San Diego Union Tribune

May 23, 2005

Education approach lands two San Diegans cable awards

By Dana Wilkie

In good company: Milling about last week at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian – dining with the likes of CNN's Wolf Blitzer and House Speaker Dennis Hastert – were two San Diegans who might have gone unnoticed, had it not been that the dinner was in their honor.

Darryl LaGace and Mary Catherine Swanson were among a dozen people whom the cable industry honored Tuesday for their creative approach to educating children.

A dozen years ago, LaGace designed the Lemon Grove School District's LemonLINK system to wire all the district's campuses and provide technology access for parents as well. With the help of business groups and government grants, LemonLINK has evolved into a communications hub for the entire community, allowing even low-income families access to the Internet.

Swanson is founder and director of the 25-year-old Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps average and at-risk students prepare for college. The program, now hailed in national education circles and used in 30 states and at Defense Department schools, has graduated more than 30,000 students and sent nearly all of them to college.

LaGace and Swanson were each presented a Cable's Leaders in Learning Award, which recognizes the most inventive classroom educators, administrators, community leaders or policy-makers in the country.

"They did this by reaching beyond the familiar to support and encourage young people to achieve their best," said Helen Souli, executive director of Cable in the Classroom, the cable industry's education foundation and one of the sponsors of the award.

Each winner received $3,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington. Perhaps just as exciting, each had a brief interview with Blitzer.

Making the rounds: Alan Bersin was in Washington last week for what was billed as a "frank discussion" on the "practical" lessons that Bersin picked up from his years as San Diego city schools chief. The show-and-tell highlighted a new book – "Urban School Reform: Lessons From San Diego" – by Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative-leaning think tank in D.C. An institute representative said Bersin's 20-minute presentation to about 50 people touched on the importance of transparency in the public arena, investing in professional development to help educators become better teachers, and a bit about the bitterness between himself and teachers unions.

Bersin, who is heading to Sacramento to be Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's education secretary, also attended a Capitol Hill luncheon with media heavyweights and congressional staffers, including folks from the offices of Massachusetts Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.

Distancing from DeLay? A recent tribute to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is under fire for alleged travel abuses and for his ties to lobbyists, reportedly drew a skimpy list of attendees. That, even though the Christian Science Monitor reported that the May 12 dinner at a Washington hotel was intended to rally conservatives around DeLay and "send a message" that they were sticking by their leader.

The dinner came after some of DeLay's colleagues publicly distanced themselves from him, including Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Thomas Tancredo of Colorado and ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich. We count at least two local Republican congressmen who didn't attend: Randy "Duke" Cunningham of Escondido and Duncan Hunter of El Cajon.

Did their absence imply any reservations about DeLay's alleged misdeeds?

Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the congressman "did not attend the dinner because of a scheduling conflict." Cunningham spokesman Mark Olson offered no explanation. As for Rep. Darrell Issa, the Vista Republican, his spokesman did not reply to a question about whether Issa attended, or was even invited.

By the numbers: Rep. Susan Davis uncovered a bit of Social Security optimism in the responses of some 5,000 San Diegans who participated in her online survey on Social Security reform – the catchphrase for President Bush's plan to let people invest part of their Social Security contributions in the stock market.

About two in three respondents said they expected Social Security benefits to constitute a significant portion of their retirement income. Then there were the realists: About one-third said they expected upon retirement to get less from Social Security than they contributed during their working years.

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