Sunday, September 9, 2007

Teacher sues over computers

This article was published in the Hayward Daily Review, June 25, 2007.

HAYWARD -- When Luis Reynoso left the high-tech industry to pursue a second career in teaching, he never thought he would consider filing a lawsuit against his own district and be forced to resign.

Reynoso, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Harder Elementary School, has been battling the district since last August, when school officials took 36 computers from his classroom. Printers, Webcams and a digital camera also went missing.

"I'm very surprised it's gone this far," said Reynoso, 47, of Hayward. "All I want to do is teach, (and) we have to go through these shenanigans."

Reynoso, who said many of those computers were purchased out-of- pocket, has since filed a tort claim against the district alleging larceny, seeking compensation for $25,000. A tort claim is a preliminary step before a person is able to file a lawsuit; he has yet to hear back from the district regarding the claim.

School officials remain mum on the situation, citing personnel issues.

Last August, the district's technology department removed out-of- date computers from classrooms as part of a 3-month-old program called the School Wide Excess Equipment Pickup, which is when they came across Reynoso's setup.

"His issue was a public safety issue," said Patrick Simon, the director and chief technology officer for the district. "He had a lot of electrical wires and a lot of cable wires strung out throughout his classroom, where he made an attempt to turn his classroom into a computer lab."

Reynoso, however, disagrees. He said that if there had been any kind of issue regarding cables, someone could have approached him directly or unplugged the computers. He said he had received no warning.

"I felt violated and betrayed," said Reynoso. "At first I could not believe it. Even now I still can't believe it. The people that were supposed to work together as a team. I was hurt after pouring (in) so much of my own resources and my own time."

Hayward fire Marshal John Berg said the Fire Department conducts annual inspections at Harder and that according to records there were no violations at the school.

Reynoso said that in April his battle with the district took a turn for the worse when the principal notified him that he would not be re-elected to continue teaching at Harder the following year. Reynoso was a probationary teacher who was expected to gain tenure this year. The principal said Reynoso was not a good fit for the district. Reynoso began his teaching career in 2002, in Hayward Unified.

Rather than having it go on record that he was not re-elected, Reynoso said his union advised him to resign, so he did.

Kathy Crummey, Hayward Education Association president, refused to comment on the matter.

As a teacher, Reynoso would receive at least one performance evaluation each year. Evaluations from December 2004 to May 2006 show Reynoso ranked as an effective teacher in all categories.

In November 2006, shortly after he had met informally with the district regarding his computers, Reynoso said he received an unsatisfactory evaluation for the first time, with what he called inaccurate comments about his performance. The district refused to elaborate further for this story.

Gabriel Morales, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Harder, said that if a teacher is having difficulties, evaluations usually drop gradually, not drastically.

"We can't afford to lose teachers like Mr. Reynoso," Morales said. "He's very hard to replace, and you'll never find a way to replace him quickly."


Online version can be found here.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Computers Pulled from Hayward Classroom

The dumpster was one of the last places that Luis Reynoso thought he would find his computers, which were taken by the Hayward Unified School District from his classroom last summer.

Thirty-six computers were taken from his classroom, many of which were purchased and maintained by Reynoso. He filed a claim against the district in February 2007 to get his money back for the computers, as well as other items such as a digital camera, camcorder tripod and PC video camera that were also missing. By April, Reynoso said the principal told him that he would not be returning to Harder Elementary School the following year. He said his union advised him to resign, so he did.

“I’m very surprised it’s gone this far,” said Reynoso, a fifth and sixth grade elementary school teacher at Harder Elementary School. “All I want to do is teach (and) we have to go through these shenanigans.”

His saga began last August, a few days after summer school had ended. Reynoso went into his classroom to find desks overturned and his computers, many of which were bought with his own money, gone.

“It’s almost like somebody just vandalized the place,” said Reynoso. “At first I didn’t know who it was. After a custodian told me who it was, (I) spent a couple of days trying to find out who in the district did it. There was no note, no manifest.”

A custodian had seen members of the district in the classroom, a day before the computers were taken.

“They came in and said they couldn’t have this and that (the computers). It was a fire hazard,” said the custodian, who asked not to be named.

“It looked like a ghost town,” said the custodian. There were 12 computers stored in the closet that were also taken, he said.

“I felt violated and betrayed,” said Reynoso. “At first I could not believe it. Even now I still can’t believe it. The people that were supposed to work together as a team…I was hurt, after pouring so much of my own resources and my own time.”

Reasons ranging from computer viruses to fire hazard were given when Reynoso met with the district’s technology department, but he didn’t feel that they were justified since he had this classroom set up all year without any problems.

“His issue was a public safety issue,” said Patrick Simon, the director and chief technology officer for the district. “I was the person that executed the order to have his computers removed. He had a lot of electrical wires and a lot of cable wires, strung out throughout his classroom where he made an attempt to turn his classroom into a computer lab.

“We’re still waiting to this day to see what receipts did he have, to say that this is his property.”

Reynoso bought parts from Fry’s and Craigslist and spent his lunch hours maintaining the computers, some of which were donated. He admits that the computers were archaic, but as long as they were able to run a browser, he felt it didn’t matter, he said.

District representatives declined to further comment on the situation due to the impending lawsuit.

The associate superintendent of educational services, Christine Quinn, stated that the fire marshal was going to shut down Reynoso’s classroom, in an article that was printed in the Oakland Tribune on August 31, 2006,

John Berg, the fire marshal at the Hayward Fire Department, said that they do annual inspections for the school. According to its records there were no violations at Harder Elementary. The last inspection was done January 31, 2006. The state fire marshal’s office also did not have any records of violations.

“We don’t have any violations to that nature that were documented by our office and whenever we do an inspection, we document it,” said Berg. “There would have been an additional document in there, or some correspondence (with the school) and nothing shows that.”

As a teacher, Reynoso would receive at least one evaluation for performance each year. The evaluations would rank a teacher as effective, requires improvement or unsatisfactory. In February and May of 2006, Reynoso was effective in all categories. In evaluations as far back as December 2004 and in November 2005, he was ranked effective in all categories. He received comments stating that “Mr. Reynoso has implemented consistent discipline procedures in his classroom. He has built a positive rapport with his students. Students from his class have been cooperative and follow directions.” But it changed dramatically after his computers were taken.

In November 2006, shortly after he had met informally with the district regarding his computers, he received an unsatisfactory evaluation for the first time with negative comments.

The comments included, “Mr. Reynoso utilized limited strategies to gain, regain and maintain student attention and behavioral expectations.”

District representatives and the school principal have declined to comment on personnel issues.

Other comments on the evaluation stated that there was not enough student work posted on the walls and that there were no instructional aides.

On a recent visit, Reynoso’s classroom walls had a significant amount of student work posted compared to other sixth grade classroom walls which were relatively bare, with little student work.

“It (the student work) surpasses what the other classes have at his level,” said Gabriel Morales, a third and fourth grade teacher that has been at Harder for six years. “For sixth grade I would say he’s got more than what you would find in a sixth grade classroom. In fact, I think he had more stuff at the beginning of the year…so definitely around that time (of the evaluation) he would have had a lot more stuff.”

Morales said that if a teacher is having difficulties, evaluations usually drop gradually, not drastically.

“It’s not something that goes from a 5 star rating to a 1 star,” said Morales. “It doesn’t happen. There is something wrong with that picture when someone drops that much that fast.

“He brings a lot of things to the classroom that these kids need. We can’t afford to lose teachers like Mr. Reynoso. He’s very hard to replace and you’ll never find a way to replace him quickly.”
Reynoso says that there are times that he can’t believe that the lawsuit is even going on.

“I don’t want this to be so much of me. This was something that the kids were using. Parents are fuming, because they also participated with their money,” said Reynoso.

At the beginning of the year, parents contributed $40 each for web site subscriptions.

“When they took the computers away, not only did they take the program away, but the remaining part of the contract, they exhausted it, they never bothered to give the parents the money back either.”

The online programs that Reynoso had subscribed to were spread throughout the year, so the subscriptions would have lasted into the following school year.

Reyna Villalpando, whose son Luis is in Reynoso’s class, was confused and disappointed that the district took the computers. She said that her son learned so much the first year with Reynoso’s computer programs, that she went and bought her son a computer as well.

“They did a really bad thing for the kids. You can’t believe how much he improved,” said Villalpando. “He used to want to go home and do his homework on the computer and he’d be there for at least two hours.”

Without the computers this past school year, Villalpando saw the difference.

“I’m not saying he’s a bad boy, he’s my son, but he went down a lot,” said Villalpando. “He hasn’t been up like he was before.”

Reynoso used the Montessori approach where each student is looked at individually and the lesson plan would be catered toward their level.

“I have 29 kids. There are 29 different levels,” said Reynoso. “When we do our math lessons each child will go ahead and work on different strands of math at the sixth grade level.”

Reynoso needed computers for his lesson and spent three years trying to gather enough computers for his students. He had tried to invite members of the district to observe his lessons with the computers, but he never received a response.

“Kids will get their lesson and go out to the computer and as they do their independent practice, their results keep coming in. They see their product on the screen as the data starts to come in, the kids will start to group each other by the data. We’ll grab the kids that aren’t doing too well or the kids who are doing really well. It allowed the kids the jump. If there was anything that was beautiful about it, it’s that if someone wanted to move ahead, they could and that’s gone,” said Reynoso.

Students who had Reynoso as a teacher the year before felt the difference as well.

“Last year was better than this year because we had more computers,” said Jose Castellanos, 12, a student in Reynoso’s class. “He showed us different parts of the computer. We learned more with the computers.”

Reynoso, 47, began his second career as a teacher after spending 16 years in the high tech industry. He began teaching in 2002 at Eden Gardens Elementary School and was switched to Harder Elementary after two years.

Despite all the trouble that he’s going through, Reynoso says that he will continue to teach.

“It’s actually kind of sick. I could be bitter about it,” said Reynoso. “I could just quit this year but I thought, ‘You know what, this is not for me. But then I thought you know what, this is just a bump in the road, there’s no way that all schools are like this, there’s no way. If I have to start one myself I’ll change it.’”

Published on June 7, 2007. This story can be found here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rubbernecks, Multitaskers and Bad Mergers-Oh my!

One of the things that really stood out when I moved to the Bay Area was that traffic is not just something that is bothersome at certain hours of the day, but that it basically runs your life. I find that many people schedule their day around traffic, to the point where they even choose a job, school, relationship based on how close they are to a freeway exit.

Given the fact that California has an obscene amount of cars and the Bay Area is lacking in space, that doesn’t excuse the fact people are rear ending each other because they are too busy looking at the flat tire on the side of the road.

Almost 80 percent of car accidents occur due to distracted drivers. Whether they’re spacing out or under the influence, the bottom line is that there are a lot of irresponsible drivers. The term “accident” is misleading as there is always someone at fault. Accidents due to the car malfunctioning or the bad weather are relatively low. I noticed that in California, even when there’s heavy rain, there are people who are still driving like the roads are dry.

The simple rules of the road seem to go ignored. Slow traffic belongs in the right lane, yet plenty of people like to stay in the fast lane and are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being passed on the right.

Tunnel vision is a huge problem with drivers, especially those that commute long distances everyday and find it easier to just stay in one lane and either hit the gas or the brake. Whatever happened to just coasting? Slamming the brakes because you’re tail gating is dangerous and causes more traffic behind you.

The average person’s commute time in California is 10 percent higher than the nation’s average. People are spending more time in stop-and-go traffic that leads to frustration, road rage and increased stress levels.

Rubberneckers certainly don’t help traffic jams when they decide to slow to a crawl to see what is happening off the side of the road. Generally, if there is a problem off the side of the road, you don’t want to blaze past them at 100 mph, but you certainly don’t need to be gawking and staring if you don’t have plans to pull over and help.

Effective July 2008, driving while using a hand-held cell phone will be banned in the state of California. It is the most common form of distraction for drivers, so it doesn’t make sense why people don’t use hands-free kits now.

People claim that they can multitask, but if walking and chewing gum can be a challenge, then it would be wise to find an alternative to driving and chatting on the phone. Invest in a hands-free kit or headset.

Instead of placing all of the blame on bad drivers, I can sympathize when it comes to the bizarre and often poor construction of the road. I don’t understand when lanes end without warning, especially when you’re not in the right-most lane.

Seven lanes merging into three doesn’t help matters either. The idea that cars should be letting every other car merge in seems to be lost on Bay Area drivers. The one car that you decide to cut off or not let in won’t really help you get to your destination any faster.

Merge lanes that are no longer than a car length is not a merge lane. I don’t think anyone expects every car to be able to accelerate from zero to 60 in two seconds so that they don’t get rear ended.

Despite all of Caltrans’ shortcomings, it wouldn’t hurt to be more attentive and to be extra careful when you’re behind the steering wheel. If you don’t think you’re a bad driver, then everyone else around you probably is. Not only do you need to be on alert to avoid hitting someone else, you need that extra attention to dodge other cars on the road.

Sophia is a communications major that frequently has to dodge cars on the way to class.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Game Developers Meet in San Francisco

This is not part of my Soapbox column, but it was my first news article!

Originally published March 15, 2007

Developers from all over the world flock to one central location each year to take part in the Game Developer's Conference, an event where developers of computer games and similar specialties can network and promote business opportunities.

This year's conference was held Wednesday in San Francisco.

"The career pavilion area was structured so that I could essentially speed-date with companies for information about job openings and their companies," said Greg Raab, a conference associate volunteer who is a senior at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash.

The GDC began in a living room in San Jose and has moved between San Jose, Long Beach and Santa Clara over the years. This year it was held at the Moscone Center West in the SOMA district of San Francisco.

The event is open to developers of computer, console, mobile, arcade, online games and location-based entertainment.

Last year, the GDC attracted more than 12,500 attendees who drive the $13.5-billion industry. The conference allows members of the industry to attend more than 300 lectures, panels and tutorials.

"GDC is an opportunity for both new and old game developers to connect with game publishers," said Ludon Lee, who manages studio operations at D2C Games.

The large turnout, however, isn't always ideal.

"This year was too big; too sprawled out and the intimate feel was gone," said Daniel Boutros, founder of Gametao.

The seventh annual Game Developers Choice Awards, which is about peer recognition and rewarding innovation, was held Wednesday. Gears of War took the Best Game award among a list of games such as Okami, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox and many others received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his career-long accomplishments as a game designer.

Video Games Live, a unique form of entertainment that combines video games, live orchestra and vocals, ended the week-long conference. The event was created by Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico, and featured music from some of the biggest video games in the last 20 years. Video Games Live was held at the Nob Hill Masonic Center and performed by Video Games Live orchestra and choir.

"This is how rich people play their video games," said Tallarico jokingly during a Frogger competition on stage while the orchestra played the music.

Koji Kondo, the highly-regarded composer for the Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda franchises made an appearance and performed a Super Mario Brothers medley on the piano for the audience.

Video Games Live has scheduled tour dates across the United States and has announced international dates.

The GDC is expected to return next year to San Francisco.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

There's Always Time for the News

Being a communications student, it’s hard not to read the news and keep up with currents events. Other than receiving disapproving looks from the professor and not really understanding where the class discussion is going, you might also feel a little out of touch. I know I do, and after awhile the “I’m Canadian” excuse just isn’t going to cut it. It got me out of a traffic ticket before, but I don’t think it’ll get me an A.

Even if you’re not a communications student, keeping up with current events should be just as important as keeping up with the latest celebrity gossip. You should at the very least be able to recognize names on a ballot when you go and vote. It’s not until politicians make the headlines because of a scandal that people start to take notice.

I can’t explain why when given the choice to read about Britney Spears’ hair and the Kyoto Accord, some of us will choose not to read about the treaty. Sadly, I’m guilty of this too and it makes me feel bad because I know I’m probably wasting my time and energy by reading information that will have no value to me (except that when I talk to my hairdresser we’ll have something to discuss).

I honestly was never really interested in politics growing up. Council meetings, long speeches, boredom and old people were the words and images that came into my head when I thought about politics. I could use the excuse that Canadian politics weren’t as interesting as U.S. politics, since my dad watches the U.S news coverage as if it were a reality TV show.

For some reason, once I started college in the United States, I started to pay more attention to the news. The more I read, the more irritated I got. The news I was reading was obviously biased. I didn’t know which radio stations or newspapers to pay attention to, and I only watched CNN, which I was told was the Clinton’s News Network. I’m not sure how many other students feel the same way, but when you spend most of your waking hours running around doing your daily routine, sitting down to read a newspaper with your morning cup of coffee just doesn’t seem to fit into your schedule. I don’t even eat breakfast.

Since I spend a lot of time online, anyway, I eventually started getting into the habit of browsing forums online. At first it was hobby related, but I found myself wandering into debate forums where people would talk about current issues regarding the United States. This was my entry to the wonderful world of politics. Ignoring the rude and incoherent comments, I started reading some fascinating ideas about religion, politics, education, women’s rights and other controversial topics that I’ve never really thought about discussing with anyone. These topics were considered “off limits” as an unspoken rule among my friends, and I’m not quite sure why.

With the ability to conceal your identity online, people would write what they wanted to write, and eventually I started to read more—and even had the nerve to participate once in a while—and began to read and write blogs.

Reading a news report about the latest political agenda might be dry and dull, but reading active debates or even taking part in them allows you to really explore the details and people will point you to information that you would have never come across yourself. Of course opinion is always included, but to me it’s incredibly enriching to hear more than just one. Taking a class that is discussion oriented is another way to actively take part.
It wasn’t until I started taking classes at Cal State East Bay that I realized how much freedom the First Amendment gives to the press and to the public. Not every country has the same rights and access that we have in the United States. Wouldn’t it make sense to take advantage?

No one can really make politics more interesting if you’re not willing to approach it with an open and curious mind. But as a member of this society it’s your right to receive as much information as possible and learn as much as you can. Even though we may feel that certain events don’t seem to affect us directly, it’s important to at least know and understand what’s going on so that when it comes time to vote, you can cast that vote in confidence and be an informed participant of democracy. If you don’t pay attention to what’s happening, how do you expect to make an informed decision come 2008?

Sophia is a communications major who is appalled at how low the voter turnout is during elections and suggests that people start taking notes on candidates now.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What They Don't Teach You in School

You spend most of your childhood in school preparing yourself for the real world. By the time you finish high school, you are officially an adult and expected to make adult-like decisions. Those that make the decision to go to college to prepare themselves for a career come out of college feeling just as lost and confused as they were going in.

It’s not easy deciding what you want to be when you grow up. Some people never decide, and some people just never grow up. Not everyone is going to be an astronaut, doctor, lawyer or teacher. These were the only jobs that really came into mind when I was in high school. Business was too much sales, politics was too boring, science was too much work, and law was boring and a lot of work.

It’s no wonder that by the time I reached college, I had no idea what I wanted to do because those were the only “valid” options that were presented to me. Anything else meant that I would not get a job or it wouldn’t be practical. Another option was to stay in school as long as possible so you never have to face the fact that you need to get out into the real world.

I lost interest in school early on, and I was eager to get out. I didn’t know what I’d do if I was out. With the many things that had changed my life around when I first started college, I found myself in a sales related position that required a business degree which I didn’t have. Even so, I managed to excel at my work and learn a lot of things I never cared to learn.

I never knew that the corner window cubicle was the most sought after piece of real estate, and when you’re senior enough to land it, everyone else hates you.

People aren’t kidding when they’re using football terms and other phrases such as “low hanging fruit” in meetings and expect you to know exactly what they’re talking about. Golf is the one thing everyone has in common, which is why some business schools are teaching students how to play.

Loitering by the water cooler or the mailroom grants you access to the company’s darkest secrets. Just like in class, people arrive late to meetings and are surprised when they are given a dirty look. The longer your job title is, the less qualified you are at your job.

Even if you’re working in the software industry, selling software products, there will be people who still refuse to use software applications to do their work. I also noticed that professionalism was really hard to find.

You will meet difficult people throughout your life. Even though you may hate group projects in class now, at least in the workplace, your teammates have the pressure of getting fired. That doesn’t stop them from being a backstabber and pretending that everything is great.

I learned so much working for corporate America. The most important thing I took away was that you need to network. As much as I hate to admit it, because I was always against relying on others to get what I want, it’s much easier if you network. Your chances are much higher, especially when two thirds of the workforce is based on referrals. If you get really lucky you may get noticed and find what you’re looking for and be recognized for your talent. Sadly, the real world doesn’t operate on luck all the time so I’m trying to enjoy school life as much as possible before I jump back into it.

Sophia is a communications major who wished politics stayed out of the non-political workplace.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

International, Native Students Learn Languages from Each Other

Originally published on March 1, 2007

The diversity on campus is one of Cal State East Bay’s best features. Not only do we see a wide range of individuals from the Bay Area, but we also have a lot of International students that live on campus as well.

Ever wonder what it must be like to be in a different country to study in your second language? Students who study abroad learn and experience many things that can’t be taught in a classroom.

If you’ve always had an interest in perhaps studying abroad, or have been curious about the experience, why not ask a fellow CSUEB student on campus about it?

CSUEB has set up an American Language Speaking Partners Program to have International students meet native English speakers to help them with their English. I found out about this program because I was taking a foreign language class and that’s where they try to recruit volunteers. The idea is that you help them with their English, and they in turn can help you practice the language that you are taking.

There was a time when I was an International student, too, but because I’m Chinese and grew up in Canada, students and teachers were confused when I spoke English fluently because they assumed I came from China. Teachers also find it odd that I also speak Mandarin and Cantonese as well as I do, growing up in a country where speaking English and French were as important as graduating high school. Languages have always been fascinating to me, not only because I like being able to understand people from different countries, but because I learn about the history and the culture of that language.

During my International orientation, I noticed that most students were very shy and that they kept to their group of friends or would hang around other groups that spoke the same language. I approached and befriended a group of students from Kosovo who were sitting in a corner. They told me afterward that they immediately knew I wasn’t from China and I definitely wasn’t an American, because they have never had either approach them just to be friendly.

I was a bit confused as to why they would say that. I understand shy people find it difficult to approach new people. There are a lot of people on campus who are outgoing, but why aren’t they approaching different students? I know that if I were in a different country, I would be very grateful if people made an effort to approach me just to say hello.

When I first started here as a student, I wasn’t aware of any language programs, but it would have been nice to see students take an active role in helping foreign students get acclimated.

The Speaking Partners Program is coordinated by Jessie Wu, who can be reached at or 510-885-2358 for questions or applications. Applicants are then paired up with an International student based on language interest. Once you received an email with your partner’s contact information, it’s up to you and your partner to meet each other once a week to get some conversation practice.

I didn’t really sign up so much to get help in a language, but I figured this was an easy way to meet new students who I might not normally bump into. They all live on campus at Pioneer Heights or the International House, but how often would a Bay Area resident wander over there to make new friends?

Even though you are signing up to help out a fellow student with their English, I find it just as rewarding to make a new friend and learn about their culture and their points of view. As diverse as the Bay Area is, people tend to cling to their own cliques and friends. It doesn’t hurt to branch out once in a while and meet someone new and different.

Sophia is a communications major whose next step is to learn more Spanish and start taking Japanese.