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Archive for July, 2011

New CVHS principal is trying to accommodate change

At a community meeting regarding the effort to convert Clayton Valley High to a charter last week, teachers Pat Middendorf and Neil McChesney said they’ve often been frustrated by the hoops they have to jump through to make changes on the campus.

The Mt. Diablo school board plans to hold a public hearing regarding the charter petition Aug. 9. If approved, the school would convert to a charter in 2012-13.

In the past, both the school site and the district administration seemed to quash ideas for improvement, Middendorf and McChesney said.

For example, McChesney said it took six months just to get approval from the district to paint a door for a project that students were initially excited about. By the time the permission was granted, enthusiasm had waned a bit.

Recalling a time when lots of fights were breaking out, Middendorf said athletic coaches asked if they could come on campus during the day to mentor students and help keep the peace.

“They were told, ‘No,’ ” Middendorf said, adding that it might break some union rule.

Parent Faculty Club President Alison Bacigalupo said campus beautification was also a headache.

“You cannot believe how difficult it is to plant a petunia on that campus,” she said. “It’s a lot of red tape just to plant a flower.”

Clayton Mayor David Shuey chimed in, saying he had received emails from many parents who were frustrated by not being able to do things at the school.

“They say, ‘I want to get in there without being hamstrung by the district,’ ” Shuey said. “They’re excited about getting back into it.”

Middendorf and McChesney said “on-site management” is one of the top 10 benefits of converting to a charter.

They also cited:
– a sense of ownership by students, staff and the community;
-accountable staff;
– fiscal stability and responsibility;
– ability to create a high school calendar with breaks around semesters;
– a new transition program for freshmen;
– a cleaner and safer campus;
– ability to use “leading edge” technology and social media;
– new student support programs such as tutoring; and
– professional support for staff.

After attending the meeting, I called newly appointed Principal Sue Brothers, who started her job July 1, to get her reactions.

Unlike the charter organizers, Brothers was optimistic about campus beautification, which she said is under way. She has already met with teachers and parents about some changes, she said.

“We have several projects in the works to take care of some of the issues that parents, teachers and students have brought up,” she said.

Brothers said she is working with the district’s director of maintenance and operations to replace a shed and get some construction quotes for new paving.

“We’re going to do some parent painting,” she said. “But we’re going to get a pro to add some picnic tables with umbrellas so kids have more places to eat lunch.”

She has also begun working on improving the campus dress code, she said.

“That was a big issue with parents and teachers,” Brothers said. “I’ve clarified it by putting out a visual dress code.”

Although she said she has shown her idea to a few parents, it hasn’t yet been distributed yet.

I also asked Brothers about an idea Middendorf told me about after the meeting: assigning each student to a “home room” with a teacher responsible for mentoring them throughout their four years in high school.

Brothers said she is trying to connect freshmen to “link leaders” — successful juniors and seniors who help mentor freshmen. She said she thought this program was already in place, but wasn’t sure if it had been completely implemented.

When I asked Brothers about “red tape” from the district, she said: “I’m not running into that same thing.”

Regarding complaints about lack of cleanliness on campus, Brothers said she and the new assistant principals plan to make it very clear to custodial staff what is supposed to get done each night so that teachers know what to expect. If it doesn’t, Brothers said they would “follow up relentlessly.”

Brothers also said athletic coaches are always welcome on campus and she couldn’t understand why anyone would tell them they couldn’t provide mentoring.

“That’s odd,” she said. “I can’t think of what might get in the way of that.”

She’s enjoying her job so far, she said.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” she said. “I’ve had a few students drop in and I really enjoyed talking to them.”

Are you optimistic that some positive changes can be made at Clayton Valley this year?

Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 20 Comments »

Despite AB 114, MDUSD doesn’t plan to restore cuts

Some school districts throughout the state are restoring cuts based on the flat funding projections required by AB 114. But the Mt. Diablo school district is not among them.

Here’s an e-mail Q & A about the subject that I exchanged with CFO Bryan Richards:

“Q. I attended the SSC (School Services of California, Inc.) budget workshop today (Tuesday) in San Jose and plan to write about how AB 114 is affecting local school districts. Based on the SSC presentation, it looks like MDUSD cannot project $330/ADA cuts in the 2011-12 budget and must instead project flat funding, with respect to revenue limit funding.

I have heard that some districts are reinstating cuts, based on this.

Does MDUSD intend to reinstate cuts made to create the $10.7 million reserve, which is based on the $330/ADA (average daily attendance) projected revenue reduction? If so, which cuts might you reinstate? (Such as cuts to special ed assistants hours and benefits and furlough days.)

A. Not at this time.

Q. Also, SSC said that districts that have ‘restorative’ language in their contracts need to look at restoring concessions that were negotiated based on the reduced revenue projections. Do you intend to restore concessions, such as hours, benefits and furlough days?

A. Not at this time.

Q. As I’m sure you know, AB 114 would allow districts to handle possible mid-year cuts by reducing the school year by up to 12 days (seven on top of the five already allowed this year). Do you intend to try to negotiate 12 furlough days with district unions?

A. Not at this time.

Q. I understand the district has been instructed to create a corrective plan for its SIG (School Improvement Grant), showing increased instructional time for all students at the SIG sites. I also understand that the district’s new SIG application for Meadow Homes and Oak Grove MS was denied, in part because it didn’t include increased instructional time for all students. Does the district intend to try to negotiate no furlough days at SIG sites so that instructional time would not be reduced?

A. This has not yet been determined.

Q. Will you be presenting recommended revisions to the board Aug. 9?

A. As the District’s budget was built on the State’s revenue assumptions, and our expenditure budget is also aligned with those revenue assumptions, we do not anticipate bringing forward significant revisions to the budget at this time.”

After I received this response, I discussed MDUSD’s budget with Ron Bennett, of School Services of California, Inc.

He said AB 114 prohibits the district from setting aside a reserve specifically to cover a projected $330/ADA midyear cut. The district, he said, must build that $10.7 million back into its budget.

However, he said the district could justify continuing to set aside the $10.7 million if restoring the cuts would result in a deficit at the end of its multi-year projections through 2013-14. But, this would not be the case.

According to Richards’ June 28 budget PowerPoint presentation, the district would have nearly $16.2 million left over by June 2014, including its $330/ADA reserve.

This budget includes seven furlough days in the next two school years that haven’t yet been negotiated with MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association). I also spoke to Mike Langley, MDEA president, today about AB 114.

“My understanding is the law says the district is not allowed to set up a slush fund just in case,” he said. “It should go back into the general fund.”

If the state fails to meet its revenue projections, mid-year cuts to schools would be triggered. According to the law, districts would be allowed to reduce the school year by 12 days, dropping from 180 days to 168.

But that would require teachers’ unions to agree to furlough days. And if the school year is less than 175 days, teachers would lose retirement credits for their pensions.

I asked Langley if teachers would agree to take the seven furlough days already built into the budget next year, knowing that the district has an extra $10.7 million to spare.

“A trigger goes both ways,” Langley said. “There should also be a trigger to add back in negotiations.”

If the district can afford to pay teachers for a full school year in 2011-12, Langley said it would make sense for the district to also reopen its contracts with other unions (which have already agreed to the seven furlough days).

“Students need the services of all staff,” Langley said, “not just teachers — including in classrooms, in offices and on the grounds.”

On June 14, the board made $4.2 million in cuts, which could all be restored if the district put the $10.7 million set aside for mid-year cuts back into the general fund.

These include:

– $56,000 for a popular fifth-grade water environmental study program on the Brownlee boat in the Delta

– $1.2 million in special education assistants’ hours and benefits

– $300,000 for adult education programs

– $300,000 for instructional improvement block grants

– $908,731 for classified positions including: confidential administrative assistant, senior secretary, attendance/student records assistant in special education, electro-mechanical technician, equipment mechanic, general maintenance worker, inventory and materials storekeeper, medium equipment operator and three painters.

The $10.7 milion could also be used to help cover high school athletics costs outlined in the June 14 budget recommendations.

Or, the school board could try to justify the $10.7 million reserve, despite AB 114’s prohibition of setting aside money for mid-year cuts. This is because the bill has a huge loophole: there’s no penalty for districts that disregard it.

“This one doesn’t have any punishment with it at all,” Bennett said. “Someone might say: ‘This looks like it’s not in compliance with the law,’ and I don’t think there’s anyone who can say what happens.”

Do you think the Mt. Diablo district should use the $10.7 million it set aside for midyear cuts to restore positions, programs or furlough days?

JULY 21 UPDATE: I just spoke to Contra Costa County Office of Education spokewoman Peggy Marshburn. She confirmed that the county is no longer requiring that districts set aside reserve funds of $330/ADA, in anticipation of midyear cuts.

However, the county is advising districts to look at possibly maintaining higher than required reserves based on cash flow needs. She said the county is not advising districts regarding whether or not to reinstate staff or positions, since those decisions should be made by each district based on its own unique circumstances.

JULY 22 UPDATE: I have received further clarification from Richards, Bennett and the County Office of Education regarding their understanding of how AB 114 affects local districts.

Although the board made cuts in June in part to establish its $330/ADA reserve of $10.7 million to guard against midyear cuts, it doesn’t need to reinstate the cuts because it is still deficit spending, they agreed. The governor’s signing message allows districts to make cuts based on financial circumstances — such as declining enrollment, the loss of federal funds and cash flow management — which are unrelated to a possible midyear cut.

Here’s the clarifying e-mail I received from Richards:

“The budget was built based on flat funding of the revenue limit on a per ADA basis. If you look at form 01 in the budget document, you will notice that the District has a deficit of $2.6 million projected for the 2011/12 school year. The expenditure budget is built upon the projection that the District will negotiate 7 furlough days with MDEA and proportionate reductions of work year for the other bargaining units, which reflect agreements already made with Local #1 and CSEA (California School Employees Association). Our expenditure budget exceeds the revenue budget based on flat funding by $2.6 million, with the furlough days built in.

AB 114 does not require Districts to spend down existing 2010/11 fund balances in the 2011/12 year. It does require that the expenditure budget be based on a revenue budget incorporating flat funding. MDUSD’s expenditure budget already goes beyond the requirement of AB 114 and projects expending $2.6 million more than we expect to receive during the year.

The District still had to make a substantial amount of cuts to deal with the expiration of Federal funding associated with the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and to deal with our continued declining enrollment. As Governor Brown noted in his signing message, districts are expected to make the required cuts necessary to deal with declines in other funding sources or enrollment and to protect their cash positions to remain solvent.

The district has done this.

Bryan Richards, CFO”

However, there is still some disagreement between Bennett and Bill Clark, associate superintendent for business services for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, regarding whether it is appropriate to retain a separate reserve with a specific amount set aside to guard against mid-year cuts. Bennett says “no,” but Clark says he is recommending that districts maintain such a reserve, although he can no longer require it.

“You cannot have a reserve specifically for the mid-year cut,” Bennett said. “We would say you shouldn’t do that. The law is vague in that area, but to be consistent with the law, you would just put it in your reserve and it gets put in your three-year projection to avoid fugure cuts, but not specifically a mid-year cut.”

Clark said he plans to recommend (but not require) that districts set aside $260 per ADA for unified districts, $250 per ADA for elementary districts and $300 per ADA for high school districts, based on School Services’ estimates of the maximum cut to districts if the state budget reduction trigger is pulled.

For Mt. Diablo, this would be about $8.4 million, or nearly $2.3 million less than the current reserve of $10.7 million. If the district reduces its reserve to the new amount recommended by the county, it could potentially afford to reinstate the special education assistant hours and benefits, as well as some other cuts.

But Bennett reiterated that AB 114 doesn’t require the Mt. Diablo district to make any restorations.

“That would simply be up to the board,” he said.

Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 49 Comments »

Fundraiser for Walnut Creek student July 31

Walnut Creek reporter Elisabeth Nardi has posted the following News Brief about a fundraiser to benefit a local student:

“The Indian Valley and Walnut Creek Intermediate community is coming together to put on a flea market and bake sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 31, to benefit the Taylor Brown AVM Charity Fund, set up assist the Brown family with medical expenses.

Taylor, an 11-year-old girl, will be attending Walnut Creek Intermediate in the fall. Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is an abnormal connection between veins and arteries, usually congenital.

The flea market and bake sale will be held in the school district parking lot, 960 Ygnacio Valley Road. For more information on the event, contact Tari Peckham at”

Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Under: Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Know a Contra Costa County hero?

Time is running out to nominate youths or adults for American Red Cross Contra Costa County “Heroes” awards. Nominations are due Friday, Aug. 5, according to the following news release, which I received today:


“The American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter is seeking nominations for its annual heroes award breakfast in Contra Costa County. The program is designed to celebrate the community’s everyday heroes, recognizing those individuals and organizations that make a difference in their community through acts of extraordinary kindness and courage. The heroes will be honored at the Contra Costa County Heroes Breakfast at 8 a.m. on Friday, October 7, at Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville.

Contra Costa County residents are encouraged to nominate a hero for one of the following categories:

Life-Saving Hero: An adult or youth who has performed an extraordinary lifesaving act, using skills such as CPR or first aid.

Act of Courage Hero: An adult or youth who has performed an extraordinary act of courage.

Act of Kindness & Philanthropy Hero: An adult or youth who has shown an extreme act of kindness or selflessness.

Community Service Hero, Individual: An adult or youth who has performed great community service.

Community Service Hero, Organization: A business or organization that has performed great community service.

Animal Rescue Hero: An animal that has protected a human in a time of need or a person who has rescued an animal from a traumatic situation.

Heroes award recipients will be selected by a committee of Contra Costa County community leaders. All nominees must work or reside in Contra Costa County.

Nominations may be submitted online at You may also request a nomination form by contacting Rita Chick of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter at (415) 427-8086. The deadline to submit nominations is Friday, August 5.

About the Heroes Awards Program

People in the Bay Area make a difference in the lives of others in their communities every day. The American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter and civic leaders from six counties in the Bay Area are joining together to celebrate everyday heroism, recognizing those individuals and organizations whose extraordinary acts of kindness and courage make them heroes.

American Red Cross chapters around the country hold events in their communities to recognize acts of heroism by local residents and pay tribute to those who have performed lifesaving acts. Each year, nearly 900 people attend events in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Solano Counties to honor local heroes. For more information about the events, and corporate sponsorship opportunities, visit All proceeds from the events support the disaster readiness and relief efforts of the American Red Cross in the Bay Area.

About the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter

As a community-based, humanitarian organization, the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter provides relief to those affected by disasters and empowers individuals in our community to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. By helping people in the Bay Area learn how to take care of their families and neighbors, the Red Cross strengthens the community and makes it ready for all types of disasters, including home fires, earthquakes, wildfires and health emergencies. Call 1-888-4-HELP-BAY or visit to learn more.”

Who are your Contra Costa County heroes?

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

CBCA backs Clayton Valley HS charter petition

Members of the Clayton Valley HS "800 club" celebrate the school's participation in the Clayton "Do the Right Thing" campaign

Members of the Clayton Valley HS "800 club" celebrate the school's participation in the Clayton "Do the Right Thing" campaign

Both the city of Clayton and Clayton Valley High School have embraced the theme “Do the Right Thing” as part of a character-building campaign.

Last month, the Clayton Business and Community Association (CBCA) overwhelmingly decided to support an effort to convert the school to a charter, which had already been unanimously endorsed by the Clayton City Council.

The association voted to allocate $8,500 to the effort, reimbursing the city for an unsecured loan, which council members approved in a 3-2 vote to help pay for upfront legal costs to draft the petition.

Mayor David Shuey told me in an e-mail today that the city had only spent $2,500 on the initial retainer before the CBCA voted and approved its contribution. So, the CBCA funding will reimburse the city’s payment, then the city will forward the rest to the Clayton Valley HS charter fund, he said.

“So we ‘did the right thing’ and took bold decisive action when necessary and it all works out in the end like we anticipated,” Shuey wrote. “As you know, I and the city took some heat for doing the unsecured loan so this is nice vindication.”

CBCA President Ed Hartley said in a phone interview that only three members voted against the expenditure, compared to more than 40 who were in favor of it.

Hartley said he and others voted for it, in part, because they feel it is worth a try to improve the school.

“I think that given the state of the school — how the teachers and students feel about it and how the parents feel about it — that there’s nothing to lose by trying this,” he said. “If it works, it could work well.”

If it doesn’t work, the school would revert back to the Mt. Diablo school district.

“So that it can turn it out good,” he said, “in enough members’ minds, it was a wise use of our money.”

Charter supporters will hold an informational meeting about the petition at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Clayton Library at 6125 Clayton Road in Clayton. Shuey invites those who can’t make it to e-mail questions to him at

The school board expects to hold a public hearing regarding the petition from 5:45-7 p.m. Aug. 9 at Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord. Trustees plan to approve or deny the petition at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the district office in Concord.

More information is at

CVHS teacher Pat Middendorf said organizers are holding the meeting because some people in the community still don’t understand how the charter would operate.

“There’s still some confusion,” Middendorf said in a phone interview.

Some people, she said, believe the school might not be accredited or might refuse to serve special education students, she said. Those are both false rumors.

“So,” she said, “we thought, ‘Gee, if that (kind of rumor) is still out there, maybe we’d better go (back to the community) one more time.'”

Do you think the CBCA did the “right thing” by contributing $8,500 to the charter effort?

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 6 Comments »

Teachers on the defensive?

This Readers’ Forum piece appears today in the Contra Costa Times. I am reposting it here to give blog readers the opportunity to comment.

“From the community
By Ron Borland
Guest Commentary

Something’s gone terribly wrong with our country. Suddenly, we’re turning on our public servants, the people on the front lines of society, and making heroes into villains. Only the military escapes society’s wrath.

Everyone else in public service is being accused of being on the public dole, especially public school teachers.

And so these good people live in constant fear for their jobs, worrying if the next state financial shortfall will set off yet another round of massive layoffs.

Along with their own jobs, they worry that those valuable instructional aides and office staff will disappear. Meanwhile, like most of the working stiffs in our country, take-home pay stalled long before the recent recession and they suffer the burden of an increasing number of nonpaid furlough days.

As for the future, a future they work so hard to ensure for their students, it’s bleak. Unlike Finland and other countries who have invested heavily in teacher training and expertise to achieve educational gains, America increasingly endorses a “drill and kill” “teach to the test” system where more and more is expected with less and less financial, staff, and popular support.

Meanwhile, teacher pensions are in jeopardy while the public looks at upper tier pension abusers and makes the leap of logic that all public employees are cheating them.

Nobody goes into teaching for the money, but it used to be a secure, respected position.

Now it’s a job with no significant pay raises, one under constant public scrutiny and criticism, with the prospect of being laid off or losing your pension down the line.

Ultimately, one worries how we’re going to get qualified people to aspire to these jobs in the future.

And make no mistake, job conditions have deteriorated. It’s a much more difficult job than it was 10 years ago. Despite massive budget cuts to education, pressure to achieve impossible No Child Left Behind test standards are growing with class sizes.

With the loss of ’20 students-1 teacher’ requirement in grades K-3 in California, classes have ballooned to near 30 students in some districts. Upper grades have seen similar increases and, as numbers explode, so do class management and behavioral problems.

Add this to the ever-growing ‘The Rules Don’t Apply To My Child’ brigade and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect storm in our classrooms.

Culturally, our country’s approach to citizenship is increasingly weighted more toward rights and privileges than responsibility. When you spend time in a classroom you quickly see how far things have gone. There is a troubling sense of entitlement and denial in many of today’s parents and this is being passed on to children.

It’s hard to teach when you have students in your class saying, ‘My mom/dad says I don’t have to listen to you.’

As for handing out discipline, it’s difficult in a system where community support is fragile and any accusation against a school can lead to immediate conviction in the court of public opinion.

One of the big mistakes people make with the public school system comes in thinking the system consists only of teachers, administrators, students and parents.

It also consists of neighborhoods, communities, government, media, culture and business.

Indeed, we’re all a part of the public school system and until we pull together in support of teachers instead of demonizing them the system will never reach its potential.”

Ron Borland has served as a substitute teacher in four Contra Costa school districts in the last 11 years. He is a resident of Oakley.

Do you agree with Borland that teachers are demonized and many students feel they don’t need to listen to them?

Posted on Saturday, July 16th, 2011
Under: Education | 11 Comments »

Lots of blame, but less accountability with state’s School Improvement Grants

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

The state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday showed that when it comes to failing schools, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but seemingly less accountability.


As the board considered about $500 million in federal School Improvement Grants, discussion included blaming the U.S. Department of Education for failing to communicate clear and consistent guidelines, blaming California Department of Education staff for lax administration and oversight of the grants, blaming the state Department of Finance for denying a request for more money to send staffers on school site visits and blaming school districts for failing to reform their schools as promised.

Blameless in the discussions were the people the grants were supposed to help: struggling students. Yet, these students could suffer as result of failures by the agencies entrusted with helping them.

Although the discussions revealed several flaws in the process, the overriding failure by all agencies appeared to be one of communication.

If the federal government had communicated its expectations and grant requirements consistently and clearly from the beginning of the grant process, the state would have been better able to communicate those requirements to districts. But since the state wasn’t clear on the requirements, it gave often confusing advice to districts.

Districts wrote up applications based on this advice, trying to meet the requirements as they understood them. For 2010-11, the state approved 41 applications and disbursed the first year of more than $400 million in three-year grant funding, with the expectation that districts would follow through on their plans.

In March, the federal government sent representatives to three districts that received the grants to see how the money was being spent. The visits revealed that many schools had not done what they promised, such as replacing principals or other staff, increasing instruction time for all students and providing time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and other improvement strategies.

This led the U.S. Department of Education to send the state a highly critical report, outlining four areas in which California failed to administer and monitor the grants appropriately. Stung by the criticism, the state reviewed all 41 applications based on this new feedback and found that in most of schools, the plans didn’t meet federal requirements or weren’t being implemented on time.

Yet, the state didn’t officially inform districts of this until Monday, when it published a list of schools that needed “corrective plans” to come into compliance with the grant program in order to receive the second year of funding they were expecting for 2011-12.

In a stunning move, the state also denied all 25 applications it received for up to $69 million in new funding intended to help additional schools starting in the fall, saying the planned reforms weren’t rigorous enough. Since most districts wrote their new applications based on what worked the first time around, many felt blindsided by the denials.

Some district reps showed up to the meeting to oppose the denials, but were unable to explain why they thought their applications should be approved, because the state hadn’t yet given them any feedback.

Everybody was frustrated.

Trustees were frustrated by the “searing” report from the U.S. Department of Education. State Department of Education staffers were frustrated by being caught in the middle without fully understanding the rules. Districts were frustrated from being pushed and pulled one way, then the other, only to be told in the end that they hadn’t adequately followed directions.

A few earnestly insisted they were doing what was required and were being unfairly punished by the state. Others laid low, quietly waiting and watching to see if they’d get another chance to make things right.


Despite all the finger-pointing, the state Board of Education ultimately decided to dispense what amounted to “tough love” to districts. Trustees informed districts that the leniency to which they had grown accustomed has ended.

Now, districts throughout the state are scrambling to ramp up their efforts the get the money. If they succeed, the students they are supposed to be helping may receive much-needed instructional improvements.

But if districts are unable to comply with federal requirements by the first day of school, they won’t get more money and students may not get the help they were promised.

Are you satisfied that the board’s actions will prompt schools to implement required reforms as promised?

Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011
Under: California, Education | 72 Comments »

Remembering Eugene ‘Gene’ Ballock

Eugene Ballock, a former principal of Lafayette, Orinda and Walnut Creek schools, has died.

Eugene Ballock, a former principal of Lafayette, Orinda and Walnut Creek schools, has died.

When Eugene Ballock took on his role as principal of Del Valle High School in Walnut Creek, he was delighted, recalls his daughter, Kim Johnson.

“He was so proud of Del Valle High School when he got there,” she said, as she reminisced about her father, who died July 3. “It was beautiful. It was the newest school in the (Acalanes Union High School) district, even though it was 25 years old.”

Many years later, in retirement, Ballock returned to the school (which was closed and used by the city) for recreational activities, she said.

“We always said it was ironic that he ended up moving to Rossmoor,” she said. “He would go swimming at the Del Valle pool.”

He was married to Lois Ballock, who was a nurse at John Muir Medical Center, for 58 years.

Here’s a brief synopsis of Ballock’s career from the family’s obituary notice:

“In 1963, Eugene’s family moved north and he became principal of Inland Valley Intermediate School in Orinda. He was also principal of Stanley Intermediate School and Fairview Intermediate School in Lafayette.

Eugene was the final principal of Del Valle High School in Walnut Creek. He became principal of Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek in 1979 and retired in 1989. During his retirement he was Student Teacher Advisor for Chapman University.”

Since her parents didn’t have a lot of money, the family regularly visited the Pleasant Hill library, Johnson said.

“He checked out books on every subject matter you can imagine,” she said. “He was a real history buff. So, in his retirement — and throughout his life — he collected books. He had an eclectic collection that included books about President Lincoln and World War II and the Civil War and fighter pilot jets. He loved aviation. He went to his last book club meeting a couple weeks before he died.”

Ballock also loved golf, camping, fishing and his career, his daughter said. Many of his retirement golf buddies were former principals of schools such as Campolindo and Miramonte High, she said. Some were former teachers who had worked for him.

“It’s like none of them had time to play golf in the real (working) world,” she said. “They were all his friends.”

Johnson said she was incredibly touched by the comments that many of his past students have written in the online guest book that accompanies his family obituary.

“As his daughter, you don’t see your dad in the same perspective that other people saw him,” she said. “I knew he was a good man. I knew he was honest and loyal to a fault and had excellent character.”

But, she also knew him as the dad who sometimes irritated her because he wouldn’t let her sleep in on weekends. The comments, she said, gave her a stronger appreciation for how he touched others in life-changing ways.

“I have a friend and she had him at Fairview, Del Valle, Las Lomas,” Johnson said. “She said she didn’t have a good relationship with her own father and he (Ballock) was the first man she ever respected in her whole life. He made such an impact on her life.”

Another former student commented: “Mr. Ballock was a ‘good egg,'” Johnson said. “That’s true. He respected the law. He knew what was right and what was wrong. He was a man of great dignity.”

But, Ballock also had a fun side, Johnson recalled.

“He had a great sense of humor,” she said. “He told stupid jokes all the time.”

Johnson said her father stood out in the memories of many past students, including one who recognized him when the family was vacationing in Canada.

“They remembered him and he remembered a lot of kids’ names too,” she said. “Not just the good ones and the bad ones, he remembered the ones in the middle too.”

Ballock’s health took a turn for the worse after surgery on his stomach five years ago, Johnson said.

“He had been battling complications from that,” she said. “The last year was a struggle for him for sure. He’s the one who didnt’ get the memo he was dying. He just wanted to be here.”

When a minister recently asked Ballock what he was most proud of, Johnson said he responded: his family.

“He was very proud that all three of us kids like each other and we get together and we take care of our mom and we took care of him,” Johnson said.

Even though her father bought lottery tickets every week, he never won, Johnson said.

“But I think he would say he won the lottery, because he had this great family,” she said. “The fact that we love each other — I think that made him most proud.”

The family expects about 300 to 400 people at his memorial service at 2 p.m. Saturday at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church, 1543 Sunnyvale Ave. in Walnut Creek.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Walnut Creek United Methodist Church Memorial Fund, 1543 Sunnyvale Avenue, Walnut Creek, CA 94597 or Hospice of the East Bay, 3470 Buskirk Avenue, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.

Do you have memories of Eugene Ballock that you’d like to share?

Posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district does about-face on new drinking water requirement

Several Ygnacio Valley HS students said they would prefer water dispensers in the cafeteria because drinking fountains are sometimes dirty or inoperable and dispense warm water that doesn't taste good.

Several Ygnacio Valley HS students said they would prefer water dispensers in the cafeteria because drinking fountains are sometimes dirty or inoperable and dispense warm water that doesn't taste good.

Last month, Mt. Diablo school district trustees unanimously passed a resolution stating the district couldn’t afford to comply with a new state law that requires free, fresh water for students where meals are served.

Trustees said it would cost the district more than $300,000 (or $30,000 per campus) to install drinking fountains in the 10 school multiuse rooms that don’t have them:

Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek
Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg
Diablo View Middle School in Clayton
Glenbrook Middle School in Concord
Highlands Elementary in Concord
Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton
Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point
Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill
Valley Verde Elementary in Walnut Creek
Ygnacio Valley Elementary in Concord.

Today — just nine days after the board adopted its resolution — I learned that the district has reversed itself. It will comply with SB 1413.

And, contrary to what trustees said last month — it won’t cost more than $300,000 to do it. Instead, the district will do what many other districts are doing: set up inexpensive water dispensers.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a statement last year, that he hoped the bill he introduced would help students make healthy decisions in the school cafeteria.

“As we all know, young people are constantly bombarded by advertisements and pressure from their peers to consume junk beverages that are high in calories and sugar,” he said. “Yet many students do not have access to free, fresh drinking water at lunch time.”

The bill was supported by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Before the new law took effect July 1, schools were only required to have one drinking fountain for every 150 people, which could be located anywhere on the campus, according to Leno.

“This is unacceptable given that studies show adequate water consumption by students improves cognitive function, boosts academic performance and fights obesity,” he said in his statement.

When trustees decided to bypass the state law last month, no one mentioned a similar federal law that goes into effect at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year: “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which requires districts to provide free water to children in the National School Lunch Program. That law doesn’t give trustees the option of claiming they can’t afford to comply.

Ironically, the district originally planned to install drinking fountains at all the schools that are out of compliance, according to Pete Pedersen, Measure C project manager. At the Measure C Bond Oversight Committee meeting last month, Pedersen said some principals asked that drinking fountains not be included in their new multiuse rooms, because they thought water would spill onto the floor.

“When we did the programming, the site administrators at that time said, ‘We don’t want them,'” Pedersen said. “So, we deprogrammed them.”

When district officials learned of the state law, they apparently jumped to the conclusion that the only way to comply would be to install costly drinking fountains. Yet, the state lists several other options on its website, including chilled/filtered drinking stations and water dispensers.

District officials also didn’t seem to think they had an extra $300,000 in construction funding available to spend on water fountains, even though they have only spent a fraction of the $348 million Measure C bond money approved by voters in 2010.

“If your district is modernizing existing schools,” the California Department of Education wrote on its website, “work with your district facility staff early in the planning stages to identify ways to provide new drinking fountains and refurbish existing ones.”

Are you satisfied with the district’s newest plan to comply with the drinking water requirement?

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011
Under: Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 24 Comments »

Oak Grove MS parent sad to lose McCormick

Terry McCormick voluntarily left her position as principal of Oak Grove MS in Concord so the Mt. Diablo school district could apply for a $4.5 million federal School Improvement Grant.

Terry McCormick voluntarily left her position as principal of Oak Grove MS in Concord so the Mt. Diablo school district could apply for a $4.5 million federal School Improvement Grant.

This letter to the editor appears in today’s CC Times. I am re-posting it below to give blog readers a chance to comment on former Oak Grove Middle School Principal Terry McCormick’s decision to transfer to another campus so the district could apply for a $4.5 million School Improvement Grant.

McCormick is now Principal of Pleasant Hill Middle School. The board unanimously appointed Lisa Oates, who has held several positions in the Antelope Valley Union High School District in Southern California, as the new principal of Oak Grove Middle School in Concord.

“I read with interest Theresa Harrington’s article, ‘Two Mt. Diablo district principals leave schools in face of ‘failing’ stigma,’ in the Times.

I have two kids at Oak Grove Middle School and am quite pleased with the education they have received. Oak Grove has dedicated and talented teachers and administrators. I particularly want to acknowledge Terry McCormick’s leadership in improving the overall climate of learning at Oak Grove.

The statistics provided in your article show that Oak Grove’s API score was up 18 points in one year and met the target growth for that year. All the while at a school serving 83 percent low- income families and with 47 percent of the students classified as “English Learners.”

McCormick is a big reason for this improvement. It’s sad we have to lose a beloved principal to get this grant money. I guess holding the school board accountable or the district superintendent and his staff accountable would be too much to ask?

Because of McCormick, Oak Grove is no longer a failing school but an improving school. I’m afraid the loss of McCormick will be a setback for the school’s progress

Lisa Robinson

Do you agree with the US Dept. of Education’s requirement that a “failing” school must replace its principa to receive a School Improvement Grant?

Posted on Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 143 Comments »