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New CVHS principal is trying to accommodate change

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 6:42 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

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?

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  • g

    Well, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance…”

    Then again, anything she manages to improve this coming year will just make things easier for the Charter the next year.

  • Just J

    I am going to print this and kesp it. We will see what she gets done. One the other hand it is quite sad that it took a Charter application and a principal that is the Supers friend to get anything done. hmmmm something to think about.

  • Forget About Volunteer Projects

    The complaints about parent volunteer projects occuring at schools, and all the red-tape, delays and flat out denials associated with the projects is dead on. We have had not been able to do ANYTHING at our school, volunteer-wise.

    Our school’s landscaping is deplorable. Simple shrub/flower replacements are denied because they might be poisonous and/or the landscapers’ union might file a grievance because the maintenance of such shrubs/flowers may cause more work for them.

    Simple re-painting of anything is denied because that would take work away from the union painters who may file a grievance. When you agree to pay their outrageous fees, they specify the work they will do for you and you must pay double time for them to come on a Sunday because they are working M-F for the district.

    Installing backpack hooks outside classrooms–forget about it–you’ll be taking away from the maintenance division’s workload. But, if you want the maintenance department to schedule it, you’ll be waiting years because with all the layoffs, they don’t have the personnel to do it.

    Teachers computers and school server down? They wait weeks, if not months, for a computer tech to come out to fix things. Why? Because the computer tech division has been reduced to a skeleton department. Our school waited nearly 1 year to install new MDUSD specified computers and when they were finally installed, the software was outdated and no longer supported. When the parent club offered to bring in a legitimate business to repair/replace the server, the answer was no, the district personnel must do it. We’re still waiting for the school server to be installed–it was delivered in Janaury and has been sitting in a vacant classroom since.

    It’s mind boggling how assinine this whole process is and what’s more, I am baffled how a “new” administrator can come in and start doing all these volunteer projects, when our school has been waiting years! Sounds like she is either bucking the process or has been given the green light because of this charter issue and who she is associated with.

    I am happy CV is getting projects done, but Brother’s needs to share her secret on how she is getting approval to do such things.

  • Theresa Harrington

    CCT columnist Tom Barnidge weighs in on the conversion effort: http://www.contracostatimes.com/columns/ci_18579388?nclick_check=1

  • Doctor J

    Barnidge nailed Eberhart right between the eyes: Eberhart’s first reaction to the charter — it might hurt district finances. As we have long known, Lawrence’s by line of “where kids come first” is just a tease and an afterthought — all talk and no action. Let’s put education of our children first. With as much money as MDUSD wastes on consultants every year, the financial impact will not be felt at the Dent Center. Or maybe its time to reverse the Gang of Five raises and cut the Supt’s salary, along with the Asst. Supt’s and Directors.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Although the district has been quick to point out how much money it would lose if the charter conversion is successful, it hasn’t yet revealed to the public how much it spends to operate CVHS.
    Charter supporters say high schools cost more to operate than elementary and middle schools.
    Even a School Services of California, Inc. staffer whom I contacted said she could only verify the revenue portion of the district’s equation, since district officials didn’t tell her how much they spend to operate CVHS.
    Without knowing both sides of the equation, the district’s assertion that it would lose money is unverifiable.

  • Doctor J

    More “hide the ball” by the district refusing to disclose the actual costs of operations of CVHS — certainly by now Richards has run the numbers and if they supported Lawrence and Eberhart’s assertion, they would have been made public.

  • Doctor J

    @Forget #3 Sue Brothers can say anything she wants to appease parents but she can’t change union contracts. Yes, she has Lawrence on speed dial and you can bet your bottom dollar that CVHS will always go to the top of the list “this year” to try to defeat the Charter, but then she will move on to Asst Supt and it will return to SNAFU. Just ask your elementary schools how many months it took to get white boards installed that were ordered a year ago. Some were lucky to get them installed before school ended.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s an Orange County Register story that includes an interview with a former MDUSD teacher who left the district after 14 years to teach at Oakland Military charter school, in part because she was tired of the district’s “bureaucratic regulations”: http://bit.ly/oGEwDV

  • Excel Veye

    Why is it that so many of the issues the are being complained about fall under the Maintenance and Operation umbrella? This is the division fomerly run by Mr. Pedersen and currently staffed by those personally chosen to survive Mr. P’s constant shufflings, restructurings and munipulation of Ed Code/Union Agreement over the last 6 years. All these deficiencies directly attributed to M&O and yet Mr. P was allowed to retire into a contracted district position. Is there any wonder why the solar project is recieved with so much cynisism?

  • anon

    I can’t wait to listen to everybody in the district complain when the district has to close more schools to pay for the CV charter. That’s when people will wake up and say, hey maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. It’s easy to say that the district can reduce costs in the district office to pay for the additional millions of dollars that CV will get, but specifically, which positions should be reduced? Who at the district office can be laid off to make up the short fall? The answer is that the cuts will be made to the schools in the district, not at the district office. It will be a sad day if that happens. Our kids have already suffered enough at the hands of the state and now one of the district’s own schools is going to start the cannibalism process. That really takes selfishness to a whole new level. And for what? What will be gained by CV students? The same teachers and the same students and parents. What will change?

  • Theresa Harrington

    According to information provided to the School Closure Advisory Committee, the district estimated it could save $1.7 million by closing Clayton Valley HS, based on nearly 18 positions costing $1.4 million it would eliminate, plus $273,541 in utility costs.
    Based on this information, it looks like the district could save more than the $1.6 million it estimates it would lose if the school converts to a charter.
    If this is true, the board might not have to make any cuts at all.

  • Doctor J

    @Theresa #12 — Got to love it when Lawrence hangs himself with his own numbers ! What else can you expect from someone with a degree in applied math ? I think his IQ is less than his golf handicapp.

  • Another MDUSD Mom

    So Theresa are you saying that the loss of the ADA will be offset by the loss of expenses for salaries and utilities? In fact, the District might even come out ahead?

    Why doesn’t MDUSD provide the public an outline of the costs for CVHS instead of just issuing scare tactics to the feeder pattern schools? Is it just another case of attorney client privilege or maybe just more records that they are not sure are kept by the district???

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, that’s what I’m saying. The district will lose the ADA, but it will also lose the expenses of the staff and utilities. In fact, it may be able to charge the charter for facilities. So, yes, it could in fact come out ahead.

    I hope the district will provide the public with an outline of Clayton Valley HS costs versus revenues at the Aug. 9 meeting. I don’t see how that information would be considered attorney-client privilege, since it’s public money.

    I believe the district does keep track of how much it spends on each school.

    During Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s budget meetings, he answered the question: “Do all schools in the district share unrestricted funds equally per student?”

    Here is his answer: “If we broke down each site’s funding by its enrollment/ADA, we would find that they are not equal. We do provide the same level of personnel support (teachers, office support, administrators, etc.) at each site depending upon the grade level and size. However, the budgeted dollar amount will vary because the experience level of the personnel will determine the level of expenditures. For example, if you had two elementary schools at 500 students, they both have the identical number of personnel serving on the site, but one site may receive more funding because its teachers have an average experience level of 10 years while the other school’s teachers have an experience level of eight years. The budget for the site with the average experience of 10 years would be higher than the other site. However, because of retirements or teachers leaving the district, these averages could easily flip in the next five years. Sites also receive site funds from the district that are determined on a per-pupil basis based on grade level of the school (K-5, 6-8, 9-12).”

    Based on the last sentence of his response, it looks like Clayton Valley may have been receiving more money per student than elementary and middle schools. Therefore, Clayton Valley may cost the district more to operate than elementary and middle schools. This is what charter supporters have been saying all along.

  • g

    Anon: You want to come back each week to continue to invoke the “Charters rob other schools” demon?

    Obviously, while you stir in the District’s mess, wipe it on the walls and try to call it art the Charter is moving forward, happy to no longer have to answer to you or your rhetoric.

    Let’s not forget that the folks drawing paychecks and EGO off the shoulders of this District had enjoyed the runaway spending for years, stupidly assuming the well was bottomless; building, buying, adding and expanding. All the while, begging more funds for “declining enrollment”. Keeping their blinders on tight, as long as they were still getting theirs!

    Then, finally, broke and gasping for breath, they blindly decided to just throw away a few dollars, a few teachers, a few assistants and two whole schools, and found, when it was all said and done—ooops, no money and no real relief to be found there…we’re still broke!

    So now, your continuing chant is “because of a charter — schools will close”, and “I can’t wait to hear the complaints”! How sad!

    Do you remember, just a few short months ago when getting the vote for “dollars for solar” was determined to be more important to the leaders in this sick District than putting up a good fight to actually save our schools?

    Do you remember when anything even resembling ethics flew out the window while gifts and campaign money (much of it still unaccounted for) flew in?

    Do you remember the kids, the people and the two schools that the District just threw away?

    Well, honey, the only noise that came from other schools in the district was a great sigh of relief that it wasn’t their school closing. This flailing District purposely pits each school against the other so that each cares only for its own next lifesaving breath, and so we won’t look too closely while Dent digs itself another escape tunnel.

    At this point, if another school closes it will merely create another huge sigh of relief from the schools that are spared.

    So, do you think now we’ll just sit back and let you blame the next impending drowning wave on charters???—I don’t think so, silly!

  • Wait a Minute

    Its time to point something out people.

    This “Anon” who began posting all over the CC Times blog to defend the MDUSD leadership and try and shift blame to anyone else started doing this at the same time as Sue Brothers was hired and is none other then SUE BROTHERS herself!!!

    Her posts have been shown to a couple of dozen of her former colleagues from West Sac/Roseville and all agree its Sue’s writing. By the way, comments about Sue ranged from vile, manipulative, incompetent egotistical control freak to many that are unprintable.

    So why is she doing this? Because of the 3 reasons she went to MDUSD: #1, West Sac became (to quote Sue herself) “no longer a comfortable place” for her and her M.O. #2, her benefactor Steve Lawrence hired her to try and quash the CVHS Charter. #3, she has also been hired to fight the info war here on the CC Times to try and protect her savior Lawrence.

    Some other interesting information has also come up.

    Sue extensively lied in her interviews with Theresa Harrington. She claimed she was only making $125,000 at West Sac when she was at the top of the pay scale there at $145,000 plus benefits. She claimed she spent lots of time in classrooms and sites (when she rarely left the administrative offices until the new Super Dr. Gilleland made her get out last year and start regularly visiting sites/classrooms).

    In fact, Sue spent the better part of her 5 years in smallish West Sac building up a personal empire. In her Dpt of Ed Services she had 2 “Directors” at $110,000 each (one of whom was infamous in that district for having been caught having sex at a school site with one of the custodians and with whom Sue tried to give a principalship to by replacing one of West Sac’s best principals with when her one of the Directors positions was cut!). Sue also had at least one other administrator and several “Teachers on Special Assignment” as well as 2 secretaries. So her Dpt had well over 1 million dollars in salaries/benefits in a 1 HS town until the budget cuts of last year.

    In fact, Sue was famous for manipulating hiring and the standing committees in West Sac.
    She decided who would be hired ahead of time and represented panel interviews were conducted only to go through the motions.

    Her record in these matters is less then stellar. A Super of HR who was forced to leave his former district for having conducted a blatant affair with a colleague and having unlawfully fired a teacher was hired by Sue to be a reliable and unethical hatchet man who proceeded to drive up litigation costs to exceed the rest of the districts in that county combined! She also replaced the well respected and successful Continuation HS principal with an incompetent personal friend of hers that took that school from safe to dangerous and ended up expelling like 20 kids in an over-correction.

    Meanwhile Sue claims she is this zen-like coach to all the principals in matters like discipline. Well that explains why West Sac’s River City HS had a student riot in late 2009 that was so bad that the Principal suffered severe head injuries and missed months of work. To make matters worse both Sue And Stevie Lawrence lied to the board and called the riot just a food fight and this lie ended up in the Sacramento Bee!
    This incident is a main reason that Stevie fled to the MDUSD and now Sue has followed him as she has her whole administrative career.

    Sue also said that West Sac has a good relationship with charters. It has only had this since Lawrence left. Sue and Stevie opposed every Independant charter trying to come into West Sac and they both constantly raved about how bad charters were so Anon/Sues post #11 represents Sue’s true feelings about charters, hated competition that puts pressure on a district to reform bad management.

    So Forget @ #3, if you want the same treatment for your school that CVHS is now getting to help Sue and Stevie out in co-opting the charter–maybe you should start a charter drive for you school to get this level of attention.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The CVHS charter petition public hearing agenda has been posted: http://bit.ly/nzsIyi
    So far, there is no agenda report or staff recommendation.
    The regular meeting agenda has also been posted: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/Public_agendaview.aspx?mtgid=314

  • g

    Ah, Charter meeting at Monte Gardens at 5:45. That should keep a few working parents and community members from attending! Smart move Ebermarsh!

    Then we can all meet where we expected to meet at the regular time for the (emergency closed session with all of the unions—SIG?)

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s more information about the format of the meeting: http://bit.ly/qJUlvu