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Student makes case for case manager

Popular staffer at Sequoia Charter School reassigned to Child and Family Center

Posted: July 3, 2009 9:53 p.m.
Updated: July 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Eighteen-year-old Jascha Dlugatch, Emergency Medical Technician student at Sequoia Charter School got over 60 people to sign a petition he started in hopes to keep case manager Richard Watson at Sequoia.

 
Jascha Dlugatch, 18, remembers what life was life before starting at Sequoia Charter School and meeting his case manager, Richard Watson.

The Canyon Country man considered himself a "gangbanger" who took drugs and did "all the stuff you're not supposed to be doing."

Dlugatch attended two local high schools and was unable to pass his classes and connect with education.

He transferred to Sequoia, a charter school in the William S. Hart Union High School District, in January 2007 and soon met Watson, who became a father figure for him.

"He did that much for me," Dlugatch said of Watson. "He can do so much for another kid."

But after five years of working with Sequoia students, Watson's position has been eliminated due to budget cuts to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

"I think this is a sign of the times," said Darrell Paulk, president and CEO of the Child and Family Center.

It's a sign that the shortage of state funds is creating an impact on Los Angeles County and its mental health and social services, he said.

Because of funding and contract limitations, the Child and Family Center had to eliminate a position at Sequoia and distribute the work onto the remaining employees, Paulk said.

Watson's new position will be as a therapeutic behavior specialist for the Santa Clarita Child and Family Center, Watson said. He will no longer serve Sequoia.

While Paulk is unable to speak specifically about Watson, he said the Child and Family Center provides counseling services to Sequoia, which is funded through Los Angeles County.

The Child and Family Center funds five counselors, as well as other staff members, for Sequoia, he said.

"All the positions are there to provide support and counseling," he said.

But the decision to reassign Watson does not sit well with Dlugatch.

"They're not going to know what to do," Dlugatch said. "The whole school is pretty upset."

While in school, Dlugatch's mom fell down the stairs in February 2008.

It was an unfortunate event that inspired Dlugatch to turn his life around and begin taking emergency medical responder classes in the spring through the Regional Occupational Program, he recalled. He credits Watson for helping him to enroll in the classes.

He is currently taking a higher level of the EMT class and hopes to finish the program soon.

After finding out about the reassignment, Dlugatch generated a petition, garnering the support and signatures of 64 Sequoia students and staff members for Watson's position.

In the letter, Dlugatch wrote, "I am not asking as an individual that you reconsider terminating the position, but as a whole school, Sequoia Charter School would like you to reconsider not terminating the case manager position of Richard Watson."

Despite the reductions, Paulk does not anticipate that the program or student safety will be jeopardized, he said.

Still, Dlugatch worries.

"You can't put a price on a kid's future," Dlugatch said.

For Watson, he's going to miss the students and the relationships he's formed with them over the years.

"I'm going to miss the opportunity to share a lot of the things that they're going to be looking forward to," he said.

Watson enjoyed working with the kids, who often face personal struggles, to create new opportunities and lives for them.

"I would push them to no end to be the best that they could be and do whatever it is that they wanted them to do," Watson said.

While Watson said he was "flattered" by the efforts of the Sequoia students, Watson didn't stop or encourage the students from starting a petition.

Rather, he wanted students to find a way to properly express their feelings, he said.

"I just like being there everyday," Watson said. "Everyday is a new experience. You had a bunch of special kids there."

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