Thursday, April 30, 2009

Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming!

Writing letters in order to communicate our needs and concerns as constituents - and to further inform our elected representatives and public education employees about critical issues - is an essential part of a vibrant democratic process.

We hope that you continue to be part of our efforts to defend the interests of our community and its children.

Our ongoing review of the county transportation department statistics has revealed that the OUSD-sanctioned option of busing students 1.5-2 hours daily into Orange puts them at risk. In addition, when road closures occur, as they often do along Santiago Canyon Road, at Jamboree or the 241, bussed students or parents who choose to transport their own children to school, will be forced to detour through Lake Forest, another additional commuting hour. We will publish our full report on this issue soon.
Please write another letter or email today.

Here's one that was sent yesterday to all the trustees and the superintendent:

Dear OUSD Board President, Members and Superintendent:

I am a parent of a first grader at Silverado, and have addressed the Board a few times in recent months. I am writing once again to ask you to please, please consider a revote on the closure of our school. We are working hard to do our part as engaged parents and community members, but need your support. Please do agendize our request for the next Board meeting. We are confident that another discussion --- this one surrounding the profoundly harmful impact on our community, problems of transportation safety, and the possibilities of our Environmental Science model --- will suggest another way of solving the problem, and of keeping open this singularly historic and vital community resource.


Andrew Tonkovich
Parent, Silverado Elementary School

The next OUSD board meeting is Tuesday May 12.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Community Mobilizes to Make O'Neill Elementary a Charter School

O'Neill Elementary School is slated for closure and concerned community members are beginning to get organized.

From the OC Register:
A group of parents seeking to prevent the permanent closure of O'Neill Elementary School this June is making one last effort to keep the beloved, 41-year-old campus open – imploring school officials to turn it into a charter school.

Saddleback Valley Unified School District trustees listened to nearly an hour of testimony Tuesday from parents and community members who urged the school board to reopen the Mission Viejo campus as an independent educational facility, free from many of the rules and funding constraints that limit traditional public schools.

"I know these are tough economic times, but brain power has to be kicked in," said Mission Viejo parent Bill Brennan, whose two kids went through O'Neill. "Do something good with this school. It's a great asset for the school district."

To read the rest, click here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Safety of Canyon Roads

The OUSD Board's decision to close of Silverado Elementary School will result in some students being bussed daily into Chapman Hills Elementary School in Orange (estimated 1.5-2 hours round trip) and other students traveling along Santiago Canyon Road and Live Oak Canyon to reach the closer school, Trabuco Elementary.

Both options present danger to the students.

There have been two fatal accidents on Live Oak Canyon Road in the last two weeks. According to a January 2009 OC Register article, since 2005, there have been 206 collisions with 164 injuries and seven fatalities along the same stretch of road - but of course, that was before the recent tragedies.

More information regarding the daily commute to Orange soon.

(Photo above from the Orange County Register.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The April 16 Board Meeting

Last night, five community members spoke to the OUSD Board of Trustees on behalf of Silverado Elementary School and our community.

Silverado resident Jeff Wilson, parent of a first grader at the school, presented the following request:

Please consider this our formal request to add the following action item to the May 12 board meeting agenda: the reconsideration of the closure of Silverado Elementary School. Accompanying this request are several documents that contain both updated and new information regarding our school. We believe that this information sheds new light as regards the decision to close Silverado Elementary, and justifies revisiting the issue.

It has come to our attention that we may not have clarified certain elements of our proposal to set up an environmental Science and Technology Charter School on the Silverado Elementary campus. Specifically we did not clarify the negative economic impact that closing the school would have on the Canyon Community. Furthermore, several budget issues have changed for the better for next year. Plus, we have secured potential pledges for funds to assist the process of setting up the charter, dependant on the school remaining open. It has also come to our attention that state funding may be available for Necessary Small Schools, which perhaps has not been investigated by the District. Finally, it is important to realize that closing Silverado Elementary would result in the Canyon Community being the only community within the Orange Unified District that will not have an elementary school a few minutes away from students' homes. (See map provided.)

One more extremely important point must be mentioned. It is expected that anywhere from 25 to 50 students will either transfer to another district or receive home schooling if Silverado Elementary closes. Even the most conservative estimate of 25 students will result in a loss of ADA revenue of more than $137,000 for Orange Unified District. The projected amount saved by the district if Silverado is closed is approximately $199,000 for the year 2009/2010. However, this figure does not include the interdistrict transfers and home schooling losses. In fact, the true “savings” figure for the district if Silverado closes is somewhere between $62,000 and an actual loss of over $100,00. This alone makes the closure a poor decision.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to review these documents.

Thanks to all the folks who took time to attend the meeting. Please keep keep communicating to the board and local elected officials. Educate them on the impact this closure will have on our community. Use the information on the sidebar to help you direct your letters and emails.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

OUSD Board of Trustee meeting Thursday April 16th

The OUSD board of trustees will meet again on this Thursday April 16.

We will once again ask them to reconsider the closure. We will remind them that this decision is devastating to our community and sets a bad precedent in terms of budget decisions.

We will submit cards to speak, and expect to be allowed our 3 minutes per person, 20 minutes total for topic after either item 11 or item 15. Note that the Board will not respond to us because we are not an agendized item. These are the two public comment opportunities.

Those planning to speak should write out comments and stick to time limit, be polite if firm.

You can also simply attend the meeting without speaking. Your presence also sends a message - and boosts those who do speak!

OUSD headquarters is at 1401 N. Handy Orange.

The meeting begins at 7 PM.

See you there!

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Saddleback Valley Does it

How are other districts handling the economic crisis?

We know that nearby Saddleback Valley Unified opted to close McNeill and La Tierra. Their "rural" school, Trabuco Elementary, remains open, operating as an elementary school and also as destination for district field trips.

How did SVUSD come to this decision? SVUSD "found it vital to develop measurable, objective criteria. Any other method would produce potentially biased and invalid results."

Their criteria included: distances traveled; distances between schools; path of travel to schools; student residences and school locations; contiguous and non-contiguous school locations; transportation needs and neighborhood schools and schools of attendance - as well as enrollment, special programs and support space.

I was particularly impressed with the committee's work in terms of their evaluation of the projected impact on other schools, safe path of travel, distance traveled and busing costs.

Their decision-making appears to be one that is thoughtful and thorough and takes into consideration that the mission of the district is to meet the educational needs of all the children who live within the district. And their staff seems so confident in the process that they are willing to share it with the public. Impressive.

SVUSD has posted all this material and more online. To review it, click here.

Continue to communciate to the OUSD board. Ask them what criteria they used to determine the closure of Silverado Elementary.


Thanks for all support this weekend at the holiday pancake breakfasts!


Thursday, April 9, 2009


Chris Jepsen, who works at the Orange County Archives and maintains the blog, O.C. History Round-Up, has taken note of our struggles to defend Silverado Elementary School.

There's an ongoing dicussion on his blog about the oldest school in OC which continues to operate. Silverado is right up there though outpaced by the likes of Loara Elementary School in Anaheim (1888) and St. Catherine's Military Academy in Anaheim, next to St. Boniface Church, (1889.)

You can check out his coverage by clicking here.

It's nice to be noticed.

Across the state, districts are making tough choices in these hard times. Closure of schools seem to be a step most want to avoid.

What is often the first? Summer school.

You'll recall that the OUSD board voted to shutter Silverado on the same evening they opted to keep summer school open.

Meanwhile, I've just noticed that there's a move afoot up north where the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to consider using money from their Rainy Day Fund to avert teacher layoffs.

Makes a girl think.


Letters to distribute at festivities this weekend can be picked up today and tomorrow at the Children's Center.


Enjoy the holidays. Posting will be light until next week.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"The power of a simple story in the paper, I think, can still matter."

Over at LA Observed, Kevin Roderick blogs about Daily News sports columnist Tom Hoffarth.

On his blog, Farther off the Wall, Hoffarth had written about the plight of the old Wrigley Field in South Los Angeles where the Wrigley Little League still plays where left field used to be.

That post led to a story in the Daily News which in turn led to donations.

Hoffarth writes:

The intent of the story wasn't to try to drum up donations for this obviously hurting Little League, but that's the interesting residue of stories like this sometimes. You find the goodness of people who see a need and then act upon it...

...The power of a simple story in the paper, I think, can still matter.

For the rest of the story click here and here.

I too believe that a simple story can still matter. I've had a couple queries lately about what more the press can do - well, they can do what they do best - write, report, investigate.

After all, as we discovered this weekend, many people were unaware of the school closure. This sad fact points to the danger of the diminishing press presence and the special vulnerability of small communities like ours at this time. Can you have a functioning democracy without a vibrant press? The public officials who make poor decisions benefit when those decision are known by few -and the people suffer.

If a school closes in the woods and no one is there to report on it - does anyone hear? Does anyone care?

I do know that these are tough times for journalism. I have friends who have lost their jobs and are now faced with devastating professional and personal consequences - but I still pin my hopes on the newspaper I used to deliver and the one I still read everyday to do what it's always done - show people the world, inform them, make them care.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Epistolary in Modjeska

Letter writers who visited our table at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary were eager on Saturday, chatty and encouraging.

Volunteers from our ad hoc band of parents and community activists had set up a table under the mighty oaks adjacent the Tucker’s recently refurbished interpretive center, all of this remarkable and thoughtful improvement coordinated by the amazing Marcella. We were stationed next to a nifty outfit called Wild Birds Unlimited, displaying all manner of bird watching accoutrements. They run a store in Mission Viejo and are the smartest fellas you want to meet when it comes to attracting songbirds to your property.

And, attracted like birds to suet and sunflower seeds to the lovely schoolhouse model on display, visitors to this First Annual Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary Spring Bird Fair and Art Show flocked around our little table. Impressive indeed was how eager they seemed to do their modest part toward saving our school. More remarkable was how many people, even locals from Modjeska and Silverado, did not even know that the OUSD school board had voted to close the school, voting on its shuttering as a line item a few weeks ago.

This is, of course, why we were here in beautiful Modjeska Canyon on a sunny and clear spring morning: to do the work which local media might have, were there any left. Alas, the Register has reported on our situation intermittently and only online. And the LA Times, teetering it seems on the edge of closure (how can the paper get any smaller?) hasn’t even mentioned us. Where's Dana Parsons when you need him? The Sentry, god bless ‘em, is a monthly paper. So, indeed, how is anybody gonna even know what the OUSD Board of Trustees does - or any board for that matter?

This is, as we remind our son, a lesson in democracy. The letters, the organizing, Thursday evenings spent in meetings rather than at home. Democracy is noisy and time-consuming and requires us to pay attention and to engage.

We would love it if the weekly KPCC (89.3 FM, public radio) Orange County roundtable reporters who meet to talk about our county would mention the closure, but understand that there are a lot of journalistic fish to fry. But the failure of a board to keep open a vital and historic school seems to us here at Save Silverado the kind of story you’d want to talk about.

Anyway, when we briefed the birdwatchers, birdlovers, canyon visitors and ecophiles visiting the displays, artist booths and listening to live music of what was up with our kids call "the down school,” you couldn’t keep these good citizens from signing their names to the pre-printed letters we offered and including their addresses. And, even though we offered to pay the postage ourselves, these good folks left us $28.75 in the donations jar.

So, yes, people in and out of the canyons, parents and non-parents and grandparents and people who had parents care about the closure of Silverado Elementary and want to share their support for our efforts and do their bit to ask the board to reconsider.

We need folks who are willing to circulate letters at upcoming events this weekend - let us know and we'll give you a few.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Saturday April 4: Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary

Join us this this Saturday April 4 as we table at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary Spring Bird Fair and Art Walk. We'll be providing sample letters for folks to sign and distributing information about Silverado Elementary School. The Silverado Children's Center will also be raising funds by selling baked goods.

The Tucker, as locals commonly refer to it, is operated by Cal State Fullerton and located at the far end of Modjeska Canyon. It should be a beautiful spring day in the canyon, so come join us and see what's new at the Tucker. If you haven't visited in awhile, you will be surprised at all the changes.

This event will feature entertainment and activities for the whole family and an opportunity for local artists and crafters to display their products.

There will be live music, crafts for children, an art walk, and craft demonstrations.

This event is free to the public.

9 AM - 5 PM
Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary
29322 Modjeska Canyon Rd

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"find the political courage"

Modjeska Canyon resident and longtime Irvine high school teacher Jim Mamer sent the following letter to OUSD Superintendent Dreier on Tuesday March 31.

Superintendent Renae Dreier:

Andrew Tonkovich’s statement at the board meeting of March 26th is probably better than anything I might write. And I’m pretty sure that you remember it, but I’d like to add a couple of comments.

I live in these canyons with my wife, three cats, and dozens of friends, but I teach in Irvine at Northwood High and I often share my experience of living in this very old and very beautiful canyon with my students. Amazingly, almost none of them even know that these homes are here. They don’t know about the riparian streams or the variety of birds. They don’t know what California really looks like. So I talk. I talk about the two old oak trees in front of my home. I talk about the meetings we have at the volunteer fire station. I talk about stars that are still visible in a canyon without streetlights. I talk about the sounds of cicadas in the oak trees of summer, and the frogs, and the nuisance of the small black flies that come every August. I talk about the winds that sweep through the canyons – sometimes cold and sometimes hot. I talk about what it is like to share a bottle of wine with neighbors while watching the sun set on hills that are older than the country we live in. I talk about listening to an owl call out from the dark. I talk about the sense of community we all experienced when the fires surrounded us.

As you may or may not know we have a lot to be thankful for in these hills, but of course, as you certainly know, we’ve been through a lot recently with the fires and the smoke and the ashes. After listening, my students always respond with questions: How far away is Modjeska? How many HOURS does it take to get to work? It sounds like a different planet. How old is your house? Do you really know your neighbors? Can you really see the stars?

I’m sure that you understand my point. I’m sure you understand that Andrew was right when he noted that ours is a singular community; small, unique, remote, and politically vulnerable. Of course, I also understand that you have the power to close the school, but I doubt you understand that, as Andrew said, the school is one thread that weaves our families together. Did you take him seriously when he charged that you are helping to dismantle this community? Did you really believe that?

Personally, I find it absurd that we cannot, as one of the richest countries on earth, find the political courage to tax each other sufficiently to pay our bills in good times. And I find it equally absurd that we cannot, in bad times, find the political courage to maintain what is unique. You still have an opportunity to take advantage of that uniqueness. You still have an opportunity to build an environmental science program to which kids in the suburbs of Orange might elect to attend – if you let them.

I like to imagine what it would be like, if some of these potential students ever hear someone from these canyons talk about the sounds of oak cicadas and frogs, the nuisance of the small insects, and the winds crying through the canyons, I imagine how different it might be if a few more students in Orange don’t have to ask: How far away is Modjeska? because they would know from personal experience that this is what California is really like – was really like – and could be like again. I imagine what it might be like if a few more students learn the difference between native plants and transplanted, water hungry lawns.

In the end you will do what you will, but I’m afraid that Andrew was wrong about one thing - closing the last remote elementary school in Orange will not be your failure and your loss. It will be our loss, our county’s loss, and our state’s loss. It may well mark an end to what we offer and the beginning of a time when all of this will disappear into traffic, condominiums, starless skies, and graffiti. But it doesn't have to.

Jim Mamer


Keep writing those letters. Check the sidebar on the right for more information.