Bob Noël’s American Academy

“The first thing I need to find is some help in managing,” Santa Barbara School Board’s modest, controversial – and most outspoken – member said during a surprisingly well-attended Saturday afternoon meeting of potential supporters of his American Charter High School concept. By the end of the session in front of some of the most powerful forces in Santa Barbara County education, he had all the help he would need.

Noël easily won re-election to the school board in November, and one of the platforms he ran on was a pledge to research the formation of a special high school dedicated to those not likely to attend a four-year college. It was no empty promise; soon after Noël’s re-election, he announced that a $405,000 Department of Education (Charter School Division) grant had been awarded for the innovative idea.

Among those that showed up on a sunny Saturday afternoon, February 10, at Marilyn Gevirtz’s home to hear more about Noël’s plan were Joe and Elisa Atwill, Nancy Lessner, Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams, Frank Schipper of Schipper Construction, Steven Weiner, president of the Santa Barbara Building Trades Council, Les and Joan Esposito, Denice Adams, Santa Barbra Junior High School Principal John Becchio, La Cumbre Junior High School principal Jo Ann Caines, MJ publisher emeritus James Buckley, contractors’ rep Don Gordon, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools J. Brian Sarvis, and Robert & Patty Zuckerman, along with former teachers, union leaders, principals, professors, deans, doctors, CPAs, lawyers, consultants, retirees, mothers, and fathers. It was a mixed crowd in age, occupation, income level, and political leaning, but all seemed supportive of Bob Noël’s Big Idea: a high school wherein students not destined for college could pursue a career path suitable for their aspirations.

“I understand the tendency is to see this as money with wings on it,” Bob said in answer to a query of what might happen to other schools if money is taken away to support his. “But, at the same time,” he reassured, “the kids leave too, and the charter school assumes all the costs of educating those kids.”

Another comment included the observation that California voters had just approved more than $50 billion in bonds for construction projects throughout the state that would require thousands of well-paid, qualified, and competent construction workers to complete; most of those needed workers were not likely to be graduates of a liberal arts college program.

Bob noted with surprise that the first installment of the grant came in the form of a check for $45,000, made out not to American Charter High School, but to Robert Noël, and earmarked for the preparation of the actual charter. Once drawn, the charter would be vetted by a lawyer before being presented to the school board. “When they approve it,” Noël explained during a short interview, “then you notify the State Department of Education; they will forward that to the State Board of Education for the formal creation of the school. As soon as they hear that it passed the board here, they send the second check: $67,000.” That money is to be used to hire the teachers, define the curriculum, and put the whole thing together; it may not, however, be used for the school facility.

“In September, when we open,” Bob says optimistically, “they do a head count. If we’ve got a hundred students, they’ll send the remainder of the four hundred five thousand dollars.” If there are less than 100 students, the money will be adjusted, according to a formula.

Bob, who expects the school to open in September serving ninth- and tenth-graders, is planning to formally request requisitioning three about-to-be-vacated portable units (plus a shop) on the San Marcos High School campus. He says if those are not available, San Marcos might designate some land on the campus, and the academy could rent three portable classrooms. He says there is a “five- to seven-thousand-dollar setup fee and [the portables] cost five to seven thousand dollars a year to rent,” all of which is within the academy budget, as the first teaching staff “will be paid by the hour” and will not be fulltime, although he promises they will be paid union-scale wages.

Steven Weiner, executive director of Tri-County (Ventura, Santa Barbara & San Luis Obispo) Building Trades, suggests his group is interested in training the workforce of the future. “We need young people to be prepared to come into our apprenticeship programs,” he explains, “which are anywhere from three to five years and over nine thousand hours of training. This program would be great to get them ready to come on in and do the training,” he says of the charter high school concept. “The average age of a construction worker is forty-seven, he notes, adding, “so we need the younger people.” Steve boasts that the “mechanical trades” pay a “little over thirty dollars an hour, plus another ten to fifteen dollars an hour in benefits.”

As to his support of a charter high school based upon Bob’s ideas, Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams proffers, “Dr. Noël is a free thinker and he shakes things up and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way, but I just want to support him and tell people what a powerful idea this is. Right now the community has a great need for police officers,” he continues, observing that “many communities like Santa Barbara pay a lot of money to attract and retain police officers.” He says it is because of the competition with the military and with Crime Scene Investigators (because of all the TV shows). “Voters just passed Governor Schwarzenegger’s call for billions of dollars in construction and these kids are going to come out of school right into enormous employment opportunities,” he adds. “It couldn’t happen at a better time from the perspective of those kids and their employment opportunities.”

When asked whether he would consider a seat on the board, Williams says he’d be honored to accept. “I wouldn’t insist on it,” he says, and reveals that he’d “be happy to teach (Das is a former teacher), especially the kids in the construction academy, a class on the planning process in the State of California, which is a very very difficult process.”

Noël reassures those present that the charter high school will not be a place where academics would be allowed to slide in favor of the trade and/or journeyman training. The plan is to insist upon “at least a ‘C’ in every class, otherwise you’re out.”

Among those helping Noël in this endeavor are Laura Scarpulla, a Ph.D. candidate at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UCSB who serves as a consultant and research assistant and helped draft the charter. Also aboard is Silvia Ronchietto as recruitment and outreach coordinator, Kelly Travers, a graphic artist and web designer, and “all-around volunteer assistant” Pat Levee.

There are 12 announced members of the Board of Directors of the American Charter School so far, including co-chairs Marilyn Gevirtz and Martha Salas, and Treasurer Michael Zoradi, CPA. Noël says three seats on the board have been reserved: one for a Santa Barbara City Council member, one for the Board of Supervisors, and one for the School Board.

The timeline is thus: the charter will be turned in “within the week”; the school board will then have 30 days to hold public hearings, and must vote on the proposal within 60 days. If you’d like to learn more about the school, wish to volunteer, or even have a child that might be interested in attending, you can contact Bob Noël at 805-965-9768 or 805-689-2701, or Martha Salas at 805-965-1343.

Montecito Retreat

Not content with her successful launch of David Horowitz’s Wednesday Morning Club locally, or the equally successful co-formation of Voices of Montecito, a 400-strong group that has taken on the local power structure and shaken it up, Mary Belle Snow has compiled a world-class roster of speakers for what’s pegged as the first annual “Santa Barbara Retreat” weekend to be held at Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel from March 30 to April 1. Lined up so far are former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, radio talk show host Dennis Prager, David Horowitz, Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo (both are likely presidential candidates), former CIA Director James Woolsey, TV military commentator General Thomas McInerney, former Congressmen J.D. Hayworth and Tom DeLay, authors Dick Morris, Victor Davis Hanson, Nonie Darwish, Robert Spencer, and Gordon Cucullu. Those interested in attending what promises to be a dream weekend for conservatives (and a nightmarish three days for liberals) should contact:, or e-mail

The Party of Lincoln

“I am going to read the Gettysburg Address; forgive me,” Brooks Firestone informed Lincoln Club attendees during this year’s Lincoln’s Birthday celebration at the Firestone Winery in Los Olivos on Sunday afternoon, February 11. Brooks traditionally reads the address every year, most often wearing a stovepipe hat, although he eschewed the chapeau this time around.

“It can be read over and over and over again,” Brooks intoned, “and it’s always fresh and it’s always brilliant. It was the middle of the Civil War and it was uncertain how the war would come out. They were pretty dark days. There were riots. There were terrible editorials about the president and his leadership. They lost many battles and it could have gone either way. The Union won at Gettysburg, but at a terrible cost. When Lincoln left Washington and took a train down to Gettysburg, it was for a dedication of the cemetery. The cemetery was up on a hill where the Union Army had taken its stand. At the time, it was only partially filled, because there were graves all over the place and some of them were shallow. The place was a mess; it was muddy; there was no greenery around; it had all been shot away. But, people came from all around the country for this dedication. Some of them to dig up their relatives and put them in this cemetery.

“Lincoln wrote – and rewrote – his address on the train,” Brooks continued. “It was just out of his head; he didn’t have speechwriters; he didn’t have PR guys; he just focused on what was going on in the country, and on the war, and on what he wanted to say. The guy before him had gone on for a couple of hours speaking. He had told the whole story of the battle and they wanted to hear that because these were relatives of the people killed there. Then the president came on and a lot of people couldn’t hear him and couldn’t realize what he said until it was reprinted, until people had a chance to focus on it. I think they are the greatest political words I have ever heard or ever will hear. Lincoln stood up in front of that crowd, on that battlefield, at that cemetery, and read aloud:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war…

“…It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Brooks gave a moving almost teary-eyed reading, bringing a new understanding of the events of that dreary summer day. Mr. Firestone is a born teacher and an effective speaker; one can only ponder what might have been had this former state assemblyman run for lieutenant governor (as he had intended), instead of heeding the call of his to compete for a congressional seat, a campaign which he lost.

Milton Friedman’s Biography

Santa Barbara-based author and former school board member Lanny Ebenstein’s long awaited biography of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman (Palgrave Macmillan, $27.95) is now available, having been released at the end of January. The book was rushed into print a few months earlier than originally planned, because of the death of Mr. Friedman on November 16, 2006.

“Of all the people I’ve known in my life, he’s the smartest,” says Lanny during a short interview. Ebenstein’s other books include “Friedrich Hayek: A biography” and “Edwin Cannan: Liberal Doyen.”

Lanny, who last spoke with Friedman in October, less than a month before his death, marveled at Friedman’s intellectual ability. “On Free To Choose, for each segment [of the book],” Lanny marveled, “he would give a lecture on the topic of the segment in some appropriate academic or other venue, but then, when he would speak on the topic at the filming location for the [television] series, his comments were strictly contemporaneous; no notes, simply talking off the top of his head on the issues at hand.”

Ebenstein’s “Friedrich Hayek: A Biography” was published by Macmillan in 2001. “When I started the Friedman project, I thought, ‘No one can be greater than Hayek; he’s just a really great intellect.’ But, after I read Friedman,” he says, “I really became persuaded that as to practical influence in changing how people think about issues, that Friedman was an even greater intellect and influence.”

‘Back in the World’

Daniel Gibbings, the master jewelry designer and maker who for months has been cooped up in a tiny space behind Coast Village Road, has come out of hiding. Last Friday, February 9, Gibbings celebrated the opening of his eponymous studio with a reception attended by friends, loyal customers and otherwise admirers.

“I’m happy to be back in the world and not hidden away somewhere,” said a buoyant Gibbings during the reception.

Gibbings, who gained a strong following for his deft work with antiquities at the Santa Barbara downtown showroom Fibula, has taken over the commercial space left empty by the recent departure of the Montecito Pet Grooming Salon. The new studio, he says, will enable him to have “more exposure” of his work and greater freedom to work with stones and precious metals.

“His work has real character,” says longtime customer Eva Ein, who says Gibbings made her family five St. Christopher medals in June for her daughter’s high school graduation. “His jewelry is so original and unpretentious that it makes it really meaningful.”

Daniel Gibbings Jewelry is located at 1143 Coast Village Road. For more info call 565-1284 or visit