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Latest News in Sanger, CA
Sanger school dropping charter status. Do parents know what it means for students?
Since their kindergarten year, many students living in Fresno and across the Central Valley have attended a homeschool program in Sanger because the hybrid education works for them.Other students like Aranveer Litt started while in high school because he was failing and not getting the support he needed at his traditional school.He transferred to Sanger’s Hallmark Charter School, which has at-home and optional in-person instruction in small classes that allow individualized, one-on-one teaching. All of which helped him su...
Since their kindergarten year, many students living in Fresno and across the Central Valley have attended a homeschool program in Sanger because the hybrid education works for them.
Other students like Aranveer Litt started while in high school because he was failing and not getting the support he needed at his traditional school.
He transferred to Sanger’s Hallmark Charter School, which has at-home and optional in-person instruction in small classes that allow individualized, one-on-one teaching. All of which helped him succeed to now be a master’s degree student at Syracuse.
The school’s charter status has allowed it to enroll students from all around California’s central San Joaquin Valley without going through an interdistrict transfer process – a process that 102 students will have to use after Hallmark’s charter status is removed.
Hallmark K-12 Charter School is dropping its charter status, starting the 2023-24 school year, and will merge with the K-12 independent study program, Taft Academy.
District officials said the move was necessary after years of declining enrollment at Hallmark Charter School, but not everyone thinks it’s a good idea.
“As a teacher, I believe that every student should have access to different forms of education,” said six-year math intervention teacher Gurleen Litt.
And district leaders said they feel the same about student access.
The Sanger Unified School District said everything about the program would remain the same even though the school would no longer have charter school status.
“They created a problem that they already had a solution for,” Litt said about the proposal to merge Hallmark and Taft but eliminate Hallmark’s charter.
She said removing the charter will decrease enrollment – the problem – for the district to fix by merging the schools.
Currently, 252 students are enrolled at Hallmark, including 102 students that don’t live within Sanger Unified boundaries.
Taft’s enrollment hovers at nearly 500 currently.
“More students are going to be able to access that school with all of its amazing programs,” said Cary Catalano, the district’s spokesperson. “Nobody is going to be turned away. No program is going away. We want everyone to have equitable access.”
Students at Hallmark take homeschool classes through Independent Study at their own pace with a daily choice to attend in-person science and math-enrichment classes. Students also have opportunities for one-on-one math intervention and help from their “homeroom” teachers.
Parent and 2004 graduate Sara Florez said Hallmark is a program “that many students from many areas can partake in and have a very rigorous program yet still have time to hone their skills in sports, arts, and music.”
She is one of many opposed to the charter losing its status.
An online petition, Save Sanger Hallmark Charter School, garnered almost 600 signatures as of midday Friday and dozens of online comments about how important the charter school is.
“My daughters have so benefited from the unique culture, structure, and academic focus of Hallmark Charter,” one commenter said. “This move is completely detrimental to the success that has been Hallmark Charter.”
Taft’s independent study program is not homeschooling like Hallmark but rather a virtual learning model where students and teachers work together online daily.
Adding those students will strain Hallmark’s already limited resources, Litt said.
“We’re here to do whatever we can to provide our students with the best education possible, whether that’s bringing in donuts on a bad day or talking to someone who’s upset,” Litt said.
That small setting allows her to get to know her students and learn the best way to encourage, empower and educate them.
Thinking back to her own high school experience, she didn’t talk about college and career prospects with her educators.
That’s a conversation she said she has at least weekly with students, especially because Hallmark’s schedule flexibility allows students to take college classes while enrolled.
Nothing is going to change programmatically for Hallmark, Superintendent Adela Jones said.
Jones has been with the district for 36 years, including her four years as superintendent and three years as assistant superintendent, in addition to her classroom experience.
“The merging of the two as a school -of choice for our families allows all students to access what was traditionally funded through the charter-funded program.”
Under the name Hallmark Academy, the merged school will still have:
Hallmark’s homeschooling, rigorous curriculum, music, art, enrichment classes, tutorials, and lab science programs will continue, but with Taft students having access to them, she said.
Families would choose between Hallmark’s homeschool option and Taft’s virtual programming that logs on for classes at scheduled times throughout the day.
“This offers more choices for our students and our families,” Jones said.
Because Hallmark is a Sanger Unified school, staff will remain SUSD employees.
The charter school’s Local Control Accountability Program dollars will now be a part of the district’s funding to support the SUSD initiatives at Hallmark.
Litt started the school year as one of at least three part-time math intervention teachers, a model the school was utilizing so that each student could come to intervention for the one-on-one help they needed, even if there were at least 15 students in the class at a time.
Funding-wise, Sanger can’t afford to keep the charter open for around a dozen students in class at a time, Jones said.
Because the classes will remain a choice, class sizes will remain small, but more students will have the option of being there.
“There were never enough dollars in that LCAP (as a charter school) to support literacy teachers, intervention teachers, and student advocates,” Jones said.
There are several reasons behind the decision to dissolve the charter, Jones said, including:
For several years, Taft’s enrollment has increased as Hallmark’s has decreased.
For example, Hallmark’s 2004-05 enrollment was 582 compared to current enrollment at 252, Jones said about enrollment data.
Parents and administrators have asked for a chance to get enrollment up, and the district has worked with school-level administration to try and do that, dating back to the previous superintendent.
“We’re proud of the program,” Jones said. “Hallmark is not great because it’s a charter; Hallmark is great because of the people there and the program they’ve developed.
“And that’s not going away.”
Without the charter status, out-of-district families must enroll through an interdistrict transfer, something that both Sanger and the other district must approve, leaving parents wary.
Sanger school officials listened to parent concerns about the difficulty in obtaining those transfers and extended the charter until next school year to give families more time to work with their districts.
Four hundred Sanger students are enrolled through interdistrict transfers already, according to Jones.
The 102 Hallmark students who live outside the SUSD district will be required to apply for an interdistrict transfer.
Sanger’s child, welfare, and attendance supervisor has reached out to neighboring districts about those families to help in that process, Jones said.
Florez’ tenth grade student has been at Hallmark Charter since kindergarten, and she got emotional about the pressure, stress, and uncertainty of filing a transfer on district deadlines and awaiting approval.
“I’m thinking about 10 years down the road,” Florez said. “Are there going to be any children allowed to make an interdistrict transfer and be allowed to go to this school?”
Based on evaluating enrollment at the district’s schools, leadership made the merger decision in early April, then sent a letter to families in both programs.
It wasn’t done in secret, and there was parent involvement, Catalano said.
Since the April 7 letter, the superintendent has met twice with full-time staff and twice with parents — an in-person meeting on April 20 and a virtual meeting the following day.
It was during those recent meetings that many parents first learned their students would have to apply for interdistrict transfers. Florez noted the district’s April 7 letter mentioned merging and changing the school name, and didn’t mention transfers.
“Most of the parents do not know because the administration will not send out a letter, stating ‘We will drop the charter, and here are all the repercussions,’” she said about the desire to know the pros and cons. “Why aren’t they sharing those cons with us?”
The plan will be discussed at an upcoming Sanger Unified School District board meeting.
“I’m not trying to fight against anybody,” Florez said. “I’m trying to convince the board to fight with us to save this school and come up with a different solution. Every problem has more than one solution.”
She said she wants the district to make the best decision by considering everyone involved.
“The one party that they did not take into consideration are the children,” Florez said. “We don’t want to fight against the school district. We’re trying to find a better solution to make this work.
“See our children as your own.”
The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn about The Bee’s Education Lab at its website.
This story was originally published April 30, 2022 5:00 AM.
12-year-old Sanger girl in need of kidney transplant, how you can help by buying a Sundae:
SANGER, Ca — Foster’s Freeze in Sanger is bringing down its prices for ice-cream sundaes for a good cause this weekend.They are hosting a fundraiser for a 12-year-old Sanger girl, Mallory Gallegos, who is in need of a life-saving kidney transplant.Starting Friday and until Sunday, they will be selling Sundaes for $2.50. Every $1 will be donated to ...
SANGER, Ca — Foster’s Freeze in Sanger is bringing down its prices for ice-cream sundaes for a good cause this weekend.
They are hosting a fundraiser for a 12-year-old Sanger girl, Mallory Gallegos, who is in need of a life-saving kidney transplant.
Starting Friday and until Sunday, they will be selling Sundaes for $2.50. Every $1 will be donated to Mallory’s kidney transplant fund.
The owners of the shop are the Gallegos family's neighbors and felt the need to help raise money for the family.
Mallory Gallegos has been in and out of Valley Children’s Hospital and undergoing daily dialysis for more than two years now.
She was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure in November of 2020 that was caused by a rare disease called Anca Vasculitis.
“She was basically fighting for her life. She needs a kidney transplant now to save her life,” said Valerie Gallegos, mother of Mallory.
The disease is attacking her blood vessels and has already destroyed her kidneys.
Valerie says her life has not been the same ever since they got the diagnosis. “Her quality of life has changed and she misses everything about her old life,” Valerie said.
Mallory is a 6th grader and is now doing home/hospital school. Her mom says she was an active child and that Mallory loved to do cheer, she was in theatrical plays and excelled in her schoolwork.
“It’s tearing me up that I can't help save her life. I’m a mother and I would give anything for my children,” she said.
Mallory’s mother says she was born with only one kidney and is unable to donate to her baby.
On Monday, they received the miracle they have been waiting for. Mallory had finally made it on the Stanford transplant list.
Now, they’re just waiting to hear that a matching donor has been found.
Valeria says she hopes the following message speaks to somebody’s heart:
“There’s people and children out there that desperately need a second chance at life and its something so special to the families of recipients so we need somebody to come forward and possibly be a kidney match for my daughter.”
“People who are interested in getting test for Mallory can contact Gerri James at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital,” Valerie said.
She says you can let Gerri know you are getting test for Mallory Gallegos and Gerri will be giving you more information.
Gerri James, RN, BSN, CCTC
Contact Information: 650-498-4905
Fundraiser held for 8-year-old boy with cancer from Sanger
SANGER, Ca — It's been a ride of emotions for the family of 8-year-old Maximus Cantu battling cancer.“He's strong. He’s fighting but he's not alone," said Anthony Cantu, who is Max's dad.The family says they're overwhelmed with all the support they have received from the community all around the state.All joining together to #FightWithMaximus, too.Family members and community members from different groups held a fundraiser Saturday afternoon for Maximus.“It’s amazing to se...
SANGER, Ca — It's been a ride of emotions for the family of 8-year-old Maximus Cantu battling cancer.
“He's strong. He’s fighting but he's not alone," said Anthony Cantu, who is Max's dad.
The family says they're overwhelmed with all the support they have received from the community all around the state.
All joining together to #FightWithMaximus, too.
Family members and community members from different groups held a fundraiser Saturday afternoon for Maximus.
“It’s amazing to see people who don’t even know him come together and bless him. He loves to see it," said Yolva Cantu, Max's mom.
Local vendors and businesses' who attended the event donated half or all of their proceedings to the family.
All Aboard Train Rentals was offering train rides.
All the money collected, went towards Max's fund.
“Anytime we can help a family or someone in need, we’re available to do that," said Jason Harper, owner of All Aboard Train Rentals.
Ma & Pa Kettle corn also donated all of the money they raised towards the fund.
Biker and truck groups from around the valley helped too.
“They have reached out again because other clubs we’re reaching out to them how do they donate, what can they do," said Brittany.
Anthony Cantu told us One Wish foundation also reached out to the family to get three wishes from Max.
One of those wishes is to meet the Raiders team.
Anthony says Max is a big Raiders fan and had the biggest smile on his face that he'd never seen before when he heard it could be possible.
Even though Maximus experiences side effects from chemotherapy, he's always in good spirits and good company.
“If I could trade places with him, I would but it’s in God’s hands," said Anthony.
The family says they appreciate any mail, beanies or donations.
If you would like to help, there's a few ways you can do that:
You can click here: GoFundMe Account
You can drop off beanies or mail at: Academy West Insurance, 1411 Jensen Avenue, Sanger, CA 93657 or Moose Auto Detailing at: 1119 Academy Ave, Sanger, Ca 93657.
Sanger’s ‘marketing problem’: how to explain why it’s known as ‘The Nation’s Christmas Tree City’
It’s just before Christmas and there’s not a lot of stirring going on in downtown Sanger. It’s raining and the streets are fairly quiet.The only obvious signs of the festive holiday are an artificial tree in the middle of the main intersection and holiday banners hanging from the lampposts.For some, it might initially come as a surprise that Sanger is known as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree City.”It’s on the city’s emblem and in signage. I showed the slogan to Scott Hubbard w...
It’s just before Christmas and there’s not a lot of stirring going on in downtown Sanger. It’s raining and the streets are fairly quiet.
The only obvious signs of the festive holiday are an artificial tree in the middle of the main intersection and holiday banners hanging from the lampposts.
For some, it might initially come as a surprise that Sanger is known as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree City.”
It’s on the city’s emblem and in signage. I showed the slogan to Scott Hubbard who’s lived just outside of Sanger for the past three years.
“You've seen this?” I ask him. “Yeah off of 180,” he says. “You don't know what it means?” I say. “No, because I don't see any Christmas trees,” he says laughing.
Karen Pearson, President and CEO of the Sanger District Chamber of Commerce says there’s a reason for that. “We're not the Christmas tree(s) plural, city. We're the nation’s Christmas tree city, you know, singular,” she says.
That singular tree is the General Grant giant sequoia in Kings Canyon National Park, officially designated as the Nation’s Christmas Tree.
The story goes that in 1924, R.J. Senior and Charles E. Lee, both of the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, were wandering in the Grant Grove area of the park, when a little girl approached the General Grant tree. Pearson reads the story from there.
“After a moment of complete silence, she said, mostly to herself 'what a lovely Christmas tree that would be.' She then turned and ran off into the grove. They never learned her name, but they wouldn't forget her words.”
The following Christmas, Lee wrote to President Calvin Coolidge, suggesting the General Grant be adopted as the nation’s Christmas tree. It was made official in 1926 and an annual trek to the tree has been held ever since on the second Sunday in December.
This was the 96th year. A video by The Sanger Scene captured the festive event with bell ringers, carolers and a flag and memorial wreath laying ceremony. The tree is also the nation’s only living shrine to fallen service members.
“It's not just the little Sanger's Christmas tree. It's not Fresno County's Christmas tree. It's not California's Christmas tree. It's the entire nation's Christmas tree, like, that's huge, you know?!” Pearson says with excitement.
Since the national designation in 1926, Sanger has received a presidential letter each year in honor of the commemoration.
“This is one of my favorites and this is the original,” Pearson says, carefully removing a letter out of a plastic casing. It’s signed by John F. Kennedy.
“It says, ‘you have my very best wishes for a joyous and successful Christmas service’,” Pearson reads from the letter.
Other presidential letters in the pile include those from Ronald Regan and Richard Nixon. This year’s letter came via email from President Biden.
“And it says, 'I send my warmest greetings to all those gathered at the Sanger District Chamber of Commerce's 90 - well he put the wrong year, 94th, it's the 96th,” Pearson laughs.
But despite the recognition, Pearson says getting the message out to the public is a bit of a challenge.
“People think that we're supposed to have Christmas trees, like we grow Christmas trees and so it's a message that we're constantly trying to get out there.” Laughing, she says, “It is a marketing problem for the chamber of commerce.”
Sanger native Courtney Ramirez thinks there’s an easy solution. She fired off a recent tweet about it. She reads her tweet out loud.
“I am here again for my yearly rant. Why doesn't Sanger, CA lean into the Christmas tree thing all year long, at the very least, do a pop up ornament store in December. I know there's got to be an empty storefront on 7th street,” she reads.
Ramirez says she has a soft spot for small businesses and all things local. She says she wants to see her hometown take advantage of its claim to fame.
“I think it's just a natural branding that might be a little easy to lean into,” Ramirez says.
Pearson says there are already major holiday events in December that draw crowds. There’s the Toyland Parade and a tree lighting ceremony in the center of town that harkens back to the nation’s official Christmas tree. It’s a sapling of the General Grant, gifted back in 1939.
Several complaints lodged against landscaping company run by former Sanger mayor
FRESNO, Calif. (FOX26 NEWS) — Several people have told FOX26 News a Valley landscaping company isn’t guilty of a couple mistakes – but rather, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.One of them is Lisa Wicks.“Everyday I walk out here and I’m just sick. I think, my poor parents must be thinking, ‘What did you do to my house?’ It breaks my heart because I loved this place,” said Wicks.The man who owns the company is Joshua David Mitchell, a former Sanger Mayo...
FRESNO, Calif. (FOX26 NEWS) — Several people have told FOX26 News a Valley landscaping company isn’t guilty of a couple mistakes – but rather, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.
One of them is Lisa Wicks.
“Everyday I walk out here and I’m just sick. I think, my poor parents must be thinking, ‘What did you do to my house?’ It breaks my heart because I loved this place,” said Wicks.
The man who owns the company is Joshua David Mitchell, a former Sanger Mayor who resigned and faced fines for conflicts of interest.
Wicks hired Mitchell to renovate her childhood home in 2019.
She says the experience was traumatic.
“I beat myself up about it for the last 2 and a half years, knowing I did this destruction to my childhood home and disrespected my parents.”
Wicks says JDM built a driveway she didn’t ask for “as a present.” It was built at a slant and flooded her garage.
“All the antique furniture that’s been in the house since 1958 that we hoped to salvage, it’s destroyed,” said Wicks. She says she was able to pay someone to fix some of it for an immense fee, but other items were lost.
JDM also charged $38,000 for a fence that shakes violently with the slightest push and has nails and screws still sticking out. It was supposed to be made of white oak, but a specialist told Lisa it’s fir.
Records show JDM charged for 24 glass panes, but Wicks says Mitchell only installed five. She also got five trees, but was charged for 25.
There are planters built in such a way that an arborist told Wicks will be deadly to the trees. There are other flowerpots glued to the cement using grout.
Wicks asked for multiple walkways that she wanted to be ADA compliant. One is only 16 inches wide, when a wheelchair needs three feet for access. Another is designed to be decoratively off-centered, but as a result is no longer fit for a wheelchair. The staggered walkway is also poorly troweled, with gouges and globs in the concrete.
Wicks says Mitchell also attempted three separate times to build a stairway, but eventually gave up. After that, she commissioned a Forensic Construction Defect Investigation from a company called Professional Inspection Services.
It’s 79 pages long.
The things it points out range from “significant visual defect” to “improper and non-professional.”
The word “unsafe” is in there 16 times. The stairway was listed as hazardous.
Some things, such as the installation of a gas line and an encroachment along the street, the report says were done without a permit.
“We did the forensics report because he was trying to charge us more than the contracts and was coming back with all these change orders that we had never agreed to and signed and was wanting money for it,” Wicks explained.
She has documentation of those change orders she never signed. One of them was for a fire pit she says she told JDM she didn’t want.
“We left on vacation and he built this hole,” she said, gesturing to an enormous empty pit in the middle of her backyard.
Wicks also says Mitchell requested she pay a $35,000 bill in seven separate $5,000 checks.
And then there’s something that’s more emotionally damaging than financial: Wicks says she found her deceased mother’s pajamas and underwear wrapped inside a pond filter to keep it quiet.
“I was mortified that he would go into our personal things and take out something to do that,” said Wicks tearfully. “Moreover, that he completely said, ‘Well you gave me permission.’ I would’ve never given permission to do that. It just breaks my heart, it was another way of being violated. The pond people that came out said, ‘Oh, we’ve fixed a couple of his ponds.’”
In the end, JDM charged just under $300,000 for their work. Another contractor’s estimate says it’ll cost $130,000 to rip out, and another $200,000 or so to renovate the landscape for a second time.
Wick says lawyer told her it would cost $150,000 to pursue JDM in court, and that she likely wouldn’t recoup any of her money, because Mitchell couldn’t afford the bill.
“I just don’t have the money to do it. I mean, it’s just impossible for me to finance that. Another $150,000 to go after him without the idea that we’d ever collect anything.”
Vatche Moukhtarian is going after JDM landscaping.
“We’re now having to piece this together to make our backyard livable and safe,” the restaurant owner said.
He and another family that filed a complaint against JDM Landscaping split the company’s $15,000 bond, meaning they each got $7,500. That pays for just 3.75% of what Moukhtarian paid Mitchell.
“I have accepted this is a bad thing that’s happened,” said Moukhtarian. “I’m trying to keep positive. I come back here, we’re working on it, and unfortunately I can’t afford to hire a crew to come and fix everything.”
Now, Moukhtarian is looking to take Mitchell to court.
He says a pizza oven JDM built collapsed after a year.
“Unfortunately the only thing that was holding that foam together was nails like this that were barely going in, maybe, so there was no structural support again. So half of it collapsed and I had to take down the other half, because I do have young kids,” said Moukhtarian. “He’s not even willing to fix, nor would I want him in my backyard again.”
A concrete counter collapsed as well. He says he pointed out to Mitchell during the building process that the counter wasn’t level, but Mitchell brushed him off and promised it would be by the end. It wasn’t.
“We’ve had to pick up probably 30-40% of the pavers and re-settle them because he never compacted the ground,” added Moukhtarian.
Moukhtarian has been documenting his problems with JDM landscaping on social media. After he posted online, people started reaching out, saying they’d gone through similar problems.
A family in Reedley told FOX26 it paid double to hire another contractor to tear out a pavilion JDM built.
A woman named Kim Smaldino had water building up over concrete slabs JDM poured. She says Mitchell told her he’d level it out, but says that leveler turned out to be paint that later chipped.
"We never pursued either since we knew we couldn't recoup any money from him," said Smaldino.
When cracks started forming in her flower bed, she says Mitchell told her it was the “Santa Barbara look.”
Moukhtarian says Mitchell told him the exact same thing when he complained about his cracks.
Even more concerning:
“When it rained, we had a lot of lower areas of our pavers flood because the drainage he put down wasn’t going anywhere. They’re fake drains that were on there, and all the water was going towards that,” said Moukhtarian. “The drain was just a pipe in the ground with a lid on it. So when the water came over here, it wasn’t going anywhere.”
Moukhtarian claims JDM sent a fake inspector to his home as well; he says when he called the City about it, they had no record of the inspector visiting his home. Wicks said something similar happened to her; when she asked to see the inspector’s license to take a picture, she says he refused.
“He always had an excuse for everything,” said Mouktarian of Mitchell. “I felt like people were getting taken advantage of and he was using my name to get these jobs.”
The Contractors Licensing Board said it isn’t able to confirm how many complaints were made about JDM Landscaping, but citations based on complaints are public record.
Those citations show some of the exact same things people talked with FOX26 News about – doing work without permits, exceeding contract amounts, doing work without contracts, improper change orders, and so on.
The CSLB says the complaint process is as follows:
Mitchell also has two small claims judgments against him, each for under $5,000. He has a federal tax lien of $44,179 recorded on June 14, 2021.
The Secretary of State suspended JDM Landscaping, Inc’s corporate tax status on January 3rd of 2022, but Mitchell’s CSLB license is still active. A previous company under Mitchell’s name, Western Landscape Development, Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
“The other thing that’s crazy is, he has this long list of everything he’s done wrong and he still has an active license,” said Wicks
The CSLB told FOX26 News in a statement,
There is a process for license revocation and suspension which is done after a thorough investigation and then an accusation is filed by the Attorney General’s Office. This is sought for the most egregious cases and usually involves multiple, serious acts.
“So how do you protect someone else from being hurt?” asked Wicks.
FOX26 News first reached out to Joshua Mitchell on February 21st, and he responded the same day to direct us to his lawyer. On Thursday, February 24th, his lawyer suggested we do the interview that following Tuesday, but then Mitchell never confirmed the interview time. We suggested an interview either Wednesday or Thursday, but didn’t hear back.
If you'd like to file a complaint against JDM Landscaping, Inc. go here.