Thursday, 21 September 2023


LAKE COUNTY – On Saturday, it will come down to this – eight months of strenuous academic study squeezed into five hours of testing.

It's called the Lake County Academic Decathlon, and it's a yearly showcase of the county's best and brightest students, who devote themselves to a rigorous scholastic commitment for months in order to have the honor of being the county champ, with a view to going for the gold at state.

Despite being a small rural county, Lake's academic decathletes have pretty much rocked it over the last decade. They've put on exciting exhibitions of skill and knowledge, and made not just their parents and teachers proud but also their community.

Upper Lake has been a state small school champion in recent years. In fact, in recent years, Upper Lake has been a bit of a juggernaut, gobbling up eight consecutive first place wins. Then, in 2007, Lower Lake ended the streak by winning the gold, with Upper Lake coming back with a win in 2008.

Robin Totorica, a Lake County Office of Education staffer who helps organize the yearly event, said this year's theme is Latin America.

Testing for the students will being at Middletown High School early on Saturday morning, said Totorica.

The day of exhausting tests will culminate in the excitement of the Super Quiz, the only part of the event open to the public. Totorica said that begins at 4 p.m. in the Middletown High multipurpose room, 20932 Big Canyon Road.

The winner of the county competition will advance to the California State Academic Decathlon, which is celebrating its 30th year. That competition will take place from March 13 through 16 in Sacramento.

Four schools will compete locally this year – in addition to Upper Lake and Lower Lake, there will be Clear Lake High and Middletown High, the latter of which will host this year's competition. A call to Middletown's coach was not returned.

Anna Sabalone, Upper Lake's coach, said the studying begins for the competition the previous May. “As soon as one year ends, the next begins.”

There are new dynamics to this year's competition. For one, this is Sabalone's first year on the job as Upper Lake's coach. She succeeds Tina Moore, who in sports terms was rather like the Bill Walsh of local academic decathlon competitions. Moore challenged her students beyond the classroom, and organized extracurricular trips overseas for interested students. Last fall, the group journeyed to Egypt.

Sabalone, who had assisted Moore with the academic decathlon preparation while she was still a substitute teacher, brings particular skills of her own, as well as experience having been an Upper Lake academic decathlete herself, under Moore's tutelage. She holds a master's degree and is an Upper Lake High grad, class of 2000.

“I kinda knew what I was getting into, or so I thought,” she said. But she's quick to add, “It's been worth it.”

Sabalone, who has taken over the school's art department, was a history major in college, and is scrappy enough to disagree with some of the answers to questions in the study materials. She's even taken her disagreements to the officials who prepare the tests. Sometimes they even change the materials, she said.

Nancy Harby, at the helm of the Lower Lake Academic Decathlon team, is a nine-year veteran of the contest.

This year she has a particularly interesting mix of students, among them a larger-than-usual representation of Hispanic American students excited that Latin America is this year's topic.

“The decathlon is really magic,” said Harby, no matter the subject.

Her students are getting excited and nervous – especially those who are competition veterans.

She says that, win or lose, it's participating that's the real victory for the students.

Teams are nine students in size; Harby has 17 total academic decathlon students. Sabalone said she started out with more than 20 students vying for nine team spots and two alternates.

Many exceptional young people are standouts in the competition.

Returning this year to Upper Lake's squad is 17-year-old Kyle Coleman of Upper Lake, who has been a medal winner in previous years, and just recently was named a winner of a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program.

He'll be facing tough competition from Lower Lake's Emmalena Illia, 17, of Clearlake Park, a senior in her third and final year of competition. She's been accepted to Mills College in Oakland.

Illia, the student representative on the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees, said it's crunch time, with lots of last-minute study and minimal sleep.

The standout student – also a talented athlete, known for racking up three point shots on the basketball court – spent last weekend reading through a packet of information on evolutionary biology, the topic of the Super Quiz. She said the connection between evolutionary biology and Latin America is that Charles Darwin spent time in the Galapagos Islands, where he drew information to develop his theory on evolution.

Illia said preparation also has included trips to Bay Area museums, study of art from the Mayan period to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and lectures by professors. She said her strengths are art and literatures, and she's hoping also to put in a strong performance in science.

Who will win this year?

Sabalone said she thinks her team has a decent chance of holding their own, but the academic decathlon is far different than sports, where you can scope out your competition.

“With the academic decathlon, you throw yourself in there and hope you've done enough,” she said.

Said Illia, “We have a lot of seniors on our team this year so we have a lot of experience.”

That includes a strong math element, with teammates who have taken on the challenging work of pre-calculus and calculus.

But Illia doesn't take anything for granted. “All the other teams are always strong and always great competitors,” she said.

Harby said the competition itself is transformational for her students. “More than anything I want them to get that love of learning.”

Most of her students go on to college, said Harby. “We do well here.”

She is, however, worried about why lies ahead for the academic decathlon program.

“I hope our program continues with all the budget cuts,” she said.

Harby said the district is starting to look at programs that don't serve a lot of students, which is the case with the academic decathlon.

“We have the reality of that razor of the budget cuts, the ax coming at us,” she said. “Everyone here is fearful of the impact of the state budget.”

Sabalone said she has enjoyed the dynamic of her group of students, who have done a great job in their studies. The competition, she said, inspires them to go above and beyond ordinance performance. “My biggest hope is my students have no regrets.”

She added, “Win or lose, it will be an interesting Saturday.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


WASHINGTON – On Wednesday President Barack Obama signed legislation into law that will provide health care to 11 million children from working families.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was created in 1997 to provide health care coverage for children in families that earn too little to afford health insurance for their children but too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The bill signed by the president Wednesday reauthorizes SCHIP through 2013 and preserves the coverage for all 7.1 million children currently covered by SCHIP, including 1,538,416 children in California and an estimated 1,600 Lake County children.

The bill also extends health care coverage to 4.1 million additional low-income children, who are currently uninsured. The bill is fully paid for.

“This is only the first step,” the president said. “As I see it, providing coverage for 11 million children is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American.”

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) was invited and attended the ceremony at the White House.

“Today change came to America as our country took the first major step towards reducing the number of children who don’t have health insurance,” Thompson said in a written statement. “The State Children’s Health Insurance Program has been an extraordinary success – over 1.5 million children in California get their health care through this program. However, over a million and a quarter kids are still uninsured in our state alone- which is just plain wrong.”

By signing the bipartisan bill into law, almost 700,000 uninsured children in California and 4 million uninsured children across the country will now have access to health care, said Thompson. “Our children deserve a healthy start and this legislation gives kids that chance.”

“Passage of SCHIP will result in hundreds of children in Lake County getting the health care they need and deserve,” said Gloria Flaherty, executive director of the Lake Family Resource Center. “This will mean healthier children, families and communities – and peace of mind for parents. We are proud of our congressman for his continued support and dedication to this cause, our president, for making children’s health a priority, and our country for recognizing that children’s health is important to all.”

This bipartisan bill has been endorsed by dozens of organizations, representing millions of Americans – ranging from business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Business Roundtable to the American Hospital Association, AARP and Families USA.


LAKE COUNTY – Indian activists from around Lake County and the state will converge in Sacramento on Thursday to shine a spotlight on critical issues facing Indian Country – from disenrollments to corruption on the part of tribal leaders.

The gathering, titled "Tribal corruption is not traditional," will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, on the north side of the State Capitol Building, 10th and Street and the Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento.

United Native Americans Inc. and the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO) are sponsoring the event, whose guest speakers will include Lehman Brightman, founder of United Native Americans Inc.; Wanda Quitiquit, who the Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council has targeted for disenrollment, along with her family; John Gomez, president of AIRRO who was himself disenrolled from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in 2004; Cesar Caballero of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok; Clayton Duncan of the Lucy Moore Foundation and a Robinson Rancheria member; Norman "Wounded Knee" DeOcampo, a disenrolled Miwok from Vallejo; and Ukiah resident Loise Lockhart, another victim of disenrollment.

"Nobody quite understands what's going on in Indian Country," said Quanah Brightman, vice president of United Native Americans Inc., based on the Bay Area.

Brightman, who is Lakota Sioux and Creek, said it's important to get beyond some current myths about Indians to get to the core of the very complex issues facing Indian nations around the country.

For one, he said, it's believed that because of casinos and an exemption from income tax that Indians are rich. “It's the furthest thing from the truth,” he said.

To emphasize that point, Brightman said the gathering is scheduled for Feb. 5, the one-year anniversary of California voters approving gaming compacts between the state and the Pechanga, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Brightman said one of the event's goals is to give Indian leaders the chance to meet with state legislators and to educate them and the general public about the issue of disenrollment – the increasing practice of tribes kicking out members.

He called disenrollment "the new form of termination" for Indians. "We're becoming extinct," he said.

Disenrollment is having far-reaching, divisive consequences for Robinson Rancheria.

In December, Robinson Rancheria's tribal council disenrolled about 50 of its members. Those who were disenrolled included the Quitiquit family, who supported EJ Crandell for the tribal chair seat in a general election last summer. The sitting tribal chair, Tracey Avila, disputed the election, which was decertified.

Avila said the disenrollments were necessary to clean up the tribal rolls and address the membership of those whose place in the tribe had been questioned.

Last month Avila was reelected without any opposition after Crandell was disqualified from running by the tribe's election committee, largely composed of Avila's family members.

Also in January, the disenrollees formed a rival tribal council, with Crandell at its head. That group is applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition.

Because of the Robinson Rancheria tribal constitution, the issue of tribal membership ultimately is up to the BIA, which must now also decide whether or not to grant the disenrollees' appeals and reinstate them in the tribe, which Avila has contended in a previous interview is not up to the agency.

The bureau has weighed in on disenrollments in the tribe previously, such as it did 20 year ago, when Wanda Quitiquit had faced a disenrollment, which the agency found was not warranted based on a study of her genealogy.

Troy Burdick, superintendent of the BIA's Central California Agency, received the appeals from the disenrolled Robinson members and said he forwarded his suggestion to the next level in the agency around mid-January; BIA now has 45 days to make a final decision. He would not disclose what his proposed decision to the higher levels of BIA was.

Dale Risling, BIA's deputy regional director, confirmed his office is at work on the matter.

"We're going to begin our review process of their appeals, which is called for under their tribal law," he said.

He added, "We'll be responding to the tribe with our findings on that and our position."

Another tribe that has a constitution giving the BIA the power to review appeals, the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians of San Diego County, was told by the BIA late last year that the tribe could not move forward with disenrolling about 60 members, as Lake County News has reported.

Brightman said Indian leaders plans to introduce a new state bill on Thursday that will call for an end to the disenrollment practice.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NICE – A 12-year-old boy who was hit by a van Wednesday night sustained major injuries and is in care at a Bay Area Hospital.

The collision that injured the young Nice resident occurred just before 8 p.m., according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia said 82-year-old Charles Becker of Nice was driving his 1994 Ford Econo van on Manzanita Avenue eastbound, east of Highway 20 in Nice, when the collision occurred.

The 12-year-old was riding a bicycle without a helmet, proper lighting or functional brakes when he was struck by Becker's van, said Garcia.

A preliminary investigation, led by CHP Officer Randy Forslund, indicates that the bicyclist rode directly into Becker's path and was struck, according to Garcia.

The minor bicyclist sustained major life-threatening injuries, and was flown to Children's Hospital of Oakland.

Garcia reminded the public that all persons under age 18 are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard or scooter.

When riding a bicycle during darkness all bicyclists are required to have a white front headlamp that is visible to 300 feet, a red reflector that is visible 500 feet to the rear, and white or yellow reflectors visible to the front and rear of each pedal, said Garcia.

He added that parents of minor could be given a citation if there child is in violation of these laws even if they are physically not with the child at the time of violation.

Anyone who witnessed the Wednesday is asked to call the Clear Lake Area CHP office, 279-0103.


NICE – A collision Wednesday evening resulted in a child being transported to a Bay Area hospital.

The collision occurred just before 8 p.m. at Highway 20 and Howard in Nice, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Initial reports indicated a vehicle struck a child on a bicycle.

REACH air ambulance lifted off at about 8:44 p.m. en route to Children's Hospital of Oakland, according to the CHP.

No other information was available late Wednesday.

Harold La Bonte contributed to this report.


Eddie Llewellyn, right, and his brother Joey show off some of their educational certificates. Eddie was one of several local students who scored perfectly on the math portion of the STAR test last year. Photo courtesy of Bill and Minsook Llewellyn.






LAKE COUNTY – Amidst the fairly glum news facing education today – severe financial cutbacks, teacher and staff layoffs, and an all-around assault on resources – it's important to remember one thing: Children are still learning, thanks to the hard work of parents and teachers.

In fact, some children are learning very well, and showing incredible aptitudes in some tough subjects.

One example is mathematics. The county is home to numerous elementary school students who last year did particularly well on California's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test, hitting perfect 600 scores on the math portion.

This past year, the districts reported the following perfect scores in the elementary ranks: Konocti Unified, four, Lakeport Unified, two; Kelseyville Unified, five; Lucerne Unified Elementary, one. None were reported in Upper Lake Elementary, and information on perfect-scoring students was not made available from Middletown Unified.

Most of the districts do not divulge names, however, in Lucerne, the star STAR student was second grader Elizabeth McIntire, now 8, who was 7 when she took the test, the district reported.

Students in Konocti Unified were honored for their achievement last November at a school board meeting, where they received commendation certificates, plus bouquets of flowers for the girls.

Two of Konocti's top performers were 10-year-old Kayla Curtis and 12-year-old Eddie Llewellyn. Both are students in Rachel McFarland's sixth grade class at Lower Lake Elementary. The two students were fifth graders when they took the test.

McFarland said the STAR test is an evaluation of how well students meet their grade level standards, after working hard on them all year.

“Getting a perfect score is really a phenomenal thing,” she said.

A second-year teacher, McFarland said other students at the school also have had stellar achievement on the test -- including Maya Griffin, who got a perfect STAR test math score when she was only a third grader (she's in fifth grade now).



Eddie Llewellyn and Kayla Curtis, front row, at a November meeting of the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



McFarland is very proud and complimentary of her students.

She said she will teach a lesson to the class, then assign the students work for the rest of the class period. Eddie usually is the first one done.

“He really is an extraordinary kid – a diligent worker,” McFarland said.

Eddie said math is his favorite subject, which helped him get that perfect STAR test score, no mean feat considering the questions can be pretty tough.

Although he's an all-around good student, some subjects aren't quite in the favorite category, such as English and history, which he called “a little not fun.”

He's also musical, having started taking the saxophone last March and the piano in the summer.

Eddie has a fraternal twin brother, Joey – Eddie emphasizes that he's the older twin – who also is good at math, plays the keyboards and clarinet, plus is the school's spelling bee champion, said McFarland. Spelling, said Eddie, is another one of those not fun subjects.

He said he thinks he'd like to attend the University of California, Davis, for college in the future.

Eddie and his brother live with their parents, Bill and Minsook Llewellyn – plus a dog, fish and cats – in Clearlake. When he isn't acing tests, Eddie also enjoys playing video games and baseball, taking Tae Kwon Do classes, and playing in the school music program's new rock and roll band, along with Joey.

Bill Llewellyn said both boys have attended Lower Lake Elementary since preschool.

“And it's a heck of a chore to get either one out of bed in the morning or to tidy up their room; but I'm not complaining,” he said.



Eddie Llewellyn receives congratulations from the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees in November 2008. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



Working at a higher level

McFarland said she doesn't have Kayla for math lessons.

Instead, the 10-year-old walks next door to Lower Lake High School, where she takes algebra with the high schoolers, said McFarland.

“She was on the radar last year for doing really superb work,” said McFarland.

So McFarland said Lower Lake Elementary Principal Greg Mucks decided he wanted to do something different when it came to challenging Kayla, who had already skipped a grade.

That's when they decided to let her try high school algebra. McFarland said when she asks Kayla about how her daily lessons are, her one-word response usually is, “Easy.”

Keeping gifted students interested and not bored is a challenge for educators, said McFarland, who explained that her approach is to focus students toward the high end of achievement, to give them something to shoot for. Every class, she said, has a wide variety of aptitudes, which is what makes teaching a challenging profession.

Kayla's parents, Steve and Mandy Curtis of Lower Lake, said Kayla has always been intellectually precocious.

“She talked real early, she did everything real early,” said Mandy Curtis.

Steve Curtis said his wife read to Kayla nonstop when she was a baby. Mandy Curtis' mom wrote Kayla little books, and with all of that encouragement – plus a little help from Dr. Seuss – the youngster figured out how to read on her own. By the time she got to kindergarten, she could read to her class.

Kayla's first-grade teacher was perplexed about what to do with her, so the Curtises said their daughter did first and second grade at the same time.

“Her teachers have been really, really great about challenging her,” Mandy Curtis said, adding that the teachers are encouraging Kayla to try new things.

Kayla is a straight-A student whose particular strengths are math and science, and who does extra credit. “It's hard to keep her from not being bored,” Mandy Curtis said.



Kayla Curtis also was honored by the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees in November 2008 for achieving a perfect math score on the STAR test. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



Her parents say she's always starving for new tests when it comes to math. When she was little, she was constantly asking them to make up math tests for her.

“She still does that,” said Steve Curtis, who called his daughter “his little calculator.”

Kayla's skills also extend to writing, and now she's getting into sports, particularly soccer and basketball, and is clog dancing as well, the Curtises said. Her younger brother, Cole, who is 8, also is a good student and excels in math.

Her parents say Kayle has mentioned all sort of possible future careers, including nursing and medicine – she loves to watch documentaries on surgeries, and has never been squeamish. “She likes the gross stuff,” Mandy Curtis said.

Kayla's gifts also have presented her and her family with a dilemma. She is so advanced that Mucks has suggested sending her straight to high school, where her parents said it's estimated she could finish in as little as a year and a half.

“We're trying to keep her a kid as long as we can,” said Steve Curtis, who noted that he doesn't want a Doogie Howser, referring to the television show about the boy genius who becomes a doctor when only a young teenager.

“The hardest thing I think is not putting her forward,” Steve Curtis admits.

However, she and her parents are in agreement that it's more important to let her just be a kid – albeit a really, really smart one – for the time being. That means letting the very social Kayla stay with her friends – who she doesn't want to leave – and grow along with them.

McFarland gives a big helping of praise to her star students' parents, who she called “fantastic” for their level of encouragement and support.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Konocti Unified Board President Mary Silva (left) and Board Clerk Anita Gordon during the Wednesday night board meeting, during which possible school closures were discussed. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LOWER LAKE – Facing the prospect of a $1 million budget cut next year and the year after, the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees is taking a hard look at potentially painful measures to keep the district afloat, including the possibility of closing some schools. {sidebar id=119}

About 60 people – parents, teachers and classified staff – attended the Wednesday evening board meeting at the district office in Lower Lake to hear the recommendations of two groups, the Committee on Consolidation of Services and the Attendance and Enrollment Revenue Improvement Committee.

The district's board formed the committees in October and tasked them with finding ways to save on expenses and increase revenue, respectively.

Bill Cornelison, the retired Lake County Office of Education superintendent, headed up the services consolidation group, whose membership included district, county and city officials, plus representatives from the office of education and Yuba Community College.

“The district, like all districts in California, is facing severe budget deficits and budget challenges, not only for the coming year but also for the present year,” said Cornelison, noting that the full implications of those budget issues aren't yet known.

In a half-hour presentation, Cornelison offered the group's recommendations in several areas – transportation services, nutritional services, cooperative endeavors with local government, and grade realignment and school closure.

Cornelison said the group came together with open minds, focusing on benefits for students, possible savings, impacts on certified and classified staff, and possible community reaction.

The recommendations for most of the service-oriented areas of study included joint purchasing with other governmental entities in the county, shortening bus routes, a central cafeteria location, coordination of recreation programs for children, having technology staff review ways to save money, and joint grounds and maintenance.

But it was the recommendations about possible school closures and realignment of grades that drew the most attention.

“This is not a pleasant task to talk about,” Cornelison said.

School closures have been talked about around the state, evoking a great deal of emotion and personal feelings, which Cornelison said the committee tried to take into account.

The committee eventually came up with a total of 10 proposals, which they narrowed to four, Cornelison said.

Those recommendations were as follows:

  • Close Oak Hill Middle School (473 students) and change Pomo, Burns Valley and Lower Lake Elementary schools into K-8; potential cost savings, $400,000 to $968,000.

  • Operate four K-8 schools with East Lake Elementary (195 students) closing; potential cost savings, $0 to $250,000.

  • K-8 with grade separation with two schools and Oak Hill Middle School closing; potential cost savings, $540,000 to $1.1 million.

  • Retain existing alignment with Burns Valley Elementary (404 students) closing; potential cost savings, $0 to $250,000.

Konocti Unified's board will hold public hearings throughout the district to give the community an opportunity to weigh-in on the alternatives, said Cornelison (see sidebar story, “Public meetings on school closure proposals”).

On the other side of the coin, Dr. Nancy Todd chaired the revenue committee.

She said she believed they could bring in more than $1.5 million if all students came to school every day and they gained back interdistrict transfers.

“When you have these awful weighty decisions to make, it's good to remember your strengths,” Todd said, lauding the district for its successful efforts in the past to deal with social and funding issues.

Committee recommendations include convening a standing committee to deal with attendance; involving teachers, parents and older students in understanding the revenue increase that comes with student attendance; create incentives for sites and students to improve attendance rates; designating someone to work with the media and other visual reminders of progress.

The committee's suggestions also included motivating students by letting them earn units for work satisfactorily done, rather than semesters; publicizing student success; offering specialty courses in trades, technology and health care; and investigating what's involved with shifting to operating K-8 schools and a high school.

Todd said she hoped the the conversation leaves the public with the impression that, despite the district having to make cuts, children are left at the center of the process and the community is respected.

Community members, teachers against closing schools

Glen Goodman, the librarian of Lower Lake High School, said the approach to the district's budget issues starts with the assumption that enrollment is going down, but he said he expects to see just the opposite as more people move to Lake County because of its affordable housing.

He suggested that if the district closes schools, it also needs to factor in the cost of reopening them once enrollment starts to go up again.

The people most likely to decide to take their children out of the district because of school closures are those parents who are most involved, and whose students do the best in school. That, he said, could impact the district's test scores.

He suggested a progressive approach to education, much like he sees at Carle High School, which could attract students.

“This is a monstrous project that we're considering embarking on, and I think it's based on old information, declining enrollment,” he said. “I think the best bet for us is to just forge ahead with making a better education.”

Parent Cale Page said he's against school closures. He said his daughter told him she was treated as the person she wanted to be, not the person she was, at her school. As a result, she's doing well in school, where Page said the teachers do a great job.

If district leaders are wondering what kind of student they would lose by closing schools, it would be his daughter, said Page.

Oak Hill Middle School teacher Bill Meyer asked Superintendent Bill MacDougall if he was wiling to reject the school closures recommendation if the state went in a positive direction.

“The answer is absolutely,” said MacDougall.

Dana Moore, the district's director of maintenance and operations, said the district is looking at 18 empty classrooms and a midyear cut of between $850,000 and $1.2 million, with more possibly to come next fiscal year.

There hasn't been any talk of more money coming to the schools, and none of the prospects look good. “And that's why we're here,” Moore said.

Carle High School teacher Angie Siegel said she spent 10 years as a middle school teacher, including several years at Oak Hill Middle School, where she said the staff has worked hard for the students.

She said middle schools are much maligned. “The real issue is puberty,” she said, explaining that children are going through a lot of changes.

“I'm a big believer in middle school,” she said. “They're a special breed of cat.”

Oak Hill Middle School teacher Paul Leiferman, who also is president of the Konocti Education Association, said he has been a middle school teacher for more than 30 years – “by choice,” he emphasized – and he agreed with Siegel that a lot of work has been done at the school.

He said he deals with some of the toughest kids in the county, and has about 20 in his classroom who the district wouldn't want near fourth and fifth graders.

The No. 1 most important issue should be what's best for the kids, and are they prepared when they get to the high school, he said.

Board offers its perspective

Board members assured the audience that they wanted to make the best choices for the district and its students.

“Our main concern is the students and doing right by our students,” said Board President Mary Silva.

Trustee Herb Gura said he had no idea how he would vote, but that recommendations from the committees were only one factor he would consider. “It matters to me a lot how this affects students and families and staff.”

He admitted the district is facing a very scary situation, but noted that the district has been careful in its spending, which he credited to district chief business officer Laurie Altic.

“So just hang in there and we'll see what happens,” he said. “I don't have any answers at this point, either.”

Another board member, Hank Montgomery, said he's a big fan of middle school, and credited Oak Hill Middle School with helping his children be successful.

He emphasized that the board has made no decision yet, and said he doesn't feel limited by the committees' recommendations.

The closure of schools ultimately rests with the board, said Montgomery, which is why they're planning to hold meetings around the district in an effort to get input.

Everything is on the table, and nothing is sacred when it comes to looking for ways to make ends meet, said Montgomery.

He said the discussion of consolidating other services across – while not as controversial – also is significant, Montgomery said. “This board began discussing this years ago.”

The board had directed Dr. Louise Nan, the former superintendent, to discuss that idea with other districts, Montgomery said. “No one would listen, no one would even entertain that.”

He added that the board believes consolidating services is consistent with the district's philosophy that cuts happen as far away from the classroom and students as possible.

Board Clerk Anita Gordon agreed with Montgomery. She added that she's extremely frustrated by what's happening in Sacramento with the state Legislature and the state budget. There's nothing citizens can do but live with those decisions that come from the state.

“And you're seeing that tonight,” she said.

Board member Carolynn Jarrett referred to a list of ideas that came from the board's Jan. 24 budget workshop, which summarize what they want for the schools. The overriding goal stated in that document was that all students graduate from the K-12 system, with intervention, safety, class size reduction and classroom personnel – the first priority, and last to be cut – listed among the priorities.

She said the district is trying to preserve the quality programs it has. Jarrett said the district had to cut $1 million last year, and they have may to cut $1 million next year and again the year after.

“On March 11 we are going to have to make a decision, because we cannot continue the status quo,” Jarrett said. “We have to come up with something different.”

To see the committees' full recommendations, visit the Konocti Unified School District Web site,

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


MANCHESTER – Mendocino County officials are investigating the suspicious circumstances behind the death of a Kelseyville man.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday that the body of Brian Richard Siberry, 41, was discovered in a rental cabin at the Manchester KOA Campground on Jan. 25.

Deputies were dispatched to the campground, located on Kinney Lane, shortly before 6 p.m. that day on the report of an injured person, according to Lt. Rusty Noe.

When they arrived at the scene they found Siberry deceased inside one of the rental cabins located on the campground premises. Noe reported that deputies noticed what appeared to be fresh injuries to Siberry's face and head, suggesting he had been the victim of a physical assault.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Detective Unit was summoned and detectives responded to the campground, according to Noe. Upon arrival detectives processed the cabin, wherein Siberry was located, for items of evidence and numerous interviews were conducted of possible witnesses.

Noe said a forensic autopsy was conducted on Siberry's body by the Mendocino County pathologist on Jan. 27. The preliminary results of the autopsy showed blunt force trauma to Siberry's face but his cause of death is pending blood alcohol and toxicology analysis.

Detectives have learned Siberry had been staying in the rental cabin with a friend for two weeks preceding his death, said Noe.

During the two-week period Siberry was contacted several times by persons working or staying at the campground. Noe said witnesses described Siberry has having been extremely intoxicated by alcoholic beverages, having poor balance and sustained accidental falls to the ground.

Witnesses described seeing the physical injury to Siberry's face the day prior to his death and hours before his death, Noe reported.

Noe said information collected to date suggests the injury to Siberry's face was caused by an accidental fall but detectives are continuing to investigation the incident.

Anyone with information that can assist with this investigation is asked to call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Tip-Line at 467-9159.


LAKEPORT – A Willits woman remains in the Lake County Jail after allegedly being found in possession of a stolen vehicle, endangering a child and attempting to evade arrest.

Rachel Elizabeth Gregg, 23, was arrested by Lake County Sheriff's deputies last Saturday night following an incident at Konocti Vista Casino outside of Lakeport.

Captain James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Monday that two deputies were completing a security check at the casino at about 10:20 p.m. Jan. 31 when they observed Gregg driving slowly around the casino parking lot in the dark with only her parking lights on.

Suspecting Gregg may be driving while impaired, the deputies attempted to conduct an enforcement stop on the vehicle, said Bauman.

As Gregg continued to drive around the parking lot, allegedly ignoring the deputies emergency lights and siren, sheriff’s dispatch reported the 1992 Toyota Camry Gregg was driving was reported stolen earlier that day in Willits, Bauman reported.

With Gregg continuing to refuse to yield to the deputies’ lights, one of the patrol vehicles was maneuvered in front of the stolen vehicle to force it to stop, Bauman said.

Once stopped, deputies approached the stolen vehicle on foot and found there was an infant child in the front passenger seat, said Bauman. The deputies ordered Gregg out of the car but she just shook her head and drove off again.

Bauman said Gregg continued to evade the deputies as she exited the casino parking lot and led them onto Soda Bay Road, turning onto Yellow Hammer Lane, and then onto Red Feather Lane where she was forced to stop at the cul-de-sac. Gregg immediately took the infant, later identified to be her 11-month-old daughter, and exited the car.

After Gregg initially refused to surrender the child to deputies, they were able to safely take the child from her and after a brief attempt to resist their attempt to arrest her, she was taken into custody without further incident, said Bauman.

During a routine search incident to Gregg’s arrest, deputies located a purse and cell phone in the back of the car that had been reported stolen from a parked vehicle a very short distance away on Meadow Drive earlier that evening. Bauman said a credit card belonging to the owner of the stolen vehicle was also retrieved from Gregg’s pants pocket.

Gregg was booked at the Lake County Jail for felony possession of a stolen vehicle, felony possession of stolen property, felony child endangerment, felony evading a peace officer, and misdemeanor resisting arrest.

She remains in custody with bail set at $25,000. Bauman said her 11-month-infant daughter was turned over to Child Protective Services.


Lakeport Fire Protection District firefighters work on a blaze that broke out on the morning of Wednesday, February 4, 2009, along Soda Bay Road. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – Lakeport firefighters and air quality officials responded to a fire Wednesday morning that may have been a control burn that got away.

The fire, which burned about two acres, was first reported at about 11:30 a.m. east of the 2700 block of Clipper Lane and on the lake side of Soda Bay Road.

Lakeport Fire Protection District sent four engines and a water tender, seven firefighters and Chief Ken Wells. Two Cal Fire personnel from Kelseyville also were on scene.

Lake County Air Quality Management District staff also were on scene to investigate the burn, which officials said appeared to have started out as a control burn.

Two men on scene appeared to have been tending the fire went it got out of control, burning thistle and berry bushes and large tree branches that were being cleared from the land, and spewing thick smoke into the midday sky. A slight breeze from the south southeast may have contributed to the fire getting away.

Wells said they believed the fire had been permitted. If an investigation by air quality and fire officials reveals it wasn't, Wells said the property owners could be held liable for covering firefighting costs. That report could come out next week.

Clipper Lane residents were concerned about the nearby burning field, but Wells said the threat to the homes was reduced by the high humidity.

Lakeport Fire engines returned to the station just past 4 p.m. after getting the fire under control and mopping up.

E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




The fire burned about two acres, fire officials reported. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



ST. HELENA – The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will conduct prescribed pile burning on BLM property around the community of Berryessa Estates in Napa County starting on Feb. 5, and continuing on rainy days for approximately the next two months.

The prescribed burning will be conducted starting at 10 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. and will be located in and around Berryessa Estates. Smoke from the pile burning may be visible from parts of Napa and Lake counties.

The return of winter moisture will enable Cal Fire personnel to implement the vegetation management tool of prescribed burning for the purpose of burning piles of vegetation that were removed to create a shaded fuel break around the community of Berryessa Estates.

Prescribed vegetation management burns are carefully planned and controlled burns and must meet strict criteria of ecological benefit, weather parameters, smoke management, and fire safety guidelines. When all conditions (prescriptions) are met, trained firefighter’s burn, while monitoring the set criteria, fire behavior, and designated fire control lines.

Shaded fuel breaks are designed to reduce the threat to a community in the event of an unexpected wildland fire by removing shrubs, small trees, and down woody materials, but leaving large overstory trees.

By leaving the larger trees, the fuel break will maintain a higher degree of shade cover, lessening the rapid re-growth associated with direct sunlight and retaining higher fuel moisture in the fuels within the fuel break.

These projects are designed to remove the understory ladder fuels and the dead/down fuels that could become hazardous in case of extreme fire behavior. Shaded fuel breaks are often constructed in strategic areas along roadsides and ridgetops to provide firefighters with improved access to suppress unwanted wildfires and to manage prescribed burns more safely.

For more information about fire safety or prescribed fire and its benefits you may go to the Cal Fire Web site at or your local Cal Fire facility.


CLEARLAKE – A Clearlake man has been arrested for child endangerment following an incident late last week in which he allegedly left his children unattended in a potentially dangerous situation.

Lt. Mike Hermann reported that Clearlake Police officers were dispatched to the Lakeview Terrace Apartments at approximately 10:24 p.m. Jan. 29 after a caller reported hearing his neighbor’s children screaming and crying for the past hour.

When deputies arrived at the apartments, the neighbor advised that he had become concerned for the well-being of the children after he was unable to get an answer at the door, Hermann said.

Officers got to the residence and were able to hear children screaming inside the location but found that the front door had been chained and blocked with an item later determined to be a reclining chair. Hermann said officers made numerous attempts to get someone to come to the door but received no response.

Due to the circumstances, officers made the decision to force entry into the location, Hermann said.

While this was being done, a male subject – identified as 26-year-old Kevin Ray Stone 26 of Clearlake – emerged from the rear bedroom at the location, said Hermann.

During the contact, Stone was determined to be under the influence of marijuana. Hermann said officers also determined that Stone's two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl, had been left unsupervised while Stone “dozed off” in the rear bedroom.

While searching the apartment, officers found the bathroom door open with a bathtub filled with water and children's toys. Hermann said the floor also was wet, indicating that the children had been playing in and around the water.

Hermann said Stone was arrested on two counts of felony child endangerment, misdemeanor possession of an illegal weapon (a butterfly knife in his pocket) and possession of drug paraphernalia, in this case a glass smoking pipe commonly used for methamphetamine which also was located in the residence.

Stone was later booked into the Lake County Jail on the charges, Hermann said. The children were placed into protective custody by Child Protective Services pending their investigation.

He remained in the Lake County Jail early Tuesday.


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