Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

School Board votes to expand meditation teaching into more Antioch classrooms

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Photo from the Mindful Life Project website www.mindfullifeproject.org.

Vinson served with recall  papers, Sawyer-White threatened with possible recall

By Nick Goodrich

On Wednesday night, the Antioch School Board voted 5-0 to approve funding for a meditation- and mindfulness-based program at Belshaw Elementary. In addition, Board Vice President Debra Vinson was served with recall papers for a second time and Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White was threatened with a possible recall.

The Mindful Life Project

The Mindful Life Project, based in Richmond, California, will receive $1,500 as part of a vendor agreement with the school district, that includes a two-hour training for educators that will allow them to implement the program in their classrooms.

According to district staff, the program “empowers students with mindfulness and other transformational skills that build self-awareness, development of natural conflict resolution skills, self-regulation, perseverance, resilience, and social-emotional intelligence”.

The School Board allayed fears on Wednesday about the Mindful Life Project representing an introduction of Eastern religious teachings into Antioch classrooms. The program’s only goal, according to board members and district staff, is to help implement behavioral changes in Antioch students.

Board President Walter Ruehlig, who was given the chance to participate in one of the program’s meditation exercises, noted that the exercise simply involved breathing and reflection techniques.

“I didn’t notice anything religious about it,” he said. The other board members agreed, seeing no indication that the program involved religious teachings.

Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Stephanie Anello delivered a report on the progress of meeting certain goals she set for the AUSD last year. Part of the report included her increased emphasis on tiered behavioral and intervention support for schools, and she informed the Board of a District-wide 38% decrease in suspensions from 2010 to 2016.

The Mindful Life Project is a new addition to the District that Anello hopes will continue that trend into next year. It has drawn praise for its effect on some of Richmond’s students, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be in Antioch.

With some AUSD schools holding less-than-stellar reputations for the behavior of their students, the District will presumably continue to find funding for proven anger management and behavioral intervention programs alongside the new addition of the Mindful Life Project.

On the website for The Mindfulness Project at www.mindfullifeproject.org it shows photos of children in classrooms, with their eyes closed, sometimes with hands out stretched, in what appears to be states of meditation. (See related Herald article)

The term for mindfulness in A Glossary of Pali and Buddhism Terms is sati. It’s definition is “Mindfulness, self-collectedness, powers of reference and retention. In some contexts, the word sati when used alone covers alertness (sampajañña) as well.” According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pali is the Buddhist canonical language.

Attempt to Televise Board Meetings

At their previous meeting, Vinson proposed the idea of holding board meetings in the Antioch City Council Chambers, which would allow them to be televised and hold a larger audience.

Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White raised the discussion again on Wednesday, and said it would further increase transparency between the District and the public.

However, the Board was not prepared to discuss it during their meeting on the 23rd, and so resolved once again to place the matter on a future meeting agenda.

For now the District makes available the audio of all Board Meetings on their website.

Vinson Served With Recall Papers, Again

Trustee Debra Vinson during her first Antioch School Board meeting, Dec. 10, 2014. Photo by Allen Payton

During public comments on Wednesday, AUSD employee Nicole Cedano appeared again before the Board to serve Trustee Debra Vinson with a second set of recall papers.

Cedano’s first effort, stemming from an incident last year in which Cedano alleged that Vinson became verbally abusive to a secretary at an Antioch school campus, failed after being denied by the County Elections Office due to “a word technicality,” she said.

“Your behavior continues to be a detriment to this District and create an unwelcoming atmosphere for staff, students, and the community,” Cedano told Vinson during her statement to the Board.

In addition to serving Vinson with recall papers, Cedano also warned Sawyer-White of a potential recall, after Sawyer-White made comments last month suggesting that the District hire only minority firms.

“The best firm should get the job regardless of sex or color,” Cedano told the Board. “You should want what is best for the District, not what is best for a certain demographic.”

An attempt to reach Vinson for comment was unsuccessful prior to press time.

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See four cast members, local friends and family in Ferrante film Forgotten Evil fundraiser on April Fool’s

Friday, March 24th, 2017

In a scene from the movie “Forgotten Evil,” actors Kyle McKeever and Masiela Lusha play the parts of Randy and Renee. Photo courtesy of The Asylum/LMN

Filmed in Antioch last summer

Director Anthony C. Ferrante (in Ramones shirt) watches the shooting on a monitor with some of his crew outside the El Campanil Theatre in downtown Antioch, Monday night, August 22, 2016. Herald file photo by Allen Payton

Director Anthony Ferrante will show his “Forgotten Evil” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 1s at El Campanil Theatre, 602 West Second St. in Antioch. The film was shot last fall throughout Antioch, including Antioch High School, the Antioch Police Department, El Campanil, the marina, Red Caboose and Riverview Lodge. Following the movie, a special Q&A and meet-and-greet is set with Ferrante and his three lead actors: Masiela Lusha, Kyle McKeever and Angie Teodora, along with Adrian Bustamante, a former Antioch resident.

Ferrante, an Antioch High graduate, directed the thriller, which follows amnesia victim Renee trying to piece together her past before she can start her new future. Played by Lusha, she is best known as Carmen, the daughter from the “George Lopez” TV show. Ferrante has also directed the wildly popular “Sharknado” movies.

It premiered on the LMN Channel on Sunday night, March 12. So if you didn’t watch it then, now’s your chance. And if you’ve already seen, this time watch it with the people who were actually in the film, including some of your local friends and family members.

Proceeds benefit Antioch High School. Tickets are just $10 at the door or $11.50 online at www.elcampaniltheatre.com. You can also purchase tickets at the Box Office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and one hour before the show. For more info, call 925-757-9500.

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Antioch women’s group to send middle school girls to STEM Camp, fund college scholarships

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

By Terrilynn Hammond

The Delta Contra Costa branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has raised enough funds this past year to send four, local seventh-grade girls to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Camp. The S.T.E.M. Camp is a two-week course at Stanford University, this summer.

The girls will be selected by submitting essays on “Women in science, math or technology” and being interviewed on Saturday, April 1st.

The Antioch-based AAUW group holds fundraisers to send local seventh-grade girls to the camp, and to provide scholarships for local women to use towards a college educational.  The most recent fundraisers were during the month of December, wrapping gifts for the community and the Antioch Barnes & Noble book store. The gift wrapping was offered for free and we gladly received donations.  It was a great success for our organization and community.  The funds raised money is enabling our AAUW branch to send the girls to the S.T.E.M. Camp, at $900 per student, plus provide two, $2,000 college scholarships.

We will follow up this story in a few months, after the participants come back from the S.T.E.M. Camp, announcing the winners and essays from the girls, about their experience at the camp.  As always, donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.

Just like most groups across our nation, there is a real need for people to join, volunteer time and skills, and support the local fundraisers. Your local, Delta Contra Costa AAUW branch is part of an international organization, and in need of participation at any level. For more information please visit the AAUW International website at www.AAUW-ca.org or contact Patty Chan at (925) 683-3972.

Look for the winner’s names and essays in a future article. Thank you, Antioch for your support in this effort.

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School Board to vote on expanding Eastern religion-based meditation into more Antioch classrooms, Wednesday night

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Screenshot of the Home Page of the Mindful Life Project website.

Mindfulness training at Belshaw, Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness Yoga at Park Middle

By Allen Payton

During their meeting on Wednesday night, March 22, the Antioch School Board will be asked to vote on a contract to bring The Mindfulness Project into Antioch schools to teach Eastern religion-based meditation at Belshaw Elementary School. The Consent Calendar Item V on the meeting agenda is listed as “Vendor Agreement with Mindful Life Project/YMCA of the East Bay.”

The description of the agenda item reads as follows:

Screenshot of a photo on the Mindful Life Project website.

“The Mindful Life Project empowers students with mindfulness and other transformational skills that build self-awareness, development of natural confict resolution skills, self-regulation, perseverance, resilience, and social-emotional intelligence that enable them to thrive in their classrooms, their schools, and their community. Belshaw Elementary teachers will receive a two-hour training regarding mindfulness for educators. The training will involve teachers learning what mindfulness is, the brain science research, and ways to create an individual practice for personal well-being, as well as simple ways to bring mindfulness into their classrooms. A whole school assembly will be held three weeks after the training.”

According to Wikipedia “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. The term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Pali term sati, which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions.”

The Psychology Today website defines the term as “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

That website then provides links to six articles under “Live in the Moment,” including “5 Meditation Tips for Beginners.”

The Mindful Life Project

Screenshot of a photo on the Mindful Life Project website.

In addition, on the website for The Mindful Life Project at www.mindfullifeproject.org it shows photos of children in classrooms, with their eyes closed, sometimes with hands out stretched, in what appears to be states of meditation.

The website claims “Mindfulness is a secular, science-based approach that takes advantage of our brain’s plasticity (ability to change throughout life). Mindfulness is proven to strengthen physiological responses to stress, negative emotions, anxiety and depression, and improve happiness, openness and self-awareness.

Mindfulness enables us to be present, moment to moment, in our increasingly distracted lives. Mindfulness improves social relationships with people and family and can even strengthen the immune system. It cultivates an openness to one’s life experience and a (sic) leads to a happier and more compassionate life.”

Photo collage on the Niroga Educational Services page of the Niroga Institute website.

Niroga Dynamic Mindful Yoga at Park Middle School

The proposed program at Belshaw is in addition to a program run by the Niroga Institute, that’s been implemented at Park Middle School, using grant money, to help with anger management.

On the Niroga website under Educational Services, it explains what they do in the classroom.

“We bring Dynamic Mindfulness to thousands of students every week in K-12 schools and alternative schools, helping children with academic, social and emotional learning. We have developed a comprehensive Transformative Life Skills (TLS) curriculum with 48 brief in-class lessons, systematically building stress resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and healthy relationships.”

Last November, the website provided the following background of the founder, Bidyut Bose, PhD, Executive Director of Niroga Institute. However, it has since been edited with portions deleted.

“Bidyut (BK) learned yoga from his father as a child, and later with monks in the Himalayas. A master Yoga Therapist in the Raja Yoga tradition, he is a long time student of Indian Philosophy and world religions. Inspired by Swami Vivekananda, he founded Niroga Institute, a non-profit dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality Yoga instruction and Yoga Therapy to underserved individuals and families. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).”

Swami means a Hindu male religious teacher.

Niroga Dynamic Mindfulness meditation in the classroom. From Niroga.com

Regarding the use of meditation and on what the students are meditating, Park Middle School Principal Jimno in a November interview stated, “from the experiences I’ve had with the organization, there’s never been a particular theme or word that they focus on.”

“They use a chime to bring focus in the room,” he explained. “Right now we currently have maybe 10 teachers that the trainers are going into the rooms for 15 minutes, twice a week. It’s not just breathing and teaching them, but how stress occurs in the body and implementing a coping mechanism…to be in control of their actions before they act on them. Getting their attention back in a positive way, rather than in anger.”

“They don’t call it meditation,” Jimno added. “I’m Christian and there’s lots of researched based practices. Lots of inner cities, Richmond is using this in their schools. We’re not utilizing the religious aspects of that. We’re using their techniques to calm students down.”

“No time have I even put those two together,” he stated. “At no time has there been an integration of the religion. As a Christian man, there have been things that have inspired me to bring back to teach students differently.”

When asked has the school brought in a Christian organization to teach biblical principles in a secular way, he responded “I wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Speaking of Bose, the founder of the Niroga Institute, Jimno said, “I’ve met him personally. I’ve been to his house for a meeting. Never once has religion been brought in to any conversation that I’ve had with him or in the trainings we’ve had here.”

Asked about the photos of students with hands folded and eyes closed in prayer and who are they praying to, he said, “It’s a centering posture, not necessarily a prayer posture.”

“We asked several questions of them and asked how they can apply it in music and in stretching in P.E.,” Jimno added. “It builds grey matter in the brain when you implement these techniques.”

Photo on the Niroga Institute website. Niroga.com

“The people who are coming on campus are not Eastern religion people,” he explained. “It’s been very pure, centered around making the climate calmer and help the students. It’s very separate from the wellness room. It’s about counseling. This is about meditation. But, we want to incorporate the breathing techniques into the wellness room.”

“It’s new and very big, right now,” Jimno stated. “It’s big in Richmond and Oakland. It’s funded by the Youth Justice Initiative grant through the county.”

“Last year it was used for trauma training and how it affects student behavior,” he said. “This year it’s more about bringing services to the campus community, wellness room, to get help for an all-day fix, to give them an outlet, rather than a punishment based system, to integrate them back into the classroom.”

“We’re working with the Lincoln Center for mental health therapy and, incorporating the Dynamic Mindfulness,” Jimno continued.

“In the first quarter of our school year, compared to the first quarter of last school year, we saw a 78% reduction in our suspension rate,” he stated. “Most of that was due to the wellness room and the trauma training, and the fact we added a counseling component, of a non-consequence solution.”

The flyer promoting the event at Park Middle School on Dec. 6th.

Navarro Calls for Equal Treatment

A flyer was distributed in November stating “Park Middle School presents Niroga A Parent & Family Night of Meditation & Relaxation,” held in the Multipurpose Room and Wellness Center at the school on Tuesday, December 6th.

Superintendent Stephanie Anello and all five board members, at the time were asked if they were aware of the event, why the school was sponsoring an event promoting Eastern religion and on what those in attendance would be meditating.

Then-Trustee Fernando Navarro was the only board member to respond.

“If we’re going to be neutral and they’re not going to allow Christian or any other religious-based organizations from bringing their philosophies onto school campuses, then advocates of Eastern religion shouldn’t be allowed to, either,” he stated.

“Frankly, they’ve reopened a door that constitutionally allows you to pray in school,” Navarro continued. “Because it’s separation of state from church, not church from state, where the state bullies a church or prevents the practice of religion thereof.”

“I got a heads up when Mr. Jimno brought it up at the Board meeting, last night,” He explained.

“Maybe we should have Christian prayer groups, Bible study during lunch or after school,” Navarro added.

Anello Defends Program

Superintendent Stephanie Anello and three of the board members, at the time and who continue to serve on the board, were asked if there are any other organizations to provide such services, that aren’t based on Eastern religion, and if there was a competitive bidding process, such as an RFQ (Request For Quote) or RFP (Request For Proposal), for using the funds from the justice grant, Anello responded.

“My understanding is that all meditation was inspired by Eastern religion but is used for a myriad of purposes,” she replied. “Per Ed(ucation) Code, a competitive bidding process was not required. The practice was implemented at the beginning of the school year. Mr. Jimno credits the 78% drop in suspensions due, in part, to this practice.

She was then asked about the district’s policy with regards to bringing in a religious affiliated philosophy into Antioch public classrooms and schools, and for schools to sponsor such activities, even if they are after hours at the campuses.

“Park Middle School like many schools across the nation, are practicing mindfulness. Mediation is just a piece of Mindfulnes,” Anello responded. “Meditation, although inspired by Eastern religion is a practice that transcends religion.

None of the board members responded to the questions.

Pastors Speak Out

When asked for comment about the Dynamic Meditation program, Pastor Larry Adams of Golden Hills Community Church in Antioch and Brentwood said he wasn’t going to fight it. But, rather he wanted equal time to have representatives of the Christian faith to be able to also go into the classrooms to share with students meditation on the Bible and praying to God, “who created them and knows all about them.”

Antioch pastor Dr. Lamont Francies of the Delta Bay Church of Christ shared a similar viewpoint.

“After doing research on the program at PMS, I would not implement the program,” he said. “I believe that if this program is implemented in public schools using public dollars that there must be an equal opportunity given to Christian based interventions.”

“I do not believe that schools can be void of culture, values and various beliefs. In our public schools we have educators that represent a diversity of culture, values and beliefs,” Francies continued. “I personally believe that if Christian prayer was being implemented in a public school, that it would have made national headlines. If AUSD endorses this mindfulness program, I believe they should offer a Christian alternative and let parents and students choose.”

The Antioch School Board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Antioch Unified School District Office Board Room located at 510 G Street in downtown Antioch. Members of the public will have the opportunity to speak on this and any other agenda item and during public comments. To see the entire meeting agenda, click here: http://www.boarddocs.com/ca/ausd/Board.nsf/Public

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Exhibits of talented, young, local artists at Antioch’s Lynn House Gallery, now through May

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Students from Antioch Unified School District will showcase their art at the Lynn House Gallery beginning during March, April and May. The Art4Schools Exhibits began March 1st and end on May 27th.

The exhibit schedule opens with students who attend the Afterschool Program, March 1st – 11th, followed by Mission and Sutter Elementary Schools March 22nd – April 1st, Kimball and Turner Elementary Schools April 26th – May 5th and concludes with Black Diamond and Dallas Ranch Middle Schools May 17th – May 27th. There is a cookie and punch artist reception on opening day of each exhibit from 4-6 PM.  Please join us and support AUSD’s students and artists.

The program is sponsored by the Arts & Cultural Foundation of Antioch, the City of Antioch, Calpine and Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund Grant from Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover. In addition to sponsoring the gallery exhibit, each school receives $500 to be used for art and cultural supplies and educational endeavors. Due to the generosity of Supervisor Glover, the number of participating schools has doubled from prior years.

Exhibits are open to the public at no cost. The Lynn House Gallery is located in the Rivertown District at 809 W. 1st Street, Antioch (across from the AMTRAK Train Station) and is open from 1 – 4 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays during exhibits and admission is free.

For more information about each exhibit call Diane Gibson-Gray at (925) 779-7018 or email Diane@Art4Antioch.org.

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Deer Valley High student wins county “Poetry Out Loud” contest, again

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Kiara Chatman advances to state finals in competition that emphasizes language skill and public speaking

Kiara Chapman, photo courtesy of Robin Moore.

In a remarkable achievement, Kiara Chatman, a senior at Deer Valley High in Antioch, took first place in the Contra Costa County “Poetry Out Loud” competition for the second year in a row. The event was held in the lovely Las Lomas High School Theatre in Walnut Creek on February 11th.  The Runner-up position went to senior Camila Morales-Jimenez from El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, and Third Place to sophomore Wesley Little from Monte Vista High in Danville.

The three were among thousands of students across the state to participate in the national recitation contest, a program started by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and run by the California Arts Council and locally by the Arts & Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5) to engage high-school students in the presentation of poetry through memorization and performance.  Chatman advances to the California state finals in Sacramento on March 12 & 13. At stake are hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud.

This is Contra Costa’s tenth year of Poetry Out Loud competition, and many attendees commented that the recitations just keep getting better and better.  Among the many fine recitations, Ms. Chatman’s “The Gaffe” by C.K. Williams, Ms. Morales-Jimenez’s “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” by Pablo Neruda and Mr. Little’s “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn helped secure the final outcome.

The very competitive pool of finalists included students from eleven county high schools: College Park High in Pleasant Hill, Deer Valley High in Antioch, El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, Independence High in Brentwood, Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, Monte Vista High in Danville, Northgate High in Walnut Creek, Pinole Valley High in Pinole, Truthtrackers Co-Op in Walnut Creek and Making Waves Academy and Salesian College Preparatory, both in Richmond.  Countywide, over 2500 students memorized a poem for the program this year.

“To learn a great poem by heart is to make a friend for life,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. “The national recitation program brings fresh energy to an ancient art form by returning it to the classrooms of America.”

The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud competitions start in the classroom, then at the school, region, state, and national finals, similar to the structure of the spelling bee. The national initiative is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students, a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers.

More information can be found at www.cac.ca.gov/initiatives/pol.php and www.poetryoutloud.org.

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Antioch High basketball team honors teacher’s late wife in playoff victory over Deer Valley

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Antioch High Panthers on their way to defeating the Deer Valley Wolverines in the first round of the NCS playoffs on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. photos by Jesus Cano

The armband worn by the AHS players in memory of Yvette Mattthews.

By Jesus Cano

Antioch’s victory went beyond the court Tuesday night, as they defeated crosstown rival Deer Valley in the first round of the NCS Division 1 boys basketball playoffs. The win was dedicated to Yvette Matthews, who unexpectedly passed away this last weekend. Matthews was the wife of Antioch English teacher, Chris Matthews. Antioch players wore black armbands with the initials YM in yellow to show their respects.

“We wanted to let him know that the staff players and whole school is behind him,” Antioch head coach Andrew Riva said. “You never know when things like this are going to happen so we have to appreciate the moments we have.”

After leading 20-10 at the end of the first quarter, Antioch looked to carry their momentum. Deer Valley was able to tie up the game as Dominic Pino stole the ball and handed it over to Darius Ware for the game tying layup. This all coming after Dubem Boardman and Raydale Robinson contributed with nine points to reach the Panthers.

Kirmarje Trent scored the most with 26 points in the game and Antioch retained their lead with plays from Trent and Kaleb Smith, and at halftime they led 35-31.

“Coach always tells us that we’re going to have our ups and downs in the game,” Trent said. “We made sure we had more runs than them to make sure we executed in the game.”

The third quarter was a back and forth shootout between the teams. Antioch dominated half of the third quarter but the Wolverines countered back by going on a 11-point scoring streak, as Boardman built up eight of those points but Antioch still lead 53-45 at the end.

Trent’s biggest performance came in the final quarter, as he dropped 11 points. Towards the end of the game however, Antioch kept on fouling Deer Valley, handing them points. Elijah Sturgis was the man that kept them alive by completing four free throws along with dumping two points. It wasn’t enough as the Panthers kept pounding the rim, and defeated the Wolverines 81-72.

Antioch will travel to Dublin to face the top seeded Gales on Friday, February 24th.4

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Antioch School Board blocks contract for “positive news” consultant due to cost, conflict of interest

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

By Nick Goodrich

The Antioch School Board shot down a proposed contract with Burkholder Media Group for social media and community outreach services, during their meeting on Wednesday, February 15th, amid concerns of a lack of public input, the amount of the contract and a possible conflict of interest.

The proposal by Burkholder Media Group, owned by the publisher of news website East County Today, Mike Burkholder, was for a one-year, $53,900 contract. According to the staff report, the duties were to include “assisting in communicating internally and externally on District issues, writing press releases as needed, taking original photography, and creating YouTube videos for use on District websites, blogs, social media, or by news media.”

The main objective of the proposal by Burkholder, an unsuccessful candidate for the school board in the November election, was understood by many to be the promotion of “positive news” that aims to promote the District and represent it in a favorable light, highlighting its strengths rather than focusing on its weaknesses.

The contract is part of Superintendent Stephanie Anello’s effort to rebrand the District and move away from the negative stigma attached to it, due to such things as low proficiency in math and English among K-5 students, in order to maintain the existing student population and attract new students. The AUSD has seen a continuing decline in enrollment in recent years, and Anello has been working to reverse that trend since she was promoted last year.

However, some in attendance at the meeting, including three Board Members, were concerned about a conflict of interest, since Burkholder regularly covers District proceedings through his website.

Anello defended her choice during the meeting, and offered several advantages she believed other possible vendors might not have.

“I thought that would be a plus in this case, where it was somebody who knew [Antioch], knew the history,” she told the Board. “We were comfortable with the proposal, and their ability to do this kind of work based on their media experience.”

Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray agreed, saying, “We hired the Superintendent to do a job, and one of her goals was to improve our connection with the community, with the parents. If we tie her hands, it’s defeating the purpose.”

But other Board Members took issue with the contract. Trustee Walter Ruehlig echoed concerns about a conflict of interest.

“Taking on someone who owns an online newspaper, I just think that’s a conflict of interest,” he told the Board. “Perhaps he’ll be the one we select…But I would rather have more time to throw this back and forth, have a work study session, consider alternate ideas.”

Trustees Debra Vinson and Crystal Sawyer-White also supported giving other bids a chance and receiving more input from parents and the community.

Vinson was also cautious of the dollar amount of the contract, which several Antioch residents like Julie Young and Joshua Klee thought could be better spent improving performance in Antioch’s schools. Another Antioch resident said it reminded him of the Soviet Union and its government controlled newspaper, Pravda.

“I think positive news is good, and it’s a place to start, but I don’t see the value of spending this amount of money,” said Vinson. “Ultimately, it affects the children…If we’re putting out all this positive news, but our test scores stay low, then it’s going to backfire.”

Ultimately, the Board decided to table the matter and discuss it at a future meeting.

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