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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Lauren Foreman covers education for The Californian. Reach her at, at or on Twitter@TBCTheGrade.

STUDENTS PICK MENU FAVES: After-school students at Fremont Elementary School scooped cup-fulls of vegetable chili and chomped bite-sizes of shredded chicken and black bean tacos in the school's cafeteria Wednesday.

The dishes were two of 20 cafeteria workers throughout the Bakersfield City School District prepared in a taste-testing event to determine new menu items for the 2014-15 school year.

About 400 students completed surveys in the event Wednesday and circled happy, frowning or uncertain faces next to each chicken, turkey, beef and vegetarian option they were assigned to taste.

One table with 20 students tasted shredded chicken and black bean tacos with cheese, turkey enchiladas with mango pico de gallo, a beef entry and vegetable chili.

When asked who thought the tacos tasted best, about 12 other hands shot up in agreement. The cheese-topped tacos were a clear fan favorite.

Shelly Deavila, nutrition service manager at McKinley Elementary School, created the option. She seasoned chicken with tomatoes, garlic, onions and cumin, added two cans of black beans, heated them and placed them in whole-wheat tortilla before topping the dish with cheese and reheating it.

She, like kitchen workers in 42 other schools throughout the district, used ingredients she already had access to in the school cafeteria.

Barbara Sevier, Deavila's counterpart at Compton Junior High School, blended chicken, carrots, celery, onions, mayo, mustard and "secret spices" to create a chicken salad. A Pauly and Casa Loma school team added pineapples, snow peas and juice from mandarin oranges to repurpose an orange chicken recipe.

Brenda Robinson, director of nutrition services for the Bakersfield City School District, said student opinion is an essential element to consider when adding new items to school menus.

"Our focus on anything that we're going to serve on the menu has to be something students will eat," she said.

The menu may be loaded with the nutritional value, fruits, vegetables and whole grains federally required.

"But if the students don't eat it, you haven't won a battle," Robinson said.

TEACHER OF THE WEEK: Ann Bonas, a third-grade teacher at Harding Elementary, has, for more than 20 years, coached teams in the Bakersfield City School District Math Bowl.

Her son, Mark Daniel Bonas, submitted her name to The Californian because of that work.

He said for two years she has taken children from an east Bakersfield school and won competitions against schools throughout the city. She has served as a coach for much longer.

"She's done this for 21 years, starting at Voorhies elementary school and now at Harding," Bonas wrote. "Her passion for teaching is unmatched by anyone I have ever met."

The Harding team lost this year's competition Wednesday to Dr. Juliet Thorner Elementary School, but Ann Bonas' coaching role is only one aspect of her story. She started a pen-pal program with a student group from Ireland to improve cultural understanding and writing skills, and her teaching career spans 30 years, several grades, and both public and private schools.

Ann Bonas said she has instructed students from a variety of different backgrounds but her job -- to teach them -- is the same.

"I love the students," she said. "I love the excitement of sharing with them."

TESTING DEBATE SWEEPS NATION: A new set of math and English-language arts benchmarks, touted by some as a method to streamline and modernize education but criticized by others as federally-pushed and overly sweeping, will next year replace curriculum standards that have shaped instruction in California since adoption in 1997.

California joined the curriculum and testing overhaul when state education leaders adopted the new standards, known as Common Core State Standards, in 2010 and followed the decision with an aligned testing pilot. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards since 2010.

Kern County school districts are scheduled to take the pilot during the testing window of April 7 through May 16, but some school districts start the field testing next week.

The testing, in which 22 states that are a part of a Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will participate, protects public school districts in California from federal penalties associated with the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Emmy Glancy, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, said Indiana formally stopped Common Core involvement. Additionally, since Jan. 1 at least 23 states have considered legislation or state action to reverse or delay implementation of the standards or the aligned assessments.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian and policy analyst, contended in the Washington Post on Jan. 18 that the standards are a "rigid" and federally-driven attempt to "standardize teaching, curriculum, instruction, and schooling."

She said early development was a closed-door process involving few educators but significant representation from the testing industry including David Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the College Board not-for-profit that organizes the SAT and Advanced Placement testing.

Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, wrote in a 2011 blog entry on the Harvard Business Review website that adoption of "common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale;" researchers can mine data to learn most effective teaching strategies and materials, and teachers in different regions can share materials and assessments.

Ravitch argued in her speech, however, that advocates ignore that socioeconomic status "heavily" influences test scores.

"To expect tougher standards and a renewed emphasis on standardized testing to reduce poverty and inequality is to expect what never was and never will be," she said.

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Here's the latest buzz from The Californian's social media platforms:

"Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, has proposed a plan that would allow student loan payments to be automatically deducted from employee paychecks... What do you think of this idea?"

Capi Zabala, Facebook: "My mom used to work for a company collecting on student loans across the US. Some of the people she came into contact with were folks with high paying jobs (bank CEOs, Mayors, real estate agents...etc.) dodging their debt. It's sickening."

Denis Mayberry, Facebook: "oh goodie, a Republican wanting more government control over its populace -- hypocrite?"

Jim Phillips, Facebook: "More government bureaucracy placed on business."