School Board Candidate Thinks Long Term

Steven Sommers
Steven Sommers

Seeking to help usher San Marino Unified School District into “a new era,” educator and philanthropist Steven Sommers aims to join the district’s Board of Education by way of November’s election.
Sommers, a vice president and senior philanthropic specialist for Wells Fargo’s Private Bank, said a variety of issues motivated him to join the pool of candidates, including enhancing school safety, continuing educational excellence, improving financial sustainability and repairing what he views as the eroded trust between the district and its stakeholders. He and his wife have three — soon, four — children at Carver Elementary School.
“I think we need new leadership for a new era in public education,” he said. “I think we need to look to the future and I think I’m one of the individuals who is prepared to address the immediate issues and the issues that are going to arise in the next decade.”
Having grown up in Iowa and South Dakota, Sommers, whose mother was a teacher, earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He said he taught in Iowa briefly before relocating to the Pasadena-San Marino area in 1989, teaching music and English for more than 10 years in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District. While there, he earned a master of divinity degree and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
Sommers continues to be an educator, having served as an adjunct philosophy professor at Azusa
Pacific University since 2001.
“Being an educator gives me a perspective from the classroom, and that’s important,” he said. “I’ve had students. I’ve been responsible for their education. It uniquely
positions me to meet the needs of our school district.”
Sommers said he believes the newly elected board will have a special opportunity to select a new superintendent and hopes to bring that perspective to the table.
“I think we need to choose someone who’s going to foster a renewed sense of decorum in our community, of responsibility and of transparency with the parents of our community,” he said. “We have a duty to hire somebody who is a leader. We need someone who’s competent, who has a sense of humility, who is transparent and open to the needs and desires of the community and is going to be communicative with them.”
Citing upcoming negotiations with the teachers’ union, the district facilities master plan and a separate election to renew a parcel tax for the school system, Sommers said he believes the board needs leaders to rebuild bridges with the community and stakeholders.
“We need to make sure our house is in order,” he said. “In my estimation, we need positive regard for one another. We need to believe that others really want the best for our schools and our children. When that is in place and we can respect one another, then we can move forward.”
Getting these pieces in place, Sommers said, will foster an environment in which everyone is accountable to each other when it comes to the success of the
district, as opposed to a top-down hierarchy.
“Develop the right culture,” he said. “You develop a culture like that, and you’re going to start
getting the right policies and the right outcomes.”

Library Efficiency: There’s a Scanner for That

Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK Longtime Crowell Public Library employee Lora Smith demonstrates the ease by which library patrons can scan their library card and check out materials using the library’s new radio frequency identification system.
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Longtime Crowell Public Library employee Lora Smith demonstrates the ease by which library patrons can scan their library card and check out materials using the library’s new radio frequency identification system.

It seems like a simple addition to the facility, but it is a welcome one for the staff at Crowell Public Library.
The new RFID — radio frequency identification — hardware was recently installed at the library’s checkout desks and at the entryways, and the staff is now well into the Herculean task of placing the system’s corresponding tags
into the nearly 90,000 books and other items circulated from the library. Those tags, which are essentially square stickers on the insides of covers, contain a chip that transmits the book’s information to the system to check it out to a patron.
The ability to, say, stack several books on each other for
a machine to read simulta-neously represents a productive improvement over having to individually open each book and scan a barcode by hand. That the library’s self-checkout machine also is equipped with the RFID technology, which is expected to improve the library’s efficiency.
“Sometimes we only have one person here and they’ll step out for a break, so this will alle-viate that,” explained librarian Irene McDermott. “This is really, I think, going to increase productivity here.”
The machines were up and running at the end of June, but McDermott said she expects to have the library’s contents fully tagged and “live” by the end of the year. As items are tagged, they’ll be able to be checked out via RFID immediately, and new additions going forward will already be tagged.
The system cost nearly $55,000, but was paid for entirely by donations from two organizations — Friends of the Library and the San Marino Library Foundation. The library board of trustees approved the project earlier this year, contracting with a German company for the services. (Perhaps ironically, the technology was developed by the British during World War II as a means of detecting whether incoming planes were their own or the Germans’.)
“It will simplify things and it will also make everything more accurate,” said Eldon Swanson, vice chair of the library board of trustees. “Anytime you can gain efficiency, I think it’s important. From a library standpoint, I think it’s a very good move. There were no city funds at all used for this.”
Because the RFID system has developed well beyond its infancy, its programming is fairly universal and standardized now, meaning the tags cost cents apiece now, as opposed to dollars back when there were many different iterations.
“It’s been in the industry for a bit,” Swanson said. “Manufacturers use it to keep track of parts, and this is a good application for this technology.”
Libraries that already had bought into an older system will have to remove old tags first, creating extra work for themselves. Swanson said there are two primary suppliers and added that McDermott chose this company after consulting with other libraries.
“We’re able now to afford to tag all of our books,” McDermott said. “A lot of bigger libraries, like Pasadena, haven’t been able to do it because they have so many books.”
McDermott said staff at the library, which has about 20,000 visitors each week, also will be able to use scanning devices to quickly find specific books on shelves. Scanners at the doors also will sound a brief alarm when somebody carries an item out without checking it out. (The same scanners also send
the item’s information to the library’s computers to identify what was taken, if it needs replacing.)
“It will be able to control the whole inventory of the library,” Swanson said.

For Homegrown Officer, Job Really Is Community Policing

Kenric Wu
Kenric Wu

Cpl. Kenric Wu is his formal name and title, but “Ken” works just fine for him.
Having grown up and gone through school here, the 14-year veteran of the San Marino Police Department is used to being addressed by the shortened name, he said. A lot of the people he sees in town have known him since he was a kid.
“I see people all the time who really know me,” he said. “Being a part of the community gives me an insight as to how people here act. Me going to all the schools, I know a lot of the older teachers here as well. You grow up here, you have the affinity and bond with the people here.” Continue reading “For Homegrown Officer, Job Really Is Community Policing”

Kleinrock Fills Role of SMUSD Interim Superintendent

Loren Kleinrock
Loren Kleinrock

Loren Kleinrock, a familiar face in the San Marino Unified School District for decades, was tabbed as interim superintendent by the Board of Education this week.
Kleinrock, who served as superintendent from 2011-2014, will take the place of his own successor, Alex Cherniss, who submitted his resignation in August after accepting the superintendent position at Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.
Most recently a temporary assistant principal at San Marino High School, Kleinrock has worked in a variety of teaching, coaching and administrative roles with SMUSD since 1975. Continue reading “Kleinrock Fills Role of SMUSD Interim Superintendent”

School Board Candidate Touts Education Experience

Jane Chon
Jane Chon

Jane Chon said she aims to make the best use of her background in education policy if she is elected to the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education in November. A resident of San Marino for a decade, Chon said having twin sons at San Marino High School, a daughter at Huntington Middle School and a preschooler at a private school has given her a wide-ranging perspective on education here and feels she can contribute better because of it.
“If you look at all of my children, you’ll see that they are all in different stages of their lives and they’re very different people,” she said in a recent phone interview. “There’s a very big range of experiences within our own schools, and I think that’s a very small example of what’s going on in our school district. Continue reading “School Board Candidate Touts Education Experience”

School Board Likes Feb. 26 for Tax Renewal Election

The San Marino Unified School District has settled on Feb. 26 as the date for an election to decide whether to renew a parcel tax used to pay for a variety of faculty and staff members.
The Board of Education unanimously voted on that date, suggested by board member Chris Norgaard, at its meeting last week. The board’s next step will be to adopt a resolution formally calling the election no later than Nov. 30; state law requires that elections be called at least 88 days prior to their date. Continue reading “School Board Likes Feb. 26 for Tax Renewal Election”

Superintendent, Settlement Top SMUSD Leaders’ Concerns

Although the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education did not reach a decision last week on its next step regarding the soon-to-be-open superintendent job, it was poised to take another closed-session crack at it during a meeting this week.
In another matter taking place behind closed doors, district officials also continue to hammer out a settlement agreement in a lawsuit they are facing.
The board was scheduled to meet in closed session starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, after The Outlook’s press deadline. It previously met in closed session after its regular meeting Aug. 28, although no decisions were made. Continue reading “Superintendent, Settlement Top SMUSD Leaders’ Concerns”

Police Pursuit Through Two Towns Leads to Arrest

A suspect who police said led San Marino officers on a brief high-speed pursuit through town last week was free on bail and awaiting a court appearance.
The 27-year-old San Gabriel man was arrested on Tuesday, Aug. 28, after abandoning his vehicle, fleeing into an alleyway that was fenced off and then surrendering to officers, accor-ding to a news release from the San Marino Police Department. He was booked into the Alhambra jail on suspicion of evading a police officer, reckless driving, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. Continue reading “Police Pursuit Through Two Towns Leads to Arrest”

City Adopts Budget, Aims to Improve Fiscal Efficiency

At long last, San Marino has a budget.
After an extra two months of work on the document, several City Council meetings that tested officials’ mental energy and patience, and focused looks at departments and fiscal strategies, it is the first step the city is taking to usher in a new era of financial scrutiny and disciplined planning. Officials were at times not overly enthusiastic about the approved budget, but acknowledged it was part of a process. Continue reading “City Adopts Budget, Aims to Improve Fiscal Efficiency”