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ANTIOCH TEACHERS give superintendent thumbs down

schoolIt seems Mt. Diablo’s Gary McHenry isn’t the only supe feeling heat. On Wednesday, Antioch teachers overwhelming gave their district superintendent, Deborah Sims, a vote of no-confidence. (Read Rowena Coetsee’s article here.) Teachers have alleged that Sims withheld money for raises, barred them from decisions affecting them and violated their contracts. Although only symbolic, such votes do little to bolster the authority of superintendents. Teachers should rank among their greatest advocates, and when they don’t, regaining their trust should be a priority. Just ask McHenry, who has seen an erosion of trust from faculty, parents and even school board members and endured his own vote of no-confidence earlier this year. While McHenry shot back at his critics, Sims has been mum so far.

Posted on Thursday, October 9th, 2008
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Birthday Cake (Bob Fila, Chicago Tribune, MCT Direct) Birthday treats are on the firing line once more as schools tussle with childhood obesity. This time, it’s a Minnesota school that has declared itself a cake-free zone. Last year, it was New Jersey and before that, schools in some parts of Massachusetts. It’s not an easy decision to make, school administrators say, but health issues and the time involved in ya know, singing “Happy Birthday” and passing out treats was getting in the way of instruction. Meanwhile, down in Texas, parents lobbied and managed to get a “Safe Cupcake Amendment” included in the state’s school nutrition legislation. The measure may not have been a piece of cake, but it passed, allowing parents to continue bringing sweet treats for classroom celebrations. Now we’re curious – does your school allow birthday treats? And if not, what do you bring instead?

Posted on Wednesday, October 8th, 2008
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SCHOOL HEADLINES: Livermore teachers, WCCSD civility and more Mt D

School signSummer’s over and it’s time to bring back the Friday “school headline” wrap-up. And we’ll kick things off with Livermore, where teacher contract negotiations hit impasse – a legal phrase that summons state mediators – last January. Now it appears mediation has failed as well, and the mediator has called for a 3-man panel to recommend a settlement, the last phase before a strike can be called. It sounds scarier than it is – it’s not uncommon for a district to tiptoe up to the precipice like this, only to find renewed enthusiasm for their own quiet negotiating. We’ll hope that happens here.

It’s been quiet in West Contra Costa… unusually so. Times reporter Kim Wetzel notes that school board meetings have been running short, controversial topics have evaporated, there’s little talk of the teachers’ contract, which ran out in June, and a general air of unprecedented civility has settled over the district. (We’re trying to imagining feisty board member Charles Ramsey, known for his short fuse, holding doors and saying, “No, please – after you!” But hmmm…) Everyone’s so focused on the impending parcel tax election, says Wetzel, they’re all getting along. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2008
Under: politics, Schools | No Comments »

MT. DIABLO Incurs IRS Wrath – Again

Northgate High, Walnut Creek The economy is tanking, Wall Street is crumbling … and the Mt. Diablo school district is in trouble with the IRS for failure to pay payroll taxes again. Ah, some things never change. This time around, the Internal Revenue Service is levying the Mt. Diablo school district for $833,000 in unpaid payroll taxes and penalties from 2006-07. And once again, Superintendent Gary McHenry didn’t bother to notify the board that his administration had just incurred its sixth – at the very least – major IRS violation since 2002. McHenry never told the board about the other five penalties either. They found out about those from the Times, courtesy of a July 15, 2005 investigative piece written by yours truly. But this time around…
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Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2008
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MT. DIABLO Secession Back in the News

Northgate High, Walnut Creek UPDATE: The county board of education committee rejected the petition and there is no appeal.
It’s been a long, hot summer, but school’s in session once more and the Mt. Diablo secession petition is back in the news. To recap, a group of unhappy Walnut Creek parents wanted to redraw school district boundaries and place six Mt. Diablo schools – including Bancroft, Valle Verde and Walnut Acres elementary, Eagle Peak Montessori, Foothill Middle and Northgate High – into the neighboring Walnut Creek and Acalanes school districts. And they seem to have had the backing of the Walnut Creek City Council, who forced the county to explore the possibility, even after the petition was thrown out last spring.
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Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
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GOOD NEWS on the Math Front

Brain power (illus. by Gary Meader, MCT) Remember those horrifying statistics about girls’ math scores sadly lagging behind boys’? Twenty years ago, girls and boys’ mathematical prowess was fairly equal through the elementary years, but by the time they hit high school, there was just no comparison. Those days are over, according to a new study of 7 million children, published by UC Berkeley and University of Wisconsin, Madison, researchers this morning in Science Magazine. Today’s girls do every bit as well as boys on standardized math exams, probably because they’re finally taking the same number of challenging math courses in high school.

Well, duh. But here’s where it gets interesting.
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Posted on Thursday, July 24th, 2008
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DROPOUT RATE alarming but could be worse

20071210 School dropoutsHow many of us grew up hearing our parents say some version of, “If you don’t finish high school, you’ll be working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life?” Seems perhaps not enough students in California are getting that message. Almost one-fourth of the state’s students drop out of school before graduating, according to data released by the State Department of Education. (Read Kimberly S. Wetzel and Katy Murphy’s story in the Times.) (To see the dropout rate for your child’s school, search the state’s database.)

The numbers are truly staggering. An estimated 24.2 percent of students in California dropped out in the 2006-2007 school year, based on a four-year derived dropout rate. West Contra Costa leads the East Bay with 39.6 percent dropping out. Oakland is close behind at 37.4 percent, followed by Pittsburg at 28.9 percent and Mt. Diablo at 22 percent. Combined Contra Costa has a dropout rate of 21.5 percent and Alameda County 18.7 percent. Before this study, the state had difficulty tracking how many students actually remained in school. Now officials realize the number is lower than initially thought. But even more alarming: it could be worse.

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Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008
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BRATTY KIDS, Uncaring Parents?

Classroom bully (Kirk Lyttle illustration/MCT) A few weeks ago, “Kid Tips” columnist Tom McMahon weighed in on disruptive kids and classroom discipline, then asked teachers to share their thoughts. And judging by this morning’s column — whoa — they did not mince words. Ninety percent blamed uninvolved parents. One said, “Nine times out of 10, children who misbehave come from homes where families are uninvolved and show a lack of caring in their children’s education and future, or have a lack of rules and structure at home.” Another said, “Bullying doesn’t just happen on the playground.” Click “comments” and tell us, what do you think?

Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
Under: Parenting Issues, Schools | No Comments »

SCHOOL NEWS: Trustees Strange and Eberhart May Get Triumvirate

School sign Interesting developments over in the Mt. Diablo district where a 3-2 board split has kept everything stirred up but unchanged for, well, years. Despite massive financial issues and administrative snafus, a no-confidence vote by the teachers union, a call for the superintendent to resign by two trustees, a parent petition for ditto, and a secession attempt by some of the district’s highest ranking schools, nothing has changed. Now things are about to get a good deal more interesting, because there’s an election in November and the two seats up for grabs belong to Gary Eberhart, who called for superintendent Gary McHenry’s resignation, and April Treece, a staunch McH supporter. Eberhart’s running again And the first hat thrown into the ring belongs to Sherry Whitmarsh, who has her eye on Treece’s seat — and who could tip that 3-2 board split into the opposite direction. And Whitmarsh, a Chevron consultant and information technology and budget management expert, is no vanity candidate. The Concord resident is on the district’s Budget Advisory Committee and Parent Advisory Committee, served on the Parent Faculty Committee and Site Council at Bancroft Elementary, currently serves on the PTSA Board and Site Council at Oak Grove Middle School, and will be PTA treasurer at YV this fall. And when it comes to endorsements, she’s got some biggies lined up, including the Mt. Diablo teachers union and trustees Gary Eberhart and Paul Strange.
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Posted on Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
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DRUNK SCHOOL Bus Driver Arrested

School buses (photo by Lars Sundstrom, Stock.xchng Photos) Not even sure where to start with this one… a Monterey area school bus driver was arrested yesterday for driving his morning route while drunk. Yep, after driving 50 children to school, bus driver Frankie Mata, age 48, underwent a random drug and alcohol test. When Alisal school district officials discovered he had a blood alcohol level of .12, they called the cops. The legal limit is, of course, .08 — although surely the limit for a school bus driver on a morning route ought to be ZERO. Two hours after the school district breathalyzed Mata, the police conducted a second DUI test and he still clocked in at .07. What, may we ask, was he doing at dawn? Rolling in from the bars? Or does he normally have vodka with his Wheaties? And didn’t any of his colleagues at the school bus lot notice? Or did they figure Mata was just wearing that new cologne, eau de Johnny Walker? Thank heavens it was a random DUI test that snagged this guy, not a horrific bus crash.

At the moment, Mata is sitting in Monterey County Jail awaiting charges that are expected to include 50 counts of child endangerment. Click “comments” and weigh in with your thoughts.

Posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008
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