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Charter schools coming to the Mt. Diablo district?

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 at 6:51 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

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?

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  • Jim

    This is a VERY welcome development. Students who remain in the district’s traditional schools, as well as those who attend the public charters, will all benefit from the choices and innovation that these schools bring to the district.

  • 4Students

    California schools are in a financial hurricane, which highlights the need for reform. Last year in the State Superintendent campaign debate, Torlakson and Aceves agreed that California needs (1) school district consolidation for economic efficiency, and (2) fairness in funding between school districts (Torlakson must have been in the Legislature for the 2000 Fairness in Funding bill which was vetoed by Gov. Davis, which would have helped MDUSD). Both Torlakson and Aceves endorsed charter schools as models for reform. However the recent conversion charters, like CVHS proposes and Granada Hills HS enacted, are motivated by the need to increase State funding because the State is giving our districts a starvation diet. Torlakson was elected but now we don’t hear anything about fulfilling those campaign promises.

  • Janet Mardirosian

    I am searching for any published news regarding the proposed T-Mobile cell phone tower at Monte Gardens/Sunrise Elementary. We in the community would like to see some info from both sides of this issue rather than have the tower forced on us. If this was in Walnut Creek, Danville or Alamo we’d see some news regarding this.

  • Doctor J

    While Lawrence fiddles, MDUSD burns. Disproportionality not addressed in a whole year ? Yet 45 districts took action — MDUSD did not. If Linda Mayo believes this work is so important, why didn’t she take any action for a year ? The real irony is that Mildred Browne will be honored on May 6 as the Region VI Special Education Administrator of the Year and State Special Education Administrator of the Year — yet she has taken no action on the May 2010 CDE report of disproportionality — where is the accountability ? Why wasn’t this issue addressed in Lawrence’s top down “Goals and Objectives” ? Of course Linda Mayo is right — it should be addressed in a Strategic Plan — well, I guess she is finally getting on board about the Strategic Plan — a day late, and a dollar short. Meanwhile, Lawrence continues to fiddle with solar, one size fits all teaching and the budget shell game. Its no wonder parents and teachers want a charter school to be free of the district slavery. MDUSD — where administrators come first.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The district says it is still waiting for specific guidance from the state regarding corrective actions.

  • Doctor J

    Oh, please. Why did 45 other districts take action and make improvements ? Its clear MDUSD is without leadership and way, way behind the curve. Issue after issue, its the same story. Just like why it took three years to get a discussion going about a Strategic Plan, and its just beginning. Why wasn’t this issue addressed in the Supt’s “Goals and Objectives” adopted in September ? I guarentee you the district will spend thousands fighting the CVHS charter school.

  • Anon

    Doctor J,

    I can’t see the district fighting it. Why would they? There is no evidence that the district can stop them if they have all the Ts crossed and the Is dotted.

  • Doctor J

    Anon #7: Mark my words — they are fighting it already behind the scenes. They see it as a dominio theory — one falls and they all fall.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Some people at the CVHS meeting also suggested that others may follow, if CVHS is successful.
    The interesting thing is that many of the issues raised as concerns by teachers and parents could be solved without a conversion. Basically, they want teachers who are accountable for educating their students and administrators who enforce strong school and district policies related to student behavior. In addition, they want their campus cleaned better.
    The SASS Department’s districtwide push to make administrators “instructional leaders” does not appear to be felt at CVHS.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa Accountability is the issue in the high schools ? Teachers accountable for educating ? Administrators accountable for discipline ? Custodians accountable for cleaning ? Who at Dent do you think is capable of doing that ? Seems like there is a job description disconnect.

  • Anon

    Anon #7,
    I will bet that MDUSD will have no less than 50 objections to the proposed charter application for CVHS. They will not approve the charter. That does not mean that it won’t be approved but it will not be approved by the District. You can cross every t and dot every i and it will still not be approved by them.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Surprisingly, trustees didn’t discuss the Flex Charter at all when they unanimously rejected it. Then, the district failed to send anyone to the County Board of Education meetings to defend the district’s rejection of the charter.
    Dr. J: Yes, accountability is what the CVHS community appears to be clamoring for. If the school and district had addressed their concerns, they may never have felt the need to organize a charter.

  • Doctor J

    Anon #11 — Dent will oppose every proposed Charter, no matter how worthy, because it reduces the size of the pie to support Dent. When cuts have to be made, the public doesn’t want the cuts at the schools — it wants the cuts made at Dent. Instead the Board just does the opposite. We are nearly a whole school year into the SIG grants — go back and read them — do they sound like what is happening at the school sites ? Why not ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    The school board did approve the Eagle Peak Charter, after initial objections. Of course, many staff members and trustees are different now.
    Regarding the SIGs, one big problem is that the district didn’t involve the teachers’ union in the plans, according to union President Mike Langley.
    When I attended an education conference earlier this month, national teachers’ union leaders said that most SIGs around the country involved teachers in the planning and negotiated MOUs with the union to provide the flexibility they needed to implement the plans. That hasn’t happened in the Mt. Diablo district.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa, it takes more than “addressing their concerns” by talking the talk — what MDUSD has failed to do is “walk the walk” — there is always plenty of talk. Parents and the public want to see real change — not just talk. We know that Lawrence’s “package” [salary and perks] is nearly $300,000 — when do we get to see that the Asst. Supt’s packages are around $200,000 and that the SASS Dept is spending millions of dollars, with many of its administrators having packages of $150,000 ? Some of the Board have demanded this information be made public — yet Lawrence drags his feet. Its all supposed to be public information. When will CC Times publish it so the public will understand what is really happening ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Rose Lock has said to me that some of the district’s initiatives are not being consisitently put into practice. At the “disproportionality” meeting, Board President Gary Eberhart stressed the need to develop policies that would actually be implemented.
    Regarding SASS salaries, I have requested that information, but not received it.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa #14. You say the Teacher’s Union wasn’t involved in the SIG grant applications — didn’t Lawrence state that all stakeholders were in agreement ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I don’t believe so. The teachers’ union president objected to the SIG applications and asked the board not to approve them.
    Also, if all stakeholders were in agreement, the decision to abandon the Glenbrook SIG would make no sense.

  • Jim

    These teacher-led conversions may present a bigger threat to MDUSD than the outside charter applications ever could. There is a real possibility that numerous schools will pursue conversions, and I agree with Doctor J that the district is likely to use every tool at its disposal to stop CVHS from starting a trend. I would be thrilled to see this form of School Choice tried in MDUSD. This puts an enormous responsibility in the hands of teachers, though. They will have to step up and be part of the solutions more than they have been in the past, when their input was largely disregarded. (They could obstruct change, but seldom had a chance to take a creative role in problem-solving in the early stages of any initiative.) Personally, I think many of our teachers are up to the task. A school leader I greatly admire once said, “This school can only go as far as our teachers will take us.” And I believe that is true for every school. As much as we focus on how bad MDUSD has been for students, it hasn’t been a picnic for our best teachers, either. It has been a challenging environment for the true professionals, and they deserve better.

  • Theresa Harrington

    On Tuesday, the board expects to approve the retirement of CVHS principal Gary Swanson, vice principal Rick Leach, chemistry teacher Thomas Westerman and world history teacher Myrtis Johnson.
    In addition, former Mt. Diablo Elem. Principal Robert Dodson is retiring from his leave of absence and CVHS music teacher Mundy Viar will begin a leave of absence.
    SASS coach and former principal Patricia Hoellwarth is also retiring, along with districtwide librarian Mary Katie Comeaux, CPHS music teacher Jason Klein and districtwide music teacher Bruce Saxton.
    The complete list of certificated personnel actions to be approved Tuesday is at

  • Doctor J

    Interesting list of retirements — some understandable and some curious. Why would Patt take a job with SASS for just one year ? Hmmmm.

  • Wait a Minute

    If Clayton Valley HS converts out of the MDUSD as an independant charter it will be like a dam breaking.
    Many other schools will follow so they can keep the education dollars in their school and classrooms and not have to be dragged down by the incompetence and scandal that the MDUSD district level leadership has earned.

    This is probably the future of education folks.

  • Billy Bob

    Wait a Minute,

    Your post #22 is interesting and timely, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head.

    A group of Northgate parents are beginning informal talks to discuss how to launch Northgate out of the MDUSD. The charter option appears to be taking the early lead. Will be interesting to see how CVHS pulls it off and what lessons can be learned.

  • g

    Billy Bob, tell those parents they cannot do it themselves and maintain the school. Only Teachers can pull the trigger to keep the facilities intact. Also tell them to get the ball rolling, don’t wait “to see what happens”. It takes a year or more to pull it off. If you wait, the interested parents will be gone, and the way this district is going, many good teachers may be gone too.