Comedian to kick off Denair school year

08/11/2014 1:27 PM

08/11/2014 6:05 PM

A comedian will help Denair Middle School and Denair High School start the year on an upbeat note Tuesday.

The public is invited to free shows by teen-focused comedian Pat Hurley at 9:30 a.m. in the middle school Coyote Center and at 10:30 a.m. in the high school gym. Today is the first day of classes in Denair.

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off the year than to start an epidemic of positive thinking,” said Superintendent Aaron Rosander.

Rosander also brought in former teacher Harvey Alston to speak to Denair employees Monday. Each speaker cost the district $1,500, Rosander said, calling it an investment in motivating staff and students.

“Speakers are brought in to set the stage for a highly positive and successful school year,” Rosander said. “The respective messages on the power of education, commitment to excellence and hope for the future will be sure to inspire all who attend.”

Rosander said he hired both men based on recommendations from educators and online video clips.

Hurley, of Lafayette, has three Emmy Awards for teen talk shows in Los Angeles and Chicago. His routines include “Funny Things Parents Say and Do” and “Morning Announcements.”

Alston, based in Ohio, told about 130 Denair employees Monday, “We are in the business of saving lives. We nourish children.”

Dressed in a tuxedo, his voice booming in the Denair Middle School multipurpose room, Alston used humor and examples from his own teaching career to deliver his message of empowerment, respect and responsibility.

He compared the technology revolution sweeping education to a roller coaster ride. “You get to the top and someone changed the rules and regulations from last year.” Technology is transforming the classroom, he said, with laptops given to students instead of books, satellite teaching and online college courses.

“This is what your future might look like as we begin to compete with people around us,” Alston said. “We’ve got to be the best. When we’re the best, people will drive distances to bring their kids here.”

The message hit home for Denair Unified, which will spend this year and part of the next digging out of a deep financial hole, in part caused by declining enrollment.

Attendance at the district’s classroom-based schools dropped 18 percent between 2007-08 and 2013-14, and raising enrollment was cited as critical for the district’s recovery through last year’s painful cuts. The district made over its administrative staff, laid off teachers and cut salaries to avoid state takeover.

Rosander, hired midyear to replace interim Superintendent Walt Hanline, has stressed collaboration and a positive attitude. “Believing in the power of positive students and an upbeat work climate, both speakers will be perfect in kicking off the school year on just the right note,” Rosander said.

The note resonated with teachers who commented after Alston’s speech.

“You have to be the best at whatever you’re doing,” said Donna Williams, a Spanish teacher at Denair Academic Avenues charter school. “You have to embrace each day and make it the best. Each moment is precious.”

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