WATSONVILLE—For more than a decade, students at Pajaro Valley High School have had the option of an elective class that teaches them to assemble and maintain bicycles.
The class was launched by Project Bike Tech, a program that started in Santa Cruz at The Bike Trip, a longstanding hub for cyclists. The program has since popped up in 18 schools in seven states.
In 2020, Pajaro Valley Unified School District retooled the program—along with several other experience-based programs such as biotechnology and graphic design—when the district took over the Career Technical Education (CET) program from the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.
The district’s CTE program now has 55 courses from 22 “pathways” that cover 14 of California’s identified major industry sectors, says PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.
The PVHS Bike Tech program, for example, now includes an entrepreneurial component designed to teach students how to run a business, even as they learn the intricacies of bicycle maintenance.
That program was thrown into uncertainty when instructor Lorenzo Holquin was told on Feb. 24 that he would not become a tenured teacher after a two-year probationary period. He says the move came after he did not adequately teach the entrepreneurial portion.
Employers typically cannot discuss specific employees.
According to PVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Alison Niizawa, probationary employees are closely monitored for two years, and evaluated by their administrators based on 16 teaching standards. Based on those evaluations, first-year probationary employees can be approved for their second year, and those in their second year can be recommended for tenure.
But the employees can also not be recommended for advancement, Niizawa said.
A decision to end a probationary contract is not considered a layoff, she said, adding that the district did not lay any employees off this year.
The PVUSD Board of Trustees on Feb. 24 approved 14 teacher “separations,” a term that means an employee resigned.
PVHS Principal Matt Levy declined to comment for this story.
Holquin says his evaluation, given to him by Levy, stated that he “has not met the professional standards of the PVUSD and is not recommended for advancement for tenure.”
Holquin, who has run the Watsonville Bike Shack Collective for 16 years, also helps to manage the Watsonville Farmers Market.
He holds two teaching credentials, one in marketing, sales and services and the other in transportation. He also holds a certified bike mechanic certification from Barnett Bicycle Institute, one of two of its kind in the U.S.
Holquin called the evaluation “unfair and disrespectful.”
He says his transition to being an entrepreneurship teacher was made difficult this year when he was handed two “ripped up” 10-year-old textbooks just four days before class was to begin.
“I was thinking, ‘how am I going to teach this to the students,’” he said. “Also, most of the students who sign up for my class want the bike tech class, not entrepreneurship.”
“I did the best with what I had,” he added.
PVHS senior Chase Silviera calls the class “amazing,” and says it is refreshing to leave the rigidity of classroom learning for the hands-on opportunities afforded by the Bike Tech program, which he says allows him to tap into his love for building.
“I was really allowed to branch out,” he said. “It was like I was walking from school to a park where my friends are hanging out.”
Silveira says he also participates in the program’s Earn-a-Bike program, which pairs high school mentors with middle school students looking to learn bike repair. Young people who complete that program get their own bike.
“In those students I kind of saw myself,” he said. “Seeing those kids with a smile on their faces as they are learning how to repair bikes is heartwarming to me.”
Silviera had praise for Holquin as a teacher.
“He really sees how a person ticks, what their weaknesses and strengths are,” he said. “Through the program I kind of saw what my purpose is.”
Mercedes Ross, Executive Director of Project Bike Tech—now based in Colorado—agrees, calling Holquin, “one of the best teachers in the program.”
“Lorenzo Holquin is one of the most amazing teachers on the planet, and we so appreciate him,” Ross said.
“The students can’t say enough about him every year,” she said. “That man has had an effect on thousands of students and thousands of children.”
Holquin believes his termination—which is effective in June at the end of the school year—was politically motivated and driven by an administration that wants to eliminate the bike program.
Not so, says CTE Coordinator Julie Edwards, who says the district has every intention of continuing the program with the entrepreneurship component.
‘MOVING & SHAKING’
Edwards says that the district has been “moving and shaking” as it guides the largely hands-on program through the Covid-19 pandemic.
This includes providing take-home kits to help bolster students’ learning, including working gasoline engines for mechanics classes and food preparation kits complete with knives, spatulas, whisks and aprons for those in the culinary program. Science students receive solar kits, and computer science get their own computer to dismantle and rebuild.
In addition CTE teachers got their own online content to help them with the stay-at-home lessons.
“Distance learning for hands-on courses is a whole different approach, but that’s been one of the biggest accomplishments in this school district to help kids stay engaged in their own home,” Edwards said.
Some 3,600 students are taking CTE courses, Edwards says, a number that reflects the program’s recent move into middle schools to help capture the interest of students there.
“Studies show the earlier you catch their interest, the more likelier they are to stick with it,” Edwards said.
Also new this school year is the shift of the CTE courses to align with A-G college and university requirements, meaning they are accepted by many universities, said Rodriguez.
“PVUSD’s CTE programs provide high school students with access to exemplary, state-of-the-art, academic career preparation for multiple post-secondary choices,” she said.