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SOUNDING OUT: For six years, California’s reading...

SOUNDING OUT: For six years, California’s reading teachers have de-emphasized phonics. Maybe that’s why the state ended up last--tied with Mississippi, no less--in a national fourth-grade reading test (E1). . .The falloff in phonics has been a boon for Ventura County’s remedial schools. “About 70% of our students are here for reading,” said Chris Di Battista of Simi Valley’s Sylvan Learning Center. “Many can’t sound out words.”. . . Phonics’ flaw: It’s boring, with lots of contrived sentences. The alternative method uses novels such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “teaches kids to enjoy reading,” she said--assuming they know how.

ECONOMIC WEAPON: Wal-Mart is rolling out big guns in its campaign to build a store in Simi Valley (B5), but the dismal economy may end up being its most telling weapon. . . . The store would provide the city with 300 jobs and $750,000 in sales tax revenue, Wal-Mart says. Sales taxes--Simi Valley’s largest source of revenue--did not grow at all from 1991 to 1992, averaging just over $6 million. . . . Ventura County’s first Wal-Mart is set to open Oct. 15 in Oxnard.

FAMILY HERO: When he leads San Diego State against UCLA at the Rose Bowl Thursday night, Tim Gutierrez will have a busload of fans from Oxnard. “We have at least 50 people in our family going--his brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins,” said Yolanda Gutierrez, the quarterback’s mother. . . . Gutierrez became the Aztecs’ starter after leading a 24-point charge in the final 12 minutes of the Air Force game. . . . At Santa Clara High, his 70.4% completion rate set a state record.

PRIVATE GEM: One of the jewels of eastern Ventura County is Westlake Lake (B4), but don’t try diving in uninvited. . . . “The public is not permitted to use the lake--only residents,” said Benson Schulman, president of the Westlake Lake Management Assn. About 1,500 families live around the 160-acre lake, which was created in 1968 when Potrero Creek was dammed. . . . During the drought, water was pumped from wells to keep the lake full.

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