Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is paying Sweetwater Union High School District a visit. Duncan is on a Southwest bus tour and will be at Castle Park Middle School September 13.
Why Castle Park Middle? In 2012 the U.S. Department of Education awarded $27.8 million in Promise Neighborhood grant money to a section of west side Chula Vista, which includes Castle Park Middle School.
South Bay Community Services is the lead agency in administering the grant and provides “wrap around” social services to students and families.
The agency is funded through the Sweetwater school district to provide after-school programs for students—which comes into play at Castle Park.
The principal of Castle Park Middle is Robert Bleisch. He is credited with turning schools around with a model he developed at Granger Middle School, although critics say the teachers, not Bleisch, turned the school around.
The model, now being applied to Castle Park, emphasizes attendance. The policy is enforced by escalating repercussions for students beginning with Saturday school, followed by after-school hours, and ending with appearance before an attendance board at the local police department.
One source for this story says, “Kids are rounded up at 2:30 and taken to the O room for the after-school program, some respond negatively.” Another source said, “Parents on the east side would never stand for this program.”
Preparation for Duncan’s visit to Castle Park Middle is frenzied.
First the media. On August 23, the Chula Vista Star News carried a story titled: “Attendance Numbers are up at Castle Park.”
Then Castle Park Middle got a facelift. New solar panels are being installed; new red flags wave in front of the school, and new banners bearing the name of every college in the country are draped around the campus. But the most sensational accoutrement is the fresh red paint—right over the windows of classrooms facing Second Avenue.
According to trustee Bertha Lopez, several teacher and constituents complained to her about the painted windows. She emailed Superintendent Brand on August 23 about constituent concerns regarding student headaches and safety. She contacted board president Jim Cartmill. Neither of them responded.
Over the Labor Day weekend two sources contacted the Reader. Beyond the concern with the red windows, sources raised concerns that either the student body or district money is being spent to the tune of $40,000 to gussy up for Duncan. One item, sources reported, was a stage that allegedly cost $25,000.
Principal Bleisch did not return phone calls by September 3.
Manny Rubio, spokesman for the district, responded to a public record request about the expenses on August 28 with these words, “The district is not making any additional expenses for Secretary Duncan's visit.”
However, on September 4, Sweetwater’s Chief Financial Officer, Albert Alt, responded to an email query with this update: “Some of the purchases are general fund, some are ASB funds….In any event, all of the expenditures are legal expenditures.”