So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

State architect to increase scrutiny of public school construction projects

Two years after a state audit criticized the California state architect for lax oversight of new school construction, the agency this month introduced a new certification process for schools.

The changes affect public schools and community colleges.

One major difference:  the state Division of the Architect will now review construction throughout the process, rather than waiting until the end, said spokesman Eric Lamoureux. The agency will also ensure that new construction complies with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The state architect will also follow through on problem projects.  The office has long sent letters to school board members reminding them that, as the responsible parties,  they can be sued when their school systems violate state construction laws. But the letters sometimes had no teeth, Lamoureux said; the agency didn't always follow up.


Arts classes growing in some districts -- or at least shrinking more slowly than other courses


Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Patrick Hruby fills palates with paint before the poster-making workshop.

Arts education in some Los Angeles County school districts may actually be growing , according to a story from the online arts news site Classicalite.

The story's co-authors, Logan K. Young and Ricky O'Bannon, analyzed data from the California Education Demographics Office and found that in districts like Burbank, Beverly Hills and Inglewood  "arts-related" teachers in the 2010-2011 school year represented a larger portion of the total teaching pool than they in previous years.

They said that the 10 L.A. County school districts they tracked increased the number of  arts classes and arts teachers on staff between 1997 and 2007, when the recession hit. 

But they also outlined the challenges of gathering data that tracks the prevalence of arts education in the state. Among the problems:


Sneak peek at new California standardized tests

back to school pencils supplies

Photo by c.a.muller via Flickr Creative Commons

Say goodbye to the Number 2 pencil. California moves toward computers for standardized tests.

California's STAR tests, the state's standardized tests for public school students, are being scrapped after 16 years.

A new slate of tests are slated to be fully implemented in the spring of 2015. The new tests, administered on computers, allow for more than multiple-choice bubbles. They include boxes where students will write out answers for reading comprehension and math problems in full sentences and paragraphs. The point is to measure critical thinking and writing skills.

“This marks another step forward in the effort to help schools prepare to replace outdated assessments with tests that gauge the kind of critical thinking and deeper learning that comes with a world-class education,” state schools chief Tom Torlakson said in a written statement.

State officials on Wednesday unveiled  a sneak peek of practice problems online. The problems are sample math and English questions for the 3rd through 11th grades.


Rancho Mirage High School gets big arts donation, renames buildings for donor

Courtesy of Palm Springs Unified School District

Helene Galen, third from left, presented a $250,000 check to the Palm Springs Unified District. It's the first in a six-year installment on a $1.5 million pledge.

Rancho Mirage High School got a $1.5 million boost to its arts programs on Tuesday.

Palm Springs Unified School District announced the donation, from Helene Galen, a long-time Rancho Mirage resident and well-known large donor to the University of Southern California. In exchange, Galen gets her name on the school's performing arts center and theater.

They will soon be known as The Helene Galen Center for the Performing Arts and The Helene Galen Theatre for the Performing Arts. This is the first donation Galen has made to a public school district.

The money will establish an endowment fund for the performing arts. It will be used for, among other things, new costumes and instruments for students.

"We're extremely grateful for this support and look forward to even more namings," district spokeswoman Joan Boiko said in an interview. The district has faced major financial challenges and turned to naming donations as a creative way to raise money.


Sequester cuts hit Monrovia Head Start program, others soon to follow

Options Head Start - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Teacher Lawana teaches preschoolers Marissa Arellano, left, and Andrea Castaneda how to snap their fingers during the afternoon session at Options Head Start in Monrovia on Thursday, May 16.

Options Head Start - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Andrea Castaneda sings to a song about a whale after lunchtime at Options Head Start. The school serves low-income families. With automatic federal cuts, the school is losing all 20 of their afternoon slots.

Options Head Start - 3

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Teacher Alma Becerra reads "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to preschoolers. The program prepares kids for kindergarten in math, language, motor movement and building self-esteem.

Options Head Start - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Teacher Angela Gonzalez sings a song with preschoolers before eating their lunch. Although there are other preschools in Monrovia, many families may fall under the income bracket for those schools.

Options Head Start - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Kids pass food around the table for lunch. Each day teachers prepare a lunch with protein, vegetables and fruit.

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Diego Ramirez and his classmates at Options Head Start in Monrovia throw away their own plates after lunch.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Kids wash their hands after lunch, have playtime and reading, then break up into groups. There are 20 slots for the morning session, but returning morning students will have priority.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Samuel Rivera, left, and Daniel Sanchez finish their lunch with orange slices. If parents can't bring their child in the mornings, they will have to find another childcare for their kids.

Options Head Start - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Ellyana Benitez, left, and Briana Melgar brush their teeth after lunch. More than two months after automatic federal spending cuts, Headstart is one of several categories feeling the squeeze in Southern California, including those receiving help in unemployment, housing, and researchers receiving federal funds.

Gina Roscoe has lived in Monrovia all her life. Her four-year-old son, Jose, has attended the Options Head Start program in downtown Monrovia since last November. He’s learned a lot in those six months, according to his mom.

“He came home knowing how to spell his name out … he’s learned a lot from here, colors, shapes, he knows them all,” Roscoe said.

But due to automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration, the school is eliminating its afternoon program in the fall. Jose is among 20 kids who can try to vie for spots that may open up in the morning program, but competition for head start programs is fierce. Options, the agency that runs this and 19 other programs in the San Gabriel Valley, said hundreds of children are on its wait lists.

RELATED: The sequester budget cuts: Southern California's needy begin to feel the effects