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Archive for September, 2011

Defense secretary highlights Walnut Creek woman in POW/MIA Recognition Day speech

Today is POW/MIA Recognition Day.

During his speech at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta highlighted Kathy Strong, a Walnut Creek resident who wore an MIA bracelet for 38 years, as an example of someone who lived up to the words: You are not forgotten.”

Strong removed the bracelet before the funeral of James Moreland, whose name it bore, and it was buried with his remains.

Here is what Panetta said:

“Distinguished guests, veterans, wounded warriors, senior leaders of the Department, let me express to you how I honored I am to be here on this solemn day. This is my first opportunity as the new Secretary of Defense to pay tribute to the POW/MIA community.

I’d like to especially recognize the representatives of that community, former prisoners of war, and the families of the missing in action, all of whom have joined us here this morning. Today as we honor those who have been imprisoned and those missing while defending our nation, we also honor their family members, the brave men and women who have kept those memories of their loved ones burning bright and who have never stopped, never stopped, pushing this nation and its leaders for the closure that they deserve.

Forty years ago, during the Vietnam War, it was the wife of a missing service member, a young woman named Mary Hoff, who realized that a symbol was needed to remind us of his plight; to remind us of all our service members who were missing or suffering at the hands of foreign captors. She developed the idea of a flag, with a haunting image designed by a World War II pilot, that would eventually become a national emblem.

It is the only flag, aside from Old Glory, that has flown above the White House. In 1989, it was installed in the Capitol rotunda as a symbol of this nation’s commitment to fully account for those that are still missing. I was a member of Congress at that time, and was so inspired by the flag and by what it stood for that I introduced legislation to require that it be flown at U.S. diplomatic posts and military installations worldwide.

What moved me and so many others about this flag was not only the stark design, but the message inscribed across the bottom of that flag: ‘You are Not Forgotten.’ Today, we reaffirm that sacred pledge: ‘You are Not Forgotten.’ We voice an entire nation’s unending support and our undying promise that, no matter how long it takes, no matter what it takes, we will not stop until we have brought every American home. We pledge that we leave no one behind.

Over the years, slowly, methodically, we have been making progress in this effort. Six hundred men and women of this Department – military and civilian, investigators and scientists – work tirelessly around the world to fully account for the more than 80,000 American service members who remain unaccounted for from last century’s conflicts. This is painstaking work, carried out in the field and in laboratories here at home.

Because of these efforts, the remains of 98 missing American service members have been identified in the past year – 25 from the Vietnam War, 36 from the Korean War, 36 from World War II, and one from World War I. That’s 98 more families who now have closure, and the knowledge that their nation did not forget them, did not let the passage of time dampen our resolve to locate and identify their loved ones.

No other country, no other country, has devoted so much energy and so many resources to account for our fallen. We do this because we believe that every life is precious, and because those who put their lives on the line for this country need to know that we will spare no effort to bring them home. Today I make to you the promise, as Secretary of Defense, we will do everything we can to bring them home. A promise I make not only to the families of the missing and captured, but to all of our men and women serving in harms’ way around the world.

In the wars of this century, we are blessed by the fact that fewer Americans are missing, fewer have been taken as prisoners, and fewer families have had to wait for their return. Still, as we gather here, three DoD contractors are missing and two soldiers are being held captive in Iraq and Afghanistan – Staff Sergeant Ahmed Altaie, captured in Iraq in October 2006, and Sergeant Bowe Bergdalh, captured in Afghanistan in June of 2009.

This morning, we gather here and again call for their release and reiterate our commitment to bring all missing Americans home. That commitment, simple yet sacred, is fundamental to the values of our nation and, in turn, to our military. And as we raise the POW/MIA flag in communities across America, we pledge to live by its creed, You are Not Forgotten, not only today, but every day.

Around the time that flag came into existence so did POW/MIA bracelets, each bearing the name of a soldier being held as prisoner or missing in action in the Vietnam War. In 1972, a 12 year-old from California named Kathy Strong got one of those bracelets in her Christmas stocking. On it was the name of Sergeant James Moreland, an Army Green Beret who had gone missing four years earlier. And on that Christmas morning, that 12 year-old girl decided she would wear that bracelet until James Moreland came home, until she could hand it to him in person.

Kathy Strong wore that bracelet for 38 years, unsure if she would ever take it off. Then, early this year, 43 years after he went missing, James Moreland’s sisters got word that their brother’s remains had been found and that, at long last – through the tireless efforts of DoD personnel – he had been identified. Sergeant Moreland’s sisters invited Kathy to the funeral in May. And there she took off her bracelet and put it on Sergeant Moreland’s uniform.

Kathy Strong should inspire us all. For it should not just be a few among us that help families carry the torch year after year, decade after decade for those who are missing; it needs to be all of us. It should be all of us who as one family, and one nation pledge on this day, and every day, that for as long as it takes to bring every American home, we will never stop working, we will never stop searching, and we will never stop thinking of those lost warriors. We will never forget those who have sacrificed for our freedoms and our values. That is why this country is the greatest country on earth.

May God bless those who have lost their dear ones, may God bless their families, and may God bless this great nation of ours. Thank you.”

What is your reaction to Panetta’s speech?

Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2011
Under: Walnut Creek | 2 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district parents complain about special education bus problems

Since school started Aug. 30 in the Mt. Diablo district, hundreds of parents of special education students have complained that their children have been stranded with no bus, dropped off at the wrong address, or have missed class time because buses were late.

The school board voted last year to begin transporting all special education students on district buses this year to save money, by discontinuing a contract with Durham Transportation through the Contra Costa County Office of Education. But the plan has not been well-executed, district officials and parents say.

Several parents and special education assistants discussed the problems during a Community Advisory Committee meeting last Monday, where they expected to receive an update on the district’s transportation system.

But Mildred Browne, superintendent of special education, told the group that the administrator in charge of busing had taken an abrupt 30-day medical leave of absence, which she found out about just two hours before the meeting. She said she had received more than a 100 phone calls a day complaining about busing problems.

Here is a link to video of that discussion:

Parents expressed frustration at the lack of information they received.

“The situation is pretty dire,” said parent Wendy Citron. “Parents don’t know who’s picking up their kids.”

Brown agreed that the system wasn’t working.

“It’s a huge concern that we don’t know who’s going to be over the department for a month,” Browne said.

Even Superintendent Steven Lawrence couldn’t answer that question, she said.

“I just think that at this point there are so many holes in the system that we all need to sit down and perhaps have a conversation about what triage and concerns need to be addressed first,” Browne said. “We have several different scenarios. We have students that are getting to school, but they are getting to school late. We have students that aren’t getting to school at all and they’re also not getting picked up. We have some students that are getting to school, but it may not be the right school.”

Other students, she said, are spending long periods of time on the bus before or after school. She suggested that the district might want to first address students who aren’t being picked up at all.

“I don’t know how to do routing or bus transportation,” Browne said. “So, I don’t have that information.”

One parent said her son relied on bus assistants, which Durham provided, to maintain order between students on the bus. The district hasn’t provided an assistant on his new bus and he was concerned about his safety while riding with another student, she said.

Citron said her daughter was almost dropped off at her home when no one was there, instead of at the address she had provided to the district.

“I don’t know that the board knows how critical these issues are,” she said.

Browne said board members had been informed and that she would meet with Lawrence Tuesday to discuss the issues.

Committee Chairwoman Lorrie Davis said she was disappointed that neither Board President Gary Eberhart nor Trustee Lynne Dennler — who are the board liaisons to the committee — were at the meeting. Trustee Linda Mayo attended and said she was aware of the problems.

Parent Mike Mayo (no relation to Linda Mayo) said his son was left at school every day the previous week. He also spoke to the school board about the bus problems Tuesday.

At the Teacher of the Year awards dinner on Thursday, I asked Linda Mayo, Superintendent Steven Lawrence and trustee Cheryl Hansen about the problems.

Hansen said she had received several e-mails from parents.

“I’ve had quite a bit of horror stories,” she said, adding that Lawrence was tackling the issue.

Lawrence said some of the problems stemmed from new students who arrived in August and some bus drivers taking on new routes. He said principals were given information about the routes Thursday.

“We’re busing 2,200 kids,” he said.

Most are in special education and some are “overflowed” to other campuses because of overcrowding at their neighborhood schools. The district also buses some children who would normally attend poor-performing schools to other campuses, according to No Child Left Behind.

“Most are being transported properly,” he said.

Mayo said district staff was working to remedy the problems.

“I do know that more children were picked up today,” she said.

Do you agree with the board’s decision to discontinue its contract with Durham Transportation?

SEPT. 22 UPDATE: As I noted in my previous blog post about special education, we cannot name special education children either by name or by association and any comments that do that are being edited or deleted.

Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, special education | 43 Comments »

Clayton Valley charter committee requests more dialogue with district

At the Mt. Diablo school board meeting Tuesday, trustees unanimously agreed to approve the Clayton Valley High School charter petition, subject to numerous conditions that must be met by February.

Here is a link to video of the staff presentation regarding the conditions by staff attorney Deb Cooksey:

Cooksey was explaining the points in this PowerPoint presentation:

Due to limited storage space on my cell phone and limited battery power, I was unable to videotape the entire meeting.

However, here are a few clips I got:

Beginning of committee presentation:

Explanation of some education programs by CVHS teacher Cate Sundling:

Eighteen people spoke, including 17 in favor of the petition and one against.

Before any board discussion, Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh made a motion to approve the petition with conditions. Trustee Linda Mayo seconded the motion.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen said she would like to amend the motion to postpone the decision so the board could hold a study session with the petitioners to further discuss the conditions. No other trustee agreed with this idea.

Trustee Lynne Dennler said the size of the district contributed to the charter movement, along with poor communication between schools and the district office. She said labor contracts that can inhibit quick, inexpensive actions from taking place at schools. She did not specifically address the conditions.

Trustee Linda Mayo said she appreciated the efforts the charter committee had made. However, she said she would put her faith in the staff attorney, who supported the conditions of approval. She was specifically concerned about the financial plan, which she said needed to be better explained.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh also expressed concerns regarding the proposed budget. She said she had heard from some district parents who urged her to deny the petition.

“I hope the staff will come up with a charter that will meet the conditions and will greatly alleviate the fears of the board and the fears of other parents in the district,” she said.

Board President Gary Eberhart said there was an “amazing energy around trying to make change at Clayton Valley High.” He praised the parent and community involvement in the effort.

“The schools that are truly successful are the schools that have a high degree of parental involvement — there’s no question about that,” he said. “So, that is a huge benefit.”

He said trustees were placing some faith in the charter organizers, but that the plan lacked specificity.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “If a school district said: ‘We are going to do something completely different at a high school — without specificity — it would be rejected by the community and rejected by the staff. We have the responsibility that when we say, ‘yes,’ that we say yes to something we believe is going to reasonably succeed. We are very inspired by the amount of advocacy that we see.”

He said, however, that the plan should be able to stand on its own, without depending on the committee members’ reputations.

“I’m enthusiastic about this,” he said, adding that he thought it would be successful, after more specificity was added to the plans.

“I hope we are not clouding each others’ vision so it will make it difficult to work together,” he said. “I think working together is going to be beneficial. This could be an amazing opportunity for this district. It could be an amazing opportunity for this to continue. And asking that we get a little further down the road on this process is not unreasonable.”

Charter attorney Paul Minney asked to address the board. At first, Eberhart appeared reluctant to let him speak, since public comment had ended. But Hansen said she thought more dialogue between the board and the petitioners would be beneficial.

Eberhart gave Minney two minutes to speak.

“Honestly,” Minney said, “in 18 years, this is the first time I was told the district was going to accept conditions that the committee has said they cannot accept. The petitioners may consider it a denial.”

He asked the board to consider modifying the conditions and returning to vote on them Sept. 27.

“There’s only a few in here that give us heartburn, some of which can be resolved,” he said. “The way it’s being constructed right now is we would essentially be delayed to February to find out if we’re going to be approved.”

The board then vote on the motion and unanimously approved the charter, subject to the conditions outlined in this resolution:

Today, I spoke to Clayton Mayor David Shuey and CVHS teacher Neil McChesney, who said the charter committee plans to ask the district to reconsider the idea of modifying the conditions. They sent me the following statement from the committee:

“We were extremely disappointed in a meeting that appeared to have a pre-ordained outcome from the outset. Despite overwhelming community, teacher and staff support, as well as a charter petition that is based on tried, tested and true successful charter high schools in the State, the School Board effectively denied the petition by stating it was approving with conditions. The concern is that the conditions are subjective, unrealistic, and in some places illegal. The group feels that the decision is a de-facto denial of the petition since they cannot legally impose the conditions they did without the charter’s approval, which was not given. The charter is working on a more comprehensive and detailed response to the Board’s denial of the petition and will provide this to the District and public in the interests of full disclosure. In short, we will urge the District Board to support a more succinct list of objective conditions upon which the charter school and the district can agree.”

I also received this statement from the California Charter Schools Association:

“The California Charter Schools Association fully supports the charter as put forward by the Clayton Valley Charter High School petitioners. We have been working with the teacher-led team throughout this process, including reviewing their petition, which we have found to be fully comprehensive. Unfortunately, the district has unilaterally imposed conditions on its approval that call for a level of detail far beyond what is required by law or necessary.

We have seen many districts use these sorts of tactics to arbitrarily delay quality petitions in recent years. Given the clear support for this petition from the teachers, parents and community, we urge the school board to work with the petitioners to approve a set of mutually agreed upon conditions that are consistent with charter law.”

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school board should reconsider the conditions of approval?

Posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education | 57 Comments »

Clayton Valley HS charter committee responds to district’s concerns

Clayton Valley High School organizers have prepared a lengthy response to concerns outlined in the Mt. Diablo school district’s evaluation of its petition.

The district’s concerns are at

Here is the petitioner’s response:

I will post a story about the outcome after the meeting.

Do you think the board should approve the charter, approve it with conditions, or deny it?

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 24 Comments »

Remembering 9/11

President George W. Bush declared Sept. 11 as Patriot Day to remember the terrorist attacks and those who died. The state Legislature also recognized Sept. 11 as a Day of Remembrance and Service.

Most American adults recall seeing vivid TV images of planes plowing into seemingly impenetrable buildings, hearing about heroic rescues and learning about thousands of senseless deaths on Sept. 11, 2001.

But many of today’s students were so young they didn’t fully comprehend what was going on. Or they weren’t born yet.

To help them understand what happened, some East Bay teachers and students have shared their memories during the past week.

At Walnut Creek Intermediate, teacher Kandi Lancaster told her seventh-grade history students that she received a 6 a.m. phone call from her daughter, who was a flight attendant, that morning, telling her about the attacks and saying she was OK. Lancaster’s husband, who regularly flew on Flight 93 for business, was in Canada on a trip.

Lancaster said she watched TV coverage of the event all day and realized at 4:30 p.m. that she was still in her bathrobe. When she returned to school the next day, she said she was able to share what happened with her students, because she had watched it unfold.

She told her students that they would always remember where they were on Sept. 11, just as she remembered that she was in seventh grade when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

In Brian Rodriguez’ Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Encinal High in Alameda, student Susannah Champlin — who was 7 at the time — remembered her parents coming home from work early.

“They were both shaking,” said Champlin, now 17. “There was a real heightened sense of paranoia, like ‘What if there was another attack?’ ”

After watching the disturbing footage over and over, Susannah said, they decided to turn off the TV and do something as a family. They baked cookies and delivered them to all of their neighbors, some of whom they barely knew.

Co-principal Jonathan Osler said he lived in New York City at the time. The attack happened on his first day teaching in a Brooklyn school classroom. He recalled the confusion and panic that consumed the school.

But he, too, commented on ways in which the horrific event seemed to bring people together — even in small ways — like saying “hello” to a passer-by on the street.

“It just felt that people realized that in order to get past something that horrible,” he said, “we needed to support each other.”

At Freedom High in Oakley, senior Alyssa Hagen, 17, said she still remembers her mother and father crying in front of the television, but telling her nothing was wrong, when she asked about their tears.

“Like a lot of kids,” she said, “I didn’t understand.”

Leadership students at Antioch’s Park Middle School created banners in memory of 9/11 and encouraged students to wear gray string around their wrists to remember those who died.

Student Jenna Wallace said 9/11 was especially significant to her because her aunt was walking out of the World Trade Center when it was struck. Her aunt survived and Jenna said her family started talking about 9/11 a couple of years later.

The Parent Teacher Association at Dallas Ranch Middle School in Antioch plans to host a family-style picnic Sunday to commemorate Patriot Day. Local Boy Scouts troops will hold a flag ceremony and police have been invited for lunch.

Antioch police Lt. Robin Kelley said she planned to attend.

“I think it’s important to be there just as a symbol,” Kelley said, “to let people kind of just let go.”

During this time of year, people will come up to officers and thank them, but they’re really thanking the uniform, she said.

Kelley vividly remembers sitting in front of the television on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, in shock at the images.

“I was in tears, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Kelley, who was pregnant with her first child at the time.

Now, the mother of three said that when her family sees a veteran, they thank him or her for their service.

How will you remember 9/11 on its tenth anniversary?

Staff writers Katy Murphy and Paul Burgarino contributed to this report.

Posted on Friday, September 9th, 2011
Under: Education, Katy Murphy, Paul Burgarino | No Comments »

Rep. George Miller supports charter bill

Rep. George Miller delivered the following remarks on the House floor today in support of the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, according to a news release I just received.

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.

This legislation is the first bipartisan piece of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It passed the Education committee with bipartisan support, and I’m hopeful it will receive similar support from the full Congress.

This country is facing a severe education crisis. Our schools are simply not meeting the educational needs of our students. This is a threat to our global competitiveness and our economic security.

Charter schools began 20 years ago as a laboratory for innovation to help tackle the stagnant education system at that time and give options to parents who felt helpless.

These schools often become the myth busters for what’s possible for a demographic of children that was written off.

Currently, they serve about 4 percent of all public school students. In urban areas, that number is much higher.

Charter schools are not a silver bullet and won’t solve all our education challenges. But they have become an important part of our education system. We need to update the law to reflect that reality.

The Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act encourages effective reforms that will help transform schools and communities.

First, this bill makes significant improvements to the existing Charter School Program and addresses issues we’ve heard from education advocates across the country.

It rightfully returns charter schools to their original purpose – public schools that identify and share innovative practices that lead to improvements for all public schools.

It requires that charters be brought back into the traditional public system as opposed to running in a parallel system.

And it requires charters to actually serve all student populations and therefore provides more parents with real choices.

Second, this bill prioritizes accountability.

It puts student achievement first. And it greatly increases the accountability of charter school authorizers.

Third, this bill addresses a recurring problem in charter schools, which is the lack of service to students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

In this bill, we dramatically improve access for underserved populations. We require better recruitment and enrollment practices for underserved populations.

Lastly, this bill is rightly focused on our students and what they need to succeed.

In many states, high performing charter schools are a great option for some students.

These schools are closing achievement gaps and shattering the low expectations that have stood in the way of student success.

Charter schools have been on the forefront of bold ideas and innovation in education. They’ve shown that given the right tools, all students can achieve at high levels.

We’re learning from great charter schools about works for students and what students need to be able to compete in a global economy.

Replicating this success will help our students, our communities and our economy.

With this legislation, we can help replicate that the positive reforms happening at some charter schools will happen at all charter schools. We can help ensure best practices are shared within a school district.

But this legislation is only one piece of the education reform puzzle.

Unfortunately, we’re not taking on the whole Elementary and Secondary Education Act today, just one part.

This country is in the midst of the most dynamic education reform atmosphere I’ve seen in my tenure in Congress.

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act presents an opportunity to take hold of that momentum and finally bring our education system to the future.

The bill before us today is good, but we need to do much more.

It will be a tremendous disservice to our children and our country if we don’t provide relief for schools who are struggling under an outdated law.

This relief should come in the form of a full, comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA.

To do that, we have to take on ALL of the real issues facing all our schools, not just charters.

We need to address accountability, data, assessments and college and career ready standards and modernizing the teaching profession.

And we have to hold true to the reason that the federal government has a role in education in the first place – to ensure equal opportunity for every student in this country to a great education.

We know what it will take to fix our schools – it isn’t a mystery. But accomplishing that goal isn’t easy. It takes real political will to overcome ideology and to stay focused on what’s best for kids.

I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this bill. And I hope that we can get to a much more comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA in the near future.”

Do you think Congress should pass the Quality Charter Schools Act?

Posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Under: Education | 44 Comments »

A closer look at spending and test scores in East Bay schools

A recent study by California Watch has found no correlation between the amount of money school districts spend per student and their level of academic achievement on test scores.

The study compared 2009-10 school district per student spending and 2010 Academic Performance Index (API) scores.

For each district, the study showed whether spending and scores fell into the top 25 percent, median 50 percent or bottom 25 percent. Based on this data, I looked at which East Bay districts got the biggest bang for their bucks, as well as those that didn’t.

However, it is important to note that elementary districts receive less funding from the state than unified districts and high school districts receive more, based on the increased costs of running unified and high school districts. 

BEST BANG FOR BUCKS (Spending in bottom 25 percent, with academic achievement in top 25 percent):
Brentwood elementary: spent $6,918 per student, API of 840
Castro Valley unified: spent $7,429 per student, API of 854
Fremont unified: spent $7,449 per student, API of 868
Walnut Creek elementary: spent $7,345 per student, API of 907

BIGGEST DISCONNECT BETWEEN SPENDING AND SCORES (Spending in top 25 percent, with performance in bottom 25 percent):
Emery unified: spent $13,680 per student, API of 709
Oakland unified: spent $10,958 per student, API of 719

For districts that didn’t land at one end or the other, I looked to see if spending was in the median range of $8,213 per student, compared to the median score of 783.

Districts that spent in the median range, but got test results in the top 25 percent, appeared to be getting a good bang for their bucks.

GOOD BANG FOR BUCKS (Median range spending, with API in top 25 percent):
Acalanes High: spent $9,327, API of 899
Dublin unified: spent $7,945, API of 878
Orinda elementary: spent $9,473, API of 954
Pleasanton unified: spent $7,599, API of 906
San Ramon Valley unified: spent $7,824, API of 916
Sunol Glen unified: spent $8,416, API of 909

Those that spent in the high or median range, but scored lower, appeared to be getting poorer performance for their money.

Top 25 percent of spending, but median API:
Berkeley unified: spent $12,092, API of 785

Median spending, API in bottom 25 percent:
Pittsburg unified: spent $7,995, API of 718
San Leandro unified: spent $7,709, API of 730
West Contra Costa unified: spent $8,899, API of 696

In several districts, the level of spending appeared to match the level of achievement.

Piedmont unified: spent $11,589, API of 925

Alameda city unified: spent $8,630, API of 833
Livermore Valley unified: spent $8,213, API of 822
Mountain House elementary: spent $8,707, API 743
Mt. Diablo unified: spent $8,199, API of 784
New Haven unified: spent $8,182, API of 777
Newark unified: spent $8,089, API of 762
San Lorenzo unified: spent $8,096, API of 739

LOW SPENDING AND LOW PERFORMANCE (Bottom 25 percent for both):
Antioch unified: spent $7,578, API of 732

The complete California Watch database is at

NOTE: New 2011 API scores were released last week.

Do you think local districts are spending their money wisely?

Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
Under: California, East Bay, Education | 80 Comments »

Does California adequately fund education?

Our Contra Costa Times readers’ forum question this week was: “Do you think California is adequately funding education?”

Unfortunately we were only able to fit six responses into our print edition, which were from West Contra Costa County and Dublin. Here are a few more responses from Central, East and West Contra Costa County readers, which I’m posting below, in case blog readers would like to add to the dialogue:

“Invest in future
California is not adequately funding education. Education is the engine of innovation, opportunity, and raising the tide for all boats. Growing the economy, maintaining public health, reducing crime, and pursuing the American dream all require increased investment in public education.

The motto of the University of California is: ‘Let there be light.’ I was fortunate to be a UC undergraduate at a time when I and everyone I knew there believed that it represented the pursuit of excellence.

I also believe that it is in the interest of all of us for the best and the brightest to go into teaching. No aspiration is worthier than excellence in education, and no segment of society is more important than educators. So educators should be among the most highly paid.

The University of California was a major factor in making California one of the biggest economies in the world. Investing much more in all levels of education in California is the best way to grow our way out of our current economic doldrums. Let’s do it!
Diddo Clark

Wasted money
President Jimmy Carter did not mince his words in 1980 by asking Americans to live with their means and lost the election to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan went on a massive military spending spree, and we have not recovered from that mindset 30 years later.

Why, when the entire nation is suffering from cutbacks in services and education, are we still spending such enormous treasures on defense and senseless wars?

Our country is bleeding from the wounds of war and military spending — $7 trillion in the last 10 years alone! We can’t afford this anymore.

The Joint Strike Fighter is an example of military spending gone wild. Each plane costs $144 million (maintenance aside) and we’re planning to acquire 2,500 of these.

I say reduce the number of these preposterously expensive war machines by half and fund colleges in the U.S. to the tune of $170 billion over the next 10 years. Now that would be money well spent.
Ismail Mahomed
San Ramon

Get rid of babble
California’s funding of education would probably be adequate if we could rid the system of sociological psychobabble indoctrination.

Public education should be based on an objective curriculum using teachers who do not use their position of power as a conduit for their social; agendas.

The nonacademic values that should be taught are responsibility, accountability, patriotism, self-reliance and honest economics, not the crony capitalism that politicians love.
Edward Zawatson

Cutbacks hurt
Having spent nine years in California’s public school system and now attending a private high school, I can see the difference that lack of funding creates.

Nine years ago, before California was in a debt crisis and when I was in kindergarten, the public schools in California (specifically my hometown, Brentwood) were absolutely outstanding.

I was able to take advantage of art, music, and computer programs, which were available at my elementary school on a weekly basis and were each taught by a different instructor for all six years that I attended.

Now there is no art or computer teacher and these programs are in the hands of the classroom teacher. While the music program remains intact, it is available only to fourth and fifth graders.

Evidently, there is a substantial difference between public elementary schools now compared to when I was an elementary school student.

Still with these cutbacks, I have had the privilege of being taught by many wonderful people in the past nine years. Though teachers have been subjected to many pay cuts, they have provided quality education to California’s students.
Adriana Ghiozzi

When I went into teaching as a second career, I knew what the real work hours were; my ex-wife was a teacher during the 14 years we were married.

Between 2005 and today, my average class size has increased over 45 percent. While my paid work hours and salary have not changed much, my unpaid hours have dramatically increased. All of this is due to the underfunding of education.

This is not an increase in efficiency, but rather a large decrease in actual education. With larger class sizes, I have less time to individually help students who need it. Classroom management time has increased, and education time has decreased in each period.

Some students might not act up with 27 students in the class but will with 40. We need to reduce class sizes with more teachers.

We, as a society, cannot afford to not spend more on students. Employment in California is dependent on an adequately educated workforce.

Outside of districts such as San Ramon and Acalanes, which can get more funding from parents, public education is generally not creating the next generation workforce. This will cost all of us in the future far more than any tax increase.
Arthur Pruyn

Fully fund
No. We have less per pupil spending then the majority of states. Public education is not a form of welfare, as some think.

Privatization is not the answer. Fully funded and supported public institutions create a sense of common purpose and hope for all economic brackets.

Tax rates should be returned to previous levels to pay for social stability. We should live up to our Christian nation hype and be our ‘brothers’ keeper.’
Wendy Brubaker

Do you think the state funds education adequately?

Posted on Monday, September 5th, 2011
Under: California, Contra Costa County, Education | 9 Comments »

A closer look at API and Program Improvement in Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley

According to data released by the state Wednesday, East Bay schools are improving when measured by state Academic Performance Index (API) scores, but many are failing when evaluated by federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Why? Because the state rewards schools that make modest gains, while the federal government is expecting incrementally larger gains each year by students on math and English tests.

According to the No Child Left Behind law, the federal government’s goal is for all students to be proficient in both subjects by 2014. The goal for the state is for schools to keep making moderate progress, even though most educators seem to agree that proficiency for all students in the next three years is unattainable.

Frustrated, some administrators say the federal program appears to be setting them up for failure. Still, most agree the goal of proficiency for all students is laudable and say schools should strive to achieve it.

Here’s how East Bay districts stacked up against each other on their API scores:

(Scores range from 200-1,000, with target of 800)
Acalanes 903
Antioch 731
Brentwood 843
Byron 827
Canyon 888
John Swett 742
Knightsen 847
Lafayette 922
Liberty 764
Martinez 832
Moraga 955
Mt. Diablo 786
Oakley 790
Orinda 957
Pittsburg Not available
San Ramon 922
Walnut Creek 905
West Contra Costa 709
Alameda 842
Albany 881
Berkeley 790
Castro Valley 865
Dublin 885
Emery 702
Fremont 877
Hayward 715
Livermore 832
Newark 773
New Haven 775
Oakland 726
Piedmont 930
Pleasanton 906
San Leandro 738
San Lorenzo 741
Sunol Glen 939
Detailed school, district and county scores are at

Although these scores look pretty good overall, 66 percent of Contra Costa County schools and 60 percent of Alameda County schools are in federal Program Improvement for because students in various designated groups failed to made adequate yearly progress two years in a row. Student subgroups include: ethnic minorities, low-income students, English learners and those with disabilities.

Sanctions escalate each year a school fails to improve. In the first year, schools must notify parents of their program improvement status and set aside 5 percent of Title 1 funds for professional development. By year 5, schools must restructure their staffs and the district must offer alternative choices to students, along with supplemental services.

Districts entering program improvement must develop plans to address deficiencies and devote a percentage of Title 1 funds to professional development.

I and several other Times reporters spoke to local district officials about their scores to get a better sense of what they thought they did right and where they think they need to work harder.

Here’s a sampling of what they said:


ACALANES: Reporter Jonathan Morales told me the Acalanes district can no longer claim to be the highest-scoring high school district in the state. It was edged out this year by the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union district in Santa Clara County, which received an API of 904, compared to 903 for Acalanes.
Here’s Morales’ story about the Lamorinda district school results:

Reporter Paul Burgarino reports that Antioch Unified saw its overall API score fall by one point to 731. While three elementary schools scored 800 or higher, only one increased its score.
Two schools — Orchard Park and Dozier Libbey Medical High — fell back below the 800 mark.
Though the district made little progress on meeting federal standards, no additional schools were designated for program improvement.
Antioch Superintendent Donald Gill said many teachers in the district were moved around last year because the district removed class-size reduction, which forced them to adjust to teaching new grade levels.
“I believe this year things will start to stabilize,” Gill said.
Schools that had specialized coaching for teachers showed improvement, while the district’s four-year data shows improvement in eight out of 10 subgroup categories, Gill said.
Three quarters of the teachers at Turner Elementary were new to their grade level last year. That school’s API score dropped 24 points to a 745.

Reporter Roman Gohkman reports that in the Brentwood Union School District, nine of 10 schools finished above 800. All three middle schools increased their scores; the largest jump coming at Adams Middle School, which increased its score by 17 points from 854 to 871.
All six elementary schools, however, saw their scores decline. The only school that finished below 800, Marsh Creek Elementary, had a growth target of 5 points. Instead, the school dropped 9 points.
“We had really great gains between 2009 and 2010, but our results this year are a mixed bag,” said Michael Bowen, district director of curriculum and instruction.
Bowen said the scores for the district’s six elementary schools dropped possibly because the district put more emphasis into increasing the scores of its three middle schools.
“We’ll be engaging our principals in diving into the data and addressing areas of need,” he said. “When we see drops we always want to dig deep and see what’s going on.”
All three middle schools, including Edna Hill, which is in the second year of program improvement, met their components in the AYP report, while four of the six elementary schools did not meet target goals on at least one component. Garin Elementary, which is in the second year of program improvement, did not meet the target in English-language arts or math.
“I think the targets are becoming unrealistic,” Bowen said.

Reporter Lisa White reports that Superintendent Rami Muth said a a teacher at Las Juntas Elementary (whom she declined to identify) did not follow the directions when administering the STAR test, so those students’ scores were declared invalid. Since those test results affected more than 5 percent of the student body, the test scores for the entire school weren’t counted, thus it was placed in Program Improvement.
The district hired a contractor to crunch the data, which found that every subgroup did make AYP, according to Muth. This, however, is unofficial and not recognized by the state.
So, technically the school is in Year 1 of Program Improvement and will have to do all the things the feds require. Parents will be notified at Back to School Night that they can apply to have their child transferred to one of the other elementary schools (all of which did make AYP) on a space-available basis.
“From our perspective,” Muth said, “the label — while not a good thing — we’re using it as a tool to grow.”

I spoke with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support. I will do a separate blog post looking more closely at the district, but here are a few of her comments:
She noted that many schools made good gains on their API scores, but said she wasn’t surprised by the district’s program improvement status:
“We knew it was coming, because we know that our subgroups are continuing to struggle,” she said. “Other school districts across the state are in a similar situation. If you look at the California API accountability, we are making gains. Unfortunately, it’s the federal accountabliity system that’s challenging. Walnut Creek is in program improvement too. We’re in good company.”
She pointed out that only a few districts met all the components of growth targets for all their schools. These included Moraga and Orinda.
“Even San Ramon didn’t,” she said. “Even Lafayette didn’t. But that doesn’t take away the work that we need to do.”
Lock said that being named a program improvement district requires the district to set aside at least 10 percent of its Title 1 money for district-wide professional development.
“We have been focusing on improvement,” Lock said. “Our department is really focused on really targeted and focused efforts — working with our schools in terms of using data and formative assessments — being more strategic in how we respond to the needs of students.”
She said the district hopes to complete its Master Plan for English learners by March, with the newly appointed Director of English Language Services.
“That’s a highest priority,” she said.
The district is also working on an Equity Plan to help narrow the achievement gap for black and Latino students.
In addition, Superintendent Steven Lawrence issued a News Update to the community about the district’s API and AYP results. However, he omitted the Eagle Peak Montessori Charter School from his list. Its score rose by 27 points to 918 and it met all federal targets.

Reporter Rick Radin reports that all Pittsburg elementary and middle school scores rose between 4 and 52 points, with one school — Los Medanos Elementary — scoring over 800.
Superintendent Linda Rondeau (a former MDUSD administrator) credited “a tight focus on teaching strategies and expository writing” in the schools for the improvement.
Pittsburg High and Riverside continuation school scores will not be available until October or November because of data errors by the testing service, Rondeau said.
Total test score increases at the Pittsburg elementary schools far outstripped those at the middle schools.
The elementary school curriculum is more aligned with state testing standards than the middle school curriculum, said Abe Doctolero, assistant superintendent for educational services.
“It becomes more difficult to get everyone aligned on the same instructional page in the middle schools because the teachers teach different subjects,” Doctolero said.

Reporter Eric Louie reports that the San Ramon Valley school district as a whole did not meet the standards because socioeconomically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities did not make the mark in math. Yet, Pine Valley Middle School in San Ramon was the only school that failed to meet its adequate yearly progress goal for math because too few Latino students achieved proficiency.
All other district schools did meet proficiency goals. However, like the majority of schools in the large district, Pine Valley is not a Title 1 school, so it will not be subject to No Child Left Behind sanctions.

I spoke to Superintendent Patricia Wool, who said the district did not meet its adequate yearly progress goals for English learners and Hispanic or Latino students.
“Overall as a district, we’re doing really well,” she said. “In fact our API is 905.”
Every year, the district prepares an Achievement Gap report, she said. The district will come up with a plan to address lagging students.
“We’ve got some work to do,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with varying ways to adjust the curriculum.”
Murwood and Buena Vista elementary are Title 1 schools. Murwood was newly identified as a Program Improvement school this year for failing to make adequate yearly progress in both English and math. Buena Vista failed to meet its math goals, but hasn’t been placed in program improvement yet. If it doesn’t improve, it could be headed for program improvement next year.
“We’re certainly committed to each and every subgroup,” she said. “We don’t rest on our laurels.”
I mentioned that the Cupertinto schools superintendent strongly objected to his district being singled out for “Program Improvement” this year, since that district also has high test scores overall. But Wool said she didn’t have a similar reaction.
“Am I up in arms? No,” she said, “because it’s going to take all of us in this district working together to figure out how to support all the subgroups.”

Reporter Shelly Meron reports that the West Contra Costa school district showed modest improvement overall this year, increasing its API score by 13 points to 709. School officials there say there were many successes this year, with several schools showing significant improvement since 2010.
“We’re in a better place than we were last year and we continue to see that movement in the right direction, and continue to focus on accelerating that growth,” said Nia Rashidchi, the district’s assistant superintendent for educational services. “Our teachers and administrators are working really hard. I think our scores are showing that effort.”
Title I schools in the district performed all over the map. Several campuses – including Stege Elementary, Dejean Middle School and Kennedy High, all in Richmond – dropped significantly. Others showed big improvements, including Bayview Elementary in San Pablo and Highland, Lincoln, Nystrom and Peres elementaries in Richmond.
Rashidchi said local schools have been tackling the job with close collaboration among staff, regular and in-depth assessment of student performance, pinpointing where strengths and weaknesses are, and figuring out how to replicate practices that are working and to weed out what’s not.
“Everyone’s working on that,” Rashidchi said. “Some of our schools have gotten more proficient at it.”
Rashidchi praised 60-point API growth at Lincoln Elementary to 719. The school met growth targets school-wide and for all subgroups.
Kennedy High, on the other hand, is still struggling. Its API score dropped by 33 points to 518 this year, and the school failed to meet its growth targets. It is also in year 5 of program improvement.
“There’s a sense of urgency with the (Kennedy) staff that we know we need to meet the needs of all our kids. We’ll be sitting down and talking with the staff, working with them and providing support to make sure we see the gains we see at other schools,” Rashidchi said. “We will have folks who are perhaps having more success talk with each other about what strategies they’re using. There is lots of energy and effort being put into Kennedy.”


Reporter Eric Louie reported that Frederiksen Elementary in Dublin entered its first year of program improvement, with the school as a whole and multiple subgroups not meeting proficiency targets. Latino and English learners missed their goals in both math and English. White, low-income students missed the English target.
Elsewhere in the district, Dublin Elementary and Wells Middle school — which meet all the standards in 2010 — did not in 2011. If they miss their targets next year, they could fall into program improvement.
Superintendent Stephen Hanke noted the district’s Academic Performance Index has been rising — from 878 last year to 885 in 2011 — far past the target of 800. He said while the district strives to have all students proficient and above, meeting the goal by 2014 as required by federal guidelines isn’t realistic.

Reporter Robert Jordan spoke to Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi about that district’s difficulties keeping campuses out of program improvement. Pleasanton Middle School entered program improvement last year, followed this year by Valley View Elementary.
“We have to do something,” Ahmadi said. “We have been waiting for NCLB reauthorization for a couple of years. We know we have to take a look at a different set of criteria to look at proficiency — a growth model rather than 100 percent by a specific date.”
If the law doesn’t change soon, he predicted even more dire consequences in the next three years.
“By 2013-14, 100 percent of every sub group has to be proficient,” he said. “I would say that most districts in California will be in program improvement.”

What do you think local school districts that are struggling should do to help boost student achievement?

Posted on Friday, September 2nd, 2011
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education, Tri-Valley | 7 Comments »

CVHS charter board election results

The Clayton Valley Charter High School committee has announced the results of its governing board election for “stakeholder groups.”

Here are the new board members, according to the group’s website:

“The CVCHS Governing Board election for the applicable stakeholder groups (parents, teachers, & classified staff) was held Thursday night (9/1) in the Clayton Valley multi-use room.

The following people will be respresenting their respective group on the board.

Teachers- Pat Middendorf and Neil McChesney

Parents- Alison Bacigalupo and Megan Kommer

Classified staff- Diane Bailey

The elected board will soon be scheduling interviews with the community at large candidates, two of which will be appointed following that process.”

The Mt. Diablo school board expects to vote on the charter petition Sept. 13.

What is your reaction to the election results?

Posted on Friday, September 2nd, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 69 Comments »