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Archive for April, 2010

Mt. Diablo district superintendent discusses budget, low-achieving schools

By Theresa Harrington
As if schools haven’t been ravaged enough by budget cuts, districts including Mt. Diablo in Concord are bracing for more possible reductions based on the governor’s revised budget in May.
The district is also working on developing plans for its six schools labeled among the “lowest-achieving” in the state. In addition, the district is creating plans for other campuses with Academic Performance Index, or API, scores below 700 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 based on standardized test scores.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence sat down with me today to go over the district’s budget and explain what could happen next. He also told me earlier this week how the district is coming along with plans for low-achieving schools.
First: the budget
Lawrence said he was at a Bay Point community meeting last night where one person asked why the district doesn’t just refuse to make cuts and demand more money from Sacramento.
“I think a lot of people think, ‘Why don’t we just make the state pay?’” he said. “It sounds heroic. But there is really no way to do that.”
The district could go bankrupt and a state administrator could come in and start making decisions about how to cut costs, which could include deciding which schools to close, he said. The board expects to adopt its 2011-12 budget at a special meeting June 22.
Originally, the board had planned to adopt its budget June 29, but that meeting was moved up a week, Lawrence said, so administrators can take furlough days during the last week of June. Most administrators who work more than 214 days a year are taking four furlough days and most who work 213 days a year are taking three, he said.
Lawrence said he asked administrators to do this to “show leadership” with the hope that other unions would agree to similar cuts that could save more than $1.7 million from this year’s budget.
“I basically presented them the budget situation and said, ‘based on all this, we’re trying to work toward three furlough days for teachers this year,’” he said.
The board voted to cut $31 million over four years through furlough days, pay cuts and reduced benefits that need to be negotiated with unions. Administrators are not represented by a union, so Lawrence said he asked them to accept the furloughs and most did.
Those who were retiring were not asked to take the furlough days because it would reduce their retirement pay, he said.
Low-achieving schools:
At its May 11 meeting, the board may begin reviewing plans for its lowest-achieving schools, which trustees expect to begin approving May 25. These schools are: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord; and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord.
Campuses with API scores of 700 or less include these schools, along with two high schools, two other middle schools and four other elementary schools, Lawrence said.
“The principals are going back and working with parents and teachers on plans,” Lawrence said.
Trustees are likely to approve plans for schools that want to apply for School Improvement Grants first, he said. The deadline for applying for up to $2 million in grant money is June 1.
Schools that request this money must agree to one of four reforms: close the school, replace the principal and half the staff, replace the principal and implement a variety of improvements such as increased instruction time, or reopen the school under new management such as a charter.
“Overall,” Lawrence said, “we need to increase and improve performance at all these schools.
How do you think trustees should balance the budget and improve schools?

Posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »

Mt. Diablo Sport Aid event raises $25,000

Sports supporters race to the finish line of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation's 5k run in October, 2009.

Sports supporters race to the finish line of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation's 5k run in October, 2009.

By Theresa Harrington
The plight of Mt. Diablo school district athletes has touched the hearts of many who have helped keep after-school sports alive this year, without district funds.
Many of them came together at a fundraising dinner last week to celebrate the camaraderie that has developed between the district’s six high school communities and to forge ahead with fundraising for next year.
The mood was festive at the Pyramid Alehouse in Walnut Creek on April 22, with guests wearing attire that ranged from fancy party dresses to sports team sweatshirts. But the commitment to students who play sports — and the coaches who lead them — was unwavering.
Auctioneer Steve Hayworth said news reports spurred him to pick up the phone and call the district, even though he doesn’t live within its boundaries.
“When I read the articles, I was flabbergasted that any school would consider eliminating sports,” Hayworth said. “I called the superintendent and I said, ‘I want to help.’”
Oakland Raider Sam Williams moved the audience when he spoke fondly of his days as “Mr. Defense” on the Clayton Valley High School football team and expressed his desire to help his alma mater and other district schools.
“I don’t know where I would be without Clayton Valley High School football,” said Williams, 29, who grew up in Clayton. “I’m so honored to be here with you tonight to save the programs and save our youth. And I can promise you — this will not be the last time you hear of me trying to make a difference.”
Williams said he has started a foundation called “Tackling the Odds” aimed at helping underprivileged kids. You can see a video of him talking about his foundation and community involvement on the Oakland Raiders’ website.
Williams helped auction off merchandise, then posed for photos and cheerfully handed out autographs. Retired Oakland Raider Art Thoms was also at the event, chatting with attendees including Northgate High School Principal John McMorris.
“I talked to him and he was a very nice guy,” McMorris said.
In this economy, McMorris said he’s concerned that parents may start to feel “tapped out” by all the school fundraising they are asked to support.
“I worry about donor fatigue,” he said. “We had a Spring Fling fundraising event and a crab feed and we ask for money at open house. And you always tap the same people.”
The United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation, or UMDAF, is trying to come up with new ideas for raising money to keep people motivated to fund sports. The foundation will share some proceeds from the May 29-31 Concord KidFest with the Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation. Board members are also planning another 5K run October 10 in Concord’s Newhall Park.
In addition, supporters can sponsor an athlete or buy T-shirts or wine to benefit the foundation. For details, visit the foundation website at
Superintendent Steven Lawrence, who swam and played water polo in high school, told me he was impressed by the turnout and the community support at the fundraiser. He said the foundation treasurer sent him an e-mail today reporting that Sport Aid brought in $25,000.
“For a first annual event — to raise $25,000 — that’s fantastic,” Lawrence said. “So, they’re just obviously doing a good job and they’re taking this very seriously to make sure our children experience athletics.”
Do you think the foundation has enough momentum to raise another $1.2 million for next year?

Posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Should students help decide which schools to close?

College Park High School student Michael Sullivan.

College Park High School student Michael Sullivan.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school district is undertaking a very big and very unpleasant task — trying to decide which of its more than 55 campuses it could close to save about $1.5 million a year.
Trustees have agreed to establish a 35-member committee that will begin meeting in September to evaluate sites and give its recommendations to the board in December for four to six schools that could be closed in 2011-12. The district is accepting applications through May 7 from potential committee members including parents, school employees, administrators, community members and representatives from other groups.
But College Park High senior Michael Sullivan believes something very important is missing: students. Unlike most school representatives who address the board, Sullivan capped off his usual comments about campus activities Tuesday by expressing “strong disappointment” about this apparent oversight.
“I understand a community member, but nothing can replace a student,” he said. “Must I remind the board and council that the reason you are here is to serve the students?”
The students of College Park suggest that at least one student from each of the six high school area feeder patterns (including middle and elementary schools) be on the school closure committee, he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart said there was still time to include students. But, the board does not meet again until May 11 — after the application deadline.
Sullivan was pumped after speaking to the board. He told me he hoped his comments in the Contra Costa Times would spur others to push for student representation on the committee.
“What are they thinking?” he asked me outside the board room. “What’s the whole point of even having student representatives?”
Sullivan showed me a note that Eberhart had slipped to him after his remarks. “Great advocacy…” it began.
But Sullivan didn’t want me to reprint the entire note because he’s hoping other student advocates will step forward to be heard.
At previous board meetings, students have shown that they have strong opinions and care deeply about their schools. They have advocated eloquently on behalf of music and sports programs.
The committee members are expected to help evaluate every school in the district according to these criteria:
1. Facility condition: includes all buildings and mechanical systems. Age, modernization, maintenance and repairs will be considered.
2. Capacity utilization: includes enrollment as a percentage of capacity.
3. Operations and maintenance costs: a per pupil cost will be calculated based on utilities, administration, staff and maintenance.
4. Adjacent facility capacity: determine whether nearby sites have extra space or could be expanded to allow for additional classrooms.
5. Academic performance: includes Academic Performance Index (API) scores and API growth.
6. Improved facility conditions for students: School sites considered for closure will be evaluated on the basis of the percentage of students which would be relocated/consolidated to sites with improved (relative to closed site) facility conditions (eg. moving from a site with no classroom air conditioning to a site with classroom air conditioning).
7. Cost of consolidation/closure: includes costs to close school and relocate students and staff, such as moving, interim housing, additional classroom construction and improvements or modifications for special programs.
The district intends to divide the large committee into smaller teams that will each evaluate schools according to one criterion. Do you think students would add value to these teams?
One would assume they could speak for themselves and other students about #6, which is expressly concerned with improving conditions for students. It is quite possible that students may have different opinions than adults about what is most important to them on campuses.
Applicants are required to submit applications stating why they want to serve on the committee and why they feel their participation would benefit the committee.
Sullivan told me today that he had not heard back from the district about his suggestion, so he planned to call Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent of administrative services, to pursue it.
“I guess we should act under the impression that it’s not getting done until we see it done,” he said. “It’s an urgent item, because the application is due back May 7.”
If students can make persuasive cases for being included, should they be allowed to participate?

Posted on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Trustee says student e-mail swayed vote

By Theresa Harrington
With school budget cuts making headlines daily, elected officials are receiving lots of of e-mails from constituents trying to persuade them to save prized programs or positions.
When the Mt. Diablo school board deliberated earlier this month about how to cut more than $1.2 million a year by axing the hours of more than 100 secretaries and other non-teaching positions, trustees heard from plenty of people who didn’t like the plan.
“I received some of the nastiest, rudest e-mails that I think I’ve ever received since I’ve been a board member,” trustee Gary Eberhart said, during the April 13 meeting. “That’s troubling, because I think the cases that the e-mailers were trying to make were without merit. To make statements that I ‘don’t care about students’ and I ‘don’t care about employees’ is not something that I take lightly.”
A e-mail from Ygnacio Valley High student Audrey Roldan, on the other hand, prompted him to vote against making massive cuts to school office staff that night, he said.
“I’m going to vote against this motion because I don’t think we’ve seen how we’re going to be able to serve kids at sites,” he said. “Audrey sent me an e-mail today and reminded me of why I’m here as a board member. I don’t know what else we’re going to cut if we don’t cut this, but I can’t support this motion.”
Instead, the board asked staff to meet with union members and come up with a plan that would spread the cuts more evenly among office workers at schools and the district office. Trustees will vote Tuesday on the new proposal, which takes less hours from school sites than originally planned and more from the district office.
Audrey, a 16-year-old junior, proudly told me today she feels that she made a difference by writing to Eberhart. She gave me permission to reprint her e-mail here:
“April 12, 2010
Dear Mister Gary Eberhart,
My name is Audrey Roldan, Junior Class Vice President at Ygnacio Valley High School. I would like to voice my concerns on the recent budget cuts involving our treasurers.
Our school has one treasurer, Mrs. Malin. Mrs. Malin helps the school budget all the bills, teaches us future financial skills and collects money from all school organizations.
This year, an event planner stole $6,500 from us, which was supposed to go towards our Junior/Senior Ball. Mrs. Malin has helped by planning a budget plan for us to use even after the money loss. She teaches about financial skills by showing us how to plan and pay for expensive items appropriately.
For example, she helped plan out a budget for us to pay for our ball venue. Also, Mrs. Malin collects all the money from school organizations, like dances, sports fees and parking permits.
When students can’t pay the full amount for something, she allows them to deposit money, which is very helpful to the student body. Without her, our school would not function as smoothly as it does now! Thank you for your time.

Audrey Roldan”
In February, I wrote about the prom planner Audrey referred to — Cassandra Grill. Some of Audrey’s classmates contacted the Times because they could not reach Grill. Although Grill claimed she did not breach the contract , the school is moving forward with its prom without her.
“Our prom is going to be on May 15 at the Exploratorium,” Audrey said. “We’re just making final touches on everything and it’s going well.”
Now that Audrey has seen firsthand that her opinion mattered to Eberhart, she said she will likely write to elected officials in the future when she is concerned about issues.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “When he e-mailed me back, I was surprised. I was excited.”
Audrey learned that she could express herself effectively by making her points clearly, without attacking the board.
“I was really surprised that people were being rude,” she said. “I thought it was kind of immature for them to maybe use inappropriate language or something. I would never talk to an official like that.”
Audrey encourages others to write to elected officials, if they feel strongly about decisions being made.
“It helps,” she said. “And if more people do this, then the board will listen.”
My own daughter, who is also a high school junior, recently received a letter from the governor’s office in response to a letter she wrote. Although she has written to numerous public officials as a class requirement, this was the first response she had ever received.
“Someone really read my letter!” she said, excitedly.
Do you think it makes a difference if you write to elected officials?

Posted on Monday, April 26th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »

Sample healthy menus and recipe

By Theresa Harrington
Want to cook your mom a healthy Mother’s Day meal?
Cindy Gershen, who helped found the Wellness City Challenge, plans to cook a Mother’s Day breakfast for the students at Crossroads High School in Concord and their moms.
Here’s her menu, which you could try out for your own mom:
Joe’s Special – scramble of ground turkey, spinach, mushrooms, onions and eggs
Small whole grain pancakes with berry compote
Pan fried potatoes
Sour cream, salsa, romano cheese
Fresh fruit
Spinach salad with sliced strawberries
Plain yogurt
Ice Water with lemons and oranges
Gershen will cook a dinner for the Crossroads health and wellness fair, to be shared with students’ families.
Here is her menu for that event:
Mixed field greens with Italian dressing
Grated carrots, cucumbers, jicama, tomatoes
Colorful assortment of seasonal roasted vegetables
Spanish style whole grain brown rice
Smoked slow roasted whole chickens
Vegetarian chili
Seasonal fresh fruit
Frozen yogurt with berries
Honey zucchini carrot cake (unfrosted)
Onion and seasonal fruit or vegetable
To introduce the girls to healthy eating last month, Gershen served the girls turkey patties, which most students really enjoyed. Teacher Kathy Dadasovich said the small patties would also be perfect for toddlers.
Here’s the recipe:
1 package ground turkey meat (1 to 1.25 lbs.)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
Mix ingredients together makes four patties or eight meatballs.
Cook on lightly oiled frying pan (use olive oil or other oil without trans fats) about 5 minutes on each side or bake about 25 minutes in oven at 350 degrees.
Top with salsa and serve over brown rice. Or top with tomato sauce (add frozen or fresh chopped spinach to sauce) and serve over whole grain pasta or polenta.
Let us know how you like them!
Gershen is also collecting recipes to give to the girls at their health and wellness fair. If you would like to contribute, e-mail her at Or, feel free to post your recipes here to share!
If you would like to donate rice, beans healthy peanut butter or other items for bags to be distributed to Crossroads students and their families at the school’s health and wellness fair, which will be held May 13, you can drop off your donations at the Sunrise Bistro, 1559 Botelho Drive in Walnut Creek.
To find out more about the Wellness City Challenge and see videos related to healthy cooking, visit

Posted on Sunday, April 25th, 2010
Under: Concord, healthy cooking, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

School librarians decry budget cuts

Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner

Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner

By Theresa Harrington
Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner works three days a week at the Walnut Creek school and two days a week at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill. She works one more day at Foothill because the parents’ club there raised $17,000 to keep the library open for students all week.
A library aide staff the facility from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the days when Conner isn’t there.
“I only wish our state lawmakers held the same priorities as the people they represent and invested in our schools and our state’s future,” she said at a news conference in the library today.
Linda Mayo, vice president of the California state PTA and a Mt. Diablo school board trustee, said budget cuts have caused school libraries to close throughout the state.
“Many school libraries in California haven’t been as fortunate as Foothill Middle School,” she said.
Parent Rebecca D’Lima said Conner turned her son onto reading. Click here to see a video of her comments: Foothill Middle School
Other middle schools in the district must get by with librarians only two days a week, said librarian Jo Carson, who works at two middle schools two days a week each: Oak Grove Middle School in Concord and Pleasant Hill Middle School.
“The issue is equity,” she said. “This is the first year in my 15 years of working in libraries that we have had to ration our time.”
She said one teacher who wanted students to start a research project in February was not able to get time in the library until last week.
“I came to this profession because I love kids, schools and libraries,” she said. “But, right now, I’m concerned I am no longer having a measurable effect and that makes me very sad and very angry.”
In the Castro Valley Unifed School District, only one credentialed librarian remains — at the high school, said Phyllis Libbe, a library instructional assistant. All the elementary libraries are run by assistants, she said.
But library assistants do not have the same level of expertise as librarians, the speakers said. Librarians teach students how to find information and stock their facilities with books that support the curriculum, they said.
Chris Evans, a librarian at East Side Union High in San Jose, said his district has also drastically cut librarian hours.
“Our job is to help the teachers,” he said. “The library is everyone’s classroom.”

Posted on Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
Under: Education, libraries, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 1 Comment »

Tickets still available for Mt. Diablo ‘Sport Aid’ fundraiser

Sports supporters participate in 5k run.

Sports supporters participate in 5k run.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school district sports community has pulled off a feat it wasn’t sure it could accomplish a year ago — it has raised $1.2 million to fund after-school athletics.
“Now, we’re starting over again for next year, which is kind of depressing,” said Pat Middendorf, Clayton Valley High athletic director, as she took a break from last-minute preparations for a Sport Aid fundraiser to be held tomorrow. “We have to. Next year is going to be a whole new matter, because it was an emotional tug for people last year. There were some one-time donations — like $100,000 here and $20,000 there — that we’re not going to have. So, we have to come up with all new strategies for next year.”
Middendorf and a handful of tireless volunteers are working on behalf of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation to support the district’s after-school sports program, since the school board has eliminated its sports funding because of state budget cuts. The foundation includes representatives from all six district high schools who came together with an “all for one and one for all” philosophy that inspired many.
They held an enormously successful 5k run last fall and asked parents of athletes to pay donations to help fund coaches, equipment, transportation, league fees and other costs. This was in addition to fundraising that team boosters were already doing to pay costs that were never covered by the district, Middendorf said.
With a continued bleak budget outlook next year, the foundation is launching its 2010-11 fundraising campaign at the Sport Aid 2010 dinner, dance and auction, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 22 at the Pyramind Ale House in Walnut Creek. Tickets cost $75 per person or $125 per couple. Or, $700 will get you a premier table for 10.
The event will kick-off with a silent auction and cocktails, followed by dinner and a live auction at 7 p.m., then dancing at 8:30 p.m. Attendees can hobnob with special guests including retired Golden State Warriors basketball player Chris Mullin, Oakland Raiders football players Sam Williams and Marcel Reece, retired Raider Art Thoms and Jeff Tedford, Cal Bears head football coach.
Organizers hope to sell 200 tickets. By this afternoon, they reached 170, Middendorf told me.
“We’ll sell tickets right up to the end,” she said. “For some reason, we’ve had this huge jump today. We’ve still got 30, but I think we’ll plan for the whole 200.”
Although she’s pleased by this level of support, Middendorf doesn’t want anyone to think it’s going to be easy to meet the $1.2 million fundraising goal again. In this economy, with state budget cuts eating away at education and social services, district athletes are not the only ones asking for money.
“There’s more people in the same boat — school groups and certain charities,” she said. “But the school groups are the ones that are really desperate right now. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. So, it’s going to be tough.”
More information about the foundation is at

Posted on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Free “Charlie Brown” performances for schools

Pictured L-R, Trevor Moppin (Schroeder), Sean Fenton (Linus), Eric Inman (Charlie Brown).
Pictured L-R, Trevor Moppin (Schroeder), Sean Fenton (Linus), Eric Inman (Charlie Brown).
Photo courtesy of The Willows Theatre Co.

By Theresa Harrington
Want to see the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” for free?
If you’re a kindergarten through eighth grade teacher, you and your students could see the show, then meet the cast, go on a scene shop tour and enjoy free milk and cookies.
The Willows Theatre is offering K-8 school groups the chance to attend performances at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. May 17-18 at the John Muir Amphitheatre in Martinez in an effort to reach out to the community and revive the amphitheater, publicist Gary Carr told me today.
More than 2,100 students from about two dozen schools have already signed up for the shows, which are sponsored by Shell Oil Company, US Bank and the city of Martinez. Schools that have jumped on this opportunity are from Antioch, Bay Point, Concord, El Cerrito, Hercules, Martinez, Oakland, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo.
“They just put out the word to all the schools to see if there would be interest and there certainly has been,” Carr said.
The amphitheater seats about 1,000. Each show has so far attracted between 300 and 900 students, so there’s definitely room for more, he said.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to get maybe twice that many by the time May 17th to 18th rolls around,” Carr said. “The Willows wants to show that it’s still alive and is as strong as ever.”
The award-winning show presents “an average day in the life” of Charlie Brown and his friends, based on the “Peanuts” comic strip by Charles M. Schultz. It’s directed by Christine Marshall, with musical direction by Kim Vetterli and choreography by Nicole Helfer.
To reserve space, teachers or administrators should call call 925-798-1300 or e-mail David Faustina at and provide your name, the name of your school, number of students attending and preferred time and date.
Schools will receive mailed confirmation after the date is booked. You must provide your own transportation.
Regular shows will run May 3 through June 6 at the Campbell Theatre, 636 Ward Street in Martinez. For more information, call 925-798-1300 or visit You can also find out about company’s Summer Theatre Camp for students ages 8-11 from June 21 to July 18, and for students ages 12-18 July 28-August 8.
“Given all the education cuts that are happening, we’re certainly aware that the arts are just being decimated for kids,” Carr said. “This is just kind of a way of givng back.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »

Music teacher layoffs loom

By Theresa Harrington
Out of about 350 pink slips issued by the Mt. Diablo school district, 180 have been rescinded, the assistant superintendent for personnel told me this afternoon.
That leaves about 170 teachers and other credentialed employees wondering if they’ll have jobs in the fall.
Music teachers have been hit especially hard because the school board has agreed to eliminate fifth-grade instrumental music next year.
In addition, the district is trying to negotiate the elimination of elementary school prep time currently covered by vocal music teachers. Music teachers who hold more than one credential, such as Elizabeth Emigh and Mundy Viar at Clayton Valley High School, did not get pink-slipped because they could teach other subjects.
Emigh could teach English and Viar could teach U.S. government and civics. But both teachers said music is their passion.
“Why would I want to give up something I’m an expert in and give kids less than my expertise?” Emigh said.
The district issued 25 pink slips to music teachers and has rescinded eight, said Gail Isserman, assistant superintendent for personnel services.
“We had to go very high up in seniority, if we were going to eliminate music prep — way higher than we were going to eliminate any other subject areas,” she said. “So, that’s why we needed a separate music list.”
The district has posted lists of all pink-slipped employees on its Website at The music list is alphabetical and includes teachers hired as early as 1987.
Here is the music list:
Patrick Abbott
Jennifer Batson
Josephine Bromley
Gregory Brown
Stella Brown
Deborah Bullard
Geoffry Cartner (rescinded; hired in 1987)
Gary Coartney
Kathryn Crandell
Christian Emigh
Magic Jaquez
Johnny Johnson
Nicole Kellersberger (probationary teacher)
Jason Klein
Pamela Madsen
Michael Mares
Loretta McNulty
Emilie Patton
Judy Ryken
Lisa Shedd
Amanda Smythe
Linda Snyder
Eric Thompson (probationary teacher)
Joffria Whitfield
David Wright
You can see a video of Delta View Elementary school’s instrumental music program here:
Isserman said the district has not yet begun negotiations with the teachers’ union. Teachers who have received preliminary layoff notices can attend public administrative hearings regarding credentials and/or seniority April 27-29 at the Willow Creek Center in Concord.
Gary McAdam, principal of Concord High, said both his instrumental and vocal music teachers — Gary Coartney and Christian Emigh — have received preliminary layoff notices. The absence of Coartney and Emigh next year would be devastating, McAdam said.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “It will destroy a top music program. And, this is some of the reason students attend. It’s not just the three Rs, it’s those electives — sports, music and drama — and everything else you do.”
Budget cuts have forced Concord High to eliminate German language and zoology classes and to reduce sections of auto shop, drama, ceramics, bowling and biology, McAdam said.
Teachers will receive final layoff notices in May.

Posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010
Under: Concord, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Theresa Harrington | 10 Comments »

Delta View Elementary struts its stuff

By Theresa Harrington
Students at Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg are thrilled about the school’s recognition as one of 484 “California Distinguished Schools,” Principal Susan Petersen told me today.
“I let them know in our announcements this morning,” she said, when I called to congratulate her. “I had a couple of students there leading the Pledge of Allegiance. When they heard me make the announcement, they were jumping up and down, they were so excited! They were very proud.”
Delta View and all the other schools that received the recognition demonstrated “signature practices” that helped them achieve academic excellence and narrow achievement gaps between low- and high-performing students.
Delta View’s signature practices were strategic planning and math education, Petersen said. The state Department of Education plans to post a database of signature practices on its Website later this spring.
Here’s a preview for those who want to know now what Delta View’s secrets are.
Strategic planning: All schools develop plans, but Petersen said Delta View’s strategic planning was more comprehensive and focused on creating a positive learning climate. Staff broke down the climate into four components:
1) overall environment
2) parent component
3) student component
4) staff component
The staff identified a total of 33 action steps to take related to these components, Petersen said.
For example, they implemented school uniforms as part of the environment. Teachers decided to make home visits to better connect to parents. They trained third- through fifth-grade student conflict managers in peer mediation to strengthen the student body. And staff received cultural proficiency training to help them better understand students and their families.
“All of this was designed to bring our climate together, so everyone knew what was expected,” Petersen said. “Our goals were to limit the challenging student behavior — limit the discipline referrals — because too much time was being taken out of the classroom.”
The plan worked. The school logged 632 discipline referrals in 2006-07, 497 in 2007-08 and 202 in 2008-09.
“Our numbers of suspensions decreased, while our expectations for behavior increased,” Petersen said. “It also brought the staff together because we realized we needed consistency and we needed agreement about how we were responding.”
Math education: Called “Math strategies for success,” Delta View’s program includes BoardMath, which I wrote about in September. You can see a video about it here:
The curriculum is rigorous and builds academic vocabulary, which help students to understand test questions, Petersen said. The teaching strategy requires educators to constantly assess students and analyze data such as test scores.
“Its preteaching and reteaching end-of-year standards,” she said. “We reteach where needed or accelerate where kids are ready to move on.”
A team of four outside administrators spent a day at Delta View to look for evidence of the signature practices. They interviewed staff, students and parents, Petersen said.
In the end, Delta View earned the distinguished recognition that lauds the school as a model for others. But, Petersen said the school has been considered a model since it made tremendous gains last year on Academic Performance Index scores, which measure student achievement.
On a scale of 200 to 1,000, the school grew from 747 in 2008 to 830 in 2009, exceeding the state’s proficiency goal of 800. This came on top of a 66-point increase the previous year, giving the school a whopping two-year gain of 148 points.
“We’re very excited that we’re named a distinguished school,” Petersen said. “It is reflecting the work that we’ve done and our students’ success. I would say the students are probably the most excited.”
Here are the East Bay 2010 Distinguished Elementary Schools listed by district:
Knightsen Elementary District: Knightsen Elementary School
Lafayette Elementary District: Happy Valley Elementary School
Mt. Diablo Unified District: Delta View and Hidden Valley elementary schoools
Oakley Union Elementary District: Iron House Elementary School
Orinda Union Elementary District: Del Rey Elementary School
Orinda Union Elementary District: Sleepy Hollow Elementary School
San Ramon Valley Unified District: Coyote Creek, Hidden Hills, Live Oak, Rancho Romero, Sycamore Valley and Vista Grande elementary schools
Berkeley Unified District: Jefferson and Oxford elementary schools
Fremont Unified District: Ardenwood, Cabrillo, E. M. Grimmer, Fred E. Weibel, James Leitch, John Gomes, Joshua Chadbourne, Mission San Jose and Mission Valley elementary schools
Livermore Valley Joint Unified District: Joe Michell Elementary
New Haven Unified District: Tom Kitayama Elementary
Oakland Unified District: Chabot, Montclair, Peralta and Thornhill elementary schools
Pleasanton Unified District: Henry P. Mohr Elementary
The complete list of 2010 California Distinguished Elementary Schools is at
Congratulations to all!

Posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »