Tag Archive | "El Cerrito"

Political Philosophies Divide School Board

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Political Philosophies Divide School Board


At the December 10 meeting, the West Contra Costa County school board will discuss a new proposal that would have Richmond’s Leadership Charter School move onto the site of Castro Elementary School. The proposal was abrupt and some say it speaks to the discord among board members.

Veteran school board member Charles Ramsey placed the Leadership relocation on the agenda. Ramsey says that if Castro closes as planned in June, then they should consider putting Leadership at the site. The charter school is currently housed at Gompers High School in Richmond, which is also set to close at the end of the year.

The meeting’s original agenda was to swear in its two latest members: Antonio Medrano, a retired teacher and Tony Thurmond, a member of Richmond’s city council. The inaugural meeting usually has a celebratory spirit, filled with friends, family members and other supporters. However, Medrano believes the Leadership proposal was put on the agenda as a divisive strategy with the intent to get a lot of reaction. “To do that side run, on the remaining days of the old school board to me is not fair,” said Medrano. “I would use a stronger word but I’ll just say it’s not fair.”

Medrano is not only against the move but he also disagrees with how it was proposed. He only learned of the proposal through an email.  After talking with contacts at both schools, Medrano realized very few people were informed about the potential relocation. “We have to involve the community and it has to be transparent,” he said. Medrano believes the old school board members have a history of ignoring community input. “What they’re doing is indicative of what they’ve been doing for the last four years,” he said.

In fact, Medrano and others have said school board president Karen Pfeifer, Madeline Kronenberg, and Charles Ramsey had a tendency to vote together, creating a 3-2 divide that was impossible to penetrate. Valerie Snider, a member of the Save Castro Park and School group, says their alliance made the two remaining school board members, Audrey Miles and David Brown, “ineffectual.”  Brown decided not to run for reelection.

With this thought in mind, Snider and her group members directed their efforts to prevent Pfeifer’s reelection in November. Despite having over $100,000 in campaign contributions, Pfeifer lost the race. The election brought two new school board members, Medrano and Thurmond, with strong community ties. Snider believes their addition will change the dynamics of the school board and will provide school board member Miles with much needed support on votes. “We’ve broken that block now that Karen Pfiefer is gone,” said Snider. “And not only are we happy that she’s gone but we actually feel excited about Antonio Medrano and Tony Thurmond.”

Although many residents have embraced them, not everyone is happy with Medrano and Thurmond joining the school board. School board member Charles Ramsey is one of their most vocal critics. “I oppose both of them. They’re good people but I don’t believe we share the same philosophy,” he said.

Before they were even sworn into office, the new elects had their first challenge.
On November 12, the board held an open meeting to discuss school closure criteria.  President Karen Pfeifer was noticeably absent. The district’s superintendent Dr. Bruce Harter presented his case for the closures through a series of charts and graphs that illustrated the dire financial straits the districts now faces.

Enrollment has been steady decreasing over the last five years, an almost 12 percent decline since 2002. Year after year, expenses have continued to grow even as the budget shrinks. The district will need to cut $1.5 million each year for the next two years according to the approved budget. They plan to reach their goal by selling district owned property, reducing services, containing the costs of benefits and school consolidation. Closing an elementary school will save $300,000 and $800,000 for a middle or high school.

School board member Ramsey projects they will need to close five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.  Its tough.  It’s not a nice place to be,” he said. “Life does not have an infinite amount of resources. You have to try to make good decisions within the tax base that you have.”

Both Medrano and Thurmond believe the district should examine test scores, facility conditions and geographic equity of every school in the district before making a decision about closures. This would include even recently built schools such as LovonyaDeJean in Richmond and El Cerrito High School, a suggestion that increased the divide between them and the old board members. “I don’t think that’s compliant with our fiduciary duties to be good stewards of the money that we have been possession of,” said Ramsey. “I think that would be a tragic mistake.”

Save Castro leader Snider believes the school board had an obsession with rebuilding schools in El Cerrito. Before the November elections, three of the five school board members, including the president, were residents of the city. “They continually said El Cerrito needs a middle school. However this is not the El Cerrito Unified School District, its the West Contra Costa Unified School District,” Snider said.  Miles, Medrano and Thurmond are all Richmond residents who will bring attention to struggling area schools like Kennedy High and Adams Middle School.

The school board next major contention may also involve Castro’s site. The school is expected to close in June. However, that may change if Medrano has his way. “It’s not going to close. We have the votes to say no. The old board: yes. The new board: no,” he said.

The December 10 meeting will held at 6:30PM at Lovonya DeJean Middle School and will be last meeting of the year.

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She Knows How to Get Her Point Across

Students practice at the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond.

Students practice at the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond.


Karen Ladenheim has been operating the Sport Fencing Center in Richmond for seven years, bringing a lifetime of fencing experience along with her as she coaches East Bay youth on the art of swordsmanship. The El Cerrito resident gives us some insight on the center, her students and how we all have a little swordsman inside of us. Read the full story

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Finding Voice in ECHS Radio Class


A popular, vibrant radio class at El Cerrito High School is highlighting the importance of youth voice and activism.

Check out the video below to listen to what’s going on. Also be sure to check out this link for more info and to listen live!


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Local Theaters Holding Their Own Against Economy


In a time of economic strife and hardship, laughter appears to be prevailing.

The house was packed at the Contra Costa Civic Theater in El Cerrito for Saturday night’s performance of Greater Tuna, a “comedy with Tex Appeal.”
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SLIDE SHOW: San Pablo Avenue Looks to the Future


San Pablo Avenue is a major economic force in El Cerrito, supplying the community with everything from nail salons to novelty shops. Now, a new plan to regulate future development along this major thoroughfare is nearing completion.

Watch the slideshow below to learn more.

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For the Love of Rice


Clear glass jars of red, white, black and bamboo-infused rice line the kitchen counters in the home of Caryl Levine and Kenneth Lee. Pictures of rice farms and farmers in exotic locations hang on the walls in the hallway. Books and articles on global agriculture, entrepreneurship, and rice cultivation are neatly stacked on a bookshelf and strewn across the coffee table.

These earthy images, products and colors don’t simply decorate the home; they illustrate the life that Levine and Lee follow. This quaint house on a quiet street in El Cerrito is the headquarters for Lotus Foods, Inc. Levine and Lee, co-founders of Lotus Foods, are self-proclaimed lovers of rice. But more than that, they are using their love of rice as a tool to connect Americans with small family farms in places like India, Madagascar and Bhutan.

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New Video Surveillance Law Protects Businesses


Silvia Figueroa worked at The Red Onion, a popular El Cerrito burger institution, for over 10 years before buying the restaurant with her husband Alfredo in January 2006. Just four months after they celebrated their first anniversary as owners, Alfredo was gunned down during an armed robbery. Read the full story

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A Little Bit of Karachi in El Cerrito


Ordering his chai tea latte in the El Cerrito Barnes and Nobles, Nabeel Awan sports a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie as he checks text messages on his phone from his friends. On this rainy Saturday evening, Awan could be mistaken for any other typical American single 27-year old man relaxing on a weekend.

But the texts that he exchanges are not about the night’s parties, girls or the next NFL football game. Instead, Awan and his Pakistani friends are talking about the great non-American pastime. They are furiously commenting on the day’s heated cricket tournament played in Fremont. Awan, captain of his team, explains that their opponents had to forfeit because of late players but still forced Awan’s team to play a match.

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Gauchos Fall to Kennedy High 34-9 in First Round of Playoffs


The first year for Kenny Kahn as head coach at El Cerrito High was marked by comebacks: The Gauchos stormed back from an 0-3 start by winning six of their final seven regular season games, and came from behind in two of those wins with late touchdowns.  But the No. 8 Gauchos could not muster another rally on Friday night, losing to the No. 9 Titans of Kennedy High 34-9 in El Cerrito. With the loss, the Gauchos were eliminated from the NCS Division III playoffs.

Gaucho player Malcolm Carson watches the final minutes of El Cerrito's loss to Kennedy from the sidelines.

Gaucho player Malcolm Carson watches the final minutes of El Cerrito

“When you get to playoffs, you can’t play from behind,” Kahn said. “JFK of Fremont was able to show up and play with intensity, play with tenacity, play aggressively, where there were times where we looked timid.”

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VIDEO: Day Laborers Facing Economic Struggles


The economic downturn is having a devastating effect on companies and employees alike – news of layoffs comes almost daily. But at a local level, one group also dealing with the downturn is seldom mentioned: day laborers. These workers, the majority of which are undocumented Latinos, have little choice but to stand and wait for jobs that are never guaranteed. El Cerrito Focus visited the Home Depot parking lot on San Pablo Avenue twice recently to talk to laborers and find out how they are dealing with these tough times. Listen in on how they’re dealing with today’s economic crisis. Read the full story

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