Jews play Santa for families in need


Michael Oshan and Susan Meyers, who helped start the Congregation of Emeth’s annual Christmas meal service, played Santa Claus and elf at St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy, California on Christmas Day. Photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

At St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy, California, the annual Christmas meal for the needy  “kicked off with a Jewish blessing and ended with a visit from Santa,” writes Marisa Kendall in the San Jose Mercury News.

Twenty-five years ago, members of the nearby Congregation of Emeth synagogue offered to take over the free meal and gift giving so church workers could celebrate Christmas with their families.They’ve been doing it ever since.

Susan Meyers, a Jewish elf, helped feed the needy and hand out gifts at St. Joseph’s Family Center on Christmas Day. Photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Susan Meyers, a Jewish elf, helps feed the needy and hand out gifts at St. Joseph’s Family Center on Christmas Day. Photo: Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Two of the original synagogue volunteers, Michael Oshan and wife Susan Meyers, were there, dressed as Santa and his elf, to hand out wrapped presents and warm coats and sweaters to adults.

“It’s become such a part of our culture that this is a big thing we look forward to every year,” said Emeth member Denise Wyl, also in elf costume.

About 150 people ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and “on tables covered in red and green paper in the glow of a brightly illuminated Christmas tree,” writes Kendall.

Volunteers cooked and served 18 turkeys.

You can be a teacher’s Santa

If you want to give to someone who really needs it, check out DonorsChoose,which lets public-school teachers list their not-quite-funded projects.

Image result for nursery rhymesFor example, a middle-school teacher in a high-poverty school near Los Angeles wants to buy blood-testing kits to introduce her students to medical and forensic-science careers.

A Charlotte teacher hopes to provide flexible seating for her wiggly second graders.

A reading specialist in Oklahoma is hoping for rhyming sounds teaching games and nursery rhyme readers.

LA teachers’ union says ‘no’ to Broad bucks

Great Public Schools Now (GPSN), largely funded by billionaire Eli Broad, hopes to create 260 new charters in Los Angeles. Pledging to “do more of what works,” GPSN also plans to “offer up to $3.75 million to help L.A. Unified expand five promising schools” in low-income neighborhoods, reports KPCC.

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That only fueled the teachers’ union’s Broad Rage, writes Larry Sand on Union Watch.

Five district-run schools will be awarded $250,000 a year for three years to expand or replicate successful programs.

United Teachers of Los Angeles members at four schools voted to refuse the money, reports KPCC. However, none of the schools are on the list of possible grant winners.

The money will go through the school district, writes Sand. “UTLA is asking the LA school board to turn down the cash.”

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl called the donation “a public relations stunt that offers chump change to a couple of LAUSD efforts while they continue to put tens of millions of dollars into unregulated charter growth.”

The union leader wants philanthropists to “give a substantial amount of money, millions of dollars, to the L.A. School Board … to spend in the way they see fit.”

That’s not going to happen.

10 ‘super schools’ get $10 million each

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter High is one of 10 schools that will get $10 million each from the XQ Institute to create a “superschool.” Photo: New York Times

The XQ Institute will give $10 million each to 10 would-be “super schools” across the country. Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, is funding the effort via the Emerson Collective.

Summit, a charter network known for personalized learning, will partner with Oakland Unified and the California College of the Arts to create Summit Elevate.

Winners include both charters, such as a Big Picture Learning school on a barge near New Orleans, and district-run schools, such as Grand Rapids’ Public Museum School. In Los Angeles, two teachers plan to create a mobile high school designed for homeless and foster children.

Rick Hess warns of  “fan boy” enthusiasm run amok. One of the would-be “super schools” will be Furr High in Texas.

Furr High School will activate learning through a project- and place-based model grounded in the rigors of environmental and nutritional sciences. This large public high school will transform its culture with restorative justice, connect the dots between students and community, and combine Socratic seminars, university and business partnerships, and wrap-around services. Students and teachers will pair with their university counterparts to become “green ambassadors” in important environmental-sustainability research projects.

“There’s enough jargon there to choke a horse,” writes Hess. Contests reward “checking of predictable ‘right-answer’ boxes (e.g. restorative justice, university partnerships, wrap-around services, green ambassadors).”

Middle-school kids win start-up contest

Venture students present their idea at a start-up accelerator contest.

A team of Minneapolis middle-schoolers won a contest to sell a start-up idea, beating 10 adult teams, reports Beth Hawkins on Education Post.

The students attend Venture Academy, a three-year-old charter middle school that promotes entrepreneurship and includes a “maker space” where students can tinker.

Venture enrolls “a cross-section of the Twin Cities’ most disadvantaged youth: 45 percent Latino, 35 percent Black, 10 percent Native American and 10 percent white,” writes Hawkins. “More than 90 percent live in poverty, 28 percent are learning English and one-fourth are in special education.”

Students “design their own learning plans,” combining “hands-on experiences and online curricula,” she writes. “Last year its students, many of whom start out years behind, made more growth than all but one Minneapolis school serving the same grades.”

Dave Barry’s holiday gift guide

Think you’ve bought the perfect gifts for friends and family? Check out what you missed in Dave Barry’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

The Wearable Hummingbird Feeder, a face shield with a feeder tube that comes out between the eyes, is only $79.95.

“Imagine having a hummingbird hover right in front of your face,” writes Barry. “Specifically, in front of your eyeballs. It’s darting around and thrusting with its long, pointy, needle-like beak. RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR EYEBALLS. WHICH YOU USE TO SEE.”

It’s also the perfect gift for the armed robber on your holiday list, writes Barry. (“Do what he says! He has a hummingbird!”)

Snakes Toilet Topper, $3.45-$8.99, is “a highly realistic decal that goes on a toilet lid and makes it appear as though two large snakes are emerging from the commode bowl.”

For the pet owner, there’s Cat Stay & Wash, $9.95 to $13.99, a harness connected to a suction cup. “You simply put the harness on the cat (allow six hours) then attach the suction cup to the bathtub, and then it will be “easy” to wash your cat, according to the manufacturer, who apparently tested this product on cats from another galaxy.”

Puff ‘n’ Fluff Dog Dryer, $44.99, answers the question “what do you do when your dog gets wet?” Let the dog dry out is the wrong answer.

How to spend Zuck’s bucks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan celebrated the birth of their daughter by pledging to give 99 percent of their wealth — $45 billion or so — to worthy causes, such as “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” They’ll make do with the remaining $450 million.

They’ve come in for a lot of criticism and kibbitzing.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Some want to tell them how to spend the money:  Don’t try to change things like Bill Gates!

Anil Dash advises funding “people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.”

Others accuse the couple of trying to dodge taxes. (Giving away 99 percent of your money is not a great way to save money.)

In response, Zuckerberg explained why they set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as an LLC rather than a traditional foundation. They want flexibility.

“This enables us to pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates.”

. . . “If we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not. And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC.”

The Initiative will focus on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities,” he wrote.

“Our education work has been funded through a non-profit organization, Startup: Education, the recently announced Breakthrough Energy Coalition will make private investments in clean energy, and we also fund public government efforts, like the CDC Ebola response and San Francisco General Hospital.”

The money will be wasted, predicts Gawker’s Sam Biddle. He sneers at Facebook’s support for Summit’s personalized learning platform — with no understanding of what it is.

The Washington Post describes the couple’s plans to provide private schooling and health care for low-income families in a heavily minority community, East Palo Alto.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Pope visits a reborn Catholic school


Children from four Catholic schools practice a song for the pope’s visit at Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote, Newsday

At Our Lady Queen of Angels, a K-8 school in East Harlem, students from the area’s Catholic schools spent days preparing for Pope Francis’ visit, reports Newsday.

Students rehearsed the song, St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

LaSalle Duke-Sample, 9, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo, will show the pope his diorama — a grassy meadow and crystal blue stream that is surrounded by trees and a farmer’s fruit and vegetable stand.

“We are thanking God for the gifts of the Earth: water, trees that give us oxygen, animals that give us food. My favorite is the fruit,” LaSalle said.

Eight years ago, Our Lady Queen of Angel’s parish closed, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. But the school was reborn as one of six campuses in “a first-of-its-kind Catholic schools network, to be governed by the archdiocese and operated and financed by a nonprofit school management organization, which I oversee.”

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Ahead of the Heard has more on the “redemptive” private school management organizations (PSMOs) that are saving urban Catholic schools.

After a 50-year retreat for Catholic schools, there’s hope for a renaissance in Catholic education thanks to social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, write Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson.

However tuition-free charter schools are tough competition for Catholic schools that don’t have philanthropic support.

New York City Catholic schools have received $125 million to fund scholarships for inner-city children. That includes a $40 million gift from Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO at Blackstone, who are Jewish.


Pope Francis greets the crowd outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.

Millionaire turns around poor Florida town

Harris Rosen visited a day care center he funds in Tangelo Park, Fla. Credit: Melissa Lyttle, New York Times

For 21 years, a Florida millionaire has funded day care centers and college scholarships in a small, low-income, mostly black town near Orland, reports the New York Times. With $11 million of Harris Rosen’s money, “Tangelo Park is a striking success story.”

Once, nearly half the town’s students dropped out of school. Now nearly all graduate and most go to college or trade school with full scholarships.

Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

The son of immigrants, Rosen grew up poor in New York City and made his money in the hotel business.

For the youngest children, he created a system of free day care centers in Tangelo Park homes, ensuring that the certified providers, who are also the homeowners, instruct children as young as 2. He also started and finances a prekindergarten program in the local elementary school and offers parents training through the University of Central Florida on how to support their children.

The Tangelo Park Program doesn’t fund K-12 education.  “It is run almost entirely by volunteers, mostly community leaders,” reports the Times.

Next year, Rosen will begin funding early education in a downtown Orlando neighborhood with housing projects and few neighborhood institutions.