Sonora High ag boosters still critical

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat May 22, 2013 11:30 am

Sonora High Superintendent Mike McCoy and teacher Robert Mayben laid out an ambitious plan for agriculture classes at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees’ meeting, but students continued protesting the removal of teacher Stan Kellogg from the program.

McCoy and Mayben said they plan to start a vineyard, raise cattle, install solar panels, sell produce and develop local business partnerships. 

A number of community members voiced skepticism about the plans and urged trustees to not transfer Kellogg to the Dario Cassina High School continuation school.

Shelley Truelock, Mother Lode Fair livestock superintendent, said Kellogg had already started many of the projects Mayben listed. 

“Now he’s being railroaded out of a job,” Truelock said. “Nobody is giving any answers.”

McCoy has declined to discuss the reasons for Kellogg’s transfer. Meanwhile, Kellogg says he would like to continue his 24 years of agriculture teaching rather than work at Cassina.

News of his impending transfer has brought dozens of people to Sonora Union High School District’s recent board meetings, which are otherwise sparsely attended.   

“I have also considered Stan as a second father,” said Stephanie Tweedy, a 2009 Sonora High graduate. “He introduced me to agriculture with my first lamb for the Mother Lode Fair and has always been there for me.

“I know for a fact he provides the same support and encouragement for every one of his students,” Tweedy said. 

Many saw Kellogg’s transfer as a bid to cut agriculture classes and support for Sonora High’s Future Farmers of America chapter, but McCoy said the district is actually expanding the program to match those at comparable rural schools. 

Mayben, a Sonora High special education teacher, is his apparent pick to manage the “Wildcat Ranch” property on Wards Ferry and Tuolumne roads. Sonora High trustees must still vote to approve him for the position. 

He has a degree in agriculture business from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and runs a vineyard and farm in Calaveras County.

Mayben said he would like to make Wildcat Ranch into a multi-disciplinary project incorporating marketing, photography, technology, fire science and culinary students. 

He wants students to sell produce at the Sonora Farmer’s Market, as well as develop a Facebook page for Wildcat Ranch and use it to advertise farm products. 

McCoy said proceeds from the sale of farm products will help sustain the ranch and go toward student scholarship funds.

Following a model established by other schools, the students could be paid a “working wage” on the farm, he said. 

He outlined a “three-year plan” for Sonora High’s agriculture program Tuesday that centers on classes in soil, plant and animal science.

If the plans come to fruition, the next few years would see the creation of “a “Wildcat Grown” line of products for sale at the Farmer’s Market, along with opportunities for students at Sonora High feeder schools to learn on the ranch.  

McCoy proposed hiring a new full-time agriculture teacher next year. Current Sonora High agriculture classes only fill four-fifths of a teaching position, having been cut in 2008 from two full-time teaching positions.

McCoy has promised that, rather than cutting courses further, as ag boosters feared, Sonora High will offer a fuller range of classes that includes a senior “capstone” course. 

The new teacher would take over as adviser to Sonora High’s FFA chapter, and a second agriculture teacher could come on board in coming years.

Neither McCoy nor Mayben went into great detail Tuesday about funding for their proposed projects, though McCoy later said that Sonora High’s finances have improved.

By Kellogg’s account, Wildcat Ranch projects have relied heavily on donated materials and supplies so far.