Archive for the ‘Letters to the Editor’ Category

Writer: Antioch is failing its young people, but we can stop it

Friday, April 5th, 2019

Dear Editor:

My friends thought I was crazy to move my wife and five children to Antioch three years ago. I can’t blame them. I read the headlines, and I know what people think of our city. But I also know that everything is not as it seems.

Our move to Antioch worked out great. We live in a large, beautiful home on a quiet street. Our neighborhood, like our city, is extremely diverse, and I’m grateful that my kids aren’t growing up among clones of themselves. We know our neighbors and they’re wonderful. Our two youngest boys attend Carmen Dragon Elementary School and love it.

However, I realize my experience is not like everyone else’s. As a vice president of a public relations and marketing firm, I’m fortunate to work from home, so I’m around my kids constantly. Many Antioch parents do not have this opportunity, which means their kids often come home to empty houses—or they find somewhere else to go or something else to do.

As a member of Carmen Dragon’s school site council, I learned Carmen Dragon is a low performing school with a chronic student absentee problem and a host of other challenges. Nearly three-quarter of my sons’ classmates come from socio-economically disadvantaged households. Yet there is no afterschool program at Carmen Dragon or at many other schools in the district.

I’ve also learned many kids in Antioch want to play sports, but their parents cannot afford to take time off work to take them to practices or games, let alone volunteer or coach.

When we signed our boys up for CYO basketball, they weren’t going to play unless I volunteered to coach both of their teams. When I did, I discovered nearby parishes have multiple teams at each grade level. But at our parish, some grades didn’t even have a team. In fact, there is only one girls’ team for the entire parish.

This is a huge difference from Concord, where we used to live. Every school our children attended had afterschool programs. Concord also has the Community Youth Center, an enormous facility that offers all types of programs, including wrestling, cheerleading, gymnastics, tutoring for grade schools and high schools, and more. It’s super cheap and open every day until 9pm. Our three older kids, who attended school in Martinez and Pleasant Hill, had access to a Boys and Girls Club and a YMCA, which were always full of kids and activities.

Antioch has nothing like these facilities. What we do have is a large community center on Lone Tree, across the street from Dear Valley High School. It has a gym, a full-service kitchen, a ballroom and an amphitheater. It should be filled with kids every day. Yet it is often empty after 5:00 p.m., when many parents are getting off work and just beginning their long commute home.

After three years here, it’s become evident that Antioch is failing its youth. Is it really any wonder why we have higher crime rates than other cities? We can hire police officers until we’re blue in the face—no pun intended—but this won’t prevent our young people from behaviors and influences that lead to trouble.

So, what does help? Study after study has proven the availability of structured, daily afterschool programs, Boys and Girls Clubs and community-based organizations targeting at-risk youth are effective at reducing crime. District attorneys, police chiefs and sheriffs across our nation support these programs because they actually improve public safety.

According to a massive, nationwide study by the Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan nonprofit comprised of law enforcement officials, military and business leaders, pastors, coaches and athletes, afterschool programs save communities at least $3 for every $1 invested by increasing a child’s future earning potential, improving their performance at school and reducing crime and welfare costs.

Recently, I sat in on a Antioch Youth Services Task Force meeting and listened to young people say they don’t feel safe at school or in the community. They want more things to do, but our city just doesn’t offer them.

I’ve also sat in on city council meetings and listened to how people thought we should spend Measure W funds. Some folks want all of the money to go toward adding more police. But until we invest in our youth, we will only be able to react to crime, not prevent the causes of it.

At the April 9th Antioch City Council meeting, citizens have a chance to tell city leaders how to allocate $14 million in Measure W money. Please show up and ask them to invest in afterschool programs, a Boys and Girls Club and juvenile crime diversion programs. Our kids’ lives depend on it.

Warren Lutz

Antioch

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Writer remembers Pittsburg principal who died Sunday

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Dear Editor:

It isn’t supposed to work this way.  I am decades his senior and never imagined that I would be joining scores of colleagues earlier today as we held a prayer session for Paul Shatswell, Principal of Pittsburg Adult Education. Paul fought for over a week on life support after his shooting in a domestic altercation but yesterday his time came to cross the threshold.

The Pittsburg school community is still dazed because it all makes no sense. Too young, too vibrant, too passionate; too engaged it seemed o say goodbye. Newly appointed Principal, the world seemed his oyster.

Paul did nothing half-heartedly. The man epitomized gusto. His last comment to me was vintage Paul and came on his last day in school.  I had avoided dropping by his office all week because I knew that he was consumed by finalizing the 2019-2020 school budget.

I dropped by to congratulate him on the completed budget project. After graciously thanking me he ended our chat by saying that we had our work cut out for us in making the school all that it could be.

Ten minutes later I saw Paul in the parking lot. He gave me an exuberant thumbs up as he drove away.

Little did any of us imagine.

There is much we don’t understand. Life and death can seem inexplicable to our frail human perception.  Paul was a man of faith and would want us accepting, though.   He was not one to wail and gnash teeth but rather to affirm and celebrate.

We need now to focus on our blessings. After all, we were gifted as we worked. lived, played, laughed and cried with a good man on this journey called life.

May the Perpetual Light shine upon you, Paul.

Walter Ruehlig

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School Board Trustee Householder writes about use of Measure W funds for youth services

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Ellie Householder by AUSD.

An open letter to the Antioch City Council,

“Opportunity lives here” is a fitting slogan for Antioch. While our city has gone through major growing pains, our future together has rarely looked brighter. Yet the hard truth is that opportunity doesn’t exist equally for everyone, especially our largest and most vulnerable population, our young people.

Earlier this month, Kamani Stelly was convicted of four counts of attempted murder involving a 2016 shooting of an occupied vehicle at the corner of 18th and Cavallo. Thanks to the hard work of APD and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, he is now facing 160 years in prison. While justice may have been served, however, the damage and trauma this tragedy caused its victims and the entire community could well have been avoided.

At the time of the shooting, Kamani was 18 years old and a former student of the Antioch Unified School District. More likely than not, Kamani exhibited throughout his educational journey some sign of troubling behavior. The same might be said for Jordan Martin, who was murdered at the age of 18 last year in the Applebee’s parking lot, or the Deer Valley High School students who were loitering and disrupting businesses at Deer Valley Plaza in 2014. Whether anyone saw any red flags or bothered to intervene in the lives of these young people, we may never know.

What we do know is that these young people did not have the same access to youth programs, services, and resources that other cities Antioch’s size have. And this fact is preventing all of us from living and experiencing a safe and secure Antioch.

No one individual, no one single institution is solely responsible for how a 17-year-old enters the world of adulthood. It may sound cliche, but it truly does take a village to raise a child. As a current school board member and former AUSD employee, I understand that children are going to push the envelope. But as a community, it’s the responsibility of all of us–parents, educators, neighbors, police, and civic and business leaders–to teach them where the line should stop.

As the former chair of the City’s Sales Tax Oversight Committee, I was often concerned about how the city seemed to only understand public safety from an enforcement standpoint. Antioch is a city where a third of its population is school-aged, the vast majority of working parents commute an average of two to three hours each day, and latch-key kids are growing in numbers. Yet historically, any discussion about public

safety has focused almost entirely on adding more police, and nothing else. What truly keeps a community safe is its ability to address “safety” by balancing enforcement and interventions. Enforcement is important. Yet just as important, if not more so, is crime prevention. Essentially, youth services and programs represent this kind of preventative work. Study after study has proven that youth programs are highly effective at reducing crime in a community. And yet this crucial element of public safety is sorely lacking in our city.

I frequently hear about the pressing need for youth programs. The school district has done it’s best to provide these services, but our primary goal is academic. We need a partner in this process. That’s why I applaud the city for establishing the Antioch Youth Services Task Force consisting of Council Member Lamar Thorpe and Mayor Sean Wright. I’ve learned a lot from our community by participating in and observing the task force panels and workshops, including the fact that youth services are something our community desperately wants and needs.

By passing Measure W, Antioch citizens overwhelmingly voted in favor of adding before and after-school programs and other youth services and quality of life measures. Now it’s time to hold the city accountable and make sure our leaders deliver on that promise.

On April 9th, the City Council will begin the process of allocating a projected $14 million in annual Measure W funds to increase safety in our city. I encourage all members of our community to show up and participate in this process, so we can all work together to create a bright, safe, and beautiful city.

While y outh programming is an essential element to public safety, in Antioch, it is a glaringly empty piece of the puzzle. Filling it will ultimately reveal a bright and vibrant community that is safe, welcoming, and thriving. If we want the words “opportunity lives here” to have truth to them, opportunity must also exist for our young people. Now is our chance to make it happen.

Sincerely yours,

Ellie Householder

Antioch Unified School District Trustee

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Writer upset with AUSD budget cuts reducing library, other classified staff

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Dear Editor:

I would like to make the community aware of upcoming budget cuts at the Antioch Unified School District. This Wednesday (March 20) at 7:00pm there will be a School Board meeting in the board room at the district office. At this meeting, the district will propose cuts to be voted on.

Among these cuts will be $775,000 worth of classified staff. Around 29% of that will be Library Media Technicians (elementary school librarians). In the past when budget cuts were made, library techs were laid off. Full time school libraries were not staffed. Some schools only had a library open two days a week.

When this happened, there was a drop in reading scores, love for reading, and books in general. We are seeing the result at the middle school and high school level now. Since library services have been restored, reading scores have began to improve. Some of our students never hear a story read to them aside from in the library or the classroom. Others are not able to afford to purchase books because it is just not in their budget.

Books are treasures to students who sometimes need to escape the hard realities they are living in. Libraries are a safe place for students, and librarians in our district are not just librarians. We do not just read to kids. We participate in PBIS programs such as Tool Box or Mindfulness. We plan activities and stories to support what is going on in the classroom. We teach literacy. We feed the inquiring minds of students daily. We process books and keep open schedules to accommodate teachers and students. We do yard duty in the mornings and after school. We plan fundraisers, book fairs, and family events. Some of us participate in PTO’s/PTA’s at our school sites. Others sit in on School Site Council meetings, and more. We are valuable.

If, as a community, we can agree that reading is important and has a place in everyday life, how can we not then say that libraries are not just as important? Let’s face it, we all know that cuts need and have to be made because at the end of the day, the budget is the budget. However, why do the librarians have to feel close to 29% of that cut? Why aren’t there more cuts being made to the high paid employees at the district office? Why aren’t we looking into programs such as the organics program offered by Republic Services as the Benicia School District and many restaurants in the area have adopted to save money? Why do our students have to suffer?

Our students will lose instructional assistants, reading teachers, librarians, and more. Out of 92 classified classifications, librarians will take 29% of the hit?

Do not sit by and just watch this happen. Let your voice be heard at the meeting Wednesday night. Afterall, We are AUSD.

To view the agenda item (14-B), please visit the AUSD Website

Thank you,

Samantha Loza

 

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Writer shares concerns about unsolved Lisa Norrell murder case from 1998

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

Lisa Dianne Norrell

Dear Editor:

It is a downright disgrace what happened, as explained below.

In early November 1998 the 15-year-old Pittsburg teenager Lisa Diane Norrell left a friend’s party held at the Antioch Veterans Hall by the City Park. She decided to walk all the way home by herself, a two-plus miles distance to her home. Sometime that evening she went missing and never reached her home, was found about 8 days later Murdered, and her body dumped/hidden outside a local landscaping business yard. The actual responsibles have yet to be concretely identified or charged. (See related articles, here, and here.)

My Reliable Informant (RI hereafter) shortly contacted me and reported knowing who did it and gave further credible information. The RI agreed to meet with and to disclose the vital information to Law Enforcement I knew would act on it (or so I thought then). Lisa’s case was one of several Murders in a two-month period that occurred from Bay Point thru Antioch (a potential killing spree, not serial killings).

I in-person spoke to the then CCC District Attorney’s Chief of Inspectors at that time, Gene Greenwald, and passed on the information, name of the RI, the RI’s phone numbers, etc. He did not contact the RI, so I then again contacted the Chief and questioned why he hadn’t on such serious matters. He said he would and guaranteed me that he would asap. After a week or two the RI said that the Chief and no one from there had contacted the RI at all. The RI reported to us that he/she then personally went to the District Attorney’s Office and wanted to speak with the Chief, or another Inspector, and was there to provide the information he/she had that would help solve the case. He was questionably ignored and just told to go home! The RI reported that he/she was never contacted by the Chief or anyone else thereafter.

After I had personally informed the then Chief Greenwald I had also contacted one of the Pittsburg Police Department’s Detectives assigned to Lisa Norrell’s murder investigation, giving that Detective the aforementioned RI information, info I was told, RI’s contacts info, etc. Neither the RI nor I were ever contacted by that Pittsburg Detective or anyone else from that agency’s assigned Investigations personnel. I do not know if either Antioch PD or the Sheriff’s Department assigned Investigators were ever given the information, etc.

Within other matters I had later communicated with and passed on formally to a Federal Agent (in early 2011) the aforementioned information, along with additional unrelated reported Police misconduct. Due to that agency’s secretive and confidential regulations whatever was or was not done in reference to those things I am uninformed of.

Recently there was a newspaper article published wherein a Pittsburg PD Detective, Jacob Stage, was assigned to pursue some cold cases – including the highlighted Lisa Norrell 20 years old Murder. I was very happy to see such and contacted him and provided to him the above information. I have come to know that he is actively pursuing the new and previously unknown potential leads and related information. I encourage anyone else who may have any information or leads that may finally help solve Lisa’s and/or anyone else’s still unsolved Murder case to contact that Detective and to provide whatever they can to help him in his pursuit of justice for the Victims, their families, friends, etc. His contact number is with the Pittsburg PD communications center. Do it, now!

NOTE – I have repeatedly called and left phone messages, and my contact info, for the East Bay Times Reporter Nate Gartrell (who co-authored the recent cold cases 12/28/18 article) and he too has failed to contact me in any way whatsoever! I suppose he is no longer interested!

Yes, I am more than angry! It is a tragic set of circumstances that very poorly reflects upon them and their apparent uncaring demeanors, ineptness, etc., that we all are exposed to in our daily lives. Kudos to PPD, Detective Stage, and the Antioch Herald’s Allen Payton for providing their obvious time, space, and interests in these matters.

Anonymous

Antioch

Editor’s Note: We don’t usually publish letters from anonymous sources. But, due to the nature of this matter and on-going investigation the letter writer has chosen not to be identified.

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Letter writer unhappy with new City Attorney’s race being mentioned by Councilman Thorpe and in headline

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

Dear Editor:

I am disappointed that the Antioch City Council has decided to move back in time and judge someone on the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character. Antioch Council hires first African American as City Attorney, the headline above the fold (in the March print edition as well as on this website, here), was such a disservice to both Mr. Smith, and Lamar Thorpe’s comments were equally degrading.

We have lived in Antioch for 31 years and have never run anyone out of town. We really don’t care what color someone’s skin is, but we don’t want to be categorized as someone that would act like Lamar Thorpe.

It just blows my mind that something as trivial would have any impact on the decision. Is he educated? Is he qualified? Does he have the demeanor and manners to be an asset to Antioch? These are more important questions than the color of his skin.

Susanne Larson

Antioch

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Commentary: Sawyer-White offers her side of the story as an Antioch Unified Board Trustee

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Crystal Sawyer-White. Photo courtesy of AUSD.

As an Antioch Unified School Board Trustee since November 8, 2016, I am compelled to share my side of the story. My tenure has been a total abyss of despair that is impacting our Antioch student’s education with racially intimidating practices. The day that I was elected on November 8, 2016, I was humbled and excited to serve as School Board Trustee for the students of Antioch Unified School District. I never thought I would experience deceitfulness to undermine my good intentions to fulfill my fiduciary responsibilities.

As an educator and a proud parent of a young adult who graduated from the district in 2007, I am very passionate about education and felt I was ready for the challenge. I looked forward to attending the first board meeting. However, almost every board meeting for the past two years has been stagnated by a lack of collaboration to accomplish goals. The progress of the board to work as a collaborative body was impeded by other members who use their position as a “bully pulpit” for workplace racial intimidation. In addition, my authority as Vice President was constantly challenged, overruled and outright disrespected in this role. I was elected as Vice President a year ago and was considered for the role of President on December 12, 2018.

The role of the President is to enforce the conduct of the Board meetings. President Hack has not enforced Mrs. Velma Wilson’s conduct who is an African American parent of students in AUSD. Mrs. Wilson has continuously spoke in a disrespectful manner during public comments badgering the African American female Board Trustees. Mrs. Wilson exhibits premeditated hostility and bias toward African American female Board Trustees intentionally. Mrs. Wilson publicly stated that I was absent from the most recent Brown Act training. To clarify the Brown Act training invitation that was sent to all Board Trustees, Superintendent Stephanie Anello specified, for new members to attend. Once again, Mrs. Wilson does not know what she is talking about. I have attended two Brown Act trainings thus far.

My focus has been on our students from day one. Here is a list of agenda items to be placed on the agenda that were ignored or disregarded:

1) Safety-Sandy Hook’s Promise-Presentation (asked three times pertaining to student and staff safety)

2) Revolutionary Foods-Nutritional breakfast and lunch programs that are a decrease in cost

3) California Dashboard-To be transparent of our homeless and foster youth.

4) Facility Fees-primarily African American parents and Antioch residents of color pay higher fees.

The following listed below exhibits lack of support, disrespect, and mistreatment:

1) The first month of my term (November 2016), then-Board President Diane Gibson-Gray called me on my cell phone to encourage me to be sworn in by the superintendent, privately. I refused. All public officials are sworn in publicly.

2) In November 2016 I was given a binder of the AUSD 9000 Board Bylaws. I informed the public within a couple of weeks that the new Board Bylaws were revised without Board adoption. The California School Board Association is the key component pertaining to applicable and foundational It is important to update the Bylaws that are 39 years old. Board Trustee Debra Vinson agreed.

The California School Board Association informed me that 30 Board bylaws and policies have been revised. 100 bylaws and policies are outdated since 1989.

3) It’s a steep learning curve, without training, to be a board member. I asked the board to attend the Master of Governance training for Board Development once elected in November. I didn’t attend the first workshop for New Board Trustee training until April 2017 in Anaheim, California.

Here is a list of the trainings:

MIG Course 1 Resources

COURSE 1: Foundations of Effective Governance | Setting Direction

MIG Course 2Resources

COURSE 2: Policy & Judicial Review | Student Learning & Achievement

MIG Course 3 Resources

COURSE 3: School Finance

COURSE 4: Human Resources | Collective Bargaining

MIG Course 5

COURSE 5: Community Relations and Advocacy | Governance Integration

For the past two years all Board Trustees have voted against my attendance to attend professional development except for Debra Vinson. What is wrong with this picture? The Antioch Board of Education is not about educating their students nor Board Trustees to meet their full potential.

4) Superintendent Stephanie Anello recently replied to my text message. She replied to me within minutes by accident sending it to the wrong person. This gave me great insight into her thought process. The text stated, “Should I reply to Crystal’s text or should I ignore it?”

The last Board meeting on December 12, 2018 was the most hostile meeting I ever attended. As Vice President, I was continuously disrespected and intimidated during the meeting. The attendees in the front row were the ex-Chief of Police for the of City of Antioch and Mrs. Velma Wilson, an African American parent of two Antioch Unified School District students. Mrs. Wilson stated I was not worthy of becoming President. I motioned to move up the Action Items A President Elect and B Vice President Elect one the Agenda in front of consent items. Ellie, the new Board Trustee, seconded my motion. It was voted down 2-3. I felt the hostility more than ever after the final vote.

Hearing Mrs. Wilson’s statement coming as an African American woman was intentionally staged. Her conduct during the meeting should have been enforced by President Gary Hack, but he continues to sit idly by.

I have decided to inform my constituents, parents of the City of Antioch, and friends the truth pertaining to the Antioch of Board of Education Board meetings. I believe justice will prevail. Based on Board Bylaw 9100 that states that the Presidency is based on rotation and I was the Vice President for one year, I am deserving of the Presidency of the Antioch Board of Education.

It is obvious that I have experienced racial practices and intimidation as a fear tactic to embed on my human psyche. This tactic is intentional to imply that as an African American woman is not worthy and not qualified is clearly base on race. The public needs to know the truth and advocate for the students of Antioch Unified School District. If given the opportunity to be President, I will continue to lead with integrity and follow the appropriate Board Bylaws that will lead our students for a better education.

Crystal Sawyer -White, MS

Board Trustee, Antioch Unified School District

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Writer says public school alternative programs take time to succeed

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Dear Editor:

After attending a few board meetings, it has become more apparent that the parents who want charter schools simply want options for their students to learn. Unfortunately, some people may not realize that when you change something it takes time because there is no instant switch that automatically changes something.

The people in favor of charter schools don’t take the time to realize what the public schools have to offer. Plus, the reason so many charter schools probably fail is because they don’t take time to put together these programs like the public schools do.

While attending these meetings, I have noticed that these people who are in favor of the charter schools attend the meetings to get their public comment out there. While this is all fine and dandy, it did not seem to me that many of them stayed long enough to hear the options that AUSD is trying to put in place. Also, these options take time because, remember there is no instant switch to make these options happen. Just like with the academies at the high school level, they did not just roll out overnight. These academies took time to roll out at the high school level, like years to become the greatness that they are. Now, because of the successful implementation of these options, oh, I meant academies, there is starting to be more options at the middle school level for students to take classes that give them options to learn.

I know a lot of parents want their students to learn how to code or learn other skills, but those programs take time to develop and these programs also take time to implement. Also, what parents may not realize is that there is this thing called expanded learning and during LCAP meetings (which all parents who want to know what’s going on should be involved in) there was a large discussion on what should we offer our AUSD students for expanded learning. Coding, engineering related skills, and other computer skills were mentioned; but what was not mentioned was anything about charter schools. Parents that want to give their students a different learning opportunity should get involved in PTSA or LCAP, which help and support all students and takes in ideas on how to improve learning and the betterment of all students.

Also, after being lied to once and then your director not knowing what he was talking about I would be skeptical about wanting to send my child to this school.

Deanna Rundall

Antioch

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