Brookside Elementary students Zoom with school dog, Gus, and friends

Brookside Elementary School’s dog, Gus, appears on the biweekly Zoom meetings orchestrated by principal Kathleen Crossman.
By JACLYN LUNA | The Willits News


Willits students have now been out of the classroom for seven months. In an attempt to keep students connected during distance learning, Brookside Elementary School Principal Kathleen Crossman came up with the program ‘Zoom with Gus and Friends’. During the engaging half-hour Zoom sessions students get a chance to socialize, play games, make art, and see friends, teachers and beloved Brookside dog, Gus.

Brookside Elementary School Principal, Kathleen Crossman hosts biweekly Zoom with Gus and Friends, providing students an opportunity to interact in a fun way.

Crossman said she was motivated to start the program by wanting to create an extra opportunity for students to meet together and enjoy each other’s company in a fun way. She described how when students were on-campus in non-pandemic times, they would gather around Gus and discuss a variety of things. She said, “Gus was the glue that brought them together.”

The activity of the Zoom depends on the number of students in attendance. Crossman said sometimes they do guided drawings, take care of Gus by brushing him, or read stories together. One meeting, they took a walk through the playground so students could see the new playground equipment and new drinking fountains. Crossman said, “I’m just trying to keep a sense of normalcy.”

The Zoom got the “and friends” added to the name because often teachers will make a cameo appearance to have conversations with students. On the meeting before Thanksgiving Break, School Counselor Jeff Cramer played “would you rather” with the children and Crossman guided the attendees in drawing a turkey, which they colored with the markers the school had sent home for them. Students shared their artwork and discussed their favorite part of Zooming with Gus.

Brookside Elementary School Alumni student, eight-grader Alexander Miya, joined the Zoom with Gus and Friends meeting before Thanksgiving break.

Second grader Zayne said, “My favorite thing is that we get to color pictures and that we also get to see Gus.”

School Secretary Heather Miya said, “I love Zooming with Gus because I get to see so many happy faces, I get to see students and it’s wonderful.”

Crossman got Gus from the program Guide Dogs for the Blind, but it was discovered during an x-ray that the canine had a bad back and could not perform guide dog duties. Being familiar with guide dogs, Crossman thought that Gus would be a good candidate for a career change, and meet the school’s need. She said, “Gus is such a fixture around Brookside, he is just this beloved old guy. He has a really old soul and he just listens to the kids. They utter away to him and he is a listening ear and they love him, it’s really neat to see.”

Aside from providing a listening ear, Gus offers students an opportunity to learn about dogs. Children learn the basic guidelines pertaining to dogs, such as how to ask permission to touch a dog and what the plastic bags worn on a collar are for.

Brookside Elementary School dog, Gus, brought students together at recess when schools were open for in-class instruction. He now brings students together virtually during biweekly Zoom meetings. Photos by Jaclyn Luna

Zoom with Gus and Friends are typically held twice a week at 2:30 p.m. To join, look for the link on the school website or on Facebook, either on the PTO or Brookside Principle Facebook Page.

Color-a-Thon continues even without electricity

Students and families run to raise money for education

Lack of electrical power did not deter these young runners from enjoying the sixth annual Color-a-Thon at Willits High School.
By ALYSON BAILEY | For The Willits News


Sunday, Oct. 27, Willits woke to the first of what would be many mornings without electricity. Nevertheless, the steering committee and board of the Brookside Elementary PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) held the sixth annual Color-a-Thon and fundraiser on schedule at the Willits High School track.

“This event is so much fun. The kids and teachers love it,” said Jenny Nelson who coordinated and managed the event. “It serves the Brookside and Blosser schools with basic classroom supplies, and incentives and prizes for attendance and reading. This also makes enrichment programs like assemblies possible.”

This dynamic event included people of all ages. Shirts, keychains, tutus, color packs, bottles, and many other accessories were for sale. Food and beverages were available, and children squealed happily as they dusted their peers and parents with bright hued powder.

“The colored powder is just cornstarch,” said Nelson. “It’s nontoxic and it doesn’t stain.”

Once the run began, participants would be doused by other runners and school staff as they reached the end of a lap. Most ran a mile or more, which meant at least eight passes through the color gauntlet.

Brookside Elementary PTO supports the education community with this event and more throughout the year. They’re looking for more parent involvement, and can be reached on Facebook and BrooksidePTO.com.

Willits Students go back to school for the 2019/2020 school year

Carol Brinkerhoff gets to know her new kindergarten class during the first day of the 2019/2020 school year at Brookside Elementary School.
By JACLYN LUNA | The Willits News


On Monday, Aug 19 Willits Unified School District (WUSD) commenced school for the 2019/2020 school year. Superintendent Mark Westerburg said he is looking forward to the new year and the schools and staff are exceedingly prepared. While there are no huge changes to WUSD occurring this year, there are several minor changes. One change that the district is implementing is a revised district calendar featuring a reduction in minimum days from 38 to 25 per calendar year. The revision will increase instructional time for students and allow for all schools in the district to be on the same schedule. Most minimum days will still occur on Tuesdays however in Nov, Feb and June early dismissals will be on Thursdays and Fridays to accommodate final schedules.

Other changes include an increase in enrollment at Sherwood School, which has now reached capacity in two of the three classrooms. Brookside Elementary and Willits High School received some fresh paint over the summer. Brookside also has new cafeteria tables this year. Baechtel Grove Middle School will be adding the Early High School Program, an acceleration pathway for 8th grade students to enroll in advanced classes enabling them to have more time to take college preparatory classes once they reach high school. Westerberg said the district has hired a choice group of new teachers and is “very positive about the direction (WUSD) is heading.” This year teachers will also be more involved in athletics.

Willits Elementary Charter School (WECS) and Willits Charter School are set to begin the school year on Aug 26. A significant change in WECS this school year is the new director, Dr. Charlene Bredder. Bredder, who moved to Willits from Cambodia in June, said “I’m excited because I can see that the teachers are so dedicated, and the community is so dedicated to the school”. Willits Charter School will begin the year with new flooring and carpet. They will also have three new teachers on staff as well as a new math program called Big Ideas Math that combines discovery learning with direct instruction.

An optimistic Westerburg said, “I think we are going to have a great school year”. One way the community at large can help make this a reality is to exercise caution while driving. The new school year means an increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic as students make their way to and from school. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) some school buses will flash yellow lights indicating they are preparing to let children out, drivers should slow down and be alert. When a school bus flashes red lights, all vehicles, driving in either direction, must stop until the flashing red lights are turned off. Failure to do so could result in up to $1,000 fine and suspension of driver’s license for up to a year.

WUSD is still looking to hire classroom aids, substitute bus drivers and substitute custodians. For more information, contact the Director of Human Resources, Laura Sleeper, at (707) 459-5314 or laurasleeper@willitsunified.com.

Brookside Elementary student visits with school resource officer 

Brookside Elementary School kindergartener, Finn, talks with Willits School Resource Officer Ryan Stockhoff about Finn’s goal to become a police officer. Photo contributed
By Willits News | editorial@willitsnews.com |

In early March, students from Brookside Elementary School participated in many activities for Dr. Seuss Week. A craft in Carol Brinkerhoff’s kindergarten class uncovered one student’s desire to become a police man when he grows up. The students filled in a hot air balloon cutout describing the places they will go (in life), and on the first page kindergarten student Finn wrote, “I want to be a ples man.” On the next two pages he wrote, “I want to go to the ples stashn” and “I want to ptect ppl.”

It just so happened that the very next week, the new Willits School Resource Officer Ryan Stockhoff made a visit to the school. Principal Kathleen Crossman said she “recalled Finn’s career goal and asked Officer Stockhoff if he would meet Finn and give him some career guidance.” Finn was able to read his “essay” to Officer Stockhoff and talk about being a police officer.

“I couldn’t be happier that Officer Stockhoff was selected to be our Resource Officer because he has been to our school before just to see our kids and interact with them,” said Crossman. “It’s very important to him that our young students know that police officers are here to help. I know that Officer Stockhoff will do well in his new role as School Resource Officer because after his introduction, one of our kindergartners said ‘He looks like a good one!’”

Willits Unified School District board hears about intervention program at local schools

Elementary students entertain with song, dance and poetry

Brookside Elementary teacher Melissa Bergmann leads her first grade class in song during the Willits Unified School District board meeting May 8. Photo by Aura Whittaker
By Aura Whittaker | awhittaker@willitsnews.com | Willits News


The Wednesday, May 8 Willits Unified School District board meeting was a mixture of entertainment by elementary students and an update about available student interventions being implemented at the two elementary schools. After singing, dance and poetry performances by Brookside Elementary School (BES) and Blosser Lane Elementary School (BLES) classes the board got down to the business. First, Superintendent Mark Westerburg presented Willits High School sophomore Claire Case-Brackett with a plaque in recognition of being this year’s WUSD student representative. Then it was on to more serious matters.

The Multi-Tiered System of Support, MTSS, team, which includes BLES principal Nancy Runberg, BES principal Kathleen Crossaman, WUSD special education director Kelley Labus, WUSD school counselor Jeff Cramer, BES resource teachers Laura Rowland and Julie Kanel and various other teachers and paraprofessionals, presented the board with an update and details about the MTSS program. “We looked into a grant to help our students achieve through (academic) intervention and also helping support their behavior, as well as social-emotional learning,” said Crossman, “and that’s what this grant is all about… Research is showing needs to happen. Those are the three tiers of really good instruction.” She explained that the grant ended up requiring a lot of travel and be too costly to be implemented effectively, and therefore the two schools decided to work together and implement the program on their own. “So, as schools, we got together and tried to do the hard work on own which isn’t as easy as having the support.” Over time the grant program directors heard the same concerns from other rural school districts and they cut down the travel and meetings. She said WUSD decided to partner with Mendocino County Office of Education and share the $50,000 grant funds.

According to the California Department of Education, “In California, MTSS is an integrated, comprehensive framework that focuses on Common Core State Standards, core instruction, differentiated learning, student-centered learning, individualized student needs, and the alignment of systems necessary for all students’ academic, behavioral, and social success… These include the interventions within the RTI2 processes, supports for Special Education, Title I, Title III, support services for English Learners, American-Indian students, and those in gifted and talented programs. MTSS offers the potential to create needed systematic change through intentional design and redesign of services and supports that quickly identify and match the needs of all students.”

Labus said, “We already had in place a whole bunch of interventions at many, many levels.” She explained to the board how the intervention pathways, work with student examples of scenarios where children need academic, behavioral and/or social-emotional support. MTSS uses an umbrella metaphor which states that each and every child needs academics, behavior, and social-emotional support to be a “whole child” and that these three tiers are necessary for all children – “All means all” is their slogan.

MTSS, formerly known as RTI (Response to Intervention), is said to have grown “from efforts to improve identification practices in special education.” In other words, it is described as a “process of systematically documenting the performance of students as evidence of the need for additional services after making changes in classroom instruction.” The goal of the program is to “change the way schools support students with learning and/or behavior problems by systematically delivering a range of interventions based on demonstrated levels of need.”

Crossman said the schools are primarily focusing on attendance because it involves all three of the tiers because she said “everything is affected by attendance.” She told the board the attendance focus also aligns with the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which is a tool for local educational agencies to set goals, plan actions, and leverage resources to meet those goals to improve student outcomes.” In support of improving attendance goals at both the elementary schools, they have merged the site councils to be able to share information and align the two schools and the students as they transition between the k-2 school and the 3-5 school.

Rowland told the board, “MTSS is designed to not create yet another system but to combine them into one system. And so we took the LCAP and the goals that we have laid out in the LCAP and we realize them through MTSS… So we took that goal of improving attendance that’s in our LCAP and we said ‘How are we going to do that?” We are going to do that by taking these action steps.. MTSS is the vehicle that helps drive us toward the goals of our LCAP.

Brookside Elementary School currently enrolling transitional kindergarten students

2019/2020 slots available

Parent volunteer, Kristen Eschleman, comes once a week to do garden work with transitional kindergarten students.
By Submitted |


by Jaclyn Luna

Transitional kindergarten (TK) is open for enrollment at Brookside Elementary School (BES) for children turning five between Sept. 2, 2019 and Dec. 2, 2019. TK is part of a two year kindergarten program that was born out of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. Students attend TK for one year and then kindergarten the next.

Barbarie Gonzales, who teaches a class composed of TK and kindergarten students explains, “It’s important to know that it’s not the same program at all. We do a totally different curriculum for transitional kindergarten versus regular kindergarten. We have different books that we work on; we really work on community and how to be with other people. And, we do the fun things like plants, butterflies life cycles.”

TK teacher Cynthia Pfingten added, “(There is a lot) of emphasis on social skills and learning to get along with other kids and take turns, how to wait, how to ask for help if you need help from an adult, how to sit on a rug or a chair, how to be a student. It really gives them a head start. TK is meant to be a bridge between preschool and kindergarten.” TK is a half-day program, beginning at 8:10 a.m. and ending at 11:35 a.m., or 11:50 a.m. if the student would like to stay for lunch. Students enrolled in TK are eligible for two free meals per day provided by the school.

There are many benefits for children that attend transitional kindergarten. BES principal Dr. Kathleen Crossman said, “Transitional kindergarten is such a gift for students. It gives students a chance to really have time to learn how to be a student. It gives them a jump on their math skills, their reading skills, but also on how to act in a school setting and what it means to be a student and to really develop a love of learning before they start kindergarten and all the rigor of the state standards”.

Gonzales says she sees a big difference in her students who attended TK once they are in kindergarten. “Even the kids who have a hard time in TK, they were learning how to sit, they were learning how to keep their hands to themselves. This year they are doing really well, they have matured and are being a role model for other kids. And they are proud of themselves.” Gonzales said she has also observed that children who attended TK are more ready to read in kindergarten.

Bonnie Hinton, who works at Brookside and sent her son through the TK program said, “It benefited (my son) to do TK because he was a little bit behind, and he went to TK. He knew all his sounds afterwards, he knew all of his letters and he could read a whole bunch of words. This year, he is reading at a much higher level than he normally would in kindergarten because he got that extra boost to be able to succeed in school. So it really helped him a lot to do TK.”

Children who turn five during the summer are also welcome to enroll in TK if their caretakers do not think they are ready for the more rigorous schedule and longer days kindergarten entails. Additionally, four-year-old children who will turn five after Dec. 3, 2019 can call the office to be put on a waitlist to be enrolled in TK if there is space in the classroom. For more information and to enroll, call Erica at (707) 459-5385 extension 1401.