Our View: Under Scambray, learning and graduation were top priorities

Scott Scambray could rightfully be proud of El Capitan High School, which opened in 2013. But the most impressive thing about Scambray’s seven-year tenure as superintendent of Merced Union High School District was that our kids appeared to get their priorities in order.

Test scores are up, more kids are graduating, more are taking advanced placement classes, fewer are fighting and suspensions are down. They’re learning.

Especially important on that list is the graduation rate for the district’s seven high schools. First, recognize that our region is one of the most economically depressed in the state. Usually, that is reflected in graduation rates. But 91 percent of our 18-year-olds are graduating from high school. That’s 10 points higher than the state average and 5 points higher than when Scambray arrived.

Scambray did a good job for Merced County. Hopefully, he’ll do just as well for Fullerton, his next stop. The key for Merced County is to continue all these positive trends.

A dry state of mind

Our awful drought has captured the imagination of people across the nation. Some are adding vital information to the discourse, others mainly provide entertainment. The New York Times offered an entertaining interactive graphic that shows how much water it takes to produce many foods. We’re not sure if it was meant to make people feel guilty about eating a slice of avocado (4 gallons) or an egg (18 gallons), but it provides a realistic look at how much water it takes to grow anything. And that helps put into perspective all the noise about using a gallon for each almond.

We must pick a nit. The story notes that agriculture uses “80 percent of all the water consumed” in California. We’re not sure how the Times defines “consumed,” but ag uses 40 percent of the state’s water each year. Half is used for environmental purposes.

The state’s unofficial water blog is Maven’s Notebook (mavensnotebook.com), compiled by self-described “water junkie” (aren’t we all?) Chris Austin. She recently recounted a meeting of several experts, including Joe Byrne, who chairs the California Water Commission, which will choose projects to be funded by Proposition 1. With them was Randy Fiorini, the Turlock farmer who once chaired the Association of California Water Agencies and now chairs the Delta Stewardship Council.

They all had interesting thoughts, but Fiorini pointed out that our existing reservoirs already are connected to the state’s water conveyance system. If we enlarged those reservoirs, we wouldn’t have to engineer additional canals and tunnels to get the water to where it’s needed. Good thought.

To really go deep, check out the extensive article about professor Graham Fogg of UC Davis on Maven’s Notebook. He described the groundwater beneath the Central Valley as “one of the biggest aquifer systems in the world” and added that the aquifers throughout the region are interconnected.

Can they make it rain?

Our contingent of local elected officials found the drought uppermost in the minds of those they visited in Washington, D.C., this week. “Everywhere we’ve gone, people have been aware of the severity of the drought,” Supervisor John Pedrozo told McClatchy News Service reporter Michael Doyle. We’re not certain how much good such trips do, especially when there are so many local representatives they can’t all fit into a meeting room. And while the drought is certainly one of our highest concerns, unless people in Washington can make it rain there’s little they can do. In Washington, “making it rain” means delivering dollars. While we wouldn’t seeing more of those come to town, we’d rather have the real thing.