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Archive for October, 2010

Mt. Diablo school district paves way for strategic planning

By Theresa Harrington

Since there seems to be a lot of interest in the district’s intention to begin strategic planning, I’m going to do something a bit unconventional and post excerpts of my edited notes from the special board meeting Oct. 5. I’m doing this in the interests of time (less editing and rewriting necessary) and to give the public a picture of how the discussion evolved, since the meeting was not well-attended. Note: comments may be paraphrased, since I can’t always type as fast as people talk.

Linda Ortega, who teaches second grade at El Monte Elementary in Concord, said she’s worried the district’s board-adopted educational goals and objectives are too focused on testing.

The board received a PowerPoint presentation about the strategic planning process, which you can see here: A consultant also gave trustees a two-page handout with 11 different definitions of “strategic planning,” as well as sample plans from the Aurora (Colorado), Austin (Texas), and Long Beach school districts.

Here are a couple of the strategic planning definitions:

“….a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it. To deliver the best results, strategic planning requires broad yet effective information gathering, development and exploration of strategic alternatives, and an emphasis on future implications of present decisions.” (p. 5 – Bryson, 1995)

“…a community-based and on-going process of imagining a preferrred future and then developing the strategic and operational actions required to make that plan a reality.” (p. 27 – Cordell & Waters, 1993)

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh noted that there wasn’t much difference between the sample strategic plans received.

Discussion questions:

Question 1. What would the board want from a strategic planning process:

Whitmarsh: Getting input from our community as a whole and looking at where they see the school district in five to seven years. In 2015, where do we think we need to be and what’s our strategy going forward? What do they see us looking like, in terms of reprograms, goals, facilities, things like that.

Trustee Dick Allen: I agree. I think a good strategic plan has input from all the stakeholders in the community and it’s got to start witht them. It can’t be: ‘This is the plan. This is what we’re going to do.’ I would want to kow how our cuurent plans, such as technology and school individual plans, how all those fit into it. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I would want commitment for five to 10 years, not only for oversight, but follow-through. l think this is about the second or third time we’ve strated strategic planning.

Trustee Gary Eberhart: This gives us a way to engage with the community in a way that’s much more meaningful. I think it’s imporant to get to know the expectations our community has and for us to understand the challenges they face and for them to understnd the challenges we face. I certainly expect that a stratetic planning document, once it’s initially completed, my understanding is there would be opportunity for it to evolve as time passes. I would hope that would provide us with an understanding of what we’ve decided as a community. What are the goals and objectives of this district and what direction we’re headed in. I would hope it would help guide us as we make choices in terms of how we spend our money, what we spend time on. It would really be a guiding document for the board.

Whitmarsh: I think one of the problems businesses and even school districts get into is they create the document and it looks nice and they put it on the shelf. It should be a living document with a cycle of inquiry. Are we meeting it? You should be updating the strategic plan and use it to guide the decisions you’re making. Hopefully, schools will be getting more money. We can plan where to use those funds and look at what’s important to the community as a whole — parents, city government, students, senior citizens — to give their input on where they see the school district five to 10 years from now.

Turstee Linda Mayo: I agree around community input and commitment from the board. I would want to look at the strategic plan at least annually. One district has an annual convening of three committees, which provide recommendations to the board to consider as they’re looking at the plan each year. I think that’s the only way it can be a living document and also be reacive to changes in legislation and needs of students.

Allen: Budget development should really include meeting the strategic plan, including human resources. I think in any school district, you have two sides of the house: the business and the education side. Right now, I’m not sure which is the dog and which is the tail ad what’s waggihng what, but I think finances are the key thing we’re dealing with.

Whitmarsh: When you have huge changes, in finances, or other big changes, the best-laid plans don’t deal with those devastations and I think we’re in one of those devastions right now with the state budget.

Mayo: I think we would have to assure all of our stakeholders that no one would be harmed through our process. There are small groups of students who require services and we need to be sure we consider the needs of those students as well.

Question 2. Pluses and minuses of doing a strategic plan now. We’re in a difficult financial time.


Mayo: Hopefully it would provide hope to our community about supporting the district overall, long term and perhaps enable us to look at school funding measures.

Allen: The involvement of the wider community.


Mayo: We have fewer admnistrators to help us with the community input, because I think they are critical to that part of the process. Certainly we would be able to bring in community members, but administration has always been expected to help us facilitate that. With a smaller workforce, both with teachers and admnistrators, there’s a greater burden for them now. Also we have the school closure committee and possibly some other concerns that are competing for time.

Whimtarsh: The expenditure of people resources and monetary resources that come about with the strategic plan. It would be a plus if we could find a business partner who would give us a grant to do strategic planning.

General discussion:

Board President Paul Strange: I think we need to get on it because we’re always going to be dealing with some sort of challegne. I don’t see us rehiring admnistrators. The sooner we do it, the better, so we’ve got something to look at. One of the reasons we haven’t done it before is because we’ve had major challenges, such as the state budet and staff layoffs. Those challenges have really made it very difficult to be able to engage in a strategic planning process. Also, ballot measures. Luckily, we were successful with one of those measures (Measure C). I don’t think the district should be going in the a very short term for another ballllot measure. The focus is not going to be on that for the near term. Plus, if we don’t have a ballot measure now, I think it will lead to more effective pursuing of local measures (in the future). Also, we don’t want to be trying to do everything all at once.

Strange: Not sure if this is plus or minus: How can the board assist staff in doing this? We’ve got a lot we’ve asked staff to do. Everyone has a lot on their plate. What cah we do to help people deal with the full plate syndrome they’ve got right now. How do we keep business running as usual and add one more thing in an already understaffed resource workload.

Consultant: Process is typically a year.

Allen: Two new board members come in December, so they need to be involved and they will be.

Strange: We’re assuming there’s a board majority that lasts through the election and assuming the board majority would want to move forward with strategic planning. If you wind up having a 3-2 split with two board members saying, ‘No, we don’t want to do strategic planning,’ it would be a very difficult battle to get strategic planning going well. I think it would be a very good learning opportunity for new board members and I think the community is supportive.

Whitmarsh: We could survey the community and ask: ‘Do you support strategic planning?’

Strnge: Mentioned the cost of surveys.

Whitmarsh: We could use ‘Survey Monkey.’

Mayo (asked Strange): What is your evidence that the community wants strategic planning?

Strange: It was a part of the platform in the last race (of Whitmarsh and Eberhart in 2008) and got overwhelming support.

Eberhart: I often hear from members of the community that they’re not confident that the school district has a focus that’s shared at all levels in the district. What’s the focus in the classroom may not coincide with what’s the focus of the parents. I’m not saying that’s accurate. I think in any large or small organization that has a well-articulated focus and a set of goals that are measureable that the clients and members understand and can articulate, tend to be much more successful than organizations where you can…not even get a close articulation of what the goals are of that organization. I think a lot of it is perception. The goal is to educate kids, so to the extent we can all pull in the same direction to accomplish that goal, I think that’s a huge plus for the kids.

Quesion 3: Is this the time to do a strategic plan?

Strange: I think this is the time. We should wait for change in the board, probably until the first of the year, so people have a chance to get past the holidays. There will be two new board members.

Mayo: Possibly three.

Strange: I doubt it.

Eberhart: Need to know approximate financial cost for this district, so that we can actually make a decision as a borad to go forward.

Whitmarsh: What is the low or upper limit, ie. $40,000 to $50,000.

Consultant: It depends how you wanht to go about doing it. What I’m hearing is you really want to have community involvement and getting tha community feedback is very important to you. Maybe get input on goals and objectives and have some openness to new ideas, communication and feedback. Rather than an outside committee, maybe board is that commimttee. You might choose to do some in-between things.

Whitmarsh: We probably want to look at setting up specific meetings with employee groups and then general: city government, senior citizen groups, forums for parents, feeder patterns, potentially our high school leadership classes. I think we need five or six target category groups and then others.

Consultant: A strategic planning committee could be administrators and community that could look at data and share with board.

Allen: With the plates full, I’m not so sure we’re seeing the consequences of things we’ve done. I think what’s real critical is the human resources at the district office and at the sites.

Consultant: I think having focus groups and listening, you would learn a lot about needs and issues.

Mayo: The board should consider a retreat, establishing protocol and developing a strong leadership team along with the superintendent. Everyone will debate what we use for mission and vision and we need to craft and agree upon a common mission and vision.

Superintendent Steven Lawrence: I agree with bringing in new board members (to the process). At a supterintendents’ meeting, we discussed midyear budget cuts, because the new state budget uses rosy projections. We should craft alternatives looking at cost and employee time. Maybe a better financial picture. Maybe see if we can solicit any business funding to help facilitate this effort. Have a retreat in January. There’s many positives and many reasons to do it. Bringing it forward in January, with new board members, having a strategic plan that would help guide their three to four years on the board would be a positive.

Strange: My thinking would be that from this day forward you proceed along the plan that there will be a stragtegic planning process in January.

Whitmarsh: We may take longer to do it becasue of funding. If cant’ get a grant. Maybe meet once a month instead of once a week. I know it’s ugly but I’m also cognizant of what each of us has on our plate.

Allen: I think that’s a good idea.

Allen: Our strategic plan would include school plans.

Whitmarsh: We would take the strategic plan and when sites make plans, they say, ‘How is my site going to achieve that goal?’ So, it’s differfent because what Foothill (MS) might do is different from what another school might. But, the strategies as far as where we want to go are the same for everyone.

Eberhart (to Lawrence): As you present a process and a timeline for us, show the community that there is a very easy way to show that our process is going to really take that input from our community members and that the input gets used. Many school districts have input from the community, but that input is just dressing. They put it on white boards and say the community has been a part of the process. They need to be a part of the discussion, not just asked, ‘What are your inputs?’

Whitmarsh: It sounds more like a strategic planning committee and creating more of a draft. You want the input from as many people as you can get, 500-1,500 people giving input, maybe more.

Eberhart: I do see a commmittee process that involves 25-30 community members.

Whitmarsh: We’ve got (33) community members involved in school closure, different bargainig units have a different rep on there. We do have to understand having a committee that size can be a challenge unto itself, to get 50 people to commit.

Eberhart: I think we need to establish the dates beforehand. This is very important. I would argue more important than closing schools.

Mayo: Assuring that community input is treated as relevant and important, means during board retreat, the outcome of a strategic plan might take prioiroity to an individual board members’ viewpoints. (She gave the example of a board member having an interest in performing arts, but finding through stragtegic planning that’s not a priority of the community). And that’s just an abstract example. In some instances, some of us may need to understand that our top priorites may not be the top priority of our community and we would have to accept the outcome of the strategic plan.

Eberhart: I think if we have a committee and that committee has taken input and maybe we’ve done a survey, it would be my opinion that we would need to trust the process. We know there are issues from compliance issues, for instance. I think it’s incumbent on the district to make sure the committee members are educated as to what’s possible and what’s not possible at the end of the day the board is going to have to agee to a plan and move forward. I don’t know how that process is going to go. If we want the community to buy in, they have to be involved in the process. It can’t just be come to a little forum with seven or eight peole and write it on a white board. We may not get the global buyin unless we tell peolpe, ‘You’re going to be at the table when we craft the plan.’

Whitmarsh: We should consider having an independent faciliator, so there’s no preconceived notions, who listens independently, without having skin in the game. People (such as members of bargaining units) whould not feel things they would say would be held against them at a later point in time. I would want an independent facilitator not affiliated with the payroll of the district.

Eberhart: (Referred to a teachers’ union survey). It focused on teachers providing some assessment of how things are going at the site. I’d like to see a survey like that expanded. It had great questions that talked about, from an administrative perspective, how successful is the administration? I would like to see that expanded to the parents: ‘What do you think of the site, the teaching, food serviece, cleanilness?’ Real questions that allow people to provide input so we can see from the parents and the clients we serve how we are doing as a school district.

Whitmarsh: Should survey five years out.

Eberhart: It helps me to see what does our community think of (the job we’re doing).

Whitmarsh: Would like annual feedback from students and community members: ‘What’s your perception of the school that’s in your backyard?’

Eberhart: I woul like to see it prior to putting a stratgegic plan in, as a benchmark.

Strange: If you spend a money to build a poll you don’t ever change it.

Whitmarsh: (Said it might be necessary to change certain questions to reflect changes in district.)

Allen: I think we really need to look at our communications plan. To keep the whole community informed, I think we need to make a stronger effort.

Consultant: One of the primary benefits of a stragteic plan is that communication: we have something we’re all working toward.

Eberhart: As we look at makeup of committee, administration should be represented. We need represenation from a lot of different groups. Don’t want committee to be overrepresented by any one group.

Consultant: What I’m hearing is there is interest in a strategic plan. You would like to have a retreat in January with the new board to address strategic planning — different models which would address different levels of commitment — so you’d have some options to choose from.

Mayo: (Suggested two separate meetings, one to focus on working together and one on strategic planning.)

Lawrence: (Talked about everything the district is already working on, such as school closure, state budget crisis, balancing district budget for three years, union negotiations, six swchols on persistently lowest-performing list, updating core curriculum standars and No Child Left Behind.) I think the strategic planning process is a very valuable process and will be helpful, but there are other major initiatives going on. I think if we’re going to plan meeting, we need to wait for new board members.

Strange: Potential board members, clear your calendars!

Eberhart (to Lawrence): (Asked for a timeline starting sooner than January, sometime after the new board is seated.) Most importantly (it should include) what the process looks like, including a timeline and level of expenditures and time commitment.

Lawrence asked if he could continue to confer with Whitmarsh. Strange said he has appointed Whitmarsh and Eberhart to an ad hoc subcommittee to work on strategic planning with the superintendent.

Do you think the district should move forward with a strategic plan?

Posted on Sunday, October 10th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Congratulations to local AP scholars

By Theresa Harrington

This month, schools throughout the East Bay are finding out which students who took AP tests in 2010 qualified to be named as “AP Scholars.”

Northgate High in Walnut Creek announced today that 57 of its students earned recognition as AP scholars. Here are the details, according to a press release I received from Linda Clark, the school’s college and career advisor.

“The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) provides willing and academically prepared students with the opportunity to take rigorous college-level courses while in high school, and to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both for successful performance on the AP Exams. About 18 percent of the more than 1.8 million students worldwide who took AP Exams performed at a sufficiently high level to also earn an AP Scholar Award.”

AP SCHOLAR AWARD: 27 students qualified for this award by earning an average score of 4 or higher on a 5-point scale on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more of these exams.
Theses students are: Mark Antkowiak, Nicholas Brancaccio, Joshua Chzen, Michelle Dawkin, Michael Drabinsky, Nicholas Fong, Jeremy Friedman, Arnulfo Hermes, Derek Jung, Alexandra Jurgens, Eitan Karni, Kevin Koh, Mikhail Kolomensky, Hanbaek Kong, Roshan Lal, Andrew Lam, Isac Leung, Wentai Li, Gordon Magill, Samantha Sahi, Christian Shafer, Francesca Ucciferri, Matthew Valla, Michael Wright, Sori Youn, Naomi Yuen, Allen Zhao.

AP SCHOLAR WITH HONOR AWARD: 14 students qualified for this award by earning an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams.
These students are: Mark Biundo, Michael Deas, Erin Delaria, Margaret Fitzgerald, Angelina Garron, Nathan Hendel, William Johnston, Zubin Mody, Joshua Moss, Emily Neilson, AndrewWoo, Alan Xu, Sarah Yuan, Sarah Zahedi.

AP SCHOLAR WITH DISTINCTION AWARD: 16 students qualified for this award by earning an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams.
These students are: Alisha Agrawal, Rebecca Chen, Anthony Chin, Juliana Cook, Sami Elahmadie, Weisi Kang, Seoyeon Kim, Jacob Machado, Andie O’Laughlin, Zachary Privitera, Arvind Ramesh, Evan Stackpole, Jinny Sun, Mia Tittle, James Voorhees, Katherine Wei.

According to the College Board’s website, the numbers of AP Scholar Awards given in 2010 were:

AP Scholar: 168,889
AP Scholar with Honor: 70,059
AP Scholar with Distinction: 100,392
National AP Scholar: 15,103

More information is at

Posted on Sunday, October 10th, 2010
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district news from superintendent

By Theresa Harrington

Here is the latest newsletter from Mt. Diablo school district Superintendent Steven Lawrence, which will likely be posted on the district’s website by Monday. Note: the board will discuss medical benefits Tuesday. Lawrence warns there could be more layoffs if union negotiations are unsuccessful.

“October 8, 2010
Mt. Diablo USD News Update
Where Kids Come First

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go…
To the Second Annual 5K Run to Benefit MDUSD Sports
Great thanks, in advance, to the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation (“UMDAF”) for hosting the second annual 5K Run and Walk to benefit District high school sports. Athletics are just one of many victims of the state’s budget cuts. UMDAF stepped up to the plate to ensure our students are not denied the invaluable experience of team sports. Studies confirm that students who participate in organized school sports are less likely to experiment with dangerous behaviors, including drugs and alcohol. Please support UMDAF to achieve their goal of raising $50,000 from this event.
Sunday, October 10
9:00 a.m.
Newhall Park, Concord
Food. Fun. Entertainment.
Support a great cause – support our student athletic programs. Log on to to sign up and/or get additional information.

Bond Sale
On September 20, 2010, the district sold the first allotment of the bonds approved by voters under Measure C. The amount of the sale was $110 million, almost a third of the $348 million authorized by Measure C. The district is pleased to announce that it was able to sell approximately half of the first allotment ($59.5 million), as Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (“CREBs”). CREBs are very beneficial to the District because most of the interest is paid by the federal government. The interest paid by the district itself is minimal, only about 1.7%. The District was able to qualify for the CREBs program because it applied early, over a year ago. Lower interest costs result in greater energy savings because the bond payoff cost is substantially lessened.

The remaining $50.5 million in bonds were issued as General Obligation bonds. These bonds have an interest rate of about 5.7% and have a term of 25 years. If you would like more information about the bonds and the exciting projects they will finance, we invite you to attend the October 12, 2010 Board meeting, where there will be a formal presentation during the Superintendent’s Report. We will keep you regularly informed on project developments as we build a new district!

Measure C Update
The aforementioned $110 million will be used for the following projects:
District wide solar installation
District wide technology infrastructure improvements
Paying off $14 million in Certificates of Participation (“COPs”) and lease purchase payments which will relieve the District of $1.4 million annual debt payments through 2024
Begin the process of equalizing HVAC enhancements throughout the district

Shining the Light on Solar
After a rigorous selection process the District selected SunPower to design and build its solar projects. SunPower is a local, established and nationally recognized designer and builder of solar power systems. The initial timeline had the Board considering the SunPower contract at its October 12, 2010, meeting. In order to allow the parties to finalize their discussions, the contract will now be presented at the October 26, 2010 Board meeting.

Pete Pederson, bond program administrator, is visiting each district school site to determine the most appropriate location for each solar facility. Solar structures can often serve as shade structures and rain covers as well as energy generators.

K to College School Supply Program
The K to College School Supply Program (“SSP”) provides free canvas tote bags filled with school supplies to students who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Their mission is to promote equal access to higher education by ensuring every student has the resources and tools to learn from kindergarten to college. K to College was founded in 2008 by UC Berkeley students and alumni. K to College’s founding members reached out to community leaders experienced with low-income education, including educators, local, state and federal representatives, faith-based leaders, and other education-based nonprofit leaders. The SSP is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (“ARRA”) and allocates funds to pay for $70 tote bags for low income students. Every student at the participating schools was given a tote bag containing supplies and a dental kit. Nearly 10,000 students in the District received tote bags. For more information:

Rising Cost of Health Care to Be Discussed at October 12 Board Meeting
Mirroring discussions being held by employers throughout the nation, the Board is trying to manage the spiraling cost of health care benefits for all District employees. Currently, full coverage is provided to administrators, confidential and classified employees. Several years ago teachers negotiated benefits into their salary schedule and have recently received funding towards medical benefits. The simultaneous trends of increasing benefit costs and diminishing state education funds forced the district to consider capping its health care contribution. As discussed in previous board meetings, if we cannot cap the District’s benefit contribution, we will be forced to implement more layoffs to pay for health care cost increases. Administrators, supervisors and confidential employees have accepted a benefit cap.

The Kaiser rate for medical insurance increased 6.84% from the 2010 rate and if it remains uncapped, the District will pay $23,027,792 in 2011 and approximately $27,224,287 by 2013.”

The complete board agenda is at

Do you think employees should accept a benefits cap?

Posted on Friday, October 8th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

So much to cover, so little time!

By Theresa Harrington

I’ve been so busy covering the state Superintendent of Public Instruction race and running from one meeting to another that I haven’t had time to sit down and blog about everything that’s going on.

But, there are plenty of things I’m working on that I’ll write about shortly. Here are the meetings I’ve attended in the past week, that I’ll blog about in more detail soon (and likely write Times stories about, as well):

Sept. 30 Mt. Diablo school closure committee meeting: lots of interesting data was shared. You can find it online at: Some people have complained that this information is difficult to find online. But Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support, said the district website home page wouldn’t support a link.

Oct. 4: Mt. Diablo district’s special education Community Advisory Committee board candidate’s forum. All seven candidates participated, including Jan Trezise, who says she is indeed running, despite an impulsive announcement she made during the CCTV forum, saying she was so pleased with her opponents that she would drop out of the race. She’ll also participate in the Oct. 20 debate at Pleasant Hill City Hall.

Oct. 4: Mt. Diablo special education Community Advisory Committee meeting: Although the district has made headway in filling vacant teacher and assistant positions, some parents are still concerned about the quality of education their children are receiving. The district’s special education court-ordered Consent Decree expires in November and some worry that the district will slide back into non-compliance with state, federal and consent-decree mandates, due to budget cuts.

Oct. 5: Visited Project Lead the Way engineering academy class at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord. It’s a very exciting program funded by Chevron, which prepares students for college and high-tech careers.

Oct. 5: Mt. Diablo board special meeting regarding strategic planning. The board received a PowerPoint presentation about the process, which you can see here: Although Superintendent Steven Lawrence reminded the board that the district has a lot on its plate already, trustees Paul Strange, Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh said they believe the community wants a long-term plan created through community consensus. Discussions are expected to begin December, after newly elected board members are seated.

Oct. 6: Contra Costa County Board of Education meeting to review application by K12 Flex Academy charter school to locate in the Mt. Diablo district. Very surprisingly, no Mt. Diablo district representative showed up to defend the board’s unanimous decision to deny the application, which the school is appealing. When county board members spotted Mt. Diablo trustee Linda Mayo in the audience, they asked if she wanted to speak. She declined, shaking her head, while taking copious notes regarding the questions and answers. The board will vote on the appeal Oct. 20 — the same night as the Mt. Diablo board candidate forum in Pleasant Hill City Hall. Not sure how I’m going to manage to cover both!

Oct. 7: Wrote story today about the United Mount Diablo Athletic Foundation’s 5K run on Sunday. Also, don’t miss our Pigskin Sports Geek’s video. Sadly, run organizers say they haven’t had as many signups or sponsorships as hoped and they worry the community has become complacent about the district’s decision to stop funding sports. Yet, if the foundation doesn’t raise $1.2 million again this year, all bets are off for the future of after-school athletics. Here’s a message from Northgate High Principal John McMorris encouraging the community to get out and join the fun:
Find out more here:

Oct. 8: State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate debate was postponed due to participation of state Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, in late-night Legislative budget discussions Thursday. A new date for a forum with Torlakson and retired school Superintendent Larry Aceves will be announced soon.

Also, I’ve heard the Mt. Diablo school district’s special education busing program is still having problems.

To get more frequent updates about what’s going on in education, you can follow me on Twitter. You can also find Mt. Diablo district trustees Gary Eberhart, Paul Strange and Sherry Whitmarsh on Twitter, although they haven’t tweeted much yet. Board candidates Jeff Adams and Brian Lawrence are tweeting also.

Do you think Twitter is an effective way for board members and candidates to communicate with the community?

Posted on Friday, October 8th, 2010
Under: Education | 8 Comments »

Fed Reserve chairman gives teachers advice

East Bay teachers (left to right) Thomas Renno of Campolindo High in Moraga, David Bremer of Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, Dino Petrocco of Campolindo High and Scott Ananos of Mt. Diablo High in Concord chat with Jody Hoff, senior manager of Economic Education for the San Francisco Federal Reserve

East Bay teachers (left to right) Thomas Renno of Campolindo High in Moraga, David Bremer of Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, Dino Petrocco of Campolindo High and Scott Ananos of Mt. Diablo High in Concord chat with Jody Hoff, senior manager of Economic Education for the San Francisco Federal Reserve

By Theresa Harrington

Many Bay Area teachers went straight to the source Thursday to get their questions answered about the economy and to find out how they could communicate important lessons regarding the recent financial meltdown and recession to their students.

The highlight of their day at the Federal Reserve office in San Francisco was a one-hour videoconference with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who stressed the need to educate students about the pitfalls of living beyond their means.

Here’s an excerpt of his comments:

“A lot of people who are in trouble today made bad decisions. They borrowed too much or they purchased a home they couldn’t afford. They borrowed too much on their credit cards.

Your efforts as teachers to help students understand the importance of financial responsibility, to help them understand what are the basics, the basics of saving and budgeting, those are critical and students need to understand that for themselves as individuals and for the country, good sound practices, good sound behavior in their own financial dealings, is really important.

I guess I would say on the personal side also, we are learning a lot of lessons about the labor market here.

Young people, as often is the case with the least experience…are the worst hit by high level of unemployment, particularly minority young people.

What does that tell us? Well, among other things, it tells us that we need to have kids who are well-trained, well-educated, who understand, who have a wide variety of basic skills in terms of thinking, writing, math, etc., so that they can adapt and change and deal with what could be a very unstable situation….we hope our economy will recover, but the world is changing quickly and the more that kids are prepared, the better they will be able to take advantage of technological change and changes in our economy, rather than being left behind.”

Tom Zientara, who teaches AP government, civics and economics at Carondelet High in Concord, said he believes his curriculum matches Bernanke’s educational goals.

“We talk about balancing a checkbook and about the perils of credit cards being issued to college students and how credit cards can get you into deep debt,” Zientara said.

Do you believe American students receive an adequate education in financial literacy?

Posted on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010
Under: Education | No Comments »

Mt. Diablo district athletes challenge cities to support 5k run

Mt. Diablo district students challenge Concord City Council to join 5k runBy Theresa Harrington
The Concord City Council got a surprise visit from athletes who attend city high schools on Tuesday, challenging the elected leaders to join council members of neighboring cities in drumming up participation for a 5k run Oct. 10 to support Mt. Diablo district sports.
Council members responded positively, identifying students by their mascots.
“Is this where I get to say, ‘Go, Minutemen?'” said Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister, referring to Concord High, her alma mater.
“It looks like there’s some Eagles here,” said Mayor Guy Bjerke, regarding Clayton Valley High students. “I don’t see any Warriors.”
Alas, no Ygnacio Valley High students were in the house.
“It’s too hot,” quipped Councilwoman Helen Allen.
“And we’ve got some from Mt. Diablo High,” Hoffmeister noted.
“Red Devils,” said Councilman Bill Shin, knowingly.
Councilman Mark Petersen, whose daughters attend Northgate High in Walnut Creek, didn’t comment.
“As you can tell,” Bjerke said, “certain members of the council attended different high schools.”
After hearing that elected officials from Pleasant Hill, Clayton and Walnut Creek were also challenged to participate, Bjerke and his fellow councilmembers showed their fighting spirit.
“If Mayor (Karen) Mitchoff and Mayor (Sue) Rainey can participate, then I surely can participate,” said Bjerke, referring to the leaders of Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.
“We accept the challenge and we’ll try to get as many employees out there as possible,” Bjerke said.
Shinn kept his comments short.
“Go Red Devils,” he said quietly. Then louder: “And one more time, Go Red Devils!”
City councils in Clayton and Pleasant Hill have also responded enthusiastically, said Marci Finley, who is coordinating the event for the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation. A representative from Northgate High sent an e-mail to the Walnut Creek City Council, she added.
The foundation is trying to raise $1.2 million to keep sports alive in the district, after trustees cut funding due to state budget cuts. Although sign-ups have been steady, sponsorships this year are far below those from last year, when the shock of losing sports funding first hit the community, Finley said.
Outside the Concord council meeting, students were excited about the reaction they received. They told me why sports are so important to them.
“I think it’s important because it keeps trouble-makers out of trouble and it just shows you how to have discipline in life,” said 16-year-old Diquan Madison, captain of the Mt. Diablo High football team. A running back and safety, he said he hopes to earn an athletic scholarship to San Francisco State University.
Raheem Blackmon, 17, participates in football and track at Mt. Diablo High.
“Coaches are like a parent to us and we’re like a family,” he said. “There’s not a lot of us on the team, but we stick together.
Like Diquan, he’s hoping sports will lead to a college scholarship at UCLA in track and field. Raheem said he is captain of the track team and he was the North Coast Section champion last year in 300-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles.
Red Devil football player Arturo Castaneda, 17, has set his sights on playing for San Francisco State University after he graduates.
“My whole life revolves around sports,” he said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, but it also keeps me disciplined in school. One of the reasons to go to school is to improve myself as an athlete and a student and to have a way out to go to college.”
Rookie Quincey “Tech” Smith, 16, said Mt. Diablo High School sports provide him with a way to express his talents, which are running and agility. He participates in football, basketball, baseball and wrestling and is eyeing Tuskegee or San Francisco State universities.
“It’s one of the funnest ways to get into college, especially when you’re doing something you love,” he said. “I don’t get tired.”
Clayton Valley High athletes were proudly carrying the trophy they won for signing up the most 5k race participants last year: 608. This year, they’re trying to match or beat that number so they can hang onto their coveted prize.
“Other schools are trying to get it, but we’re hoping to keep it,” said Alex Tate, 16, who plays soccer and runs cross-country and track at Clayton Valley.
Ben Linzey, 13, runs cross-country and plans to participate in soccer and track and field at Clayton Valley. He said he’s betting his school will be able to attract more runners in the race this year.
Sports are important to freshman Kyle Metz, 14, who runs cross-country at Clayton Valley and plans to play soccer.
“It just gives you something to do besides homework” he said. “It keeps us active.”
Austin Woods, a 17-year-old Clayton Valley cross-country runner and volleyball player, said athlete contributions to sports have increased since trustees cut funding.
“Before, we just had to pay for buses,” he said. “Now, we have to make more contributions. It’s kind of hard to keep doing it the next year and the next year.”
Concord High leadership student Kyle Perra, 18, addressed the Concord City Council on behalf of the group.
“The Pleasant Hill City Council accepted this challenge last week and the Clayton and Walnut Creek councils were also asked to join the challenge,” he told his city leaders.
“Disgusting,” muttered Councilwoman Helen Allen, eager to best her rival city officials.
Kyle smiled and nodded.
“Disgusting,” he said.
Clearly, it’s on.
More information is at I’ll check in with cities next week to see how well they’re doing in the challenge.
You can see the students at the Concord City Council meeting by clicking on “Public Comment” here:
Will you be at the run to support Mt. Diablo district sports and represent your city or school?

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Theresa Harrington | 4 Comments »