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$31M solar power project, vocational academy, headline Manteca Unified year

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$31M solar power  project, vocational  academy, headline Manteca Unified year

Bennie Gatto, left, is congratulated by retired East Union High Athletics Director Dino Cunial after Lathrop High named the campus football field Bennie Gatto Field. The East Union High football is...

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

POSTED December 29, 2012 3:12 a.m.

An ambitious renewable-energy project, the launching of a vocational charter school, new faces on the Board of Education, and students making great strides academically were among the news that dominated 2012 for Manteca Unified School District.

Below is a recap of some of the highlights of the year for the school district, arranged not in the chronological order of the calendar but as a hodge-podge of the year’s spotlighted news events.


Thirteen certificated employees with the Manteca Unified School District retired at the end of the 20112 school year in June. Among the retirees was George McParland Elementary School Vice Principal Michael Hedin. The rest include five high school teachers, a junior high teacher, a teacher at Manteca Adult School, and six elementary school teachers: Paulette Bogetti, Sierra High School; Linda Dizon, Calla High School; Carol Gant, ESL teacher at Manteca Adult School; Vanessa Knepp of Manteca High; Karen Odell of Joshua Cowell Elementary; Patricia Rachels of Shasta Elementary; Rita Rodriguez of Great Valley School in Weston Ranch, Laurie Sisneroz of George Komure School in Weston Ranch; Anne Talcott of East Union High; and, Pauline Taylor, a chemistry teacher at Manteca High.

API tests – MUSD students make their schools proud

MUSD students made their teachers, their schools and the district proud in 2012. Five of MUSD’s more than two-dozen campuses scored above the statewide target of 800 led by New Haven which scored the highest at 854, followed by Brock Elliott and Veritas schools which tied at 847, Nile Garden School at 822, and George McParland at 817.

In 2012, Great Valley Academy redeemed itself by posting an 800 score in the STAR Testing during its first year as a charter school in Manteca. Turned down by Manteca Unified and later the San Joaquin County School of Education, GVA finally got approved as a charter school by New Jerusalem, the smallest school district in San Joaquin County. GVA opened its campus in the old Manteca Christian School ran by the Place of Refuge – formerly First Assembly of God – on Button Avenue with Russell Howell as the first principal.

Best of best in district arts

Best of Show for the year 2012 went to a 3-D creation by Justine Molina of Manteca High. The prize did not come in the form of cash awards but in bragging rights and a potentially bright future in the artistic field.

MUSD Board of Education shuffle

Two new faces joined the Manteca Unified Board of Trustees after the November 6 elections. They replaced two of the three members of the seven-panel board whose terms were ending in December. Political newcomer Sam Fant won over the two women who ran for District Area One which is Weston Ranch to succeed Rex Holiday. He decided not to run for a second term in favor of completing his Ph.D. Deborah Romero, who ran unopposed, succeeded Wendy King of Area Five. Michael Seelye whose term was also set to expire filed papers for re-election but ran unopposed, so he remains the Area Three representative. All three were sworn in during the December meeting of the board. The remainder of the board whose terms will expire in 2014 are Evelyn Moore of  Area Five, Don Scholl who also represents the large Area Five, Manuel Medeiros of Area Two, and Nancy Teicheira of Area Four. The trustees are elected at large but they represent specific areas in the district whose jurisdiction covers Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp and Weston Ranch.

MUSD’s first vocational school

Manteca Unified’s Vocational Academy opened its doors for the first time in the fall with close to 30 students enrolled in the Culinary Arts program. Money to fund the program comes not from the district’s general fund but from ADA (Average Daily Attendance) fees from the state. Students who complete the program are not only guaranteed a high school diploma but a certificate showing they completed their required studies and skills training. The idea is to help increase the students’ employability in the job market and to give them a leg-up to further their studies if they plan to go on to college.

Manteca Unified schools going solar

The district is making a $31 million renewable-energy leap into 2013 with the board’s bold decision in 2012 to give Superintendent Jason Messer the green light to take the project to the next level – the construction phase. The project aims to make the district less dependent on PG&E utility costs, with the expectation that the district will eventually own the power-generator system that will be installed. Initial figure crunching has shown that energy savings realized could be as much as $48 million cumulatively over a period of 25 years when the district will own the system, or about $3.2 million savings a year in PG&E bills. The project is also expected to include a Regional Environmental Studies Center at the district facility, plus electric vehicle charging stations, HVAC replacements to further lower energy and deferred maintenance costs, and monitors installed at every school site.

The Faustina Memorial Pumpkin Run

Faustina Rosas lost her long battle with cancer on Sept. 17, 2012 at the age of 54. The Manteca Unified Student Trust the annual MUST Pumpkin Run in October be known as Faustina Memorial Pumpkin Run. The decision was to honor Rosas’ 35-plus years working in various capacities with the school district, but also to recognize her as one of the founding members of the non-profit MUST and a tireless volunteer for the organization.

$1.4M Buffalo cafeteria facelift

Manteca High students and staff had a $1.4 million reason to celebrate in September. On the first Friday of the month, the school unveiled the cafeteria’s new and improved look with a grand re-opening celebration during the lunch hours. Some of the money went into other safety-related school improvements, but the lion’s share went into the remodeling of the dining and kitchen facility. Because it’s the oldest high school campus in the district, the Buffalo campus also needed to make a number of areas ADA-compliant, per the American Disabilities Act, such as making them wheelchair-accessible.

Bennie Gatto honored by Lathrop High

Bennie Gatto, the City of Lathrop’s second mayor, added one more title to his laundry list of accolades. In September, the first high school campus in the youngest city of San Joaquin County honored one of its native sons by naming the stadium’s playing field the Bennie Gatto Field. Prior to that, the school recognized another of Lathrop’s outstanding citizens by naming its stadium the Paul Wiggins Stadium in honor of the Manteca High School graduate who went on to become a big-time pro athlete. Long before there was a Lathrop High School, Gatto was part of the Lancers’ chain crew for decades. He and wife Joyce also started the East Union crab feed fund-raiser that still ranks as the Lancers’ Athletic Boosters Club’s most successful fund-raiser each year. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Gatto played two years of football at Manteca High in 1946-47.

Lathrop High’s first graduate to attend West Point

The year 2012 was a memorable year not just for the Spartan school but for Ross Downum. The then 17-year-old became Lathrop High’s first graduate to attend West Point Academy where he started in the fall. He was also nominated by Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. The cadet comes from a family of law enforcement officers. His father, Darrin, is a 25-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department. His grandfather, Dennis Downum, was also a member of the Oakland police force and then went on to become Sheriff of Calaveras County for four terms, for a total law-enforcement service of more than four decades.

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