The Ed Fund 2017 Teaching Excellence Award Winners

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The Ed Fund celebrated and honored the excellence of five West Contra Costa Unified School District teachers and 20 scholarship winners at its 29th Annual Soaring to Excellence Celebration on May 12th. In addition, the Ed Fund showcased the work of its collaborative partners by recognizing a 2017 Collaborative Partner of the Year.  Student performances by the DeAnza Jazz Band and El Cerrito High School Dance students were also featured.  The Ed Fund was honored to have WCCUSD Superintendent Matt Duffy as our keynote speaker and guest speaker President of United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) Demetrio Gonzalez.

2017 Teaching Excellence Award Winners 

The five 2017 Teaching Excellence Awards winners who were honored at the Soaring to Excellence Celebration share a profound passion for instilling a love of learning in their students so that each student can attain their goals and realize their dreams. By carefully and thoughtfully weaving creativity, adherence to high standards, profound knowledge of the subjects being taught, and appreciation of individual differences, needs and strengths, these award winning teachers raise the quality of education to new heights.

Tiffany Okubo Chieudjui

3rd Grade Teacher, Grant Elementary School

Ms. Chieudjui has very strong roots with the West Contra Costa Unified School District as she grew up in West Contra Costa County and her mother was a long-time teacher in the District. Ms. Chieudjui has a very special way of engaging students even before a lesson has started. She’s always looking to find ways to enhance student learning by seeking opportunities that allow students to tie the lessons into real life experiences that have an everlasting impact. Using innovation and technology she taps into every students’ hidden talents. She fosters creativity by allowing self-expression and providing student choice. She taps into students’ interests and chooses themes that are enjoyable to the students and creates cross curricular activities-slightly above their skill level and then raises the challenge as performances improves.

Jasmine Johnson

5th Grade Teacher, Richmond College Prep Elementary

As an educator, Ms. Johnson’s is to create an academically rigorous and rich experience where all students are growing and creating. It’s also equally important that students learn about themselves, their histories, and begin to see themselves as creators in this world. If you were to walk into her classroom, she would want you to see students who are passionately engaged, students who are reading and writing, and speaking and listening to each other. She values participation and believes that true learning only takes place once students are talking, moving, and truly engaging with materials. Of course, this level of work requires her students to be at school every day, and it demands that they show integrity and urgency.

Jessy Kronenberg

Dance Teacher, El Cerrito High School

Ms. Kronenberg is a former student who graduated from El Cerrito High Dance in 1998. Since she took over the program in 2012, she has moved the program forward into a new generation while maintaining the tradition of high quality dance education at ECHS. Through high level instruction and vast amounts of time and dedication, students from all levels of ability are developing their talent and love of dance. Beyond the classroom, Jessy has launched the Gaucho Dance Company and challenged ECHS Dance to become a Chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts.  Ms. Kronenberg earned a BA degree in Environmental Studies and Dance from Pitzer College where she focused on Modern Dance and Composition in 2002. Later, Ms. Kronenberg moved to North Carolina and joined the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theater. She earned a Master’s degree in Teaching at Western Carolina University.

Sarah La Due

7th Grade English Teacher, Fred T. Korematsu Middle School

Ms. La Due has been an English middle school teacher for three years now at Fred T. Korematsu Middle School. Before becoming a teacher, she worked in the political arena in public affairs and research analysis. She has a Bachelor’s in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara. Ms. La Due is a gifted educator who engages her students by inspiring them to learn. She does this by using a creative mix of techniques – group projects, individual work and classroom discussions. One of the most remarkable things about Ms. La Due is the lasting impact she has on her students. They stay in touch with her long after she stops being their classroom teacher and she remains an important part of their lives. Ms. La Due emphasizes to her students that the path to success is not through perfection, but through effort and improving over time. She wants students to focus on learning rather than grades.

Paula Raj

Spanish Teacher, DeAnza High School

Ms. Raj has been teaching longer than most of the teachers at De Anza have been alive and her classroom is one of the most joyful places on campus. She claims that she stopped counting the years of teaching after she turned sixty! Ms. Raj brings music, artifacts, and carefully planned lessons to each class period. She warmly demands that ALL students participate and she ensures that the classroom feels like a safe space to do so. Ms. Raj never stops moving in the classroom, always interacting with each student and encouraging them to do their best. To teachers and students alike she pushes that we have to turn our “passion into action”.  Over her long career, she has served as a Spanish Teacher, World Language Department Chair, Instructor Led Training Lead Teacher, Teacher-Coach, Western Association of School and Colleges Chair, Advanced Placement Peer Leadership Consultants Lead and member of Student Advocacy and Master Schedule Committees.

Sharing the honors with the Teaching Excellence Awards winners will be:

RYSE Youth Center

The RYSE Youth Center’s mission is to creates safe spaces grounded in social justice that build youth power for young people to love, learn, educate, heal and transform lives and communities. RYSE offers many different programs for our youth including Health and Wellness programs, Education and Career, Media Art and Culture, Youth Organizing and Leadership, Youth Justice, and many more.  RYSE truly cares about students and youth in this community and does outreach at various district schools to support what educators and staffs are doing.

We are so grateful to everyone who supported the event but especially our business partners and supporters, including  Magna Cum Laude partners Alten Construction, Inc.,  Chevron, and West Contra Costa Unified School District and Cum Laude partners Kaiser Permanente, Lozano Smith Attorneys at Law, Mechanics Bank, and Travis Credit Union.

Since its founding in 1983, the Ed Fund has provided more than $3.4 million in funding to enrich education for West Contra Costa Unified School District students. By the end of this fiscal year, that funding will have provided more than 794 grants to teachers and schools, 144 Teaching Excellence Awards, more than 14 years of after school programs at district middle schools, hundreds of music and arts programs at all grade levels, dozens of summer scholarships to enable students to attend summer camps and workshops, and $1.7 million in college scholarships.

This year alone, with the support of the African American Male Scholarship, Bernice Bell Memorial Scholarship, Irene S. Scully Family Foundation, Norma and Arthur Schroeder Family Foundation, and Whittier Education Foundation, Ed Fund will make it possible for 20 West Contra Costa Unified high school seniors to realize their college dreams by awarding almost $60,000 in college scholarships.

Kensington Fine Foods – Specialty Meats • Fish • Delicatessen • Catering

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By Vickie Lewis

Kensington is a small unincorporated community of Contra Costa County that borders Alameda County and is nestled in the Berkeley Hills.  Most residents of this community and the surrounding areas are likely quite familiar with Kensington Fine Foods (KFF), a specialty deli and butcher counter co-located with Young’s Market on Arlington Boulevard. However, if you don’t live in the immediate area, you may not have discovered this hidden gem tucked away in bay area hills. But I can attest that it is totally worth the short trek to check out what this small business has to offer.

Kensington Fine Foods is the local source for quality fresh meats, poultry, and seafood, and has been a pillar in this small community for the past twelve years.  In addition to fresh meats, poultry and seafood, KFF offers a plentiful selection of gourmet prepared foods, all of which are prepared on site by Owner/Chef Larry Lefebvre, and his two long-time co-workers, Javier and Conlan. Together, this team of three gentlemen handle all aspects of the business with calm and finesse, serving quality foods and providing personalized service to their faithful customers.

Larry is originally from New Jersey where he grew up in a family who owned a catering business. He developed a passion for food services through helping his grandfather and family with the business. After his graduation from high school, he secured a job working for Rocky Hill Inn in Princeton, New Jersey.  He worked there for three years, and then moved on to work at a couple of New York restaurants, including Keens Chop House. It was at Keens that he became a protégé of one of the senior butchers and learned about the meat business and the art of meat cutting.  In 1997, Larry was recruited by a good friend to work as a chef for the Ginger Island Restaurant, formerly on Fourth Street in Berkeley. So, Larry and his wife, Jessica, moved to California from New York where they planned to stay for only three years. However, he continued to work at Ginger Island for approximately 8 years until the restaurant eventually closed.

While considering the next move for his family, he learned that the owners of Arlington Meats would be retiring after forty years. After considering purchasing this business and a couple of other options, he ultimately opted to purchase the business now known as Kensington Fine Foods.  Since acquiring the business, he has introduced a variety of prepared foods for the convenience of customers who seek healthier, higher quality options to fast food. He also offers catering services, in addition to offering quality meats, poultry and seafood to patrons of Young’s Market and the local community.   

I handled this review solo because Larry had explained to me ahead of time that Kensington Fine Foods is a business where customers pick up prepared foods to take home to enjoy, and that there is no seating available.  After a pleasant fifteen-minute drive up Arlington Avenue during which I enjoyed beautiful views of the bay area, I arrived in Kensington on a recent Thursday afternoon. Kensington Fine Foods is visible directly upon entry into Young’s Market, immediately identifiable by the long, glass-enclosed meat counter. Behind the meat counter is a tall rotisserie used for cooking whole chickens throughout the day, as well as spare ribs, and occasionally specialty offerings, such as Porchetta.  (Porchetta is a traditional Italian porkloin roast seasoned with garlic, fennel, rosemary, sage and oranges, wrapped in a pork belly which seals in all the juices and flavors of the herbs.) Next to the rotisserie is a large commercial stove and a long prep counter for making sandwiches and readying foods “to go.” Conlan and Javier were busily helping customers when I arrived, and Larry was busy in the back room where the all of their home-made foods are prepared. As I waited, I reviewed the chalkboard menus on the back wall, and salivated at the tantalizing mountain of fresh golden-brown rotisserie chickens and meaty racks of spare ribs stacked in the warming bin near the cash register.

Larry emerged from the backroom, and after introductions, we strolled to a nearby coffee shop so we could sit and chat about the business. Quality is of the utmost importance to Larry, and all of the meats offered at Kensington Fine Foods are all natural and hormone-free. They are sourced from various high quality vendors, many of which can be referenced on the KFF website.  Examples of these include Mary’s Free Range Chickens, Beeler’s Pork Products, and Caggiano Company (for fresh and smoked sausages.)  Fish and seafood products, fresh baked breads, and fresh quality produce are sourced daily from Monterey Fish Market, ACME Bread Company, and Monterey Market respectively–all of which are local businesses based in Berkeley.  Larry informed me that he leaves his Oakland home at 6:30 AM daily and personally picks up the seafood, bread, and produce on his way in to work, usually arriving at KFF by 9:00 AM.

Larry explained that KFF does a very robust lunch business. Lunch options include two freshly-made soups daily, eight Specialty Sandwiches, five Panini Sandwiches, as well as a Make-Your-Own Sandwich option. For the latter option, customers can choose from six different breads, twelve meats (includes tuna or egg salad), and six cheeses.  Standard garnish includes lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, mayonnaise and mustard; avocado and/or bacon can be added to any sandwich for an upcharge. Kensington Fine Foods also offers a nice selection of home-made salads made daily from all-fresh ingredients. Available salads include, but are not limited to, Classic Potato, Egg, Tuna, Green Bean, Pasta, and Roasted Beets. On the day I visited, they also had Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Quinoa Salad. Calamari salad is also available, but is sourced from Montery Fish Market. All of the standard salads on the menu are available every day; however, due to the freshness, high quality, and excellent value, most salads are extremely popular and often sell out before day’s end.

When Larry and I eventually returned to KFF, around 5:30 PM, both Javier and Conlan were again busy serving customers who were lined up in no particular order to pick up food for dinner.  Rotisserie chickens and ribs were selling fast, as were the freshly made salads.  A few customers were selecting fresh meats or seafood, but prepared foods seemed to be most popular—a most convenient option for those on their way home from work who don’t feel like cooking.  On Thursdays, KFF offers Buttermilk Fried Chicken as a dinner special, available after 3:00 PM. The chicken is sold by the piece and is served with freshly made cornbread, and customers can buy as few or as many pieces as they want. The fried chicken also seemed to be a popular option with many of the customers that afternoon.

Since there was not an option to sample any of the foods on site, Larry generously prepared two bags of foods to go so that my family and I could enjoy them that evening. You cannot imagine the wonderful aromas that wafted through my car as I drove home!  And everything tasted just as wonderful as it smelled!  My husband and I both ate the fried chicken and cornbread with a side of Scalloped Potatoes, which had also been freshly prepared and simply required reheating. The chicken was fried to a crisp golden brown, had a nicely seasoned coating, and was juicy and delicious. The scalloped potatoes were excellent—rich and creamy and quite flavorful.  The corn bread was the best I’ve eaten in a very long time—moist, with a hint of sweetness that made it very pleasing to me (even when I ate the leftovers a couple of days later!)  In another of the “to go” boxes, I was delighted to find half of a meat loaf, an item prepared daily at KFF, prepared by Javier using his own special recipe! I added a slice of meat loaf to my plate, along with a portion of the corkscrew pasta salad with slices of artichoke hearts and other yummy ingredients that made it delicious!  (My daughter ate the rest of this the following day and immediately wanted more!)  The meat loaf was a favorite of mine—dense, moist, with excellent seasoning and a red ketchup or tomato sauce on top.  My other favorite of the evening was the roasted Brussel sprouts which were lightly seasoned and cooked to the perfect tenderness. Larry had also sent home pints of each of the two soups of the day–Curry Lentil with Lamb, and Thai Coconut with Chicken. I was so full that the soups had to wait for another day, though I managed a small taste of each that evening.  The Curry Lentil was thick, rich and meaty, while the Thai Coconut was more of a creamy broth. Both had excellent flavor!  Informationally, KFF prepares approximately 20 fresh soup recipes on a rotating basis, and occasionally introduces new soup recipes to gauge customer feedback.

Larry invited me to return the next day during the lunch hours so that he could give me samples of some of their sandwiches. Once again, his generosity prevailed, and I took home another veritable feast of no less than 6 specialty sandwiches, 1 Panini, Green Bean Salad, a whole rotisserie chicken and spare ribs. I cannot possibly describe how great all the food was, but will share about a couple of my favorites.  Being a huge rib fan, I claimed the spare ribs for myself, and thoroughly enjoyed them!  Each was long and meaty, moist and tender, and had a flavorful seasoning. Other favorites included the Cobb Sandwich, made with fresh turkey, bleu cheese, and bacon; the Crabcake Sandwich on a bed of crunchy slaw with a Chipotle Remoulade sauce; and the Pastrami Rueben Panini. The crabcakes are made on-site using fresh seasonal crabmeat, and can also be purchased individually to take home and cook. The Reuben Panini may just be the best I’ve ever had! This grilled sandwich was chock full of tender, flavorful pastrami; sauerkraut, and oozed melted swiss cheese, served on fresh rye bread. This hearty sandwich is one that I would definitely order again! Other specialty sandwiches we tried included the Smoked Salmon; Smoked Turkey; Vegetarian; and Steak. All sandwiches are made to order on fresh ACME bread, using all fresh ingredients. Two of the dressings used on some of the specialty sandwiches, Lemon-Caper Aioli and Basil Pesto, are also freshly made at KFF, and are available for purchase in take-out containers.

I am simply amazed at how three people prepare so many delightful foods; slice, grind, and trim their own meats; process special orders for all types of meat, fish, poultry, and game; and even provide catering services. KFF is open seven days a week, and there is a seemingly constant ebb and flow of customers throughout the day. This team works together like a well-oiled machine, and their customer service is unparalleled.  They greet and smile at customers, call them by name, and are extremely friendly and accommodating. Larry and his team will prepare special cuts of meats for any occasion; in fact, a few days after our interview, they received a special order for a whole pig for a roast.  During the holiday season, KFF takes special orders for fresh turkeys, hams and other holiday favorites. Larry and his crew will offer cooking tips and will sometimes even cook meats on request. Their catering services usually consist of plattered dishes, sandwiches, and fresh salads; however, entrees and appetizer options are also available.  Larry is more than willing to customize offerings to meet the needs of customers’ events.  One to several weeks advance notice for catering is required, depending on the size and/or complexity of the orders.  Be sure to check out their catering menu available on the website.

Larry lives in Montclair with his wife, Jessica; son, Patrick, who is 19 and attends San Francisco State University; and daughter, Phoebe, age 10.  Jessica is an active volunteer of PALS (People, Animals, Love and Support) East Bay, a non-profit animal rescue organization, which also offers monthly free vaccine clinics in Oakland. Larry sometimes assists Jessica with her volunteer efforts; however, KFF keeps him quite busy, to say the least!  Larry’s short term goals are to develop and grow their current market in the community, continuing to bring customers fresh and healthy prepared, or easily prepared, foods to make their hectic lives easier.  He has some new ideas to expand on this concept, so there will no doubt be new and exciting offerings from this young owner in the not-too-distant future.  Until then, I highly encourage you to take a scenic drive up Arlington Avenue to Kensington Fine Foods and try one or more of the wonderful foods I’ve shared in this review.  Perhaps pick up sandwiches and salads for a weekend picnic; or maybe some ribs or chicken for a quick and easy dinner. For faster service, orders may be called in ahead of time, and will be ready when you arrive. You will love the food and the service, and it’s a sure bet that once you try KFF, you’ll be back!  I know that I will!

Modern Masterpieces – Pinole’s Own Art Gallery

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By Samantha Larrick

The construction zone of Pinole Valley High School, with its lack of space and parking, keeps most people away from the school, but stepping onto the campus of portables, it is amazing the amount of color found around campus. From Picasso, to Basquiat, to Modigliani, and even some original works, the campus displays replicas of pieces from a variety of artists and themes that has turned a bland, brown campus of portables into a walking gallery of art. Though the students have been taking class on what was the baseball field since 2014, art teacher Jan Barzottini and principal Kibby Kleiman created the Modern Masterpieces project to make the best out of what could be a dreary situation.

When Jan Barzottini created this project, her goal was to educate the students on famous artists and bring life to a dull campus. Inspired by the blank canvas, she picked a variety of fine art influences that she thought would add character to the bland portables and let the students choose what pieces they wanted to replicate. What started out as an art project aimed at spicing up the campus has turned into a community of students contributing to the decoration of their school. Athletes, scholars, and artists can all be seen in the art classroom working together to make these masterpieces come to life. “I’m working on Picasso,” and “mine is going on the building by the track” can be heard throughout the classroom. This project has encouraged students to be a part of the community and take ownership of their school.

Barzottini has met a lot of students that are not in her art classes that have decided to get involved in the project. Principal Kleiman suggests that art has been a reprieve from the mundane schedule of a school day. Students are in Barzottini’s classroom at lunch and after school working on their art pieces, perfecting each stroke before they go up on a building for the entire school to see. They take pride in the work they’ve done, and some decide to do multiple pieces, despite the hard work it takes. Principal Kleiman says that “the artwork is generally left alone.” While Pinole Valley has its share of  graffiti, the artwork remains untouched. Students are protective of the art. They take pride in the work they and others have done and leave it alone. These works of art bring the school together and make students feel like it is their school, rather than just a temporary campus.

Through this project, many amazing artists have come out of the woodworks. Two seniors at Pinole Valley, Lindsey and Stephen, are working on their first Modern Masterpieces and agree that it is hard work. Lindsey stated that she has a new appreciation when she sees the other art pieces because she knows now how much time and dedication it took.

Some of the students on campus remember the old Pinole Valley High School, the Freshman might get to see the new Pinole Valley High School, but for a lot of current students, this campus is all that they are going to know. Principal Kleiman expressed that he wants those students to remember their time in high school just as fondly as others, which is why his focus is not on promoting the new campus, but brightening up the current one.

Modern Masterpieces has created such a sense of community at Pinole Valley, it is hard to imagine the school without the project. Jan Barzottini stated that though the project will not continue in this same way, she always has new ideas to foster community at Pinole Valley High School.