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Archive for January, 2011

A closer look at Glenbrook Middle School’s $1.7 million improvement grant

By Theresa Harrington

One question that arises as the Mt. Diablo district considers closing Glenbrook Midle School is: what would happen to its School Improvement Grant?

Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, told me today (Thursday) that the district is exploring whether it could continue to receive funding by amending its application for school closure. Previously, she said, she told Board President Gary Eberhart that the district would not be able to receive the funding if the school closed. That would be the case if the district closed the school and didn’t amend its application, she said.

“We’re still trying to get some answers,” Lock said. ”There are some different ideas, such as, ‘What if we amend the application?’ So, we’re still looking into it. We still don’t have anything definite.”

The state approved a $1.7 million grant for three years to reform Glenbrook by “transforming” it through new educational initiatives. The district could have chosen the “school closure” reform, but chose not to, in part because the school was making progress.

“Glenbrook Middle School has had two consecutive years of API gains totaling 48 points,” the district’s application stated. “The focused initiatives that were started two years ago, such as PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), Fred Jones (teacher training in classroom management), and analysis of student data will be continued and intensified.”

The district said it also planned to implement new strategies such as:
- more collaboration about instruction across grade levels and departments;
- implementing a “Read 180″ program;
- launching a four-week intensive summer program including enrichment electives for students as well as remediation and intervention;
- shifting to Curriculum Associates assessments;
- using Board Math in AIMS (Academic Intervention for Math Success) classes;
- hiring coaches for English language learners, math and data;
- hiring a “turnaround specialist”;
- professional development for staff; and
- summertime collaboration for teachers to work on instructional pacing and common assessments, as well as to plan “experiential” and project-based learning opportunities for students.

The district was to receive $584,002 annually for three years, from 2010-11 through 2012-13. The application included an $80,000 expenditure this year to plan a four-week summer intervention program to be offered in July. It is unclear whether the district would still offer this program if the school closes. If not, the district won’t need to spend $80,000 planning for it. This means the district could be required to return some of its grant money, with interest.

“The applicant will obligate all sub-grant funds by the end date of the sub-grant or re-pay any funding received, but not obligated, as well as any interest earned over $100 on the funds,” the application states.

The district is spending $24,000 on its “turnaround specialist.” It is unclear whether this person is experienced in turning around schools by closing them.

The district assured the state that funds would spent as indicated in its application proposal and would ONLY be used in the school identified in the grant award letter.

The district is unlikely to receive as much money for closing the school as it would to keep it open and implement reforms. The San Francisco school district received $50,000 to close a school, compared to $3.8 to $5.8 million to transform or “turn around” other schools. Similarly, the Oakland district received about $49,000 to close a middle school, compared to $4.4 and $4.6 to transform two other schools.

According to the School Improvement Grant criteria, the district would not be able to receive grant funding if it sends Glenbrook students to Oak Grove Middle School, since Oak Grove’s Academic Performance Index score is lower than Glenbrook’s. (Oak Grove’s API is 646 and Glenbrook’s is 660). However, Glenbrook students could attend the new Flex Academy charter school that is considering opening in the fall.

Here are the grant guidelines for school closure, according to the state Department of Education: “The LEA (local education agency) closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving. These other schools should be within reasonable proximity to the closed school and may include, but are not limited to, charter schools or new schools for which achievement data are not yet available.”

It’s not clear what the state considers “reasonable proximity.” According to Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s recommendation, the district would send 243 students to El Dorado Middle School (3.2 miles from Glenbrook), 52 students to Valley View Middle School (4 miles from Glenbrook) and 189 to Oak Grove (nearly 5.4 miles from Glenbrook).

According to the grant application, the district should be conducting a “mid-year check in” with Glenbrook staff this month to evaluate out how the grant implementation is progressing. The school is scheduled to give a board presentation in May about its progress and outcomes.

In its grant application, dated November 11, 2010, the district wrote that the Glenbrook community had determined “the focus for GMS (Glenbrook Middle School) needs to be on a transformational model focused on providing rigorous instruction, student engagement and experiential learning.” It envisioned its plan would “provide the structure and accountability to make instruction targeted, coherent, and ultimately successful for all GMS students.”

Now that the school year is half over, do you think the district should evaluate whether its School Improvement plan is working before abandoning it?

Posted on Thursday, January 27th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 12 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district superintendent’s school closure recommendation

Students and parents pack Mt. Diablo school board meeting, urging trustees not to close their schools.

Students and parents pack Mt. Diablo school board meeting, urging trustees not to close their schools.

By Theresa Harrington

In a change from usual procedure, Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to wait until after public comments on Tuesday before revealing his school closure recommendation. There was no written staff report and Lawrence’s Powerpoint presentation wasn’t posted online until after the meeting was over.

This left the public in the dark while comments were being made and didn’t give people a chance to express opinions about the new recommendation. Surprisingly, trustees also voiced no opinions about the recommendation.

Here’s what Lawrence proposed:

Close either Wren Avenue or Holbrook elementary in Concord and consolidate Crossroads and the Summit/TLC/Nueva Vista small necessary high school programs on the closed campus.

Close Glenbrook Middle School in Concord and create a special education program with the nonpublic school Seneca on the site. Also, provide office space for Measure C district staff.

Redraw boundary lines around Meadow Homes Elementary, sending some children to other schools so that the district won’t have to spend $91,000 a year busing them as “overflow” students.

According to Lawrence’s Powerpoint presentation, new boundaries for Holbrook, Wren and Glenbrook students have already been drawn:

About 177 Holbrook students would move to Sun Terrace Elementary and about 153 would move to Wren Avenue. Students who attend on transfers would go to their home schools or apply for transfers elsewhere.

The district projected that enrollment at Holbrook would decline from 397 in 2010-11 to 355 in five years. However, I’m not sure if this took into consideration anecdotal reports from local residents regarding an expected influx of Coast Guard families in the neighborhood.

If Wren Avenue closes, about 99 students would move to Holbrook, 133 would move to El Monte, 31 would move to Westwood and 33 would move to Monte Gardens.

The district projected that enrollment at Wren Avenue would increase from 386 this year to 397 in five years, if the school remains open.

If Glenbrook closes, about 243 students would go to El Dorado Middle School, 52 would go to Valley View and 189 would go to Oak Grove.

Glenbrook’s enrollment was projected to decline from 526 in 2010-11 to 478 in five years, if it stays open.

Lawrence did not recommend closing Silverwood Elementary, even though it received the most votes from the advisory committee and was included in both of the most highly recommended school closure scenarios by the committee. He showed that Silverwood’s students could be absorbed into Mountain View, Ayers and Highlands elementary schools, but noted that County Connection buses don’t travel near Silverwood.

He projected Silverwood’s enrollment would grow from 400 to 402 in five years, if it isn’t closed.

Lawrence also showed that 17 new classrooms would need to be built to accommodate Monte Gardens and Sequoia Elementary students at other sites if those schools closed and that three classrooms would need to be constructed at Pleasant Hill Middle School to accommodate Sequoia Middle School students if that campus closed.

He estimated the district would save $100,000 by combining the small necessary high schools on one campus, while also making five classrooms available on the Concord High campus. However, he acknowledged that public transportation for small necessary high school students would be needed (since the district doesn’t bus them). Both the Wren Avenue and Holbrook neighborhoods are served by County Connection buses, he said.

He was unsure whether the district could identify additional nonpublic special education students who could be served on the closed Glenbrook site, but promised to bring that information to the board Feb. 8, when trustees expect to vote on the recommendations.

Lawrence noted that Holbrook, Wren and Glenbrook all offer the CARES after-school program on their campuses. Wren and Holbrook serve 114 students each, while Glenbrook serves 132.

The district will investigate the possibility of transferring students to CARE programs at other sites or transferring the CARE program to sites that don’t have it, he said.

He was unsure whether the district would be able to continue receiving School Improvement Grant funds for Glenbrook Middle School’s “transformation,” if the site closes. The state approved a three-year $1.7 million grant, which was to be disbursed in equal installments of $584,002 per year through 2012-13.

The funds were to be spent according to the district’s application. The district would need to amend its application and receive approval from the state in order to continue receiving funds if the school closes.

Title 1 funds, on the other hand, would follow the students, he said. None of the schools recommended receive QEIA funds.

Do you agree with Lawrence’s recommendation?

Posted on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 76 Comments »

Walnut Creek police investigate suspcious package near Buena Vista Elementary

By Theresa Harrington

The Walnut Creek police issued the following community alert at 8:11 a.m. today (Tuesday):

“Police are investigating a suspicious package near Buena Vista Elementary School**. Avoid area.

The Walnut Creek Bomb Squad is responding to the north parking lot of Buena Vista Elementaty School to investigate a suspicious package that was left in the lot. Residents on Alvarado Avenue have evacuated or are sheltering in place. San Juan Avenue is closed to traffic. Alvarado Avenue is closed to traffic from Buena Vista Avenue to San Juan Avenue. Buena Vista School staff have been notified and students will remain in the school buildings. It is suggested that people stay out of the area until further notice.”

Further details are at https://local.nixle.com/alert/4641066/?sub_id=215768

Posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Under: Crime, Education, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Holbrook and Sequioa students would lose elementary and middle schools under closure recommendations

By Theresa Harrington

Although the Mt. Diablo district’s school closure process was not supposed to hit one community or student population harder than others, two of the recommendations would close an elementary school AND the middle school it feeds into — forcing parents to alter plans for their kindergarten through fifth-graders, as well as for their sixth- through eighth-graders.

The School Closure Advisory Committee has agreed on three possible closure scenarios:
1. Close Glenbrook Middle School, Silverwood Elementary and Wren Avenue Elementary
2. Close Glenbrook Middle School, Silverwood Elementary and Holbrook Elementary; or
3. Close Monte Gardens and Sequoia elementary schools, along with Sequoia Middle School.

The first scenario includes schools in three different middle school feeder patterns: Glenbrook, Pine Hollow (Silverwood) and El Dorado (Wren).

The second scenario, on the other hand, includes two schools in the same feeder pattern: Holbrook and Glenbrook Middle School. Similarly, the third scenario includes the two main elementary schools that feed into Sequoia Middle School — Monte Gardens and Sequoia Elementary.

Holbrook parents rallied in front of their school today, voicing concerns about the potential closure their campus.

Daniela Vega, whose daughter attends third grade at Holbrook, said the school is like a big family.

“It’s just really sad that it’s going to affect our kids,” she said, as she held a sign that said “We love Holbrook.” “These kids are the future and it shouldn’t affect them.”

According to the committee’s recommendation, Holbrook students would be scattered to attend Wren Avenue, Sun Terrace, Monte Gardens and Westwood elementary schools.

Tina Strickland, works as a special education assistant at the school and also has a kindergartener there.

“Our API score went up 50 points,” she said. “And our after-school program won a governor’s award (for fitness). Our school piloted PLC (professional learning communities, which are now taking hold on other campuses districtwide). We have a school garden that other schools come to see. We have Tech Bridge (a Chevron-sponsored program to interest girls in science). It would be really sad if our schoool closes. Most of the teachers have been here a really long time.”

Stephanie Delanoy, a parent and reading specialist at the school, said her children started out at Monte Gardens, but her son didn’t feel he fit “the mold.”

“Both my kids are very high academically,” she said. “We came back to our neighborhood school.”

Parent Lisa Barone said Holbrook serves Coast Guard families that live nearby. Soon, she said, many new families are expected to move in.

“It’s all families that live out here,” she said. “You have to have kids to live in that housing.”

Monica Berg, whose twins attend Holbrook, said many children walk to school.

“Most of our staff bicycles here,” she said. “I hope they (trustees) take that into consideration, because they’re planning to ship these kids to four different schools. It’s going to break our family up. We’re going to have to go clear across town.”

Loraine Cabral said she sent her daughter to Hidden Valley Elementary on a transfer last year, but she was bumped in September. So, she sent her daughter to Holbrook and said she has been impressed.

“Actually, side by side, I don’t see a difference,” she said, as she pushed two toddlers in a double-stroller while walking home with her daughter. “I think it has to do with parent involvement. Her class is challenging to her and she’s one of the advanced students.”

Cabral said the district should give transfer priority to students from closed schools, so that they can go to the school they choose without having to worry about being bumped each year. She also said the district should ask parents which schools they prefer, instead of assigning students based on new boundaries.

Some parents would likely choose schools with free after-school programs, while others may have different criteria for their selections, she said.

“It’s scary to think, ‘what’s next?’” she said. “I hope that when they make the decision that we get told quickly what to expect next.”

Parent Courney Diaz said the district should cut administrators’ salaries, including the superintendent’s, before closing schools.

“They’re too busy making sure they have enough money to live, yet our future is on the back burner,” she said. “That makes no sense.”

Silverwood parents have also been organizing to show the school board and the community how much their school means to them.

Julie Pamer quesions how much money the district would really save by closing the school, since some parents might leave the district. She also worries about children walking along busy Clayton Road, crossing Bailey Road to get to Thornwood, if they have to go to Mountain View Elementary.

Silverood parents held a meeting on Saturday and many were also concerned about “disenfranchised students whose parents don’t know how to transfer,” she said.

Some Silverwood parents also wondered why their school received the lowest rating possible for facilities — a 1 out of 20 — in the committee scoring. The only other school in the district to receive a 1 in this category was Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill.

“It’s 40 years old,” Pamer said, “but it’s well-kept.”

Trustees expect to receive more information about the closure process at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Monte Gardens Elementary multiuse room at 3841 Larkspur Drive in Concord. What feedback would you like to give them?

Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 25 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school closure meeting brings out new details, ideas

By Theresa Harrington

The Mt. Diablo school board’s study session to look at school closure recommendations shed some new light on the selection process and spurred the board to ask for more details Tuesday about how the recommendations would affect the district.

Trustees agreed to continue evaluating the three scenarios recommended by the School Closure Advisory Committee.

These are:
1. Close Glenbrook Middle School, Silverwood Elementary and Wren Avenue Elementary in Concord;
2. Close Glenbrook Middle School, Silverwood Elementary and Holbrook Elementary in Concord; or
3. Close Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord, along with Sequoia Elementary and Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill

Consultants and staff members reviewed the process used by the advisory committee and revealed the ratings that each school received according to seven criteria. Each school received a rating of 1-20 for each criterion, with 1 the lowest and 20 the highest.

Here’s a breakdown of the ratings for the recommended schools. I have noted the school’s Academic Performance Index (API) score and 2009-10 growth next to the academic rating. The state’s target is 800 out of 1,000.

GLENBROOK MIDDLE SCHOOL:
Facility condition: 14
Capacity utilization: 2
Operations and maintenance costs: 9
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 10
Academic performance: 3 (API: 660 – grew 17 points)
Geographic equity: 5
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 14
TOTAL: 57

SILVERWOOD ELEMENTARY:
Facility condition: 1
Capacity utilization: 8
Operations and maintenance costs: 8
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 10
Academic performance: 12 (API: 828 – grew 23 points)
Geographic equity: 11
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 6
TOTAL: 56

WREN AVENUE ELEMENTARY:
Facility condition: 12
Capacity utilization: 2
Operations and maintenance costs: 7
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 15
Academic performance: 7 (API: 765 – grew 11 points)
Geographic equity: 5
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 10
TOTAL: 58

HOLBROOK ELEMENTARY:
Facility condition: 12
Capacity utilization: 6
Operations and maintenance costs: 10
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 2
Academic performance: 13 (API: 777 – grew 50 points)
Geographic equity: 11
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 6
TOTAL: 66

MONTE GARDENS ELEMENTARY:
Facility condition: 12
Capacity utilization: 8
Operations and maintenance costs: 17
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 17
Academic performance: 18 (API: 918 – grew 20 points)
Geographic equity: 1
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 17
TOTAL: 90

SEQUOIA ELEMENTARY:
Facility condition: 12
Capacity utilization: 13
Operations and maintenance costs: 16
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 17
Academic performance: 16 (API: 921 – grew 4 points)
Geographic equity: 1
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 8
TOTAL: 83

SEQUOIA MIDDLE SCHOOL:
Facility condition: 13
Capacity utilization: 8
Operations and maintenance costs: 17
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 19
Academic performance: 17 (API: 867 – dropped 4 points)
Geographic equity: 1
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 2
TOTAL: 77

Overall, elementary schools scored between a low of 41 (El Monte) and a high of 111 (Cambridge). Middle schools scored between a low of 57 (Glenbrook) and a high of 104 (Diablo View). High school scores ranged from a low of 52 (Ygnacio Valley HS) to a high of 107 (College Park).

The number of committee members who voted for each scenario was also revealed. However, the number of people who voted for each school was not shared. Each 

committee member got four votes to divide between nine scenarios and four votes to distribute between the district’s 45 elementary, middle and comprehensive high schools.
 
Scenario 1 (Glenbrook, Silverwood, Wren) received 39 votes from 17 people (three people cast all four votes for this option).

Scenario 2 (Glenbrook, Silverwood, Holbrook) received 16 votes from nine people (one person cast all four votes for this option).

Scenario 3 (Monte Gardens, Sequoia Elem. and Sequoia MS) received 13 votes from six people (two people cast all four votes for this option).

Here are the individual votes for recommended schools:
Glenbrook MS:10
Silverwood: 19
Wren Avenue: 17
Holbrook: 10
Monte Gardens: 1
Sequoia Elementary: 4
Sequoia MS: 3

The complete Powerpoint is at http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/9c97ff91-366f-47e0-aea6-42aa95e88367.pdf.

The board asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to explore consolidating small necessary high schools, look at redrawing boundaries around crowded schools, investigate the possibility of bringing special education students in nonpublic schools to closed sites and to explore the possibility of building a high school in Bay Point with Measure C funds.

Do you think the district should divert Measure C funds from the projects voters supported to construction of a Bay Point High School?

Posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 10 Comments »

Side-by-side comparison of Mt. Diablo schools recommended for closure

Silverwood Elementary parents and students rally Jan. 14 to save their school from closure.

Silverwood Elementary parents and students rally Jan. 14 to save their school from closure.

By Theresa Harrington

Hundreds of parents, students and teachers may show up at the Mt. Diablo school board’s study session tonight (Wednesday) to hear why seven campuses are being recommended for closure by an advisory committee.

“Over the last several years, a combination of budget reductions from the state, as well as declining enrollments, have affected the school district and we’re being forced to look at school closure,” trustee Linda Mayo told me today. ” The school closure will enable us to assure the district provides a balanced budget and provides services for all students.”

Although the district has promised transparency, no staff report was released with the agenda to explain the recommendations. Instead, the committee will present a Powerpoint presentation at the meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Little Theater at Northgate High School, 425 Castle Rock Road in Walnut Creek.

Hopefully, this presentation will be posted online before the meeting. But, it’s possible it won’t be available until the meeting begins.

The district has posted much of the data the committee evaluated online at: http://www.mdusd.org/Community/Pages/scac.aspx. However, this information has not yet been synthesized for the public.

To provide the public with an overview at a glance before the meeting begins, I have compared the schools recommended for closure below according to several of the criteria evaluated by the committee.

The committee rated each school in the district according to facility condition, capacity, operations and maintenance costs, available capacity at nearby sites, academic performance, geographic equity within the district and the possibility of moving students to better facilities. It also considered the cost of closure. The ratings have not yet been released to the public, but are expected to be included in tonight’s presentation.

Here are the three scenarios recommended, followed by the “pros, cons and unknowns” listed by the committee, then individual comparisons of each school. Each committee member was given four votes for scenarios, as well as four votes for individual schools.

SCENARIO 1: GLENBROOK MIDDLE SCHOOL (Students would go to El Dorado, Oak Grove and Valley View middle schools);
SILVERWOOD ELEMENTARY (Students would go to Ayers, Mountain View and Highlands elementary schools);
WREN AVENUE ELEMENTARY (Students would go to El Monte, Holbrook, Monte Gardens and Westwood)
SAVINGS: $1.5 million
COMMITTEE VOTES RECEIVED: 39

PROS: Low cost, closures do not zero in on one community
CONS: Only $1.5 million in savings, elementaries serve communities, more disruptive to close a secondary school rather than elementary
UNKNOWNS: Holbrook to re-boundary to alleviate overcrowding at Meadow Homes, students west of Hwy. 242 go to Sun Terrace Elementary

SCENARIO 2: GLENBROOK MIDDLE SCHOOL (Students would go to El Dorado, Oak Grove and Valley View middle schools);
SILVERWOOD ELEMENTARY (Students would go to Ayers, Mountain View and Highlands elementary schools);
HOLBROOK ELEMENTARY (Students would go to Wren Avenue, Sun Terrace, Monte Gardens and Westwood elementary schools)
SAVINGS: $1.5 million
COMMITTEE VOTES RECEIVED: 16

No pros and cons listed, since this was a hybrid of other scenarios.

SCENARIO 3: MONTE GARDENS ELEMENTARY
SEQUOIA ELEMENTARY
SEQUOIA MIDDLE SCHOOL
(All students would return to neighborhood schools)
SAVINGS: $1.6 million
COMMITTEE VOTES RECEIVED: 13 (13-10 vote to move forward)

PROS: Sequoia campuses are not “neighborhood” schools, dispersing higher scoring students to other schools, shows that schools are equal — no choice needed.
CONS: Too many classrooms and costs associated with closing, lack of choice if closed, receiving schools do not have capacity, no ongoing guarantee to transfer (exception: schools of choice and No Child Left Behind); closing schools with high API
UNKNOWNS: Don’t know where children/parents would opt to go (MDUSD school or other districts), safety needs to close campus, feasibility to close campuses

The committee didn’t mention that Silverwood is also a high API school. Some of the notes above are a bit unclear, such as “safety needs to close campus.” Hopefully, these will be fleshed out more fully in the presentation.

Here is a closer look at each campus. The state target Academic Performance Index (API) score is 800 out of 1,000.

The final staff and utilities savings may differ from these projections, since layoffs for union employees would be decided on seniority and administrators would be replaced or moved at the superintendent’s discretion. Utilities costs would likely decrease in the future, as planned solar projects are built.

Enrollment and capacity figures fluctuated from one consultant’s report to another. I used enrollment data as of Oct. 4, 2010 and 2010-11 capacity data.

For the third scenario, I am listing students’ “neighborhood” schools in addition to  “nearby sites,” since children would no longer be able to attend a districtwide “choice” school. However, many parents of students in these schools have told me they would pull their children out of the district, rather than send them to lower-performing campuses.

GLENBROOK MIDDLE SCHOOL:
Individual committee member votes: 10
Built: 1955, has air conditioning

2010 enrollment: 526
Capacity with prep period: 906 (max. 1,055)

Utilities costs: $100,071
Cost of 6.6 FTE employees: $519,285
Savings potential: $619,356

Nearby sites: capacity for 759 students (no new classrooms needed)
El Dorado: built in 1960, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 872 students with a prep period capacity of 1,194, leaving space for 322;
Oak Grove: built in 1958, has a/c; enrollment is 572 students with a prep period capacity of 805, leaving space for 145;
Valley View: built in 1963, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 735 students with a prep period capacity of 1,027, leaving space for 292 students.

API score: 660

Geographic location: 2351 Olivera Road, Concord (near intersection of Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 242, west of Riverview MS and north of all other middle schools)

Additional information: District received a three-year $1.7 million grant to “transform” Glenbrook, which is one of the lowest-achieving schools in the state. It is unclear whether the district could amend its application and collect money to reform the school by closing it.

The district has planned $3.6 million in Measure C improvements at this site, including nearly $1.3 million for solar projects, which would be partially reimbursed through dedicated California Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS).

Superintendent Steven Lawrence told the Parent Advisory Council earlier this month that Diablo Valley College might be interested in purchasing or leasing this site to use for community college classes.

A teacher and office manager asked the school closure committee to close campuses that would net the biggest savings to the district. According to a consultant’s chart, the district could save $998,670 by closing Riverview Middle School in Bay Point (however, consultants recommended against closing the only middle school in that community for reasons of geographic equity). Glenbrook was the middle school with the second-highest potential savings, according to consultants.

SILVERWOOD ELEMENTARY:
Individual committee member votes: 19
Built: 1968, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 400
Capacity with Class Size Reduction (CSR): 454 (max. 543)

Utilities costs: $103,577
Cost of 4.8 FTE employees: $357,982
Savings potential: $461,559

Nearby sites: capacity for 459 students (no new classrooms needed)
Ayers Elementary: built in 1962, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 431 students with a CSR capacity of 478, leaving space for 47;
Mountain View Elementary: built in 1964, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 407 with a CSR capacity of 658, leaving space for 251;
Highlands Elementary: built in 1964, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 629 with a CSR capacity of 790, leaving space for 161.

API score: 828

Geographic location: 1649 Claycord Ave., Concord (near Clayton Road, north of Highlands Elementary and south of Mountain View and Ayers elementary schools)

Additional information: Parents and students have held rallies to show support for the school, which they say shouldn’t be closed because of its high performance and neighborhood importance.

The district has planned $5.9 million in Measure C improvements at this site, including $857,019 for solar projects, which would be partially reimbursed through dedicated California Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS).

WREN AVENUE ELEMENTARY:
Individual committee member votes: 17
Built: 1951, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 386
Capacity with Class Size Reduction (CSR): 562 (max. 685)

Utilities costs: $79,650
Cost of 4.8 FTE employees: $372,939
Savings potential: $452,589

Nearby sites: capacity for 343 students (need space for 43 more students or two additional classrooms)
El Monte Elementary: built in 1955, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 464 with a CSR capacity of 622, leaving space for 158;
Holbrook Elementary: built in 1955, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 397 with a CSR capacity of 490, leaving space for 93;
Monte Gardens Elementary: built in 1952, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 551 with CSR capacity of 610, leaving space for 59;
Westwood Elementary: built in 1958, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 397 with CSR capacity of 430, leaving space for 33

API score: 765

Geographic location: 3339 Wren Ave., Concord (near Farm Bureau Road, north of El Monte Elementary and south of Holbrook, Monte Gardens and Westwood elementary schools)

Additional information: Two Wren Avenue teachers urged the School Closure Advisory Committee to keep the school open, saying the campus has new facilities from the previous Measure C, including three new kindergarten rooms and two wings of new portables. One teacher also said parents and students use the canal trail to get to school, parking is convenient and the campus hosts a popular after-school program. They said they would welcome more students from other schools.

The district has planned nearly $2.6 million in 2010 Measure C improvements at the site, including $791,094 in solar projects, which would be partially funded through dedicated CREBS.

HOLBROOK ELEMENTARY:
Individual committee member votes: 10
Built: 1955, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 397
Capacity with Class Size Reduction (CSR): 490 (max. 594)

Utilities costs: $72,543
Cost of 4.8 FTE employees: $350,995
Total savings potential: $452,589

Nearby sites: capacity for 436 students (no new classrooms needed)
Wren Avenue: built in 1951, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 386 with CSR capacity of 562, leaving room for 176;
Sun Terrace Elementary: built in 1962, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 550 with CSR capacity of 718, leaving space for 168;
Monte Gardens Elementary: built in 1952, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 551 with CSR capacity of 610, leaving space for 59;
Westwood Elementary: built in 1958, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 397 with CSR capacity of 430, leaving space for 33.

API score: 777

Geographic location: 3333 Ronald Way, Concord (near Port Chicago Highway and East Olivera Road, south of Sun Terrace Elementary, north of Wren Avenue Elementary and west of of Monte Gardens and Westwood elementary schools)

Additional information: No Holbrook parents or staff members have spoken out at public meetings or held any rallies, as far as I know. However, Principal Sara Dieli sent me this response on Tuesday, when I asked whether anyone at the campus opposes the recommendation:

“Yes, our parents, staff and community members are very concerned and I expect many will be at the meeting tomorrow night. We are on several of the scenarios (including some that were not recommended), but we have a lot in our favor such as our API increase and our classroom capacity. We are hoping for the best.”

The school’s API score rose 50 points between 2009 and 2010, from 727 to 777 (far exceeding its state growth target of 5 points). It also met growth targets in all subgroups of students schoolwide (such as English language learners).

Parent faculty reps Turtle Pfeiffer and Harumi Waren also sent me this e-mail:

“Of course there is opposition to this recommendation as no one wants to see their school closed, however the ultimate decision will be made by the district, with or without our opposition. We expect that the final decision will be a logical, non-political one, made in the best interest of MDUSD students.”

The district has planned nearly $2.7 million in 2010 Measure C improvements at the site, including $791,094 in solar projects, which would be partially funded through dedicated CREBS.

MONTE GARDENS ELEMENTARY:
Individual committee member votes: 1
Built: 1952, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 551
Capacity with Class Size Reduction (CSR): 610 (max. 738)

Utilities costs: $66,381
Cost of 4.8 FTE employees: $341,534
Total savings potential: $407,915

Nearby sites: About 117 Monte Gardens students live in the school’s attendance area. The closest schools to Monte Gardens are Wren Avenue and Westwood:
Wren Avenue: built in 1951, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 386 with CSR capacity of 562, leaving room for 176;
Westwood Elementary: built in 1958, no a/c (planned as part of Measure C); enrollment is 397 with CSR capacity of 430, leaving space for 33.

In spring 2010, more than 10 students from the following school boundary areas attended Monte Gardens:
Wren Avenue: 74 (has capacity)
Sun Terrace: 45 (has capacity)
El Monte: 42 (has capacity)
Holbrook: 41 (has capacity)
Rio Vista: 33 (has capacity; enrollment is 390, CSR capacity is 538)
Westwood: 33 (has this exact capacity)
Delta View: 29 (no capacity; enrollment is 750, CSR capacity is 682)
Silverwood: 26 (has capacity)
Shore Acres: 18 (has capacity)
Mountain View: 16 (has capacity)
Highlands: 15 (has capacity)
Meadow Homes: 11 (no capacity, enrollment is 917, CSR capacity is 898)
Bel Air: 12 (has capacity)

Less than 10 students from the following school boundaries attended Monte Gardens in spring 2010: Ayers, Bancroft, Cambridge, Fair Oaks, Gregory Gardens, Hidden Valley, Mt. Diablo, Pleasant Hill, Strandwood, Valhalla, Walnut Acres, Woodside and Ygnacio Valley. Six out-of-district students attend the school.

API score: 918 (highest performing school in Concord)

Geographic location: 3841 Larkspur Drive, Concord (near Willow Pass Road, next door to district office, west of Westwood and east of Holbrook and Wren Avenue)

Additional information: Monte Gardens parents held a rally last week, urging the district to keep their school open and use it as a model for other schools. The previous principal, Patt Hoellwarth, was promoted to the district office as a principal “coach,” because of her success in creating an environment at Monte Gardens that could be replicated at other sites.

The district has planned nearly $4.4 million in 2010 Measure C improvements at the site, including more than $1 million in solar projects, which would be partially funded through dedicated CREBS.

SEQUOIA ELEMENTARY:
Individual committee member votes: 4
Built: 1953, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 571
Capacity with Class Size Reduction (CSR): 562 (max. 685)

Utilities costs: $61,329
Cost of 4.8 FTE employees: $370,323
Total savings potential: $431,652

Nearby sites: Sequoia Elementary and Sequoia Middle School are adjacent to each other. Some people I have spoken to have suggested that they could be combined into a K-8 campus.

Sequoia is a “magnet” school that doesn’t have any neighborhood boundaries. The closest elementary campuses are Fair Oaks, Strandwood and Pleasant Hill elementary schools.

In spring 2010, more than 10 students from the following school boundary areas attended Sequoia Elementary:
Strandwood: 96 (doesn’t have this capacity; enrollment is 565 and CSR capacity is 574)
Fair Oaks: 57 (has capacity)
Hidden Valley: 57 (has capacity)
Pleasant Hill Elementary: 56 (doesn’t have this capacity; enrollment is 647 and CSR capacity is 682)
Valhalla: 55 (doesn’t have this capacity; enrollment is 554 and CSR capacity is 574)
Gregory Gardens: 53 (doesn’t have this capacity; enrollment is 411 and CSR capacity is 454)
Ygnacio Valley Elementary: 34 (no capacity; enrollment is 511 and CSR capacity is 470)
Sun Terrace: 22 (has capacity)
Delta View: 18 (no capacity; enrollment is 750, CSR capacity is 682)
El Monte: 17 (has capacity)
Meadow Homes: 13 (no capacity, enrollment is 917, CSR capacity is 898)

Ten or fewer students from the following school boundary areas attended Sequoia Elementary in spring 2010: Ayers, Bancroft, Bel Air, Cambridge, Highlands, Holbrook, Mountain View, Mt. Diablo, Rio Vista, Shore Acres, Silverwood, Valle Verde, Westwood, Woodside and Wren Avenue. One out-of-district student attended the school.

API score: 921 (highest performing school in Pleasant Hill)

Geographic location: 277 Boyd Road, Pleasant Hill (near Contra Costa Boulevard and Interstate 680, adjacent to Sequoia Middle School, west of Fair Oaks, north of Pleasant Hill Elementary and southeast of Strandwood Elementary)

Additional information: Some Sequoia parents are putting signs in their car windows that say: “Choice schools work! Support Sequoia Elementary.”

The district has planned more than $2.7 million in 2010 Measure C improvements at the site, including $659,245 in solar projects, which would be partially funded through dedicated CREBS.

SEQUOIA MIDDLE SCHOOL:
Individual committee member votes: 3
Built: 1951, no air conditioning (planned as part of Measure C)

2010 enrollment: 896
Capacity with prep period: 1,010 (max. 1,186)

Utilities costs: $86,537
Cost of 7.7 FTE employees: $636,991
Total savings potential: $723,528

Nearby sites: Sequoia Middle School and Sequoia Middle Elementary are adjacent to each other. Some have suggested they could be combined into a K-8 campus.

Sequoia is a “magnet” school that doesn’t have any neighborhood boundaries. The closest middle school campuses are Valley View, Oak Grove and Pleasant Hill middle schools.

In spring 2010, more than 10 students from the following school boundary areas attended Sequoia Middle School:
El Dorado: 170 (has capacity)
Oak Grove: 162 (has capacity)
Pleasant Hill Middle: 144 (doesn’t have capacity with prep period, but has capacity without prep period; enrollment is 799, prep period capacity is 878 and max. capacity is 1,010)
Valley View: 105 (has capacity)
Glenbrook: 99 (has capacity)
Riverview: 98 (has capacity)
Pine Hollow: 30 (has capacity)

Ten or fewer students from the following school boundary areas attended Sequoia Middle School in spring 2010: Diablo View and Foothill middle schools. Seven out-of-district students attended the school.

API score: 867 (highest performing middle school in Pleasant Hill)

Geographic location: 265 Boyd Road, Pleasant Hill (near Contra Costa Boulevard and Interstate 680, adjacent to Sequoia Elementary School, west of Oak Grove, southeast of Valley View and north of Pleasant Hill middle schools)

Additional information: Some teachers and parents rallied outside the school Tuesday and have placed signs on the fence letting the community know the campus is being recommended for closure.

Jane Enloe, a sixth-grade core and drama teacher at the school, told me in an e-mail that she and others from the campus are encouraging parents to write to the school board in opposition to the recommendation.

“We are demonstrating to show the unity of Sequoia Middle School,” she wrote. “We believe we are a unique school that should not be closed. Parents, students and staff feel strongly that we should be kept open and keep choice in our district.”

A student sent the following letter to the Times editor:

“Keep school open
I am a seventh grade student at Sequoia Middle School, and I attended Sequoia Elementary since my kindergarten year.
There has been a recent flurry of rumors at school of the closure of our campus. I believed it was all just talk and it couldn’t possibly be true.
Sequoia Middle School is a high-performing school, and I can’t see any reason to shut it down. But due to budget cuts, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District school closure committee will be voting on three schools to be closed for the 2011-2012 school year. Sequoia Middle and Sequoia Elementary are included in one of several scenarios.
Sequoia is a high-performing school with a complex elective system. We’re the only school in the district that offers three electives per seventh and eighth grader and that has a general shop offered to all three grades.
Our school is located near downtown Pleasant Hill, and many students and their parents shop there after school and buy merchandise, thus supporting those stores.
The staff is so supportive of students and everyone knows each other. We’re like one big family. We don’t want the district to break up our family.
Laura Maule
Pleasant Hill”

Actually, Sequoia is one of two district middle schools with a comprehensive wood shop. The other is Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek.

Sequoia also has a state-of-the art technology center, as well as robust art, drama and music programs. It offers eight classes through a block schedule, with four one day and four the next day. Courses include Spanish, French and German, as well as advanced math.

The previous principal, Hellena Postrk, was promoted to the district office as a principal “coach,” because of her success in creating an environment at Sequoia Middle School that could be replicated at other sites.

The district has planned more than $4.9 million in 2010 Measure C improvements at the site, including more than $1 million in solar projects, which would be partially funded through dedicated CREBS.

Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the district’s lowest-performing schools is being recommended for closure: Glenbrook Middle School.

The district has 10 campuses in federal Program Improvement for failing to make adequate yearly progress. Six of these are among the lowest-performing in the state.

They are:
Bel Air Elementary in Bay Point (API 646; lowest in district)
Glenbrook Middle School in Concord (API 660)
Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord (API 648)
Oak Grove Middle School in Concord (API 646; lowest in district)
Rio Vista Elementary in Bay Point (API 669)
Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point (API 659)

The other four Program Improvement schools are:
Cambridge Elementary in Concord (API 753)
Fair Oaks Elementary in Pleasant Hill (API 731)
Riverview Middle School in Bay Point (API 672)
Ygnacio Valley Elementary in Concord (API 666)

Consultants recommended against closing Bay Point schools, as well as Meadow Homes Elementary, because the student populations in their boundaries is growing. Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, suggested that boundaries could be redrawn to include overflow Meadow Homes students in the Fair Oaks attendance area.

Oak Grove Middle School appeared in one scenario that received one committee vote and will not be forwarded to the board. The school received four individual votes (more than Sequoia Middle School).

Cambridge and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools weren’t included in any scenarios. Cambridge received no individual votes and Ygnacio Valley Elementary received one. (Both are over their capacities.)

At tonight’s meeting, the board expects to review the committee’s recommendations, then discuss them. The board plans to allow public comment for 30 minutes, then to direct staff about “next steps.” It expects to receive a formal recommendation Jan. 25 and to vote on school closures Feb. 8.

This timeframe leaves many parents up-in-the air, as kindergarten pre-registration begins and transfer deadlines pass.

Pre-registration for children to attend kindergarten at Monte Gardens Elementary is Thursday. Sequoia Elementary will hold its kindergarten registration on Tuesday. Districtwide kindergarten registration is Feb. 1.

Intradistrict transfer applications were due Jan. 15. However, Lawrence has said parents of students whose schools are closed would be given an additional 30 days to submit transfer applications, after the board votes.

Mayo declined to comment about the recommendations before the meeting.

“I want to listen to the presentation with an open mind and listen to the public comment as well,” she said.

What would you like to tell the board about the recommendations?

Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 7 Comments »

Reactions to Mt. Diablo school closure recommendations are heating up

Monte Gardens Elementary students and parents rally to save school from closure.

Monte Gardens Elementary students and parents rally to save school from closure.

By Theresa Harrington

As the reality sinks in that seven schools in the Mt. Diablo district are being recommended for closure, reactions are varied from those targeted.

Some are fearful or angry. Some are writing letters to the editor, sending e-mails to board members, or posting comments on blogs.

A few have turned out to School Closure Committee meetings, the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council meeting or to board meetings, voicing concerns about the recommendations.

The board will hold a public study session to review the committee’s recommendations at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19 in the Little Theater at Northgate High School, 425 Castle Rock Road in Walnut Creek.

On Wednesday, about 100 parents and students from Monte Gardens Elementary rallied in front of their school and the district office, urging the district to keep their campus open.

They carried signs such as “Send more of our students to top-ranked schools” and chanted “We love our school! Save our school!”

Cassie Van Dyke, whose son is a kindergartner at Monte Vista, proudly told me she is a Monte Gardens alum herself. She started attending the school in fourth-grade, when the district instituted the “Back to Basics” program, she said.

“You can’t deny what comes out of this school,” she said, noting that test scores are among the highest in the district. “My son loves this school.”

She and many other parents said they chose Monte Gardens because they value the strong education their children receive and because they are unwilling to send them to their “home” schools. Van Dyke lives within the Wren Avenue Elementary boundaries (which is also targeted for closure). She said a friend of hers sent a child there and told her that only three parents showed up to the child’s classroom Back to School night.

“My class (at Monte Gardens) was so full,” she said, “we couldn’t even sit down!”

Monte Gardens parents said they wanted to stay positive and not suggest other schools for closure, to spare theirs. Instead, Carmela Hess noted that Monte Gardens has six empty classrooms and a waiting list of parents.

Hess, who lives within in the Ygnacio Valley Elementary School boundaries, said she wouldn’t send her daughter to that campus because it has low test scores (it is a Program Improvement school under No Child Left Behind).

“I want my daughter to have academic excellence and I want other children to have that same kind of experience as children here experience,” she said.

Instead of closing the school, she suggested expanding it by allowing more students in.

“We accept anyone,” Hess said. “We’re not exclusive.”

Although students at the school come from throughout the district, the campus still has a community feel, said Kathy Battaglia, whose daughter attends first-grade at Monte Gardens.

“This school is a ‘choice’ school,” she said. “Everyone has chosen it because they do not want their children attending their neighborhood school. So, if you close this school, these parents are not likely to send their children back to their home schools.”

Battaglia said she would consider home-schooling her daughter, attempting to transfer her to another district or even renting out her Concord house and renting a home in Walnut Creek so she could send her daughter to a high quality school.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me to close the highest ranking schools in the district,” she said. “They will lose revenues.”

Parents from Silverwood Elementary held a similar rally this morning (Friday).

Although parent  MaryJane Reyes invited me to attend, I was unable to make it, due to another commitment. Here’s what she wrote to me about the event:

“We hope you can join us to cover this important message we are delivering. Not just for Silverwood but for all those schools that are effected by this unwanted, uninvited and unfair decision that is being made due to budget cuts.”At Tuesday’s board meeting, some Silverwood parents told trustees they would rather see the board close Monte Gardens and other “choice schools” (Sequoia Elementary and Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill), to keep “neighborhood schools” open.

 

The district’s “choice” schools allow students from anywhere in the district to attend. They require parents to sign contracts agreeing to discipline and parent involvement policies and offer a “Back to Basics” academic program.

Three out of four Silverwood parents who spoke Tuesday asked the board to close “choice schools,” saying their campus is the heart of their community.

“My neighbors encouraged me to sign up for a ‘choice’ school, but I didn’t think I needed to drive 20 minutes or sign a contract to be an involved parent in my child’s education,” said Yasman Oldham, adding that Silverwood doesn’t have a “fancy adult-only auction.”

Gavin O’Connor, whose son attends Silverwood, said the school’s location shouldn’t be the deciding factor in closing it (it’s geographically between Ayers, Mountain View and Highlands elementary schools in Concord).

“I think it’s going to be a big mistake,” he said, “because a lot of parents and students are going to be upset.”

Last week, the Parent Advisory Council received an update on the school closure process from Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support and Superintendent Steven Lawrence. Lock pointed out that the minutes from committee meetings that took place Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 had been posted on the district’s website, revealing “pros and cons” for the recommended scenarios.

The committee rated each school in the district according to seven criteria: facility condition, capacity, operations and maintenance costs, available adjacent capacity, academic performance, geographic equity, and the possibility of sending students to improved facilities. Closure costs were also considered, with the committee seeking to recommend scenarios that would save $1.5 million a year.

Jack Schreder and Associates has spent numerous hours preparing various reports and presentations regarding many of these issues. District staff also contributed information about facilities.

“We basically had seven criteria,” Lawrence said. “They took every school in the district and rated it against that one criteria.”

The district hasn’t yet released these ratings. But, Lock told me the ratings will be presented to the board.

Here are the recommended scenarios:

Scenario 1: Glenbrook Mioddle School, Silverwood and Wren Avenue elementary schools.

Scenario 2: Glenbrook Middle School, Silverwood and Holbrook elementary schools.

Scenario 3: Sequoia Middle Schools, Sequoia and Monte Gardens elementary schools (“choice” schools)

Lock said the committee reached a strong consensus regarding the first two scenarios, but had a lot of discussion regarding the third, with a split vote to move it forward.

Committee member John Parker said members were objective and fair. In fact, Parker said he ended up recommending a school in his attendance area for closure, although it didn’t end up in the final three scenarios.

“There was no favoritsm and there were no vendettas or things like that that you might be hearing about,” he said. ”All the committee members moved around (to different groups).”

Lawrence said the board would deliberate with the committee and ask questions and give direction at the study session. The board expects to officially receive the recommendations Jan. 25 and to vote Feb. 8.

Lawrence stressed that the board is not limited to the committee’s recommendations and could choose any schools to close. He acknowledged that the Superintendent’s Council had created another recommendation that was rejected by the committee (To create 6-12 campuses at Ygnacio Valley High and Riverview Middle School, along with closing some elementary schools.)

After the board decides which campuses to close, a “Seven-11 committee” will be formed to recommend what to do with the excess property. It’s called a “Seven-11 committee” because it must be made up of seven to 11 community members, including a parent, tax group rep, school administrator, etc.

“Every member up to seven is described,” he said. “They go through an analysis of what you might be able to do with the property, such as lease or sell.”

A consultant would likely help the committee, but the board would make the final decision, Lawrence said. The money can’t go into the general fund, however, he added.

“It can be used toward any one-time expenditure,” he said. ”So, that is part of the whole confounding issue when you’re looking at selling off a piece of property.

The district will also have to redraw school boundaries. Lawrence said some schools ranked at the bottom according to criteria were not recommended for closure because they were projected to be “at enrollment capacity” in five to seven years. In that case, the district might change boundaries to ease overflows.

Lawrence pointed out that the district has already assumed the $1.5 million in savings in its budget starting in the fall.

“The election in June would prevent further cuts to our budget,” he said.

Parker noted that the district’s enrollment is declining, so it has excess facilities. Lawrence said this drop isn’t likely to turn around until homes are built on the Concord Naval Weapons Station property.

But, he said some schools, such as Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord,  have increased enrollment. With class size reduction, the school has room for 900 students, but 1,200 live within its boundaries.

“We are regularly overflowing 100 students out,” Lawrence said. “So the question is does that school make logical sense to redraw the boundary line, even though we know that community has a passion for their school?”

The commmittee used projections showing class size reduction coming back in 2012-13. But Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposes to extend that two more years.

The cost of adding classrooms to accommodate students — such as those from Sequoia elementary and middle schools – was given to the committee, Lawrence said.  

“Let’s say we close Sequoia,” Lawrence said. ”They go back to a number of schools. The receiving schools would need to add additional classrooms.”

However, the costs to add classrooms were not included in the savings, since facilities are not paid for with general fund money, Lawrence said. He said the committee determined it would be too costly to build a high school in Bay Point.

Although the intradist transfer deadlines are this month, Lawrence said any parent whose child’s school is closed would have an additional 30 days to request a transfer to a school other than their new home school.

Lawrence said DVC may have an interest in buying or leasing Glenbrook Middle School as an auxilliary campus because of its access to Highway 4.

“I’ve had preliminary conversations,” Lawrence said. ”DVC is at 110 percent of their capacity.”

Lawrence stressed that the board can opt to close any schools in the district and is not limited by the committee’s recommendations.

“The board wants to honor the work of the committee,” he said. ”But the board is ultimately the group of people held responsible.”

Julie Braun-Martin said teachers in closed schools would be transferred based on seniority.

She said the district will still need the same number of teachers, but would likely lay off custodians, clerical staff and administrators, due to the closures.

“Maybe through retirements and attrition it would work out that we woudln’’t have to lay off that many people,” Braun-Martin said.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh said principals would not be laid-off according to seniority, since they are not represented by a union.

Lawrence said principals from closed schools could replace ”a principal at another school that we feel isn’t doing the job we feel they should be doing,” or maybe replace principals who retire.

“That process happens every year,” Braun-Martin said. “There’ s voluntary process for administrators, where they can indicate they would like an opportunity to move to a new school. So this could be a really positive thing where you’d get a great person.”

Lawrence said it would be up to the board to decide whether to give special priority to transfer requests from students in closed schools.

Transfer guidelines vary according to whether the home school is designated as low-performing according to No Child Left Behind.

Lawrence said some neighboring districts may not accept transfers, if they are also cutting their budgets.

Posted on Friday, January 14th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 23 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district braces for governor’s budget release

The Mt. Diablo school district has prepared three different versions of its three-year budget, in anticipation of cuts in the governor's state budget to be released Monday.

The Mt. Diablo school district has prepared three different versions of its three-year budget, in anticipation of cuts in the governor's state budget to be released Monday.

By Theresa Harrington

Newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction declared a “state of financial emergency in California’s schools today,” while admitting he didn’t know how that might change when Gov. Jerry Brown releases his 2011 budget Monday.

This announcement came the day after Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence told a packed Parent Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday that the district’s outlook could be bleak if anticipated cuts are part of the governor’s plan to balance the state’s out-of-whack budget.

“Having Tom (Torlakson) as a local resident and a local teacher and having him now as the Superintendent of School is great,” Lawrence said. “But I saw a lot of letters from (former) Superintendent (Jack) O’Connell talking about how devastating the (state) cuts were to the education budgets, and I didn’t see them having an impact on the dialogue.”

He urged parents to contact their legislators to urge them not to cut education funding. Specifically, he asked them to urge the state to reinstate mental health funding vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and to distribute all the money promised to schools in the adopted budget, instead of making cuts recommended by the Legislative Analyst.

Lawrence distributed three versions of the district’s 2010-13 budgets, noting that each assumes a different level of state funding, based on the previous governor’s adopted budget and the Legislative Analyst Office’s recommendations for cuts.

He said Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards would prepare a memo explaining the different budgets so that council members could more easily pass the information onto their respective site councils.

Lawrence also promised to look into presenting budget information in a more “reader-friendly” way on the district’s website, in response to a suggestion from a parent who noted that some other districts do a far better job of making their budgets easily accessible and understandable online. For example, the San Jose school district provides a general budget overview for parents in English and Spanish at http://www.sjusd.org/school/district-new/info/C138/. And unlike Mt. Diablo, the San Ramon district has a “Budget” tab on its Home Page, making it easy to find: http://www.srvusd.k12.ca.us/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1218730286179

The first version of the Mt. Diablo budget, labeled “AB3632 blue pencil 2010/11 only” is the most optimistic. Yet, even this projects a deficit of nearly $12.6 million by 2012-13.

This is the budget the board adopted as “qualified,” meaning it shows the district can pay its bills through the end of next year, but may not be able to meet all of its financial obligations the third year out.

This budget shows the district absorbing $2.4 million in mental health costs as the result of Schwarzenegger’s blueline veto of AB3632 funding that used to pay for special education students who cannot be accommodated by the district. However, this budget only shows the district absorbing this through 2010-11, with the assumption that the state would restore mental health funding in subsequent years.

“Some of these students have significant needs,” Lawrence said. “We have some that are fire-starters and did some atrocious things and needed to be placed in residential facilities.”

This budget also shows $8.5 million set aside as a “state deferral,” meaning it has been promised to the district, but could be cut. If it is cut, the deficit in 2012-13 would be $18.5 million and the district would be unable to pay its bills next year.

The second budget, labeled “AB 3632 blue pencil ongoing,” shows the mental health funding cut continuing through 2013, at $4.8 million a year starting next fall. This would result in a $17.4 million deficit in 2112-13.

The third budget, labeled “AB 3632 blue pencil ongoing, $252 cut ongoing (3.85 percent in out years),” shows the above scenario with the assumption that the $8.5 million in deferred funding would also be cut. According to this scenario, the district would be nearly $18.8 million in the hole by the end of next year and $44.6 million in the red by 2012-13.

Lawrence said he is determined to balance the budget to prevent a state takeover. He noted that union negotiations are ongoing, but said everyone is waiting to see what the governor will present on Monday.

“Depending on the level of cuts,” he said, “we will have to make cuts.”

He also hinted at other ways to offset cuts, stressing the importance of alerting the community to the dire straits the district is facing.

“There are other revenue sources we are looking at to see if we can tap into,” he said. “But, we’re not going to publicly say, ‘We’re going to go for this or that.’”

The council also discussed the school closure process, which I will write about in a separate post.

Are you motivated to contact your state legislators regarding the education budget?

Posted on Thursday, January 6th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 2 Comments »

Former Mt. Diablo High teacher ascends to highest state education office

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

By Theresa Harrington

Newly inaugurated State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson inspired cheers from supporters after he took the oath of office this morning.

But Torlakson and many members of the crowd in the Mt. Diablo High School gym acknowledged that it will take a lot of hard work to bring California’s public schools back to their glory days.

Still, the mood was optimistic. Torlakson promised to work to accomplish his educational goals with longtime friends and colleagues such as Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and state Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who is also a former district high school teacher. (She taught English at Concord High before her election to the Concord City Council.)

“The most important job in California is being a teacher,” Torlakson told his enthusiastic audience. “Every chance I get as state Superintendent of Public Instruction, I will be putting a spotlight on teachers.”

Torlakson previously taught science and world history at Mt. Diablo High.

The event included the following speakers:
Gary Eberhart, Mt. Diablo school board President, welcomed audience
De’Shawyn Woolridge, Torlakson’s political science student at Los Medanos College, led the Pledge of Allegiance
Tim Sbranti, teacher and Dublin Mayor, master of ceremonies
Robert Lualhati, Torlakson’s former coach from Westmoor High
Liane Cismowski, vice principal and a teacher at Mt. Diablo High
Araceli Ramirez, former Torlakson student who is now a lawyer
Anthony Amerson, former Torlakson student from West Pittsburg
Patti Waldhaus, former cross country runner

In addition, the following school groups participated in the event:

- Mt. Diablo High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) performed the Presentation of the Colors;

- Ladies First, the award-winning Concord High School Choral Department barbershop group, performed the national anthem;

- The Dublin High School Jazz Band, performed before and after the ceremony;

- Mt. Diablo High Serendipity Restaurant (a Regional Occupational Program), students and faculty catered the reception.

Eberhart often accuses state legislators of saying they support education, although they approve education cuts. He told me he appreciates Torlakson’s work to bring millions of dollars to low-performing schools in the district through the Quality Education Improvement Act (QEIA).

“I hound every one of our legislators,” Eberhart said. “I endorsed Tom and I think we have to work together for him to succeed. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let up on him.”

Eberhart said he has Torlakson’s cell phone number programmed into his phone. He appreciates Torlakson’s willingness to speak to him directly, he said, instead of passing him along to staffers.

Miller said he looks forward to working with Torlakson as Congress begins to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the next few months.

“He has a wealth of experience and understanding,” Miller said.

Walnut Creek restaurant owner Cindy Gershen, who is working on a healthy food initiative in the Martinez school district, said she’s hoping Torlakson will help push for healthier foods in all schools. Torlakson has already made inroads in this area, as the chairman and founder of the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness.

“You can’t have smart kids if you don’t have smart food,” Gershen said.

Students and teachers said they were honored to be present during the event. Serendipity academy student Kaylee Brink, 17, said she appreciated Torlakson’s emphasis on career education.

“I work in the restaurant three days a week,” said the 17-year-old, who wants to become a professional baker. “I think it definitely helps because you have more of a support group. Our academy is like a big family.”

Cismowski said her students benefitted from hearing Ramirez talk about coming to this country from Mexico and eventually graduating from Harvard.

“My kids can do that,” Cismowski said, beaming.

She added that Torlakson is welcome back to Mt. Diablo High anytime.

“We always have a classroom open for him,” she said, “if and when he wishes to return.”

Torlakson’s new communications director is Paul Hefner, who previously worked at Ogilvy Public Relations and told me he did a short stint for the Valley Times many years ago.

Craig Cheslog — who served as Torlakson’s superintendent election political director and as a district director in Torlakson’s Assembly Office — will be Principal Advisor to the State Superintendent, handling strategic initiatives and managing the Executive Office.

Gloria Omania, who quit her job in Torklakson’s Assembly office to work full-tome on his campaign, said she will likely continue working on education issues, such as the Healthy Kids Initiative.

Here’s Torlakson’s bio, provided by Hefner:

“State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Biography

Tom Torlakson was elected to a four-year term as California’s 27th State Superintendent of Public Instruction on November 2, 2010. As the new chief of California’s public school system and leader of the California Department of Education, Superintendent Torlakson applies his experience as a science teacher, high school coach, and state policymaker to fight for California’s students and improve the state’s public education system. Torlakson’s journey has led him from the classrooms of Contra Costa County’s Mt. Diablo Unified School District, (where he remains a teacher-on-leave) to the Antioch City Council, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and the California state Senate and Assembly.

During his tenure in the California state Legislature, Torlakson acted to protect education funding, improve student nutrition and physical education, and ensure school safety. He also championed legislation to increase funding for textbooks, computers, and other instructional materials as well as efforts to close the digital divide, eliminate the achievement gap, and reduce the dropout rate.

In 1998, Torlakson authored legislation leading to development of the largest system of after school programs in the nation. In 2006, he authored the bill that led to a 300 percent expansion of these programs—so they now reach 4,000 schools around the state. Torlakson authored the Quality Education Improvement Act (SB 1133) in 2006, which dedicates nearly $3 billion to our lowest-performing schools. He also played a key role negotiating and authoring the $9 billion Proposition 1A bond measure in 1998, which has led to votes supporting more than $36 billion to build new schools and improve existing school buildings.

As the chair and founder of the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, Torlakson has been a leader in banning junk food from our schools, providing healthier school meals, promoting student health and fitness, and combating diabetes and obesity among our children.

Born in San Francisco, Torlakson served as a fireman in the United States Merchant Marine, earning the Vietnam Service Medal. He earned a B.A. in History, a Life Secondary Teaching Credential, and an M.A. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley.

Torlakson, 61, lives in Pittsburg, California with his wife Mae Cendaña Torlakson. He has two adult daughters both of whom attended California public schools.”

Are you optimistic about the future of California’s public schools under Torlakson?

Posted on Monday, January 3rd, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 17 Comments »