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The Fly

No Principal Left Behind

In the East Side Union High School District, there's apparently no better way to lose your job than to do it really, really well. Such is the weird tale of Principal BILL RICE, who was brought in from Independence High School to troubled James Lick High in east San Jose two Januarys ago by embattled district Supe ESPERENZA ZENDAJAS. James Lick, having failed to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, was facing a heap of trouble—and almost became a military-style academy, before the proposal was shelved due to public pressure. Rice arrived as part of a new team, which also included JOEL HERRERA and RICK ESPARZA. Rice then proceeded to do a hell of a job at Lick; he did well enough to be named full-time principal July 1 (edging out Herrara and Esparza). In the 18 months after he arrived, the high school reduced the number of families who opted to transfer potential students out by 55; last year there was one section of geometry, this year there are three; honors English went up from one to two sections—the list of minor victories goes on. But, despite the improvement, there's still—very obviously—much work to be done at James Lick, which is on the federal school-to-watch list. But Interim Superintendent BOB NUNEZ has, in the eyes of Lick's supporters, sent a message that there's been quite enough improvement for the struggling high school by deciding to transfer the popular principal. "He told the district he wanted to stay at James Lick and finish what he was doing," says ALLAN THOMPSON, a community activist who with his wife edits the community newsletter the New Neighborhood Voice. Outraged teachers, parents and activists had their say at a meeting Wednesday night and may have, at least temporarily, dissuaded the district. Rice, who spent 27 years pre-Lick at Independence, attempted to stay above the fray, but he clearly feels that his work at Lick is far from done. "If you change leadership and you don't finish the job, it's not a good decision for the school," he told Fly. "I've never been in a situation where I've made a bigger difference than at James Lick."

Metro Wins Stairing Contest

City Council member Ken Yeager led the charge up 17 flights of stairs at the City Hall Stairs Challenge last week. Other councilmembers Dave Cortese, Chuck Reed and Madison Nguyen, along with Leigh Weimers of the Merc, donned the timer necklaces and followed suit behind him. Some participants jetted up the 413 steps while others took their merry sweet time. Other City Hall employees took their turns next. Metro's music editor Todd Inoue took home the fastest run, but, unfortunately, no prizes were awarded. Before the challenge began, Reed passed out a leaflet warning racers of the physiological changes that occur when folks reach high altitude: Loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, weakness, weird dreams and vomiting. Fly didn't partake in the challenge because we have plenty of all of those.

ABM System

Former Assemblyman Manny Diaz, who has been working as a lobbyist since losing a bid for state Senate, says he is "definitely" running for the District 3 City Council seat being vacated by mayoral hopeful Cindy Chavez. Diaz previously represented District 5 on San Jose's council and says he "likes to help people." Diaz says he lives so close to the new City Hall, "I can walk to work." That's good news for the downtown community, since the SUV-flipper is not known as the city's most careful driver. Meanwhile, downtown's small business community, petrified about a Labor Council dream team controlling both the mayor's office and the downtown council seat, are scrambling for an "Anybody but Manny" candidate. Unable to convince Margaret Tamisiea to leave Adobe or persuade former Councilmember Shirley Lewis to stage an encore, District 3ers are meeting this week with Joel Wyrick, a former club operator who now heads up the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce.

Massing Media

Hear that giant sucking noise? That's the sound of Knight-Ridder devouring independent media from the Silicon Valley. The nation's second-largest newspaper company, which also owns the Merc, added another newspaper trophy wife last week with its acquisition of the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, a group of eight weeklies in Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Campbell and San Jose. In February, Knight-Ridder also acquired the Daily News Group: Palo Alto Daily NEWS, Los Gatos Daily NEWS and three more papers on the peninsula. Excuse us if we're starting to feel like a lone voice in the wilderness here, but Holy Media Near-Monopoly! After a seriously surprise announcement to employees on Friday—they were cut their final SVCN checks—there was an all-smiles press release on Friday about how great the takeover is going to be for these papers, but who does Knight-Ridder think it's kidding? Are we supposed to forget that the company is taking on a whole new load of media outlets at the same time that it's slashing the Merc's editorial staff? San Jose State University journalism professor Bob Rucker warns that media mergers usually mean job cuts and operation changes that align with corporate philosophy. "The larger a company gets," Rucker says, "the more removed it gets from the targeted audience." What's more, bigger entities need more financial friends to keep them afloat, so they tend to avoid rocking the boat. But making a stir for society's benefit, as Fly well knows, is what journalists are supposed to do. "If we stop doing that, simply to protect the bottom line, then what good are we?" Rucker points out. This omen rings true to Los Gatos Weekly co-founder Lee May, who laments the group's sale by former SVCN owner David Cohen. "What we really fought for in those early days with the Weekly was to give the people of Los Gatos a local, independent voice. This is the same kind of sellout that media in general has done over the past 20 years—too much concentration of media power in the hands of too few people," May says. "I am happy David made a buck, but something very special has been lost." However, Cohen, who will continue to lead the group under Knight-Ridder, says he isn't worried. "With community news being local, I don't think being owned by a big company is going to make a difference in coverage. We're not talking about national security news here." But he does have to answer to Knight-Ridder now, and Cohen admits he has always had a problem with authority. "But I can retire whenever I want," he says. "They paid me enough."


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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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