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

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 8:09 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

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?

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  • mdusd mom

    The trustees need to plan ahead for high school feeder patterns http://www.mdusd.org/Schools/Documents/feeder.pdf.
    If Glenbrook is closed, which middle schools will feed into MDHS? Glenbrook is the only local feeder school for MDHS, except for some students from El Dorado MS and students who are bused from Bay Point.
    Cheryl Hansen wants to do this once and do it right. It’s time to do what’s necessary to improve education in all schools in the district. Start working on a strategic plan that includes transparency, accountability, and better communication! Look at programs such as Diablo Basics for more schools, look at programs to make the district’s flagship MDHS more attractive to local Concord families, give families a reason to stay in MDUSD and not move away.
    Build local school communities! Elementary schools need to go to 1 middle school, and 1 high school, to create K-12 feeder patterns. Plan ahead for the CNWS development. This is your opportunity to do it right!

  • Doctor J

    More Eberhart shoot from the hip, justify the results later. No strategic plan — if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Cheryl Hansen is clearly emerging as the smartest of the group. Can her brains overcome Eberhart’s ego ?

  • Another MDUSD Mom

    We should support Cheryl Hansen. She is continually the voice of reason on that Board. As parents we need to say enough is enough until this District has a plan. No more excuses. They have enough money to leave schools open when there are not enough students to jusify doing so. I can only surmise that they also have enough to undertake the strategic planning process.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The board still hopes to hold a retreat in February to discuss strategic planning.

  • Another MDUSD Mom

    Really?? Have they set a date?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes. They are still trying to agree on a date. At the board meeting last night (Tuesday), Trustee Cheryl Hansen said she wants to push forward with strategic planning.

  • mdusd mom

    Other blogs keep blaming ELL students for low API scores. The trustees should consider strategies like Schools to Watch, http://www.schoolstowatch.org, http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr11/yr11rel02.asp
    We want to hear what will help each student in each classroom. We want regular communication, the last biweekly letter was Dec. 17. We want to trust the district, and not be surprised that Measure C taxes for repairs will be diverted to a new school site. We want to know that there’s a plan and we won’t waste taxes building schools that will be closed, like Old River Elementary in Knightsen.
    We need a strategic plan yesterday!

  • Doctor J

    Cheryl Hansen clearly sees the dysfunctionality of the Board and the need for a Strategic Plan to guide the Board. Otherwise, Eberhart just bends like a willow in the wind with no direction.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s the link to the superintendent’s revised recommendation: close Glenbrook MS, along with either Wren Avenue or Holbrook elementary — all in Concord: http://bit.ly/fCR87o.
    He also proposes consolidating the Crossroads and Summit/TLC/Nueva Vista small necessary high school programs under one administrator on the closed elementary site and opening a special education program at the Glenbrook site.
    Finally, he wants to redraw the boundaries around Meadow Homes Elementary to save $91,000 a year that is now spent busing overflow students.

  • mdusd mom

    They’re moving another 189 students to Oak Grove MS? Isn’t it time to move all Bancroft students to Foothill and Northgate, to create a real Northgate feeder pattern?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, it appears that is the plan. One question is how those children will get to Oak Grove. Many people I’ve talked to said the students walk and many parents don’t have cars.
    Although low-income students are probably less likely to leave the district than those from families with higher incomes, their difficulties in getting to school may cause them to arrive late or not at all, which would still affect the district’s ADA revenues.
    And County Connection isn’t cheap — even if bus service is available.

  • Another MDUSD Mom

    Theresa,
    Does your “yes” mean they ARE moving all of Bancroft to Foothill/Northgate feeder pattern?

  • mdusd mom

    It’s a pity they didn’t look harder at closing Oak Grove, because the new maps show that transportation will be more difficult. Did anyone visit Oak Grove and see that it’s next to the BART tracks and most students have to take the bridge over the BART tracks to walk there? Is anyone looking at the maps to see where are the BART tracks, freeways, and hills? Are kids bicycling over Lime Ridge to get to school? I’m glad the district is considering bus routes, but they should also consider geographic barriers, city limits, cohesive neighborhoods, and consider that for placement of any new schools too! They need a long-term plan before they choose any more school sites!

    I like the Superintendent’s recommendation to consolidate the alternative high schools. The goal is to reduce principals and staff to meet the budget, and it’s easier for everyone if they can consolidate small schools instead of closing a neighborhood elementary school. What’s unfortunate is that so much money has been spent improving those alternative school sites, such as renovations to Crossroads last summer to meet First Five requirements, and a year later that money will have to be spent AGAIN for First Five compliance at any new site.

    So AGAIN and AGAIN, we come back to money wasted because the district has no strategic plan!!!

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD Mom you are correct: no Strategic Plan equals Chaos.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Another MDUSD Mom, No, I’m sorry that was unclear. My “yes” means that the district is recommending moving another 189 students to Oak Grove. However, this sort of defeats the intended pupose of closing a school, which is to send students to a better campus with improved facilities. Oak Grove is lower-performing than Glenbrook. Both Valley View and El Dorado received lower facilities ratings from the advisory committee than Glenbrook (Valley View received a 1, El Dorado received a 4 and Glenbrook received a 14. Oak Grove received a 16 for facilities, but its API score is 646, compared to Glenbrook’s 660. El Dorado’s API is 708 and Valley View’s is 828).
    I have not heard anyone recommend changing boundaries to keep Walnut Creek students in Walnut Creek schools. The superintendent said districts should try to keep facilities at 95 percent capacity. Since both Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley HS have excess capacity, it isn’t likely the district would opt to move students out of those schools.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Also, if the district decides to abandon its School Improvement Grant program for Glenbrook Middle School one year into implementation, the state may wonder how committed it is to any of its grant plans.

  • Nellie Bly

    How will the $1.5 million projected to be saved by closing schools be affected if the school buildings are left open to house other programs? How much will it cost to adapt either Wren or Holbrook elementary to accommodate high school-sized students? What will happen to the space the Crossroads program currently occupies at Olympic (and which was constructed specifically for that program with past Measure C funds)? Could the Alliance program at Olympic be moved instead, freeing up space to expand Crossroads? How much of Glenbrook will the Seneca program and Measure C staff use? If empty classrooms are available, would the district have to make them available to a charter school?

  • mdusd mom

    The original question was feedback to the trustees. The main feedback here is that district decisions have been reactionary, instead of progressive. We need to dig down and look at the fundamentals, and that is each students education. School closure has become an economic necessity, which is reactionary, but how can we make it proactive by redirecting more funds to the classrooms where it’s needed? Show the community improvements in the classroom, and they might vote for a parcel tax, and enrollment might increase.

    Theresa raised the Walnut Creek issue. Stakeholders we have not heard about in this process are the cities. They have a stake in education, community planning, emergency services, and traffic. All MDUSD cities will be impacted by the domino effect. And remember MDUSD has closed schools before which affects communities, like Pacifica HS, and a MDUSD school site in Pleasant Hill next to the Central Library seems to be a blighted weed patch behind a chain link fence. Has the superintendent or the trustees met with any city officials?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I haven’t heard of any district officials meeting with cities. However, Silverwood parent John Pamer addressed the Concord City Council last Tuesday. Concord reporter Paul Thissen sent me these notes from the meeting:

    “I feel at this point, though, the process should include the whole community, not just the school board,” Pamer told the City Council. “When so much is at stake for the long term future of Concord, I ask you, ‘Can you afford to do nothing?’”

    Pamer said the school district reports on the savings from closing the schools do not consider possible effects on traffic, property values and crime.

    “I do not feel that closing these schools will save money,” he said. “The district seems bound and determined to continue the school closure process under the guise of saving money.”

    Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, who is a Concord High alum, said she is watching the process carefully. In fact, she was sitting behind me at the Jan. 19 study session at Northgate High School.

    “It is something I’m concerned about and am following,” she told Pamer on Tuesday. “But it’s really the school board’s decision to make.”

    However, the city could weigh in on the demographic consultant’s enrollment projections, including the question about Coast Guard residents. Also, Glenbrook and Holbrook are near the Concord Naval Weapons Station property. Might they need to be reopened after housing is built on that property (if they are closed next year)?

    In addition, city leaders serve on the County Connection Board of Directors. After the district closes schools, more students would likely rely on County Connection buses, which currently don’t offer student discounts. The Board of Directors has the power to change routes, as well as fares.

    Cities can also apply for “Safe Routes to Schools” funding to improve sidewalks and bike trails for students.

    And, the city could offer facilities such as Centre Concord for the next board meeting, along with a police presence, which some people have expressed a desire for. Police were at the very small, peaceful rally outside Monte Gardens Elementary School I attended, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask them to be nearby during what is likely to be a much more crowded and contentious board meeting.

  • mdusd mom

    Hoffmeister is correct that it’s the school board’s decision, BUT Pamer is more correct, because the school board would make better decisions if it were working with the cities. There is an entire UC Berkeley graduate school for “Cities & Schools” that studies intelligent, sustainable community planning for school sites citiesandschools.berkeley.edu, and another organization http://www.communityschools.org about using school buildings as community centers.

    In our area, a West Contra Costa district city has been paying to keep a school open. The San Ramon school board developed partnerships to save money by building school playgrounds that double as city parks. City of Walnut Creek has been paying for the expensive maintenance of WCSD playgrounds, and has several joint-use facility agreements such as the city summer school program at WCI, and city programs at Del Valle Theatre and Foothill Gym.

    We could save tax dollars by working together and planning, and the savings could go to our classrooms! MDUSD should be meeting regularly with all the cities, who are stakeholders and partners. It’s very antiquated thinking that the school district would not consult the cities.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Traffic will definitely be a major issue as more cars drive to and from schools filled to capacity. This will increase the need for crossing guards, which most cities pay for.
    Also, students loitering after school could be a problem. I interviewed some students today at Mt. Diablo HS about the idea of closing Glenbrook MS, which many of them attended. One girl said it was a terrible idea and that students whose parents work would be stranded at their new schools for hours, waiting for parents to pick them up at 5 or 6 p.m.

  • Sue Berg

    mdusd mom Says:
    January 28th, 2011 at 9:57 am
    “. . . and a MDUSD school site in Pleasant Hill next to the Central Library seems to be a blighted weed patch behind a chain link fence. Has the superintendent or the trustees met with any city officials?

    Just for the sake of accuracy, the County bought that land from MDUSD in 1981 and is responsible for maintaining it.

  • mdusd mom

    That’s why planning school sites is so crucial. Local agencies work together planning schools and the surrounding city traffic so students can walk or bike as much as possible! If a school is near a county library then students can go to the library to research, study, and wait for parents, subject to the library staff rules of course (instead the MDUSD school next to Pleasant Hill Central Library was closed). If a elementary school is clustered near a middle or high school, then parent pick up is easier (even students can share a taxi because we already see taxis at the schools).

    And city involvement with programs like CARES and other after school programs is important. Not just after school sports, but also KVHS radio and internship programs for example give students a positive outlet. This could reduce loitering, the risk of crime and strain on police services. Failing to work together to provide these programs is penny wise pound foolish. City partnerships would be a proactive approach to the situation.

    It takes a village…

  • mdusd mom

    Sue,
    I appreciate your knowledge about the property. A few years ago MDUSD sought to sell a parcel to raise funds and I thought that might be the parcel. But the point is in retrospect 30 years later, why did MDUSD close a school next to a county library? And in that area, families still believe closing Pleasant Hill HS was a mistake, and some families walk children to elementary schools across busy streets that do not have adequate crosswalks or crossing guards (there have been accidents). These are considerations for these current school closures, which must be combined with planning for new schools in Bay Point and CNWS.

  • Sue Berg

    MDUSD Mom,
    No one would argue with your basic premise that all parties in a community need to work together. Schools, whatever their status, affect us all. And it is hard to see (so far) if all the parties are being considered in the current process. I do think the Board and Superintendent are trying to do that, which makes the process so complicated and changeable, or, let’s say, fluid.

    I just need to point out that collaboration among district, city, and county leaders has taken place in many areas over the years. I don’t have the particulars at my fingertips, but several fields, gyms, and student programs (e.g. counselors via Walnut Creek city funding) are district-city partnerships. The PH property you mention has long been considered as one option for the area’s flood control plan to use as one element of a flood detention basin and playfields. The Corps of Engineers, County, City, and District have all participated in the discussions regarding that plan. Funding is an issue, especially these days.

    Like you, I wish the strategic planning project that was promised two years ago had taken place by now. But like wishing PH High or Pacifica High were never closed, it does no good to dwell on decisions made or not made in the past. Of course, lessons learned should help during the new round of strategic planning, which President Eberhart says will be starting soon.