Southern California -- this just in

Category: Education

Senior LAUSD officials knew of child abuse claims, lawyers say

Robert Pimentel appears at his arraignment in January in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Credit: Jeff Gritchen /Getty Images

Senior LAUSD officials were allegedly aware of parent complaints in 2009 about a Wilmington teacher who was charged in January with abusing children over an extended period of time, say attorneys who represent alleged victims.

The latest allegations concern the case of Robert Pimentel, 57, who has been charged with molesting 12 students at De La Torre Elementary School. Pimentel has pleaded not guilty.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials had previously acknowledged Pimentel’s principal was aware of allegations in 2002 and 2008. The principal’s alleged failure to act was cited as reason for her removal by L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. Both Pimental and Principal Irene L. Hinojosa resigned as the district was preparing to fire them.

The superintendent said in January that he did not know whether allegations against Pimental went higher than the principal.

On Thursday, attorneys alleged the allegations reached senior officials, namely Holly Priebe-Diaz, a veteran district mediator, and Linda Del Cueto, who oversees instructional programs in the San Fernando Valley. In 2009, she was one of eight top regional administrators across the nation’s second-largest school system.

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Minority science program at Children's Hospital receives endowment

A rigorous science program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles aimed at encouraging minority students to pursue a career in the field received an endowment this month that should fund the program for years to come.

The Latino and African-American High School Internship Program selects 16 students each year from around Los Angeles County. Under the watch of professionals, they conduct their own research in laboratories at the hospital's Saban Research Institute.

The endowment, from longtime hospital supporters and philanthropists Lori and Ted Samuels, continues the couple's support of the program. They provided seed money to launch it in 2005. The exact amount of this month's endowment was not released.

The program will be renamed the Samuels Family Latino and African-American High School Internship Program. Dr. Emil Bogenmann, the program's founder and director, said the generous donation is essential to their mission.

"This gift makes it possible for our intern program to continue providing opportunities to local minority students for decades to come,” he said.

Bogenmann, a Swiss-born molecular scientist, began the program after he recognized a lack of diversity among students in a similar one he led for students from the Marlborough School, a private all-girls institution in Hancock Park. He decided then to build a program that would aggressively recruit minority public school students from underrepresented areas of Los Angeles County.

Last summer, students conducted research on bacterial meningitis among infants; others studied cancer and HIV. Some analyzed how the human lung develops, while another researched eye tumors.

To be eligible for the program, students must attend school in the Los Angeles or Compton unified school districts or live within their boundaries.

About 100 students apply each year for the 16 spots. The program also provides SAT test-prep, college counseling and financial aid application assistance for the students.

Ted Samuels serves as the co-chair on the hospital’s board of trustees. Lori Samuels serves on the executive committee of the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. She is also chair of the education committee and a member of the board of overseers for the Huntington Library.


Bear spotted outside home in Glendale neighborhood

Hey, Jimmy Fallon -- Burbank isn't good enough for you?

Suspected cocaine trafficking fugitive arrested in Northridge

--Stephen Ceasar

LAUSD considers allowing students to enter magnets all year long

Officials are working to set up a system that would allow students to enter popular magnet programs all year long in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The revamped admission process, previewed at Tuesday’s school board meeting, would address a long-standing problem: Programs are oversubscribed during the once-a-year admissions process, but underenrolled during the subsequent academic year.

Currently, there are 172 magnet programs in the nation’s second-largest school system. On the whole, they are among the top academic performers in the school system, in large measure because they attract some of the most motivated students and families.

L.A. Unified typically has had to turn away thousands of students — many of whom have migrated to independently operated charter schools instead. And yet, about 12% of magnet seats are vacant.

The vacancies are due to a variety of factors, including students moving or leaving the program. Some magnets also are less popular. And sometimes families apply to magnets but ultimately choose another schooling option.

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L.A. Votes: Wendy Greuel faces questions on pensions, labor support

 Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel speaks to media on March 6.

Labor support and pensions for city workers continue to be a key issue in the Los Angeles mayoral contest, as Wendy Greuel faces fresh questions about her backing from public-employee unions and her stance on a City Council vote last year to trim retirement benefits for new workers.Election Memo

Greuel has long criticized rival Eric Garcetti’s City Council vote to roll back pension benefits for new hires without engaging in collective bargaining with city worker unions. Recent statements that she would push to reopen talks with labor over the decision have raised concerns among some of Greuel’s pro-business backers. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday called on Greuel, the city controller, to appear personally to explain her position.

Also on Tuesday, Greuel accepted the endorsement of the 600,00-member county Federation of Labor, a union umbrella group that fought the pension changes. The controller also backed off an earlier suggestion that she wanted a new round of negotiations over the pension cuts, saying Tuesday she simply wants to meet with labor leaders to discuss ways of avoiding a lawsuit over the matter.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

Columnist Steve Lopez talked to voters in the San Fernando Valley who say Greuel’s labor backing is costing her support in the key, voter-rich region.

Meanwhile, Garcetti and Greuel continued to rack up new endorsements, with Garcetti earning the support of council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian, and Greuel picking up the backing of Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Monica Garcia and newly elected Los Angeles Community College Trustee Mike Eng.

Garcia, who won reelection to the board this month, faces a new challenge as a majority of her board colleagues voted to limit the number of consecutive years a board member can serve as president.

L.A. ELECTIONS 2013: Sign up for our email newsletter   

The first debate of the runoff occurs Wednesday night -- in the city attorney race. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich will face off with Mike Feuer at a downtown meeting hosted by the Italian American Lawyers Assn. and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. Feuer on Tuesday also picked up the endorsement of the county Federation of Labor.


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L.A. Votes: Wendy Greuel faces questions on pensions, labor support   

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-- Seema Mehta

Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel speaks to media March 6. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

New school to teach entrepreneurship is approved, location isn't

A new school to teach middle school students about entrepreneurship was approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Board of Education. But the board stepped back from original plans to place it at Venice High after several parents and students complained that they were told about the campus only last week and that it would siphon off needed space and resources.

Instead, under an amendment by board member Steve Zimmer, the district and Venice community will work together to seek a location.

That didn’t disappoint the school’s founder, Sujata Bhatt, now a teacher at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles. She said she felt “relief and joy” about the plan’s approval and would work with the community to find a suitable home.

 “It’s about creating quality schools for kids,” she said. “I want students to be excited about learning.”

The Incubator School marks the latest effort in L.A. Unified to give more freedom and flexibility to principals, teachers and community members to create their own innovative programs. The new campus will be a "pilot" school, which allows educators to control their curriculum, staffing, schedule and other elements. It is seen as a way to give district educators some of the same freedoms to craft their own schools enjoyed by charter campuses, which are publicly financed but independently run.

But pilot campuses also give administrators greater power to transfer out educators than in traditional schools -- one reason United Teachers Los Angeles has looked carefully at each one approved. Teachers who choose to work at pilot schools must sign a one-year contract that does not place seniority as the top factor in job placement.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the union would review the board decision before taking a position on it. To control the quality of the educational plan, Fletcher said, the union believes that those proposing it should operate it for a year to “get the kinks out” before seeking pilot status and a shorter contract.

Aside from the Incubator School, the board also approved two other pilot schools, Francis Polytechnic High School and WISH Secondary Media Arts School. The approval brings the number of the district's pilot schools to 49.


Parolee accused of shooting Fullerton police officer

Helicopter drops 2,305 golf balls onto school field

Lindsay Lohan has until Monday to turn herself into police

-- Teresa Watanabe


Cal State trustees seek cure for 'bottleneck' courses

They are the courses that can drive students to distraction, not to mention to failure or to drop out altogether.

And the students who do poorly -- either through failing or withdrawing -- are slowing the progress of others working toward graduation.

Addressing so-called bottleneck courses that are high in demand but have a high failure rate emerged as a key to addressing the needs of these students during a discussion by the California State University Board of Trustees, meeting in Long Beach on Tuesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013-14 budget proposal provides $125 million in new funding for the Cal State system, with $10 million directed to boost online learning. Officials said that increasing the use of online classes, Internet-based virtual laboratories and Internet counseling will help.

But identifying which courses are the greatest hinderances is proving more of a problem. Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said about 30 courses across the system have been identified as having a high rate of failure, with students receiving D’s, F’s or withdrawing from school.

But officials said campuses are still gathering information and a report is due in April. Preliminary indications point to lower division, freshman math and U.S. history classes as among the most problematic, said spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp.

“You get students who think they want to be an engineer but can’t hack it,” Uhlenkamp said.

Frequently those students tie up seats before dropping the class or fail and try to repeat it. It was not as clear why so many students are failing history, but reports from the system’s 23 campuses are expected to provide some answers, he said.

Some trustees voiced concern about the headlong sprint toward online learning with no real outline of where money should be spent.

“I’m concerned we’re going to be spending money on yesterday’s ideas,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who attended the meeting along with the governor.

Brown pointed to a pilot project at San Jose State University to offer online math classes in partnership with the Silicon Valley online education start-up Udacity as a system-wide model.

Cal State “has the opportunity to be a leader,” said the governor. “It has much more flexibility than other systems. The door is open and San Jose State is leading the way.”


Helicopter drops 2,305 golf balls onto school field

Lindsay Lohan has until Monday to turn herself into police

Fake Rockefeller case: Ex-San Marino police officer testifies

-- Carla Rivera






L.A. school board targets Garcia with term-limits vote

Monica Garcia
A narrow majority of Los Angeles Board of Education members voted Tuesday to set a limit of two consecutive years for the school board presidency. Unless the new rule is rescinded later, the decision would end the six-year run of current President Monica Garcia in July.

The board president has no greater authority than others on the seven-member panel, but runs the meetings and frequently represents the nation’s second-largest school system. Both supporters and critics have said Garcia wields an outsized influence on district policy and the use of district resources.

The school board elects its president every July to serve a one-year term.

A similar run at Garcia narrowly failed last year, but political factors outside the board room have evolved. Last year, the swing vote against term limits and to reelect Garcia came from Steve Zimmer.

Since then, however, close allies of Garcia targeted Zimmer for defeat in his recent reelection bid. Zimmer won regardless, when the teachers union and other employee groups rallied behind him. The teachers union, for its part, has been critical of Garcia. It mounted a low-budget but sharply critical campaign against her; she won reelection earlier this month.

The term-limits vote Tuesday symbolized the waning influence of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as his own eight-year tenure in office ends. Although the mayor has no formal authority over the board, candidates he helped elect make up a board majority. Garcia is the mayor’s closest ally on the board, and yet a member of mayor’s bloc, Richard Vladovic, defected to favor the term-limits proposal.

The motion, which was approved on a 4-3 vote, was put forward by Bennett Kayser and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. Supporters noted that since 1985, the board president has come from the downtown area and environs a significantly disproportionate number of times.

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Cal State Long Beach president finalist for LSU post

Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander has been recommended to become the next president of Louisiana State University, Long Beach officials announced Tuesday.

A presidential search committee presented the recommendation this week to the LSU Board of Supervisors, which is expected to consider Alexander’s candidacy at a special meeting March 27. He was expected to visit the Baton Rouge campus later this week to meet with students, faculty and staff.

Alexander, 49, was attending a meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees on Wednesday but did not want to comment ahead of the LSU board’s final vote.

Alexander was among a pool of 100 candidates that was narrowed to a list of 35, before emerging as the committee’s consensus finalist to succeed interim president William Jenkins.

“Our goal was to find a candidate that understands the tradition and practices of higher learning, but also embraces the changing market place and is willing to lead our great university through those changes,” R. Blake Chatelain, chairman of the search committee, said in a statement released by LSU. 

“We are looking for a proven professional who is a collaborative leader, a great listener and an optimist about the future of LSU. We think we have found that individual.”

If his candidacy is approved, he would lead both the 30,000-student LSU campus and the 10-institution LSU system, which includes several campuses, a law center, and research and health science centers. 

The position includes a salary of $550,000, as well as housing and a car allowance.

“This is an exciting period at a difficult time for higher education,” Alexander said in a statement. “LSU is positioned better than many public institutions in the United States to lead the Land Grant mission into the next 50 years.  LSU has developed a great reputation due to the work of its faculty and staff and the quality of its students and I would be honored to be a part of that cohesive team as it moves into the future.”

Alexander became president of the Long Beach campus in 2006. He previously was president of Murray State University. The Louisville, Ky., native received a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin.


Helicopter drops 2,305 golf balls onto school field

Lindsay Lohan has until Monday to turn herself into police

Fake Rockefeller case: Ex-San Marino police officer testifies

-- Carla Rivera



Helicopter drops 2,305 golf balls onto school field

Three thousand numbered golf balls are dumped from a helicopter during St. Joachim Catholic School's fundraiser in Costa Mesa on Monday. Kevin Chang /TCNA black helicopter circled closer and closer to the schoolyard at St. Joachim Catholic School in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, prepping to unload its cargo of 2,305 golf balls.

Minutes earlier, a group of students had cheered as Elizabeth McNulty showed them a photo of the coastline, proving the aircraft was on its way.

"Over Laguna," she said, reading a text from her phone.

And then the chopper was there, circling in slowly to hover about 75 feet from the ground.

Kids cheered again as a passenger waved and began dumping out three orange tubs full of numbered golf balls.

Students had sold the balls for $10 a pop. The ones that landed closest to markers on the ground won their buyers a prize.

For the last three years, the ball drop has been a fundraiser for the educational program at the 300-student Catholic school.

The annual event started when parent Mike Manclark volunteered to fly in his helicopter as part of the fundraiser.

"He's done it before for golf tournaments," his wife, Michelle, said as she snapped photos of kids gathering the golf balls in their shirts, pockets and jackets afterward.

The event raised about $21,000 last year, and the school estimates it collected about that much this year.

"I think the best part about it is watching the kids," said McNulty, who organized the event.

Most students were gathered on the blacktop, sitting cross-legged and covering their eyes or ears as the copter kicked up dust. But a group of seventh-grade boys closest to the chopper clutched the fence as the gusts hit them the hardest.

"This side is the best," said student Cole McFetters.

Seventh-grader Wil Sandberg said that for the last two years, he and his classmates have homed in on the most hurricane-like spot so they could "feel the rush — adrenaline."

For the first time this year, the grand prize went to someone who bought just one ball. Ten percent of the raffle's overall proceeds will go to Shannon Bales, who bought a single ball from student Jackson Young, McNulty said.

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Santa Barbara City College wins prestigious award

Santa Barbara City College on Tuesday was awarded the Aspen Prize —  a prestigious award recognizing high achievement among community colleges.

The award, which Santa Barbara City College shared with Walla Walla Community College in Washington, is in recognition of the schools’ success in student learning outcomes, degree completion, transfer rates and for facilitating minority and low-income students success.

Both were selected from more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide. The award was announced at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

“Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College offer outstanding models for achieving exceptional levels of student success at a time when our nation needs community colleges to do even more than they have in the past,” said Josh Wyner, the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.

The program lauded Santa Barbara City College’s success with its burgeoning population of Latino students — over 30% of the student body — who graduate and transfer at higher rates than the national average.

Overall, over half the students who attend the college and transfer to four-year colleges attain a bachelor’s degree within six years of graduating high school. About 64% of first-time, full-time students transfer or graduate within three years — above the national average of about 40%.

Both Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College will receive a $400,000 prize to support their programs.


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