By Marga Lacabe
If you grew up in San Leandro or have raised children or grandchildren in this city, chances are that you know Penny Peck. Miss Penny, as generations of parents and children know her, was the children’s librarian at the Main Library for nearly 20 years. There, she was an innovator and modernizer, creating educational programs that enthralled children and building one of the best children’s collection I’ve ever seen. After a stint managing the new Manor Library, Miss Penny retired and concentrated on volunteering in San Lorenzo schools. Now, to the great delight of everyone who knows her, she is running for the San Lorenzo School Board.
There is no doubt that Penny Peck knows a lot about education. Under her direction, the San Leandro libraries have become de-facto educational institutions. Among the programs she created are weekly “lap babies,” toddlers, preschool and family story times, where young children are exposed to music and literature, and slowly learn their alphabet and some sign language to boot. She introduced arts and crafts to the preschool program to help prepare children for Kindergarten – something essential for kids that don’t otherwise get an early education.
For older students, she started the College Bound program, inviting children of all backgrounds to learn about college, get help with their SATs and college essays, listen to speakers and even tour college campuses. Miss Penny did not neglect adults either; she also founded San Leandro’s famed “Trivia Bee,” a fun annual fund raiser for Project Literacy.
In addition to her librarian and educational duties, Miss Penny has written three books on children’s literature for teachers and librarians and has taught library science at San Jose State.
Miss Penny doesn’t only know books and education. She also knows San Lorenzo and the Washington Manor. She has lived in San Lorenzo all her life and is still in the house where she grew up. She attended Lorenzo Manor Elementary school, Bohannon Junior High and San Lorenzo High School, before heading to Cal State East Bay for a B.A. in American History and San Jose State for her Masters in Library Science. Before becoming a librarian she had a variety of jobs, including managing a club where she met comedian Brian Copeland and started a life-long friendship.
Miss Penny has very concrete reasons for running for the San Lorenzo School Board. She is a firm believer in teaching children the basics, but using the latest and most innovative research-based methods. She has a holistic view of education and believes in integrating knowledge from different subjects. One of her goals is to help the District implement the Common Core curriculum, that is based in part on the use of great literature in the classroom.
Miss Penny is also a big advocate of creating green school yards, which can be used both to teach science and grow fruits and vegetables children that can consume.
Another of her priorities is embracing and celebrating the broad diversity of the San Lorenzo student body. This has been one of her impressive accomplishments at the library, where she was able to bring together not only people from different ethnic groups but also the many nationalities that inhabit San Leandro. When my kids were little, I was happy to meet people from all backgrounds at story time - that’s where I discovered we had a sizable Eritrean/Ethiopian community, and a growing population of people from Yemen and the Caribbean. These programs were extremely effective in integrating newcomers to the city and to the country.
It may be difficult for us in the Bay Area to believe that book bannings still happen. But Miss Penny recognizes this as a rising problem throughout the country, and wants to ensure that this does not happen in San Lorenzo. She’s running against very conservative incumbents.
It’s no surprise that Miss Penny has the support of the pretty much everyone who’s met her. She’s been endorsed by the Democratic Party, the San Lorenzo Teachers Union, PACE as well as Mayor Cassidy, Councilmembers Pauline Cutter, Michael Gregory and Jim Prola and, of course, my husband, School Board member Michael Katz-Lacabe.
I wish with all my heart that I was able to vote for Miss Penny. I cannot imagine someone who would make a better, more dedicated or informed School Board trustee. If you live in the San Lorenzo School District, I can only urge you to vote for her.