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More Mt. Diablo principal interviews are underway

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 4:23 pm in Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington
Two Mt. Diablo district administrators met with parents at Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill yesterday to find out what kind of principal would suit the campus.
About 11 parents showed up, after teachers met with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Parents said they want a principal who will continue the excellence at the school and support the teachers and staff the way former Principal Hellena Postrk did. Postrk has been promoted to a position in the district office, where she will coach other principals about how to improve their schools, Lock said.
One parent said she wasn’t aware Postrk had been promoted until she received a district message informing her about the parent meeting.
Braun-Martin explained that the district developed a spring eligibility pool of candidates for high school and middle school openings. The board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High June 15, replacing Carolyn Plath, who retired.
The district first paper screens candidates and then forwards those they’re interested in to first round interviews, Braun-Martin said. These interviews include a parent representative, classified staff rep and teacher rep.
For Sequoia, parent club president Nancy Morgan is the rep who sat in on interviews Monday. Morgan said she is not allowed to discuss the interviews.
After the first round, some candidates are fowarded to a second round interview with Superintendent Steven Lawrence and other district office administrators, including Lock and Braun-Martin. Lawrence will be given the list of qualities Sequoia parents are looking for, Braun-Martin said.
If he believes he has a good match, he will forward a recommendation to the board in July. If not, the district could pursue another round of applicants and might seek an interim principal, who would most likely be a recently retired principal, Braun-Martin said.
Lock cautioned that the district is not looking for an exact replica of Sequoia’s most recent principals, including Postrk, Vivian Boyd and Jim Durflinger. Instead, the district will try to find someone who meets the “hopes and dreams” of parents and staff, she said.
One parent said she’d like a candidate who’s familiar with the district and community, as well as the special “Academics Plus” status of the magnet school, which attracts students from throughout the district. Another parent said she wants a principal who will advocate for Sequoia within the district, is transparent and able to make tough decisions.
The parent of an incoming seventh-grader said she’d like the new principal to be visible on campus and to maintain student safety as a high priority.
Morgan said she wants a principal with an “open door” policy, who is approachable and communicates well with students, parents, staff and the community. She also noted that the school is expected to accept more than 900 students in the fall, including some who request transfers from the district’s lowest-achieving schools (Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord), under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Lock said both she and Braun-Martin have been in the district more than 20 years and that they understand Sequoia and will communicate its unique qualities to Lawrence and principal candidates.
Lock said she started her career in the district as vice principal of Sequoia Middle School. Braun-Martin said she was formerly principal of Monte Gardens Elementary, which feeds into Sequoia.
Braun-Martin assured parents that the district conducts background checks on all applicants who are seriously considered. She said the district invited internal candidates to apply for the openings at Glenbrook and Sequoia after the Glenbrook principal left and Postrk was promoted.
“We’re looking for the best person,” Lock said.
Principals must have an administrative credential, as well as administrative experience, Braun-Martin said. She does not give out information about the size of the candidate pool, she added.
If candidates are interested in both the Glenbrook and Sequoia openings, the interviews could be combined, she said.
The district is also conducting elementary principal interviews for openings at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, and Monte Gardens and Silverwood elementary schools in Concord. The board may hold a special meeting next week, if Lawrence decides to recommend one of the candidates recently interviewed.
Lock said Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees will stay at that school after all, because the state clarified its reform requirements, saying principals could remain if they have been at underperforming schools three years or less, instead of two years.
All administrators in the district were given their tentative fall assignments June 30, Lock said. Both Sequoia’s vice principal and student services coordinator are tentatively scheduled to return to the school, she said.
Lock told me after the meeting that she often conducts reference checks, but isn’t involved in background checks. She said the district always calls the candidate’s most recent supervisor during reference checks.
Lock confirmed that written applications ask candidates if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and ask them to explain, if they have.
“Usually, when they indicate, ‘yes,’, we research that and investigate that,” Lock said.
She said she didn’t know if Christopher Nugent, who was unanimously appointed by the school board as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton last month, revealed his DUI conviction on his application. Nugent later withdrew his name from consideration, after reports surfaced about his DUI arrest, charges of resisting arrest, and his previous resignation from a Tennessee school district after he inadvertently posted student Social Security numbers online.
Nugent wasn’t convicted of resisting arrest and wasn’t prosecuted for the online student security breach.
Lock said she didn’t think Lawrence knew Nugent, since Nugent was from Elk Grove, which is outside Contra Costa County and quite distant from Lawrence’s previous district in West Sacramento.
“It’s not something you usually hide,” she said. “I’ve known several of the candidates.”
Lawrence wouldn’t need to recuse himself from the selection if he knew a candidate, she said.
“Actually,” Lock said, “if you know someone, that gives you more information about a person…that’s first-hand information that I may know and I use that.”
Braun-Martin said she couldn’t discuss Nugent’s application. She said candidates are fingerprinted after they are approved to be hired, but that additional paperwork must be completed before the hire is completed.
Nugent chose to withdraw his name after the board appointed him, she said.
A DUI wouldn’t necessarily exclude a candidate from being appointed as a district administrator, Braun-Martin said. Instead, a DUI would be something that would be investigated further, she said, through interviews, vetting and reference checks, to make an informed decision about the candidate.
In response to questions from parents about the status of pink-slipped teachers, Braun-Martin said the district has begun calling them back.
Today, Jessica Beerbaum informed me she has been hired to teach fifth-grade at Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord, after being laid-off from her job at Silverwood Elementary in June. She was number 24 on the layoff list, she said.
“Things change everyday,” Lock said. “We don’t want to lose good teachers.”
Lock confirmed, however, that popular College Park High School instrumental music teacher Johnnie Johnson moved to Texas after being laid-off in June. Similarly, former Sequoia Middle School instrumental music teacher Marcus Goodlow moved back to Texas last year, after being laid-off.
This year’s Sequoia instrumental music teacher Eric Thompson has also been laid-off. And star Sequoia music student Larry Wang, who was featured in the Times as a “Hometown Hero” on Monday, has transferred to the Acalanes district to attend high school, in part because of its more stable music program. He would have attended College Park, had he remained in the Mt. Diablo district.
Lock acknowledged that some good teachers are moving out of state, tired of going through the anxiety associated with pink slips each year, as the result of state budget cuts.
“What we’re doing in California is a tragedy,” she said.
Would you be comfortable with a principal who has been convicted of DUI? Do you think candidates’ convictions should be disclosed to the board before the superintendent recommends them?

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  • Tired Parent

    I lost two friends to a drunk driver. I would not want someone with a DUI near my children. They are certainly not a role model worthy of my or my child’s respect. Get a designated driver or just stay home when you drink. It’s not rocket science.

    I find it very confusing that Ms. Lock is now called the Assistant Superintendent for Student Achievement, and will have a substantial number of “coaches” under her direction. Wasn’t the job of Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education to coach the existing elementary principals? Is Ms. Lock now in charge of all principals at all levels? Why did the Assistant Superintendent Secondary Education position get deleted – that’s one job – and now there are several “coaches” in place instead? That’s increasing administration, not cutting back. Why is this layer of bodies being added to the ranks?

    I was under the impression that those in Curriculum and Instruction were to be let go, as their positions were considered to be largely superfluous. But now those employees are either going to be new – as in utterly inexperienced – principals, or principal coaches. Experienced principals are becoming coaches or being sent to other schools.

    The district says they want principals, teachers and office staff to form good relationships with their students and families. But then they take those veterans away without warning, play principal musical chairs, and have everyone up in arms with their no-rhyme-or-reason decisions.

    I would not want someone who’d never served at a school site to lead my child’s school. Bad enough the Board is making decisions that affect the sites with no clue as to what happens there. They want an inexperienced captain at the helm? That’s absurd.

  • Doctor J

    The real question is what is the Board policy on DUI’s — both pre-hire and post hire ? What if a current administrator or teacher gets a DUI ? Other than an automatic notice to the state department of education, would MDUSD take any action ?

    Nugent’s DUI only came to light to the public because of Google and the fact that there had been a story associated with his posting of student SSN’s on the internet, which referenced his arrest for DUI and resisting arrest. If there had not been the tv story, it may have never been known to the public.
    My sources tell me it was known to he MDUSD administrators, including Lawrence, because Nugent disclosed it on his application, and probably discussed in his interviews. Lawrence may have told one or two board members but not all. That is why they are all hunkered down with carefully crafted statements only coming from Lawrence. So if Nugent told the truth, how did the attorney and Board convince Nugent to withdraw his application, unless he was paid money for a waiver of claims ?
    The Board members don’t want to tell the truth about what they knew and when they knew it. The Board continues to breathe life into Nugentgate because they won’t tell the truth to the public.

  • tharrington

    Rose Lock said she was not aware of a board policy regarding DUIs. Instead, she said there is a customary practice, which I described above.
    Lock’s new department is in charge of all schools — elementary and secondary. Lock said the district didn’t add administrators, since nine Curriculum and Instruction employees were replaced with eight Student Achievement staffers, which resulted in cost savings.

  • Tired Parent

    Ms. Harrington, Curriculum and Instruction was supposed to be dismantled – as in, done away with. Now there are new positions created? Why? Eight Student Achievement staffers versus one Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education? That’s more jobs, not fewer. I may not be a CPA, but even I can do the math.

  • tharrington

    The board decided to eliminate the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education position before Lawrence recommended eliminating Curriculum and Instruction and replacing it with the new dept. When trustees made the decision to eliminate the assistant supt. of secondary education position due to budget cuts, they assumed Lawrence would take on those duties.

    Here is how Lawrence explained the restructuring in his May 11 staff report:

    “I also propose to restructure our Curriculum and Instruction division into the Student Achievement and School Support division under Assistant Superintendent Rose Lock. The current Curriculum and Instruction team has done an admirable job to support our schools through the implementation of State Standards and Federal and State Accountability systems. As the expectations and demands increase on all our schools, we need instructional leaders who have successfully moved schools forward to help support and coach other principals and school staffs. The list of proposed positions to be created is attached.

    In order to compare apples to apples, I compared the Salary Step 5 for all of the current positions in C&I and the Director of Alternative Education to the cost at Step 5 for the recommended positions. In order to restructure and save funding, the recommendation is based on taking nine positions and replacing them with eight positions.”

  • Doctor J

    CC Elections Division re MDUSD Board Elections: The nomination period begins July 12 and ends August 6, 2010, 5:00 p.m. Candidates may withdraw his/her Declaration of
    Candidacy until 5:00 p.m. on August 6, 2010. E.C. 10407, 10510
    If an incumbent does not file, the nomination period is extended 5 calendar days, August 11, 2010 until 5:00 p.m. for nonincumbents
    only. If the seat is vacant, there is no extension period. E.C. 10516 (b)

  • Realia

    “The district first paper screens candidates and then forwards those they’re interested in to first round interviews, Braun-Martin said. These interviews include a parent representative, classified staff rep and teacher rep.”

    While this formality is part of the administrative hiring process, at my school several candidates were interviewed in this way, taking time away from various employees’ workday or personal time. The panel used both the “canned” set of questions provided by the district for all interviews and also were able to ask their own questions. After it was all over, a displaced program director, who was not interviewed, was installed as VP in charge of discipline, which she apparently is not experienced in (her background is special ed). The school had an opening for an administrator overseeing a special ed program, but someone else was offered that position (this position is much more challenging and now someone who was never more than a counselor with no oversight experience is in charge of the program). It’s all just for show and to make affected parties feel like they are part of the process, but the process is often a pre-determined sham. It does make me wonder, though, if Mr. Nugent went through the site interview process before being offered his job…

  • Doctor J

    @Realia Another great question for the Supt if he ever comes out from under his rock to answer questions openly and honestly about Nugentgate.

  • Tired Parent

    Theresa, there was a robo-call today about a new principal being announced for Monte Gardens. There’s no board meeting scheduled, according to the website. Can you get any details?

  • tharrington

    I called Loreen Josephs, the superintendent’s executive secretary, and she said she hadn’t heard about a Monte Gardens principal being appointed. She also said no special board meeting had yet been scheduled, but she anticipated one could be posted on the district’s website later this week. I’ll follow up tomorrow.

  • tharrington

    As of Monday, only incumbent Linda Mayo and challenger Jeff Adams had taken out papers indicating an interest in running for the three open seats. Dick Allen has said he will step down. Board President Paul Strange is also up for re-election. The election period will be extended to Aug. 11 because of Allen’s decision not to file.

  • Doctor J

    With a state takeover inchin closer every day, who wants to board the Titantic ?

  • tharrington

    According to MDUSD website, a special board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. tomorrow (Friday), but agenda hasn’t yet been posted: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=284

  • tharrington

    Agenda was just posted for administrative appointments, but staff report doesn’t say which site administrators: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=2803&mtgId=284

  • tharrington

    Also, agenda doesn’t provide an opportunity for public comment: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=284

  • Kathleen

    Are we really surprised about no public comment. It would be a free for all hammering the board and Lawrence about the process of placement. It seems the Supt. is a bit more cagey after the backlash over Nugent. Tonight will be very enlightening and may give a hint to the agenda Lawrence is putting forward with principal placement.

  • Doctor J

    Censorship of the public is a bad move. Another misstep by Lawrence.

  • tharrington

    The public can comment on the appointments, but not on anything else that isn’t on the agenda.

  • Wait a minute

    I highly recommend that the good residents of the MDUSD
    #1, File a complaint with the Grand Jury regarding the process of Mr. Nugent being hired as well as the other fiascos regarding all the conflicts of interests regarding the almost a sweet deal for Chevron and especially the bond people and events The Grand Jury can compel Lawrence and all the parties involved to testify under oath so he can’t just hide under a rock anymore.
    #2, run some candidates against the incumbent Board of Ed since they obviously neck-deep in all these scandals.