About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Remembering Mrs. Hilde

For San Diego's North County Times
In a time of budget deficits and nasty politics, it's been a welcome relief to read about teachers of the year selected by our local school districts. It brings back memories of Mrs. Myrtle Hilde, my favorite high school teacher. Together with her ample girth and sense of humor, Mrs. Hilde filled her classroom with infectious enthusiasm for what she taught.

History had always been my least favorite subject. Memorizing dates and names of events and famous people struck me as a meaningless exercise compared with the important business of impressing girls between classes and coaches in the gym after school.

Mrs. Hilde brought American history alive with gossipy asides, like Tom Jefferson's illicit love affair with Sally Hemmings, one of his Monticello slaves. She used the first names of historical figures as if they were members of her family. I began to see them not as pigeon-splattered statues, but as real people with real problems. She helped us see connections between their distant world and our hormone-driven young lives.

Our local teaching stars show the same energy and dedication to their work as the teacher who awakened in me a love of history that endures to this day.

Here's a sample of what they told this newspaper's Stacy Brandt:
"I absolutely love what I do. ... I wake up every single morning, so excited to spend the day with my students."
"I just feel strongly that all children can learn. Every child has the potential to be anything that they want."
"The students are the ones that deserve the award, because they're the reason that I got it. They inspire me to be a better teacher."
"I like running a very energetic class. We use a lot of technology. We move a lot. We put lessons to songs. Every person is brilliant in his or her own way."

All the talk about school reform boils down to the question of how to attract and retain teachers like these. Abandoning public schools isn't the answer, nor is eliminating teacher unions. California's nonunion charter schools, as a group, have been no more successful in producing measurable results in student learning than other public schools.

The current debate in California is whether to balance the budget by cutting school funding or by maintaining current tax levels.

As we consider what's best for our children's future, we need to worry at least as much about burdening them with an inadequate education as burdening them with government debt.

Friday, April 8, 2011

City can't find needy homeowners

For the North County Times and Carlsbadistan.com.

Carlsbad city officials can't understand why more low-income homeowners haven't applied for federal funds earmarked for minor home repairs, from clearing clogged drains to installing assistive devices for seniors and disabled persons.

The city pays $8,500 each year to Community HousingWorks, a San Diego nonprofit, to administer the program. In the past three years, only four households have received funding.

At the City Council's March 22 meeting, Councilwoman Farrah Douglas asked Debbie Fountain, director of housing and neighborhood services, to explain how the program has been marketed. Fountain told of postings on the city and HousingWorks websites, direct mailers to the barrio neighborhood, and articles and advertisements in community publications. She singled out word-of-mouth as "pretty successful." Maybe that explains how the two homeowners receiving help last year learned of the program.

After failing to find it on the HousingWorks website, I found the home repair program buried deep within the city's website, but only after plowing through "city services," "list of city departments," "neighborhood services" and "programs." And I had the advantage of knowing what I was looking for.

What I found was the "minor home repair program manual" featuring a complex loan application. You can borrow up to $5,000 in an interest-free loan ---- depending on your willingness to provide a copy of the deed to your property, a credit report and IRS tax forms ---- and agree to hire and pay a licensed contractor to do the work for later reimbursement.

Would anyone who needs help fixing a leaky faucet, replacing a broken light switch, installing a smoke alarm or upgrading a faulty toilet take the trouble to apply for this program? You be the judge.

According to San Diego Association of Governments, 1 in 4 Carlsbad households, nearly 10,000 homes, have incomes of less than $30,000 a year. You'd think the city could find more than four who qualify for government assistance for home repairs.

Compare Carlsbad's approach to Escondido's Neighborhood Enhancement, Attractiveness and Training (NEAT) Project. During the past 11 months, Project NEAT completed 262 projects in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. There's no application required and no income limits.

Program administrator Dan Hippert drives through low- and moderate-income neighborhoods on the lookout for homes needing exterior repairs and other evidence of property maintenance needs. Low-income homeowners are offered either financial assistance or the help of volunteers recruited by the city for household repairs or to spruce up their property.

Carlsbad outsources its program to a loan agency, making it available only to those who can find it. Escondido seeks out those in need.

Our Village by the Sea could learn something about public service from its North County neighbor.