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A Holbrook teacher speaks out against school closure

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, June 6th, 2011 at 6:58 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Carol Wallis, a teacher at Holbrook Elementary in North Concord, sent me the following opinion piece today about the Mt. Diablo school board’s decision to close the campus on Thursday:

“WHAT CLOSING HOLBROOK PROVES ABOUT THE MT. DIABLO SCHOOL DISTRICT:

It’s June 1st, another school year ends. It’s not business as usual at Holbrook Elementary School, where teachers pack professional books and papers and stamp them for delivery to their next site. Students attend BBQ’s and Open Houses at new schools. OK, we stopped crying, stopped fighting and march on to our professional fate. We lost our battle, however, the war in education is raging and Mt. Diablo’s board and administration are examples of why. Holbrook’s closing is a casualty in a system where uninformed leadership causes harm.

The district’s failure to teach second language students became public. At Holbrook, with the help of a knowledgeable ESL teacher, and guidance of an exceptional principal, second language students made gains on state testing. Teachers used strategies for promoting academic language. Parents attended English language learning classes on campus. I bet the board never looked at that.

At a recent board meeting, it was suggested that faculty from “failing schools” attend workshops to hear experts talk about creating learning environments insuring learning. Almost every teacher at Holbrook attended a Defour Conference, where professionals are instructed in building learning communities, and analyzing data insuring student progress. I bet the board had no idea that Holbrook became a professional Learning Community because teachers attended this conference.

Holbrook still sends students to Camp Silver Spur for four days. Under the guidance of staff, retired faculty, and hand picked counselors (college students, graduates, and other Holbrook alumni) students gain unforgettable experiences. Is there any other school in the district that runs a program with this kind of loyalty? I bet the Board can’t name one.

Holbrook elementary school has a partnership with the Techbridge Science program, a non-profit group, largely funded by Chevron. Fifth-grade girls learn about science and engineering through projects, field trips and meeting role models. I bet the Board had no idea of this partnership. Holbrook has a powerful partnership with the Jewish Coalition for Literacy. Tutors are trained and provided with materials helping students read and write. Student/tutor relationships are symbiotic, creating powerful learning experiences. I bet the board gave no thought to the strength of such a program.

Holbrook’s teachers are outstanding. They‘ve been district leaders, implementing programs supported by Kevin Feldman, Maureen Avery (Step Up To Writing) and the UC Berkeley History and Social Science Project. We have a Warren Eukel Award winner and a Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year nominee. I bet the Board doesn’t know that.

Some administrators saw the treasure in Holbrook. None spoke for us. I believe that Mr. Lawrence had no idea what was happening there. He probably didn’t really care which school closed, as long as several hundred thousand dollars could be cut.

Anyone involved in education would tell you that the war can’t be won by changing what works well. So, to answer my original question as to what closing Holbrook proves? It proves the board is ignorant about running an elementary school. It proves the board is blind to what happens on their campuses. It proves administrators are mute when it comes to supporting the Mt. Diablo school district community. It proves the board and administrators are deaf to the voices of one Concord community. I bet we all expect better.

Carol Wallis
Teacher, Mt. Diablo Unified Schools”

Do you think the board was aware of all of these programs and accomplishments when it voted to close Holbrook?

JUNE 7 UPDATE: I asked Wallis who the school’s Warren Eukel Award winner and Teacher of the Year nominee were. She responded that Stephen Slater won the Warren Eukel award she was the Teacher of the Year nominee in 2008.

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  • Doctor J

    Sorry, I had her mixed up with Mary Bacon. So many consultants, its hard to keep them straight.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Another MDUSD Mom: I also remember a discussion about Lawrence taking on the duties of the Assistant Superintendent for Secondary instruction, based on his previous experience. This was part of the rationale for eliminating the position, as I recall.
    However, after SASS was formed, a director of secondary instruction position was created. So, it seems that Lawrence has not been tasked with carrying out those duties.

  • Doctor J

    @Another MDUSD Mom #50: If my recollection is correct, I believe that after Lawrence was hired, but before his arrivial, the Board said he had “secondary experience” and could take over Alan’s job — well that never really happened, as Lawrence proposed soon after he arrived that C&I be elimintated and that Rose Lock become the Assistant Supt over SASS, with a Secondary director, Denise Rugani and an elementary director Susan Peterson [which previously had been an Assistant Supt [Rose Lock]. What is really interesting is that Denise Rugani got a walnut paneled massive office reserved for Asst Supt’s and Sue Peterson got a Wing C small junky office — no walnut paneling — but she is hardly ever there anyways.

  • 4Students

    I clearly recall Supt Lawrence was going to present a high school plan in April, that was two months ago. In the meantime Cheryl and Sherry organized the strategic plan and perhaps Lawrence is waiting for that to be finalized. Perhaps the high school plan will be incorporated in the strategic plan discussion tonight, that can be viewed only by those in the room, or perhaps Lawrence will explain in one of his biweekly newsletters. Did high school graduation rates improve this year?