Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for May, 2010

El Monte Elementary deals with increased class sizes

Principal Christina Boman speaks to students in a third grade classroom.

Principal Christina Boman speaks to students in a third grade classroom.

By Theresa Harrington
Schools throughout the Mt. Diablo district have struggled to accommodate about 30 children in first- through third-grade classes this year because of budget cuts.
In previous years, they enjoyed student-to-teacher ratios of 20-1.
I visited El Monte Elementary in Concord this week to see how they’re dealing with the challenges of educating more children with fewer resources.
Principal Chrisina Boman pointed out that the school is too poor to receive large parent donations like some campuses in Walnut Creek, but not low-income enough to receive Title 1 federal grants.
She and teachers at the 455-student school have come up with some creative ways to break students into smaller groups, so they can get more individualized attention.
Boman and the school’s resource specialist pull some students out for 30 minutes a day so English language learners can receive intense instruction. Also, the school is one of two in the district where every teacher has been trained in the “Board Math” program, which helps engage students and keep them focused, even in larger groups.
Special education assistants also help relieve pressure on teachers by providing another adult in classrooms, often monitoring students who are not in special ed, Boman said.
The school has also purchased some new computer lab programs that allow students to work at their own pace in a fun way, she added.
And the school has been especially lucky to have five student teachers from CSU East Bay on campus, assisting in classrooms, Boman said.
This summer, the school willl use federal stimulus funds to offer intervention classes to some students. The money will also fund a reading coach and prep time for teachers next year to plan how they can differentiate their teaching according to students’ needs using a “Universal Access model,” Boman said.
But Boman and teachers at the school said increased class sizes are making it more difficult to reach out to every child every day.
The higher threshold is also forcing the school to create four combination grade-level classes next year: k-1, 1-2, 3-4, and 4-5. When class size was 20 in first- through third-grades, the school had one 4-5 combo class, Boman said.
Although many teachers believe it is more difficult to teach two grade levels in one room, Boman said she is fortunate that some of her most experienced teachers have volunteered to take on the challenge.
“I think it will make our staff stronger and make people work more collaboratively,” Boman said. “So, I’m excited about it.”

Third graders at El Monte Elementary line up outside class.

Third graders at El Monte Elementary line up outside class.

I’m working on a story to be published next month about how budget cuts and larger class sizes are affecting schools throughout the East Bay.
How is your school coping?

Posted on Friday, May 28th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »

Middle school students go to Sacramento

El Dorado Middle School students meet with Sen. Mark DeSaulnier

El Dorado Middle School students meet with Sen. Mark DeSaulnier

By Theresa Harrington
Students from El Dorado Middle School in Concord visited Sacramento last week, meeting with Sen. Mark DeSaulnier to talk about how budget cuts are affecting schools.
Roy Cuizon, a science teacher at the school, said the trip was a fantastic success.
He blogs about goings-on at the school at http://supportlocalschools.blogspot.com/.
Here’s an excerpt from his May 17 blog about the Sacramento trip:
“Today a group of 4 teachers, 6 students and 5 parents from El Dorado went to Sacramento to tell the story of our community; one that is facing yet another round of debilitating cuts to staff and programs. We went into Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s office and spoke to him about the concerns we have.
The teachers…began by sharing the story of our district’s cuts including the effects we are seeing at our site in terms of our library, our computer lab, special education cuts, lack of continuity in personnel, and general observations of deficiencies in the system.”
They also visited Assemblyman Tom Torlakson’s office.
“Our community needs a change and that only happens when people speak up,” Cuizon wrote. “We will be back next year to bring our story to all who will listen.”
Today, I’ll visit Cuizon at El Dorado to see the old portable classrooms that would be replaced if Measure C passes and visit a science lab that would be upgraded.
In addition, the school would get much-needed air conditioning and a ground-mounted solar structure costing nearly $1.2 million if the $348 million bond measure passes June 8.
Cuizon said he’s excited about the possible upgrades, especially the new science labs.
“We can greatly benefit from the labs,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Our classrooms are small and crowded. When we conduct labs, it would be great to have a prep room, or a standalone laboratory. It is difficult to prep labs in the same room that you lecture in. Then, repeat that process period after period. A new, highly efficient lab would do us good!”
The district intends to spend $1.2 million at each of its 10 middle schools to adapt two permanent 1,120 square-foot high efficiency laboratory classroom’s with 320 square-foot intermediate prep rooms. The cost estimate also includes new equipment and furniture.
Can’t wait to check out the school later today!

Posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Mt. Diablo Measure C facilities overview

If the Mt. Diablo school district’s $348 million Measure C passes on June 8, the district expects to complete 817 projects costing $202.1 million (construction only) at 53 sites. The district has posted lists of these projects by school on its website, but it has not posted the overview of costs and project types.
A thick volume titled “2010 Facilities Master Plan Update/Proposed Bond Program Profile: 2010 Facilities Improvement Plan” dated April 2010 includes the complete list of projects and their costs. You can view the document at the district office, 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.
I am attaching the Summary by Project (or school) below, along with the Summary by Cost Model (or type of project).
In 2009, according to the document, district staff updated a facilities self-assessment and master plan update from 2006, taking into account projects that were completed from the 2002 Measure C bond. Throughout 2009 and into 2010, staff began assessing the need for infrastructure improvements for new technologies, high efficiency buildings, resource conservation and solar technology.
When the board voted March 9 to put the 2010 Measure C on the ballot, staff had not yet finalized a list of projects to present to voters like they did in 2002. Instead, voters were presented with a general list, while maintenance and operations staff visited sites and asked administrators to review a list of phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3 priorities (phase 1 being highest priority and phase 3 being lowest).
“All site submissions and revisions have since been incorporated,” the document states.
The plan prioritizes projects according to these criteria:
- Health and safety: including repairs, security, roofing, exterior lighting, window and fire protection systems
- Systems equity: including equipment, facilities and program access at sites in an attempt to equalize expenditures across the district
- Technology: supporting emerging technologies serving educational programs.
- Community enhancement: expenditures that benefit students, staff and community
- General fund relief: facility-related expenses that would provide significant long-term relief to the general fund.
The plan proposes to complete projects over five years, but includes a caveat indicating that could change.
“The actual cost flow requirements of any major facility program are driven by a fixed program/project schedule and the cost of those projects as they are assigned within that schedule,” the plan states. “Because no such schedule has been established we have, for the purpose of illustration only, here assumed that the program would be implemented over a five year active construction term.”
Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said he recommends creating an “in-house management team” (with only supplemental third party program/construction management assistance) to help keep costs down. It turns out, Pedersen will likely head up this team after he retires, according to Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s planned reorganization
Pedersen wouldn’t have been able to oversee the projects had he stayed on as assistant superintendent, because the measure prohibits proceeds from being spent on administrator salaries.
Here are Pedersen’s total estimated bond costs:
Conceptual project construction: $202.2 million
Estimating contingency (5 percent): $10 million
Construction change order allowance (10 percent): $21.2 million
Escalation to mid-point of construction (Sept. 2013): $42.5 million
Soft costs (20.5 percent): $56.6 million
Total construction program costs: $332.5 million
In addition, the board wants to use Measure C bond money to pay off $14.4 million in debt from other bonds and lease to purchase agreements. This brings the grand total to $346.9 million.
As you can see in the Summary by Project, expenditures at sites range from $619,221 at the Sunrise special education school for air conditioning and nine other projects to $8.9 million at El Dorado Middle School in Concord for air conditioning, solar panels, new buildings, science labs and 18 other projects.
The Summary by Cost Model shows that the bulk of the money will be spent on solar projects, with more than $68 million designated. The second-highest expenditure planned is for classroom heating and air conditioning upgrades at a cost of nearly $36.3 million.
The district intends to spend $14.6 million to replace portable classrooms and more than $12 million each on technology systems and middle school science labs.
Here are the other items the district plans to spend more than $1 million on:
Roofing systems: $9.8 million
Security systems: $8.1 million
Interior classroom lighting: $7.2 million
Restroom renovations: $5.9 million
Network cabling and upgrades: $4.8 million
Administrative air conditioning and heating: $4.5 million
Floor covering: $2.8 million
Fiber optic backbone: $1.8 million
Windows: $1.6 million
Food service (code improvements): $1.8 million
Specialized classrooms: $1 million
Playground repair: $1 million
Those in favor of the measure say it would help improve technology, maintenance and “provide safe places for supervised after-school activities like athletics and fine arts that help keep kids on the right track and out of trouble.”
But there do not appear to be any large-ticket athletic or arts facilities upgrades planned.
Hellena Postrk, principal of Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill, announced to a packed audience at a band performances last Friday that Measure C would likely enable the campus to get a real stage instead of having to use temporary risers. But the project list posted online doesn’t include a stage.
When I called Postrk today to ask her about this, she said she requested that the district add this as a high priority when she returned the project list. But, somehow, it was overlooked.
Postrk said she is working with Pedersen and Superintendent Steven Lawrence to get the stage on the list. She said the school doesn’t need $20,200 worth of door hardware on the list, so perhaps the stage could replace that item.
The district website also includes the wrong campus site under Sequoia Middle School. Instead of showing the middle school layout, Sequoia Elementary school’s campus is pictured.
Measure opponents say the list was created hastily, after the board dropped the idea of seeking a parcel tax in February and decided on a bond measure March 9 to get it on the June 8 ballot.
But the measure has garnered many endorsements, including dozens of organizations representing thousands of parents such as the Mt. Diablo Council of PTAs (representing 5000+ members), the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation and parent clubs from 26 schools.
Do you agree with the board’s decision to seek a bond measure over a parcel tax? (A parcel tax needs two-thirds of voter support compared to 55 percent for a bond measure.)
Do you agree with the board’s decision to structure the bond with lower annual payments and a larger overall cost spread over 42 years (as opposed to doubling the annual tax rate, but reducing the overall cost by about $1 billion and shortening the payoff time)?

Measure C improvements by type

Measure C summary by school

Posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 23 Comments »

Some pink-slipped MDUSD music teachers to keep jobs

Northgate jazz band at Yoshi's Oakland on May 17, 2010

Northgate jazz band at Yoshi's Oakland on May 17, 2010

By Theresa Harrington
At the Northgate High School jazz band performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Monday, instrumental director Greg Brown made a surprise announcement: “I just found out I still have a job!”
The crowd cheered and Brown said he was celebrating with the students, who rocked the house with an awesome show.
Afterwards, Brown told me that Mt. Diablo school board President Paul Strange interrupted his dinner to tell him his pink slip was rescinded. Brown said he had spent one of the worst weekends of his life worrying about losing his job at the end of the year.
Although he has 13 years experience directing bands and orchestras at the Walnut Creek school, he was one of 25 music teachers in the district to receive a pink slip.
Teachers’ union president Mike Noce confirmed that Brown was among several music teachers whose pink slips were rescinded this week. Others included Concord High School band teacher Gary Coartney and choir director Christian Emigh. Johnny Johnson, who directs the College Park High School bands, was not on the list of teachers who have been informed they will be able to keep their jobs, Noce said.
Gail Isserman, assistant superintendent for personnel, told me that many pink-slips were rescinded because the district won’t have time to negotiate the elimination of fourth- and fifth-grade prep time, since the teachers’ union has not yet come to the bargaining table.
She provided this list of music teachers who will not be laid-off or bumped to another subject area in 2010-11:
Geoffry Carter
Kirk Wetterhold
Judy Ryken
Patrick Abbott
Bruce Saxton
Loretta McNulty
Pamela Madsen
Jason Klein
Karen Ashford
Lynn Quinones
Joffria Whitfield
Linda Snyder
Monica Maddern
Martha Burgess
Eve Albright
Gregory Brown
Kathryn Crandell
David Wright
Deborah Bullard
Elizabeth Emigh
Basil Viar
Josephine Bromley
Sherri Bensen
Stella Brown
Michael Hanna
Gena Blind
Gary Coartney
Christian Emigh
Emilie Patton
Teachers with less seniority who are not on this list are either still in layoff status or could be bumped into anonther subject area, if they have a second credential, Isserman said. Some teachers will be laid off because trustees have eliminated fifth-grade instrumental music next year.
The Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation continues to fund-raise to try to save fifth-grade music.
Some proceeds from the KidFest on May 29-31 in Concord will help benefit the nonprofit organization.
More information is at http://www.mdmusicfoundation.org/index.html.

Posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Walnut Creek resident to appear on Primetime tonight

Christi Hockel on her wedding day.

Christi Hockel on her wedding day.

By Theresa Harrington
Christi Hockel, who works part-time at a Safeway in Walnut Creek, will appear during a Primetime: “What Would You Do?” segment tonight about the Down Syndrome Congress’ “We’re More Alike Than Different” campaign.
The segment will use an actor with Down syndrome to portray a grocery store bagger who is berated by a customer (played by another actor).
The program uses hidden cameras to find out how other shoppers will respond. Advocates for people with disabilities are hoping the segment will educate the public about workers with disabilities.
The show will include video clips from the “We’re More Alike Than Different” campaign featuring Hockel and Mark Hublar on their jobs at Safeway and Wal Mart, showing that employees with Down syndrome are more like their coworkers than they are different. Both Hockel and Hublar are “self advocates” who speak publicly about Down syndrome.
I wrote a story about Christi’s wedding in February. Her “More Alike Than Different” video can also be seen on the National Down Syndrome Congress website.
You can see the Primetime segment at 10 p.m. tonight on Channel 7. What would you do?

Posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Tensions rise in MDUSD as employees face layoffs, tough negotiations, school improvement

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

By Theresa Harrington
Union negotiations are under way in the Mt. Diablo school district as trustees hope to slash $9.8 million a year through furlough days, increased class sizes and reduced benefits. All bargaining units are at the table except for teachers, who are analyzing the results of a recent member survey.
School support staff represented by Annie Nolen, of the California Schools Employees Association, are facing especially hard times, she told the board Tuesday.
“Most of my members are already at poverty level or below,” she said. “With the new proposal, most would only bring home $400 or less per month. So, it gets worse.”
She acknowledged the important work that teachers do, but reminded trustees that other employees also make valuable contributions to schools and deserve to be recognized during Classified Employees Week, May 17-21.
Mike Langley, vice president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, said the teachers’ union was sorting through nearly 1,000 surveys received from members about negotiations. Union representatives are expected to present the information to teachers June 7, before negotiations can begin.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he intended to send teachers a letter today marking “The Day of the Teacher” and thanking them for their service. He said he feels the same sense of gratitude toward classified employees including secretaries, special education assistants and “people on the blacktops who solve disputes about whose ball it is.”
But the tone changed when teachers’ union president Mike Noce objected to plans for reforming four of the district’s lowest-achieving campuses: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. The plans include lengthening the school day, offering summer school and providing incentives for teachers.
“Please don’t go through with this School Improvement Grant application,” he said. “I feel this is being rushed through without bargaining. There are some things we feel need to be negotiated.”
Noce said some teachers at the schools have been told, “If you don’t like it, get out.” So, he said, a transfer system needs to be established.
“There is no state deadline, unless we just want to do a money grab here,” he said. “Why don’t we plan and do it right?”
Noce said the union isn’t willing to sign the grant applications due June 1 as partners in the plans for up to $2 million per school. Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, told Noce outside the meeting that districts have three years to negotiate items in the plans before implementing them.
During the meeting, Lock said all of the district’s schools with Academic Performance Index scores under 700 are creating plans for improvement. These include the six schools identified by the state as being in the bottom 5 percent, as well as seven other campuses. Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord are the two other lowest-achieving schools, who will present their plans May 25.
The other seven schools won’t publicly present their plans to the board, Lock said. They are: Cambridge, Fair Oaks, and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools; El Dorado and Riverview middle schools; and Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools.
Willie Mims, of the Black Political Association in Pittsburg, said school plans should have buy-in from teachers, families and students.
“If students are not engaged, then you are asking for trouble,” he said. “A climate of respect is crucial. Students know and feel when you do not respect them. And if they feel it, then they will not allow you to teach them anything. A wall will go up and it will take a long time to bring it down….But if they know that you care, they will do anything for you…If you respect them, they will respect you.”
To help schools build positive learning environments, Lawrence said he had hoped to reorganize the district office administration by creating a Student Achievement and School Support division under Lock. He said he planned to appoint Delta View Elementary Principal Susan Petersen as the new Director fo Elementary Support, based on her work at that school, which led to tremendous gains in test scores.
“With the moves she has made at Delta View,” he said, “I believe she can be a big asset, particularly in low-performing schools.”
But the board tabled this idea at Lawrence’s request, after he said he was worried about the governor’s revised budget expected Friday.
“Hopefully not,” he said, “but we may need to be reducing more positions.”
Langley asked the superintendent to clarify whether employees in the new department would be getting big raises. Many employees are still bitter about raises totaling $55,000 given to five district office employees before Lawrence arrived, including $28,000 to the general counsel, boosting his pay to $190,000 a year.
Just before the board voted to layoff 200 teachers, Noce said he has heard that some high schools aren’t encouraging juniors to take six classes next year, because the board reduced graduation requirements.
“I hope the district isn’t trying to get kids to only take four periods,” he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart the district is anxious to negotiate its cost-cutting proposals.
“Until we get to the table, until we start having substantive conversations about how we are going to stave off the eventual destruction of more and more jobs in the school district, this is not going to end,” he said. “It’s going to continue. I just hope the two sides get together as soon as possible.”
What concessions, if any, do you think might be reasonable for teachers and other employees to accept to help balance the district’s budget? Do you think the district should move forward with its School Improvement Grant proposals by June 1?

Posted on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 23 Comments »

MDUSD board to vote on layoffs and administrative shakeup, discuss school reforms

Shore Acres Elementary School in Bay Point.

Shore Acres Elementary School in Bay Point.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school board will vote Tuesday on 170 teacher layoffs and discuss plans to reform four of the district’s lowest-achieving schools.
Trustees will also vote on special education cuts, reorganizing the district office and an investment banking contract related to the sale of $348 million in bonds, if Measure C passes in June.
You can get details about these plans on the district’s website. A story about the special education cuts appeared in the Contra Costa Times today and I’ll recap the school plans in a story Tuesday, before the meeting.
The school improvement plans are still sketchy, since the district hasn’t posted them all online yet. According to the state, the district is supposed to choose one of four reforms for its six “persistently lowest-achieving schools”: close the school, replace the principal and half the staff, transform it by replacing the principal and implementing intervention strategies, or reopen the school as a charter.
The schools on the list are: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shores Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord; and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence has said the district could choose another alternative, if it does not pursue federal School Improvement Grants of up to $2 million per school. This is because there currently is no penalty, if schools don’t reform.
The district has posted plans to “transform” Glenbrook Middle School in Concord and has uploaded some data about Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point.
But more complete plans for Shore Acres, Bel Air and Rio Vista Elementary schools in Bay Point are expected to be posted online Monday.
The board expects to review plans for Meadow Homes and Oak Grove later this month or next month.
Trustee Gary Eberhart said Friday he wasn’t sure yet whether schools would apply for the grants, but he was optimistic about the improvement plans.
“My hope is that what we end up is not a plan that’s set in stone, but that’s interactive and allows for monitoring of outcomes, so we can continue to tweak things and make them as good as they can possibly be,” he said. “I think a lot of energy is going into not just making everyone feel good, but our plans are actually going to yield results.”
Here’s the basic plan for Glenbrook:
1) The principal was replaced in July 2009, so he will be able to stay on. If he had worked at the school more than two years, he would need to be replaced.
2) Improve evaluations of teachers and principal
3) Identify and reward school leaders, teachers and other staff
4) Provide ongoing, high quality professional development to staff
5) Provide financial and other incentives to staff
6) Improve curriculum
7) Improve use of student test scores and other data to tailor instruction
8) increase learning time
9) Improve family and community engagement
The school also expects to receive flexibility in terms of its operations, such as governance; and sustained support from the district and outside agencies that assist in helping underperforming schools improve.
Trustees will also vote on sending out 170 final pink slips. The list of teachers to receive pink slips is in the meeting staff report.
In addition, Lawrence is recommending reorganizing the district office staff in light of the resignation of Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent of administrative services on Sept. 30. Instead of filling Pedersen’s position, Lawrence recommends promoting personnel director Julie Braun Martin to the position of assistant superintendent of personnel.
This position was previously planned to be eliminated, when the current assistant superintendent of personnel, Gail Isserman, retires this summer. Lawrence proposes moving Melinda Hall, who is director of curriculum and instruction, into the position of personnel director.
He also proposes the creation of a Student Achievement and School Support Division under Rose Lock, the current assistant superintendent for elementary education. The assistant superintendent for secondary education position will be eliminated after Alan Young retires this summer.
“As the expectations and demands increase on all our schools,” Lawrence wrote in his staff report, “we need instructional leaders who have successfully moved schools forward to help support and coach other principals and school staffs.”
Under the new division, Lock would supervise the curriculum and instruction department. Pedersen’s duties would be spread between Lock, the general counsel and chief financial officer.
Lawrence recommends eliminating the director of alternative education position held by Katie Gaines on Sept. 1. Her responsibilities would be spread between the new division and the special education and pupil services division.
The superintendent intends to evaluate employees in the new division according to test scores, graduation rates and data related to AP coursework and career “pathways” at schools, as well as annual principal surveys focusing on the district’s support for moving schools forward.
These are the kinds of evaluation criteria the Obama administration is pushing as part of nationwide school reform. Teachers’ unions, on the other hand, have tended to oppose the inclusion of test scores in evaluations of educators.
Eberhart said he is supportive of Lawrence’s reorganization ideas.
“I certainly like what I hear as it relates to the curriculum and instruction department,” he said. “I’m excited that Steven is looking at this from a new angle, so I’m inclined to support what I see. I’m excited that we’re making some real substantial changes in how we deliver education.”
What do you think of the district’s school reform and reorganization ideas? Are you worried about losing the teachers on the pink slip list?

Posted on Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

MDUSD to send out final pink slips by May 14

Concord High physics and robotics teacher Michael Smidebush

Concord High physics and robotics teacher Michael Smidebush

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school district is preparing to celebrate the “Day of the Teacher” on May 12. It is also preparing to send out more than 100 final layoff notices to educators two days later.
The district held administrative hearings about layoffs last week that did not change the status of most teachers who attended, according to Gail Isserman, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Teacher Michael Smidebush, whose Concord High School robotics class recently earned an education award at an international competition, said he has been pink-slipped each of the last three years he has been teaching. But each year, his preliminary layoff notice was rescinded.
“It’s a miserable situation,” he said. “In education, there are some aspects of it that are really undesireable.”
Smidebush worked as an engineer for 25 years before turning to teaching.
“This is my second career,” he said. “To put your heart and soul into your job and get a pink slip just — because that’s the process — it’s kind of demoralizing.”
Here is a video of Smidebush proudly talking about his students’ accomplishments. He said he cares deeply about the teens and he will miss those who are graduating when he returns next year.
“They’re like my children now,” he said. “I have two of my own, away in college. I had to fill up the void with 150.”
The students raved about Smidebush and his “industry” approach to teaching through hands-on projects.
“We won the education award because we integrate the robotics curriculum with science and math in a unique way that hasn’t been tried before,” said Nick Bublitz, 18.
Yet, without funding from the Contra Costa County Office of Education, that class would likely be eliminated because of district budget cuts, said Principal Gary McAdam. He was pleased that Smidebush’s pink slip was rescinded, but said the school’s band director Gary Coartney and choir director Christian Emigh have not been so luckly.
“We’ve got two wonderful music teachers that are still on the layoff list and do a great job,” he said. “They just came back from New Orleans with honors.”
Isserman said the district will release the results of the administrative hearing Friday. The board will vote on final teacher layoffs Tuesday and the district will send out the final pink slips by May 14, she said.
The district is currently negotiating with all employee bargaining units except for the teachers’ union, Isserman said.
“They did a survey of their members,” she said. “We’re ready to go.”
The district is proposing increased class sizes, pay cuts through furlough days and reduced benefits.
Meanwhile, state Senate Bill 955 proposes to move the teacher layoff notice date from March 15 to June 15, ditch the seniority system and allow districts to layoff teachers according to subject needs and teacher effectiveness.
Do you agree with the current system that allows teachers with more seniority to keep their jobs, while newer teachers are laid-off?

Posted on Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »

Mt. Diablo district corrects erroneous information about yard duty arrest

Janis Thompson, 44, of Martinez

Janis Thompson, 44, of Martinez

By Theresa Harrington
In an effort to quickly get information out to parents about the arrest of a noontime yard duty supervisor earlier today, the Mt. Diablo school district inadvertently distributed erroneous information about where the arrest occurred.
Janis Thompson, 44, was arrested at her Martinez home and not at Hidden Valley Elementary in Martinez, as originally reported by the district. The Martinez police and Contra Costa Times released accurate information to the public.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the district assumed the arrest had occurred at the school, based on conversations with the principal and police. Lawrence said he has recorded an automated telephone call, which parents should receive this evening.
Here is the corrected message:
“This morning at approximately 9:30 a.m. the Martinez Police Department arrested one of our employees, a noon duty supervisor at Hidden Valley Elementary school. The employee is alleged to have committed child exploitation acts using the Internet and X-box. The Martinez Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have conducted an extensive investigation and have not identified any Hidden Valley Elementary School or Mt. Diablo Unified School District students as potential victims.
District administration has taken appropriate action to keep all our children safe, and this employee will not return to work unless the allegations are found to be false. I would like to ensure you that every employee receives a finger print clearance prior to their first day on the job.
This police investigation is an important reminder of the vigilance we must all use to monitor our children’s communications and interactions on the Internet.
If you receive any information that you believe can assist law enforcement in their investigation please contact Martinez Police Detective Mike Estanol at 925-372-3452.”
More informatation about the arrest is on the Contra Costa Times website.

Posted on Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Under: Crime, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

West county kids slam stock exchange with powerful poetry

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

Bay Area students travel to New York to recite poetry.

By Theresa Harrington
West Contra Costa County education reporter Shelly Meron wrote Friday about students from Richmond and Pinole who recited their poems at the New Stock Exchange.
Elishama Vallare of Ford Elementary in Richmond read his poem “Devasatation of Povery on the Streets,” and Shannon Chand from Stewart Elementary in Pinole shared her poem “Slavery.” They recited the poems as part of National Poetry Month in April.
The poetry event was organized by America SCORES, an organization that empowers students in urban communities using soccer, writing, creative expression and service learning, Meron reported.
I spoke to Elishama and Shannon today to find out how they got the ideas for their poetry and talk about their trip to New York, which neither of them had visited.
Elishama said he got the idea for his poem because he knows what it’s like to be on the street.
“I had the experience of being a poor person,” said the 11-year-old. “My aunt put us out, so we stayed in a mission for a while.”

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Elishama Vallare recites "Devastation of Poverty on the Streets"

Here is his poem:

“Devastation of Poverty on the Streets,” by Elishama Vallare
Did you know almost 39.1 million people in California are poor?
Poor people are older people, children, maybe even families.
On the street, I see gangs, dark mysterious alleys, and as I’m turning a corner
I see a poor man asking for money.
He looks sad, I can tell by the look on his face.
His clothes are tattered with holes.
You may not know what it feels like to be poor.
But I do.
When I was seven years old,
my auntie kicked me, my mom and my 24-month-old baby brother out.
A few days afterwards, we stayed at a mission in Seattle, Washington.
Living in a house with strangers, everyone looks dull without energy.
Strong feelings of frustration because an aggravated lady yells at my mom.
This is my story.
I try to help people who are poor by giving them a buck or two.
So pitch in to help your community!
You might be the one to end poverty in California.
This is it — you can “make the change.”

Although he was a little nervous about reading his poem at first, Elishama said he soon gained his confidence.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I can do this,’” he said. “Afterwards, a lot of people asked me to sign their pamphlets and some people said my poem made them cry.”
The people in the audience received pamphlets with information about the students. Elishama was happy about their reaction.
“It made me feel great inside,” he said, “like I was doing the right thing.”
Shannon, 11, said she enjoys soccer and poetry in the SCORES program. She didn’t find it difficult to write about slavery, she said.
“The subject just popped in my mind and I just started writing,” she said.

Here’s her poem:

“Slavery,” by Shannon Chand.
I have a dozen, or two, of friends.
They all are different colors.
Colors of black, brown, white, and others.
I would never judge on how they look.
Long before I was born, slavery was all over the world.
Slavery was bad.
Slaves were taken from their homes.
They were beaten for no cause.
They died from diseases and the lack of food and water.
They were shoved around, treated badly; creating bruises and chances of dying.
I don’t know how it felt, but I’m positive my ancestors knew slavery was a huge deal.
Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot to save us.
Maybe today we would be suffering with slavery, if it weren’t for him.
We should be proud of ourselves.
Also, we should be happy we aren’t a part of it.

Both children said they plan to write more poetry in the future.
“I like writing,” Elishama said. “It’s something I’m good at.”
How did Elishama and Shannon’s poems make you feel?

Posted on Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Under: Education, Pinole, Richmond, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »