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;
- 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?