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August 9, 2022

Year In Review: Recapping an up and down 2021

For most elected bodies, the new year brings newly appointed Presidents and Vice-Presidents—or board chairs and vice-chairs. This seldom controversial move is a way to end the year and begin with new leadership.

The first meeting of the new year is usually the first time those leaders take the helm and give the public a hint of their leadership style.

For Georgia Acosta, newly appointed President for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, this meant unceremoniously firing Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez.

Acosta has never publicly explained her motivations. And this is a shame. We have tried to reach out multiple times via phone call, text message and email, and she has not responded. As reporters, we strive to tell both sides of the story, and this one has consequently always felt incomplete.

But her apparent plans to install an interim superintendent were derailed at a special meeting two days after the 4-3 vote to fire Rodriguez, for which trustees Kim De Serpa, Maria Orozco and Jennifer Holm dissented.

Dozens upon dozens of members of the public submitted more than 10 hours of comment over two following meetings, slamming the decision and lambasting Acosta.

The board reversed the decision a week later in a 7-0 vote. They also censured Acosta in March

But despite the controversy, Acosta has her supporters. An effort to recall her failed late in 2021 after organizers could not gather enough signatures. She is set to serve on the board until 2024.

Here are four other stories from 2021 that left a lasting impression on me:

Teacher Shortage

One of the more lamentable consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic—and for society’s distressing habit of casting blame on others for their own failings—is a teacher shortage that is affecting schools throughout the U.S.

Some students at high schools in Watsonville literally do not have teachers for some classes, leaving them to sit in the gymnasium or fend for themselves.

Teachers in November announced plans to file a Williams complaint about the issue.

There are many reasons for the shortages, not the least of which is the after-effects of distance learning that occurred during the lockdown. But also at fault is decades of societal scorn heaped on educators, blaming them for the failings of the entire system.

To make education work, we need lawmakers to fund education and—more importantly—families to take an active role in their children’s education. Blaming teachers—and basing their success and possible pay scale on ridiculous standardized testing—is serving only to drive them away from the profession.

One teacher at a PVUSD board meeting said he could make more as an assistant manager at Panda Express.

Yamashita Market Closes

It was the end of an era in Watsonville when Yamashita Market closed its doors. At the time, the little family-owned place was the only Asian market in Santa Cruz County. Since then, Rachelle’s Asian Store at 28 2nd St. has opened, a well-stocked place everyone should check out.

Yamashita Market—opened in 1928 and moved to its current location in 1948—was a South County cornerstone, and a place for the sizable Japanese community to get hard-to-find supplies.

Owner Goro Yamashita says that business was declining even before the slowdown that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. But increasing numbers of people are doing their shopping online.

Watsonville Community Hospital

Watsonville Community Hospital began its newest chapter—and hopefully its last for a while—when a newly launched group of local nonprofit organizers and medical professionals announced plans to purchase it.

The Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project (PVHDP) in December reached a preliminary agreement to purchase the hospital. That organization, in the process of establishing itself legally—is made up of the County of Santa Cruz, the city of Watsonville, the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley and Salud Para La Gente.

The hospital has a long history of corporate ownership, and has for years seen declining revenues, along with a disgruntled public and overworked staff.

The hospital’s previous owners, Halsen Healthcare, were ousted in January and replaced with Los Angeles-based Prospect Medical Holdings.

Amanda Owens

The tragic tale of Amanda Owens—the Aptos woman who fatally stabbed her husband on Aug. 24, 2019—made my end-of-year list for the way it made me rethink news reporting.

Owens’ attorney said that the stabbing followed years of abuse from her husband Thomas Owens, and with no correlating account from him it seemed this was the truth.

But during her sentencing hearing, Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Jason Gill painted a drastically different picture, showing Amanda Owens as the primary abuser in the relationship. Thomas Owens’ family corroborated this account, describing severe mental and verbal abuse, including threats to kill him. She received four years in state prison.

This was a reminder that no story can be taken at face value, and to delve into everything everyone says.

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