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Community members search for a way to keep youth

LEMOORE — In the Cinnamon Municipal Complex, a group of Lemoore residents gathered with City Manager Nathan Olson to discuss how to improve the city. They all had one thing in common: They were all from a similar older demographic.

The round-table Wednesday night brought up one fact that makes planning for the future of Lemoore difficult: The lack of younger people attending meetings.

Olson recalled when the city created its general plan. He said they only had one demographic show up to give input on what the city should look like in the future, and that demographic was older residents like the ones who attended the round-table event.

“People were a little bit older like us,” Olson said. “We had no kids, no high school students, no college students showing up, no young families with one or two kids.”

The room consisted of six residents of Lemoore, Olson and Marisa Avalos who works for the city.

Olson began hosting these meetings where public opinion is encouraged while he was the public works director. He had been holding them during the daytime, and participants at Wednesday’s meeting said the later time was more convenient.

Olson said there might be future experiments in location, frequency and date for the round-table meetings to try to get more people and a variety of people to attend.

Less than half of the residents of Lemoore are older than 40 years old, according to the U.S. Census. The median age is 29.

Cindy Lewis, a Lemoore resident, recounted a conversation she had with her grandson who is graduating this year. He decided to go join the Air Force until he decides what else he wants to do with his life. She asked him if when he figured out what he wanted to do would he return to Lemoore, and his response was no.

Tom Reed, a Lemoore resident, chimed in to say that yes, some teens decide to leave and you can’t change their mind to return.

Olson added that his son decided to go to college closer to home because he wanted to be closer to his family.

Lewis said that the youth are leaving after college and not coming back and the people that come for the base don’t stay here for long and there has to be some way to persuade them to stay.

Lewis added that there are not many opportunities for young people to go work for a business and make a living wage.

John Pereira, the owner of Pereira’s Jewelry and Design, said that it also isn’t easy for new businesses to start. He suggested that the city change its method of approaching new ventures in the idea that instead of saying you can’t do this, approach it by saying here is what you can do, or let me help you do that.

Pereira said there are a lot of empty businesses in downtown and thought the Downtown Merchant’s Advisory committee was not doing what it should in terms of advertising and promoting downtown.

Olson said there have been changes to how the committee runs so they can begin doing more work for downtown. Previously, the committee had been having a difficult time reaching a quorum to hold a meeting, and the city has decreased the number needed for a quorum so the committee can hold  meetings.

Bringing in more businesses and figuring out what the city can do to entice young people and families to stay in Lemoore are part of moving Lemoore from being just a bedroom community, a place where people sleep and go elsewhere to work and shop.

Finalists named for 2018 Excellence in Education awards

HANFORD — The Kings County Office of Education is to host its 2018 Excellence in Education awards ceremony Wednesday to recognize nominees for administrator, teacher and employee of the year. The 16 nominees have now been narrowed down to eight finalists.

Administrator/Manager of the Year

Loretta Black: Black started her career in education in 1996 with Visalia Unified School District, where she taught primary grades for nine years before moving back to Lemoore with her family. She taught second grade for three years at Meadow Lane Elementary.

In 2008, Black started working in administration as an assistant principal for Lemoore Union Elementary School District. She then spent three years as a learning coordinator and is currently finishing her sixth year as principal of Cinnamon Elementary.

Black said her favorite part of being a principal — her favorite part of any job she’s held over the years in education — is definitely the kids. She said they always keep things interesting and it is very rewarding to see students grow and reach their personal goals through the years.

Thinking back on her career, Black said she is most proud of the work LUESD has accomplished in the last seven years. She said teachers, administrators and staff have worked very hard to create schools where students learning at high levels every day is their general focus. She said it’s truly rewarding for her to be part of a team that is highly focused on this work.

Mary Brandt: Brandt has been involved with kids for most of her life. She taught at a Christian school in Selma for 11 years before her life took her in a different direction. She briefly drove a bus for special needs students, which she said was an eye-opening and amazing experience.

In 2006, she was hired for the position of lead cook at Pioneer Elementary School and worked there for five years. When the former food services director retired in 2011, Brandt was hired and has been there ever since.

Brandt said she loves being around the kids and does her best to encourage them on a daily basis. Until recently, she never considered herself as being a part of the educational experience for kids, but realized that food is an important part of students’ readiness for the classroom.

Besides the students, Brandt said she enjoys the staff she works with and is fortunate to have them there with her. Brandt said she works hard and hopes that work comes across at the end of the day. She said she is thankful for her job every day.

Teacher of the Year

Catherine Koelewyn: Koelewyn started her teaching career right out of college and taught first grade for eight years. When her second daughter was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor, she took eight years off of teaching while her daughter underwent a long stint of chemotherapy and radiation.

When her daughter was in the fifth grade, Koelewyn ended up long-term subbing in her classroom, which led to her return full time at her previous home district. She’s been back teaching there for seven years now.

Koelewyn said she often refers to her job as her “mission field”. She said she loves building relationships with her students filled with trust, respect and friendship. She said her favorite part about teaching is when her students have that “aha” moment and they get to celebrate together.

Koelewyn said her most proud moments are when she can connect, through hard work, to those students who have mentally and emotionally checked out and who have no desire to make academic effort and do not care. She said when she makes that connection of trust with them, they pour into her, their education, and most importantly, themselves.

Christopher Morshead: Morshead comes from a family of teachers and has always loved to help kids; his mother has been a teacher for 20 years and he knew that’s what he wanted to do. He attended California State University, Fresno, where he majored in music education.

Morshead did an internship with Hanford Elementary School District before getting a job with Lemoore Union Elementary School District, where he has been for 12 years. Besides being the music teacher at Liberty Middle School, Morshead has helped with programs and events at other local schools and high schools.

Morshead said his favorite part of the job is seeing the kids grow up and mature not only as students and musicians, but as human beings — which comes from the guidance of teachers and principals too. He said he loves that being involved with music, which is a fun extracurricular activity, helps the kids learn discipline and hard work.

Morshead said he’s proud of the fact that he helped form the winter guard and percussion program. He said the program is another opportunity for students to be involved with an afterschool activity that’s new and different. He said the program has been successful and he’s glad to showcase the students as a part of the community.

Bryan Rice: Rice said he never found much interest in school when he was younger. It wasn't until college, as well as his work as a youth leader at his church, that he became passionate about learning and teaching. From that point, he pursued and earned a bachelor's degree in history, a teaching credential and his master's degree in educational technology.

Rice said his career began as a substitute teacher, which he did for about two years until he was hired as a part-time teacher at Jamison High School in Lemoore. The following year, he said a full-time position opened up at Lemoore Middle College High School, and although he thought he did horrible in the interview, they offered him the job and he accepted. He’s been a history teacher at LMCHS for 6 years.

He said his hands-down favorite part about being a teacher is the relationships with students. Each student has a unique personality, but each class has different characteristics as well, he said. Because of this, Rice said every day is an adventure and his job never gets boring. He said he gets to laugh with, mentor and experience life with youth on a daily basis and wouldn't trade his career for any other.

Rice said he’s most proud of the moments of recognition and honor students have given to him, like the graduating class of 2013 choosing him to be the keynote speaker at their graduation ceremony. He said moments like that show him that the relationships he’s built and the genuine character that he expresses in his classroom are received positively by the students.

Employee of the Year

Ruben Amavisca: Amavisca said he’s been involved with education in one way or another since his sophomore year in high school when he was a migrant education tutor. He was a part of the California Mini-Corps while attending California State University, Fresno, and helped with English as a Second Language.

He has worked at Hanford West High School for 20 years; two years as a career tech assistant and the last 18 years as the career education coordinator. Amavisca helps students figure out what they are going to do after high school, whether it be college, trade school, military or entering the job force.

Amavisca said his favorite part of his job is the interaction with the students and talking to them about their futures. He brings presenters from different universities, community colleges, trade schools and hosts financial aid workshops.

While he sees many students go off to college, Amavisca said it’s a great feeling to see students who get full-ride scholarships or who are accepted into schools that are difficult to get into. He’s written many letters of recommendation and said it’s always neat to see the students’ hard work pay off. He said the fun part of his job is giving students the opportunity to do new and exciting things.

Melissa Dufur: After working at the front desk at Lemoore High School for three years, Dufur has spent the last six years as the registrar. She handles report cards, transcripts, enrollment and dis-enrollment, the online grade and attendance portal and scholarship information.

On any given day, Dufur’s office is a revolving door of current students, former students and parents. She said there’s nothing like interacting with students from a wide array of backgrounds and it keeps her happy day after day.

Dufur said her favorite part of the job is seeing the students succeed and accomplish their goals after high school. She said she loves seeing their eyes light up when they tell her about going to school or getting a new job.

Dufur said her proudest moments are the times when she receives thank you notes from students telling her how much they appreciate her for helping them. Whether it’s writing a letter of recommendation or showing a new student around the school, just knowing she made a small difference in the students’ lives is why she loves her job.

Lionel Garza: Garza has worked at University Charter School for 10 years as a custodian, and he could not be prouder to work for the school.

Garza said the school staff and Principal Crescenciano Camarena have embraced him as an important part of the school and made him feel like he is not just the custodian. He said he is involved with the students in their classrooms and enjoys being able to work and interact with them.

Growing up, Garza said he always encouraged his younger siblings and tried to motivate them in life. Although he never got a degree, he said he would have loved to be a teacher. He coaches soccer and baseball and loves helping in the community.

Garza said he enjoys being a positive role model and mentor, and hopes he makes a difference in the kids’ lives. He said he’s very thankful to Camarena, the teachers and the staff for making his job enjoyable.

Pizza Festival's return celebrates what makes Lemoore unique

LEMOORE -- Sometimes a pizza isn’t just a pizza. Sometimes it’s a metaphor for an entire community.

That’s the spirit behind next week’s return of the annual Central Valley Pizza Festival in Lemoore.  

“People think it’s pizza and just pizza. But that’s not really what this event is about. Pizza Fest is here to celebrate everything that Lemoore has to offer that you can make a pizza out of it,” said Lemoore Chamber of Commerce CEO Amy Ward. “So, you take Leprino’s, being the largest cheese factory, you take Olam, which is the sauce and the spices and all the agriculture that goes into a pizza, from the dough to the toppings. It’s about celebrating Lemoore and the businesses that make Lemoore so unique.”

The 18th annual celebration, scheduled for 5-10 p.m. Friday, April 13 and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 14, will be two days of food, vendors, carnival games, rides, bounce houses, pony rides, live bands and beer gardens. The free event takes place at Lemoore City Park, 350 W. Bush St.

In all, there will be around 20 food vendors, Ward said, including pizza kingpins Boston House of Pizza and Fatte Albert’s.  Also available will be area favorites like the Chicken Shack, Toshiko Japanese Cuisine, Super Mercado Leon.   Vendors with festival staples like corndogs, hotdogs and even fried alligator will also be on-hand.  

This year’s pizza-eating competition is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s fun to watch to see what people can do. They dip it in the water; they do all kinds of tricks to get the pizza to go down. It’s not for the faint of heart. There are buckets on site for them for a reason. We’ll leave it at that,” Ward laughed.

Teams of two will tag-team Fatte Albert’s infamous 28-inch Fatte within a set amount of time. Described as Central California’s biggest pizza, Fatte Albert’s website describes the pie as being able to “easily accommodate” 12-20 people.

Prizes for munching most of this pizza are $200 for first, $100 for second and the third-place team gets $75. The team that eats the most pizza within the time limit wins.

Cash prizes will also be given for the Giant Slice contest, which sees 16 teams with 30 minutes to decorate a 4 ½-foot slice of pizza with all edible ingredients. Then, all slices will be joined together to complete a 9-foot pizza and judges decide who will win cash for first, second and third place.

“It’s a great team-building exercise,” Ward said.

In between the food and contests, live local music will be delivered to the crowds’ ears.

Local favorites like Flashback, Drew the California Kid and the Fabulous Enchantments will perform throughout the day Saturday and Visalia party-makers August will perform at 7 p.m. Friday.

“[August] love to come out and play in Lemoore and they have a great following of people who come out to see them play. They’re a really great band,” Ward said.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, the FAST Credit Union’s kids’ mascot Dollar Dog arrives to help judge the FAST Dollar Dog Challenge. The challenge includes 10 teams of two kids each who get the chance to compete in a relay race with pizza ingredients. Dollar Dog makes the final decision as to which kids’ pizza receives the final prize.

New Chamber members will be welcomed and ribbon cuttings will commence at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Julissa Zavala contributed to this report.

Gary Feinstein/ The Sentinel 

The crowd takes turns taking photos of the finished giant pizza during the 16th annual Central California Pizza Festival in Lemoore on Saturday morning.

Trump, China escalate trade dispute as markets tumble

WASHINGTON — Unwilling to yield, President Donald Trump and China's government escalated their trade clash Friday, with Beijing vowing to "counterattack with great strength" if Trump follows through on threats to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods.

Trump made his out-of-the-blue move when China threatened to retaliate for the first round of tariffs planned by the United States. But for someone who has long fashioned himself as a master negotiator, Trump left it unclear whether he was bluffing or willing to enter a protracted trade war pitting the world's two biggest economies against each other, with steep consequences for consumers, businesses and an already shaken stock market.

"They aren't going to bully him into backing down," said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser who is now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He said the Chinese "are going to have to make concessions — period."

The White House sent mixed signals on Friday as financial markets slid from investor concern about a significant trade fight. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC he was "cautiously optimistic" that the U.S. and China could reach an agreement before any tariffs are implemented but added, "there is the potential of a trade war."

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters the U.S. was "not in a trade war," adding, "China is the problem. Blame China, not Trump."

Trump's latest proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle for more than a half century. The U.S. bought more than $500 billion in goods from China last year and now is planning or considering penalties on some $150 billion of those imports. The U.S. sold about $130 billion in goods to China in 2017 and faces a potentially devastating hit to its market there if China responds in kind.

Global financial markets have fallen sharply as the world's two biggest economies squared off — the Dow Jones industrial average sank 572 points Friday.

Trump told advisers Thursday he was unhappy with China's decision to tax $50 billion in American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to a U.S. move this week to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods.

Rather than waiting weeks for the U.S. tariffs to be implemented, Trump backed a plan by Robert Lighthizer, his trade representative, and was encouraged by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, to seek the enhanced tariffs, upping the ante.

White House chief of staff John Kelly and Mnuchin concurred with the move, as did Kudlow, who traveled with the president to West Virginia.

China said negotiations were impossible under the circumstances but Trump officials said the president and his team remained in contact with President Xi Jinping and expressed hope to him of resolving the dispute through talks. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two sides remained in "routine contact."

In Beijing, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said China doesn't want a trade war — but isn't afraid to fight one.

"If the U.S. side announces the list of products for $100 billion in tariffs, the Chinese side has fully prepared and will without hesitation counterattack with great strength," spokesman Gao Feng said. He gave no indication what measures Beijing might take.

Trump has also pushed for a crackdown on China's theft of U.S. intellectual property, and he criticized the World Trade Organization, an arbiter of trade disputes, in a tweet Friday for allegedly favoring China. Trump asserted the WTO gives the Asian superpower "tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S."

U.S. officials have played down the threat of a broader trade dispute, saying a negotiated outcome is still possible. But economists warn that the tit-for-tat moves bear the hallmarks of a classic trade rift that could keep growing. Worry is intensifying among Republicans, who traditionally have favored liberalized trade.

"The administration needs to be thinking about the unintended consequences and what are those ripple effects, those domino effects, and what are the retaliatory actions that are likely to be taken," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, in an interview with KDLT-TV in Sioux Falls.

The standoff over the trade penalties began last month when the U.S. slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. China countered by announcing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. products. The next day, the United States proposed the $50 billion in duties on Chinese imports, and Beijing lashed back within hours with a threat of further tariffs of its own.

Further escalation could be in the offing. The U.S. Treasury is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the United States. And there's talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

Kudlow told reporters the U.S. may provide a list of suggestions to China "as to what we would like to have come out of this," and those issues were under discussion.