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Archive for March, 2011

New Mt. Diablo Student Achievement and School Support Division gets generally high marks from principals

Last June, the Mt. Diablo school board agreed to eliminate the Curriculum and Instruction Division at the district office and replace it with a Student Achievement and School Support (SASS)Division.

Tonight, the board will review the results of a survey of school site administrators, which shows the new division received generally high marks. Many principals praised the new division and said it was more responsive than the previous department, which tended to focus on struggling students.

A few principals, said the division was not as helpful as they hoped, especially in the area of alternative education. Some acknowledged, however, that the department is spread thin.

Here are a few survey highlights:

In the area of curriculum, instruction and assessment, 38.3 percent of principals said they received “a great deal of support” from SASS. Another 27.7 percent said they received “a good deal of support,” 21.3 percent said they received “adequate support,” 6.5 percent said the received “some support, but not as much as I would like,” and no one said they didn’t receive the support they needed.

Some principals commented that they appreciated the implementation of BoardMath, BoardLanguage and Curriculum Associates testing. One said more interaction with staff in the area of curriculum and instruction would be helpful, especially with struggling teachers. Another requested: “assessment support – eg. materials, teacher training, bubbling support, moral support!”

The division scored slightly lower in the area of day to day operation or management of the school:
– 26.1 percent said they received “a great deal of support,” compared to 37 percent that said the support was “good” and 30.4 percent calling it “adequate” and 6.5 percent said they received “some, but not as much as I would like.” Again, no one said they didn’t receive the support they needed.

Ten principals commented on this question, with some praising the department for its “invaluable” assistance.

One said: “…what I also appreciate is that after they help you with an issue they often take the time to ask how I am doing and take an interest in me as a person. Which in turn makes me want to do everything I can to succeed and make them look good.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, another said: “I would like additional support on how to manage a large school. I am overwhelmed with the day-to-day activities and can only manage to return emails, contact parents, plan for meetings, etc. after hours. I do not feel that I am an educational leader; I feel that I am barely managing the school and my ed leadership is often non-existent. It is frustrating and disheartening.”

When asked if the department helped them grow as an instructional leader, 23.9 percent said “very much so,” 54.3 percent said “yes, I have made good strides,” 13 percent said “somewhat, but I need more support,” 6.5 percent said “a little, not as much as I hoped,” and 4.3 percent said, “I don’t think so.”

Many principals praised the department for its support, including one who wrote: “This is the first year that i have received ongoing support and an expectation (Rose) that my primary focus as a principal is my role as an instr. ldr. and realize that i still have much to learn; however, i have a renewed energy as a prin. because curriculum has always been my strength and with continued support from the SASS Dept., i will become more effective as an instr. ldr each year.” Another said the department helped with BoardMath, data analysis and “working with my more ineffective teachers at my site.”

Some said they would like more help with “essential standards” (which still haven’t been released to the public) and brainstorming.

The department was rated most highly (76.6 percent) for helping principals with assessment and data analysis. More than half of principals also credited the department for site visits (68.1 percent), weekly memos (66 percent), classroom visits with school support administrator (59.6 percent), coaching/mentoring (53.2 percent), and facilitating getting resources (53.2 percent). Less than half of the principals gave the department high marks for assistance with professional development (44.7 percent) and standards based curriculum and instruction (31.9 percent).

Fifteen principals commented on this question, with many giving kudos to the department for a variety of support. One wrote: “Prior to the existence of SASS Dept., there was no focus for ALL schools. the newly adopted District Goals and inititatives are supported by the SASS Dept. that supports ALL schools in meeting the DISTRICT’s focus for student achievement….”

When compared to the previous Curriculum and Instruction Division, 50 percent said they now receive more support, 26.1 percent said they weren’t in the district last year, 17.4 percent said support was about the same and 6.5 percent said they receive less support.

Six principals commented on this question. One was new to the district and four were complimentary. One, however, stressed the need for better instruction for English Language Learners, saying: “…if the ELD Dept. is a part of the SASS Dept., it does not support ALL schools and continues to promote the same inservices/materials that it has for the past 10 years which have proven to be ineffective and is not providing the ongoing support and focus that is needed to address the expectations of the District’s Goals and Initiatives. Due to the establishment of the SASS Dept., teachers are much more savvy in regards to expecting data to drive instruction; this has placed me in a very uncomfortable spot because it’s a tough sell to enforce the same philosophy/materials/inservices be used to improve academic achievement for our ELL students when teachers know (from letters to parents from the District – that parents have shared with them) has not been effective in meeting the needs of our ELL students in our District; nor do the AYP scores for our site in 2008.”

When asked about principal meetings, 55.6 to 63.6 percent said they were satisfied with their frequency, length and focus of agenda.

There was disagreement about whether to hold the meetings during or after school.

More than half of principals were also satisfied with communication from the SASS Department.

Many praised weekly memos from the department, but one complained that they were disjointed and included too many attachments.

Nearly 85 percent said the response from the SASS Department was timely when they sought assistance, 54.3 percent said it was helpful, 6.5 percent said it was “difficult to get response” and 2.2 percent said they didn’t seek assistance.

Ten principals commented on this question, with many raving about the improvement. One said it depends on who they reach in the department: “Some persons are very responsive; others are not.”

Thirty principals gave general comments, including many that were very positive. But one said: “….I do have a concern that there is still a small, but active undertow that is not happy with the restructuring of the C & I Dept….” Another requested assistance in the area of alternative education. And one said: “…It would be helpful if the roles of the SASS team were more clearly defined so that all members of SASS understood their relationship with each other so that it was clearer to the sites who to contact.”

Do you understand the role of each member of SASS?

Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 6 Comments »

New plans for Holbrook and Glenbrook schools

Tonight, the Mt. Diablo school board expects to act on one plan for Holbrook Elementary and another for Glenbrook Middle School in Concord, which trustees have agreed to close.

The Student Achievement and School Support Division is asking the board to approve a “Title 1 Schoolwide Program” at Holbrook, along with Sun Terrace Elementary. Holbrook’s program would last three months, while Sun Terrace would implement the program on an ongoing basis.

“The emphasis in schoolwide program schools is on serving all students, improving all structures that support student learning, and combining all resources, as allowed, to achieve a common goal,” the staff report states. “Schoolwide programs maximize the impact of Title I. Adopting this strategy should result in an ongoing, comprehensive plan for school improvement that is owned by the entire school community and tailored to its unique needs.”

The Holbrook and Sun Terrace communities spent a significant amount of time planning for these programs.

“Each school established a planning team that included the Schoolsite Council and English Language Advisory Committee, teachers and staff, and parents and community representatives to oversee the development of the Title I Schoolwide plan,” the staff report states. “The planning team gave input related to the comprehensive needs assessment (Academic Program Survey and other assessment data) and made recommendations for the comprehensive plan (Single Plan for Student Achievement). The plans were approved by the Board of Education on January 11, 2011.”

Less than one month later, the board voted to close Holbrook.

Trustees tonight will also vote on a plan to offer partial use of Glenbrook Middle School for the 2011-12 year to the Flex Public Schools charter, according to legal requirements under Proposition 39.

The agreement would provide space for 121 high school students in rooms 701-705, exclusive use of room 706 for administrators, shared use of the multiuse room/cafeteria/auditorium, along with shared use of the PE building, science lab in room 800, hard court, turf and parking.

According to a letter from associate general counsel Deborah Cooksey to Flex Public Schools, the district provided the charter operator with a preliminary facility offer related to use of Glenbrook on Feb. 25 — 17 days after trustees voted to close Glenbrook and three days after trustees agreed to Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s recommendation to “Develop a program at Glenbrook that will allow us to reduce the number of special education students served by nonpublic schools.”

Lawrence’s recommendation made no mention of allowing a charter school to occupy space on the Glenbrook campus. Trustee Cheryl Hansen said in a voicemail message Monday that this proposal came as a “surprise” to her.

The staff report doesn’t include any information regarding the fiscal impact of this decision. However, Cooksey’s letter states that Flex would pay the district approximately $74,874.87 as a “pro rata share amount” based on “actual costs for the year immediately preceding the charter school’s use of the facilities.”

Lawrence has not yet shown trustees a breakdown of costs and savings to support his assertion that the district would save $1.5 million by closing Glenbrook and Holbrook and adopting his other Feb. 22 recommendations.

Trustees tonight also expect to review the district’s School Closure Transition Plan, which doesn’t include any reference to what will happen to Holbrook and Glenbrook after they are shut down.

In addition, the board will review a draft strategic plan that includes: “Develop comprehensive short-term and long-term plans that proactively anticipate and address enrollment trends (e.g., decline and/or growth in enrollment, attendance boundary adjustments, possible school closure or repurposing, capacity needs, facilities issues, fiscal impact).”

Do you believe a strategic plan would help to limit intensive staff and community time spent on planning for programs that may only last a few months and prevent “surprise” ideas for repurposing closed sites from surfacing after a closure decision has been made?

Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 2 Comments »

Mt. Diablo board starts strategic planning

The Mt. Diablo school board wants to know what you’d like to see in its strategic plan, which is intended to guide the district in a cohesive direction.

Here’s the draft trustees will review Tuesday night:

“MDUSD Strategic Plan



Student learning for all students/educational excellence for all students

‘Our responsibility is to prepare every student for success in college, career, and life.’ (Antioch USD)

MDUSD students will graduate as responsible citizens prepared to succeed in the college or career of their choice.




– Focus on learning and children
– Excellence
– Integrity
– Respect
– Collaboration
– Safety

We will always…
– Make decisions based on the best interests of the students,
– Elevate communication to a level that is inclusive and instills trust,
– Behave in an ethical, respectful, responsive manner,
– Seek out reform, innovation, and partnerships to bring academic excellence to our students,
– Recruit and retain the most effective, highly qualified staff available.

Strategic Initiatives

1. Academic Excellence and Learning

MDUSD will provide a rigorous, relevant, and engaging educational experience to all students. MDUSD will seek out reform and innovation to ensure academic excellence.

MDUSD understands that increasing student achievement is a team effort, one that requires a systemic and sustained approach to school improvement and reform. Student success is dependent upon parent, teacher, administrator, support staff, and school success.

Goals/Specific Results

1.1 Provide curricula that reflects high expectations and alignment to content standards.

1.2 Ensure focus, consistency, and alignment of our curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessments.

1.3 Improve the content, quality, and use of assessments and ensure that data from these assessments drives instruction.

1.4 Provide, support, and monitor instruction based on identified best practices.

1.5 Examine the district’s curricula to ensure career and/or college-ready rigor at each grade level.

1.6 Implement programs that support 21st century skills, including collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, and communication.

1.7 Provide and meet program improvement requirements and support for academically under-performing schools.

1.8 Expand autonomy and empowerment for high performing schools.

1.9 Support struggling learners by targeted preventions, interventions, resources, and professional development.

1.10 Increase the use of technology in the teaching and learning process.

1.11 Ensure that the English Language Learner program is responsive to the needs of students and implemented, supported, monitored, and assessed based on student learning and a master plan.

1.12 Examine Special Education programs, services, and delivery to ensure high expectations in the least restrictive environment.

1.13 Establish clear parameters for allocation of Special Education staff and resources.

1.14 Ensure successful transition and articulation among elementary, middle, and high school levels.

1.15 Seek innovative community and business partnerships to expand programs and pathways in schools to enhance rigorous, relevant academic opportunities.

2. Supportive Family and Community Involvement

MDUSD will actively build strong relationships with students, families, and the community to increase trust, shared responsibility, and a positive perception of our district.

MDUSD will use multiple methods of communication and engagement to reach all stakeholders and increase opportunities for meaningful community input and participation to advance student achievement and learning in all subject areas.

Goals/Specific Results

2.1 Use multiple, regular methods of communication and engagement to reach all stakeholders.

2.2 Ensure that our communications are honest, accurate, thorough, and accessible to the public.

2.3 Increase opportunities for meaningful community input and participation.

2.4 Cultivate community, business, and higher education partnerships that advance student achievement in all subject areas.

2.5 Increase collaboration with cities, businesses, and the community to build a community that supports and values education.

2.6 Achieve a positive perception of MDUSD among parents and community members and ensure that parents consider MDUSD a “preferred place” to meet their educational needs.

2.7 Engage and involve parents in their children’s education to create shared responsibilities for student success.

3 High Quality, Effective Staff

The key to MDUSD success is its people, and MDUSD will recruit, develop, support, and retain the most talented staff.

Goals/Specific Results

3.1 Ensure that every classroom has a high-quality, effective educator.

3.2 Provide support through high-quality, effective administrators and support staff.

3.3 Ensure that our staff has the skills and capacity to achieve our mission.

3.4 Increase the retention rate of high-performing teachers, administrators, and support staff.

3.5 Increase leadership opportunities for staff.

3.6 Provide targeted professional development that supports the Strategic Plan.

3.7 Build staff morale and efficacy.

4 Respectful, Responsive Service and Communication

MDUSD district and site staff will be responsive and respectful while providing outstanding service to co-workers, students, parents, and community members.

District and site staff will proactively seek opportunities to improve communication and customer service. Every person who interacts with MDUSD should be treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy.

Goals/Specific Results

4.1 Assess, adopt, and improve practices that encourage respectful, responsive customer service.

4.2 Improve communication, both internally and externally, ensuring that community members, parents, students, and employees receive information, responses to inquiries, and services in a timely, efficient manner.

4.3 Improve employee morale by strengthening internal communications.

4.4 Ensure that employees consider MDUSD a ‘preferred place’ (culture and climate) to work.

4.5 Ensure that parents consider MDUSD a ‘preferred place’ to meet their educational needs.

4.6 Diligently monitor and report progress on strategic plan initiatives to gain trust, promote dialogue, and determine success.

4.7 Increase the use of technology to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of communication throughout the organization.

5 Optimal Operations and Infrastructure

MDUSD will implement sound fiscal and human resource policies that maximize resources, generate revenue, provide accountability, and accomplish educational priorities within a balanced budget framework.

If students are going to achieve excellence, all school and district operations must be excellent as well. Alignment across the district is critical so MDUSD will clearly align its fiscal and human resources to focus on achieving educational excellence. MDUSD will work in partnership with employees, parents, and the community to be a results-oriented district that involves all school, departments, and community groups.

Goals/Specific Results

5.1 Transform MDUSD into a high-performing, results-oriented organization that involves all schools, departments, and community groups.

5.2 Align district-wide initiatives, district and site plans, and expenditures to the MDUSD Strategic Plan and Board goals and policies.

5.3 Ensure that our facilities and infrastructure support and enhance student learning.

5.4 Place priority on educational needs and programs when making fiscal decisions.

5.5 Develop comprehensive short-term and long-term plans that proactively anticipate and address enrollment trends (e.g., decline and/or growth in enrollment, attendance boundary adjustments, possible school closure or repurposing, capacity needs, facilities issues, fiscal impact).

5.6 Ensure fiscal stability and accountability through effective stewardship of financial assets, community funding sources, and other activities to improve district resources and build public trust.

5.7 Enhance the support for and integration of instructional technology

1) Stakeholder Input Sessions
2) Plan Revision and Finalization
3) Implementation Strategies/Action Plans/SMART Goals with Monitoring and Accountability

Vision (from the MDUSD web site)
Mt. Diablo Unified School District is to be a district in which all students, staff, and community:
– treat each other with dignity and respect
– respect cultural, racial, and economic diversity
– assume responsibility for the educational and individual needs of students
– support each other in achieving meaningful outcomes to enable individuals to experience success
– use technology to access, manage, and communicate information
– collaborate to achieve mutual goals
– encourage students to become responsible citizens in a democratic society

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is to be a district in which all schools:
– provide effective instruction as the focus of all activity
– provide a safe, secure, nurturing, and stimulating learning environment
– arrange time and space around the needs of the student
– are recognized and supported for their individuality and culture
– support students in achieving meaningful outcomes to prepare them to be successful adults.”

What do you think of the plan? Are there items not included that you would like to see added? Do you think it’s achievable?

Posted on Monday, March 28th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 63 Comments »

Top spellers keep audience spellbound

There were several familiar faces at the 35th Annual Contra Costa County Spelling Bee today, including some students returning for the third and fourth times.

But the winner was a first-time contestant who quickly beat her competitors by correctly spelling the word “adage.”

Here’s a rundown of the winners:
1) Kate Anoufrieva, grade 8, Walnut Creek Intermediate, Walnut Creek
2) Varun Jain, grade 6, Dorris-Eaton School, Walnut Creek
3) Monishaa Suresh, grade 8, Diablo View MS, Clayton
4) Micalyn Struble, grade 5, Valle Verde Elementary in Walnut Creek
5) Zoe Tacderas, Holy Rosary School, Antioch
6) Samantha Dumalig, grade 8, Sequoia MS, Pleasant Hill
7) Natassya Brigitta, grade 8, Dallas Ranch MS in Antioch
8) Michelle Zaw, grade 6, Edna Hill MS in Brentwood
9) Annie Jeong, grade 5, Montair Elementary in Danville
10) Brigitte Jia, grade 5, Los Perales Elementary School in Moraga

Kate, 14, of Walnut Creek, will represent the county at the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 29-June 4 in Washington, D.C. She won an all-expense paid trip with an escort (most likely her parent), a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, a $100 Series EE U.S. Savings Bond donated by Jay Sugarman of the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, a one-year subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online donated by Encyclopaedia Britannica and a trophy donated by the Contra Costa Times, which sponsored the event at the Tice Valley Gym in Walnut Creek.

Varun won a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, donatted by Merriam Webster, Inc.; a $20 gift certificate to donated by Scripps National Spelling Bee; a one-year subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online donated by Encyclopaedia Britannica and a trophy donated by the Contra Costa Times.

Monishaa won a $20 gift certificate to donated by Scripps National Spelling Bee; a one-year subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online donated by Encyclopaedia Britannica and a trophy donated by the Contra Costa Times.

Fourth- through 10th place finishers also received trophies.
In addition, Varun and Micalyn will represent the county at the state elementary spelling bee and Monishaa and Zoe will represent Contra Costa at the junior high state championship.

Here are the words the other finalists received, but missed:
“bulgur,” “bailiwick,” “ankh,” “bibliognost,” “raucity,” “presentient,” “cordate,” and “obfuscatory.”

Complete spelling bee rules are at A guide to words used in the county bee is at

Do you think spelling is an important skill?

Posted on Saturday, March 26th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

State schools chief launches new initiative to encourage fitness

The California state Department of Education released annual fitness reports for grades 5, 7 and 9 today. Here’s the news release:

“With the latest physical fitness tests showing that only one student in three a posts a healthy score, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced plans for a statewide campaign to improve the health and fitness of California’s 6.2 million schoolchildren.

‘Nothing is more important than the health of our children, and today’s results show that many of them need a helping hand to get fit and stay in shape,’ Torlakson said. ‘The Team California for Healthy Kids campaign will help students adopt the healthy habits that will help them succeed in the classroom today — and help them stay healthy over a lifetime.’

A high-school science teacher and long-time track and cross-country coach, Torlakson said the campaign would link schools with community leaders and athletes to foster new partnerships and put a spotlight on local efforts to encourage students to get more exercise—both at school and at home.

Torlakson said that the campaign would be co-chaired by Dr. Toni Yancey, Bill Walton, Bubba Paris and Dean Karnazes.

Torlakson announced the campaign as he released the results of the 2009–10 FITNESSGRAM®, which showed that less than a third of students tested scored in the Healthy Fitness Zone® (HFZ®) in all six fitness areas.

The test was given to approximately 1.32 million students in grades five, seven, and nine. Approximately 91 percent of the students enrolled in grades five, seven, and nine were administered at least one of the six FITNESSGRAM® tests.

To score in the HFZ®, the test requires, for instance, that a ninth grade male, who would be about 15 years old, run a mile within nine minutes, perform a minimum of 16, push-ups, and 24 curl-ups.

The 2010 test scores show that 28.7 percent of the students in grade five, 34.6 percent in grade seven, and 38.5 percent in grade nine achieved in the HFZ® for all six areas of the test.

The results represent a -0.5 percentage point decrease in grade five students’ scores, a 0.4 percentage point increase in grade seven students’ scores, and a 0.6 percentage point gain in grade nine scores compared to last year’s results.

The 2010 results also show that the number of grade five students achieving the HFZ® for all six areas of the test slipped slightly for the first time since 2006, when the performance standards were last revised. In addition, students in grades seven and nine have smaller increases than in previous years…Approximately 64 percent of grade nine students and more than 65 percent of grade five and seven students scored in the HFZ® for aerobic capacity, which is perhaps the most important indicator of physical fitness…Students in the Class of 2013 have shown steady improvement over similar students in the classes of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Students from the Class of 2013 achieving the HFZ® in six out of six fitness standards in grade five scored 3.3 percentage points higher than the Class of 2009 students. The percentage of grade seven students from the Class of 2013 achieving the HFZ® in six out of six fitness standards was 3.8 points higher than the Class of 2009 students and 2.0 points higher than the Class of 2012 students. The percentage of grade nine students from the Class of 2013 achieving the HFZ® in all six of the fitness standards was 11.1 points higher than students from the Class of 2009 and 0.6 points higher than students from the Class of 2012.

The 2010 physical fitness results for schools, school districts, counties, and state are available on the CDE Web page at

All public schools in California are required to report results of physical fitness testing annually in their school accountability report cards. Schools are also required to provide students with their individual results. However, no individual student data are reported on the Internet.”

Are you satisfied with your school’s results?

Posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

De La Salle High says ‘Goodbye’ to Brother Christopher, welcomes back Brother Robert

Brother Robert Wickman will take over as Principal of De La Salle High School in Concord on July 1.

Brother Robert Wickman will take over as Principal of De La Salle High School in Concord on July 1, replacing Brother Christopher Brady.

For Brother Christopher Brady, the time just seems right to move on, he said.

After serving as principal of prestigious De La Salle High School in Concord for 11 years, he’ll be leaving at the end of June. But, he’s not sure where he’ll be going, he told me today.

“I don’t know yet,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the best part of this. I’m looking at some different options wih my provincial about what I might do next year.”

He compared his uncertainty to the excited anticipation seniors feel when they’re waiting to hear which colleges have accepted them.

“I’m kind of like that high school student,” he said. “I might be an administrator at another school. I might go on Sabbatical (leave).”

Brady said he decided to leave in part because school President Mark DeMarco was implementing some other changes.

“As the president was looking at making some job changes and moving things around and shaking things up in the best sense, I thought, ‘Boy, this is probaby the right time to make the move,” Brady said. “I wanted to give him free rein.”

Brady is proud of progress that has been made at the school during his tenure. The quality of instruction is first-rate, he said, giving kudos to the faculty.

“And the students are great young men,” he said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with them.”

DeMarco called on former Principal Brother Robert Wickman to replace Christopher in the 2011-12 school year. The 46-year-old all-boys school of 1,000 students is sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

“I look forward to welcoming Brother Robert back to De La Salle High School,” DeMarco said, in a prepared statement. “He served as principal here from 1994 to 1998 and was instrumental in laying the excellent foundation on which we continue to build. I am pleased that we have found someone eminently qualified to carry on the many good things that Brother Christopher Brady has accomplished in his service as principal here since 2000.”

Wickman, who holds master’s degrees in theology and educational administration, said he appreciated DeMarco’s invitation.

“Whatever the challenges of serving in leadership at a Catholic, Lasallian school in our day, returning to De La Salle is a time for me of much excitement and joy,” he said in a prepared statement. “I loved De La Salle High School when I served there as Principal over a decade ago. Being back at the school and having the opportunity to build on the tremendous work of Brother Christopher Brady and the many with whom he has collaborated is a great gift.”

“De La Salle is a place of creativity and wonderfully demonstrates a commitment to respond to and meet the needs of young people,” he added. “The school speaks confidently and with conviction of developing men of faith, integrity, and scholarship. It builds a deep sense of brotherhood among its students and looks to its Catholic identity and Lasallian heritage as the foundation for all it does.
It is a school of achievement, and the achievement that is central to its mission is sending young people into the world as leaders who serve to advance the good of society. This is the vision that caught the mind, heart, and soul of Saint John Baptist de La Salle over 330 years ago in France. It is this same vision that inspires the De La Salle Christian Brothers and their Partners in Mission today. I look forward to serving again with the Brothers and Partners at De La Salle in providing our students and their families with the best in contemporary Catholic, Lasallian education. And, of course, being back with the De La Salle students, as fine a group of young men as exists, is a source of great happiness for me. I also look forward to reconnecting with our alumni and their families whom I served in years past.”

De La Salle is a Catholic school founded in 1965. Located in the Diocese of Oakland, it is a college-preparatory school that aims to develop boys into young men of faith, integrity, and scholarship.

More information about the school is at

Do you think it’s a good idea for a principal seek a change after about 11 years?

Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
Under: Concord, Education, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

California’s school district budget woes could worsen if tax idea fails

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson warned today that schools already in financial distress could suffer greatly if the governor’s proposed tax extensions don’t come through.

Here’s the news release he sent out, which detailed First Interim budget reports through October:

“SACRAMENTO—Nearly 2 million students—roughly 30 percent of pupils in California—now attend school in a district facing serious financial jeopardy, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today.

‘The emergency confronting California’s schools is widening and deepening,’ Torlakson said. ‘As disturbing as these numbers are, unless the Legislature moves to place the Governor’s tax extension plan on the ballot, they are just the tip of the financial iceberg facing school districts up and down the state.’

Torlakson’s findings came as he released the results of the first semiannual Interim Status Report that represents budget certifications for California local educational agencies (LEAs) through the end of October 2010. The reports reflect a certification of whether an LEA is able to meet its financial obligations.

The number of LEAs on the negative certification list rose to 13 from 12 last year at this time. The number of LEAs on the qualified certification list dipped slightly to 97 from 114 last year at this time.

Torlakson noted that the certifications do not take into account the impact of the state failing to extend temporary tax increases adopted two years ago that are set to expire July 1 unless placed on the ballot by the Legislature and approved by voters in a special election.

The California Department of Education semiannually prepares Interim Status Reports for the Superintendent on the financial status of the state’s 1,032 LEAs, comprised of school districts, county offices of education, and joint powers agencies.

The certifications are classified as positive, qualified, or negative. A positive certification is assigned when the district will meet its financial obligations for the current and two subsequent fiscal years.

A qualified certification is assigned when the district may not meet its financial obligations for the current or two subsequent fiscal years. This certification allows the LEA’s county office of education to provide assistance to the LEA.

A negative certification—the most serious of the classifications—is assigned when a district will be unable to meet its financial obligations for the remainder of the current year or for the subsequent fiscal year. This certification means the LEA’s county office of education may intervene in the LEA’s finances.

The numbers used to arrive at the certifications preceded the Governor’s Budget proposal, and therefore do not reflect the potential loss of temporary tax revenues, and the new proposed multi-billion dollar funding deferral.

‘Schools face the daunting challenge of up to $4.5 billion in additional cuts if tax extensions are not placed on the ballot by the Legislature and approved by voters in June, an additional cut of 10 percent.’ added Torlakson. ‘This would be devastating to an education system that has already sustained $18 billion in state funding cuts over the last three years – a loss of one-third of the annual budget for schools.’

After decades of recording relatively steady numbers of LEAs on the Interim Status Report list, the numbers moved up sharply in 2008-09 and again in 2009-10 as a result of deeper and deeper cuts to education. It is anticipated that the numbers will move up even more sharply in 2011-12 if the tax extensions are not placed on the ballot and approved by the voters.’

For more information and a list of LEAs on the Interim Status Report, please visit

However, this news release doesn’t include updated information from districts’ second interim reports, which were filed with county offices of education last week.

In the East Bay, the Hayward district filed a “qualified” second interim, while the Emery and Mt. Diablo districts filed “positive” reports. However, Hayward would plunge back to “negative” if the tax extensions fail and Mt. Diablo’s three-year budget is counting on furlough days and benefits cuts unions haven’t yet agreed to take.

Emery has sufficient reserves the weather the cuts, the superintendent told me today. John Swett is seeking another parcel tax to try to get out of its “negative” certification.

Do you think Torlakson’s efforts to raise awareness of school districts’ financial troubles will make a difference in getting the tax extensions on the ballot?

Posted on Monday, March 21st, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 11 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district to begin solar projects in June

Ensuring that the public will embrace the Mt. Diablo school district’s 51-site solar project after construction begins could be a daunting task.

And Pete Pedersen, who is managing the project, admitted to the Measure C Bond Oversight Committee on Thursday that he loses sleep thinking about it.

“At 3 in the morning, I’m trying to create a vision about: ‘How bad can this be?'” he said. “What things do I need to be thinking about now that are going to be happening next March? If there needs to be a 500-pound gorilla who says, ‘no,’ it’s got to be me right now. Out of all the projects that we’ve ever worked on, this — PR-wise — is just challenging. There are a million different ways it can go bad.”

Here’s the list of 17 sites in Bay Point and Concord that will receive solar panels over the summer, during the first phase of construction:

District maintenance and operations yard: $807,701
Dent Center: $2 million
Bel Air Elementary: $898,014
Cambridge Elementary: $1.1 million
Concord HS: $2.9 million
Delta View Elem: $1.3 million
El Dorado MS: $1.4 million
El Monte Elem: $826,321
Monte Gardens Elem: $1 million
Mt. Diablo HS: $3.7 million
Olympic HS: $847,046
Rio Vista Elem: $737,937
Riverview MS: $2.3 million
Shore Acres Elem: $35,540
Sun Terrace Elem: $1.1 million
Westwood Elem: $653,518
Wren Avenue Elem: $706,449

Site plans showing the location of solar panels on each campus are at This is a new website the district has launched to answer the public’s questions about how it is spending its $348 million 2010 Measure C bond money.

On Tuesday, the Mt. Diablo school board boosted its payment for solar panels to SunPower Corporation by $1.8 million, bringing the total cost of its project to about $67.4 million.

Trustees also added $55,000 to their engineering costs, for a total of $88,600.

The district expects to save more than $3 million a year in electricity costs after the project is completed in April, 2012. District officials are also excited about reducing their carbon footprint and using the solar project to teach students about resource conservation.

But it’s the short-term shock that the solar structures could cause that is worrying Pedersen. He’s been making the rounds at schools, drawing up plans in an attempt to put the panels in places that would be least obtrusive.

At some elementary schools, however, this is proving difficult. At Monte Gardens Elementary, some people suggested putting the panels over the lawn, he said.

“Then, a year later, the grass may not get any sun. It’s dead,” he said. “And you’ve got a mud pit.”

To prevent this from happening, Pedersen said he worked with the principal to fit the panels — which sit atop carports or shade structures — between asphalt and grass on the campus.

Cambridge Elementary’s space is so small that the district may have to put solar panels on district land that is jointly shared with the city in an adjacent park, Pedersen said. This may also be the case for Meadow Homes Elementary, which isn’t in the first phase.

He said Mt. Diablo HS was also problematic because of shade that would be cast onto the panels. So, they will be spread throughout the campus.

At El Dorado MS, the district plans to “tuck” the panels around the blacktop, he said.

Other schools in future phases that are problematic are Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton and Valle Verde and Walnut Acres in Walnut Creek, he said.

“At Mt. Diablo Elementary there’s very little room,” he said. “If we’re going to make our production numbers to offset cost, we’re having a real problem.”

Valle Verde and Walnut Acres have active parent groups that are concerned about safety around the “big poles” holding up the structures, he said.

“You’re trying to preserve the turf,” he said. “You don’t want to displace the Little League or the Soccer League. And you think you’ve made everybody happy… until we put these things in, and all the people you thought were happy are unhappy. So, we’re a little anxious. So, we’re trying to think: ‘What can we do to reach out to the community?'”

First, he’s meeting with the administrators. But some members of the committee said he also needs to meet with parents and to ensure that the administrators know about the website and make their communities aware of it.

Pedersen and his staff said they’re willing to make presentations at schools and have already done that at some sites. The team has also created brochures to be passed out to the phase 1 schools, outlining the project.

Committee members said the information should also be distributed with parent newsletters and at school open houses.

“We just need to keep our eye on the prize,” Pedersen said. “Every dollar we save with this goes to the kids. To me, environmentally, it’s great. But if I can free up $3 million a year, as a principal, I could tolerate a little eyesore.”

Pedersen said the first phase would be easiest, since school won’t be in session.

“The construction of phases two and three, when school is in session,” he said, “that is a little more difficult.”

Is your school community happy with the district’s solar plan for your site?

Posted on Friday, March 18th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 92 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school closures prompt continued questions

Some Holbrook Elementary parents and teachers who attended Tuesday’s Mt. Diablo school board meeting are frustrated that trustees didn’t respond to their proposal to convert the K-5 school to a K-6 campus instead of closing it.

Today, parent Kelly Van Boekhout sent trustees the following invitation:

“Subject: An Invitation

Hello Board,
I attended the Board meeting last night.
I stood up at Public Comment and extended an invitation to you. No one responded to me.
So I would like to extend the invitation again.

I would like to ask you to come to Holbrook Elementary to hold an open forum with our parents, staff and community to address our questions and concerns over your decision to close our school.

We have presented questions to you at Board meetings that have gone unanswered. They are not rhetorical questions. They are things we would like to know the answers to and things we would like to understand. If you fail to respond to us directly, how do you expect us to understand your decision?

It is not a matter of whether or not we will ‘go along’ with your decision. We have no choice. It’s a matter of whether or not we will move into the next school year understanding that our Board is making decisions to the best of their abilities in serving as many students as possible. It is a matter of whether or not we will have faith and trust in our Board.

I do not claim to be capable of doing a ‘better’ job than any of you at balancing what is now a completely upside down budget. And I understand that there is no way to give any student money that you simply don’t have.
Please understand that I extend this invitation to you with the utmost respect.

We would simply like answers from the people who know the ‘how and why’ the decision was made.

Please come to Holbrook.”

During the meeting, Van Boekhout addressed the board twice: once during general public comment and once before trustees voted to change boundaries for students who currently attend Holbrook and Glenbrook Middle School.

First, she spoke about the meeting held Monday night at Holbrook with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support. Here’s what Van Boekhout said:

“Last night, you sent Rose Lock to our school to discuss our new boundaries. She had no answers for our questions and could only make notations of our concerns with the intent of returning them to you.

You have made a decision that greatly affects our entire community, and I feel that we deserve at least a minimal amount of respect .

At this point, all the questions we have asked, answers we have proposed and concerns we have stated have fallen on deaf ears and have been blatantly ignored.

I would like to ask you to come to Holbrook and hold an open forum with the parents, staff and community where you, the people WITH the answers can address our questions and concerns.”

Later, Van Boekhout talked about her daughter, who attends Holbrook, before the board voted to send Holbrook students to Sun Terrace and Wren Avenue elementary schools. These were her comments:

“Last year my daughter STAR tested for the first time. She scored advanced both in English and Mathematics. She did not win her intelligence from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. She received it from me, her father, her teachers, her SCHOOL.

I would like to make it clear that I have no issue with either Wren or Sun Terrace…I ask that you either rescind your decision to close Holbrook Elementary or that you provide concrete evidence and numbers to prove to this community that it was the best decision possible.”

Parent Adam Delanoy questioned the “geographic equity” of the decision to close both Holbrook Elementary and Glenbrook Middle School, which are in the same neighborhood.

“What I fail to understand and no one has answered,” he said, “is why a district of 150-square miles closed two schools within a mile of each other. This deserves an answer. Many families have students in both schools. Some families will be forced to transport students two miles in one direction and four miles in another direction in busy areas, if they even have transportation. We also deserve an item-by-item cost accounting……if MDUSD is a district where kids come first, then you need to show us.”

John Ferrante, who served on the previous Measure C oversight committee, said the district should redraw boundary lines for all schools because the district is spending money on new classrooms and denying transfers based on overcrowding.

“Even the federal government has enough brains to redraw lines every 10 years,” he said. “We could save taxpayers money.”

Willie Mims, who represents the NAACP in East County, said the district should provide transportation to the displace students.

“When you make a decision that’s going to impact students and communities, there should be some mitigation by the district to alleviate part of their pain,” he said. “Suppose you have families that cannot afford to pay for the bus ride? Then what?”

Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the cost for students to take County Connection buses would be about $720, but the district could provide a bus for $400 per family that would make a round trip to Sun Terrace, Wren Avenue and Holbrook elementary schools; as well as El Dorado or Valley View middle schools.

Although Trustee Lynne Dennler seconded Trustee Linda Mayo’s motion to adopt the proposed boundaries, she ended up voting against it, saying she wasn’t comfortable asking families to pay for the buses.

“I have a very hard time asking any family to add $40 to their monthly budget….,” she said. “These were their schools. We’re closing them.”

Trustee Cheryl Hansen abstained after reiterating her call for an explicit accounting of how much the district is saving by closing Holbrook and Glenbrook as well as how much it is spending on the transition (ie. for vice principals at schools the students will go to). In addition, she repeated her previous request for the district to plan what it will do with the closed campuses.

Mayo said the district can no longer afford to provide busing and it can only do so if families pool together to reimburse the district.

“Of course, it’s not perfect and we do regret that expense for our families,” she said. “We just do not have the funds to support that at this time.”

Sherry Whitmarsh clarified that students’ high school attendance boundaries wouldn’t change.

Board President Gary Eberhart, who participated in the meeting via speakerphone, said the decision to close the schools had been made and the board needed to move forward. He agreed that long-term, the district should look at new boundaries, but said the board didn’t need to add that to staff’s list of duties right away.

Eberhart also asked that Lawrence bring back the district’s School Closure Transition Plan to future meetings so the board could continue to provide direction. He attempted to make a motion to this effect, but General Counsel Greg Rolen said it would need to be placed on an agenda as a separate item, since it was merely an attachment to the school boundaries item. (Also, it wasn’t added 72 hours before the meeting.)

Hansen asked staff to develop new boundary maps for all of the schools that will be receiving students from the closed schools, incorporating the expanded attendance areas.

Do you think the district should look at redrawing boundaries for all schools?

Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 49 Comments »

The K-6 Holbrook Elementary proposal

Despite the Mt. Diablo school board’s decision to close Holbrook Elementary in Concord, parents and staff members at the school are holding out hope that they can change the minds of trustees and persuade them to transform it into a K-6 campus.

Here’s their proposal:

“Plan for Proposed 6th Grade at Holbrook Elementary

6th grade students attending: 175
5th grade students attending: 50
(Based on Glenbrook 2009-2010 SARC)

Number of Classes:
5 – 6th grade classes
1 – 5th-6th combination class
1 – 5th grade class

This number is planning for 32 students per class. If School Improvement Funds were transferred from Glenbrook, the class enrollment could be lower. Of course, each class could go as high as 34 students.

The staff at Holbrook would welcome the 6th graders from Sun Terrace, Wren Avenue and Meadow Homes. We believe we can provide an opportunity for academic achievement and success for these 6th graders that they might not find elsewhere

Academic Schedule

The students’ academic day would be from 7:55 a.m. – 2:35 p.m. as it is now at Holbrook. The schedule would include 125 min. daily of Reading/English, 45 min. daily of English Language Development and Academic Language Development, and 55 min. of math daily, as well as 40 min. of Science, 40 min. Social Studies and 20 min. of P.E. four days a week.

Enrichment and Intervention

We also plan to continue our strong data driven academic intervention program during the school day and after school. We want to draw the students in by having “Tech Bridge” (a Chevron-sponsored science and technology program) for the 5th and 6th grade girls and Project SEED for the 5th and 6th grade boys. We also will continue intramural sports at lunch recess. We would like to add a fine arts component to the after school activities by offering drama and choral music.

Sixth grade ‘at-risk’ students would be assigned to mentor teacher. All staff members would help support this program.


We would have the 5th and 6th grade students housed in adjacent classrooms close to the MUR to give them a sense of identity (Rooms 27, 26, 25, 22, 23, 24, 20).”

What do you think of this plan?

Posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 6 Comments »