Santa Barbara News Press Shifting Paradigms

Rich Kid, Poor Kid – and Few in Between

Note: To read the sidebar on the students in the photos, go to Class Divide: A Tale of 4 Families

Not long ago, when a Santa Barbara Junior High student missed the bus taking the water polo team to Los Angeles, he simply hopped on the family’s private jet and made the game in time. Another’s family is similarly wealthy – they’re looking at selling their home to Beanie Babies billionaire Ty Warner.

Conversely, a boy at the school lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his mother, five brothers, a couple who sleep in the living room and two men who sublease a bedroom. Last year, another student was among 22 relatives living in the same two-bedroom house.

Santa Barbara Junior High, at 721 E. Cota St., is a campus of contrasts like few others. And, like the city in which it’s located, the school appears to be becoming more so. With its plethora of both wealthy and poor students – and relatively few students in between – the school’s demographics mirror those of the South Coast, which experts say is losing its middle class.

Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.
Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.

Built in 1932, the campus is an architectural gem: red-tile roofing, soft-ivory facade, tiled walls and cherub-adorned bell tower. Equally striking is its demographic makeup. Located near Milpas Street, the school draws students from two worlds that, in some cases, are mere blocks apart.

About 200 of some 930 students hail from the moneyed hills of Montecito; most could afford their pick of local private schools.

David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.
David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.

Another 400 are officially poor, meaning they receive subsidized lunches. Most of them live just down the hill, on or around Milpas Street, home to Latino families, many of whom are housekeepers, busboys, gardeners and construction workers.

This leaves less than half in the so-called middle. In Santa Barbara, such kids live in unremarkable million-dollar homes, perhaps in the San Roque neighborhood, or in regular market-rate apartments, perhaps downtown.

Evidence suggests that the unusually large socioeconomic gap at Santa Barbara Junior High – which has long been, and still is, about two-thirds Latino and one-third white – is slowly growing.

A diverse student population can be a boon to a school, adding the benefit of high scores, not to mention eye-popping monetary donations. The generosity of parents at Santa Barbara Junior High is unparalleled: In 2001, led by former “ER” television star Anthony Edwards – who wasn’t a parent but a former student – volunteers raised most of the $3.6 million needed for a majestic renovation of the school’s theater.

Erika's family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages.
Erika’s family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages.

But the combination of high wealth and high poverty can lead to stark disparities.

Take test scores.

Stacked against their peers at each of California’s 1,240 middle schools, Santa Barbara Junior High’s white students last year scored in the top 3 percent, or 24th place, according to a report compiled by Santa Barbara school board member Bob Noel. (Schools do not keep track of affluent students.)

But only 16 percent of the school’s poor students, and 11 percent of English learners, demonstrated proficiency – another word for grade-level work – in math. The federal government requires it be more than 25 percent, and has sanctioned the entire school under the No Child Left Behind Act, which aims to have all of the nation’s students passing standardized tests in math and English by 2014.

A closer look at Mr. Noel’s study revealed that, statewide, just one other middle school exhibited such disparities. Of the 23 middle schools across California whose white students scored higher in math and English than Santa Barbara Junior High’s, just one of them – King Middle School in Berkeley – also faces penalties under the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered: His older brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family. (See his story in "Tale of 4 Families" sidebar)
Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered: His older brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family.

At Santa Barbara Junior High, the socioeconomic disparities are also evident in the classroom: In many high-level classes the students are nearly all white, and in most regular-level courses, nearly all Latino.

Finally, they manifest themselves socially, with white and Latino students eating separately, for the most part, at lunch time.

But as this chasm widens, teachers and students alike are building innovative bridges. Teachers, in keeping with a trend in education that emphasizes helping those who are lagging, have launched a new math program for such students. And kids, with the help of some adults, have begun an organized effort to break through the social barriers keeping the students in separate groups.

For teachers, the clock is ticking.

When it comes to test scores, this is a pivotal year for the school, which is in its second year of federal sanctions. To avoid entering the third year – with stiffer penalties – this year the school started requiring every struggling student to take two math classes.

In the spring, students will take a barrage of tests. How they perform will dictate whether the school begins to climb out of No Child’s punitive quicksand, or sinks deeper into it.


By the numbers, the parents of Santa Barbara Junior High’s Montecito students are not only rich, but getting richer faster than others across the state. Meanwhile, the school’s poor students are growing more numerous.

In five years, the proportion of Montecito households earning at least $250,000 annually has jumped from 22 percent to 27 percent, according to the California Economic Forecast. Statewide, since 2000, it has crept up from 2 percent to nearly 3 percent.

On the other hand, the proportion of students getting free or discounted lunches has increased from 30 percent to 43 percent — now nearly twice as high as the district average. (Statewide, the number has held pretty steady in five years, at just under half.)

Yet in recent decades Santa Barbara Junior High has not experienced white flight, as have other local schools. Since 1990, the racial breakdown has remained relatively static: two-thirds Latino, one-third white. (The white population peaked three years ago at 40 percent, but is back to 31 percent.) In a sense, Santa Barbara Junior High is an inner-city school and suburban school wrapped into one.

In contrast, the Westside’s La Cumbre Junior High — another sanctioned school — has seen dramatic white flight. Since 1990, its proportion of white students has dwindled from 35 percent to 11 percent. (La Cumbre has launched a major effort to turn that around.)

Despite its success at retaining students, inside its walls Santa Barbara Junior High appears segregated.

White students make up just one-third of the school’s enrollment, but they constitute three-fourths of its gifted and talented program. Latino students make up two-thirds of the enrollment, but the vast majority are in general education classes, now known as “College Prep.”

Last year, Principal Susan Salcido and the leaders of two other local middle schools tried to blend programs — and their students. But the plan died when affluent parents expressed alarm. Now, and for the foreseeable future, it’s back to the status quo: four academic tracks — GATE, honors, college prep and remedial. As has long been the case, the first group is mostly white; the second is mixed. The third and fourth — college prep and remedial — are nearly entirely Latino. (Many students fall into more than one category.)

“The whole honors thing was an idea,” said Ms. Salcido of the plan to merge the honors and general ed tracks. “That idea can’t work, so, OK, can’t do.”


The gap between the haves and have-nots at Santa Barbara Junior High is not a topic many like discussing. Administrators at the district balked at providing an ethnic breakdown of all the academic tracks besides GATE, saying compiling the information would be too labor intensive.

But Ms. Salcido offered an estimate. The college-prep classes, she said, generally reflect the breakdown of the school — two-thirds Latino, a third white. The honors courses are the other way around. The remedial classes are virtually 100 percent nonwhite, she said.

Many of the Montecito parents say they send their children to Santa Barbara Junior High because it represents the real world. But most of the Montecito families contacted by the News-Press had students enrolled in the GATE courses, which accommodate students only in the top 20 percent bracket.

“It’s a school within a school,” said Montecito parent Barney Berglund, echoing the words of some others.

Such statements cause Ms. Salcido to bristle.

“I really want to make sure everyone knows that all our programs challenge students,” she said.

Although she wasn’t able to provide numbers, Ms. Salcido said not all students from Montecito are enrolled in GATE classes.

Built in 1932, Santa Barbara Junior High School is an architectural gem: red-tile roofing, soft-ivory facade, tiled walls and cherub-adorned bell tower. Equally striking is its demographic makeup. Located near Milpas Street, the school draws students from two worlds that, in some cases, are mere blocks apart.
Built in 1932, Santa Barbara Junior High School is an architectural gem: red-tile roofing, soft-ivory facade, tiled walls and cherub-adorned bell tower. Equally striking is its demographic makeup. Located near Milpas Street, the school draws students from two worlds that, in some cases, are mere blocks apart.

Sasha Paskal is one. The eighth-grader, whose father owns a business building sets in Hollywood — including for the movie “Elizabethtown” — takes both honors courses and college-prep classes.

In her honors courses, she can count on one hand the number of Latino students. In college prep, it’s the other way around: She’s in the minority.

“I was kind of upset when I wasn’t accepted in GATE,” she said.

“I felt left out, because so many of my friends were.”

An articulate, easygoing redhead who wears hip eyeglasses with translucent-pink plastic frames, Sasha aims to study fashion design in New York City after she graduates. Math isn’t her strong suit.

While in sixth grade at Montecito Union, she heard rumors that white kids in regular classes are taunted. Not so, she said.

Given her career interests, Sasha says that despite her initial disappointment, she believes everything turned out for the best.

“I’ll understand other people’s cultural experiences,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people I wouldn’t have.”


Meanwhile, just because the school’s educators have backed off from changing the academic tracks doesn’t mean they’ve stopped refining their efforts to close the achievement gap. The two-math-classes-for-every-struggling-student approach is less controversial.

But even here there is a hitch: Having more back-to-the-basics courses leaves less room for electives, like band and foreign languages.

Eighth-grader Angie Solis was among the roughly 100 students who were assigned the extra math class. Its appearance on her class schedule was an unwelcome surprise.

“I was like, ‘What?’ ” she said. “It meant no elective. . . . I wanted to take Spanish or journalism.”

Now, though, she says she’s glad it happened. Her grades have gone from B’s to A’s. Another student said her grades have improved from D’s to a B-minus.

Math co-chair Marc Fidel said such students still can take electives by going to school for an optional extra period.

“If they really want it, it’s there,” he said.

Mr. Fidel is excited — and nervous — about the program he and his colleagues devised.

“I don’t want to just plug the dam,” he said. “I want this to work.”

The “extra” class is really a lab at which teachers, with full knowledge of what kids will learn on any given day in the regular class, bolster students’ understanding of the day’s lesson.

The idea is to use re-teaching and pre-teaching to ward off the dazed sense of hopelessness that can befall a kid when, say, first setting eyes on a symbols-laden quadratic equation.

“You see that stuff and you sort of make a decision before you attempt it whether you’re going to get it or not,” he said.

Mr. Fidel acknowledges he has no data on how the dual-math program is working, but says he can sense the students’ increased confidence. For instance, some of the students who were slackers last year are eagerly raising their hands this year.

“Once a kid feels hopeless or helpless, it’s really difficult to get them to jump that hurdle,” he said. “As long as they’re willing, they’re hopeful.”

But the real test will come this spring, when all students take a barrage of proficiency exams. If too few make the mark, the school will experience more sanctions.

In its first two years of sanctions, Santa Barbara Junior High — one of four of the South Coast’s 42 public schools to be marked thus far — has had to send letters to all parents telling them they may send their children to another school. It also had to offer each of its poor families $900 worth of free private tutoring.

According to the way the law is written, the penalties steepen every year.

Third-year sanctions include: “Decrease management authority at school level.” Fourth-year penalties include “reopening the school as a charter,” “replacing all or most staff, including the principal” or the most likely: “Any other major restructuring.”

But the 32-year-old Ms. Salcido, who inherited the sanctions when she accepted the principal’s post in the fall of 2004-05, seems undaunted by the pressure.

Asked to describe the most difficult challenge of heading up such a polarized school, she said: “I don’t think of it that way. This is what we do — it’s wonderful that we have the diversity.”


Students say the gap between rich and poor plays out socially. At lunchtime, in general, white students tend to hang out in the quad — a grassy square of trees, tables and benches — while many Latino students gather behind the school, near the outdoor volleyball and basketball courts.

In November, the school launched an approach to breaking down social barriers between cliques, which at Santa Barbara Junior High tend to form along ethnic lines. Administrators have culled 38 student ambassadors — each a perceived leader in a group of friends — and trained them to mediate conflicts among students.

The program has inspired a few students to lead the way in mixing it up.

For instance, Montecito resident Andrew Adams, one of the ambassadors, and a couple of his friends one day joined a group of Latino kids on the basketball court.

“It’s really weird and wrong how separated we are based on if you’re white or Mexican,” he said. “It’s getting better.”

At first, it was awkward.

“We were like, ‘um, alright,’ ” said Irene Ricardo-Valle, an eighth-grader. “We weren’t used to it.”

The white kids, she said, were so rule-conscious, a style she termed “YMCA.”

“If you double-dribble, you have to do a free shot or something like that,” she said. But “it was cool.”

The ambassador program kicked off with an assembly, led by a trainer.

In addition to the usual jocks and theater students, the participants included the rich kids — perjoratively dubbed the Montecito Millionaires — and wannabe gangbangers. In one exercise, the trainer situated all the students side-by-side in a long line outside.

The trainer fired questions at the group. If the answer to any question was “yes,” students were to take a step forward. The questions started easy, but worked their way to the profound: “Have any of you had a relative die violently?”

After a pause, one student stepped forward. Then two. In all, to everyone’s shock, at least two-thirds of the students, most of them from lower-income families, took a step.

“My aunt was riding in a car in San Diego,” said Corena Herrera, an eighth-grader whose chipper demeanor belies some of the tragedies her family has endured.

“It was a nice car, so they thought she had money, but it was a rental. They shot her.”

“He got stabbed,” said Esly Dubon, of her cousin, Henry Sanchez, a former Santa Barbara High School football player who was murdered at a party five years ago. It was a gang-related killing.

For some of the Montecito students, the lesson was an eye-opener about the other sphere.

Other questions, though, underscored the kind of adolescent pain that is blind to class and race.

When the trainer asked how many students had been called a name, such as “slut” or “fag,” nearly all crossed the line.

Now, the 38 ambassadors meet regularly with mentor teachers to discuss conflicts on campus. No names are used, because the idea is to get advice on how to resolve problems, not to impose disciplinary measures.

For Irene, also one of the ambassadors, the program has given her the tools to deal with everyday conflicts between students.

Sometimes the confrontations have a racial edge.

One day, after school, she saw a white girl chiding a Latina, telling her, “Why do you think you’re all bad? You’re not a gangster.” The situation escalated, with the Latina rounding up some friends. The white girl started walking away, saying her ride had arrived. Irene, who is friends with both girls, tried to ease the tension, bidding a friendly “goodbye” to the white girl.

Irene said her Latina friend responded.

“She’s all, ‘Why are you saying bye to her?’ I said, ‘She’s my friend.’ ” Then, Irene said, she helped defuse her Latina friend’s anger. “I said, ‘Do you even consider yourself a gangster?’ ” The girl thought about it, Irene said. No, she didn’t.

“That happens almost every day,” Irene said. “Just little changes here and there. It makes a big difference.”


For all the talk of the gap between the rich and the poor, both academically and socially, there are encouraging exceptions. Like Jose Cruz.

He, too, has a relative who has died violently — an uncle in a shooting over drugs and money in Mexico. He wears gold chains and baggy pants, and his peach-fuzz mustache and ruddy complexion make him seem older than his 14 years.

But looks are deceiving.

Jose is enrolled in honors courses for English, math and history. His mother, a house cleaner, has a good relationship with his teachers. His stepfather is a mechanic who owns Automotive Clinic in Oxnard, much to the admiration of his son.

“I would like to do that,” he said.

But going against the grain can be difficult, especially in the middle-school environment. For Latino students especially, the pressure to be like their peers is demanding.

Last year, Olivia G. Rodriguez’s daughter, Andriana, was enrolled exclusively in GATE classes at Santa Barbara Junior High, but hated it.

“She said, ‘Mom, I’m the only Mexican kid in GATE,’ ” said Ms. Rodriguez at a recent meeting for parents of secondary students in GATE.

“I said, ‘That should be an honor.’ ”

Andriana didn’t see it that way. Her Latina friends teased her, and she felt intimidated by all of the “rich kids” surrounding her. Now, as a freshman at Santa Barbara High School, she doesn’t take a single GATE class. However, she is taking a high-level physics course.

“The teachers wanted to push her up, and here she’s trying to push back,” Ms. Rodriguez said, incredulous. At home, Ms. Rodriguez said, she could always tell whether the friend her daughter was talking to on the phone was white or Latina. When she talked like an adult, it was a white student. When she peppered her diction with the words “like” and “you know,” it was a Latina.

The situation was all the more vexing to Ms. Rodriguez because she struggled all her life to be recognized for her skills, “and here (Andriana) is, trying to cover it up.” Ms. Rodriguez’s struggle paid off: She’s now an attorney.

She hopes her daughter finds a similar path.

Featured Santa Barbara News Press

Class Divide: A Tale of Four Middle School Kids

David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.
David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.

Note: This is a sidebar to the story called One School, Two Worlds)


Shane Lebow, Eduardo Anaya, Erika Berglund and David Ohms all go to Santa Barbara Junior High School and live within the same five-mile radius. But their lives couldn’t be more different.

If there’s a common thread connecting the parents of both groups, though, it’s a deep longing to find what is best for their children.


Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard. The eighth-grader, who also plays violin in the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, was recently ranked as one of the top 13-year-old golfers in California. He hopes to attend Stanford.

Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.
Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.

Shane’s parents admit that they could have afforded the $17,000 annual tuition to send their son to a private school they considered. The average class size there is half that of Santa Barbara Junior High, and students take far-flung field trips to places like Vietnam.

Shane’s mother, Teri, a UCLA graduate, vouched for the private route. At first, Santa Barbara Junior High — with its chain-link fence surrounding a concrete play area — reminded her of a prison.

“I sort of flipped out,” she said with a chuckle, adding that her experience with the school has turned out well.

To Shane’s father, Ken, a Syracuse University graduate and Wall Street stockbroker, it represented the real world.

Mr. Lebow is ever-conscious of smothering his children with too much involvement, or keeping them sheltered from diversity.

Ultimately, though, it was Shane’s decision. He chose the junior high school because most of his friends were going there. He said he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m meeting kids I would not have otherwise met,” he said.

Shane’s education is clearly top-notch.

In GATE science, he works with UCSB doctoral students on experiments. In GATE math, he is studying geometry, a class most students don’t take until high school.

His interests transcend schoolwork. In addition to golf and violin, Shane is involved with the school’s surf club and has even started playing drums in a rock band.

Mr. Lebow, 63, an avuncular man with the quick cadence of a native New Yorker, grew up with conflicting values. He was reared affluently — the son of a fur-coat entrepreneur — but it was the 1960s and he railed against authority. He grew his hair long and adhered to hippie ideals, yet was an incredible golfer himself. He played for Syracuse.

After college, he did a two-year stint as a social worker, helping welfare recipients in New York, but throughout had the sense he was adrift. At age 27, he got a job as a clerk at Bear Stearns & Co. — a brokerage firm in Manhattan that employed about 120 people.

His bosses saw promise and gave him a job as a speculator in commodities. Soon after, he became a full-fledged stockbroker; he’d found his passion. Success followed, both for him and for the firm, which now employs some 14,000 people.

Although he hasn’t retired, Mr. Lebow, who also has twin 7-year-old daughters with Teri, likes to say that his children are now his passion.


Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered: His older brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family. (See his story in "Tale of 4 Families" sidebar)

Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered.

His brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family.

Eduardo is among many students at the school whose primary language at home is Spanish. He speaks English haltingly, usually giving shy, one-word answers to questions. When asked, Eduardo divulges that he likes all things football. He often plays tackle football with friends in a park by the apartment complex. His favorite video game is “Madden 2006.” His favorite NFL team is the Philadelphia Eagles.

His mother speaks no English, but that hasn’t stopped her from getting involved with her children’s education.

For years, Silvia Anaya, 46, has regularly attended school fundraising events for her four sons, often preparing tacos for the group.

Ms. Anaya, who cleans houses by trade, is a short woman with some gaps in her smile. She is emotional about the prospect of losing her home. While talking to a reporter and translator, she broke down several times, tears flowing into a napkin.

Ms. Anaya said she is scared: Another gang member recently threatened to kill her son at Boys Camp. She’s also angry: How can her son choose gangs, when she has tried so hard to give him a life without the kind of suffering she endured as an orphan in Mexico? There, her alcoholic foster father beat her in unthinkable ways, leaving a scar on the back of her neck with a machete and another on her shin with a baseball bat.

“What more do they want?” she asked of her sons. She and her husband, Rey, have lived in Santa Barbara since 1974.

Rey lately has been rounding up witnesses and bringing them to Housing Authority hearings to convince authorities that his son was jumped by bat-wielding gang members who beat him severely. He is asking for one last chance, but he says he understands the authority’s position.

“They are really making an effort to clean up,” he said. “I’m at their mercy.”

Mr. Anaya, a 56-year-old former gardener, said he has been unable to find steady work since 2003, when the truck in which he was a passenger was broadsided by a bus.

The accident, which occurred in the Mesa area, left him in the hospital for days with massive injuries to the head and elsewhere, he said. To this day, he said he has problems with his knees, hands, neck and memory.



Erika's family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages.

Erika’s family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.

Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages. Their beautiful yard in Montecito harbors a dozen gnarled trees; their walls are adorned with countless colorful paintings.

Her mother, Matti, 45, is an artist from Norway who somewhat reluctantly acknowledges her success: At her last show, she sold five $4,000 paintings in one day. Her father, Barney, 48, is a geophysicist from Iowa who used to work for Texaco but now runs a freelance outfit named C.F.O. Consulting. He is also a bicycle racing enthusiast and was in charge of organizing the Santa Barbara leg of the professional Amgen Tour of California.

Erika, who speaks Norwegian, is on the student council, in choir club and loves art class.

“When I was little, I would always paint women, like she does,” she said, referring to her mother. “But now I’m learning different techniques.”

Erika said the students rarely talk about issues of race and class at the school, though she remembers how a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. in GATE social studies once spurred a discussion about the segregation within the school.

Her mother praises the school’s diversity — a facet she missed out on early in life.

“I grew up in Norway,” she said. “I didn’t see a black person before I was 20.”

Ms. Berglund grew up in a blue-collar household in Oslo. Her own mother was a seamstress who started working in factories at age 14; her father owned a clothing store and was a javelin coach who trained Olympic athletes.

Erika’s father takes a down-to-earth view of his three children’s educations. He says, half-jokingly, that he offered to “send them away” to Cate or Thacher, exclusive boarding schools in Carpinteria and Ojai. One chose the private path, two preferred the public.


David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.

His father, Lee Haralson, has raised him since he was 2. It’s uncommon to see homeless men raising children, but Mr. Haralson is an unorthodox man.

“I used to walk around town with a stroller,” he said.

If there is one lesson Mr. Haralson has tried to instill in his son, it’s that he needs an education.

Click here to read a follow-up story about David and Lee

“I don’t want him living like this,” said Mr. Haralson, who chain-smokes and whose gnarled hands have at least two rings on every finger. He makes and sells them.

Mr. Haralson, 56, is a native of Flint, Mich. He signed up for the Army instead of graduating from high school. He went to Vietnam. While there, he said, his platoon was ambushed in the jungle, and he took two bullets in the hip from machine gun fire. Although he was flown to a hospital and treated, he carried the bullets in his side for some 30 years.

When David was a toddler, Mr. Haralson took him to South America. There, he said, he worked as a mercenary, training “people how to defend their property.” The pair spent several years living in lean-tos and bunkers in the jungles of Nicaragua.

David, who uses his mother’s last name, proudly proclaims that he once saw a 120-foot anaconda swallow a water buffalo. “It was 60 feet,” Mr. Haralson said, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “And it was a pig.”

Eventually, Mr. Haralson decided to return to Santa Barbara, where David was born. Mr. Haralson mustered the cash for a run-down motor home. He enrolled David at Franklin Elementary, where he skipped kindergarten and went straight into first grade. Every day, the man walked or drove his son to school. He boasted that David only missed two days of school.

“It was five,” David said. “Remember when you started getting those headaches?” David insisted on staying home with him.

Mr. Haralson said he has a brain tumor, as well as cancer on his lung and heart.

Last summer, Mr. Haralson, who blames Agent Orange for his ailments, said he learned he did not have long to live. He put his son on a plane to Michigan to live with his grandfather. Six months later, seeing he was still alive, Mr. Haralson decided to send for his son, who recently arrived.

“I missed him,” he explained.

About a month ago, Mr. Haralson enrolled David at Santa Barbara Junior High. He started classes shortly thereafter. Now, Mr. Haralson said, he hopes he can hold out for at least five more years. “That’s when he turns 18,” he said.

Santa Barbara News Press

Mystery Man Leaves Fortune to Nonprofits

In a region with countless millionaires and even a sprinkling of billionaires, it’s not unusual for local nonprofit organizations to publicly thank a well-to-do family for a donation of $1 million or more.

But the story of the late Fenton G. Davison is different.

Public donors often enjoy close relationships with their beneficiaries and are honored with plaques, parties and pictures for their philanthropy. But to Mr. Davison’s recipients, the man’s existence has been a mystery. He died at age 76 of a heart attack a year and a half ago at his condominium.

In his will, the childless and unmarried Goleta resident quietly conferred his entire estate — worth an estimated $10 million — evenly among nine nonprofit organizations in Santa Barbara.

The gifts didn’t become public until this week, when the Elings Park Foundation — shortly after receiving its final major installment — issued a press release declaring that it and eight other organizations each received $1.1 million.

The others are Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara County, Boys & Girls Clubs, Girls Inc., Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, American Red Cross, Music Academy of the West and the Santa Barbara Public Library.

Even for monied Santa Barbara, the ghostly gifts are substantial. For the Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara, it was the biggest ever.

For Elings, which accepts no government money, Mr. Davison’s donation is the biggest since 1999, when technology entrepreneur Virgil Elings granted it $3 million — prompting the park to change its name in his honor.

But in contrast to the fanfare then, park officials didn’t even know what Mr. Davison looked like.

Meanwhile, his posthumous donation has left a lasting mark: The soon-to-be-finished Fenton Davison Picnic Area, located near the softball fields, will include a dozen tables and horseshoe pits.

“We’d love to have someone come over that we could say ‘thank you’ to, to shake someone’s hand, because it’s a wonderful, wonderful gift,” said Elings Park Executive Director Mike Warren.

Park officials knew one thing: Mr. Davison’s money was from real estate.

“He inherited most of that money,” Mr. Warren said. “The family had expensive real estate holdings. Oftentimes with large estates, it’s very quiet money.”

Documents and interviews have revealed more about the man.

In a sense, the story of Fenton Davison reflects the value of dirt in Santa Barbara. It also comes full circle: The sunny community that generated his family’s wealth ultimately reclaimed it.

The son of a dentist and an only child, Mr. Davison was born in Indiana on Christmas Eve of 1927. His parents divorced, and Mr. Davison and his mother moved west in the 1950s. His mother, a savvy investor, purchased properties in Encino, and later — after her second divorce — around Los Angeles.

Sources were not certain when or how the family purchased property in Santa Barbara, but his local estate included two duplexes, a 10-unit apartment, and property on State Street that now houses Your Choice Thai Restaurant.

Mr. Davison attended UCLA for a time without graduating but received his real-estate license in the 1950s.

By all accounts, Mr. Davison was not outgoing. Some called him a loner; others said he rarely left his residence.

But all describe him as gentle and kind.

“He always asked about my boys and wanted to see pictures of them,” said Susan Frazier, a certified public accountant who managed his affairs. She confirmed the total amount of his bequest but not how it was divvied up.

Mr. Davison was thrifty, habitually waking early enough to make the “early bird” special at IHOP.

Into his late 50s, he lived with his mother, Wanda Reitz, who taught him the tricks of the real-estate trade.

He was self-effacing, and tended to frequently “kick himself” for not selling or buying at the right time, Ms. Frazier said.

In the late 1980s, when he was about 60, Mr. Davison struck out on his own, taking up residence in Port Hueneme. In 1988, at 60, he married Lou Ann Treloar, but the union dissolved after just nine months. Divorce documents at the Santa Barbara Courthouse said they parted because of “irreconcilable differences.”

His mother died around 1990, and he grew gravely depressed, Ms. Frazier said.

He pledged nearly $950,000 in her name to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in the mid-1990s. The museum received it last year.

His despondency lasted years, and Ms. Frazier repeatedly encouraged him to take a cruise. Finally, after about 10 years, he did.

If Mr. Davison was hesitant to reward himself, he was generous with friends. Late in life he took Glores Cutler on several globe-trotting trips: Italy, France, Tahiti, the East Coast.

She said they became romantically involved in the late 1990s, but she rebuffed his frequent entreaties for her hand.

“I guess I was pretty stupid,” she joked.

On Aug. 2, 2004, she drove to his house to take him to the grocery store. (He hadn’t been driving ever since getting into a heart-attack-induced car accident earlier.) Mr. Davison came to the car, but turned around to get something in the house. He fell into the bushes.

“I figured he just tripped and would get up,” Ms. Cutler said. “He didn’t.”

As for the nine nonprofit organizations, Mr. Davison declared no unusual affinity for any one of them; the gift happened at the urging of his financial advisers, sources said.

But that doesn’t diminish their gratitude.

His donation will allow Sansum Diabetes Research Institute to bump to full time the employment status of a part-time diabetes educator, who gives classes to people stricken or at risk.

“They learn how to eat correctly, cook correctly, exercise correctly,” said Rochelle Rose, the organization’s director of development. “There’s such a need for that in this community. . . . We’re seeing with young children an increase in obesity.”

It perhaps will allow the Mental Health Association to serve more mentally ill patients, many of whom are homeless or indigent. It will bring a permanent stream of money — probably $50,000 a year — to the Music Academy to the West, which added the gift to its endowment, which draws interest.

It will allow the library to purchase books and online materials.

“It’s an occasion for great happiness,” said Carol Keator, the library director.

“To distribute it that way, to a resource that is open to everyone in the community, that’s really generous thinking.”

Santa Barbara News Press

Swollen GATE Numbers Causing Some to Take Pause

By now, the term “grade inflation” is familiar to most, but what about GATE inflation?

Officials say it is happening in the Santa Barbara High School District, where 16 percent of the students are considered “gifted and talented” — more than twice the proportion statewide.

Are Santa Barbara-area students more gifted than others? Maybe. But administrators say the numbers are too high and, due to tighter restrictions, likely to decrease.

“It’s going to be a slow change,” said Davis Hayden, Santa Barbara schools’ director of research and technology.

Parents and educators say the swollen numbers in the high school district owe largely to a general aversion to the “average” classes, coined “college prep,” taken by the majority of middle school and high school students. In a community full of lawyers and doctors on one end of the spectrum, and tree trimmers and house cleaners on the other — with perhaps relatively few middle-class people in between — there’s a perception that average really means remedial.

Some say this has led to a clamor for GATE status, mostly among more affluent parents, who in Santa Barbara tend to be white.

Parent Ingrid Biancone said she urged her child to apply for GATE identification three times — with the third attempt finally a success — based on the college-prep experience of her eldest child at Santa Barbara High School.

“Kids were talking on cell phones, conversing with one another, being disrespectful,” she said. “I had to transfer him out of (the class).”

Said her eldest son, Gabe, who is still in another college prep course: “I’m in a class where I’m getting the only ‘A.’ None of the kids in the class really cares. Therefore, my teacher doesn’t care.”

In a district with a near 50-50 split between white and Latino students, just two in 10 GATE students are Latino. Seven in 10 are white, and nearly one in 10 are Asian.

In the seventh-through-12th-grade high school district, an off-the-charts test score isn’t the only pathway to GATE. If a student doesn’t test well enough, but the teacher agrees that his or her work is the product of giftedness, the child can enter the class. Some say that clause has morphed into a loophole for savvy parents.

If a pupil doesn’t pass the test, “their mom can call the counselor and say, ‘I want my kid in GATE,’ ” said Santa Barbara High School teacher P.J. Elder. “The parents who know how to do that are predominantly white and predominantly English-speaking.”

Mr. Hayden, who has been working at the district about six months, said referrals will be watched more closely.

“We’re going to try to keep it more on the up and up,” he said.

When it comes to testing, officials are mulling another change: limiting the number of times a child can take the test, from once a year to once every other.

But the bigger change is already happening — although its effects won’t filter into the high school district for a while.

Two years ago, the elementary district upgraded the “cognitive abilities” test, described by officials as a hybrid between an IQ test and an academic achievement test. Apparently, the new version is more difficult.

In 2003-04, the first year of the new test, the proportion of elementary school aspirants who were successful plummeted from 36 percent to 13 percent in a year, said Barbie Evans, the GATE identification coordinator for the elementary district. The raw number of new GATE recruits decreased from 143 to 48.

The proportion of GATE students in the Santa Barbara elementary district is only 4.5 percent, much smaller than the high school district’s 16 percent. Perhaps that is because parents whose kids don’t score high enough can’t ask the teacher for a referral, as they can in the high school district. (The Santa Barbara elementary district is located wholly within the city limits; the high school district stretches from Montecito to Goleta.)

Meanwhile, at the high school district, administrators said they have no breakdown of who qualified for GATE through testing and who got in through teacher referrals.

Nonetheless, the phenomenon has renewed old questions about the meaning of GATE and sparked debate about who should get in.

Historically, GATE has applied to students considered innately talented, excluding those who are simply motivated or high achieving. The rationale for this approach has been that GATE students, like special-education students, have special educational needs: They absorb information more quickly, or delve more deeply into it, than others.

“Their minds may be wandering,” Mr. Hayden said. “The class is working on something that is so mundane to them, their minds just drift off.”

The first school for gifted children opened in New York City in 1936, but the program didn’t take off until the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957.

Amid the paranoia that powered that era’s nuclear arms race, the event touched off widespread criticism that America lacked challenging courses for its best and brightest scientific minds. A wave of research and funding for gifted programs followed.

In California, though, funding has waned, from $56 million in 2002-03 to $47 million this year, said Sandra Frank, the state’s top GATE administrator.

The concept of “gifted” is linked closely to that of IQ. To qualify for GATE, students must achieve a score of 132 on their cognitive abilities test on one of three measures: verbal, mathematical or spatial.

Although the test is technically different than an IQ test, the two scoring systems line up: 130 on an IQ test is considered “genius.”

About 2.5 percent of people who take an IQ test land in this range. Mr. Hayden said that, ideally, about 5 percent of students should be in GATE.

“Students in the 130-and-above range are different in the way they think than the rest of us,” he said.

Parents such as Ms. Biancone are turned off by the premise that GATE should apply only to students considered inherently special. Left behind, she said, are the hard-working high achievers.

“Here they’re scoring at 120 on their IQ tests and they’re being put in classes where students aren’t even at (grade level),” she said.

But Ms. Evans countered that mixing high achievers and gifted students can be detrimental to the rest of the students.

“I feel it’s wrong to drain our high achievers out of our regular classes,” she said. “It’s good for them to stay there, so children who are not high achievers can see what this other child is doing. (Otherwise) they’re not going to be inspired.”

Ms. Elder teaches one period of GATE freshman English, and one period of regular English. She said the contrast between the two is stark.

“The students in my (regular English class) haven’t had challenging expectations — they’re more passive about their education,” she said. “(The GATE) students will whine, but they’ll do the extra work.”

Last week, her GATE class discussed “The Odyssey.”

For a quiz, she told the class to draw a picture illustrating how Odysseus won the heart and hand of Penelope. (He shot an arrow through 12 ax rings.)

In many ways, the class seemed like any other with pubescent adolescents.

Students were distracted by one another and appeared to delight in getting under Ms. Elder’s skin by asking, for instance, far too many questions about the quiz.

“Do we have to get the number of rings correct?” asked one high-energy and mischievous boy, disclosing a key piece of information.

But classmates also showed their capacity to think in depth, pondering, at Ms. Elder’s behest, the nature of the relationship between the Greeks and their gods.

“The mortals fear the gods,” said Amber Harrington. “The mortals are at the mercy of the gods.”

Ms. Elder said many students and parents believe that GATE classes have siphoned off all the smart kids.

“I think there’s some accuracy to it,” she said, but added that there are a couple of kids easily smart enough to qualify for GATE in the regular class, and vice versa.

In Santa Barbara, where the competition between public and private schools is fierce, there may be an unintended incentive for administrators to keep the doors to GATE open wider than usual.

Anthony Spann, whose sixth-grade daughter attends the public Montecito Elementary school, said his decision on whether to send his child to public Santa Barbara Junior High School or private Laguna Blanca rests largely on whether his child qualifies for GATE.

“When she gets to junior high, it’s going to take much more involvement to keep the kind of education she’s had” in Montecito, he said. But he conceded that she doesn’t seem to much care whether or not she’s gifted. “My daughter is more interested in boys.”

Santa Barbara News Press

Grover Beach Lawyer Survives Plane Crash

A local attorney was the sole survivor of a plane crash near Mammoth Lakes Airport over the weekend that left two others dead.

Bill Hansult, a lawyer who often represents the Libertarian Party of Santa Barbara County, was a passenger in the four-seat Piper Cherokee piloted by a friend, Joseph Terrell “Terre” Owens of Arroyo Grande. The plane had a mechanical failure 10 minutes after takeoff and crashed upside down in a snowbank near the airport. Mr. Owens was 59. Also killed was Carol Maki, 51, of San Luis Obispo.

The three were returning to San Luis Obispo County from a ski trip in Mammoth.

Speaking Wednesday from his hospital bed at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, Nev., a battered and emotionally drained Mr. Hansult recounted the wreck and reflected on his luck.

“Everyone’s saying it was a miracle,” said the 51-year-old Grover Beach resident.

Mr. Hansult suffered multiple broken bones in his left arm and back — three of them compound fractures — as well as several bruises. He bled so badly from a cut on his head that he received a transfusion. Mr. Hansult said he is scheduled to undergo surgery on his shoulder today.

The group of friends was 600 feet in the air when the plane sputtered, lurched right and plunged, he said.

“I saw the ground rushing toward us,” he said. “Terre tried to correct the problem. The next thing I know I’m saying, ‘Oh my God, Terre.’ ”

When he came to, the 6-foot, 215-pound Mr. Hansult was trapped in a mangled mess. “I was like a sardine in a broken sardine can,” he said. With its white underbelly, the plane was not easy to spot.

“I was in a T-shirt and jeans,” said Mr. Hansult, a native of Long Island, N.Y. “I figured I was going to die in the elements. All of a sudden, a miracle happened. I faintly heard some voices in the background. Luck had it these two women were cross-country skiing in the outback.” One had a cell phone and called 911. Rescue workers arrived the only way possible, via snowmobile. They used the Jaws of Life to save Mr. Hansult.

He said Mr. Owens typically asks passengers to take turns sitting in the front seat — one each way. When they left for Mammoth on Thursday, Ms. Maki took the front. Just before the return trip, Mr. Hansult asked if he could sit in the back again because he wanted to take a nap, a move that likely saved his life.

Mr. Hansult said he’s been having trouble sleeping since the crash.

“As soon as I’m close, I start getting flashbacks,” he said. “When I came to in the plane, my head was resting against Terre, who was dead.”

He said he’d known Mr. Owens, an accountant, for about a year, but hadn’t really known Ms. Maki. She was a nurse who’d worked for many years at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. All three were members of the SLO Skiers club, which had scheduled the four-day getaway.

The cause of the crash is being investigated by officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, but Mr. Hansult said Mr. Owens was a responsible pilot.

Mr. Hansult, who is currently representing the Libertarian Party in a Brown Act suit against the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, said he does not know when he can return to work.

“It depends on what I can do,” he said. “My left arm I can’t even move. I can’t even stand up and walk.”

Santa Barbara News Press

Father, Son Found Dead

A father and son were found dead at their home on Tuesday night, apparent victims of a murder-suicide, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

About 6:15 p.m., a doctor from the Veterans Hospital called the Sheriff’s Department saying she received a call from a patient who told her that he wouldn’t be seeing her tomorrow, said Sgt. Erik Raney, spokesman for the department. He said the doctor may have been a psychiatrist.

Deputies responded to the home of the patient, 1215 Twinridge Road, off San Marcos Road, and found the body of the father in the kitchen and son in the bedroom. Authorities suspect that the son shot the father with a rifle before turning the gun on himself. The bodies have not been officially identified.

Sgt. Raney said the 42-year-old son was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He did not have the age of the father.

The sloped street on which they lived has a sweeping view of the city, and their neighbors’ houses — some with gated entrances — are sparsely scattered. That portion of the short windy road is devoid of street lights. Authorities surrounded the house and were investigating the crime scene late into the evening.

On Wednesday night, just one neighbor, Pete Conrad, stepped outside to watch about a dozen detectives and forensic experts working at the house, which was taped off at the driveway.

The bewildered Mr. Conrad said he did not know the names of his neighbors, even though the house is across the street from his own. But Mr. Conrad did say a man with a crew cut who lived there frequently referred to him by his last name from across the street.

“He would say ‘Conrad, how are you!’ ” he said, gesturing toward the taped-off driveway, where two pickups and a car were parked.

Neighbors suspected a problem with the son, a former U.S. Marine.

“I knew (he) has been going through some depression,” said Jeanne Mora, a neighbor on the block. “He just seemed depressed.”

She said that neighbors heard two shots.

The father was possibly a retired pharmacist in Goleta, she said.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said.

Sgt. Raney said no one else was inside the house when the deputies arrived.

“Physically how they got in, whether it was an open door or they had to kick it in, I don’t know,” he said. “They entered with the purpose of determining if medical care was needed or if someone’s safety was in jeopardy.”

News-Press Staff Writer Joshua Molina contributed to this report.

Santa Barbara News Press

Teachers Debate the Best Way to Close the Reading Gap

When Jo Ann Caines took the principal post at La Cumbre Junior High last spring, she was appalled.

Not so much by kids loitering in the hallways during class time, or by the chronic tardiness of students at what was then Santa Barbara’s version of an inner-city school. Instead, she was dismayed by what she felt was a dumbed-down English program, foisted upon the school’s native Spanish-speaking population — about half of the school’s student body. This fall, Ms. Caines banished the program — called Corrective Reading — for that group. “It is a very scripted program: There’s no thinking, certainly no critical thinking,” she said.

But other educators swear by the curriculum. At Santa Barbara’s other middle and high schools, about 500 students — 5 percent of the district’s population — are still taking the class, which has produced positive results on test scores.

Corrective Reading, also known as Reading for Success, focuses on rote skills such as timed reading, not literature. Until this year, many students at La Cumbre had to take Corrective Reading for two or even three periods a day, so they couldn’t take electives such as choir or theater. Many went without science.

Does it aim too low, or is Ms. Caines aiming too high?

Few local education experts claim to know. But one thing is certain: Test scores of struggling students need to improve faster for La Cumbre and some other schools to avoid harsh penalties under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Also, Ms. Caines says it will take bold measures to close the stubborn achievement gap between low-income, mostly Latino students and more affluent, mostly white students.

Corrective Reading is meant to teach reading to seventh- and eighth-graders who read at fifth- and sixth-grade levels or lower. Although at La Cumbre it was widely used by English learners, it was designed for special-education students. (In Santa Barbara’s schools, many students fall into both categories.)

The fast-paced class is an odd sight to behold, described by one teacher as a “drill sergeant” environment.

The coursework requires the instructor to use some sort of metronome — a hand-held clicker, a finger snap or a pen used as a drumstick — to tap a cadence for the students who, with heads down in their books and fingers following along, must call out answers on command. Ninety percent of their grade is based on classroom participation. There is very little homework.

Ms. Caines believes that the rudimentary nature of the workload sets students up for failure.

“You can’t expect kids to master standards that they are not being taught,” she said.

Other educators hail the program, saying it’s a way to catch kids slipping through the cracks, possibly into the abyss of lifelong illiteracy.

“The students are constantly engaged,” said Kathy Dubock, who teaches Corrective Reading at Santa Barbara Junior High. “All their points are accumulated in class. It’s designed that way so they will be successful — many never have been. It’s really exciting to see them blossom.”


The polarized opinions underscore the daunting challenge of teaching English in a K-12 system where an unusually large percentage of children — roughly a quarter — do not speak English fluently.

The task is further complicated by the current pressure-cooker era of high-stakes testing. No Child Left Behind wields a heavy hammer for schools that fail to boost the scores of struggling, often minority, students.

For La Cumbre, the stakes this year are higher than ever. If it doesn’t significantly improve the test scores of certain subsets of students — primarily English learners — it will enter its fourth year of sanctions. Possible consequences: “contract with outside agency to manage the school,” “state takeover,” “reopen school as a charter” and “replace all or most staff, including principal.”

As for Corrective Reading, teachers and administrators admit that the lessons do not even begin to prepare students for meeting the instructional standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 1997.

The standards, for instance, call for seventh-graders to be able to “Identify and analyze recurring themes across works (i.e. value of bravery, loyalty and friendship; the effects of loneliness).”

For students in Corrective Reading, those standards are lofty.

The class is meant to give kids the tools to sound out words. To the average adult reader, it is clearly remedial.

In a typical workbook exercise, pupils are given six words and a passage with a missing word. The students are asked to fill the blank with one of the six words.

Question: “They found a ‘blank’ to their problem.”

Answer: “Solution”

Question: “Sam lost the ‘blank’ with Cindy.”

Answer: “Argument”

Superintendent Brian Sarvis said he believes Corrective Reading has been a great success. With this in mind, he said he is reserving judgment about La Cumbre’s plan.

“(Corrective Reading) does produce results, but the question is, can you produce those same results in a different way?” he said. “That’s part of the grand experiment here.”

He added, “I have a lot of confidence in the school’s ability to deliver, so I’m not particularly worried about it.”


At La Cumbre, Ms. Caines instituted a change this fall that even she describes as bold. She not only axed Corrective Reading, but also skipped a middle level for the vast majority of her English learners.

The middle ground, a less phonics-based course called High Point, is designed for English learners and is also widely used across the district. (In general, High Point is geared toward English learners and Corrective Reading is geared toward special-education students, but in Santa Barbara the crossover is significant.)

Now at La Cumbre, the same grade-level English textbooks are given to the vast majority of students, English learners and “gifted and talented” kids alike.

The kids appreciate this, and not just because they love literature. For them, the change has removed a painful marker of pecking order: the color of their English textbook. In fact, students at La Cumbre used to refer to their English classes by color, not name, Ms. Caines said. (“Are you in the green class or the yellow?”) But now, all seventh-graders carry green English books; all eighth-graders, red. In a sense, it’s similar to the logic behind a dress code.

But for Ms. Caines, the change is more about content than confidence.

“I think truly, had I been one of the students, I would have dropped out of school,” she said.

As for the measurable results of her move, the jury’s still out. Students don’t take their annual barrage of tests until spring; schools don’t see the results until summer.


What English learners are now reading at La Cumbre is a stark contrast to Corrective Reading.

In the series of textbooks called “Literature and Language Arts” by Holt, students read from authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Amy Tan.

They read short stories, essays and articles to study concepts such as “putting analogies to work,” “omniscient point of view” and “presenting an argument.” Their lessons are directly aligned with the California standards.

La Cumbre eighth-grader Nancy Valencia has experienced both curricula. She said she much prefers this year’s more challenging reading assignments.

“I like the stories,” she said. “They talk about life.”

Last year, she had two periods of Corrective Reading, so she couldn’t take an elective course. She said she hopes to one day become an actor, choreographer or a counselor who helps kids. This year, she’s taking dance.

Her favorite short story, “The Circuit” by Francisco Jimenez, is about a boy who is the son of migrant farmworkers in California.

The boy, who had spent his young years in the fields, moves to a new town and enrolls himself in the sixth grade. He says he would like to learn how to read and play the trumpet. But soon enough, his family moves again. The story ends with the family packing, leaving the reader uncertain about the boy’s fate.

But some students appeared less confident than Nancy, suggesting that a wide gulf in skill level exists among so-called English learners.

One boy, upon being asked how many periods of English he takes, shyly replied, “six,” only to be corrected by his peers. (It’s two.)

Ms. Caines is sailing her ship into uncharted waters. Under her unique plan, instead of taking remedial English, special-education students and English learners take two periods of the same regular English class.

In short, they get extra time to learn the same stuff.

Teacher Joanne Thompson said so far it’s working: Her English learners are scoring on par with her honor students.

“I give them the same test,” she said. “The other thing is the discussion. You would never know it wasn’t an honors class.”

But not all teachers were on board last spring. One La Cumbre teacher, unable to reconcile her opposition, moved to La Colina Junior High, where she still teaches Corrective Reading.

Another La Cumbre teacher, Josephine Moore, initially disagreed with the mandate.

But her outlook did an about-face this fall, when she saw the students’ reaction to literature. “What if you never show a kid how to run, you just show them how to walk?” she said.

“They would never know there is running going on. They would never know there’s a faster way.”

By the test scores alone, the success of Corrective Reading is mixed. When it comes to closing the achievement gap between regular and remedial students, it has steadily closed the canyon by a couple inches a year.

For example, in 2003-04, on a standardized English test taken by all students in the secondary district, the average score of regular students dropped one point, from 59 to 58 out of 100.

But the score of Corrective Reading students gained three points, from 25 to 28.

And at La Cumbre, during the Corrective Reading years, the proportion of English learners scoring “proficient” (or grade-level) more than doubled, from 8 percent in 2002-03 to 19 percent last school year. On the other hand, La Cumbre’s English learners still fell well shy of the federal target of 24 percent. Also, their scores last year were the lowest of the district’s four middle schools’ English learners.


Corrective Reading was introduced to La Cumbre in 2000. At the time, the test scores of the school’s English-learner population were in the basement.

The change was spurred by then-Santa Barbara school board member Ruth Green, now the president of the State Board of Education. (She was nominated to the post by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

Alarmed by the curriculum void for La Cumbre’s English learners, the well-connected Ms. Green put local school officials in touch with a reading consultant in Sacramento. The consultant told school officials that Corrective Reading would produce fast results.

Back then, she said, schools didn’t have nearly as much to work with in the way of standards-based curricula.

“Looking over the long haul, we’re relatively new to the game,” Ms. Green said, referring to how the standards weren’t adopted until the late 1990s.

“Materials written to those standards did not come along until a few years later. We get better at it as we go along.”

At La Cumbre, Corrective Reading is still taught to about 60 special-education students, but Ms. Caines said she hopes to eventually weave the literature-based program into their schedules, as well.

Corrective Reading did not shield La Cumbre from the cudgel of the No Child Left Behind law, signed by President Bush in 2002.

In 2003, La Cumbre became the first school on the South Coast to be penalized, largely for the test scores of its English learners. The school, like all schools in their first year of No Child sanctions, was forced to tell parents they could send their children to other schools, with the district footing the bill for transportation. A wave of white, middle-class students left.

Since then, Santa Barbara Junior High has joined La Cumbre on the list, also for the performance of its English-learner population.

At La Cumbre, in the two years after the school was sanctioned, the proportion of Latino students rose from 82 percent to 88 percent.

But while some education officials blast No Child for segregating the school, others credit the law for spurring improvement.

Either way, Ms. Caines is keenly aware of the pressure, though she insists that she would have initiated major changes without No Child Left Behind.

“It was time for some really bold action,” she said.

“And ‘timid’ is not a description you would use for me, would you?”

Santa Barbara News Press

Carpinteria Leads the Way for High School Drug Tests

Students who flunk drug test not arrested

As school officials in Santa Barbara consider enacting a drug test policy for students, they need look no farther than Carpinteria to see how fractious — and possibly politically risky — the issue can be.

In January of 2004, the school board voted 4-1 to initiate the policy at Carpinteria High School for athletes and cheerleaders. In November, school board President Michael Damron — a proponent of testing — was unseated in a landslide by political newcomer Amrita Salm, a vocal opponent of the policy during the campaign. Nearly a year after the upset, the divide is at 3-2 in favor of testing, and the matter is expected to soon come back to the board.

In Santa Barbara, the issue has emerged amid high-pitched student chatter over a separate but related matter: Breathalyzers at the door for tonight’s homecoming dances at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos high schools. If students are caught under the influence, they will be suspended and forced to attend several sessions with a counselor and their parents. But they will not be arrested, Santa Barbara High School Principal Paul Turnbull said.

Like the proposed drug-testing policy, Breathalyzer use is a practice started in Carpinteria for school dances. But the Breathalyzer need not be approved by the school board, because it is not considered invasive.

Officials in Santa Barbara are treading carefully with the drug-testing initiative.

Already, they have enlisted the aid of a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union for guidance. Her advice, according to Dos Pueblos Principal Quentin Panek: Keep it voluntary, and do not limit testing to any particular group, such as athletes. The spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

It is this version that Mr. Panek prefers.

“In my experience, in many, many years in education, athletes are probably less likely than your average students (to use illegal drugs.)”

But Nan Verkaik, the athletic director at Santa Barbara High School, would like to see the testing specific to athletes, as they are in Carpinteria.

“If 1,000 kids (who are in sports) are not using, that’s going to change a lot of things that go on at the whole school,” she said.

Ms. Verkaik and other athletic directors in the district have long lobbied the city’s top education officials to consider a drug testing policy for athletes. But the powers that be didn’t take notice until the summer, when students in Ms. Verkaik’s TV production class created a video promoting the idea.

“The downtown people get a lot of requests,” she said of the school board and administration. “But when kids ask for help, an educator doesn’t turn away.”

One of the main points of the video is that a drug test provides students another avenue to say no, and encourages their friends to follow suit.

Indeed, several students at Santa Barbara High School expressed support for drug testing Friday afternoon.

“If you’re going to play a sport, why do drugs?” said Adam Medina, who plays defensive tackle on the varsity football team. “It just slows you down. I’ve gotten some offers, but I’m already slowed down enough.”

Said cheerleader Ashley Vizzolini, “If they catch them, bench ’em.”

Others worry about equity. “I think drug testing is fine, if you’re not singling out the athletes,” said Justin Fareed, a running back for the team.

At Carpinteria High, about five students — all athletes or cheerleaders — are randomly selected for testing each week. During physical education or a free period, the students come to the office, where they are asked to urinate in a cup.

And if they can’t perform, they don’t leave until they can,

said Carpinteria High Assistant Principal Gerardo Cornejo. “I’ll go and get a bottle of water,” he said.

The test looks for cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, amphetamines and opiates. It costs the district about $1,000 a year, or $6 a student. (If they were to test for steroids, the cost would skyrocket.) If students are caught, they are suspended from the team for 14 days and must see a counselor. They are not suspended from school or thrust into the criminal justice system.

Mr. Cornejo said it is something students should get used to — especially athletes.

“If you work for a lot of companies you get tested . . . if you work for the government you get tested,” he said. “This is just a simple reflection of society.”

Carpinteria trustee John Franklin said he supports the policy because athletics are a privilege, not a right.

“(Similarly), if they don’t keep a certain grade standard, they can’t participate,” he said. “They are models of the school, and are representing the school in the community.”

The policy is also endorsed by Carpinteria’s new superintendent, Paul Cordeiro.

Carpinteria district officials refused to divulge how many students have been caught.

“When all the schools start doing testing, we’ll be less hesitant (to reveal numbers),” Mr. Cordeiro said. “But it puts our high school in an unfair bad light.”

The Santa Barbara school board has yet to address the issue. On Friday, the News-Press reached just one board member, Laura Malakoff. She declined to comment.

Santa Barbara News Press

Evolution Returns To National Spotlight

Local educators tread carefully around issue

The politically volatile issue of explaining man’s origin has returned to the national spotlight, and some local biology teachers and other educators say they are treading carefully around the topic as students return to the classroom.

Although teachers in Santa Barbara are required to stick to teaching the theory of evolution, no state law can tell them how to address the topic when students raise objections to it.

The issue resurfaced last spring, when the conservative-leaning Kansas Board of Education changed that state’s public school science standards to allow instructors to teach “the scientific criticisms” of Charles Darwin’s theory, which holds that all living organisms — humans, apes, fish, plankton — share a common ancestor.

A cross hangs in a Bishop High classroom above a skeleton. Photo by MIKE ELIASON/SBNP
At Bishop Diego High, a Catholic school, the science department has a written policy directing teachers to stick to evolution. Photo by MIKE ELIASON/SBNP

The most prevalent recent countertheory, often supported by leaders of the religious right, is known as “intelligent design.”

This hypothesis contends that because some body parts and organisms are so “irreducibly complex,” they must have been designed by a superior intelligence. Unlike creationists, who believe God made man in his image, intelligent design advocates don’t specify God as this superior intelligence, but most in the science community say the linkage is clear.

Two weeks ago, President Bush ratcheted up the debate by saying, in response to reporters’ inquiries, that students should “be exposed to different ideas” about the creation of man.

While left-leaning Santa Barbara is arguably as far from Kansas politically as it is geographically, many local educators still are loath to discuss evolution publicly.

One top-level district administrator, for instance, did not return repeated phone calls over a two-week period for comment. One principal refused a News-Press request to borrow a biology textbook to obtain excerpts, though another obliged.

Santa Barbara schools superintendent Brian Sarvis said he understands their squeamishness.

“They don’t want to get mired in the controversy,” he said.


The educators’ reticence is testament to how, even here, the topic of evolution can be a charged one.

Local educators do their best to avoid broaching the debate, but they have their own methods of handling students who challenge them on the topic.

Dos Pueblos High School biology teacher Bob Evans starts the evolution unit by asking students to write down what they already know.

“There’s always a large portion of people who say, ‘I don’t believe that happened,'” he said. “I’d say 20 percent.”

Mr. Evans tries to make clear that he is asking those students to learn the theory, not necessarily to believe it.

Still, he said, “This is what the science is, and I’m not particularly apologetic about it.”

Ken Uchio, a biology teacher at San Marcos High School, begins the lesson with a verbal preface.

“I just tell the kids, ‘Look, I’m not here to shoot down any religious beliefs,'” he said. “For many of them, it’s a very important part of their lives. … I tell them that this is a science class and (evolution) is the best scientific evidence we have at this point.”

Rob Lindsay, a biology teacher and the science chairman at Carpinteria High, also tries to avoid the debate. But when it happens, he plays devil’s advocate, “no matter what position is being defended.”

“I’m trying to help them learn to think for themselves,” he said. “I’m less concerned with the conclusion they come to than the internal process that led to those conclusions.”

Mr. Lindsay hasn’t always tried to steer clear of the debate. About 15 years ago, he accepted a church’s request to come into the classroom to give a presentation on its brand of creationism. Oddly, the presentation drew fire from another local church, which has a more literal interpretation of the Bible.

Since then, Mr. Lindsay has learned to sidestep the point-counterpoint, which he said is perhaps better suited for the English department. Mr. Lindsay also has altered the way he responds to being challenged.

“I was more inclined to debate with them than I am now,” he said. “I’m better at helping them understand what the state wants them to do within a public school classroom.”


Though evolution was a concept codified by the ancient Greeks, in the 19th century, British naturalist Charles Darwin devised a theory of how it worked. The theory, called natural selection, holds that organisms that have physical traits that better suit their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce than those that do not have such traits. Over time, a species will change — or evolve — through natural selection into either a new species or one with more complex attributes.

In 1859, the public release of Darwin’s theory in the book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” stirred an international furor.

In 1925, Tennessee teacher John Scopes drew intense hometown fire — and considerable national attention — when he was sued by the state after imparting Darwin’s theory to his students in defiance of a state law that called for teaching creationism only. Though Mr. Scopes initially was found guilty in what became famously known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” the state Supreme Court overturned the decision on a technicality.

It was a high-water mark for creationism in the schools, and the controversy mostly stayed below the surface of national debate until 1999, when the Kansas Board of Education started what would become a series of flip-flops on the matter by voting to remove Darwin’s theory from public school science standards. In 2001, a less conservative board reinstated the curriculum. Since then, the board has swung back to the right and the curriculum has taken its current form.

Locally, Dos Pueblos High School teacher John Torkington says the number of kids who disagree with evolution seems to be on the rise. But their distaste usually manifests itself silently — in their faces.

“They roll their eyes,” he said. “They do sometimes ask me what my religious point of view is. I just cut that conversation off right there.”

Others say their biggest confrontations happened long before the latest tempest in Kansas.

More than five years ago, Dos Pueblos’ Mr. Evans taught at Lompoc High, which had a “very large Christian club.”

When the club met at lunchtime, he said, the adviser would coach the kids on how to challenge their biology teachers when the subject came up.

“They raised their hands and would say, ‘Did you hear that so-and-so professor of chemistry from this prestigious school said this about evolution?'” he recalled. “A lot of their approach was to try and nitpick pieces of evolution.”

For their part, many students who believe in creationism keep a low profile.

Carpinteria High student April Wood said that although she doesn’t necessarily believe what’s being taught, she tries to pass the tests and keep her grades up.

“I’d rather be a good witness (for my faith) by example,” she said. “People don’t care what I have to say. High schoolers already have their mind made up.”

Chris Targoni, a 2005 graduate of Carpinteria High, said he appreciates the separation of church and state that most teachers practice.

“I’m not sure if I’d want a public educator teaching me about my faith,” he said, lamenting that one of his science teachers called creationism “junk science.”

“I’m not sure if they would be unbiased.”

At Bishop Diego High School — a Catholic school — biology teacher Randall Hahn said he’s never experienced a classroom debate during his seven years on the job.

Bishop’s science department has a written policy directing teachers to stick to evolution.

It reads: “It is possible that God created the world while also accepting that the planets, mountains, plants and animals came about after the initial creation, by natural processes.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Hahn said he hadn’t even heard the term intelligent design until very recently. But he’s well aware that the theory of evolution has been controversial.

“Some theologians say you shouldn’t restrict God’s power: If he’s all powerful, couldn’t he use evolution?” he said.


Although California’s content standards require that students learn evolution, the text itself seems to skirt the controversy. For example, nowhere does the name Darwin appear. Instead, the required knowledge includes bullet points that are highly technical. The least technical includes: “Students know how natural selection determines the differential survival of groups of organisms.”

Conversely, in Kansas, the newly adopted standards — which go into effect for the first time this coming school year — use language that is more inflammatory.

The Kansas guidelines, for example, say students should be exposed to some “of the scientific criticisms” of Darwin’s theory, such as “the sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.”

Also, “The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor has been challenged in recent years by (how) … genetic changes occur only in individual organisms.”

In California, biology teachers do not teach that man evolved from monkeys. In fact, in Mr. Evans’ class, students learn about a 19th-century scandal in which scientists, in an effort to shore up support for Darwin’s theory, slapped together a skull by fusing the bones of a human and an ape.

“The point is, we both have a common ancestor,” he said. “Our common ancestor is a single cell. It’s a fish.”

He added, “You don’t have this classic picture of a four-knuckled walker turning into a sentient human. We don’t have a succession of fossils that lead in minor steps directly to the next.”

Meanwhile, at Santa Barbara High, biology teacher Claire Carey said the way an instructor responds to students who question the material is itself a teachable moment.

When that happens, “I listen and the class listens,” she said. “I would probably thank them for their input. … We respect that everyone has their own beliefs and opinions. But I’m also going to lay out the theory of evolution.”

Santa Barbara News Press

Bitter Rivalry in Race for Top

In Santa Barbara County, as in the rest of the country, the race to become high school valedictorian is an increasingly cutthroat competition.

The honorific post has become the focus of intense student rivalries, slick maneuvering over class choices, and even the threat of legal action by parents.

To avoid splitting scholastic hairs in excruciatingly close contests, local schools are naming more multiple winners. Colleges, meanwhile, are getting flooded with more valedictorian applicants. And the valedictorians themselves are achieving GPAs that are through the roof.

Locally, the most intense valedictorian controversy has been waged at Lompoc High, where a $35,000 scholarship was at stake.

There, a neck-and-neck bid not only had a parent calling an attorney, but another accusing the school district of a cover-up. In the end, the school named four winners — a record number.

Lompoc is not the only place where pursuit of the valedictorian award has amped up academic competitiveness.

“With more students applying to colleges, it is kind of raising the bar,” said Jennifer Foster, an assistant principal at San Marcos High School.

To beef up their college applications, more students are taking college-level courses known as “Advanced Placement (AP)” or “International Baccalaureate” classes. Schools assign higher weight to those courses, raising the top possible GPA from 4.0 to 5.0.

During the 1990s the number of students taking college level courses doubled, according to The New Yorker magazine, which published a story this month stating that the increased competition has caused some schools to drop the distinction. Between 1990 and 2000, the mean GPA of high schoolers in the United States rose from 2.68 to 2.94, the magazine reported.

The stepped-up drive comes as a new reality TV show, called “The Scholar,” appears to glorify the growing intensity by having 10 students vie for a scholarship to the college of their choice.

In Carpinteria, valedictorian Emily Pettijohn felt the pressure both at home and beyond. The race at her school was so close the principal named three salutatorians.

Yet earning the title didn’t improve her prospects for scholarships; she applied for eight, and didn’t get one. The rejection letter from one school, Colorado College, said this has been the most competitive year in three decades — with 30 percent of its incoming freshmen being valedictorians from their schools.

She said many of the high schools there give the distinction to all students who receive straight A’s.

As a result of her failure to secure a scholarship, Emily is taking next year off.

“I’m going to move to Colorado and get residency out there,” she said. “I want to work full time . . . so I can save up some money for next year.”

Sometimes, the valedictorians aren’t even seniors.

Last year at Santa Barbara High School, seniors were peeved when 16-year-old Ben Eidelson, a junior who had accrued enough credits to graduate, took the title because he had the highest grade-point average, a 4.94. He had also earned two associate of arts degrees with honors.

In the old days, the tradition was to name one valedictorian and one salutatorian. Not anymore.

At the private Bishop Diego High School, there was only one valedictorian and salutatorian each year between 1990 and 2001, but this year, for the first time, the school had two of each. And Carpinteria’s naming of three salutatorians also probably constitutes a record, Principal John Arreguin said.

“It’s kind of difficult when you get into (differentiating) grade-point averages in the thousandths,” he said. “When you get into that minute an area . . . it isn’t worth trying to split hairs.”

At Santa Barbara High this year, Mikel Richardson won by a sliver, with an off-the-chart GPA of 4.85. The two salutatorians, Cord Phelps and Kimberly True, both earned a 4.82.

His sophomore year, Mikel quit playing football to keep his near-perfect grades on track.

While the praise from friends, family and strangers has been nice, it hasn’t come without sacrifice.

“I would have liked to learn a musical instrument,” said Mikel, who will attend Westmont College in Montecito, where he will major in chemistry.

David Hodges, an assistant principal at Santa Barbara High, said while it is good to recognize the academic feats of star students, he worries that the valedictorian title replaces the emphasis on learning with that of grades. Students, he added, are not similarly awarded for improvement.

“Say a student has gone from D’s to B’s (because) their reading comprehension had gone up,” he said. “Those accomplishments are well worthy of celebration as well.”

In Lompoc, the pressure went beyond simply being No. 1. Two of the school’s four winners had applied for a full-ride scholarship offered to valedictorians at Long Beach State — an award that amounts to about $35,000.

The dispute began when the front-running student, Matt Marchione, lost his sole first-place status because he dropped an AP class, leading to a swirl of confusion over the new winner. The school ultimately named four valedictorians, one of whom was Matt, whose father had contacted an attorney shortly before the announcement.

Earlier in the year, Matt had successfully applied for the Long Beach scholarship. The school bestows the award on the contingency that students wind up the first-place winners.

Naming four valedictorians infuriated parent David Grill, the father of Diane Grill, one of the four. Mr. Grill suspects his daughter, who unsuccessfully applied for the scholarship, achieved the highest GPA, and that the district caved to the legal pressure — a charge district officials deny.

But his anger has cooled somewhat since learning that, regardless of whether his daughter was the lone valedictorian, she did not qualify for the Long Beach scholarship.

“It still remains that the reputation of the school board is in the trash can, and the morale of the academic students is in the trash can,” he said. “The students see that no matter how hard they work, how great they achieve, the bottom line is . . . the actual reward in the end is determined by secret, back-room politics.”

Meanwhile, at Long Beach, the number of applicants for the scholarship — called President’s Scholars — has skyrocketed, from 25 the first year in 1995 to about 650 this year. Only 65 scholarships are available.

“We have moms with students in middle school calling to say, ‘I’ve heard about the scholarship, what do we need to do now to be competitive?’ ” said Valerie Bordeaux of Long Beach State.

The valedictorian imbroglio at Lompoc High wasn’t the district’s first.

Five years ago, a student at the other high school, Cabrillo, had taken the maximum number of AP courses, and had aced every course she took. Yet her GPA was surpassed by that of another student who had recently moved to Lompoc from a school out of town that had offered more AP classes.

Over the objections of the new student’s father — who pointedly identified himself as an attorney — the Lompoc school board crafted a policy granting principals the ability to name co-valedictorians despite differences in grade-point averages, “if inequity existed.”

But not all contests are bitter.

Take San Marcos High School, whose valedictorian and two salutatorians were all on the school’s polo team, and began hanging out in seventh grade.

Yet salutatorian Mike Kuhn admitted he wanted the title so badly he could taste it, unlike Thomas Myers, who assumed a more laid-back attitude but nonetheless wound up the winner.

“It’s sort of a fitting end,” Mike said.

One local high school, Dos Pueblos, has never given the honor, Assistant Principal Michelle Hughes said.

“All of our graduates are special,”

she said. “We want to keep an even playing field.”

< back to News-Press story list


San Marcos High School graduate Thomas Myers assumed a more laid-back attitude toward the valedictorian honor than some of his peers, but he won it nonetheless.

Following controversy over who would be named valedictorian at Lompoc High, the school chose a record four winners, from top: Matt Marchione, Sarah Lyons, Thai Mova and Diane Grill