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

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

Options Head Start - 1

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Options Head Start - 6

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

Options Head Start - 7

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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.

Options Head Start - 8

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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

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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


Inglewood Unified faces $17.7 million deficit; State Officials to address shortfall, again

Inglewood Unified School District

Grant Slater/KPCC

A student boards a bus maintained by the Inglewood Unified School District on February 28, 2012.

The financially plagued Inglewood Unified School District will hold a press briefing and public meeting today to discuss the district's ongoing money problems. The struggling district, which was taken over by the state last fall, is facing another deficit. This one is $17.7 million.

Currently, the school doesn't have enough money for the 2014-2015 school year.

In December, the state-appointed former leader of the district Kent Taylor resigned after the state discovered Taylor had signed financial agreements with the teachers union and a food company without consulting  state officials. All of this took place before a major financial audit. He was replaced with La Tanya Kirk-Carter, who serving as interim administrator.

The school district has been in trouble for years. After cost-cutting, loans and L.A. County oversight, Inglewood Unified finally requested a state bailout last year.  California lawmakers approved a bailout loan that kept the district from insolvency last summer -- and stripped the 12,000-student district of local control.


What makes a memorable commencement speech?

The college commencement season is in full bloom. But not all of the speeches end up smelling like a rose.

Clichés kill the commencement speech. Ron Solorzano has heard plenty in 15 years teaching at Occidental College. Like: “Find something you enjoy doing and pursue it. This is the beginning of your career. Make sure to network. You can pursue your dreams.”

Solorzano says Motown founder Berry Gordy nailed it six years ago when he concluded his speech with the R&B classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as background music.

Most of the people surveyed for this story didn’t remember their college commencement speaker. Leigh Shelton does: “I graduated from college in 2006. And I went to Louisiana State University and our commencement speaker was Dick Cheney."

Shelton’s Texas Democrat grandparents couldn’t listen to him — they led the family out of the ceremonies a few minutes after Cheney took the microphone.


Arts in schools: Unusual charters use dance, string instruments to motivate students

Renaissance Arts Academy - 1

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Dance Advisor Sarri Sanchez leads a mixed-grade dance class on Tuesday, May 7 at Renaissance Arts Academy in Eagle Rock. The charter school has 350 students ranging from sixth to 12th grades.

Gabriella Charter School - 1

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Fifth grade students in teacher Courtney Alexander's class practice jazz moves that incorporate samba techniques. At Gabriella Charter School most students get nearly five hours of dance per week as part of their normal school day.

Renaissance Arts Academy - 2

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After school students practice as part of different ensembles and orchestras that perform.

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Music Advisor Sharon Ray leads a seven-student class on Tuesday afternoon. All students take classes in singing, music theory, music lab and percussion.

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Ninth grader Rose Webster, left, hugs eighth grader Celina Einem after a dance class at the end of the day. Students each have a concentration in orchestral string or modern and contemporary dance.

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Tenth grader Matteo Celada rolls up carpet where humanities and math classes are held. Underneath the carpet is a sprung floor for dance.

Gabriella Charter School - 2

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Students rest as they get jazz class instruction at Gabriella Charter School.

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After classes each day, students clean and clear the open-area classroom space of furniture so that orchestras and dance ensembles can practice. The school is in a former department store.

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Tenth grader Emmet Webster and twelfth grader Aidan Faith play double bass before an ensemble practice after school.

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Music Advisor Eric Guinivan leads an orchestra practice. Guinivan is part of the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Percussion Quartet.

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The school is a 22,000 square-foot open classroom and has stage lights hanging from the ceilings.

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The Eagle Rock public charter was named a 2013 California Distinguished School in April. The school won the same recognition in 2009.

When Arturo Haro enrolled in Renaissance Arts  Academy in the sixth grade, his music world consisted of reggae, rap and hip hop.

Then teachers handed him a viola. When he first carried the instrument home to Highland Park, some of his neighbors thought it was a gun.

"I honestly never knew what a viola was until I came here," said Haro, now a junior. "Having that instrument in my hands, it was like, wow, I’ve never had that feeling before."

Learning the instrument has helped him see life differently. At home, he now listens to classical music to help him focus. His grades have improved and his teachers said he's become a more serious student.

Renaissance Arts is an unusual charter school that incorporates string instruments and dance into its everyday curriculum. It is one of a handful of charter schools in L.A. Unified that are using arts not to create the next generation of artists, but to inspire regular students to stay in school.


A teaching approach for slow learners gaining wide appeal

Library Literacy - 9

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Alezander Duran reads "Flyboy of Underwhere" by Bruce Hale. A teaching method used for slow readers increasingly helps all students.

Want to help your kids improve their reading skills over the summer? You may want to try a teaching approach designed three decades ago for slow readers – educators are having success using it with all students.

Reciprocal teaching, deconstructs the reading process into four components:

  • Predicting, which is skimming a sentence, paragraph or passage for a sense of the topic;
  • Questioning, which involves asking questions about the material as you read;
  • Clarifying, which is wondering about information you did not comprehend by reading ahead or asking a teacher, parent or friend;
  • And summarizing, which is recalling the material you just read.

Sounds complicated, but it’s really about sitting down with your kids and reading something aloud with them and interjecting with the occasional question, such as “what do you think will happen next?” or “do you know what that word means?” or “what has happened so far in the story?”