New Neighborhood Voice

Newsletter - Edition 32 - Section 1

December 4, 2005

Return to Home Page
Click on a thumbnail to view larger photos - More photos are in Section 2

Charlene Laymon
and Santa (and their dog, Jody)



Inger (“Inky”) Jensen at the
CB Boutique


Glenn Vander
Zee - Mathson
Middle School



White Road
pigeon poop at
our new library


Time for the
Bird Counts




Richard Brown
and tarantula in
Alum Rock Park



Newsletter Headlines

bulletThank you, Thank you! - Donations appreciated as NNV begins fourth year
bulletRichard Pombo on a Rampage, 11th District Opposition Builds by Scott Restivo
bulletMall Santa Mauled in South American Rugby Matches! Eastsider AJ Laymon plays Santa
bulletCovered Bridge Boutique – What Covered Bridge? Ubiquitous signs of the holiday season
bulletMiracles at Mathson Middle School - Reading this will restore your faith in local education
bulletAnother Magnificent Success - KIPP Academy - Who says minority kids can’t excel?
bulletWhite Road – A History by Patricia Loomis
bulletFree, High Speed Wireless Internet Service Coming to Santa Clara County Libraries
bulletJames Lick Update - Every student “oriented” at new Alum Rock Library by Kathy Evans
bulletCode Enforcement, What Code Enforcement? Neighbor gets royal runaround from County
bulletIf You’re Afflicted by Stroke, Regional is Ready! by Ben Stephenson
bulletNNV Briefs
bulletCommunity Invited to Foothill Presbyterian Musical Offerings
bulletBoccardo Trail Christmas Bird Count Scheduled for December 18 by Lark Burkhart
bulletWarner Heights Loses Battle to Maintain Placid Status Quo by Ruth Brewster
bulletLick Winter Concert – A “Joyful Noise” to Raise Funds
bulletHillcrest Neighborhood Watch Hosts Halloween Parade by Richard and Veronica Wildanger
bulletAlum Rock Park - Eye-Level Hawks, a “Tentative” Tarantula by Richard Brown
bulletOn Alum Rock Avenue: Pulque Fresco se vende. Say what?
bulletRAINBOWS - "From Hurt, through Healing, to Hope" by Lily Tenes
bulletPACT Honors Eastsiders, Jim and Ann McEntee - Lives spent promoting Social Justice for All
bulletMarguerite Terrace Now Offers New Flexible Rental Option from Stephanie Mitchum Murphy
bulletPressed for Time? Need New Tires? Neighbor recommends nifty new service by Richard Brown
bulletFrank Chavez Appointed to ARUESD Board of Trustees
bulletSave the Date for a Special Date With Romance! Try a little Romance by Joyce Baker
bulletCounty Board Approves $3.2 Million for Juvenile Ranch from Supervisor Pete McHugh
bulletYou Dig It?
bulletA Phenomenal Plant, Stained Glass, A Doll House, Foxes and Flowers
bulletCommunity Building, One Step at a Time - Neighbors forge new ties by Deva Luna
bulletFAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
bulletHow does one lose a chicken named Nicken? Am I dreaming?
bulletWhat happened to our TV reception during the wee hours of Sunday, November 6th?
bulletDo any of the Alum Rock area neighbors still use the County Library system?
bulletAny news on the renovation of the old Alum Rock Stables at the edge of the park?
bulletWhat number do I call to report junked cars in unincorporated Santa Clara County?
bulletWhy doesn’t NNV have a “police blotter” as one of its features?

Other Sections:  Letters to the Editor  Deer Resistant Plants  Community Bulletin Board  NNV Archives

Return to Top

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Donations appreciated as NNV begins fourth year

No NNV in January – this is the December/January edition

A million thanks to our wonderful NNV readers who made a donation toward helping to sustain the newsletter. Last month, in the November edition, we asked for some support from NNV’s on-line subscribers. Our subscribers who receive the paper edition already make an annual donation (usually $10 - $15 per year) to help pay for paper, ink and postage. We are happy to know that our on-line subscribers also value their New Neighborhood Voice enough to respond to our appeal with donation checks or credit card contributions. Thank you so much!

Many readers sent notes of appreciation with their checks making us feel very good about our efforts to keep communications flourishing in our little area east of San Jose. In case you’re wondering, New Neighborhood Voice is not a money-making project for anyone. We always seem to be reduced to operating slightly in the red so your donations are very important.

If there are readers who would still like to make a donation, your support truly will be appreciated. You can make out a check to “New Neighborhood Voice” and mail it to us at 16174 Highland Drive, San Jose, CA 95127.

Official PayPal SealIf you would like to make a donation on-line using your credit card or PayPal account, you can click on the button just below and the transaction will be handled by a secure server.

If you don't have a PayPal account, you can make a Credit Card donation and set up your own PayPal account at the same time. If you want to read more before considering making a donation, click here for our Donations Information page.

We seem to be covering a wider and wider area as time goes by. We started out with the notion of covering just the neighborhoods east from Alum Rock Village because that’s the area we know best. However, it soon became obvious that our little community doesn’t operate in a vacuum and we are inextricably part of a larger whole. It is thrilling to us to see the new connections forged by the newsletter and our constantly growing readership. We appreciate your recommending NNV to your friends and neighbors. The more readers we serve, the more worthwhile our effort.

As we did last year, we will take the month of December off so we can have a breather and a normal holiday season. So, we will wish you Wonderful Holidays and Happy New Year now and remind you to look for the next new edition of NNV early in February, 2006.

Judy and Allan Thompson

Return to Top

Richard Pombo on a Rampage, 11th District Opposition Builds

NNV requested summary of recent Pombo-related news and opinion

By Scott Restivo

U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican from the Tracy area, has been on a rampage lately, looking to tear up our environmental laws and open public lands and parks to drilling, mining, lumbering, and off-road recreation, as well as offering them for outright sale to developers at bargain-basement prices.

As chair of the House Resources Committee, Pombo wields inordinate power to enact his ideological agenda. He went to Congress in 1992 determined to overturn the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws, and for a long time was relegated to a backend role.

But in 2003, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay saw that he was promoted to the chair of the Resources Committee over five more senior Republicans. In that position, Pombo has been the “fox in the hen house,” using the position to build the power and momentum needed to pass laws that wreak havoc on our natural heritage and environmental traditions.

The San Jose Mercury in a November 2 editorial had this to say:

"Environmental blindness is a Pombo specialty. He's pushing for a highway from the Central Valley over Mount Hamilton into East San Jose. There's only one reason to build it. A river of concrete through an unspoiled landscape would be a symbol of the swath of destruction Pombo is cutting through environmental protections."

Pombo represents the 11th Congressional District, an oddly gerrymandered creation that roams over the map from the Stockton/Lodi/Tracy area to Danville, San Ramon, and Pleasanton (skipping over Livermore), and on down to Morgan Hill and parts of Gilroy.

Just this year alone, he has been working on:

o A “reform” of the Endangered Species Act that seeks to severely weaken it. Pombo’s act eliminates critical habitats, removes bans of hazardous pesticides that could affect endangered species, politicizes the decision-making, and requires taxpayers to pay developers, oil and gas companies, and other industries for complying with the law.

o Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where he falsely claims only 2,000 acres would be impacted, when actually much of the coastal plain, which harbors a rich assortment of wildlife, including caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds, would be scarred with roads, pipelines, housing, and drilling rigs.

o Drilling offshore on every U.S. coast, including California. Pombo wants states to decide individually on allowing drilling. This would weaken opposition, as states in budget constraints would look to the lease revenue as a source of income.

o Selling off mining claims such that millions of acres of our national lands could pass into the hands of real estate developers.

o Selling off fifteen of our National Parks (including the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Danville), as well as selling naming rights to visitor centers, museums, and other facilities at the parks that are left. He also wants to allow advertising on park busses and brochures. “Welcome to Exxon Yosemite Park!”

o Passing an Energy Bill that gives billions in subsidies to the oil and gas industries while they are seeing record profits, but does nothing to increase in fuel efficiency in vehicles, and very little to promote alternative or renewable energies

Ethical Lapses
Meanwhile, Pombo’s ethical lapses are coming to the forefront. He was named one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress by the non-partisan Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. He has received money from scandal-ridden lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and refuses to open hearings on Abramoff’s dealings in the Northern Marianas Island sweatshops and the Indian gaming and casino scandal.

Pombo took in large donations, then gave his wife and brother over $250,000 for “campaign work.” Pombo went with his wife on junkets to New Zealand and Japan paid for by a private foundation in violation of tax law. These trips were to promote the resumption of commercial whaling worldwide, including off the California coast.

Pombo pressed officials of the U.S. Department of the Interior last year to suspend environmental guidelines opposed by the wind-power industry without disclosing that his family had a substantial financial stake in renting their ranch land to the windmill companies.

The list of scandals, ethical lapses and crony connections goes on and on. As Pombo gains prominence, he is also put under more scrutiny, and the picture that is emerging is that of an unethical man using public office to enrich friends, family, and campaign contributors.

Pombo’s Folly – highway over Mt. Hamilton and the Diablo Range
As is well-known to New Neighborhood Voice readers, Pombo has proposed a highway through the Alum Rock area, up over the Diablo Range to connect with I-5 near Patterson. While transportation projects in the district, such as the I-205 widening, lag, Pombo got millions of dollars for a study of this road in a highway omnibus bill passed earlier this year. The East Bay Express ran an exposé on Pombo in their Aug. 24, 2005, issue that showed how by just proposing this road, real estate owned by the Pombo family has increased in value in and around the Patterson area:

"A closer look at Pombo's career reveals a long-standing pattern of using the power of government in ways that would directly or indirectly benefit his family. The latest case involves the congressman's unwavering support for two new freeways that would link the Central Valley and East Bay in new locations.

Earlier this month, Pombo obtained $21.6 million in federal funds to study the projects, neither of which addresses the most pressing transportation issue in the Tracy area. One of the proposed freeways [the one over the Diablo Range] is so seemingly impractical that it has been called "Pombo's Folly" because of the time it would take to drive, the tens of billions of dollars it would cost to build, and the environmental havoc it would wreak.

What's more, a recent review of public records shows that Pombo and his family could profit handsomely from the highway proposals, even if no freeways are ever built. The Pombo clan owns more than 1,500 acres of land near the two new freeways and the value of its property will likely skyrocket because of the congressman's actions - and may already have."

Opposition in the 11th District
Pombo’s rampant disregard and attack on our environmental heritage, as well as his questionable ethics, has energized the opposition. Ordinary people – not just environmentalists and liberals, but mothers and fathers, businessmen, teachers, scientists, workers, and even other Republicans are organizing to see Pombo defeated in November 2006.

Already, three Democratic candidates are running for the 11th District seat:

o Margee Ensign - Has formed an exploratory committee in preparation for announcing her candidacy. She is Dean of the School of International Studies at the University of Pacific in Stockton and holds a doctorate in political economy.

o Steve Filson - United Airlines pilot, and former U.S. Navy pilot, from Danville. Has backing of Rep. Ellen Tauscher from the neighboring 10th Congressional District.

o Jerry McNerney - Ran against Pombo in 2004, was a last-minute write-in candidate in the primary, gained 100,000 votes to Pombo's 160,000 in the general election. PhD in Mathematics. Wind energy consultant and businessman from Pleasanton.

In addition, former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey has said he will find a moderate Republican to run against Pombo in the June primary or he will move to the district and run himself. He helped found the “Revolt of the Elders,” a group of senior former Republican congressmen who are displeased at the direction their party is going and who are adamantly opposed to the unethical and possibly illegal activities of the current Congressional leadership.

All of these candidates offer a more moderate, sensible approach to the issues of the district. While Pombo has been attacking environmental regulation, his district is suffering from some of the worst air pollution in the country, high rates of asthma, tainted water, poverty, high infant mortality, substandard schools, workers struggling harder and commuting longer, high housing costs, and an overloaded transportation system.

These candidates are presenting plans for growing high-tech jobs, improving the schools, protecting the environment, jump-starting a renewable energy industry, and helping the poor and immigrants. We look forward to more positive and energetic proposals to help the people have better lives and to protect the health, safety, and security of the men, women, and children of the 11th District.

Pombo was first elected in 1992, and he has done little to benefit his district while pursuing his hard-right, anti-environmental agenda and enriching his friends, family, and cronies through corrupt campaign financing practices. Let’s hope that the district wakes up in this next election, that the candidates can present viable and hopeful plans for the future, and the electorate decides “Enough!” of Richard Pombo and votes him out of office in November 2006.

Vote Pombo Out website:

Return to Top

Mall Santa Mauled in South American Rugby Matches!

Eastsider AJ Laymon plays Santa role and “hooligan” game

What if we were to tell you that Vallco Mall’s Santa Claus is one of your neighbors and that he trained for all the rigors of repetitive child-to-lap lifting by competing on a South American rugby field for three weeks this summer? And if we told you that he’s 66 years old and that he trains for rugby by rowing with the Los Gatos Rowing Club, would you think that NNV has quite an imagination? Well, as creative as this story is, it is all truth veritas!

Thinking that interviewing a neighbor who dons the red velvet suit for thirty days each November and December would be highly topical for this edition of NNV, we sought out AJ Laymon. Little did we know that we were going to spend two and a half hours interviewing and conversing with one of the most fascinating couples in the East Foothills.

Wearing a red shirt and big clumpy suede slippers, AJ Laymon, with his naturally gray beard and mustache, looked Claus-y even with none of his Santa regalia on. He did not sit back and patiently wait for NNV’s carefully composed questions. No, he was on the edge of his seat volunteering information fast and furiously – in the most friendly sense, of course. He scurried hither and yon bringing back props and photos and when he wasn’t posing in wonderful hats (cowboy, buccaneer, Miner-49-er, gnome) he had his fetching wife, Charlene, fetching posters and memorabilia.

Of course we wanted to know which came first, AJ’s beard or his becoming Santa. Like all of his responses, the answer was complicated. He’s always had a mustache and usually a goatee, he says. A friend noted his resemblance to Santa about ten years ago so he grew out his beard and began assuming the role on a casual basis. Being a people-loving perfectionist, he soon had the gig down pat (and the grooming, nurturing and bleaching of his beard mastered) and he found that he enjoyed the job so much that he could do it full-time (sometimes eleven hours a day, seven days per week). For several years he was the Eastridge Mall Santa and more recently he’s Vallco’s jolly old elf.

He absolutely loves to tell about all the tiny, days-old babies who are brought to Santa in itty-bitty Santa suits for their “First Christmas” photo – sometimes on their way home from the hospital! And he loves the earnest three year olds who believe absolutely in Santa and tell him what they’re giving for Christmas as well as what they want for Christmas. We asked how he managed the multi-cultural-ness of our area and he explained that he’s a bi-lingual Santa who speaks English and Spanish with the children. However, he also explained that Santa’s Spanish vocabulary doesn’t need to be extensive – the names of toys are just about universally English. He pointed out with amazement that some parents seek out the same Santa year after year so there’s “Claus continuity” from year to year and photo to photo.

Did you know that sometimes there are special Doggy-Visits-to-Santa events? It’s true. AJ has a photo of himself with four wrinkley Shar-Peis arranged all around him as well as one with Charlene on one knee and their own skeptical-looking brown dog, Jody, on the other.

One of the questions we had written down so carefully was “Is it necessary to have any particular talent to play Santa?” Well, we never had to ask it. It became clear that AJ Laymon is an extrovert, always “on,” never content to let a passive moment slip by when he could be doing something fun. And, to him, talking to people (and entertaining them) is fun, fun, fun! Before we could ask whether he’d ever assumed any other roles, he’d volunteered that he was a buccaneer for Halloween, a leprechaun, a “mountain man,” a miner-49-er more times than he could count and a gnome so often that his grandchildren think that all the garden elves they see are representations of their grandpa.

The Laymons have embraced Santa Claus-ing wholeheartedly. Charlene is the Santa “set manager” who hires the elves and trains them to be greeters, photographers and cashiers. A great deal of the Santa and Easter Bunny business is photography – as you might guess. Having excellent state-of-the-art cameras and printing equipment is essential, they say.

Charlene also hires alternates who can relieve AJ from time to time on the Santa throne. One man is 94 years old – and excellent in the role. Charlene says the criteria she uses are simple: applicants must look like Santa and have Santa in their heart. AJ explained that there are actually three distinct types of Santas – mall Santas such as he, party Santas who just assume the role for special events and “commercial” Santas who model for photos. He said that the era of diversity of Santas has died away and that “old, fat, white guys” seem to be the universal stereotype that people expect in a Santa.

AJ is white, “old” only if you consider 66 over-the-hill, but definitely not fat! Both he and Charlene are so buff that they make one drool with envy (or blush with shame at one’s un-buff-titude). Not only has AJ engaged in rugby for nine years, competing all over the world in several leagues, he rows with Charlene. He says that he does it just to train for rugby, she takes it seriously enough to row competitively. When they’re not rowing on the Lexington Reservoir, they’re rowing on their machine at home. They and their three grown children are all athletic (read: jocks) and much of their lives revolves around sports and fitness. Their son Rhoan is a member of the U.S. Army’s All-Army rugby team. AJ says that Lick High School had a terrific rugby team in years past and Rhoan and all their neighborhood boys were on the team. Who knew?

NNV was naïve about rugby and confused between rugby and European soccer. AJ set the record straight. “Soccer is a sport for gentlemen played by hooligans,” he said. “Rugby is a hooligan sport played by gentlemen.” Is that clear now? Unlike soccer players, rugby players tackle their opponents and, unlike football players, they wear no protective gear. They show off their contusions and scars like European nobles show off their dueling scars. AJ tipped his head to reveal a major wound on his scalp “earned” on a South American rugby field not so many weeks ago.

So, how do a couple find themselves in their 60’s, ensconced in the Santa Claus business, and major-ly into heavy-duty sports? It’s not too surprising that their lives are far from the beaten path – for instance, for their first date, AJ treated Charlene to a bull-riding event! He rode a Brahma bull and lasted four seconds. He’s that kind of guy! They both graduated from San Jose State. They both have master’s degrees – his from SJSU in Cybernetic Systems, hers an MBA from Santa Clara University. His career in corporate training, project design management and international business management took him to Lockheed, HP and Apple. For several years, his job involved travel to many of the “Victoria countries,” - Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong – even Bali. AJ and Charlene took their children all over the world. Charlene has been a small business woman, owning and managing several businesses and, since she still has boundless energy and creativity, she’s ready to expand their position in the Santa and Easter Bunny business. After all, it’s quite seasonal and leaves them plenty of time to do retired-people stuff (not that they’re ready to let any rust form on their oarlocks!)

To give some balance to this very positive story, we must include the downside of Santa-ing which sneaked into our conversation from time to time. If you’re considering playing the Saint Nicholas role, you should consider: the leg cramps that develop from having kids sit on your lap all day; the hard wooden seat of the throne which no pillow can soften; the 30% of the children who cry; the early-season boredom when you might see one or two children per hour; the late-season chaos when everyone is impatient with the long lines; and being busy during the time of the year when you most want to spend time with your own family.

But the negatives can’t begin to quell AJ and Charlene’s pleasure at experiencing first hand “the excitement of the kids! … and the parents are so cute!” they said, “We love the excitement of their dressing up their kids.” What really resonates in AJ and Charlene’s hearts is the enthusiasm for the season which mirrors their own. “We just love people who go nuts at Christmas!”

Click here for photos.

Return to Top

Covered Bridge Boutique – What Covered Bridge?

Ubiquitous signs of the holiday season in Alum Rock

It may not look wintry (and certainly not snowy) but you can tell that the holiday season is upon us when the Covered Bridge Boutique posters go up on the utility poles of the Alum Rock area. So, what is it and why is it called “covered bridge” – this is not Indiana after all!

Actually there is a real covered bridge in our neighborhood and it’s the origin of the boutique’s name. If you’ve never seen the bridge, you’ve never taken the Penitencia Creek Road entrance into Alum Rock Park. Around the bend, after Noble Drive and Rock Canyon Circle, you come to a rickety old covered wooden bridge just after Dorel Drive. It really has a history!

Once upon a time, the West Coast’s largest gasoline-powered electric power house stood on the western (lower) edge of the Alum Rock Park canyon and a train turnaround occupied this property on the northern bank of Penitencia Creek as well. The turnaround and power-producing plant, oddly enough, gave way eventually to a dance and meeting hall called Boesch (pronounced “bush”) Hall. If you’re old enough, you may remember dancing the night away to tunes played on the old piano, or later to the modern wonders of the deluxe juke box in the corner. If you’re too young to remember, ask a local oldtimer to reminisce on “Bush Hall.”

Your uncle may remember that there was a large old mural hanging over the bar. The mural once hung on a wall of the DeAnza hotel – or so they say. There were paintings around the walls featuring the Ferdinand the Bull story which was a popular cartoon saga of the 1940’s. Or, your auntie might remember attending service club meetings there.

If you ask your mom where she shopped for holiday trimmings twenty years ago, she might just recall that it was at the (drum roll) Covered Bridge Boutique at Boesch Hall. It seems the many members of the Jensen family were good friends with the Boesches and together the families put on a holiday boutique featuring their hand-made creations. The tradition continued with the large Jensen family (14 kids!) holding down the hall until about six years ago when the floor of the bridge became too weak to support all the cars which rumbled across to the boutique.

The hall and the old turnaround property have changed hands as of several years ago and the Jensens now hold their annual sales in various venues. For a couple of years it was at one of their homes in the neighborhood. Last year, and this, it was held at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church on Hyland Avenue. NNV stopped by to get acquainted and found that Inger (“Inky”) Jensen, her sisters and her nieces still create the bright holiday décor for the covered bridge sale as well as for St. John Vianney’s December holiday boutique. Aunt Inky lives in the neighborhood, on Fleming, but one of the nieces travels each year from Utah(!) and others from the Peninsula and greater Bay Area.

The early November boutique at St. Phillip’s featured not only winter décor, but also a large array of Halloween and Thanksgiving goodies as well as the Jensens’ home-baked breads and other treats. Next year, be sure to follow the signs and meet the descendants of some of our area’s earliest pioneers. Their roots go back to the earliest days of Gilroy, and believe it or not, their first American ancestors were named “Gilroy”!

Click here for Christmas Boutique photos. Click here to read more about Boesch Hall.

Return to Top

New Neighborhood Voice Founding Sponsors


Lifestyle Properties, Call Ellen Rauh at (408) 929-1925,
The REALTOR© You Choose Does Make a Difference, E-mail 


Caskey Country Club Properties, Call Larry and Barbara Caskey at (408) 926-5400


E.M.S. LLC, Environmental Management Systems, (408) 501-4200
A full service construction & demolition cleanup, hauling and recycling company


Eileen Parks, Windermere Silicon Valley Properties, (408) 251-5860
"When the follow through counts, call Eileen" - or e-mail 


Keith Bush, Artist/Sculptor, (408) 923-6666, 


MBA ARCHITECTS, Marvin Bamburg AIA, (408) 297-0288, 
Residential, commercial, industrial, historic preservation & mixed use projects; 


Call or click today or e-mail 


The financial planning firm PW Johnson, Jason Papier, (408) 747-1222
"Our best product is peace of mind."

And We'd Like to Welcome Our New 2005 Sponsors


RAM REALTORS - "Serving you since 1965" in Alum Rock Village
Call us at (408) 259-4920 or E-mail Frank B. Morales or Cecilia Echavarria


The Coffee Cup, Finest French Pastries, Country Club Plaza
Sun-Mon 6AM–2PM, Tue-Sat 6AM – 4PM, 3477 McKee Road, (408) 254-0755


Robin Edwards, Inc., Engineering Contractor, (408) 244-4791
CA Lic. 762792 A&B, "Basements, retaining walls, and complex foundations"


Regional Medical Center of San Jose, 
225 North Jackson Avenue, San Jose, CA 95116-1691, 1-888-RMC-8881, Dedicated To Your Well Being.

Return to Top

Miracles at Mathson Middle School

Reading this will restore your faith in local education

One of Alum Rock School District’s once-failing middle schools has achieved phenomenal success. A school that was at the very bottom of the heap has soared to the top of the charts under the inspired leadership of Principal Glenn Vander Zee.

The demographics of Lee Mathson Middle School have not changed. The students still come from economically challenged families living near King Road and many enter middle school knowing little or no English. The school had a notorious reputation as “a poor, gang-ridden, low-performing school” according to an ARUESD press release. The tide has turned and a sea change has wrought seeming miracles.

NNV visited Lee Mathson School in late October at the invitation of ARUESD board trustee, Tanya Freudenberger. Principal Vander Zee spent more than an hour explaining the changes which have been instituted since his arrival at the school four years ago. The teaching staff has changed from disinterested (or even inept) to inspired professionals due to winnowing out those who admittedly were in the wrong profession and providing intense teacher training to those who remain. The level of parent participation has changed radically. Until Mr. Vander Zee arrived, there was no parental involvement. Parents, without coercion, now willingly visit the campus and take part in their children’s education.

There’s now a communication system featuring DVD “newsletters” which are sent home periodically explaining the expectations (and the accomplishments) of the school. The back-to-school DVD which NNV reviewed left absolutely no doubt about how students are to prepare and conduct themselves. An “agenda” is given to each student which helps parents understand homework assignments and receive teacher comments.

Perhaps most significant is the longer school day at Mathson. As of two years ago, the school day was lengthened by fifty minutes by means of careful and creative juggling of district and union requirements. According to Mr. Vander Zee, students, parents and teachers are all enthusiastic about the longer school day because the resulting success is so tangible.

NNV visited the cafeteria during lunch. There was some of the expected middle-schooler exuberance but the room was orderly and the children were calm. During the post-lunch period, Assistant Principal Denise Giacomini (daughter of Eastside neighbor Judge Paul Teilh, incidentally) introduced us to the children who were organizing various clubs around the perimeters of the litter-free quad. A key piece of the new philosophy is that busy kids are focused kids who will be ready to learn when the bell rings for the next class.

Glenn Vander Zee was selected as the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Principal of the Year in October. He’s a Midwesterner who lived for years in Mexico and is subsequently bi-lingual in Spanish and English. He’s married to a physician he met in Mexico and they have one small child. He absolutely exudes confidence and his powers of observation are beyond keen. Gangs have no place in the “Mathson Family” and gang-intervention is an outdated concept at the school. The children glow and grow under his influence. The Mathson Family basks in the structure, love and can-do spirit he brings to them.

Click here for photos.

Return to Top

Another Magnificent Success - KIPP Heartwood Academy

Who says minority kids can’t excel?

NNV visited KIPP Heartwood Academy which shares the same Kammerer Avenue campus as Lee Mathson Middle School on the same day as the visit to Mathson mentioned in the above article. Principal Sehba Zhumkhawala led us on a classroom by classroom tour of the spotless campus.

The KIPP students are fifth and six graders – Mathson has more bona fide teenagers with its sixth, seventh, eighth grade configuration – so an across the board comparison isn’t feasible – or appropriate, as it happens. KIPP has about 160 students. Mathson has over 500. KIPP’s students have chosen the school because they desire a college-oriented education. Mathson students represent the usual unstructured demographics of the neighborhood – except that many of the school’s would-be college-seeking cohort attends KIPP Academy next door.

KIPP stands for “Knowledge Is Power Program” and the academy is one of thirty-eight schools nationwide which receive financial support from the co-founder of the Gap, Donald Fisher. It is a publicly funded charter school which will grow by one class per year until it has its full complement (320 students) of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders in two more years.

KIPP has a unique system of discipline distinctly reminiscent of the military. Starting out in a position sitting on the floor at the beginning of the school year, the children must “earn” their classroom chair. They walk single file – and silently. They politely raise their hands before speaking and they address their teachers and principal by name – always. They keep their eyes riveted on the adult who is speaking to them.

They have an extraordinarily long school day. They spend nearly ten hours per day in school, arriving at 7:15 AM and finishing up at 5 PM. Plus, they go to school two Saturday mornings per month (to do fun things like chess) and attend three weeks of summer school. The students learn some things by rote, rhythmically calling out their numbers in unison, for instance “counting by sevens” or “nines.”

The curriculum and focus are totally on college preparedness. The students each research various universities and choose the one they’d like to attend. University banners and pennants are displayed around the campus as are aphorisms cementing good thoughts and ideals. The school has a clear and simple creed posted in all the rooms, “Be nice. Work hard.”

KIPP principals and teachers receive extensive special training. Vacant teaching posts attract countless applicants unlike “regular” schools in the district. There is total “buy-in” by the small staff. There is no wink-and-nod insincerity among them. They model what they preach and they countenance no nonsense – none.

The children love it. They are bright-eyed and happy to be obedient “Kippsters.” They are learning as they never did before. They’re going to go to college. No doubt about it - although a year or two ago most were ordinary (but motivated) kids from one of San Jose’s working class, minority neighborhoods. As an October 25, 2004 Mercury News editorial put it “…discipline and creativity have inspired a joy of learning and striving for excellence. Surrounding schools and school districts can learn a lot from the expectations the school has set and the culture it so quickly created.”

Mathson Middle School and KIPP Heartwood Academy are both achieving magnificently. Either could be a role model for other schools. The common denominator (to NNV’s unpracticed eye, anyway) is strong, intelligent leadership with a good dose of structure and hard-nosed (but loving) discipline thrown in. Most wonderful: the idea that poor minority children can’t achieve scholastically has been disproved!

Click here for photos.

NNV Note: The two schools won’t always fit on the Mathson campus – especially as KIPP adds more grades. One of these days, something will have to “give” and campus assignments will have to be rejiggered.

Return to Top

White Road – A History

By Patricia Loomis

NNV Note: Neighbor Patricia Loomis wrote many superb articles for a series called “Signposts” about the stories behind the names of San Jose’s streets. The first increment of the series ran in the San Jose News between 1971 and 1977 and was compiled and republished by the San Jose Historical Museum Association in a hardbound book of the same name in 1982. NNV will be reprinting some of the Signpost pieces which were written about our venerable Eastside streets. These stories are used with permission. Special thanks to Patricia Loomis for letting NNV use her stories - and to Carol Schultz for lending us the Signposts books.

Horse thieves and runaway sailors were only part of the troubles that beset Charles White as alcalde of the pueblo of San Jose in 1848.

Governing San Jose was a difficult and thankless task, not to say confusing, in this early period of military rule.

In April he ordered a Mexican tried before him without a jury because in earlier cases native jurors refused to convict. In July he wanted to resign because of "political intrigues." He said he was accused of favoring the foreigners (immigrants) and he feared for his life if he punished a Mexican citizen who had been found guilty of assault.

Finally, White left the pueblo to run itself as best it could and took off for Weber Creek to dig for gold.

Charles White, a native of Ireland who came overland from Missouri in '46 with his wife, Ellen, and two children, was one of San Jose's leading citizens in the half-dozen years before and after statehood. He also was one of the wealthiest.

A letter he wrote to the Rev. Thomas Scanlan back in St. Joseph, Mo., gives some idea of what the pueblo was like in 1848 just after he had been appointed alcalde.

He mentions the horse thieves and runaway sailors and notes his predecessor was removed from office by the people.

"Very little ground is fenced" and "posts and rails cost $100 a thousand," White wrote in the letter, a copy of which is in the California Room at the San Jose Public Library.

"I have set out some 1,500 vines and 200 fruit trees" but little farming is done. "The natives go out in the spring with their families and build houses of mustard stalks, remain a few months until the crops are safe and then return to their houses (in the pueblo). There are two seasons, spring and summer.

"Mines of coal, quicksilver and gold have been found. Land has doubled in value since last spring."

White visualized what statehood would mean to California and wasted little time acquiring large tracts of land in and around San Jose.

In his real estate transactions, Rancho Pala (down through which march White road "Signposts" today) was obtained from heirs of grantee Jose Higuera, some of whom contended he stole it. To this 4,454-acre rancho stretching along the foothills from Penitencia Creek to Norwood avenue he added a couple of thousand acres of Rincon de los Esteros in the Alviso area and a number of city lots.

Back from the gold fields and no longer burdened with the duties of alcalde, White continued to take an active part in the community during 1849.

He and James F. Reed galloped down to Monterey in September and convinced delegates to the Constitutional Convention that San Jose was fully prepared to offer unlimited inducements to the first state legislature if the pueblo was selected for the capital.

White and Reed sold the delegates, promising a capitol built on Washington Square (later San Jose State University campus) would be ready by December.

It was an impossible promise and the pueblo had to settle for the newly built two-story hotel on the east side of the plaza. White and Reed and 17 others again came to the rescue, putting up the $34,000 needed to buy the building.

Charles White was 30 years old when he was killed in the explosion of the steamboat "Jenny Lind" en route from Alviso to San Francisco on April 11, 1853.

His widow and children were the beneficiaries of his huge fortune.

Mrs. White remarried but at the time of her death in 1887 she had been separated from attorney Charles E. Allen "for many years." Her estate, still large, was left to a son, Charles E. White, a rancher and an attorney, and a daughter, Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Staples. Two other children had died previously.

Mrs. Staples outlived her brother by 44 years, dying in 1942 at the age of 94. When her will was filed it was noted that years before she had turned down $750,000 left her by an uncle in England "because I already have enough money."

Much of the estate went to the Sisters of Holy Family and other charitable organizations.

Several of the family are buried in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, but records do not show the last resting place of Charles White.

Click here for Patricia Loomis' Signposts on Alum Rock Avenue and here for McKee Road.  Click here for a photo of White Road today.

Return to Top

Free, High Speed Wireless Internet Service Coming to County Libraries

Santa Clara County Library remains among the top 100 public libraries in the U.S.

From the Santa Clara County Library

As if rising visitor counts - more than 3.3 million this year - didn’t already make the Santa Clara County Libraries the "hot spot" of their communities, that moniker will be confirmed when free high speed wireless Internet access is introduced at each library over the next few months.

Library patrons in Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos (including the Woodland branch), Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and Saratoga will soon be able to log on to the Internet with their own laptop computers, PDAs and other mobile devices while in the library "Wi-Fi" zone.

"It’s a convenience that our public has requested and we are pleased we had funding available to add wireless Internet service at all of our libraries," said Curtis Cole, Vice Chair of the Santa Clara County Library Joint Powers Authority.

Santa Clara County Librarian Melinda Cervantes expects that the new wireless Internet access service will be up and running by March, 2006. "This is the type of enhanced customer service we seek to deliver to our communities," Cervantes said.

Customer service is one of several indicators that has placed the Santa Clara County Library among the top 100 public libraries in the U.S. for five consecutive years according to an annual survey published each fall in American Libraries Magazine.

Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings looks at 9,027 libraries across the country and evaluates them on 15 different measures of library effectiveness in serving the community including the number of visits per capital, circulation per capita, the percentage of the library’s budget spent on materials, the number of periodicals per 1,000 residents and staffing per 1,000 residents.

Santa Clara County Library made the top 100 nationwide and garnered the number two spot for its population category. Only two other libraries in California made the list: the St. Helena Public Library and the Santa Clara City Library.

There are an estimated 267,556 people with Santa Clara County Library cards and they check out more than 10 million items per year. Santa Clara County Library also operates the popular Bookmobile service and the Vision Literacy program which helps more than 2,000 adults improve their reading skills each year.

More information on the Santa Clara County Library is available on its website

Click here for a related FAQ on the Santa Clara County Library.

Return to Top

Click here for Section 2 of the December 2005 Newsletter

(This newsletter is in two sections to reduce the download time for this page)

--------------------------- Contact and Subscription Information ---------------------------------
Copyright© 2005 by Judy Thompson, 16174 Highland Drive, San Jose, CA 95127 
Phone: (408) 272-7008, E-mail: Fax: (408) 272-4040 
E-mail subscriptions are free. Your ideas and comments are always welcome. 
To Subscribe: E-mail with "Subscribe" in the Subject line. 
To Unsubscribe: E-mail with "Unsubscribe" in the Subject line. 
Privacy Policy: Your contact information will not be sold, distributed or visible to others. 
Opinions expressed by other writers and contributors are not necessarily shared by NNV.

Copyright© 2005 by Judy Thompson.  All rights reserved.  Updated 12/3/05.

Return to Top