Eyes on our Schools: February 2019

This is my second full month as Board of Education President since being installed in December. Reaching out to the community with updates and information has been an idea that we as a school board have wanted to do for some time now and here is our first message. I plan to share the latest achievements and news happening in our schools each month at this time.

I want to start by thanking our entire Downey Unified School District family for all they do for our students. I want to point out that in my view our family consists of each teacher, administrator, instructional assistant, office manager, cafeteria worker, bus driver, maintenance worker, attendance clerk, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, even just a kind friend or neighbor. They all truly affects the lives of our youth and I just want to recognize and thank each of you for all you do.

Nancy Swenson, Bobbi Samperi and Giggy Perez-Saab on a visit to Gallatin Elementary.

Nancy Swenson, Bobbi Samperi and Giggy Perez-Saab on a visit to Gallatin Elementary.

Now let’s get into some district highlights! First, we are so excited to announce the official kick-off of Downey Unified’s new Dual Language Immersion program. The Global Language Academies of Downey (GLAD) will open its doors in the 2019-20 school year at Carpenter Elementary School and we couldn’t be prouder. With this inaugural year just around the corner we will start by offering this new Spanish/English immersion program with TK and Kindergarten students, then we will grow a grade-level each year. In the coming years our goal would be to expand this GLAD program. If you would like more information on this new program, visit Downey Unified’s website (www.dusd.net).

Next, I want to give huge congratulations to Warren High, Columbus High and Doty Middle schools for their most recent accomplishments! Earlier in February, Warren High School celebrated receiving the designation of Special Olympics Unified Champion School. Warren was visited by ESPN’s Neil Everett and former ice-skating Olympian Michelle Kwan, where they were presented a banner for their national recognition as one of five “ESPN Top 5” Banner Schools from across the country for making their campus one that’s centered around inclusion. This means the staff and students worked very hard to successfully include special education students in many activities such as cheer, basketball and track and field.

As a graduate of Warren High, I couldn’t be prouder of my alma mater.

National Unified Champion School Banner.jpg

Now for Columbus High. Their success started in 2010 when they passed a WASC accreditation process which validates the integrity of a school’s programs. And now to add to that they have been named a 2019 Model Continuation High School by the California Department of Education because of their continued work with students who have faced many challenges all while getting them back on the pathway to learning. How cool is that?

Last but certainly not least, Doty Middle School recently received the nationally recognized Schools to Watch designation! What can’t our schools do?!? Doty was selected as a high-performing model school that demonstrates academic excellence, social equity and responsiveness to the needs of young adolescents... I think that about says it all! Doty now joins last year’s Schools to Watch recipients Griffiths and Stauffer middle schools.

I want to thank all of the teachers and staff members at Warren High, Columbus High and Doty Middle schools for ALL of their hard work in making these awards and designations possible! We could not have accomplished these goals if it wasn’t for your dedication and drive. I, and all of my fellow Board members, truly thank you!

Each month I’m going to close by inviting the entire Downey community to a few upcoming events so let’s start with a great event supporting True Lasting Connections (TLC) Family Resource Center! For those of you who may not know, this Saturday is the Healthy Downey 5K for TLC and all are welcome to come show support and even run/walk (registration is still open).

This community event, which begins at 8 a.m. at Apollo Park, directly benefits the Downey Unified students through the TLC Family Resource Center. I truly hope to see you there!

It is also Open House season across Downey Unified and I’d like to extend an invitation to any of our schools’ Open Houses! Primarily beginning at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., the majority of our schools have upcoming Open Houses through the end of March.

Visit your home school’s event or travel to another school to see the incredible programs, teachers, classrooms and facilities across the district.

Make sure to keep an eye out for other activities being advertised on social media as well as on school marquees. I can’t wait to reach out next month and tell you about more amazing achievements and updates within Downey Unified!

Nancy A. Swenson
President, Downey Unified Board of Education

Downey's Robert Jacobs named Attorney of the Year

DOWNEY – Local immigration and criminal defense attorney Robert F. Jacobs was honored as the 2019 Attorney of the Year by the local Southeast District Bar Association (SEDBA) at the Rio Hondo Golf Club earlier this month.

Robert Jacobs

Robert Jacobs

The award recognizes an attorney who demonstrates exceptional legal knowledge and skill in their field of law, and contribution to the legal profession and the community.

Jacobs is the founder of the immigration and criminal defense law firm of Robert F. Jacobs & Associates, PLC.

He received Bachelor of Science degrees in Economics & Political Science, with Honors, from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, and earned the Dean’s Scholarship to pursue his Law degree from Marquette University, where he was a member of the Law Review.

Jacobs has been honored as a Thompson Reuters Super Lawyer in Immigration Law for the past five years (2015-2019) and has been a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law by the State Bar of California since 2007.

He has conducted immigration court cases in thirteen different states between Hawaii and Massachusetts, and presented nine Oral Arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is also a regular planner and speaker at legal seminars educating other lawyers about immigration law.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by the Downey Kiwanis Noon Club of which Robert Jacobs is a proud Past President and current Trustee. In Kiwanis, he has participated in community service for organizations such as the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, ARC, and the Key Club and Kiwins clubs at Downey High School.

He has also been a Trustee of SEDBA, the Immigration Law Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), the Mexican American Bar Association (MABA), and has been a long time member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

His father, Darrel Jacobs, introduced and presented Robert Jacobs with the award. Robert revealed the sacrifices of immigration attorneys by discussing two heroes including Judy Wood, the subject of a new movie entitled “Saint Judy.”

In the true story, she struggles to save a woman from Afghanistan who was threatened by the Taliban for starting a school for girls, and changed political asylum law forever.

The second was Nora Phillips, the director of the organization “Al Otro Lado.” She travels to Tijuana, Mexico to provide services and protect the human rights of recent deportees and trapped asylum seekers, but last week her passport was suspiciously flagged by a government (possibly the U.S.), resulting in her being denied entry into Mexico and deported back to the U.S., jeopardizing her courageous organization and mission.

Following the event, however, Robert Jacobs specified, “my favorite hero is my wife, the Honorable Judge Lillian Vega Jacobs. As a childhood immigrant from Mexico, she overcame so much adversity to become an Assistant District Attorney for Los Angeles County, a Partner in our former office of Jacobs & Vega, PLC, and the SEDBA President and Attorney of the Year.

“In masterfully balancing family with her grueling and successful career, she has been admirably raising our two wonderful children and was appointed by Governor Brown to the Los Angeles Superior Court. She began as a Judge in Downey and is currently the Presiding Judge of Bellflower in a criminal court assignment.”

2019 to be ‘one giant leap’ for Downey space center


DOWNEY — With two anniversaries upcoming, 2019 looks set to be huge for The Columbia Memorial Space Center.

2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing, where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took man’s first steps on the moon. Because of Downey’s rich and deep historical aerospace roots, CMSC Director Ben Dickow has said that the museum will feature plenty of exhibits, programs and activities, and events to pay homage to the landmark event.

“July 20 is 50 years since humanity stepped on the moon. Because this is where all that stuff was designed and built, we’ve made a really big play to be the Southern California hub of the celebration around that,” said Dickow. “Starting with a special exhibit on Nov. 30 of this year, going all the way into Dec. of 2019 and maybe a little beyond, we’ll be doing a ton of Apollo related stuff.”

Part of the celebration includes a speaker series, which will feature several individuals who worked on the Apollo program. This also includes a partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library to get a smaller version of the series out to their various branches. While details were still being confirmed at the time of writing, Dickow says that the speaker series may be recorded and picked up by NASA and the Smithsonian.

“We want to make this available to the world to come in and be able to downloaded it minutes after we do it,” said Dickow.

While many museums will likely be celebrating the historic moonwalk, Dickow says that CMSC will “stand out from the crowd.”

“We have this asset that nobody else does which is access to the people who actually built this stuff,” said Dickow. “There’s no other location out there that has the number of first-hand stories that we can tell, so we’re going to capitalize on that next year.”

Special hands-on, Apollo-related STEM programs are also being designed for the over year-long celebration.

“This is a big deal. We would be crazy not to capitalize on this huge anniversary,” said Dickow.

Plus, as a special tribute to the landing, the Space Center hopes to host a slew of more intensive, immersive activities to engage and involve the community.

“Apollo 11 launched July 16 and it came back on July 24,” said Dickow. “It just so happens that the 20th in 2019 is on a Saturday. That whole week we want to have more intensive events like reenactments of stuff.”

“Downey had a mission control…we’re going to reconfigure the mission control that’s part of the Challenger learning Center to make it look like the old Mission Support room, and do some reenactments there.”

This will include a collaboration with the Nixon Library. President Richard Nixon made the famous phone call to the moon.


CMSC also plans to live tweet the mission during the anniversary week.

For fans of the popular “Dapper Days” at Disneyland, CMSC has a real treat.

“We would love to do a city-wide ‘Walk Back into 1969’ Day, maybe on the 20th,” said Dickow. “The dream is to have everybody in town dress like 1969 and meet up at a few locations that were around 50 years ago just to watch the landing on monitors, grainy image and everything.”

“Basically, we want to do a ‘Dapper Day’ for a whole town on one day about the moon landing.”

For those who are fans of the CMSC’s annual events and activities, never fear; popular CMSC mainstays such as Rocket Fever, Space Expo and Long Beach Comic Con, and its participation in City of Stem will not be phased, now including some moon landing footprints (no pun intended).

“It’s going to pop up throughout the year and just sort of layer on to what we do already,” said Dickow.

On top of the Apollo anniversary, CMSC will also be celebrating its own anniversary on Oct. 23 next year.

“It all lines up,” said Dickow.

Dickow hopes that both anniversaries will help bring more patrons and attention to the already growing Space Center.

“We feel that this is going to be a national story and it should drive attendance, hopefully it’ll drive membership,” said Dickow. “It gets us out into the world a little bit more and with a bigger playing field.”

“A year ago, this was the future, but now we’re almost in 2019. Now I’m starting to think ‘how do we follow this up?’…We’re already are starting to become if not the, maybe the second or third place that people think about for this kind of stuff. In the next five years, we can really be the place for this kind of stuff.”

Report: Columbus among poorest performing schools in the state

DOWNEY – Columbus High School is among California’s lowest performing schools, according to a new state report.

A study drafted by the California Department of Education listed Downey’s continuation school amongst the lowest five percent academically in the state, using data pulled from the California School Dashboard, which measures school performance using factors such as suspension and graduation rates, college and career readiness, and subject performance.

The Dashboard ranks each category on a color-coded system from red, to orange, to yellow, to green, to blue, representing poorer performance up to highest performance respectively.

On this ranking system, Columbus scored a yellow ranking in suspension rates and graduation rates, while scoring reds in college and career readiness, mathematics, and English language arts.

By comparison, Downey High School received yellows in college / career readiness, mathematics and English language arts, a green in suspension rate and blue in graduation rate.

Warren scored slightly lower than Downey, earning oranges in suspension rates and mathematics, yellows in English language arts and college / career readiness, and blue in graduation rates.

DUSD released a statement in response to the report, focusing on a broader picture of student success.

“This is the first-time alternative education schools have been included within the Dashboard results, so with this initial baseline-data we are happy to receive these results to both celebrate our areas of achievement and work on the areas that need to be improved.

“Clearly test scores are important, but the focus at Columbus High School is more than test scores, it’s the whole child. With the largest number of students that are categorized as ‘at risk’ we work every day to provide them with academic support as well as the social and emotional support needed to make them successful upon graduation.

“With a graduation rate of 81.9%, we model practices at Columbus that are constantly refining to improve student achievement and advance post-secondary opportunities for students.

“While test results are one data point, we also focus on the bigger picture that support our students’ growth and as a result, we are expecting to be named a Model Continuation High School through the California Department of Education in the next few days.”

Open enrollment starts next week in Downey Unified


DOWNEY — Downey Unified will be conducting its annual Intra-District Open Enrollment (formerly School of Choice) starting mid-February for the upcoming 2019-20 school year.

Downey parents who reside within the district boundaries and wish to have their student(s) attend a Downey Unified school outside of their attendance area may apply. This enrollment period does not apply for parents of students who reside outside of the Downey Unified district boundaries.

From Feb. 19, 2019 through March 19, 2019, applications for Intra-District Open Enrollment will be available to pick up at any of the 20 Downey Unified schools and the district office or can be filled out and submitted online at www.dusd.net. New students (including kindergartners) entering a Downey Unified school for the first time and wishing to apply, must also register at their school of residence. This will guarantee registration in the District for the new school year. This open enrollment period was delayed compared to previous years, being offered during the month of January in the past.

Hand written applications, those not submitted online, must be submitted in person to the Student Services office at the Downey Unified School District by the closing deadline of March 19, 2019, at 4 p.m.

Applications are not processed on a first-come basis. A random, unbiased lottery will be held to place students on an Intra-District Open Enrollment permit waiting list for the 2019-20 school year. Schools may accept students from the established waiting lists according to priority, only if space is available.

For additional information and questions, please contact the Student Services Office at (562) 469-6550.

Downey Rotary gets first-hand look at new Rancho building

Rancho Los Amigos administrator Gilbert Salinas. Photo by Lorine Parks

Rancho Los Amigos administrator Gilbert Salinas. Photo by Lorine Parks

A blustery rainy morning confronted visiting Rotarians, but it cleared just as everyone arrived at Downey’s world famous Rancho Los Amigos (RLA) National Rehabilitation Medical Center. We met in the sparkling new Outpatient Building, that compliments the new Jacqueline Perry Inpatient Wing of the hospital, which opened in September, and the big Don Knabe Wellness Center. All are part of project Rancho Rising 2020, right on target for completion.

Bill Kirkwood recalled Downey Rotary’s history with RLA. Bill Harriman, one of the founders in 1924 of the Rotary Club of Downey, was Superintendent of Rancho when it was still a work farm for the country poor to serve farming families who could not afford medical services.

Bill also remembered that Bill H., for whom the impressive RLA Administration Building is named, sponsored for membership into the Rotary Club of Downey a young man whom he called “The Boy Wonder.” Guess who? It was Angelo Cardono, now 91 and the club’s - and District 5280’s- longest serving member since 1948. As a sailor from Rhode Island freshly discharged from the Navy after World War II, he decided to stay here and make Downey his home.

Deborah Arroyo, Director of the Rancho Foundation, served as hostess and was joined by Walter Afable, Assistant Hospital Administrator. By now nearly 40 members had found their way to the appointed spot, the Auditorium with its pictures windows that showed the lowering sky.

Deborah introduced Administrator Eric Zapata, who explained that the Rancho Foundation is the non-profit fund raising arm at RLA, whose purpose is to improve the life of the patients, and enable them to be productive citizens again.

“If you were a skier,” said Deborah, “You might think your skiing days were over after your accident. But we organize trips to the slopes in Colorado, and put them out there again. If not on skis, then on a sleigh or toboggan. Kayak trips, surfing. biking, these activities can be made available to patients during and after rehab. So there is life after your accident, and life can be good.

Deborah Arroyo, Rancho Los Amigos Foundation director, and Jesse Vargas, Rancho Los Amigos board member and Rotary program chair. Photo by Lorine Parks

Deborah Arroyo, Rancho Los Amigos Foundation director, and Jesse Vargas, Rancho Los Amigos board member and Rotary program chair. Photo by Lorine Parks

Paul Mathis of the Rotary Club of Downey is Treasurer of the Foundation, and Jesse Vargas, Program Chair, is a member of the Board. Deborah invited everyone to come to the Foundation’s Gala Ball on March 23, and Rotarians were handed an elegant envelope. Held at the Westin in Long Beach, the Amistad (Friendship) event is a fun, glamorous evening, and the theme this year is A Black and White Ball. Downeyites Sam and Beverly Matthis will be there, as always: they’re deeply involved with the Foundation.. She’s a Soroptimist, he’s an Optimist, though the service clubs are not related.

Late Rotary member Pat Gomez Pratt, who died in 2014, was for many years President of the Rancho Foundation Board. She also served as President of the Downey Chamber of Commerce and Grand Marshall of the Christmas Parade. As a young hairdresser, Pat gave her Sundays, her only day off, for cutting and styling the patients’ hair, both men and women, a great moral booster. Later as proprietor of Johnny & Company, Pat even got married at the Amistad Ball, to Cliff Pratt, a Rotarian from the South Gate Club, making cherished memories for many at the Amistad.

Members were divided up into three groups for a tour of the newly opened building, and I joined the one led by Administrator Gilberto Salinas, himself a polio survivor who moved through corridor traffic expertly in his hand-propelled wheelchair.

Gilbert Salinas, chief clinical officer at Rancho Los Amigos. Photo by Lorine Parks

Gilbert Salinas, chief clinical officer at Rancho Los Amigos. Photo by Lorine Parks

We stopped by a glass mural wall at the entrance, showing the history of Rancho. Prominent there were Downey Doctors Vern Nickell and Jacqulin Perry. In 1955 they invented the “halo” head brace for patients with spinal or head injuries. And then came Dr. Perry’s ground-breaking Gait Analysis studies in 1968, so useful for rehabbing stroke victims. The Downey Symphony will present a Gershwin! Concert in April, dedicated to Dr. Jackie. Today’s discoveries at Rancho are almost magical: brain-to-computer interfacing.

We whizzed through marble corridors, up in brushed steel elevators, past the new Rehab Facility, custom designed to meet the special needs of patients. The $190 Million building is a “one-stop shop” where patients can get all their therapy, medical and nursing needs all in one place. “They can even get their prescriptions filled speedily here,” Gilbert told us.

We walked through the wide enclosed connectors between Out-Patient Building and Hospital. Everywhere we saw smiling wheelchair patients and workers. When one employee in dark blue scrubs unexpectedly joined the twelve of us on our elevator ride, she was asked to tell what she does, and she willingly explained her role.

A friendly, casual and up-to-date and upbeat place. RLA’s new Out-Patient Building is expected to serve an amazing 70,000 patients in 2019. That’s a lot of well-spent tax-payers dollars in L A County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s Fourth District, doing good work for the community.