Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Linda Kay, new SP High principal.
San Pedro High’s New Principal Contends the Staff Must Step Up to Make the Campus a Better Place: No One Can Work in “Isolation” – Especially a Principal, She Says; An Effort to Return the School to Its Better Days Must Be a Team Effort Because The Poor Accreditation Rate for this Community Remains Unacceptable

By Diana L. Chapman

Coming through some fairly rough patches in the past with other schools, Linda Kay – named principal of San Pedro High last week – plans to spend her summer educating herself about the campus.

Calling herself “straight-forward,” “a realist,” and “call-it-as-I-see-it,” leader, Kay, 57, moves into the rocky post July 30, apparently not afraid to tackle the school’s myriad of woes from intense overcrowding, a puzzling low-rating for accreditation, severe entrenchment issues and a 50 percent drop out rate.

The school’s test scores are comparable or lower than some inner city schools, but she points out she headed Narbonne High School not so far in the past – which also was plagued with many ills.

“I will be really proud of if we pull ourselves out of this,” she explained about San Pedro High. “I’m going in with an open mind and a positive attitude. I am interested in doing my own research. This is a community school and everybody should be proud of their schools.”

She will be the third principal to take the helm within three years. She replaces retiring Bob DiPietro, who due to family issues, decided to step down after only serving the school for two years. Prior to that, Diana Gelb ran the school retiring after one year.

Kay said her summer days will be spent doing her homework.

“People don’t do things when I tell them,” Kay explained during a phone interview, who said she plans to spend a good part of her summer meeting the school staff and assessing the situation. “They do things when they are part of the administration.
Change is not easy for anyone. But change is necessary and it has to be evolving.”

While some have said she’s hard-nosed, Kay painted herself as “fair,” but definitely a leader with high expectations for herself and her staff. If all goes well, the first issue she will tackle will be the troubles with the school’s accreditation.

On its accreditation scoring, San Pedro High received a two-- with the top points being a six. A two is considered a near failing rate by many educators. The campus has about one year to bring its standards up, before losing accreditation entirely.

As far as accreditation, she will ask the staff to explain to her what they think happened.

“If you get lower than a three, it’s not healthy. A three would be average,” the newly appointed principal concluded. “I don’t know why (the school received this rating). I will come in and talk to department chairs, the UTLA, the teachers.

“They have to know me and I have to know them. First, people have to buy into the leader.”

Kay comes as no slouch to San Pedro High. Her background includes more than three decades with Los Angeles Unified, where she’s held a variety of posts, including teacher, counselor, administrator, principal of Bret Harte Middle School and soon after that – the principal of Narbonne High School in Lomita from 2006 to 2008.

At Narbonne for two years, she tackled large problems with “accountability” issues, targeted a disturbing two-tiered educational system where a smaller campus received more than its share – and the eruption of alleged cheating scandal in girls’ basketball.

The coach resigned and the school lost several championship titles.

Some claimed she cleaned up Narbonne before taking her next LAUSD post, a director’s position overseeing eight junior highs in Region Three, which stretches from Westchester north to the Palisades and sweeps in the areas of Venice, Dorsey and Crenshaw.

On her resume, she touts her success at Narbonne, which was reflected in higher test scores, a cleaned-up physical education department and being able to obtain a three-year accreditation for the school – despite the scandal.

One San Pedro High teacher said she’s thrilled that Kay is on her way.

“I’m looking forward to someone who has a background in instruction and puts this as a top priority and someone who can face the vocal opposition,” the instructor said. “I’ve been waiting for that person to come along.”

Kay may be just that person. She insists on integrity and accountability, some of which has slipped away at the local school without consistent leadership over the past several years.

Instead of learning from what others tell her, she wants to explore the issues first hand. She leads by listening, but once she makes a decision, Kay said: “I own it.” She takes responsibility for that choice and does not turn back.

As far as students go, she abhors instructors who tell students that they are failures – and while she believes in discipline – she also considers herself an excellent student advocate.

“Kids need to know they are valued,” the principal explained. “If you tell them they are a failure, that is the day when the teaching stops. I like kids and my door is always open to them.”

Linda Del Cueto, who heads the region where both Narbonne and San Pedro reside, decided not to use a hiring committee and to select a principal from the pool of those whose positions had been cut, among them Kay's job.

It seemed clear from the start that Del Cueto had Kay in mind with her successes at Narbonne.

"I am extremely pleased to be able to assign Linda Kay to San Pedro High
School," Del Cueto said. "Linda Kay comes with wealth of principal experience in both middle and high schools. What's equally significant is her Assistant
Principal experience including her experience as Assistant Principal in secondary counseling services at Belmont High School, a large year round
high school with many challenges.

"Linda will be able to utilize this experience in ensuring San Pedro High School students have access and are successful in A-G (college required) classes. She will also use her experience to address and support the issues of high failure in core classes including Algebra 1."

While she was last serving as director, budget cuts forced 50 percent cuts in each region across the board. Due to her standing, the district had to bring her back on board as a principal along with many other administrators who held director posts that were eliminated during the cuts.

As far as San Pedro High, Kay said: “I don’t know what the outcome will be and I don’t like to make promises. It’s up to the (school) community to take on the challenge.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009



When the writing teacher first met Brandon Hammitt, the first request he had -- standing at 6 four inches, was: "Please understand that I'm not a football or basketball player."

He was shy and believed he had little to offer. At least that's what he told the class. Once he began writing, however, at the encouragement of his classmates, he learned he had an ability to write. He will attend CSU, Domniguez Hills, this fall.

This is how he summed the experience up:

By Brandon Hammitt, 17,

“Going into this class for the first time, I felt uneasy at my ability and shy at having them accept or reject me based on their judgments.

I have changed.

I used to scoff at the idea of revealing myself to others, especially others who I see frequently or others who, even scarier, are my close friends.

I have changed a lot.

I didn’t want to look for a job or go to college or meet new people or talk in public because I hated rejection.

Now, at this point in my life, I fear not the trials and errors ahead of me. I fear not talking to unfamiliar people or speaking to others. I fear not rejection and failure as I had so soon before been immobilized by.

I have a job, and it’s helped me grow, both in my individuality and my social skills. I have grown not to fear failure or the resulting reprimands for it. I am changed so much now because of this class.

Writing to me used to be unfamiliar, and scary. But now, it is a way to express my true feelings and thoughts to others. It is somewhat impersonal but it is a start.

Writing to me is away to express my creative side in an environment that is in no way harmful to my self esteem or state of mind.

I can now tell someone what I think of them honestly, while not being mean or disheartening.

I have more confidence. I have higher self-esteem. I trust myself and put trust into others as well as myself.

I like writing. I knew I did when I was younger --, liked to write, liked to create, liked to draw. But that fervor diminished over the years by oppression of potential failure or the burden of embarrassment. I know now to trust myself as person to do what is needed, and I am thankful that the class led me to this solid state.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ben Graham, new coach at Marymount, and Chris Widdy, who came out of San Pedro

Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes Hires Its First Soccer Coach and to Expand on Its Small Sports Program; The University of Bakersfield Assistant Coach Arrives in July and Reveals He Will Look at Players From Around the South Bay and Elsewhere

Also, TheUnderdogBlog Will Soon Go Under Reconstruction, Be Overhauled and Called: For Now, the Stories Will Remain Here; Stay Tuned;

Plus a San Pedro Festival This Weekend

Marymount Coach to Start This July, Kicking off the First Soccer Program at the Two-Year College in Years

By Diana L. Chapman

A highly qualified soccer coach from England will soon land the ball at Marymount College – kicking off the first year the small campus has ever run a soccer program.

Under the agreement, Ben Graham – currently the assistant soccer coach at the University of Bakersfield – explained he was looking forward to recruiting for the college and believes there’s vast talent in San Pedro and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. He begins July 1.

Asked where he would find players, he remarked via email: “You can always find good players! Especially in California where the talent pool is so deep. I will be looking for players that are maybe looking to play at a Division 1 or a Division 2 school in the future, but do not have the grades to go straight there.

“I will probably also look to bring in some foreign recruits as well.”

Officials from the Bakersfield university continue to look more closely at San Pedro since its discovery of soccer player, Chris Widdy, at the San Pedro High School through the relentless efforts of the San Pedro High School soccer coach, Paul Butterfield.

Due to repeated calls from the San Pedro coach, Widdy was finally offered the chance to place First Division – and also received a full scholarship to Bakersfield.

Graham suspects a lot more players like Widdy, who typically plays forward for his team, reside in the Harbor Area, one of the many areas he hopes to recruit from. However, Marymount college has yet to qualify for any playing divisions, perhaps making it more difficult to lure potentially skilled soccer players.

Currently, the small college has a La Crosse program that it intends to keep, said Kelly Curtis, a spokeswoman at the school, and down the road an athletic facility.

Leaving Bakersfield, Graham said, has been a tough challenge as he’s participated in a huge investment in many of the students there to train them to play in First Division soccer.

It is always hard to leave your existing players considering the investment you put in them, both emotionally and from a soccer perspective. But, after two years here, and four years as an assistant in total, I feel this opportunity to run my own program was too good to turn down.”

Campus officials hope that offering sports will attract more students, but also round out their academic education.


Dear Readers:

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the gigantic letters, bizarre rainbow colors and the strange spacing that’s going on with my blog. This led me to take a good suggestion from Joshua Steker At San Pedro Today and buy the domain – and register the underdogforkids name.

And so I have.

After a period of reconstruction, you’ll be able to find my stories on, which makes much more sense! For now, they will continue on this site.

The blog has been running for four years and it’s gaining about 200 hundred readers a week. That’s awesome!

While I enjoy putting community service items on, if I miss some I apologize. I’m the only blogger on this post and it’s going to happen. I especially try to give top- dog billing to those community briefs that are related to kids.

Again, I want to emphasize that my blog is open to other writers so if you have something you want to put on, just contact me at Thanks so much and look forward to getting going.

Friday, June 12, 2009



BY Diana L. Chapman

Linda Kay – a hard-nosed principal who once headed Narbonne High before
becoming a district director, has agreed to take over the helm of beleaguered
San Pedro High which continues to bob through troubled waters.

She replaces current principal Bob DiPietro, who resigned due to personal
issues, and who departs at the end of the school year. DiPietro stayed only for
two years and inherited a horde of problems, including what’s much like a D on
the school’s accreditation report.

Kay, who has more than thirty years chalked up with the district, will now
contend with overhauling a school where some employees seem to believe no
problems exist at all. However, the campus suffers a 50 percent dropout rate
and test scores nearly as low -- or lower -- than many inner city schools.
Student engagement remains one the school’s key troubles.

In addition, overcrowded conditions have students attending an aging campus with
3,500 students, when it was built for 2,000.

Kay, who has more than thirty years with the school district in a variety of
capacities and values rigorous discipline, was announced as the new principal
Friday. She currently holds the post of district administrator for middle
schools in District Region 3, which stretches from Westchester north to the
Palisades and sweeps in the areas of Venice, Dorsey and Crenshaw.

She headed Narbonne, starting in 2006, where shortly after a controversy erupted
when the school was accused of allowing an ineligible student to play for the
school’s girl basketball team.

Apparently, Kay accepted the coach’s resignation and the accusations led to
campus losing scores of district titles.

The administrator also was a principal at Bret Harte Middle School and held
administrative posts at both Banning and Belmont High Schools.

Due to the unusual trouble that San Pedro currently tackles, Linda Del Cueto,
who heads the region where both the Narbonne and San Pedro schools reside,
decided to forge ahead and do the hiring without the usual selection committee,
which typically includes staff and parents.

Instead, she sorted through a series of candidates and believed Kay was the best
choice. The district also had to hire directly from its pool of candidates who
could face layoffs due to economic crises forcing potential layoffs in the

David Kooper, the chief of staff for Richard Vladovic, the LAUSD board member
for the area, agreed that at this point in the school’s struggles, Kay was the
best choice to lead the school out of its stinging problems.

“Every place she goes she motivates and she’s probably one of the best at that,”
Kooper explained. Out of all the candidates, she was “the most right person for
Pedro right now. We are pretty lucky.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


San Pedro High Culinary Teacher Sandy Wood, above, even helped teach Dana Middle School students how to cook during an after school cooking club.



By Diana L. Chapman

It’s nearly as bad as losing the principal.

With often 500 students on her waiting list, San Pedro High School’s culinary teacher, Sandy Wood, 59, decided it’s time to pull off the whites, tuck away her aprons, put away the dishes and the dish towels and to start cooking more at home.

It was time to retire, the teacher said.

Campus officials fear – during these turbulent economic times – that her post will not be filled. The position –without the nation’s financial economic turmoil—remains difficult to fill in any case due to the sparse selection of high school culinary teachers -- even though the culinary field remains one of the largest growing industries in the nation.

“It’s been wonderful,” Sandy explained during a phone interview. “I’ll be 60 in September and it just seemed the right time. I will definitely miss all the kids. But I’ll still be in town…so I’ll be able to visit.”

Unfortunately, the skillful teacher who could whip up anything in a skillet, was truly regarded as one of the school’s best teachers – not just in her cooking skills – but in the way she cared for her students.

One day recently on Sixth Street downtown, the teacher was walking up the street when a teenager shouted out the window: “Is that Sandy Wood? She was one of the best teachers I ever had!”

After serving the high school since 1999 – and having a teaching career for 24 years where batches of students whisked through her doors – she often found herself turning around students whose futures appeared bleak.

Hector – a fake name she gave one of her students so she could share his story with the crowd when she received a recognition award from the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce in May – arrived in class his senior year, with no interest in school or apparently in much of anything. But cooking made him spark to life – and enflamed his spirit.

Noticing his interest, the culinary teacher was able to stir (steer him) toward culinary school where he later graduated.

“He came into my class as a senior he was just looking at getting by, getting through. But then we started to cook,” she wrote. “ And Hector was hooked. He now had a reason to come to school and a reason to do well. He could not get enough. He filled out an application, wrote an essay, got letters of recommendation and was accepted into a cooking competition!

“He stayed after school almost every day for weeks to practice. He won a scholarship to a culinary school in New England! But leaving San Pedro was not something his family had ever considered. We talked and talked. After working a year to earn living expenses, Hector got on a plane for the first time and headed to the other side of the country. He called me after a week or so and said: “There are no Mexicans here!’ I told him: ‘There are now!’

“Hector graduated from culinary school. He did well. I have seen many Hectors, and Lisas, and Matthews, and Jennifers. I have seen the fire move from the stovetop into their hearts. That’s why I teach.”

The San Pedro High School Lady Boosters Club – a financial backbone to aiding the school, also named Sandy teacher of the year along with Don Hughs, an art and play production teacher.

The culinary teacher began studying at UC Davis, where she graduated with a bachelor of science degree in home economics. She received her teaching credential at Sacramento State University and began teaching in Sacramento before moving to teach English at Atwater High School.

Her departure comes at the same time as San Pedro High Principal Bob DiPietro, who took the reins to lead the campus less than two years ago and opted to step down due to a family crises.

Most consider the culinary teacher’s departure a shame for a campus that’s already in the mist of the tackling scores of problems, from scaling back the overflowing campus to working on returning its threatened accreditation status.

There are just too many Hectors, so many parents are hoping Sandy’s post will be filled.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Jeanna Acaba Ready For UCLA...Read Her Awesome Essay Below

Hot Weather, Cool Air Conditioning, Cheap but Great Films, and Popcorn Should Get Residents To Descend on the Warner Grand This Summer at Its New $3 Night Shows “Warmer on Wednesdays” Beginning This Month; Another student Headed for UCLA Writes an Awesome Essay—and Chinese Dragon Boats for Kids? Let’s Get the Summer Rolling

College Bound Student Strikes Gold With Her Boys and Girls Club Applications and Essay; Read Her Awesome Piece

Jeanna Abaca, 17: San Pedro High student leader,

Career Desire: immigration attorney

Accepted to: UC Merced, UC Davis, CSU Long Beach, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCLA, UC Berkley

Selected School: UCLA

Happiness does not depend on what I have, but on what I make with what I have.

Overcoming Obstacles

My mom and I moved to the United States four years ago from the Philippines. I have to admit that I hated my new life. The move was difficult, as I lost my loved ones and the comfortable lifestyle that I grew up with. My mother and I had to start our life from scratch. My first couple of years was probably the toughest of my life, and I am proud to say that I persevered.

During our first few months here, we didn’t have our own place to live in or a car, and most of my clothes were hand-me-downs. I didn’t have any friends, and I felt imprisoned. It was so hard to fit in with any groups; I found myself alone most of the time. The new culture was overwhelming. Growing up in a strict private school, I had a very conservative upbringing. I was forced to forget some of the values that I grew up with in order to adapt to my new surroundings. My mom wasn’t able to help me because she was always busy with work. I learned on my own.

In the process of trying to be accepted by everybody else, I lost the real me. Some people made me feel like I was only that girl from the Philippines with a thick accent; nothing more. Others told me that I couldn’t succeed because I couldn’t even speak fluent English. At some point I believed them.

The teasing was severe. They called me names that I had never even heard before. That’s when I realized that in life, when people try to put you down, you just have to keep proving them wrong. That’s exactly what I did. I stopped caring that my classmates made fun of me because I was determined to succeed in school and achieve my dream of becoming a successful lawyer. I worked hard to keep my grades up and to catch up to my classmates. I maintained a 4.0 GPA, tutored underprivileged kids and volunteered in my community. I gained my peers’ as well as my teachers’ respect. I even received awards, including Academic Achievement Awards from my most challenging classes, which includes AP English. This meant that all my hard work had paid off.

I now love my life here in the United States. Being here and not having as much as I did back home allowed me to appreciate the simplest things that could actually bring true happiness.


Get Cool at the Warner Every Wednesday This Summer:

Get the kids ready, grab a few blankets and easily escape the heat this summer by planning family outings each Wednesday at the Warner Grand Theatre’s Warmer on Wednesday’s showings with next-to-new releases.

With films like Twilight to the Tales of Desperaux, it makes for an inexpensive family outing for $3 a seat with show times running consistently every Wednesday from at 6 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.

Starting June 17 with the Curious Case of Benjamin, the rest of the shows the following Wednesdays will kick off with: Twilight (June 24), Tales of Desperaux (July 1), Fast and Furious (July 15), the Dark Knight, (July 22) and Bedtime Stories, July 29.

Tickets can be purchased at Sacred Grounds, next door to the Warner Grand, or purchased at:

Warmer on Wednesdays stems from a collaborative effort with the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, Sacred Grounds, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Relevant Stage Theatre Co.


Local dragon boat officials want kids anywhere from ages seven to 18 to learn to paddle for the upcoming Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival and to start learning the art rowing.

The first couple of practices for youth to try out will be free to ensure the children like the sport, said Bruce Heath, one of the coordinators and an adult rowing coach.

On June 20, Saturday at 9 a.m., the club will host youth tryouts to create three teams of 20 paddlers for these divisions: elementary 7 to 12, middle school: 13 to 15 and high school 16 to 18.

All equipment will be provided. If students decide to continue, a fee of $60 will be charged for training the entire summer, every Saturday.

Try outs will be at the Cabrillo Youth Water Sport Center.

For more information,