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High Schools and Fleas

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 01, 2007 @ 8:26 am PDT

Last night, we went to Van Nuys High School to see the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet perform the play “A Flea In Her Ear.” We went primarily because nsshere is about to graduate middle school, and thus we have to make our choice regarding application to a magnet school. At the top of our list for magnets is the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet, which (a) has the highest AP exam pass rate in LAUSD for the second consecutive year, (b) allows its students to take classes in the co-located Mathematics and Medical magnets, and (c) has an excellent performing arts program. The family had visited the Granada Hills HS M/S/T magnet earlier in the day, and had come away unimpressed (which was disappointing as Granada Hills is our residential school fallback). We already know that although Granada Hills has reasonable test scores, their theatre and performing arts program just isn’t in the same league as VNHS.

So, we went to the show last night, courtesy of comped tickets from the magnet advisor. Their facility is beautiful. The school was originally built in the 1910 timeframe, and after various earthquakes, the auditorium has been rebuilt as a professional theatre, with a full thrust stage, numerous lighting bridges, full sound system and sound mixer boards, and comfortable seating. Combine this with elaborate sets, including staircases and rotating turntables, all constructed by the students… and right away there was “tech envy”.

The show, “A Flea In Her Ear” is a true old-fashioned sex farce, written by Georges Feydeau. Samuel French summarizes the plot as “Raymonde suspects her husband, Victor Emmanuel, of infidelity and she turns to her best friend, Lucienne, to help her gain proof. They concoct a play-based on a perfumed letter-to trap him at the Hotel Coq d’Or in Montretout. In true Feydeau fashion the plan misfires; the plot is complicated by confused identities, revolving beds, a great many doors and the fact that the stupid hotel porter, Poche, is the exact double of Victor Emmanuel. Period: the early 1900s.” In other words, there are all the classic elements of a farce: mistaken identities, exaggerated actions, lots of craziness, and loads of slamming doors. Farces are the hardest comedies to do, as they do not depend on jokes but on exact and precise timing. You can find a good description of the plot and the characters, as well as an explanation of farces, here.

Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet did an excellent job with the piece, especially considering that the cast included a fair number of 9th graders. They had the timing and the blocking down pat, and most of the actors did an excellent job of projection. Some were clearly nervous and spoke their lines a little fast; I believe that they will slow down with more experience. More annoying were some sound and static programs that occurred in the second and third acts. But these were technical; the actors did a great job of compensating.

The cast consisted of Timothy Glick (Camille Chandebise), Mikel Bossett (Antoinette Plucheux), Cody Banks (Etienne Plucheux), Aria Pakatchi (Dr. Finache), Kaitlin Walters (Lucienne De Histangua), Julia Rachilewski (Raymonde Chandebise), Dominic Gessel (VIctor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche), Melvin Galloway III (Romaine Tournel), John Geronilla (Carlos Homenides De Histangua), Rayna Hallett (Eugenie), Paulo Tadle (Augustin Feraillon), Patricia Ponce (Olympe), Celina Pacheco (Baptistin), and Patrick Pavia (Popoy). I was particularly impressed by Ms. Walters, Ms. Rachilewski, Mr. Gessel, and Mr. Geronilla — all of who were excellent, played their parts quite well, and spoke very clearly.

The technical credits are all students as well. Sound was by Brian Bengler and Jayson Hill, lighting by Shaunna Lucas, Michael Bizarro, and John Dizon, and stage management by Brian Monterrosa, Jonathan Rivas, and Mayra Mendoza.

We came away very very impressed with the Van Nuys Magnet. It also helped that we ran into someone we knew in the audience–the mom of a girl that nsshere went to preschool with. The older daughter of the family is in the medical magnet, and gave nothing but glowing reports of the school. Personal recommendations from someone you trust are very important in something like this.

While we’re on the subject of school musicals, I must plug “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales”, which is being performed at Nobel Middle School, at the corner of Lassen and Tampa in Northridge California, on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm. No set ticket prices; donations at the door.

Our theatre plans? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm (that’s tonight!); followed by a concert by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm (that’s tomorrow!). Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


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Protected: Making A Choice

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 28, 2007 @ 7:18 pm PDT

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Protected: TANSTAAFL, or if there is, I don’t want it!

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Aug 08, 2007 @ 5:44 pm PDT

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jul 10, 2007 @ 6:37 pm PDT

And now for a slightly more serious post. The Washington Post today had an interesting article on the naming of schools. It appears that (at least in the DC area) the naming of schools after people, especially dead presidents, is out of fashion. Districts would rather name their schools after something slightly less controversial, like neighborhoods or geometric features. Some quotes from the article:

“But over the past decade, even though 12 Northern Virginia high schools have opened to handle one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, not one of them has been named after a person, much less a president or a general. Instead, the various school-naming committees have embraced scenic, geographic or patriotic titles: Battlefield, Colonial Forge, Dominion, Forest Park, Heritage, Mountain View, Riverbend, South County, Stone Bridge, Westfield and two schools named Freedom.

Maryland is still naming high schools after people, but it appears to be out of sync with Virginia and much of the rest of the country. According to a new Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, impersonal school-naming practices are a national trend. Three researchers found that 45 percent of public schools built in New Jersey before 1948 were named after people, compared with 27 percent of schools built after 1988. Similar patterns were found in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin.”

I’ve thought about that in the LA district. Although there are a fair number of schools in the LAUSD named after dead presidents, not all are accounted for. In LAUSD there is: Cleveland, Garfield, Harding (now University), Grant, Jefferson, Kennedy, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt, Taft, Washington, and Wilson (note that “West Adams” doesn’t count, as that’s geographical)… and for non-presidents, Phineas Banning, Miguel Conteras, Susan Miller Dorsey, Franklin, John C. Fremont, Alexander Hamilton, David Starr Jordan, Alain Leroy Locke, Manual Arts, John Marshall, John H. Francis, Helen Bernstein, Esteban Torres, Einstein, Patton, Wooden, Whitman, Thoreau, Rodia, and Ellington.

Why are named schools important? The article answers this: “School names can shape values by providing educators with a teaching opportunity”

As a side note: You can’t have all presidents, as some names are repeats: Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, Bush, Arthur, Johnson.

So, what names are in your district? Do you cover all possible presidents? Where is Millard Filmore High School? William Henry Harrison High? Andrew Johnson High? Rutherford B. Hayes High?

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Because I Knew You, I Have Been Changed For Good

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jun 01, 2007 @ 10:25 pm PDT

Friends, let me tell you a story. In the past, I’ve written about how teachers have influenced me in my life. Tonight, I’m writing about how two teachers, Jean Martellaro and Fanny Arana, are influencing over 85 kids for good.

Tonight, I just got back from the second performance of “The Wizard of Oz and Then Some” at Nobel Middle School in Northridge, California (Note: there are two more performances of this show on Saturday: 2 PM and 6:30 PM). Wow! What these teachers have guided this group of over 85 remarkable young adults to do. I can guarantee that these two teachers are influencing these kids lives in a way that will benefit them positively for the rest of their lives. And that’s a good thing.

The play is an amalgam of the Harold Arlen “The Wizard of Oz”, with a few songs from Charlie Small’s “The Wiz” and Stephen Schwartz’ “Wicked” thrown in… and a few more surprises. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the basic story, so I won’t repeat it here. The kids did it wonderfully. As there were 85 kids in the production, I’m not going to list them all (nor am I listing last names), but I do need to note some particular standouts in the cast. Starring as Dorothy was Shelby W., who along with Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Savannah L.), and Talulah the Good Witch of the South (Joy T.), were remarkable singers and young actors. Also as standouts in the cast were Nolan M. as Toto (who stole every scene he was in) and Melanie T. as Elphaba (who stole every scene she was an… and projected quite well). I was also impressed with Kenny C. as Biff the Narrator, who had a great speaking voice; the other narrators were John A., Hessica S. and Danielle W.. Rounding out the principles in the cast were Trevor C. as the Scarecrow, Nora F. as the Tinsman, Bobby L. as the Cowardly Lion, and Giovanni F. as the Wizard of Oz. Of these, I was particularly impressed with Nora F., who had a good singing voice and a delightful smile. Bobby L., as the Lion, had the right comic chops, but (perhaps intentionally) couldn’t quite do the songs. Amanda C. as Ozwina also did a good job. A special mention goes to our own nsshere, who played Olive Green as well as being the head costume mistress and wrangler for the entire cast. This was a big job, and she has received incredible complements on her work. The rest of the cast members all did great jobs, but didn’t have specific performances to highlight.

Big kudos, however, go to the teachers behind all of this. They revitalized the drama program at this school. From nothing they arranged a first production, and now this… which was better than many local and community theatre productions I’ve seen. The skills these kids learn here: from public speaking to time management to teamwork…. will serve these kids well the rest of their lives in whatever career they are in. Additionally, I know it will instill a love of live theatre, which is a great thing.

Could things be improved? Yes. Some of the kids need to focus a bit more on projection, so you could hear them more clearly. That will come with time. On some of the songs, the breaths need to be timed a bit better — again, that’s a practice issue, and we’re dealing with 7th and 8th grade non-professionals here, so it didn’t bother me that much. The facility needs a better sound system and raked seating — but this is a public school, so we need bond funds to fix that :-). There were a few cases where I noted some miscues, but I’m sure that will be fixed in tomorrow’s performances. For what they had, they did great! [Updated 6/2 to add: The sound was better at the Saturday 2pm performance, and everyone could be heard great.]

What’s next for us. Well, we’ll be back at the 2 PM performance tomorrow :-). Alas, we’ll miss the last performance of this, as we’ll be at “The Constant Wife” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Following that is “Side Show” at UCLA Theatre Arts on 6/9 @ 8pm; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA on 6/16 @ 2pm. We’re on vacation the end of June in Nashville, and when we return, it is “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm; “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm; “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm, and the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm . I’ve also ordered season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here, and there’s likely to be a Hollywood Bowl show in there somewhere.

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We’re Off To See The Wizard… Near the Northridge Fashion Center!

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 25, 2007 @ 8:23 pm PDT

[Note: I'm posting this on behalf of my daughter, nsshere, who is costume mistress for this production... and also has four lines as Greeter to Oz]

Ladies and Gentlemen!
For your enjoyment!
For your entertainment!
For your edifa- edifa, what’s that word?
Right, for your edification, what’s that mean?
Not now!
We invite you to our production of the WIZARD OF OZ.

Nobel Middle School is doing a wonderful production of the Wizard of Oz. It is an adapted script, with a combination of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, Wicked, and so much more. So if you happen to be in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles), please come see our show.

It will be at Nobel Middle School, 9950 Tampa Ave. in Northridge on

  • Thursday, May 31st at 6:30 PM

  • Friday, June 1st at 6:30 PM
  • Saturday, June 2nd at 2:00 PM and 6:30 PM

You don’t need to buy a ticket in advance; donations are accepted at the door.
Hope to see you there!

[Dad speaking again: You really should come see this great group of 85+ kids. They've been working their little tushies off, and look to be doing a great job. We all say we want to support the kids in our schools -- here's a way to do it!]

[Posted to city_of_la, los_angeles, socal_theatre, and my journal]

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Influencing Young Lives

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 13, 2007 @ 8:02 am PDT

Today’s Los Angeles Times (the article also made it to MSNBC) has an article the oldest teacher currently teaching within the LA Unified School District: Rose Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert (better known as “Mama Gilbert” to her students) has been teaching at Pali Hi (wikipedia) since the school opened in 1961… and before that, she taught at University High School.

The article says many complementary things about Mama Gilbert: her love for her students, her love for her school, and her love for UCLA. These things I know well about her, for I went to Pali in the 1970s. However, I never had Mama Gilbert for a teacher: she got the AP English classes, and I was never at that level. I had Russell Smith, who no longer teaches there. But I do know that Mama Gilbert had tremendous influence on her student’s lives, and it is teachers who influenced you in that way that is the topic of this post.

So, if during my time at Pali, Mama Gilbert didn’t influence me, who did? I can think of two. Bill Layton, a physics teacher, did to some extent. His was a wild-and-crazy physics classroom, with gigantic speakers in the back. He influenced me less on physics, and more in things like science-fiction, and having fun with science. After he left Pali, he went on to UCLA, where he started a project to prepare future physics teachers. He is currently a lecturer in the UCLA Physics Department.

Even more that Bill Layton, however, was the high-school teacher that supported my interest in computers. Mind you, this was back in the mid-1970s, when computers weren’t that common. LA Unified was using both the MISS System (an IBM 360 running WATFIV) and an HP 3000 running BASIC. This teacher was Lawrence Schoenberg.

Now, the name Schoenberg may sound familar. After all, there was a famous composer Arnold Schönberg. His son, for a while, taught Mathematics, Calculus, and Computers at Pali Hi. Although I never had a formal math class from him (I had other folks, such as Mrs. McGrath and Dr. Kay), I spent a lot of time in his classroom (E203) hanging in the Math Lab. This is where my friends and I formed our love of working with computers — and is one of the reason I am where I am today. So where is Mr. Schoenberg today. From all I can find, he’s busy running his father’s institute (in particular Belmont Music), together with his brother Ronald and his sister Nuria.

So here’s to the teachers that have influenced our lives. Thank you. To those of you reading this who are teaching, thank you also for sharing your love and passion with students. You do make a difference.

So, which teachers have influenced you?

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Learning to Change Your Mind

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 21, 2007 @ 7:07 am PDT

There are certain things that impress me in politics. One of them is a clearly positive campaign approach: providing a statement of your position that is not focused on trashing your opponent. It is such an approach that got me to vote Republican the one time in my life that I did: it was the approach taken by presidental candidate John Anderson in 1980. Why am I mentioning this? Read on, McDuff…

Back in March, I wrote about the nasty school board fight that we’re having in our school district. This fight, primarily between the UTLA-backed incumbent Jon Lauritzen and the mayor-backed candidate Tamar Galatzan, was extremely nasty in the primary. The mailers we were receiving were almost entirely mud-slinging back and forth: trashing the other candidates, not clearly stating what was going to be done. At that time, I tended to back the incumbent because I was turned off by the negative ads, and he was a former Math/CS teacher.

I’ve changed my mind.

Why? A single mailing. Recently, Tamar Galatzan sent out a mailing with her plans for reforming Los Angeles schools. I read through this closely, and I have to say that I agree with it (although she missed a thing or two–such as the fact that magnet school parents shouldn’t have to foot the bill for technology refreshes). The other camp? Still no website, still a relatively-detail-free position statement.

I mention this now because the election is rapidly approaching (May 15), and because the LAUSD is back in the news. The new Superintendent, David Brewer, commissioned a Diagnostic Report of the district when he was hired. Phase 1 is in. This report states that LAUSD is disorganized, lacks financial controls and suffers from a “pervasive” lack of accountability. It notes that “The current culture in LAUSD is one typified by not responding to priorities and deadlines, and there is no sense of urgency among managers”. The report found a district run by a school board that is too involved in management, but that also operates with nonexistent or outdated policies. Much of the findings seems to echo was Galatzan was saying in her position paper.

I know the LAUSD can produce good results. I’ve seen it in the past (I’m a product of LA Unified), and I’ve seen it in the schools that my daughter has attended. But I also know that the success is based on parent involvement. There are many many schools that simply do not make the grade. Some are improving slowly, but the district still has problems. So this mailing, and Brewer’s report (and his reaction thereto) is encouraging to me.

Let this be a lesson to candidates: Some voters react to positive campaigns.

Updated 4/26 to add: It appears I’m not the only one swayed by the mailer. Louis Pugliese has also been swayed, according to the Daily News, which said,

“Pugliese said he was swayed by Galatzan’s detailed proposal for reforming the district – which was sent to voters in a 23-page mailer – while Lauritzen had not drafted any such plan.”

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