Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PE............Physical Education

Students have two periods of Physical Education every week in their prep period. Teachers are supposed to provide one class period a week of physical education besides the prep PE. Mark Simmons was the long term PE coach from the early 1980's to 2004 when he moved to Alvarado Middle School. In 2004 Joe Fitzgerald became the coach with the assistance of Coach Zapata. Students must bring a note from their parents if they are required to skip physical activities for a health reason. All students are required to participate in warmup exercises for about 10 minutes at the beginning of every class. Students have instruction on how to play a variety of sports including basketball, volleyball, and tetherball. Before playing they had to learn the rules of each sport. Students also had a month of square dancing. In PE students develop their listening skills, learned to follow directions, and bond with other students while developing good sportmanship skills.

Mark Simmons

Joe Fitzgerald

Chris Zapata

Cuts in Education Funding

Cuts in education funding in the year 2010-1011 have affected classroom supplies for students. Teachers are now going out into the community to procure supples for their students. Second grade teacher, Maureen Tecson, has been a help to many of the Alvarado teachers. Maureen has made it part of her job to find out where to get donated materials teachers and students need. Much of the materials have come from online sources. She enlists the help of her friends and family to vote for her classroom to get books for the class library from Cash for Classrooms and even fruit donated by Del Monte Fresh Produce®. She has also used to get classroom supplies.

Cathy Hampton received confirmation of a donation of approximately 100 fiction books geared specifically to boy readers! Thanks to Maureen and the donors @ donorschoose! Vince Lindain received individual listening centers--cd players with headphones to differentiate reading levels for listening to books for his first graders. A reading carpet to help students focus and have their own personal space on the carpet was funded for Suhky Gill's third grade class. Thanks to a tip from Maureen, Letty Muñoz Gonzalez received a new listening center donated to the class from Chevron. The media specialist, Alisha Valine, received $800 for DVDS for the library from the Donors Choose website. Anita Schumann first grade project was also funded. Maureen's reminder emails has helped Alvarado receive about $3000 of donated supplies.

Teachers have always applied for grants to support special programs. New Haven Unified School District has a mini grant program and many teachers apply for these. Teachers have always applied for big grants but not for regular classroom materials. Kim Pratt wrote a grant to fund the B-Wet science program at Alvarado and now it's also at Pioneer. The B-Wet grant is a huge grant. However, it's a sign of the tough financial times when teachers have to go the extra mile to get ordinary classroom supplies.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Science prep is once a week, but teachers are required to also teach science in their classroom. However, students are not tested on the California State Tests until the 5th grade. Originally the science classes were held by the science teachers going around from classroom to classroom with a cart for their supplies. After a couple of years, a new wing was built that included a science classroom.

Below are photographs of children's science projects for the science fair. The science fair was a yearly event. Usually the 4th and 5th graders were required to complete a science project for the science fair. Liz Marotta Jordan, Holly Scroggins, and Angela Usher are former science teachers. Bernadette Muhlestein was the long time science teacher from the early 1980's to 2006 when she retired. In 2008 Kimberly Pratt became the science teacher. Ms. Pratt brought the B-Wet grant to Alvarado.

Science Fair

Kim Pratt on the boat in 2010 with the B-Wet Grant.

Balanced Literacy: Learning to Read at AE

According to Carmen Jorgenson, Balanced Literacy is a complex concept. Just as the octopus, it has many parts. If you ask 10 people what Balanced Literacy is, you might get 10 different definitions and understanding. The ultimate goal of balanced literacy is to develop proficient, independent readers and writers. It is all based on a premise called "Gradual Release of Responsibility."

Through read aloud's, shared reading, modeled writing, and interactive or edited writing, teachers model strategies that good readers and writers use. Teachers do a lot of the work during these lessons to share their own thinking, and to get children to understand the strategies and how to apply them. Teachers provide direct explanations about the strategies, think aloud to foster metacognition, and facilitate peer learning through shared texts and partner talk about those texts.

During the school day, students are given the opportunity to practice these strategies during small group teacher-directed guided reading or writing. This setting provides the appropriate amount of support each student needs to be able to apply the 'focus' strategy.

Then during times when the child is reading or writing alone, (s)he practices the taught strategies independently. Teachers monitor this independent practice time by conferring with the students to see how they are applying the strategies. During the conferring, teachers can evaluate a child's progress, reteach a strategy, and/or validate what a student is using and why to help develop more metacognition.

It's like teaching a child how to ride a bike. The child watches someone ride a bike as the first step. Then with the support of someone literally holding up the bike and the child peddling, the child attempts to ride a bike. The adult is still doing a lot of the work. Pretty soon the child can ride almost by himself with an adult just holding onto the seat, or there as moral support. The child is doing most of the work. Pretty soon he can ride the bike by himself.

Yes, comprehension (meaning) is the focus of all reading and writing instruction. All proficient readers read for meaning. Writers write to express their thoughts - creating meaning. Yes, there are separate skills that can/must be taught to assist students as they learn to read and write for meaning. Teaching students how to comprehend what they are reading is a heavy task. It includes everything from reading to learn information, to reading to understand the plot of an author's story, to understand the inferences and opinions in a text. It's a very complicated, higher-level thinking process.

Another aspect is teaching students how reading and writing are so closely connected. Literate people use what they know about reading and writing interchangeably.

Carmen Jorgenson is a former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and principal. She is an active member of the Alameda County Reading Association. Semi-retired from New Haven, she continues to work as a reading support teacher. Mrs. Jorgenson has worked with Dr. Adria Klein who has trained Alvarado teachers in Balanced Literacy. Dr. Klein was a force at the very beginning of the California Early Literacy Learning project (CELL) in 1994 and later ExLL (Extended Literacy Learning) both which were teachings training tools.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alvarado API Scores Continue to Climb

The annual API, Academic Performance Index, results, released on September 15th 2010, by the California Department of Education, are scores of between 200 and 1,000 assigned to all schools and districts in the state, based on the results of standardized tests taken each spring. A minimum score of 680 is required to meet federal accountability guidelines, and the state’s goal is 800. Alvarado made a 9 point gain with a score of 835 over last years 826.

However Alvarado will be in Program Improvement due to the scores of one subgroup who did not met the required minimum score. All schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are identified for Program Improvement (PI) under the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA is also known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act which was signed in 2001. This act required states to come up with their own performance testing, thus the API. The Federal part is AYP to make sure that disadvantaged students namely Title I students received an ever improving education. In California, PI is the formal designation for Title I-funded schools and districts that fail to make AYP for two consecutive years. At Alvarado the subgroup that failed this year is not the same subgroup that failed last year, but it still puts Alvarado in Program Improvement. Alvarado will be required to institute programs and policies to improve their scores.

The ESEA (NCLB) requires all states to implement statewide accountability systems based on challenging state standards in reading and mathematics, annual testing for all students in grades three through eight, and annual statewide progress objectives ensuring that all groups of students reach proficiency within 12 years. Assessment results are disaggregated by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency to ensure that no group is left behind (NCLB). Districts and schools that fail to make AYP toward statewide proficiency goals are subject to improvement and corrective action measures. Keep in mind that only schools which receive federal funding, Title I schools, are subject to Program Improvement. Public schools and charter schools who do not receive federal funding are not in danger of going into Program Improvement even if they do not make their required AYP.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Speech/Language Program at AES

The Speech/Language Intervention program has been working with qualified students since the early years of Alvarado Elementary. Once a child meets specific criteria, it becomes a federally mandated service. The service model and specific goals will vary for each child. The teacher, parent, and school specialists (Resource Specialist, School Psychologist, Speech/Language Specialist) all have a part in developing the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student. This IEP is a living document that grows, and is modified and/or enhanced based on the individual child’s needs. All of this is only done with the parents prior written permission.

How does a child qualify for such help? A child is evaluated by a credentialed and certified Speech/Language Specialist, to determine if the child meets the state educational code criteria. The child’s scores need to fall at or below the seventh percentile compared to other children their own age. The areas the Speech/Language Specialist evaluates are: Articulation (how sounds/words are pronounced); Voice (the sound quality of the child’s voice: harsh, breathy), Fluency (the fluidity and smoothness to the speech without stopping and starting: pppplease pppass the sssalt), and Language. Language is complex and covers many areas. It can include: difficulty labeling thing; difficulty understanding what was just heard; processing information; following directions; understanding and using vocabulary correctly; defining, comparing and contrasting ideas; and expressing ones self effectively, these are just a few things that the Speech/Language Specialist addresses. For those students that are not able to communicate orally, the child will be taught sign language, use pictures or low-high tech communication devises. These are designed and implemented by the Speech /Language Specialists.

Once the evaluation is completed, the Speech/Language Specialist, with the input from the team mentioned above, write goals and objectives for the upcoming calendar year on the IEP. The specialist will give progress updates 3 times a year and a review every year. On the 3rd year, the evaluation is redone, to determine if the child still qualifies for services.

The children are seen anywhere from 2 times per month, for a child who is working on carry-over of his skills into the classroom setting, to 3 days a week. Again, this depends on the child’s developmental levels and the team’s decision on how to best to serve the individual child. The therapy sessions are typically a pull-out model within a small group of similarly aged students.

This post was written by Kathy Jones Mabie. Ms. Mabie is a long time and well respected Alvarado Speech and Language Specialist. She is a contributing force in all of the Alvarado school community activities as shown here in one of her Halloween costumes.

Kathy Mabie

Monday, July 5, 2010

Alvarado Conquers Mission Peak

Staff 2010 Summer Fun

Photo Courtesy of Vince Lindain

Click on the photo to enlarge

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Cheri Benafield

Congratulations to Cheri Benafield AE's Assistant Principal. Cheri will be the new principal at New Haven Unified's Pioneer Elementary for the year 2010-2011. Cheri has been at AE for about ten years. She came to AE as a Reading Specialist and quickly moved up to Assistant Principal. In 2009 she was awarded administrator of the year for the district. Everyone will miss the warmth and skill Cheri has shown with students, staff, and parents, but all wish her happiness in her new position.

Anita Schumann reading on the lawn to her students for Read Across America.

Congratulations to Anita Schumann Alvarado's 2010 Teacher of the Year. Anita Started as an teacher's aide with Alvarado. She went back to school, received her credential, and began her career as a teacher at Alvarado. She is knowledgeable, skilled, consistent, and a leader of her fellow teachers.

Anita on Halloween

ManYee Desandies: Teacher of the year 2009
Congratulations on your retirement in June, 2010.

Ruth Houseworth: Congratulations on your retirement in June 2010. Thanks for sharing your creativity and skills with AE staff and students.

Joe Sefcheck: Congratulations on your retirement in June 2010. Thanks for all the years of service in New Haven Unified School District.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Death and Life of the Great American School System

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch is a look at many attempts to make the public school system work for all students. She is a former Assistant Secretary of Education and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. This is a scholarly work with statistics to back up her change of heart from Choice to support for the neighborhood public school. "With so much money and power aligned against the neighborhood school and against education as a profession, public education itself is placed at risk." She makes the point that community schools allow the public to engage in discussions with their neighbors which is the very basis of our democracy. She defines how charter schools, testing, and the business of education has become a cottage industry in the United States. Often it's about making money, not about what is best for children and their schools. The history of Alvarado Elementary, as shown on this blog, clearly shows it is a long standing community school.

After retiring from 25 years of teaching,
I am well aware there were many programs developed to improve students academic success. Here are some of the programs, often thought of as "silver bullets", designed to lead to superior student success that I have seen, personally used, or participated in developing. Some of these were in other districts and I am sure there are many more programs. Some are a renamed combination of strategies. Some of these address the big picture such as Strategic Planning; some address what happens in the classroom, basic teaching strategies; and some address both, such as No Child Left Behind.

*Split reading
*Phonics only
*Open Court
*Sullivan reading
*Plan, Do, Review
*KWLH charts
*Whole Language
*Sheltered English
*Interactive Writing
*Terry Johnson Strategies
*CELL California Early Literacy Learning
*California Literature Project
*S.T.A.R.S.S. Successful Teaching of Academic Reading to Struggling Students*Just in Time Teaching
*Rebecca Sitton Spelling
*ExLL Extended Literacy Learning
*IBM Writing to Read - Technology Based
*Reciprocal Teaching
*Word Wall - Glad, Clad, Cell
*Non Fiction Matters
*Read Naturally
*Grouping, Non Grouping,
*Tracking, Non Tracking
Differentiated Instruction
*Buddy Systems-student and teacher
*Conflict Resolution
*Best Practices
*Power Standards
*Strategies That Work
*Technology Based (Road Ahead Grant)
*Literacy Coaching
*Learning Walks
*Writers Workshop
*Character Education
*Reading Recovery
*Balanced Literacy
*Intervention: Before, After, and During School (pull-out)
*Strategic Planning
*Professional Learning Communities (PLC) Collaboration
*Data Driven Instruction, testing
*No Child Left Behind (NCLB)- testing, testing, testing
*Critical Literacy
*Human System Dynamics
*Targeted Instruction

*Race to the Top (Grant)

Some of these ideas are from for profit companies who have sold a bill of goods to superintendents, and they in turn have sold the bill of goods to their school boards. Many of these ideas are about making money for a company. Some work exceedingly well, but they are often limited by the number of children with access to the program or even the materials. Teachers pay a high price in time spent exploring these options after school, in the evening, or even in the summer. Often in the next few years they are dumped for new strategies. Then teachers are off learning new techniques spending more hours and hours in training or in meetings at the district office. The good part is experienced teachers have an arsenal of strategies to pull out when needed. The bad part is good teachers get frustrated with the system and leave teaching. There is only one thing certain about schools and that is "constant change".

Probably the most useful to teachers and students is intervention, which could be in the classroom or Read Naturally or Reading Recovery, and voluntary PLC's. Required PLC's often do not work unless there is a very cohesive staff in most grade levels. If all these worked all the time on all the students, we wouldn't have to have NCLB. The principal's eye needs to be always on the prize. The prize being all children reading on or above grade level. The best people need to be hand picked to do the best job whether it's classroom teaching or some type of intervention. I have seen very experienced and well trained aides successfully teach intervention outside of the classroom. Those aides were very disciplined, allowed no excuses for work not done or lack of effort expended by the students, and worked well as a team. Since little effort is spent training aides this is rare. Usually it is the classroom teacher who has the skill and the discipline, and that skill is not easily replicated. Districts are always trying to replicate good teaching. Can it be done effectively? Each teacher is so unique. It is only each teacher's skill at that time, in that place, with a particular child that makes a child successful. It's what the teacher knows and how they use it to spin it to each child's best advantage. It's one child and one teacher, one on one.
Charter schools, poverty, and disenfranchisement, which includes drug use, are premier issues facing the public school system. Diane Ravitch's book is an attempt to look at what has happened in the past and what should happen in future to save the American public school system. Ravitch does not support President Obama's education agenda for merit pay plans. According to her, "test-based accountability removes all responsibility from students and their families for students academic performance". She is not against private schools or even Charter schools. She is against taking parental support, motivated students, and funding away from public schools. She also examines the success rate of the business or army model used by foundations, such as the Gates foundation, and adapted by some charter schools.

Her last chapter is titled, "Lessons Learned" where she explores options for public schools. This chapter relates how generations of immigrants have adjusted to the American way of life through participation in the free public school system. Teachers and staff have seen this on a daily basis at Alvarado. She believes we should establish a general national curriculum which includes the liberal arts, sciences, physical education, and the social behaviors and skills that make learning possible. When schools are in trouble, then whatever needs to be done to correct the problem needs to be done and it might be different from school to school from community to community.

The author's challenges parents, teachers, and students to go to their law makers.
On National Public Radio she recommended these groups go to their congressmen, even naming George Miller, a powerful voice on the education committee from Contra Costa County, as one who knows little about what really goes on in public schools. Her final conclusion is that it's all about good teachers and good principals. Teachers and principals with experience, knowledge, and empathy. That's the magic.

District Librarian's Photo 1990 to 2011

New Haven Unified School District's Proud Librarians

Click on the photo to enlarge
Composite of District Librarians 1990 to 2011

Carla Colburn, James Logan High School
Martha Utley, Conley Carrabello
Jan Dietrich

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Conflict Resolution program was started to teach students how to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way without having to go to a adult to settle the problem. Students learned leadership skills and had extensive training after school to develop their skills. Students learned to listen and develop empathy for others. Conflict Managers had to give up some of their play time either at recess or at lunch to do their job. In the photo to the left Bernadette Muhlestein supervises conflict manager training.

All the students in every class were taught to give an "I message" to students when they had a problem on the playground or in the classroom. When the program was in fully utilized, there were about 70 conflict managers.

Bernadette Muhlestein and Joan Logue started Conflict Resolution together. According to Joan, "We took a class and had inservice in the process. We had a guidebook for the exact process students were required to follow. As I remember, the Conlict Manager would see a problem, ask them to step into the circle and then say, "What happened" to each of them, one at a time. Then after listening, they would say, "How did that make you feel?" After their answer, the Conflict Manager would ask, "What will make it better now?". If they answer "Don't do that again" or something then the Conflict Manager asks the other if that's OK. If it isn't then they can go to the office to solve it. But if they want it over fast, then they all agree, shake hands and go on their way. And it worked!!!! The Conflict Manager kids were chosen from the higher grades and trained continually. We did a lot of role playing in the class which was always after school. It was a great program!!"

Role playing

The above photo shows Greg Snelling training his Conflict Managers. After Joan retired, Greg and Bernadette did the program. As of 2010 Greg Snelling and Paul Hornbook are the Conflict Resolution teachers. At the end of the the school year all the conflict managers with their conflict teachers went on a special field trip as a reward for all their hard work.

Conflict Managers at Work

Joan and Greg at the Conflict Manager Pizza Party

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Staff Photos 2009-2010 or Memories

Tracie Noriega, Principal
Cheri Benefield, Assistant Principal
Click on the photo to enlarge

Jeff Pickering on end of the year on Facebook: year-end assessments, report cards, Ocean Night, pink and blues, cum's, DRAs for far and below basic, NWEA, enter Data Director, finish up Writers Workshop, year-end picnic, field day, "Oceans" field trip, clean out room and walls. I'm forgetting something... Other than that, the rest of the year is pretty kick-back.

Happy Retirement ManYee
Click on the photo to enlarge

CA Budget Crisis Eliminates Class Size Reduction

Teachers will be giving more than ever next year. According to Rick LaPlant, New Haven Unified School District's Public Information Officer, the school board was forced because of the ongoing state financial crisis to make another round of drastic budget cuts.

The Board approved staff recommendations totaling $3.6 million in new reductions for 2010-11, on top of $1.6 million in reductions previously approved for next year. As a result, class sizes will be larger in kindergarten through third grade in 2010-11, and the District no longer will offer transportation for elementary and middle school students.

The Board approved a recommendation to eliminate four assistant principal positions at the elementary schools, a reduction previously forecast for 2011-12. Starting in 2010-11, there no longer will be assistant principals at Alvarado, Eastin, Emanuele, and Pioneer elementary schools.

This will be a hardship for teachers and students. Many young dedicated creative teachers will lose their positions at a time with jobs are increasingly difficult to obtain. Students in grades K-3 will now have 25 students in their class instead of 20. Those students with home and learning problems will find it more difficult to get the personalized attention they need to be academically successful. Many lower grade teachers who came in with the triads in 1995 for the beginning of class size reduction have never had 25 students at one time. This number of students changes the entire atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers will learn new ways to get the most out of their academic time with students. Teachers in these large schools, as much as 850 children, will have to handle many more disciplinary problems.

One huge role of the assistant principals has been problem solving student's major behavior and lifestyle issues. Assistant principals also keep track of truant students and those who are habitually late for school. They supervise CELDT which is the California English Language Development Test. CELDT testing is required in the state of California. The test is given to students who's home language is not English.

So everyone will be giving more. How much more can teachers and principals can give? Everyone was already giving their all. Are teachers and principals going the way of the tree in The Giving Tree, as a stump, with nothing more to give?

Sunday, February 28, 2010


In New Haven for the last 20 years teachers and students had a daily prep. Prep is Library/Media, Music, Physical Education, and Science. Due to the requirements of the law, Physical Education was twice a week. The rest of the preps were once a week. Students would go to prep with their class. Classroom teachers would use this time to prepare for the day; meet with teachers, administrators, or parents; or gather materials. The prep teachers also had one period a day when they did not have a class. See also, library, music, physical education, science.

The AE Garden

Tammy "Where is our garden?"

Tammy and Bernadette



Around 1995 the garden was started by 3rd grade teacher Tammy Kafin Taylor. The district donated the land behind the 5th grade classrooms. Tammy obtained parents and volunteers from Americorp to build the raised beds. The ground was rototilled by Diandre Desandies. The first crop was fava beans and there were many many beans. The teachers were asked to adopt a bed for their classroom. The students weed, plant, water, and harvest the crops. Soon many of the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers, ie, Paul Brewer, Paul Hornbrook, Cheryl Konno Speakman, Margo Zanzinger, and Manyee Desandies were all very active in developing the first garden at Alvarado.

As an extension of the garden project, Alvarado received a grant to build the shed as part of the recycling program in the county. The tools, seeds, and wagons were stored in the shed. In an effort to make students and teachers more aware of our impact on the environment, the staff worked on a project to recycle, reduce and reuse paper at AE. Margo Zanzinger made a worm box and used some of the paper to show students how nature can nurture. At first this box was in her room, later it was moved to the garden.

Penny Johnson

As of this date, 2010, third grade teacher Penny Johnson is in charge of the garden. Students are still growing a variety of crops.

The box on the bottom is Margo Zanzinger's worm box used to help students understand the recycle process. The worms found a good home in the garden.