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Archive for April, 2011

Strategic planning meetings set for Mt. Diablo school district

The Mt. Diablo school district sent out the following e-mail to parents regarding upcoming strategic planning meetings:

“The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is beginning a strategic planning process. A straw model of strategic intents has been developed. Each strategic intent has been defined and a list of potential goals has been identified. Our next step is to review the work with the community and get feedback. To this end, 15 community input sessions have been scheduled for May and June.

Each session will review the strategic intents and definitions. The community will give input on the goals: should any be changed, are any goals missing, and what are the concerns or issues for the goals.

You are invited to attend one of the community input sessions listed below:

– Monday, May 2, 7:00 p.m., Clayton Valley High School Multi Use Room

– Tuesday, May 3, 7:00 p.m., Mt. Diablo High School Multi Use Room

– Thursday, May 5, 7:00 p.m., Northgate High School Multi Use Room

– Monday, May 9, 7:00 p.m., College Park High School Multi Use Room

– Wednesday, May 11, 7:00 p.m., Monte Gardens Elementary Multi Use Room (geared for staff input)

– Thursday, May 12, 7:00 p.m., Ygnacio Valley High School Multi Use Room

– Saturday, May 14, 9:00 a.m., TBD

– Monday, May 16, 7:00 p.m., Concord High School Multi Use Room

– Tuesday, May 17, 7:00 p.m., Dent Center (geared for Community Advisory Committee)

– Wednesday, May 19, 7:00 p.m., Riverview Middle School Multi Use Room

– Wednesday, June 1, 7:00 p.m., (geared for Parent Advisory Committee)

– Thursday, June 2, 7:00 p.m., Willow Creek Center (geared for Foundations)

– Wednesday, June 15, 7:00 p.m., Dent Center (geared for Measure C Oversight Committee)

– Wednesday, June 15, 7:00 p.m., Willow Creek Center

– Thursday, June 16, 7:00 p.m., Dent Center (geared for Measure C Oversight Committee).”

What do you think should be included in the strategic plan?

Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 27 Comments »

Will school districts follow state’s lead in canceling nonessential travel?

Although Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart has suggested that the district eliminate overnight travel to cut costs, the superintendent has not recommended such a budget reduction. Instead, the idea has been added to a list of potential reductions to be considered in the future.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson are taking decisive actions to eliminate such costs, due to the budget crisis.

Following the governor’s lead, Torlakson issued a letter to district and county superintendents and charter school administrators today (Friday) canceling the May 2011 School Recognition Awards Ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

The program would have recognized Distinguished Schools, Blue Ribbon schools and Title 1 Academic Achievement Award schools.

“This difficult but necessary step will result not only in significant savings, but will also relieve districts of making an equally difficult decision whether to spend scarce funds to allow school staff to attend,” Torlakson wrote. “Some have called to express concerns about their ability to participate in the event.”

He pledged to continue working to remedy the state’s “fiscal emergency.”

“I look forward to the day when the state’s financial situation allows me to reinstate this wonderful event to recognize deserving teachers, classified employees, and administrators for their exemplary accomplishments,” he wrote.

Do you think all school districts should eliminate nonessential travel during the state budget crisis?

Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011
Under: California, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 33 Comments »

More than 200 Mt. Diablo district employees earn total compensation over $100,000

According to information released to the Contra Costa Times, the financially strapped Mt. Diablo school district paid 213 employees more than $100,000 in salary, benefits and other compensation in 2010. Three of these were paid a total of more than $200,000 each.

Here’s a rundown of the top dozen earners, out of 5,467 total full and part-time employees. They each cost the district more than $150,000 including base pay, other compensation such as overtime, gross pay, Medical Dental Vision (MDV), pension contributions and non-cash costs of employment:

1) Lawrence, S., Superintendent – Base: $219,063; Other cash: $28,088; Gross: $247,151; MDV: $16,659; Pension: $18,327; Non-cash costs: $12,144; Total: $294,281.

2) Rolen, G., General Counsel – Base: $170,351; Other cash: $6,658; Gross: $177,009; MDV: $18,173; Pension: $22,440; Non-cash costs: $15,239; Total: $232,861.

3) Pedersen, P., Asst Supt Admin Services (retired mid-year, rehired as consultant to oversee Measure C) – Base: $119,315; Other cash: $54,921; Gross: $174,237; MDV: $9,429; Pension: $11,768; Non-cash costs: $15,157; Total: $210,591.

4) Browne, M., Asst Supt Pupil Svcs/Spec Ed – Base: $143,034; Other cash: $12,466; Gross: $155,500; MDV: $7,948; Pension: $12,089; Non-cash costs: $7,386; Total: $182,923

5) Richards, B., CFO – Base: $132,100; Other cash: $1,080; Gross: $133,180; MDV: $14,339; Pension: $17,200; Non-cash costs: $13,118; Total: $177,836.

6) Lock, R., Asst Sup St Achiev & Schl Supp: Base: $135,625; Other cash: $2,500; Gross: $138,125; MDV: $14,339; Pension: $11,395; Non-cash costs: $6,620; Total: $170,479.

7) Cooksey, D., Assoc. Gen. Counsel – Base: $122,310; Other cash: $1,667; Gross: $123,977; MDV: $16,529; Pension: $16,142; Non-cash costs: $12,742; Total: $169,390.

8) Young, A., Assoc. Supt. (retired mid-year): Base: $92,110; Other cash: $56,623; Gross: $148,732; MDV: $4,636; Pension: $7,741; Non-cash costs: $7,227; Total: $168,337.

9) Estrada, J., Dir. Techn & Info Srvc – Base: $103,836; Other cash: $23,728; Gross: $127,564; MDV: $14,339; Pension: $13,520; Non-cash costs: $12,864; Total: $168,287.

10) Braun Martin, J., Asst Supt Personnel – Base: $118,939: Other cash: $13,330; Gross: $132,269; MDV: $18,173; Pension: $9,984; Non-cash costs: $6,392; Total: $166,818.

11) Esteban, S., Integrated Systems Project Mgr – Base and Gross: $116,148; MDV: $16,256; Pension: $15,122; Non-cash costs: $12,265; $159,792.

12) Durkee, J., Dir. Adult-Cont-Career Ed. – Base: $106,067; Other cash: $7,181; Gross: $113,248; MDV: $13,767; Pension: $13,940; Non-cash costs: $12,164: Total: $153,120.

Nine administrators cost the district between $140,000 and $150,000, including the highest paid principal in the district, Teresa McCormick, who runs Oak Grove Middle School in Concord. She earned $103,263 in base salary, plus $6,254 in other cash, $19,688 in health benefits, $9,035 in pension costs and $5,375 on non-cash costs, for a total of $143,614.

Eleven administrators cost the district between $130,000 and $139,000, including the highest paid school psychologist, M. Giambona, who earned $104,976 in base pay, plus $1,560 in other cash, $14,412 in health benefits, $8,789 in pension contributions and $5,191 in noncash costs for a total of $134,928.

Thirty-four administrators and other employees cost the district between $120,000 and $129,999. The majority of these were principals.

Fifty-five employees cost the district between $110,000 and $119,999 including the highest paid teacher, M. Constantineau, who earned $100,225 in base pay, plus $2,953 in other cash, $1,557 in health benefits,$8,512 in pension contributions and $4,967 in non-cash costs for a total of $118,214.

About 93 employees cost the district between $100,000 and $119,000. These included administrators, teachers, psychologists, special education therapists and behaviorists, maintenance and operations workers and the highest paid administrative assistant, C. Wilburn, who earned $54,732 base salary as a confidential administrative assistant in the Special Education and Student Services Division of the district office, plus $17,114 in other cash, $14,339 in health benefits, $7,126 in pension contributions and $7,940 in non-cash costs, for a total of $101,251.

As reported in today’s Contra Costa Times, the district also paid medical benefits to trustees, along with monthly stipends. Here’s a rundown of those costs for 2010:

Paul Strange: Stipend: $8,802; MDV: $18,138; Non-cash costs: $805; Total: $27,745.

Gary Eberhart: Stipend: $8,802; MDV: $17,854; Non-cash costs: $804; Total: $27,460.

Linda Mayo: Stipend: $8,802; MDV: $14,339; Non-cash costs: $801; Total: $23,942.

Richard (Dick) Allen: Stipend: $8,802; MDV: $14,209; Non-cash: $837; Total: $23,848.

Sherry Whitmarsh: Stipend: $8,802; MDV: $1,557; Non-cash costs: $978; Total: $11,338.

Allen and Strange stepped down from the board in November. They were replaced by Trustees Cheryl Hansen (who works full-time for the Contra Costa County Office of Education) and Lynne Dennler, a retired district teacher. Here’s how much they earned from the district as trustees in 2010:

Cheryl Hansen: Stipend: $717; Non-cash costs: $81; Total: $798.

Dennler, Lynne: Stipend: $717; MDV: $16; Non-cash costs: $35; Total: $768.

You can search the entire Mt. Diablo district salary database at

Are you surprised by the number of employees who earned more than $100,000 in total compensation for 2010?

Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 11 Comments »

Push for better teaching drives education reform

Dissatisfaction with the current educational system’s failure to provide every student with a high quality education is driving reform efforts nationwide, as well as locally.

Reform pioneers Michelle Rhee (the former Washington DC schools chief who closed down schools and pushed for merit-based teacher pay) and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (who founded the St. HOPE nonprofit and charters in Sacramento) came to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club this week to beat the reform drum loudly, striking chords with parents and community members who believe many schools are failing to adequately educate kids.

Johnson challenged mayors to improve schools in their communities in one of five ways:
1) invest in joint facilities such as libraries, pools and gyms; provide out-of-school programs for kids; and contribute to school safety;
2) Use the bully pulpit to address school issues that affect the community, such as drop-out rates;
3) Take control of a subset of schools and negotiate collective bargaining agreements or authorize charters (if possible, under state law);
4) Take partial control of schools, by appointing some school board members (if possible);
5) Take full control of schools (if possible under state law).

Rhee has founded a nonprofit called Students First aimed at building a coalition of reform advocates that could rival powerful teachers’ unions, she said.

“The problem is: We don’t have an organized interest group with the same heft in this country that’s advocating for children,” she said. “So, we have lopsided policies and lopsided laws. We need to focus on: How are we going to organize and focus on the rights and interests of kids?”

The high-power couple engaged to be married often used anecdotes to illustrate their points about the need to think differently about education.

Rhee used her own daughters to make a candid point about the current trend to make kids feel good about themselves.

“My daughters do soccer,” she said. “They suck at soccer.”

Yet, she said, they have accumulated numerous medals from participating in sports.

“So,” she said, “I try to tell my kids, ‘You’re not so good at soccer. In fact, if you ever want to become good or great, you have to practice.’ But, it’s very hard for them to reconcile these two things, because they’ve got all these medals and trophies and people are telling them they’re great, when in fact they’re not great.”

She used a basketball example to explain why everyone who wants to teach should not be allowed in a classroom, simply because they have a credential.

Rhee said she would not be allowed to play professional basketball, no matter how much she practiced, because she’s not good at it. If the coach fired her, she could go to the owners and say, “It’s not fair.” They would reject her, saying their livelihood depends on getting people to watch the game. Then she could go to the players’ association, but they would reject her, saying: “It’s not good for us to have a player as bad as you in our ranks.”

Similarly, she said, schools should reject teachers who aren’t properly educating kids and who are doing a disservice to the teaching profession.

In pushing for higher standards, Johnson spoke about a girl who didn’t realize she was five grade levels behind until she entered 11th grade at a new school. Her parents were crying, saying, “How could my daughter have been promoted from sixth grade to seventh grade… and not understand that she was not prepared?”

He said strong national standards should be developed and local schools should be held accountable for meeting those standards.

The pair of Democrats also said they are willing to separate from the party line to do what’s best for kids.

Johnson said that even though he admired former Sen. Ted Kennedy as an education advocate, he was surprised when Kennedy told him he didn’t know how to fix problems in schools and was unsure whether charters were the answer. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, on the other hand, (whom Johnson said he had very little in common with aside from the color of his skin), told Johnson that he would support a charter if his daughter was trapped in a bad public school, so she would have the opportunity to go to college.

“My take-away was: you have to stick to your principals, but you have to abandon your assumptions, because we can limit ourselves,” Johnson said. “So, I’m supporting anything that will help our kids.”

Similarly, Rhee said she shocked the Washington DC community when she supported vouchers for parochial schools.

“As a Democrat, I didn’t like vouchers,” she said.

But, after speaking to mothers who were trying to find alternatives to dismal public schools, she changed her mind.

“I was not willing to say to parents: ‘Just work with me. Give me five years to fix the system. Your kid will get a crappy education in the meantime.’ I would never accept that for my children.”

Comparing the issue to religion, she said: “I’m agnostic as to the delivery system.”

She also strongly defended her right to speak out about what’s not working in education, after the moderator asked her to comment on this statement attributed to teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten: “We wish Michelle Rhee well and we hope that she learns, as we have, that promoting education reform through conflict and division will not serve the interests of children and their educational needs.”

Rhee disagreed.

“This feeling that people have that: ‘Let’s not have any conflict’ is one that’s pervasive in the education reform movement,” she said. “And I actually think it’s one that stops us in the reform movement, because people are willing to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the classrooms everyday as long as we all get along.”

At a conference she recently attended, participants were urged to focus on what they agreed on, instead of their differences, she said.

“I said: ‘That is insane.’ That is like telling a dysfunctional married couple heading toward divorce: ‘Let’s just talk about the good times.'”

Instead, she said, problems need to be openly addressed.

Do you think the current education system should be reformed?

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: Education | 40 Comments »

Charter schools coming to the Mt. Diablo district?

In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina prompted education leaders to completely revamp their school system, which was failing students. I just returned from an Education Writers Association conference there focused on reform.

One big question that came up repeatedly from other sections of the country was: “How can we implement major reforms without being devastated by a hurricane?”

The fiscal crisis in the country and the state can give schools the sense of urgency they need to make similar sweeping reforms, some said. New Orleans named its school district the “Recovery” district and has welcomed more charter schools than any other district in the county, its superintendent reported.

The presence of charters is a red flag that the school district isn’t meeting the needs of the community, some said.

In the Mt. Diablo district, the Eagle Peak charter elementary has been operating for several years in Walnut Creek, after many people initially opposed it.

Now, the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy is poised to offer an online curriculum in a classroom setting for students who want to work at their own pace, with assistance from a teacher when necessary.

In addition, some Clayton Valley High School parents and teachers are exploring the possibility of converting that school into a charter because of complaints about the current atmosphere on campus.

Both groups are hosting community meetings to share information and gauge interest.

– The Mt. Diablo Flex Academy will hold an informational meeting at 7 p.m. today (Wednesday) at the Winslow Center, 2590 Pleasant Hill Road in Pleasant Hill. More information is available by calling 877-382-0242 or going to

– A steering committee exploring the conversion of Clayton Valley High School into a charter school is holding meetings at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Room E-1 at the school, 1101 Alberta Way in Concord and 7 p.m. Monday in the Clayton Library at 6125 Clayton Road in Clayton. More details are on Facebook at

Do you support charter schools in the Mt. Diablo school district?

Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 24 Comments »

11 East Bay middle and high schools named “Distinguished”

Congratulations to the 11 middle and high schools in the East Bay named today as “2011 California Distinguished Schools.”

Here’s a list of the East Bay winners:


Alameda City Unified: Lincoln Middle School

Albany City Unified: Albany High School

Fremont Unified: Mission San Jose High School

Oakland Unified: American Indian Public Charter Middle, American Indian Public Charter School II Middle, American Indian Public High, KIPP Bridge Charter Middle, Montera Middle School

San Lorenzo Unified: KIPP Summit Academy Middle School


Antioch Unified: Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (was also one of five schools in state to earn the “Exemplary Career Technical Education Program” award)

Brentwood Union Elementary: William B. Bristow Middle School

Here’s the news release from the California Department of Education:

“SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced 97 exemplary California public middle and high schools were selected as 2011 California Distinguished Schools as the state’s prestigious awards program celebrates its silver anniversary…

‘These schools are being recognized for attaining high levels of performance and sustained growth, and for making significant progress in closing the academic achievement gap,’ Torlakson said. “Becoming a Distinguished School is a direct reflection of the dedication, hard work, and vision of each school’s education community. They have succeeded despite a bleak economic environment and have endeavored to maintain their momentum and focus.’

In addition, five of the newly designated Distinguished Schools also earned the Exemplary Career Technical Education Program Award for offering exemplary career technical education programs…

The California School Recognition Program is now in its 25th year and honors the state’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools with the California Distinguished School Award. The 97 schools identified today join more than 5,300 public schools that have been designated or redesignated a Distinguished School since the program began in 1986.

Although participation is voluntary, the award is highly sought after by schools in all areas of the state. Elementary and secondary schools are recognized during alternate years.

Schools earning the Distinguished School title this year agree to share their Signature Practices with other schools and serve as mentors to other educators who want to replicate their work. An updated searchable database of these Signature Practices will be available later this spring by the California Department of Education.

To view the current Signature Practices Website, please visit

The 2011 California Distinguished Schools are geographically diverse with locations in small rural communities, suburban neighborhoods, and large urban cities. Most have significant populations of students living in poverty or learning English. Regardless of the setting, all these schools have teachers and principals committed to ensuring student success.

Schools were identified for eligibility on the basis of their Academic Performance Index ( and Adequate Yearly Progress ( results, which are the state and federal accountability models, respectively.

The applicants were also identified by their success in narrowing the achievement gap that exists between higher-performing and lower-performing students. All applicants underwent a stringent selection process conducted by the California Department of Education with the help of many educators from across the state. Each applicant was required to describe two Signature Practices that have led to an increase in student achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap. Applicants were then selected to receive a thorough site visit to validate the Signature Practices.

The 2011 California Distinguished Schools will be honored during an awards ceremony and dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on May 20, 2011. Also being honored during the ceremony will be schools selected last month as Title I Academic Achievement Awardees and California’s nominees for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

The event and awards are funded by donations from many of California’s most prominent corporations and statewide educational organizations.”

The complete list of 2011 California Distinguished Schools is at

Last year, Delta View Elementary in Bay Point and Hidden Valley Elementary in Martinez were named as California Distinguished Elementary Schools in the Mt. Diablo school district. Delta View has shared some of its “signature practices” with other schools in the district.

Do you think this sharing of “signature practices” is making a difference?

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
Under: California, Education, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

Teachers say ‘Yes’ to contract with furloughs

Mt. Diablo teachers’ union President Mike Langley was in high spirits this week, after learning members of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, or MDEA, approved a tentative agreement with the district in a landslide 1,148 to 136 vote.

“They said, ‘Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!’” Langley joked, commenting on the fact that there were more than 1,000 “yes” votes.

This was a twist on the saying, “No, no, a thousand times no!” popularized by Betty Boop.

“I was a teeny bit concerned about this vote, because most of the phone calls I was getting were people who were upset,” Langley said. “I’m happy. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was hoping I could say, ‘Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.’ But if there were only 900 votes or so, it wouldn’t have worked. It’s very melodramatic.”

All kidding aside, however, Langley was pleased with the level of support teachers showed for the bargaining team, which spent months wrangling with district officials over contract terms that include three furlough days. Students and teachers would not have classes May 6, 27 and 31, if approved by trustees later this month.

A handful of union members said they would rather strike than accept the deal because it will mean less money and less time to teach students what they need to learn by the end of the year, Langley said.

Superintendent Steven Lawrence pushed for the furlough days to help balance the district’s budget in the wake of California’s education funding cuts.

“We appreciate that our MDEA recognizes the difficult place the state budget crisis has put the district, and their willingness to work with us to find solutions help get through these difficult financial times while still keeping our primary focus on meeting the learning needs of all our children,” Lawrence wrote in an e-mail.

District officials also wanted to eliminate elementary teachers’ prep periods, which are now covered by librarians, PE and vocal music teachers. But the union didn’t budge on that. This saved numerous jobs.

The district has been unable to come to agreements with other unions, which are at impasse. The district wants to cap its contributions to health benefits, requiring employees to pay larger shares as costs rise in the future.

The board has already built seven furlough days into its budgets for each of the next two years, including five school days and two staff development days annually, which still need to be negotiated with unions.

Do agree with the district’s plan to cut school days to save money?

Posted on Friday, April 1st, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 26 Comments »