,” she said.

With a priority for student literacy, its goals include fluency and skilled verbal and written communication, technology, math, science, media, history, arts and contemporary culture. Beyer said the school added a grade each year and consistently grew, with its first senior class last year.

Beyer said Liberty Charter is very pleased with this opportunity to collaborate with Lemon Grove.

“We are eager to be able to develop our programs in a facility that will allow us to build and grow our students and programs,” she said. “We anticipate being a positive influence in the community with both our sports teams and our academic programs.”

Special Needs Program Helps Students Maintain Skills Over Summer

The four-week session offers students with special needs a way to stay on top of skills they are likely to lose during a long break.

With only one more day to go, students in the Extended Year Program at San Altos Elementary danced, sang, played games and held their own special Olympic games.

Bobbie Burkett, director of student services for the Lemon Grove School District, said the four-week program helps maintain the life skills that students with special needs are likely to lose during a long summer break.

Over the past four weeks, 18 staff members worked with 55 students with all varying levels of physical and/or learning disabilities and conscience levels.

She said that with a great student-to-teacher ratio, students get the tools they need to succeed, keep up to date and prepare for the upcoming school year—which starts in just about six weeks.

Lessons for the preschool through middle school students are a blend of computer learning programs called Unique and Splash, which offer participants a hands-on, visually stimulating experience. Everything a student does focuses on science, water, sensory skills and current events.

“The great thing about Splash is that it brings the lessons down to their level, teaching them to work well together as well as the functional life and social skills,” Burkett said.

Using the Olympics as the topic for their current events activity, preschoolers made American and Olympic flags, torches and hats.

Students in grades one through three focused on science, water, the Olympics and nutrition. Grades four through six are more academic, Burkett said, and work on a variety of activities that incorporate science and English language arts.

Teaching fourth through sixth graders, Cathy Glenn held her own Olympic games, getting her class outside participating in bowling, target practice, cycling and tennis. She said all of her activities during the summer dealt with preparing her students for every aspect of going to middle school.

Glenn said events were created with the student’s needs in mind.

“For cycling, we are using small, rolling push carts,” she said. “And even though the kids wanted archery, we are using ring toss.”

Glenn said focusing on the student’s transition into middle school covered a broad range of activities and one-on-one attention to social skills.

“We have one young man getting ready to head into middle school and his favorite role characters are very young for his actual age,” she said. “But through a lot of talk, he has moved up from Buzz Lightyear to Ironman. Though it might change from day to day, he will have an easier social transition.”

Burkett said everything is a little different at San Altos, but that the program has great value to student who might have a hard time understanding rules and learning expectations.

“Some students require an environment more structured and are provided objectives that help keep a student engaged,” Burkett said.

Trustees Extend Superintendent’s Contract; District Bids Farewell to Glenn Heath

The district’s director of human resources is retiring after 23 years of service.

Shouts of “four years more” filled the Community Center as Lemon Grove School District trustees extended Superintendent Ernie Anastos’ contract until 2016. With his current employment agreement expiring next June, a 5-0 vote added three years of service.

The contract comes with no salary increase this year. As with all employees for the past few years, the agreement includes furlough days—nine over the past two years. His total compensation for the past year was $191,016.

The district reviews contracts annually, and three- to five-year contracts are a common practice, Anastos said.

With the same vote of approval from the governing board, Dr. Gina Potter, assistant superintendent of business services, will remain for three more years. Her annual salary remains the same as it’s been for five and a half years—$129,492. She voluntarily gave 12 furlough days over the past two years to help the district get through the tough economic times.

Potter said she loves her work, and given the “tumultuous budget times” her focus is to keep the district fiscally solvent while still providing high-quality education.

“I find our school district to be a well-kept treasure and secret in that we are very much a family of students, parents, and staff members that strive each day to ensure that students come first,” she said.

With the new joint-used county library poised to open in early 2013 on the Lemon Grove Academy campus, Anastos said the intention is to build on the momentum with the many projects and programs on which the district is working.

“We will continue to develop our skills and focus on more deeply engaging students in their own learning,” he said. “We intend to maintain our record of continually improving student performance.”

With more than 40 years in the field of education, Anastos has been with the district for seven years in November. He came to Lemon Grove after 20 years in the Sweetwater Union High School District, where he served as an area superintendent. Prior to her current position, Potter was principal of Mount Vernon Elementary, and has been with the district for 10 years this month.

And in a fond farewell, the district honored Glenn Heath, the human resources director who is retiring after 23 years of service. Heath received a Shining Star Award in recognition of his dedication to children and exemplary leadership.

Anastos spoke of Heath’s integrity and professionalism, saying he had accomplished tremendous things for the district. Honoring his service to his hometown was “a long goodbye and a great celebration.”

“He is a true gentleman, and he has an amazing heart,” Anastos said.

Heath began his education as a student in Lemon Grove. During that time, he said he made the decision to devote his life to education, and called his time with the district “an honor and a privilege.”

Heath worked as a principle for 20 years, and ended his tenure as the district’s director of human resources.

“It’s a great community, it’s a small community,” he said. “The parents and the students are what made working for this district so special to me.”

The district is currently in the selection process for a new director of human resources.

Lemon Grove School District Passes Balanced Budget

The district closed the gap on an estimated $4.3 million shortfall.

Grappling with a state fiscal crisis that has forced repeated reductions, the Lemon Grove School District Trustees adopted a balanced budget for the coming year, trimming even more from its $28.7 million current budget to close the gap on an anticipated $4.3 million deficit.

The five-member governing board voted 4-0 to pass the $27.8 budget for 2012-2013. Board president Jay Bass was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.

In May, Gov. Brown revised his 2012-13 budget proposal to estimate the state’s budget gap at nearly $16 billion—a $6.5 billion increase over the January estimate. Brown is counting on about $6 billion in revenue if his November tax initiative passes. But if voters reject the tax measure, $4.8 billion in school cuts will be triggered.

That would mean a midyear cut of $1.6 million for the district.

A declining enrollment pattern has cost the district about 861 students since 2000-01, which resulted in a loss of approximately $5.3 million in funds.

The projected enrollment in the K-8 district in the coming school year is 3,718 students across six schools. The new Lemon Grove Academy for the Sciences and Humanities, which combines the middle school and Golden Avenue Elementary School campuses, becomes the largest school in the district serving more than 1,000 students.

Dr. Gina Potter, assistant superintendent of business services, said estimated numbers are difficult to meet as the district continues to deal with budget crisis years.

The district was able to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind—something that has become difficult in the current economy—even without actual numbers being closed out for the current school year.

“Every year this is a challenge for most districts nowadays,” she said.

Potter said in order to reach the $4.3 million reduction, the budget shows a savings of $531,484 achieved through lay off notices approved by the board.

Monday, however, the district and the Lemon Grove Teachers Association reached a tentative agreement that would restore eight permanent and probationary certificated teachers who had received pink slips. The union has tentatively agreed to three furlough days that bring an estimated savings of $325,000. Members will vote on whether to ratify the agreement June 17.

Budget reductions include:

  • $1.3 million in operational and funding realignment
  • $212,079 in temp certificated layoffs
  • $78,603 in administrative restructuring
  • $325,000 in negotiated furlough days
  • $250,000 in school closure
  • $275,000 in leasing out Palm Middle School (2012-13 only)
  • $1.657 million in spending down the reserve monies approved by trustees this school year in anticipation of 2012/13 midyear cuts, pending the governor’s tax initiative

Potter said this allocation pending the governor’s tax initiative will rise to meet the $4.3 million target after union negations and actual numbers are complete. She said the district has planned for midyear budget cuts and will hit its target “spot on.”

During the June 5 budget workshop, Potter said the governor’s tax proposal is ambiguous and leads the public to believe its passage will add $6 billion to school funding. She said it only closes an educational funding gap that already exists.

If the tax initiative fails, midyear cuts are imminent and the district will have a cumulative total of $7.47 million in within-fiscal-year deferrals—nearly 60 percent of revenues received late in the year or the following school year.

Board member Katie Dexter requested that $22,000 found in savings costs of fingerprinting, district memberships and the elimination of the Family Literacy program be divided among the six schools, per enrollment size, for school supplies.

“It is only a little bit more money,” she said. “But it is one more pencil per kid.”

Little Work for Local Business in Proposition W Projects, Supporter Says

The $28 million school bond measure has resulted in one contract for a Lemon Grove company.

A supporter of Proposition W, the $28 million school bond measure passed by voters in 2008, is upset that little of the money has been used to benefit local business. He says the Lemon Grove School District assured residents that they would have opportunities for employment.

Robert Robinson, president of the Broadway Heights Community Council and an organizer for Proposition W, made the complaint to the school board at its May 22 meeting.

He told the five-member panel that he was disturbed a community benefits agreement for hiring locally had not been put in place.

“The bottom line is … only $126,688 has been awarded to the local community,” he said. “Somebody has been sleeping at the switch here.”

So far, three bond sales have raised $18 million to repair schools, modernize a middle school and build a new joint-use community library. The first bond sale raised $5 million, most of which was used to pay off debt for past construction and energy-saving projects.

The district had been using money from its general fund to pay that debt.

Later bond sales raised $8 million and $5 million, respectively, to fund construction on the long-awaited library and revamp Lemon Grove Middle School, which will open in the fall as the Lemon Grove Academy for the Sciences and Humanities.

The district awarded the $10.4 million project—the first new construction out of the 2008 measure—to San Diego-based Legacy Building Services Inc.

Robinson said the district is dealing with a large contractor that has a built-in audience when contracts are bid out through the San Diego chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America’s AGC San Diego Online Plan Room.

He called Legacy’s bid announcements in AGC and The Daily Transcript a “symbolic gesture.”

“Legacy has done the Lemon Grove School District an injustice,” he said. “I have dealt with Legacy and the AGC for more than 30 years, and this is just how they operate.”

Robinson said AGC’s more than 30,000 member firms “equal nothing less than construction clout.”

Joanne Branch, the district’s project manager, said all public advertising for the design/bid process had been done correctly. She said Legacy advertised for three weeks with seven separate advertisements in public newspapers of general circulation, with three multitrade bid projects advertised over a period of six months.

With 151 bids received, three subcontractors were from Lemon Grove.

“We were very pleased with the coverage that we got,” she said.

Branch said Legacy chose to do specific outreach in Lemon Grove, contacting local businesses twice during the bidding process.

“Each of the 48 Lemon Grove subcontractors listed was personally called by Legacy,” she said. “They knew their trade was available on the street and were provided an opportunity to bid.”

Potter said more than two-thirds of the companies declined due to the large scale of the projects, eight asked for bid documents and only three submitted bids.

Martin Roofing Co. of Lemon Grove was awarded a subcontract for $126,688.

Dr. Gina Potter, assistant superintendent of business services, said Robinson posed good questions, and that she and Superintendent Ernie Anastos have met with him.

Potter said the district is addressing Robinson’s concerns about bringing in money locally by expanding outreach to local contractors and day workers.

local work opportunity link was recently added to the district’s Proposition W website. She said the district is responding to Robinson’s request for day workers gaining employment by placing fliers in local churches and businesses.

“Along with Legacy, we are making an effort to do this as quickly as possible,” she said. “One major hurdle in getting day laborers with subcontractors is that most hired already have a set crew to do the work. I don’t know what the probability is in getting day laborers hired.”

Potter said the best thing for any person or business interested in working with the district on projects is to contact the district directly using the number provided on the website and flier.

“There are other projects that the district might have going on that some might qualify for,” she said. “And the district has the information on all opportunities, not only with this particular design/build project.”

But with two-thirds of the Proposition W bonds cashed out, that may not be for years to come.

Potter said that with the assessed evaluation, the district is unable to execute the full amount of the bond measure—and that it could take 10 to 20 years to move forward working with the remainder of the funds.

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