go to Tulare County Office of Education HomePage go to Tulare County Office of Education HomePage

The News Gallery

September 2018

View and print a pdf version of this News Gallery.
Editor: Robert Herman
Public Information Officer
(559) 733-6606

Contributors to this issue:
Marlene Moreno, Jennifer Fisher, Lorena White, Amy King, Conan Palmer, Craig Alameda, Samantha Terry, Dianne Shew, and Juliana Davidian.

The News Gallery is published monthly with the exception of double issues printed for July/August and December/January. To receive the News Gallery, visit www.tcoe.org/GetTheGallery, or contact Jennifer Fisher at jenniferf@tcoe.org or (559) 733-6172.

UC Merced/SCICON Field Station proposed lab interior

SCICON teams up with UC Merced on field station
Vidak's vision for research site engaging students in environmental learning becomes reality

Years before UC Merced welcomed students to its campus in 2005, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak was envisioning a partnership with the university. Mr. Vidak saw the potential in connecting the university’s School of Natural Sciences and its Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) with the Tulare County Office of Education’s internationally-known SCICON outdoor education program. “Fifteen years ago, I hoped that the university would see the benefits of partnering with a well-established outdoor education program attended by thousands of students every year,” he said. “Through SCICON, we offer a broad range of research opportunities, housing, conference facilities, and classrooms on two distinct sites – SCICON’s mountainous 1,100-acre campus and the lower elevation Circle J-Norris Ranch with 630 acres of range land. I also thought that if UC Merced would consider building a field station at SCICON, thousands of Tulare County students could be exposed to undergraduate opportunities at the university and some may even have the chance to work alongside UC researchers.”

This month, Mr. Vidak’s long-held dream is becoming a reality. Construction is beginning on the new UC Merced/SCICON Field Station located on a recently acquired eight-acre property contiguous to SCICON’s Circle J-Norris Ranch field study site. Next year, the Field Station will be home to UC Merced researchers who are members of the university’s SNRI. For over 10 years, UC Merced has had partnerships with Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. Today, the SNRI has field stations in both national parks.

Last month, the Tulare County Board of Education approved the purchase of the eight-acre site for the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station. The site was owned by Dr. Donna FitzRoy Hardy, a zoologist and emeritus professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge, who generously donated the equity she had in the property to the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE). The property, which will be known as Condor’s Hope, will also be a site for condor habitat research conducted by The Peregrine Fund.

On the property sits a modern two-story house and a separate four-car garage with an apartment above it. Seeing the garage and apartment building for the first time last fall, Mr. Vidak realized that it could easily be converted into a field station with ample laboratory space and housing for visiting researchers. This month, contractors will begin converting the garage into a preparation laboratory for UC researchers. The 1,000 square-foot lab will allow researchers to dry or freeze samples collected in the field for transportation and analysis in laboratories at any of the UC campuses.

For over 20 years, students from elementary grades to the community college level have come to the Circle J-Norris Ranch to participate in hands-on lessons, or have returned numerous times during the year for ongoing research projects. Each year, Circle J invites high school students and their teachers to work alongside naturalists and scientists during the Field Science Weekend and BioBlitz events.

Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak and UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland Over the years, Jim Vidak discussed the idea of creating a field station at SCICON with founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson Keasey and her successor, Chancellor Steve Kang. The most recent conversation about the partnership began in February 2017 with representatives from the university and the UC Merced Foundation. In January of this year, a delegation of administrators from TCOE visited the Merced campus to meet with Chancellor Dorothy Leland and faculty members of the School of Natural Sciences and the SNRI. In March, a contingent of UC Merced faculty and educators from the National Park Service visited SCICON and the Circle J-Norris Ranch. Chancellor Leland visited in May.

The process of forming the partnership between TCOE and UC Merced has been greatly aided by Dr. Ross Gentry, former TCOE deputy superintendent of Business Services, and Tulare County businessman Fred Ruiz, a former member of the UC Board of Regents – a position he held for 12 years. Both men are now members of the UC Merced Foundation. “We are so grateful to Fred and Ross for their advocacy of this partnership,” said Jim Vidak. “Their appreciation for both organizations and the possibilities the field station represents in terms of significant new research and the impact on our students has been invaluable!”

During their tour of the SCICON and Circle J sites in March, SNRI Executive Director Armando Quintero and director Anne Kelly spoke of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System (NRS). Founded in 1965 as a network of wildland sites available for scientific study, the NRS has grown to include 39 locations encompassing more than 756,000 acres across the state – the largest program of its kind in the world. The Yosemite Field Station and UC Merced's Vernal Pool Grassland Reserve are two of the 39 reserves in the UC NRS.

Drs. Quintero and Kelly explained that the NRS currently has no reserves in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The development of the field station at the Circle J-Norris Ranch could provide UC researchers opportunities to study the Sierra Nevada foothills’ environmental systems, gaining insights into issues that affect the quality of life for Central Valley residents. Once the field station is complete and UC Merced researchers are in place, the partnership can apply to be accepted into the NRS, a process that requires a year-long review.

UC Merced/SCICON Field Station existing buildings

In addition to the partnership with UC Merced’s SNRI, the university will encourage the participation of other research initiatives conducting pertinent natural science, engineering, social science, management, policy, and humanities research. Institutes including UC Water, Interdisciplinary Humanities, and Public Health may lead research initiatives with a focus on the environment, people, and future of the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley.

Following their meeting in March, Dr. Ross Gentry, Dr. Anne Kelly and Dianne Shew, SCICON’s administrator, were invited to make a presentation on the partnership to members of the NRS in Oakland. Since that time, UC Merced and TCOE administrators created a Memo of Understanding (MOU), outlining the aspirations of the partnership. Out of the MOU, a steering committee will be created to guide the research and student engagement at the field station.

“The steering committee will have the exciting job of further developing the partnership and how students connect to the research that will be done at the field station,” said Mr. Vidak. “We look forward to reaching out to educators in Tulare County and beyond to help connect future generations of young scientists to this research and eventually to careers involving the care of our world.”

A Celebration of Science & Service

To celebrate the creation of the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station, the Tulare County Office of Education will host a fundraiser event on Saturday, November 17. The event will also serve to honor Jim Vidak for his vision to create the field station and to celebrate his career as an educator. Mr. Vidak is currently serving the final year of his seventh term – making him Tulare County’s longest-serving county superintendent. In total, Mr. Vidak has served 28 years as Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, as part of a 57-year career as a teacher, principal, SCICON director, and Visalia Unified administrator.

Information on tickets to the dinner event, entitled The Vision & the Visionary: a Night to Celebrate Science & Service, is available at tcoe.org/FieldStation. The event will be held at the International Agri-Center in Tulare and will feature a social hour with farm-to-fork hors d’oeuvres from UC Merced Executive Chef Mitch Vanagten, a hearty dinner by Ruiz Catering, a chance raffle, and live entertainment. The event will also include a live auction featuring a 7-day stay at a beautiful Maui condo, four collectible cars, and more. All proceeds from the event will benefit the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station.

For more information, visit tcoe.org/FieldStation, or call (559) 733-6302.

Photos above:
~ An architectural rendering shows the interior of the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station laboratory. The space will be used as a classroom for visiting students and to prepare samples for transportation to laboratories at various UC campuses.
~ Jim Vidak welcomed UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland to SCICON in May. The visit from the Chancellor cemented the partnership to create the field station, a future source of Central Valley environmental research.
~ Construction begins this month on the lab for the UC Merced/SCICON Field Station, which will be located in the garage structure (foreground). An apartment available for visiting researchers sits above the future lab.

to Top of Page

Educators celebrated on Confucius' birthday
Three Tulare County teachers to be honored at 25th annual Educators of the Year event

In 1994, members of the original Central California Chinese Cultural Center approached Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak about creating an event to honor teachers. The board members explained that Chinese people around the world often mark the occasion of Confucius’ birthday – China’s advocate for universal education – by recognizing exemplary teachers. Since 1994, members of the Chinese Cultural Center have held a dinner celebration at their beautiful building in Visalia honoring one elementary, one middle and one high school teacher.

On Thursday, September 20, the invited educators, family, and friends will celebrate three exemplary teachers at the 25th Annual Confucius’ Birthday/Educators of the Year Awards. “This year’s winners go above and beyond to support the students they serve, taking on many responsibilities outside their regular classroom duties,” said Mr. Vidak. “Each of them is a valued resource for their entire school.”

The winners of the 2018 Educators of the Year Awards are:

Paul Meadors
Fifth-Grade Teacher
Traver Elementary School, Traver

Paul Meadors Paul Meadors entered the field of teaching 22 years ago, beginning at Traver Elementary School in northwest Tulare County. At Traver, he has taught both third and fifth grades and served as athletic director for the school district for 11 years. He currently coaches football and basketball, oversees the summer school program, and serves as the athletic commissioner for the Central Valley River League sports program, which includes Traver and seven other schools.

Compassionate, hardworking, creative, and loved by students and staff alike, Mr. Meadors is a graduate of Fresno Pacific University, a published author and composer, and the head sports writer for the Clovis Roundup newspaper. District superintendent Steve Ramirez describes Mr. Meadors as the “pied piper” of Traver School. “He shows his students first hand that they should always reach for their dreams,” said Mr. Ramirez. “He constantly demonstrates that anything is possible with hard work and determination.”

Omar Lopez
Math Teacher
Burton Middle School, Porterville

Omar Lopez Omar Lopez has served as a math teacher at Burton Middle School for two years, with an additional 13 years of teaching experience. For five years prior to becoming a teacher, Mr. Lopez worked as a Migrant Education community liaison in Salinas, California. While teaching eighth-grade math, Mr. Lopez finds ways to engage every student in learning, imparting his own love for math. His principal, Adrianna Franco, said, “I have been impressed by Omar's drive and caring demeanor. He is organized, dependable, goal oriented, approachable, innovative, and a lifelong learner who truly cares for students and their success.”

One of the first teachers on campus every morning, Mr. Lopez works long hours after school to coordinate Burton Middle School’s sporting events. Last year, he served as the school’s athletic director, working closely with the coaches and other athletic directors in the area, and organizing an end-of-the-year banquet to celebrate and recognize the teams' accomplishments. Mr. Franco also helps students prepare for the countywide Math Super Bowl competition. This fall, Mr. Lopez will begin a program to obtain his school administrative services credential.

Zilda Hilliard
English Teacher and English Language Development (ELD) Department Chair,
Mission Oak High School, Tulare

Zilda Hilliard Administrators praised Zilda Hilliard for advocating for Mission Oak High School’s English Language Learners (ELL) and for serving as a model for her colleagues. Principal Michelle Borges said, “Zilda has the unique ability to make students from diverse backgrounds feel safe and welcomed while they grow as learners. She loves her students as if they are her own, supporting them with additional academic and social-emotional resources. It is extremely heartwarming to see how quickly she acclimates them to our complicated school system.”

This past year, Mrs. Hilliard collaborated with her department to host an indoor soccer tournament exclusive to her ELL students. This bonding experience was such a success that administrators plan to continue the practice annually. Mrs. Hilliard has also served in a number of leadership roles beginning in 1994 as ELD Department Chair. She has been key in developing the Tulare Joint Union High School District’s ELL Master Plan and the development of the ELD curriculum. She assists site and district administration with the English Learner Advisory Committee meetings and is a member of the Mission Oak Site Advisory Committee.

A tribute video profiling the three honorees will be shown at the Confucius’ Birthday dinner September 20. A copy of the video will be available online at tcoe.org/EOTY on October 1.

to Top of Page

Local partners enhance ERS student events
Businesses, organizations give financial, volunteer support to over 16,000 participants

Each year, organizations throughout Tulare County support Educational Resource Services’ (ERS) student events, donating money, volunteer hours, services, and products to ensure the competitions are successful. Last year, the ERS student events received over $20,000 in donations, including $12,500 from the Tulare County Office of Education Foundation in support of trophies and awards for several competitions. Additionally, 14 organizations donated gift items and other services. Members of the Tulare County Bar Association provided volunteer judges and scorers for Mock Trial, while the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department waived the facility fees and provided staffing at the Tulare County Courthouse for that event. Longtime donor, Jostens Printing, donated the 76-page Tulare County College Night Planning Guide.

During the 2017-2018 school year, more than 16,000 students participated in ERS student events. These events were supported by over 400 TCOE staff members and community volunteers who devoted their personal and professional skills as judges, room monitors, and time keepers to help hard-working Tulare County students compete in one of the largest and most diverse student event programs in the state. “We are truly grateful for all the support given not just this year, but throughout the years,” said ERS Administrator Dr. Jen Francone.

ERS event donors for 2017-2018 included:

Logos of Tulare County Office of Education Foundation, Jostens, Tulare County Sheriff's Office, Allen Law Firm, American Association of University Women, The Trophy Shoppe, Lozano Smith, BlueScope/Butler Manufacturing
Dr. Charles Boniske; COSTCO; Dumont Printing & Mailing; Educational Employees Credit Union; Hire Up Staffing Service; IDEA Printing & Graphics, Inc.; Jamba Juice/ Whirl Partners; J's Communications, Inc.; Law Offices of James B. Preston; Lowe's; Office Depot/ Office Max; Pena's Disposal Service; Pepsi Beverage Company; Rabobank, N.A.; Honorable Antonio A. Reyes; Starr Warson, Attorney at Law; Taquizas Gonzalez; The Carstens Family/ Kimberly & Steven Carstens; Tulare County Bar Association; Visalia Arts Consortium; Visalia Rawhide.

If you are interested in becoming a supporter of TCOE student events by providing financial or in-kind support, email
giving@tcoe.org or call Juliana Davidian at (559) 651-3003. To volunteer to assist with ERS’s numerous events, email volunteer@tcoe.org or visit commoncore.tcoe.org/volunteer.

to Top of Page


Spotlight on People County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak is pictured with his wife, Bobbie, at a rehearsal of the Theatre Company’s summer production of Little Shop of Horrors. Mr. Vidak was honored by the Theatre Company parent booster organization for his vision to create the program in 1998 – a program which has involved thousands of Tulare County students in 21 years. The parent group presented the Vidaks with a custom-made art piece that features the Vidak cattle brand in the center. Pictured (l-r) are Chloe Hunt, Theatre Company Director Bethany Rader, Tulare County Theatre Boosters Colleen Cantelmi and Cathy West, Bobbie Vidak, Jim Vidak, and Parker Chalabian.

Spotlight on People TCOE’s Planetarium and Science Center will debut a new planetarium program, Phantom of the Universe. The program showcases an exciting exploration of dark matter. It reveals the first hints of dark matter’s existence, then plummets deep underground to see the most sensitive dark matter detector on Earth. From there, it journeys across space and time to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European organization for nuclear research), speeding alongside particles before they collide in visually stunning explosions of light and sound. Families can see the premiere during the Planetarium Public Shows on September 7 at 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. Ticket information is available at

Spotlight on People On Saturday, September 8 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., the Tulare County History of Farm Labor and Agriculture Museum in Mooney Grove Park will host a reception for its new exhibition, Creating a Fruitful Legacy: Honoring Korean Experiences in Tulare County. The reception will feature local guest speakers and traditional foods. The exhibition will showcase the contributions made to Tulare County agriculture by Korean immigrants and their descendants. Teachers can arrange a visit to the museum to see the new exhibition by calling (559) 733-6616.

Spotlight on People The Tulare County Council on Child & Youth Development will host its Tenth Annual Legislative Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 4, at the Tulare County Office of Education Redwood Conference Center, 6200 S. Mooney Blvd, Visalia. This free event is designed to inform educators and key decision makers about the importance of early childhood education programs. Dana Winters, Ph.D., assistant professor of Child and Family Studies for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania (pictured), will be the featured speaker. Visit tularecountykids.org for registration information.

Spotlight on People Representatives from nearly 80 universities and colleges will be on hand at the 37th Annual Tulare County College Night to answer questions about entrance requirements, available degrees and tuition expenses at their institutions. College Night will be held Tuesday, September 11 at a new venue – the International Agri-Center in Tulare. The event, which will open to students and their families at 5:30 p.m., is designed to provide information on preparing for and applying to colleges. In addition to the college representatives, students and parents can visit five informational presentations (beginning at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.) on topics that include financial aid, SAT/ACT test preparation, and registration information for the University of California and California State University systems. One presentation on financial aid and another on planning for college will be offered in Spanish. More information is available at tcoe.org/collegenight.

to Top of Page

Gallery Notes

September marks the opening of the annual CHARACTER COUNTS! Week nomination process. Teachers, parents and community members may nominate students for the annual Kids of Character recognition program held in partnership with the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register. Outstanding students of character will be recognized as part of the annual Provident-Salierno Family Foundation Awards scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on November 1 in the TCOE Redwood Conference Center. A nomination form for K-12 students is available online at
tcoe.org/KidsOfCharacter through October 1. In Tulare County, National CHARACTER COUNTS! Week will be celebrated October 21-27.

The Calendar of Student Events for the 2018-19 school year is online at tcoe.org/StudentEvents. The webpage contains dates and information on nearly 50 TCOE student events and programs.

Educational Resource Services recently welcomed several new team members and created a new department dedicated to serving English Learners. Carl Veater, Nicholas Lopez, and Joseph Lamb joined the ERS team as mathematics staff development and curriculum specialists. Laura Gonzalez, Alesha Ramirez, and Sandi Cahill were selected to form the new English Language Development department, assisting Tulare County school districts with instructional strategies to support their English learners. Scott Pierce, a former ERS English Language Arts curriculum specialist, was selected to serve as director of the new Elbow Community School, formerly Visalia Unified’s Charter Alternatives Academy.

Several Tulare County school districts welcomed new superintendents for the 2018-19 school year. In Porterville, the Porterville Unified School District named Assistant Superintendent Dr. Nate Nelson as superintendent, while the Burton School District appointed David Shimer, the district’s director of Educational Services, as interim superintendent. Also in Porterville, Melanie Matta is now serving as superintendent/principal for the Hope School District. In Tipton, the board of education selected Stacey Bettencourt as superintendent/principal. Gerardo Herrera has been named interim superintendent/principal for the Allensworth School District. At College of the Sequoias, Vice President Brent Calvin was promoted to superintendent/president. Philip Anderson is the new superintendent at Palo Verde Union School District in Tulare, while Alfonso Gamino was selected as superintendent at Woodlake Unified. Lou Saephan is the new superintendent at Woodville Union School District.

Families are invited to enjoy unobstructed views of celestial objects during the Circle J Family Astronomy Nights. Local amateur astronomers will lead visitors on a tour of the night sky using high-powered telescopes. The first Astronomy Nights will be held September 7 and 14, from 7:00 until 9:30 p.m. at Circle J-Norris Ranch in Springville. Additional Astronomy Nights are scheduled for October and November. For more information and to reserve a spot for your family, contact Nancy Bruce at circlej@ocsnet.net or call (559) 539-2263.

The Leadership Support Services department, in partnership with Educational Resource Services, invites district administration teams to attend its 2018-19 Learning and Leadership Forums (LLF). This year, the four forums will focus on improvement science principles and how they apply to continuous improvement in educational settings. World-renowned improvement experts Brandon Bennett and Alicia Grunow will guide teams through the use of improvement tools to navigate complex problems in their organizations. Broad topics to be discussed include: the role of systems thinking for lasting change, applying change theory to complex problems of practice, measuring the impact of change, and learning to leverage evidence-based practices. LLFs will convene on the mornings of October 5, November 2, February 1, and March 15. For more information and registration details, visit goo.gl/g7vVba.

to Top of Page

For a list of upcoming events,
visit our
Calendar of Events web page.

Tim A. Hire, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 627-5219

| Home Page | Site Index |

Please direct web site problems or comments to tcoeweb@tcoe.org.

Copyright © 2019, Tulare County Office of Education