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Archive for the ‘Sequoia High School District’ Category

Cameras raise students’ eyebrows, ire

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
February 5, 2008

REDWOOD CITY — Students weren’t smiling when they found out they were on camera.

Woodside High School was the school district’s first foray into campuswide surveillance cameras, but it received failing remarks by students, who claimed they were not informed of the installations and feared they were being policed.

The school installed 15 cameras last summer, said Ed LaVigne, the Woodside High School District’s chief business official. The cameras monitor student and staff parking lots, sports fields and other areas of campus. Superintendent Pat Gemma said they are meant to keep students in line as well as track unwanted visitors on campus.

Principals at all five district schools — Woodside, Sequoia, Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood — have been clamoring for cameras, LaVigne said. But when Gemma discussed the cameras with Woodside students recently, he learned that some resented being monitored — and the fact that they didn’t get a heads-up before the cameras were installed.

“The students would have liked to have known about this ahead of time, and we’ll make sure that happens [at other schools],” Gemma said. He also reassured them that the cameras are “to detect and deter [activity], not to catch and punish.”

Neither Gemma nor Woodside High Principal David Riley, who took over as interim head three weeks ago, knew how communication between the district and Woodside students broke down. Parents and administrators in the school were notified long before the cameras went in, said Brian Murphy, president of the Woodside Parent Teacher Student Association.

Riley plans to meet with teachers next week and push for an article in the high school’s newspaper to make sure students are aware they’re on camera.

“Our leadership knew this was coming, and it’s possible students were told,” Riley said. “We have announcements on the [public announcement] system every day and students still say they don’t know about things. Even if they heard it, they’ll hear it again.”

Despite student fears, no specific incident or rash of crimes at Woodside made it the first choice for cameras, LaVigne said. “It was just happenstance.”

“They’re there to memorialize any significant incidents or identify persons of interest,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mark Alcantara. “The fact a camera is there is a deterrent; it makes sure students will be on their best behavior.”

Cameras have successfully reduced vandalism and bullying on about a dozen district school buses, where they have also been installed, LaVigne said. They will be added to the Carlmont, Sequoia, Menlo-Atherton and Redwood high school campuses by the end of the summer at a cost of almost $80,000 per campus.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

February 5, 2008 at 8:36 PM

Migrant students facing English hurdle

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 11, 2007

Migrant-worker families who come from Mexico seeking farming jobs and better lives often struggle to settle down in California — and their children struggle to get an education while constantly moving from place to place.

Of the Sequoia High School District’s population of 8,190 students, roughly 410 qualify as migrant students, meaning their parents have been employed as farmworkers in the United States or Mexico in the past three years, said Suana Gilman-Ponce, director of English Learner instruction for the district.
While many English Learner students struggle to gain fluency, students of migrant families often come in with little or no education at all, posing greater challenges for students and their teachers.

Migrant parents are often busy working — and lack the fluency to be involved in their kids’ education. In response, the district is recruiting for a new position — an ombudsman who would act as a liaison between the district and migrant-farmworker families whose students are enrolled in its schools.

“Sometimes we believe our parents don’t care, or we just don’t see them often — but when we offer workshops they are eager to get information [about their children’s education],” said Patricia Cocconi, director of the district’s adult school.

The Medina family, which came to the Peninsula from rural Michoacan in Mexico, has benefited from Sequoia’s migrant-student programs, which are supported by roughly $290,000 in federal funds each year, Gilman-Ponce said.

While the youngest child, Michael Medina, recently earned his diploma from Menlo-Atherton, his mother, Patricia, is working toward her GED — and Michael’s grandmother, Zenaida, is learning to read.

“When I think of it, I get goosebumps,” said Dante Medina, Michael’s uncle. “I think it’s never too late for anything.”

Despite some success stories, the majority of migrant students struggle. In 2005-06, 56 percent of migrant students scored below basic or far below basic on California standardized tests on the English portion of the exam, while 60 percent scored at the same levels in mathematics, Gilman-Ponce said.

Getting parents involved has proven the key to student success. “The district has a commitment to providing these parents with education, a point of contact, a person they can go to with questions,” Gilman-Ponce said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 11, 2007 at 10:40 PM

Beauty schooler nabbed taking photos in bathroom

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 5, 2007

A Palo Alto man arrested on charges of illegally photographing a student in a Sequoia High School men’s room will return to San Mateo County Court on May 2 to face misdemeanor charges.

David Hill, 33, was arrested March 29 at the high school, where he was offering haircuts during a job fair, according to Redwood City Police Department Capt. Chris Cesena. Hill allegedly entered a men’s restroom and began photographing a male student, who reported the incident to school officials. They, in turn, called police.

Hill was arrested just after noon and taken to San Mateo County Jail, where he was cited and released, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. He has no record of prior offenses in San Mateo County.

When he returns to court, Hill faces two misdemeanor charges, one related to taking photographs in a bathroom or dressing room, and another related to harrassing a juvenile, according to Cesena.

“An adult did a stupid thing, which we quickly handled,” Sequoia High School District Superintendent Pat Gemma said. “We’re still trying to sort out what this guy’s purpose was. Now the courts will deal with him.”

Hill is a cosmetology student at College of San Mateo, according to Cesena. Officials at the college would not formally comment on the situation Thursday.

“We do not comment on matters that are being handled by the appropriate law enforcement agency,” said Beverly Madden, a spokeswoman for the college.

Officials at CSM are following disciplinary procedures, Madden added. Although the college’s student handbook does not explicitly address illegal activities performed off campus, students who violate CSM policy face disciplinary action ranging from removal of student privileges to suspension or expulsion.

In an unrelated case, San Carlos School District coach Neal Sato was convicted in 2006 on charges that he videotaped several female members of his volleyball team while they changed in his office. Last November, Sato pleaded no contest to the molestation of four 13-year-old girls connected with the videotaping plot. He was sentenced to six years in state prison, Wagstaffe said.

Sato, 35, of San Bruno, was alleged to have videotaped up to about 100 female students, many of whom could not be identified by investigators due to the quality of the video footage, as they changed clothes in his office in 2004 and 2005.

This article originally appeared in San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 5, 2007 at 10:20 PM