#SKvsFallon: High school acting group challenges Jimmy Fallon to an Improv-off

… And they’re serious.

We at the Kitsap Sun aren’t sure what Scott Yingling, South Kitsap High School’s acting ensemble coach, put in his coffee Friday, but it clearly got him buzzed. Or is he always like this?

Regardless, an idea hit him, a rather gutsy idea, some might say.

“I’m a huge Jimmy Fallon fan, and my kids are, too,” Yingling said. “We were just talking one day, and I said, ‘You guys, you know what would be fun? Let’s challenge Jimmy Fallon to an Improv-off!”

The kids were down with it. Of course they were, they’re kids … with plenty of chutzpah of the kind kids in acting ensembles have in abundance, probably like Fallon himself at that age. The group of 17 juniors and seniors also has considerable experience with improvisation, since SK high hosts not one but four wildly popular Improv Nights each school year. I can say the “wildly popular” part is true, because my son, who graduated from South in 2013, attended quit a few and described a packed house every time. Granted it’s not NBC studios, but whatevs!

In a YouTube video shot at the school Friday and produced by South Kitsap High School’s video production class, Yingling — in a suit and tie, his minions mugging behind him — issues his challenge.

He calls Fallon “James.”Yingling

“You host a show that is very popular, and I host a show that is very popular,” Yingling says. “We have an Improv Night here in South Kitsap, and behind me is my crew, and basically right now what we’re saying, James, is that we are challenging you, OK? Yeah, bring it!

“You can come to my house or we’ll go to your house. Either way, you’re going to lose.”

Did we mention that Yingling, too, has chutzpah with a capital “B?”

Maybe, but if in some alternate universe Fallon actually hears the online yammering of the students, who have posted memes like this
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If Fallon’s own minions, perhaps, pick up on the chatter and buzz (the video has nearly 30,000 views since Friday) and, let’s imagine in our wildest dreams, they nudge the Emmy winning comedian and say, “Hey, this could be a good shtick.” Let’s say that happens. And let’s say Fallon says, “Why not, I’m already on the West Coast this week.”

What if Fallon and his film crew walked right through the doors of South Kitsap High School into the commons in the middle of lunch, the smell of chicken nuggets pervading? What if he walked up to Yingling, mano e mano, and said, “You’re on.”

What then?

“I’d be ready right now,” Yingling said. “I honestly have that much confidence in my kids. They’re an amazing group of young people. They use intelligent comedy. They’re smart. They look out for one another. Nobody in the group is all about themselves. They’re all about the group.”

Oh, and Jimmy Fallon, if you actually do take them up on their offer. Here are few things you should know. The acting ensemble is the school drama equivalent of the varsity football team. As in years past, the troupe will be taking part in the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which honors the late, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. The preliminary round is Feb. 21 and 22 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, with which South Kitsap’s acting program is affiliated through a John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts grant. South Kitsap’s acting ensemble has participated in the competition since 2010, and each year has had students make it into the top 10 for the final regional competition (to be held this year on March 17). Two of Yingling’s students went on to the national competition, Drew Benning (2011-2012) and Alexandra Hope (2012-2013).

Most of these kids hope to go into show business themselves some day. So, Kitsap County and beyond, if you’re so inclined, let’s augment this trend on the social media platform of your choice, #SKvsFallon.

Jimmy Fallon, can you hear us now?

CK grad and Kitsap 12 represents at his home in Super Bowl country

Note: When I first posted these photos earlier in the week, I left out most of the details because I wasn’t sure if I might include Ashtin Fitzwater in the story about 12s going to Arizona without game tickets. I posted it early because other news agencies were already getting the photo out there and I didn’t want to be too far behind them.

So here is an expanded version of Wednesday’s post, with more information I had then, and updates, including one that’s humongous! And I don’t use that word or exclamation points liberally.

Central Kitsap High School grad (as well as Ridgetop Junior High School and Emerald Heights Elementary School) represents the 12s at his home in Chandler, Ariz.
Central Kitsap High School grad (as well as Ridgetop Junior High School and Emerald Heights Elementary School) Ashtin Fitzwater represents the 12s at his home in Chandler, Ariz.

Ashtin Fitzwater left the Northwest in 2004 following his graduation from Central Kitsap High School, but remains a 12, representing in his new hometown of Chandler, Ariz.

We first posted this Wednesday, but a lot has happened since.

Fitzwater took about five hours on a Saturday to paint the home he and his girlfriend rent from her mother. I was skeptical, and so was one of my editors, that a house could be painted in five hours, but Fitzwater has skills. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in housing and community development and has worked in construction since. “I’ve painted a lot of houses,” he said.

The Seahawk logo on the lawn was done by hand. He set himself up to do it well, applying math to the Seahawk logo from his construction helmet to measure out a 20-foot-by-7-foot rectangle with corners staked with rebar. (And you kids say math won’t help you in life.) He used string to create the box for the bird and went to work, looking at his helmet and spraying the lawn.

This week, as you can imagine, there has been a crush of media in Arizona, including lots from Seattle. KING-5 TV was, I think, the first media outlet to post pictures of Fitzwater and his house. Fitzwater’s brother, Jeremy Hunt, re-Tweeted a KING-5 photo and mentioned he’s a CK alum, so I got him on the phone. Since then, other Seattle news agencies have been by and the Fox affiliate in Phoenix paid attention. A Spokane station, KXLY, has given him the most attention, which we’ll get to shortly.

Fitzwater said he’s seen lots of people driving by to get a look. A neighbor counted 30 cars one day. One family came by and the mom had a Patriots jersey on, so the 12s that were with her had fun and put duct tape over her mouth and wrapped a Hawk flag around her as they took pictures. The mom was a willing victim, so save the nasty letters.

Yesterday when Fitzwater arrived home he found someone had left him a jumbo bag of Skittles. He set up a camera to see footage of people responding to the setting. A lot of people have taken selfies, some of them looking around nervously as if a house that’s begging for attention is also demanding privacy. One day Fitzwater heard a woman yelling “We found it!” to her friends. They’d been out scouring Chandler neighborhoods looking for the Seahawk house.

As Fitzwater and I were talking Friday a mailman stopped across the street to get a selfie with the house behind him.

And so it has gone, but that’s not the biggest news yet. Hunt is, as of this writing, traveling down to Arizona to watch the game with Fitzwater, but that’s not the biggest news either.

KXLY caught the big news, Fitzwater proposing to his girlfriend, Melissa Duke, at night as both are standing on the Seahawk logo. The two have been together eight years and have been talking about marriage. They’ve been talking about it so much, in fact, that Duke kept telling Fitzwater that he couldn’t surprise her.

She was wrong.

A friend asked Duke on a scale of 1-10 how surprised she was by the proposal.

Can you guess her answer?

Hint: She’s a Seahawk fan, too.

Second hint: Look to the roof of the house, or any car with a flag waving anywhere near Seattle.

Standing behind them in the KXLY video were a pair of friends, Adam Collins (also a 2004 Central Kitsap High School grad) and Christina Adams. They’ve been engaged two years and have been having trouble figuring out where to get married and what kind of arrangements to make. According to Fitzwater they now plan to get married Sunday morning, on the Seahawk lawn.

Duke, for her part, has always dreamed of a destination wedding, so she and Fitzwater are beginning to make their plans for sometime in the future.

My suggestion: San Francisco, early February 2016. If all goes well they could be there to witness the birth of the Three-Hawks.

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Four candidates vie for Poulsbo City Council seat

Poulsbo City Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist announced her resignation in December. She was an advocate for the city's parks and area trails. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN
Poulsbo City Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist announced her resignation in December. She was an advocate for the city’s parks and area trails. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN

city logoPoulsbo City Council will interview four candidates and appoint a new member Wednesday night to Linda Berry-Maraist’s vacant seat.

Berry-Maraist announced her resignation at the end of last year to focus on family and starting her career back up. Her term did not end until December 2015, along with three other council members’ terms.

Boone Eidsmoe, Hunter McIntosh, Kenneth Thomas and Shane Skelley are vying for the seat.

Each candidates said they would like to run for election in November.

Council members serve four-year terms and earn $6,000 a year.

BOONE EIDSMOE

Eidsmoe, a recent graduate of North Kitsap High School, is a sale associate at Dahlquist Fine Jewelry in Poulsbo. During his time at North Kitsap High he was the drama president where he helped budget for projects and productions, his application says.

Eidsmoe also is the youngest Poulsbo Lion’s Club member, joining last year. His volunteer work includes helping rebuild trails around Raab Park.

His three highest priorities for the city would be dealing with the issue of drugs and homelessness, along with bringing more businesses to Viking Way.

HUNTER MCINTOSH

McIntosh is the managing director with The Boat Company where he has worked since 2000, with a two-year stint in computer communications from 2006 to 2008. The Boat Company is a “nonprofit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises through Southeast Alaska,” according to its website.

McIntosh’s career has been spent working with environmental policy for nonprofits, his application says.

His earned his bachelor’s degree in political science, communication and marketing from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in 1999.

McIntosh has lived in Poulsbo for two years, and half of his community involvement is in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. He served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, the Environmental Policy Commission and the Youth Policy Commission.

His three highest priorities would be redeveloping Viking Avenue, create a “college town” with Olympic College and strengthen the city’s position as a destination local via water access.

KENNETH THOMAS

Thomas bought a Poulsbo home in 2009, before becoming a full-time resident there in 2012.

He is a retired Naval officer, working with the Navy for about 20 years and was most recently responsible for a maintenance training program in the Puget Sound region last year.

Previously he taught high school and middle school in Arizona from 2001 to 2005, after working with the Navy since 1982.

He also served as an elected Goodyear City Councilman in Arizona from 1977 to 1979.

Thomas earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Arizona State University in 1991 and a master’s in secondary education from the same university in 1997. He also earned a bachelor’s in history at Regents College in New York in 1991, and “completed graduate-level courses in public administration,” which was taught by city managers, his application says.

His top three priorities as councilman would be preparing the city for review of its urban growth areas in 2016, ensuring public safety with a well staffed and trained police department, and maintaining Poulsbo’s quality of life and character..

SHANE SKELLEY

Skelley is a general contractor and owner of Skelley Works LLC in Poulsbo, which he started in 1998.

His company does bid on public works projects, his application said, and it has helped with city projects, including the educational amphitheater at Fish Park.

Skelley has lived in Poulsbo seven years, graduated from North Kitsap High School in 1993 and attended Clatsop Community College in Oregon from 1993-1995.

He was a member of the Poulsbo Planning Commission and Port of Poulsbo Citizen advisory board. He is currently a member of the Poulsbo Rotary Club and Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce.

Skelley’s top three priorities would be “keeping ahead of new storm regulations,” establish stormwater fee incentives for commercial and residential property owners to reduce impervious surfaces, and help streamline permitting processes, “especially when it relates to habitat restorations and projects involving non profits,” according to Skelley’s application.

More to the Raspberry Pi story

We wrote in today’s Kitsap Sun about Bob Cairns, the Port Orchard Rotary member who is working to deliver solar powered mini-computers to school children in Kenya. The system is driven by a device called Raspberry Pi, developed in 2012 by researchers in Cambridge. The effort dovetails with Cairns’ work on polio vaccinations and education scholarships in that country.
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Here are a few other things about Cairns you might like to know:

As mentioned in a recent Forbes article on the Raspberry Pi project, Cairns could be on a cruise ship with his wife Chris instead of bouncing around barely defined dirt roads in a Land Cruiser and holing up in African hotels, some crawling with insect life. Cairns, a Manchester resident, retired in January 2014 after 28 years managing the Manchester Fuel Depot, one of the Navy’s largest and most strategic fuel installations. He served on the Kitsap Sun’s editorial board in 2012.

Cairns, with his wife, has made five trips to Africa, the most recent in October to deliver the first set of Raspberry Pi systems. He and Chris actively take part in vaccination clinics, helping to administer oral doses to children. The cause is dear to their hearts, since Chris’ brother was “the last child in Illinois to get polio.” Her brother survived but is severely crippled by the now-preventable disease.

On the trip, Bob and Chris took their granddaughter, Ashley Carter, a student at Bellingham’s Western Washington University. “We wanted Ashley to see how much we have in our world versus how much they don’t have in the rest of the world.”

For example, Collins Nakedi, a young Kenayn man with whom Cairns has partnered to aid children in East Pokot (a region of Kenya), said getting an education there is “like organizing a journey to the moon using a vehicle.” The literacy rate is a dismal 4 percent.

That’s due to lack of resources and lack of cultural support for education among the largely nomadic people of East Pokot. That’s starting to change a little bit, thanks in part to the Raspberry Pi, Nakedi said.

Here’s an interesting fact about Nakedi. As a youngster Nakedi, the son of a goat herder, snuck into a local school and talked them into letting him stay. Thus began his education, which ended in a four-year degree, against astronomical odds. Cairns is helping Nakedi write a book about his life.

Nakedi, whom Cairns calls a genius, and two other young men who attended the same university in Nairobi from which Nakedi graduated, have started a NGO to aid youngsters in Kenya’s city slums and rural areas primarily through expanded educational opportunities. Cairns has partnered with their nonprofit, Hifadi Africa, to help distribute Raspberry Pi systems and to identify students for scholarships, which are essential for attending the mostly government-run boarding schools that constitute the public education system. This year, Rotary clubs in the northwest are providing four very bright Kenyan orphans with $600 scholarships that will provide a year’s worth of schooling.

Cairns’ involvement in Africa actually started with one of the other Hifadi Africa principals, Jovenal Nsengimana. Nsengimana lost his parents and sister in the Rawandan genocide at age 4. He ended up in a refugee camp with his older brother John, then 7, who took charge of the family including another younger brother, and who later was also able to pursue an education. Cairns and his wife heard about Nsengimana through a Rotary connection and ended up sponsoring his education through university.

In addition to education, Cairns, with help from Hifadi Africa and other Rotary members, is working to bring clean water to East Pokot. The area, partially within the Rift Valley, is extremely arid. There is virtually no running water or plumbing. People become ill from drinking water fouled by animal excrement. Rotary has supported efforts to drill a well in the area, but Cairns says they’re looking at other technology that is more basic yet more sustainable and effective.

In remote areas, machinery parts are hard to come by, and the water quality is poor. Cairns and others are looking at simple collection systems for harvesting the little rainwater that does fall. Another technology, not new, is to drill “riverbank infiltration galleries,” chambers on the banks of rivers that slow to a trickle most of the year. When rains do fall, water is directed to the underground chamber for storage. It’s not suitable for human consumption, but fine for livestock, which play a central role in East Pokot life.

Like the solar-powered Raspberry Pi, the water system solutions are simple and work with what’s available, Cairns said.

Don’t look for Cairns to slow down and take the cruise-ship route any time soon. There’s too much work to be done in East Pokot and beyond.

To help, donate at http://www.gofundme.com/raspberrypiafrica.

Investigation of alleged bullying unrelated to Canton’s resignation, superintendent says

Note Jan. 9, 2014: Michelle Caldier contacted me after this post was published and told me that she did not authorize for her Facebook profile to be added to the group Parents Against South Kitsap Football.

A complaint of bullying by the parent of one student on this year’s South Kitsap High School football team was not connected to head coach Eric Canton’s recent resignation, Superintendent Michelle Reid said Thursday.

Reid early in December authorized a third party investigation into the complaints of Jennifer Wilkinson on behalf of her son, a senior on the Wolves’ varsity squad. Wilkinson alleges that Canton and other staff intimidated her son in retaliation for criticism he and later she lodged with the coach and high school athletic director over concerns they had about safety issues and whether player time was handled fairly.

Wilkinson also alleges that her son’s privacy rights were violated in online discussions of his academic eligibility to play for the Wolves.

Canton resigned on Dec. 26 after meeting earlier in the month with the high school principal and later athletic director Ed Santos. Those encounters were followed by a Dec. 23 meeting with the district’s director of human resources, an assistant superintendent and a couple of union reps.

As Canton told Kitsap Sun sports columnist Chuck Stark, he felt he had no choice but to resign.

“I wasn’t going to fight it,” Canton said.

Reid said Wilkinson’s complaint trickled up to her some weeks after Wilkinson filed a harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) complaint on Oct. 14. Most such complaints are handled within the school and never actually result in a formal HIB report, Reid said.

Two formal HIB reports were filed within the district in the last two years, both at the high school. One was Wilkinson’s complaint about Canton; the other, filed last school year, was unrelated to Canton. Last year’s report did not result in a third party investigation.

South Kitsap High School officials conducted an investigation of Wilkinson’s complaint, but she wasn’t satisfied, and she appealed to the next level, the superintendent.

At that point, Reid said, she decided to engage a third party investigator.
“It’s an objective look at the facts so we can tone down the emotional intensity and tone down the rhetoric a little so we can just looks at the facts,” she said.

Were there complaints from other parents or the community about Canton?

“Complaints have not come to me personally about Coach Canton,” Reid said.

The investigation, which is still under way, is being conducted by Rick Kaiser, an attorney specializing in workplace investigations, with experience in handling issues related to risk management in schools.

Reid said she believes having an outside party review the facts and allegations is in the best interests of all concerned.

“Obviously we take those reports seriously,” Reid said. “We need to have a full and thoughtful look at all the events that took place. I have confidence that our staff at all times has the best intent for our young people.”

Reid said the investigator was in the district this week, although he has not yet interviewed her.

Unlike teachers, coaches serve on a year-to-year contract under authorization of the athletic director. Any “separation” must occur within 30 days of the end of season, Reid said. That explains the timing of Canton’s departure as coach.

He will, however, continue as a dean at the high school.

I asked Reid what protections the district affords to coaches, given the emotionally charged arena of high school sports.

“I will do everything I can to protect coaches. I think coaching is a difficult job in today’s world, and it’s an important job as well,” Reid said. “Part of the reason I have a third party investigator investigating the situation is to protect our coaches. My assumption going in is that our coaches have done the right thing.

“I think the best protection for our coaches is the truth. I believe the investigation is going to surface facts that will support the truth.”

Reid did not know when the investigation would be complete.

As for Canton himself, she added, “I think he’s a fine young man. I really appreciate Canton’s dedication and passion for South Kitsap School District and the athletic program here at South Kitsap High School. I admire his dedication and passion.”

Reid said she couldn’t comment on whether the Wolves’ less than stellar record during Canton’s tenure bore on his resignation, because “I’m not at liberty to discuss a personnel matter at this point.”

South was 6-4 Canton’s first season with the Wolves advancing to a Class 4A state preliminary round. South was 4-6 and 3-7 the past two seasons.

“I take full responsibility for not winning enough games,” Canton told Stark.
He added however, that “helping athletes become productive members of society” is a higher priority for him than winning games in high school.

Jennifer Wilkinson (Downey) is related to incoming 26th District State Rep. Michelle Downey Caldier, who is listed as a member of Wilkinson’s Facebook group Parents Against South Kitsap Football Program. The group had eight members on Thursday.

Technology, tweets replace Poulsbo’s police advisory board

Towsend-Twitter

Technology has made Poulsbo’s Community Police Advisory Board obsolete, leading to the City Council disbanding it.

The board was established in 1991 to “ensure quality citizen input and information exchange concerning police services and programs,” Police Chief Al Townsend told the City Council Wednesday night.

Before Twitter, Facebook or even easy access to the internet, the board members were the connection between the community and police department.

It was not an investigative, watchdog or review board, Townsend said.

Townsend and the Poulsbo Police communicate directly with citizens these days using an email newsletter and Townsend’s Twitter feed, which has nearly 700 followers.

“These new methods of communication reach a considerably wider audience and supply immediate feedback from both supporters and critics of the police department,” Townsend said.

The department doesn’t have a Facebook. It’s too trendy for that right now.

“The high schoolers tell me that is old school,” Townsend replied in a tweet.

The Twitter account is where the department reaches its younger and “more mobile audience,” he said.

Beyond emails and Twitter, the department has neighborhood meetings, survey audits for those that contact the police and individual meetings with citizens.

“I still have meetings with people in our community routinely. I had one this morning at 8, another one at 1:30,” Townsend said Wednesday. “We are still reaching out. We’re still doing the one-on-one conversations with people, but now we have new methods to reach a much wider audience.”

While online communication grows, the department was struggling to fill the nine board seats and had only seven members.

“People’s schedules have changed over the years,” Townsend said before noting evening meetings are difficult for residents to routinely make, pointing to the small audience of four at the council meeting.

Mayor Becky Erickson also noted that when the board first formed there were no City Council committees, which now include a public safety committee chaired by Councilwoman Connie Lord.

“We’ve really multiplied ways we do outreach to our community,” Erickson said.

Lord said that with current technology and outreach programs the Community Police Advisory Board’s time has “come and gone.”

Matthes considering another run for mayor

Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes is considering running again for the office in this year’s election.

Matthes, elected in 2011, will complete his first four-year term at the end of 2015.

“Right now my health is fine,” said Matthes, 68. “If it stays that way, I’ll be making a decision early in the year.”

Matthes said he doesn’t want there to be a lot of “drama” over speculation about whether he will or won’t run. His comments came up during an interview for our story about Gil Michael, longtime planning commissioner, who died Dec. 27. Matthes served with Michael on the commission before he (Matthes) won the election over then-incumbent Lary Coppola in a razor thin race.

Matthes, during our recent talk, said he initially was motivated to run for the office because of concerns over the potential cost of the Tremont widening project.

As interested as Michael was in city government, I think it’s fair to say many wonder why he never ran for mayor. Matthes on Monday said he asked Michael in 2011 to put himself up as a candidate, before he (Matthes) made the decision to throw his own hat into the ring.

“He absolutely said ‘no way,'” Matthes said. “Gil didn’t really like the limelight.”
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Matthes said his decision this time around on whether to run for mayor will be partly based on who else is interested. Right now he’s being careful to say he’s only “considering” running again, because a formal declaration of candidacy will require filing with the Public Disclosure Commission, a step he’s not quite ready to take yet.

SKSD video message to Arne Duncan makes a top 10 list

Last year, when Washington State lost its waiver under No Child Left Behind, South Kitsap School District teachers and administrators got together to give U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a message. Lip synchingIt came in the form of a rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” — as in all they want is a little — sung by music teacher Leslie Niemi, karaoke style, with lively backup from various school officials. Thus, they belted out their frustration with their schools being labeled as “failing” under NCLB standards.

Teachers and school officials wiggled their hips and clapped to the beat. In the video, Superintendent Michelle Reid, usually staid and suited, cuts loose in a pink feather boa in the video by the high school’s production crew. Small wonder visitors to the website Our Kids Our Future made it third among the site’s top viewed posts from 2014, according to the Washington State School Directors Association, which does a roundup of education news from around the state and nation every week.

Others posts on Our Kids Our Future included: “Emerald Ridge grad strikes it big as professional umpire,” “Being included means everything,” and “Put your ‘teacher’ hat on.”

Without question, the website draws an audience sympathetic to the district’s message. Our Kids Our Future‘s “campaign is led by a group of Washington education organizations, including WSSDA. The goal is to highlight excellence in Washington State public schools,” according to its “about us” page. Partners include the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as state associations of school principals, school administrators, the state teachers union, PTAs, school boards and others.

Vested interests aside, pretty much everyone, including members of Congress, agree that NCLB was a good idea but flawed in how it was a carried out. Standards for all students, no exceptions, were ramped up over time until meeting them became all but impossible. In recognition, the federal government allowed a waiver for states whose districts were making “adequate yearly progress” toward the ideal. Washington lost its waiver this year when the Legislature — pressured by teachers and others — declined to support a teacher evaluation program relying on statewide test scores. That meant districts had to inform parents that their schools, some of which had recently earned recognition from the state, were “failing.” Schools that receive federal Title I money and which have been placed in one of five levels of “improvement” have to set aside some of their Title I allocation for parents who want their children transported to a different school or district, or who wanted tutoring outside the failing school.

In a story we wrote in August, as districts tried to figure out the implications, I cited a letter Reid wrote to families in which she called the “fail” label “regressive and punitive.” Clearly, SKSD’s performance was designed not only to stick it to Arne Duncan — with a great sense of rhythm, no less — but as a moral boost for the staff. And for my money, no matter where you stand on NCLB, it’s always a moral booster to see a school superintendent in a feather boa.
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Wonder what they’ll do for an encore.

How the death of an Ohio transgender teen relates to local schools

The apparent suicide of an Ohio teen has shone a spotlight on the anguish of transgender teens.

The teen, whose legal name is Joshua Alcorn and who goes by Leelah Alcorn, is believed to have committed suicide Sunday by going in front of a semi-tractor trailer on Interstate 71 in Southwest Ohio.

On a Tumblr page believed to belong to the Leelah Alcorn, the author talks about feelings of isolation and depression once she identified herself as transgender at age 17. According to WCPO in Cincinnati, Alcorn detailed frustration she felt because her parents did not believe or accept her. Her parents, who acknowledge the death of their son Joshua, have asked for privacy.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach called Leelah’s death a call to action.

“It has come to light that this person likely committed suicide because she was transgender. While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years … the truth is … it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country,” Seelbach said. “We have to do better.”

The Kitsap Sun recently wrote about local schools approving policies acknowledging the needs and challenges faced by transgender students. One article cited a national study showing 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. The national average is 1.6 percent.

After the first article ran, some commented that identifying transgender students as a protected group was overkill. What about other students who may be made uncomfortable by sharing a locker room with a transgender student? one person asked. Aiden Key, an advocate for transgender people who consults with school districts, said each situation is unique and solutions can be found that meet the needs of everyone involved in a respectful way. For example, different schedules for locker room use.

One person on Facebook accused us of liberal bias for reporting on this issue. The fact is districts are bound by federal and state civil rights mandates; they’re responding accordingly and we’re reporting on it.

Key and others who work “in the trenches” as districts grapple with this unfamiliar territory, say staff members sometimes struggle to understand what it means to be transgender and how they should respond, but eventually they get it, and it’s no big deal. Anecdotally, we heard that most young people already get it (or they don’t quite get it but they accept their fellow students who are transgender regardless without much fuss, and life goes on).

That may be a gross simplification, and surely at some schools in some classes, transgender students are still the target of bullying or harassment. Schools already have policies to address harassment in general. Now, in North Mason and North Kitsap, there’s an extra layer of protection (at least on paper) afforded to transgender students.

I welcome hearing from anyone who has thoughts or opinions on this subject. Thanks in advance.

Chris Henry, Kitsap Sun Education reporter
chenry@kitsapsun.com
(360) 792-9219

NYT article focuses on Port Orchard man

Several people on Facebook have mentioned a New York Times article about Doug Whitney, a Port Orchard man who has a gene mutation that (in most people) causes early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Whitney, 65, has yet to show symptoms, and researchers are trying to figure out why.

Whitney’s mother and nine of her siblings, as well as Whitney’s older brother died of the disease. All began showing symptoms in their 40s.

“So Mr. Whitney has become Exhibit A in a new direction in genetics research. After years of looking for mutations that cause diseases, investigators are now searching for those that prevent them,” the article states.

The idea of beneficial gene mutations is getting plenty of attention from the scientific community.

Two Seattle researchers have started “The Resilience Project,” drawing on large databases to find people, like Whitney, who seem to have protective genes. They found Whitney after contacting Washington University (in St. Louis), where a study is under way of families with a gene, presenilin, that causes early Alzheimer’s. Whitney joined the study in 2011.

Whitney deferred getting tested for the Alzheimer’s causing gene until he turned 62. Other researchers have contacted him, as well, and Whitney, for his part, is happy to contribute to advancing knowledge of Alzheimer’s, the article states.

So, question for readers: If, based on the medical history of family members, you knew you might have a disease-causing genetic mutation, would you get tested and when?