SMMUSD staff tackles disparity issues in all district schools

The beginnings of a multi-year plan addressing the disparity in educational achievement among African American, Latino, white and Asian K-12 students was proposed to members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education on Thursday, May 21.

Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of educational services for SMMUSD, gave a presentation using statistical data of educational performance between those ethnic groups at all SMMUSD schools.

Issues raised during the presentation were those of college preparedness, enrollment in advanced placement classes, grade point average, dropout rates and others.

The average GPA of African American and Latino students were 2.5 and 2.6, respectively, compared to 3.2 for white students and 3.2 for Asian students, according to Deloria’s data. The data also showed African American and Latino students enroll much less in Advanced Placement (AP) classes than their white counterparts.

At Malibu High School, 91 percent of students are white, while only 10 percent are Latino and two percent are African American, according to the school’s demographics.

Deloria said the board’s hurdle is trying to keep up with small changes and take them to a system-wide level.

“Probably more difficult is changing adults’ mindsets [and] getting everybody thinking in the same direction that we’re the ones responsible for student learning and if a student doesn’t learn, it’s on us,” Deloria said. “That’s difficult work to do and it takes time.”

Deloria’s presentation outlined what the schools in the district were already doing to help solve the achievement gap, and also gave suggestions to the board as to what can be done moving forward.

The data did not only show disparities in education. Deloria’s research found that Latino and African American students were not meeting fitness standards when compared to white students.

Several attendees spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, many to give their approval of the program. However, some community members were not satisfied with the plan brought forth by SMMUSD staff.

Tynesha Williams, mother of a student attending Santa Monica High School, focused more on the what the data presented suggested about a student’s psychological well-being.

“I feel like this program is putting a label on my kid that is not helping his self-esteem,” Williams said. “It’s telling him that he is different, that he is incapable of achieving like the other kids, and he needs to be pulled out for several hours a day … and be separated from the other students.”

Joan Krenik, member of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council, was complimentary of SMMUSD staff and showed faith in their research.

“I believe [the SMMUSD staff] are best positioned to evaluate the options that will complement the existing programs and recommend next steps,” Krenik said. “I urge you to follow their guidance.”

Board member Craig Foster, a Malibu resident, sympathized with the members of the community who were displeased with the data presented by SMMUSD staff, and said the achievement gap was not going to be fixed overnight.

“I’m extraordinary happy with the intervention that we’re putting in place,” Foster said. “We really are doing great things. This is not moving the desk chairs around. This is making substantive changes to the way our children are going to learn.”

At the beginning of the meeting, several retirees who worked with the district were honored by the board. Highlights from their careers were read and those who were in attendance received rounds of applause from the audience.

Several former employees of Malibu schools were honored, including track coach John Cary, former assistant principle Wendy Wax Gellis, library assistant Denise Peak, founding member of the Shark Fund Maureen Bradford, and others.

The next SMMUSD board meeting will be held at 4 p.m Wednesday, May 27, in the district office.

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Residents tour Malibu homes for a cause

Signs like this one guided participants of the Malibu Cook's tour to each Malibu Methodist Nursery School volunteer, where they gave information on various sections of each house.

Signs like this one guided participants of the Malibu Cook’s tour to each Malibu Methodist Nursery School volunteer, where they gave information on various sections of each house.

Imagine being picked up by a vehicle and driven through the hills of Malibu. The vehicle drops you off in front of a large house, you’re welcomed by a volunteer and you stroll inside.

You’re guided through sections of the house and given tidbits of inside information — how the house was built, where pieces of art came from, etc. — as the panoramic ocean views, open floor plans and apartment-sized bedrooms leave you speechless. At the end of the tour, you’re treated to food from a local eatery.

Now imagine doing that four times, through four different houses.

Luxurious Malibu houses were open to 300 people for the 29th annual Malibu Cook’s Tour on Saturday, May 9.

Participants received small, yellow “passports” that were stamped at each location of the tour. The booklets contained information on each house and the food that would be served when they arrived.

Pravina Somani, owner of one of the homes, said it was overwhelming having strangers walk through her house, but she did not seem to mind.

“I didn’t expect so many people, but it’s wonderful,” Somani said. “I love it.”

This bar was made in the style of one found at TGI Fridays, the restaurant where the owners of the Bluff Top house first met.

This bar was made in the style of one found at TGI Fridays, the restaurant where the owners of the Bluff Top house first met.

This was the first time Somani has shown the inside of her home to the public, she said. For the past three years, she has shown the outside as a part of the Malibu Garden Tour.

Malibu Methodist Nursery School organized the event. Parents of children who attend the school and other volunteers from the community helped guide tour-goers, gave facts and told stories about various sections of each house.

Participants received different versions of the itinerary and had to drive themselves to one of the homes. Several shuttles picked up and dropped off people at the three other locations.

Yvonne Bosch, one of the volunteers, said the tour is the main event that helps fund equipment for the school, as well as other projects and scholarships.

“It’s all volunteer work, so 100 percent [of the proceeds] go [to the nursery school],” Bosch said. “It’s really, really good.”

The majority of the tour’s participants were women. Bosch said the reason could be the event usually occurs close to Mother’s Day.

Three participants stand under a gazebo in the backyard of the Baker home during the Malibu Cook's tour on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

Three participants stand under a gazebo in the backyard of the Baker home during the Malibu Cook’s tour on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

Bosch said parents affiliated with the nursery school were asked to think of homeowners they knew who might be willing to open their houses for the event.

“The homeowners are oftentimes related somehow to the school because they sent their children to the school before, and now they’re grandparents or they are aunties of the child who goes there,” Bosch said. 

The tour is limited to 300 people to put less stress on the homeowners, Bosch said. The limit also adds to the novelty of the experience, she said.

“It’s kind of an exclusive club to get a ticket,” Bosch said.

Bonnie Kliger, who lives in Woodland Hills, has been taking in the tour for the past 12 years, and attended Saturday’s event with her husband.

“The idea of peeking into the private lives of Malibu homes [is what interests me],” Kliger said.

Suzanne Faulkner (right) and Milton Brodleit, residents of Encino, get information from Susan Downey during the Malibu Cook's tour on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

Suzanne Faulkner (right) and Milton Brodleit, residents of Encino, get information from Susan Downey during the Malibu Cook’s tour on Saturday, May 9, 2015.

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Gala celebrates hope in the face of tragedy

Michel Shane (left), Laureen Sills (second from left) and three children take the stage to auction off an item during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursdsay, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Michel Shane (left), Laureen Sills (second from left) and three children take the stage to auction off an item during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursdsay, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Friends of the Shane family and other community members gathered at Casa Escobar in Malibu on Thursday, May 7, for the Stars and Sea Gala. 

The event was hosted by the Emily Shane Foundation and sought to raise money for the SEA (Successful Educational Achievement) program, which was started by the foundation and helps struggling children and teens perform better in school.

Emily Shane was a 13-year-old girl who died on April 3, 2010, when she was hit by a suicidal driver as she was crossing the street on Pacific Coast Highway. She struggled in school because of what was deemed a “processing issue,” said Ellen Shane, Emily’s mother. 

During the event, a video montage of Emily’s life was shown. It mostly consisted of photographs of the young girl when she was alive, and two short video clips of her dancing in a talent show and laughing with a friend.

Jonathan Banks, actor from the “Breaking Bad” television series, was Master of Ceremonies for the night. He said he knew Emily since she was 3, and was thankful to those who attended the gala. 

“There over 200 children being helped because you are here tonight,” Banks said while on stage. “It’s no small deal. It’s great.”

Banks said he was one of the kids who “fell between the cracks and needed help” with his education, and added that he was almost 20 when he graduated high school. He said what he remembered most about Emily was her life, putting emphasis on the word. 

“I’ve never seen a child more full of life,” Banks said.

Malibu resident Kevin Cozen bids on a silent auction item during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Malibu resident Kevin Cozen bids on a silent auction item during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Ellen Shane introduced several children who participate in the SEA program. The kids shared stories of their educational improvements as a result of the program. 

Durron Williams, 14, said SEA helped him with his confidence, and spoke in high regard of the mentors who help him and the other kids in the program. 

“The tutors, they don’t just teach you,” said Williams, who was the least shy child when he told his story. “They take their time, they help you learn and they help you realize the things that you can do.”

Kelsey Crispeno, a 20-year-old sophomore at Loyola Marymount University, is a mentor for the program. She said her experience there has been unique and rewarding. 

“It’s been really cool not only to watch my students grow and succeed in their own way, but for me to be able to witness that,” said Crispeno, who has been a mentor for about four months. “I feel like I’ve experienced growth in the way that I see the world in kind of a different way.”

Benjamin Seng paints on a canvas during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Benjamin Seng paints on a canvas during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Ellen Shane said she likes to use mentors who are either in college or recent graduates. However, she has struggled finding students in Malibu. 

“Here in Malibu, I have a really hard time, actually, sourcing enough mentors for the kids,” Ellen Shane said. “There’s always a much longer list of kids who need the help than mentors I can find.”

The gala featured live entertainment from singer-songwriter Taylor Phelan and comedian Mike Marino. Various items were sold in both silent and live auctions throughout the night. 

Some items being sold were paintings, photographs of celebrities, Los Angeles Dodgers tickets and more.

The Shane family established the foundation in 2012 in memory of Emily.

Ellen Shane said she suffers every day, but has learned to cope with the loss of her daughter through her work with the foundation.

“If I defined myself by my daughter’s loss, I would be sad all the time and I wouldn’t be able to cope or function,” Shane said. “But instead … I wanted to do something that would have been meaningful to her and also helping others. That alone lifts me and makes me feel better about the tragedy.”

Jonathan Banks (right) talks to Ellen and Michel Shane during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

Jonathan Banks (right) talks to Ellen and Michel Shane during the Stars and Sea Gala on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Casa Escobar in Malibu, Calif.

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Boy’s Golf: Improvement continues for Sharks

Malibu High School freshman Josh McConnell shot his lowest score of the season on Thursday, April 23, finishing with 104 strokes at the golf tournament at Olivas Links Golf Course.

Coach Cindy McConnell said Josh was struggling with this swing earlier that week, but found ways to improve it for Thursday’s match. She also said his short game and chipping were the best part of his performance.

“He’s also been working hard on his short game, and that definitely showed [on Thursday],” Cindy said.
The golf team’s roster increased to five players on Thursday with the addition of freshman Keaton Osbourne. He was previously ineligible to play, Cindy said.

Osbourne’s debut came with a score of 99, and he shot three strokes better in the back nine compared to the front.

“He has played quite a bit in the past, but not much of recent years,” Cindy said. “So he’s kind of getting back into the game.”

Cindy said she noticed that during practice, Osbourne has a tendency to lose focus. But when she saw him compete in his first match, it was a different story.

“In the match, he was more focused on his shots and his game,” she said. “I would call that his strength [on Thursday].”

Three of the four Malibu players who competed each had one birdie in their rounds of 18.

Freshman Quincy Allen and sophomore Daniel Haines continued their stellar play in Frontier League competition. Allen tied for first place at Thursday’s tournament with a score of 81, and still leads the league in stroke average.

Haines shot an 87, putting him at third place overall in the tournament. But with a stroke average of 86, Haines is second in the league.

“He had a little bit of trouble with putting but he still kept his position, so that was good,” Cindy said of Haines’ performance.

Josh and Haines worked on putting at the practice green after Thursday’s tournament, Cindy said, but she didn’t seem concerned about Haines’ struggles that day or moving forward.

“It’s the nature of the game,” Cindy said. “Some days you putt really well and some days you don’t. Some days you hit the ball better than other days.”

Cindy said her two best players still have a lot of room for improvement.

“They can improve on all aspects of their game,” she said. “They’re still young and getting better and better.”

The Sharks have one more regular season tournament to play before heading to the CIF playoffs. They will play on Thursday, April 30, at the Mountain View Golf Course in Santa Paula.

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Uneven play extends Sharks’ losing streak

The Malibu High School baseball team floundered in two straight games against the St. Bonaventure Seraphs last week, extending their losing streak to five games.

Malibu’s most recent loss came on Friday, April 17, where it committed a comedy of errors that led to several unearned runs for the Seraphs, and a 13-9 loss for the Sharks.

“We just made too made too many mistakes that we just have to cut down on,” second baseman Dylan Ross said after the game.

The Sharks started the game off strong. In the second inning and down by only one run, five hits led to four runs, giving MHS a 4-1 lead.

But in the top of the third, with two outs, the bases loaded and Bronson Bard pitching, Malibu started to unravel.

St. Bonaventure scored two runs, tying the game at 4, after a bad throw to third base by the Sharks. Then a wild pitch by Bard and a missed throw to first put the Seraphs up 6-4.

Bard threw another wild pitch that went right past catcher Trevor Simonian, who couldn’t find the ball for a few seconds, and a Seraphs runner scored. St. Bonaventure scored two more runs for a 9-4 lead before the Sharks got their third out.

Coach Ari Jacobs was visibly upset after the game while speaking about the team’s struggles this season.

“As a coach, watching us break down on things that we constantly prepare for in practice is very frustrating,” Jacobs said after taking a few seconds to carefully choose his words.

Before Malibu’s next at bat, Jacobs had a short meeting with team, which seemed to spark its offense. Simonian drilled a shot to deep left field and drove in two runs.

Going into the fourth inning, the Sharks were down 9-8 and looking to make a comeback. But St. Bonaventure ran off four runs before Malibu knew what hit them, and sealed the victory before one out was recorded at the top of the fourth.

Despite the losing streak, some players on the team are finding silver linings to their struggles. Bard said the team has grown more mature.

“Less people are throwing their helmets, less people are throwing their gloves” Bard said. “We’re just doing a better job on the small things.”

Jacobs singled out Ross as a bright spot so far this season, and said his second baseman is helping the other members of the team to fight through adversity.

“He is always someone that no matter what happens on the field, when Dylan Ross is on your team, it’s fun to watch him play,” Jacobs said. “He is such a battler and such a hard worker. He’s one of those guys that his adversity is being tested and he is just a champion.”

Ross, who is the captain of the team, is looking for improved play from the rest of the players.

“We’ve got a lot to work on as a team,” Ross said. “We work year-round, so we can play much better than this.”

The Sharks will play two games this week versus the Santa Clara Saints starting on Wednesday, April 22.

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Residents collect knowledge at City-sponsored Eco fair

A sign showing the health of various beaches in the Los Angeles area is displayed during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair Saturday, April 18, at Malibu City Hall.

A sign showing the health of various beaches in the Los Angeles area is displayed during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair Saturday, April 18, at Malibu City Hall.

Residents of Malibu and surrounding communities observed Earth Day early with an event at Malibu City Hall on Saturday, April 18, that promoted sustainability and other eco-friendly causes. 

Representatives from several environmental organizations sat at booths to inform attendees of the event. The organizations included the Surfrider Foundation, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Surf and others. 

Jessica Wolfe, who lives in Simi Valley but works in Malibu, attended the event to get information about helping the environment. She said because she spends so much time in Malibu, the city is “my kind of place to take care of.” 

“Especially for the younger generation, it’s good to bring them around this kind of stuff so they know,” Wolfe said. “It’s their world.”

Wolfe recycles, eats locally grown food and uses cloth bags in an effort to be more sustainable in her own life, she said. 

Lucia Corona (right) listens to Ron DeVera of Los Angeles County Waterworks during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

Lucia Corona (right) listens to Ron DeVera of Los Angeles County Waterworks during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

At the event, City employees provided literature and free items for people at its booth. They encouraged attendees to fill out what they called an Eco Passport, which had pages people could stamp if they visited all the informational booths. 

Those who got the entire passport stamped were entered in a drawing to win free merchandise from the City. 

Jennifer Voccola Brown, senior environmental programs coordinator for the City, believes water usage is the biggest sustainability issue that Malibu has to tackle. 

“Ideally, just cut back on the landscaping,” Brown said. “Is it an emergency to have a big, lush lawn? No. Is it an emergency to have water to drink? Absolutely.” 

Jessica Wolfe (right) listens to a representative from Heal the Bay during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

Jessica Wolfe (right) listens to a representative from Heal the Bay during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

Malibu was named in a recent Los Angeles Times article as one of the affluent areas that use more gallons of water than less well-off areas of the state. The city was among four that used more than 150 gallons per capita, or per person, in January, according to the article. 

Brown said it can be difficult to reach those in the community with properties that use more water than others. But she said the City is doing its part to give the right information to those residents. 

“We’re really trying to get the message over to them now that this is [their] first step, this is going to get the biggest bang for the buck if [they] cut that back,” Brown said. “I think once we can reach them and give them that message, we’re going to see a big change.” 

The fair attracted dozens of people through the course of four hours. Refreshments were served and a man playing handmade Native American flutes entertained the crowd with his music. 

Joseph Nitti, resident of Topanga Canyon, attended the event and said he learned a lot from the information about sustainability and the environment provided by the various booths, and felt that it was valuable to him and others.

“I think it’s very important that the education part of this is met in some way, and this seems like a perfect venue to learn about new things,” Nitti said. “I think education is the most important thing because that prompts change.” 

Steven Guerry (middle) and Kevin Torres (right), representatives of The Energy Network, speak to Joseph Nitti, resident of Topanga Canyon, during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

Steven Guerry (middle) and Kevin Torres (right), representatives of The Energy Network, speak to Joseph Nitti, resident of Topanga Canyon, during the Malibu Earth Day Eco Fair on Friday, April 18, 2015 at City Hall in Malibu, Calif.

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Girls track and field dominates after absent runners return

Senior Carorline Pietrzyk runs ahead of the pack during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Senior Carorline Pietrzyk runs ahead of the pack during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

The Malibu High School track and field team is complete again, with many of the girls who were away with the soccer team coming back to compete in the meet on Thursday, April 16. 

Eva Conrad and Abby Blackwood were among those who recently returned to the roster, with Blackwood making her debut performance in Thursday’s meet. 

Coach John Cary said the amount of soccer players being away from the team because of invitationals has impacted Malibu’s overall performance this season. 

“That’s why we didn’t have any relay teams,” Cary said. “All our [good] girls, specifically, are in soccer.”

Blackwood competed in both the 800- and 3,200-meter runs on Thursday, placing second in the two events. Senior Caroline Pietrzyk finished first in both runs. 

Blackwood suggested she didn’t mind coming in second to Pietrzyk in the races. 

“It’s not even like I’m racing against her,” Blackwood said. “It’s like I’m racing with her.”

Sophomore Jaime Le, 15, lands in the sand during the long jump event at the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Sophomore Jaime Le, 15, lands in the sand during the long jump event at the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

The Sharks totaled nine first-place finishes during the meet, according to the unofficial meet results. Pietrzyk and senior Michaela Cosentino had four of the nine top performances. 

The Sharks have more athletes competing this year compared to last, which has brought up the level of intensity and improvement so far this season, Blackwood said. 

“It’s really cool because we have so much more potential,” Blackwood said. “It’s just really nice to know that a lot of people are getting into track and trying it. I think we’re going to have a really strong team this season.”

Conrad said the younger girls on the team have stood out this year. 

“A lot of them have surprised me by doing so well, even freshman,” Conrad said.

In addition to Pietrzyk’s and Cosentino’s performances, other Sharks also excelled in their respective events. 

Freshman Ella McKinna-Worrell won first place in the 400-meter dash with a time of 1 minute, 2.22 seconds, according to the unofficial results. Sophomore Maverick Baglietto finished first in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 18.91 seconds. 

Sophomore Abby Blackwood takes off running during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Sophomore Abby Blackwood takes off running during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Malibu dominated the field events on Thursday, with Cosentino jumping five feet for a top finish in the high jump event. In the long jump, senior Jenna Weinberger easily won with a distance of 14 feet, eight inches. 

Three Malibu athletes finished in the top three in the triple jump. Freshman Sara Cosentino won the pole fault event with a final height of seven feet, three inches. 

Cary said that while the girls’ team continues to perform well, the boys are a different story. The boys will likely not win league this year because of a collective lack of experience, Cary said. 

“We just don’t have any depth whatsoever in our boys team, because they’re all young,” Cary said.

But Cary is confident the girls will have a chance to come away with a league championship, especially now that the whole team is back together. 

“If all of them do as well as they have done in the past,” Cary said, “there’s no reason why we should not win girls’ varsity.”

Junior Madeleine Ward, 17, prepares to jump over a hurdle during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

Junior Madeleine Ward, 17, prepares to jump over a hurdle during the track meet on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at Malibu High School in Malibu, Calif.

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