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Kings County students still behind state average

Although Kings County students are performing at the same level as last year, they are still behind most of the state academically, according to test scores released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

The department said 3.2 million total students completed the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests earlier this year. This is the third year students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 were given the tests, which assessed students in English language arts, literacy and mathematics.

Statewide, results are roughly the same as last year: 48.5 percent of students have met or exceeded English language arts and literacy standards, compared to the local average of 42 percent. While 37.5 have met or exceeded math standards at the state level, in Kings County, the average is around 29 percent. 

Kings County students fared better than a few surrounding counties.

In Tulare County, only 37 percent met the language art standards and 25 percent passed the math standards. In Kern County, 40 percent passed the language tests, while 27 completed the math standards. 

School districts have had access to their own results since May and parents received individual student scores over the summer.

Joy C. Gabler, Hanford Elementary School District superintendent, said she is pleased they have retained growth in English language arts and literacy while making a slight gain in mathematics.

“To meet the demands of the assessments, our staff continue to focus on pushing our students to read and think critically, express themselves clearly and solve complex real-world problems,” Gabler said. “As a district, we know there is still work to be done and we are committed to making sure all students progress academically.”

The computer-based tests are based on California’s academic standards.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson said he was pleased that students maintained the progress they have made since the initial year of testing, but said work still had to be done by to narrow achievement gaps and make sure students continue to progress.

“It’s important to remember that these tests are far more rigorous and realistic than the previous paper and pencil tests,” Torlakson said. “We are asking more of our students, but for a good reason — so they are better prepared for the world of college and careers.”

MIQ's Blessing of the Pets

LEMOORE — Students at Lemoore’s Mary Immaculate Queen School started their day early Friday morning by holding the annual Blessing of the Pets.

Parents and students made their way to MIQ’s courtyard and brought their family pets on leashes, inside kennels and even bundled in blankets to be blessed by the Rev. Hector Lopez before school started. 

Eighth-graders Alexandria Esajian and Ericka Simas were chosen to help Rev. Lopez lead the morning prayers and recited verses from the book of Genesis that explains the creation of the animals.

Rev. Lopez then followed with a prayer and began making his way around the courtyard sprinkling holy water on each of the pets.

Alexandria and Ericka opted out of bringing their pets to school because they were worried they might escape or act out of control.

Alexandria said she just recently acquired a German shepherd that is only just a puppy, but is already very big.

“He hasn’t really been on a leash because he’s still a pup," Alexandria said. "He’s a good dog, we just didn’t know how he would react.”

Ericka said one of her dogs got loose last year.

“…the last time I brought her she ran off and I had to go find her,” Ericka said. “So it’s not the best idea for me to bring my pets.”

Eighth-grader Brandon Rossi and his fourth-grade brother, Ben Rossi, brought their 4 1/2-month-old puppy, Rosie, to be blessed.

“This is our first year bringing our pets. I think it’s a great opportunity to have our pet be a part of the family,” said Jennifer Rossi, their mother.  

Adventist Health has an open community garden

HANFORD — Rows and rows of gardening plots line the inside of Adventist Health's community garden in Hanford, to be used for planting vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.

The garden sits on an 80-by-200-foot stretch of land on Greenfield Avenue, near Lacey Boulevard. It has been open and operating since 2012 for people in the community who would like to grow their own flowers and vegetables, but don’t have space at home.

“Probably about four years ago, one of our directors put in for an innovation grant in our corporate office,” said Nina Plata, vice president of population health for Adventist Health Central Valley Network. “At the time he started the garden it was quite successful. Most of the plots have now been filled out and the garden has been passed around a few times, so we started losing people that were interested in gardening.”

There are a total of 36 plots that vary in size for people to use and anyone can rent more than one plot. At the moment, they only have about four people using the gardening plots, with one person using about eight of the plots available.

Starting early next year, there will be an annual fee for the upcoming winter and summer season. Plots will be about $36 and that money will then go to the Central Valley Health Foundation to cover expenses to maintain the garden.

In the next few weeks, they will also be building new plots, bringing in new dirt and building a new fence around the property. The plot will be locked and owners will be given a combination to the lock so they will have access.

Plata sees the community garden as a way to for people to interact with one another, take up a new hobby and learn new gardening techniques.

“We would really like this to be a resource for people who don’t have a yard,” Plata said.

Mark Hopper gardens a few of the plots and says gardening gives him something to do after he retired from teaching.

“We try to grow just about everything: tomatoes, peppers, cilantro and my wife makes homemade salsa,” Hopper said. “We have a lot of peppers, garden spices, rosemary, thyme and basil.”

Hopper lives a few blocks away from the garden and says he would like to see more people participating.  

“It’s open, but there are only about four or five people that go in there,’ Hopper said.

Plata hopes to add more gardens in other locations and communities like Lemoore, Selma and Reedley.

She hopes that schools, agriculture teachers and farmers from the community take part in the garden, or offer to teach gardening classes in the future.

“The goal is for it to be self-sustaining,” Plata said. 

Hanford to discuss bike ordinance and a downtown theater

HANFORD — The city of Hanford is looking to crack-down on bicycles left lying around at Civic Center Park with a new ordinance that allows the city to seize and impound any bike not secured in the designated bicycle parking racks.

At its regular meeting Tuesday night, Hanford City Council will discuss a new ordinance intended to deter bicyclists from leaving their bikes all over the park or tethered to items like poles, traffic signs and trash cans.

The city said this has become a problem, particularly at Civic Center Park, and besides being “unsightly” and obstructive, has caused danger to those who use the park.

Any bike that is discovered to be in violation of the proposed ordinance would be impounded by the city and held at the police department, incurring a daily storage fee. Any person who violates the ordinance would have to pay a fine for each violation.

Council will also discuss a building remodel project for the Hanford Police Department that will cost an estimated $999,500.

The remodel project will provide redesigned work space for the investigations division, problem-oriented policing and administration. The project is intended to provide twice as much functional work space than exists right now.

The police department has around $837,000 for this project, so the city needs to agree to loan the department an additional $262,000.

During the study session, council will discuss the potential for a downtown theater.

This discussion comes after a May 2015 council session regarding a downtown theater and parking structure. Since then, the zoning ordinance has been changed to allow theaters outside of the downtown area, but council asked the item be brought before them again.

Suspect in multiple mail theft/check fraud cases arrested

Felipe Gonzales Alvarez

A man believed to be responsible for multiple mail thefts of local businesses and check fraud up and down California was arrested recently in Livingston, according to the Kings County Sheriff’s Office.

Felipe Gonzales Alvarez was arrested on Sept. 22 by the Livingston Police Department after local and other surrounding agencies began to network together to find the true identity of a suspect who sheriff’s officials said stole checks from postal bins, altered them and cashed them at different stores.

Officials said the arrest was a multi-agency effort between Kings County Sheriff’s Office, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, Pismo Police Department, Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office, Santa Clara Police Department, Santa Barbara Police Department and the USPS Postal Inspector's Office in San Jose.

In June 2017, officials said three local businesses made separate mail theft reports with the Kings County Sheriff's Office.

When deputies took a closer look at the cases, they said they noticed each victim had mailed out business checks to various vendors for payment by placing them in the outside, drive-up, postal bin at the Hanford Post Office.

At some point the businesses’ checks were stolen out of the bin, altered and cashed at different stores around Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties, deputies said.

The Kings County Rural Crimes Task Force began investigating these three cases and located surveillance of two suspects cashing or attempting to cash the stolen checks. Officials said the suspects were using stolen or altered California driver's licenses so their true identities remained unknown.

After reaching out to neighboring agencies, sheriff’s officials said the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office was able to offer some information.

Although they could not positively identify either suspect at that time, they were able to inform the Kings County Rural Crimes Investigators the primary suspect in their cases was a primary suspect in approximately 17 cases up and down the state.

A break in the case came in early September when sheriff's officials said forensic evidence was able to positively identify Alvarez as the main suspect.

Deputies said Alvarez has a history of fraud and although he is currently being held in the Merced County Jail, federal charges are looking to be brought against him.

Sheriff’s officials said they believe Alvarez to be working with others. Anyone with further information in this case is encouraged to contact Detective Moore at 589-3629.