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Archive for October, 2011

Will fewer school days hurt students?

As the state budget trigger looms, some school districts may be bracing for budget cuts that could include reducing the school year.

Already, at least eight East Bay districts plan to reduce their 2011-12 school years by one day or more from the traditional 180 days, even without the trigger.

They are:

New Haven 175
Newark 175

Acalanes 178
Byron 177
John Swett 178
Mt. Diablo 175*
Oakley 175
Pittsburg 179

*Needs to be negotiated with teachers’ union.

Last year, the Mt. Diablo school district cut three days from its school year. This year and through 2012-13, it hopes to negotiate seven furlough days with its teachers’ union, including five instructional days and two staff development days.

A policy brief called “Turning Back the Clock: The Inequitable Impact of Shortening California’s School Year,” released by Education Trust-West and other education advocacy organizations today, said shortening the school year hurts students, especially those who are poor or who are English language learners.

“Our policymakers have long applauded themselves for ensuring that California has some of the most rigorous academic standards in the nation,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of statewide education advocacy organization. “All California’s students, including the more than 50 percent of our students who are low-income and our 1.3 million English learners, deserve a full opportunity to learn those standards and perform on grade level. As a state with some of the widest achievement gaps and lowest student performance in the nation, reducing learning time in our schools should not be an option.”

AB 114 signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown allows school districts to shorten the school year by up to seven additional days if state revenues fall short of projections, which could result in 168-day school years in some districts.

“Our students deserve both the opportunity and time necessary to achieve their dreams of college and career,” Ramanathan said. “We call on the governor and the legislature to protect the rights of our children and prevent these harmful and inequitable cuts to the school year.”

Superintendent Steven Lawrence said in an e-mail that it is unfortunate that districts throughout the state need to balance their budgets by reducing school days.

“If we expect our children to complete (sic) both nationally and globally,” he wrote, “the state needs to fund education at a level that allows us to expand educational opportunities not reduce them.”

According to the report, most state school years are 180 days. Kansas is the state with the longest school year, at 186 days.

Some other countries, however, have much longer school years, including the Netherlands with 200 days, South Korea with 220 and Japan, which has 243 school days a year.

Here’s a link to the complete report:

Do you think the Legislature should try to find another way to balance its budget?

Posted on Monday, October 31st, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 124 Comments »

Mt. Diablo 5k run for sports raised more than $60,000

Marci Finley, who helped organize the recent 5k run to help save sports in the Mt. Diablo school district, recently informed me that the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation (UMDAF) expected to net more than $60,000 from the Oct. 9 event.

This was a bit less than the group’s $70,000 target, but she was still happy with the results, she said, in an e-mail.

About 1,350 people participated in the event, exceeding the group’s goal of 1,200 runners.

“We had approximately 400 sign ups race day and many people mentioned your article,” she wrote. “I believe your article made a difference in our attendance. Thank you!”

The organization welcomes donations, athlete sponsorships and volunteers for future fund-raisers. More information is available at

Do you have any ideas for how organizers could attract more participation and/or contributions for this annual event?

NOV. 1 UPDATE: Here is a video of the 5k run, which shows what a heartwarming, community-building event it has become:

Posted on Sunday, October 30th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports | 1 Comment »

New laws pave way for updated textbooks in state

Two laws recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown should help bring updated history and science textbooks into California classrooms sooner than was previously possible.

SB 300, authored by State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, lifts a previous moratorium on adopting a new curriculum framework for science. The last framework was adopted in 1998.

Without this law, the state would not be authorized to work on an update until January 2014. Under the new law, Superintendent Tom Torlakson is required to convene a group of science experts who will recommend science content standards for adoption to the state Board of Education by March 30, 2013. Simultaneously, the state is also working on science standards as part of the national core curriculum effort.

Originally, Hancock also included social studies in the bill, since the state also hasn’t updated that framework since 1998. But that portion of the bill was removed during the adoption process.

Hancock has said she will continue to try to accelerate the process for adopting a new social studies framework, which is not scheduled to be updated until 2014. I wrote about this in my coverage of 9/11 in schools, since the state has no curriculum standards that address the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

The complete text of Hancock’s bill is at

Brown also signed AB 339, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, which will streamline the review of textbooks to ensure that they include historically relevant information, according to a news release.

It authorizes the State Board of Education to contract with county offices of education to review the social content of instructional materials.

“As a former teacher, I know firsthand the importance of accurate and up to date textbooks,” Bonilla said, in a news release. “Content review ensures that our children’s text books are historically accurate and free of inappropriate material.”

Without the bill, local school districts would be responsible for reviewing the content of instructional materials.

“Schools in my district and across the state want to use additional textbooks and this bill will streamline innovative textbooks straight into the classroom,” said Bonilla, a former Mt. Diablo school district English teacher at Concord High School. “As a teacher, I was always looking for new ways to engage my students. AB 339 brings new and innovative materials into the classroom.”

Text book companies can be charged a fee to cover the costs of the review, according to the bill, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The complete text of the bill is at

Are you satisfied with your school’s textbooks?

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education | 6 Comments »

Buena Vista Literacy Tutorial Program aids students with help from local donations

A $25,000 donation from RPM Mortgage to the Buena Vista Auxilliary will help to provide 83 tutoring sessions through the organization’s Reading Tutorial program. The auxiliary is a part of the Assistance League of Diablo Valley® that assists children who read below grade level with hands-on tutoring.

The donation is expected to benefit 84 children with 672 hours of tutoring in the following schools: Meadow Homes, Silverwood and Wren Avenue elementary schools in Concord, Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point and Indian Valley Elementary in Walnut Creek.

“The future of our country is dependent on the education of our children,” said Rob Hirt, CEO of RPM Mortgage, in a news release. “RPM receives the majority of our business from our local communities and we believe that as a family run business, it is important that we give back to our community schools. Buena Vista Auxiliary is a shining example of local residents pulling together to support our children’s reading education.”

The auxiliary, established in 1993, provides an early-intervention literacy program to local elementary school children who read below grade level. It has raised over $1.1 million to provide 26,000 hours of tutoring and 10,000 books more than 3,300 children in an effort to improve their reading skills, as well as their self-confidence and self-esteem.

“Buena Vista Auxiliary is a shining example of local residents pulling together to support our children’s reading education,” Hirt said. “RPM Mortgage is extremely proud of our association with this organization.”

Students are selected by their teachers to receive 16 one-hour sessions over a four- to six-week period.

“Rob and Tracey’s gift to our program has the potential to change the lives of each of those children, and to make a difference in our community where local schools are in need during this time of tough economic conditions and budget shortfalls,” said Andrea Callaway, Chairman of Buena Vista Auxiliary, in a news release. “Buena Vista Auxiliary is truly honored to be working with RPM Mortgage in raising awareness and funds for children’s literacy.”

More information about the program is available by visiting

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education | No Comments »

Will you participate in Shelter in Place drill on Wednesday?

The county will conduct its annual Shelter in Place drill at 11 a.m. Wednesday, to prepare schools for possible chemical leaks or other hazards.

During the drill, schools practice safety procedures they would follow in the event of a nearby hazardous-material release.

The drill is coordinated by the Contra Costa County Community Awareness Emergency Response Group (CAER). All public and private schools and childcare centers throughout the county are encouraged to participate.

Approximately 200 sites participated in last year’s drill, according to a news release.

“This annual safety event gives children and their caregivers an important opportunity to practice responding to the Community Warning System (CWS) alerts, which sound a siren when there has been a dangerous chemical release or other disaster that requires a Shelter in Place,” the news release states. “These alerts can be sent via sirens, radio, TV, and social media postings, and subscribed cell-phone-text messages.

Hazardous-material releases can result from many sources in Contra Costa County, including accidents at chemical treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, facilities that store and/or manufacture hazardous materials and refineries, but also from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals. The possibility of accidents and the threat of terrorism make it important for residents, which include the county’s youngest members, to recognize and respond correctly to shelter-in-place alerts.

Shelter in place means to make a shelter out of the place you are in. It is a way for you to make the building as safe as possible to protect yourself until help arrives or the emergency has passed. You should not try to shelter in a vehicle unless you have no other choice. Vehicles are not airtight enough to give you adequate protection from chemicals.

CAER is a coalition of local agencies, businesses, industries, community groups, and emergency response organizations. The non-profit organization works together to improve emergency response planning and inform the public about how to react in the event of a hazardous materials emergency.

CAER Executive Director Tony Semenza says, ‘Contra Costa CAER is encouraged each year with increased number of participating Shelter in Place schools. CAER works with, and will continue to work with, all the schools in our county to be sure that they know how and when to shelter in place. Teachers and students should all know shelter-in-place procedures, just as they are trained about what to do in case of a fire or earthquake. I encourage everyone to join us in preparing for the worst so that we may do our best during an emergency.'”

More information is available by calling 925-313-9296 or by visiting

After the recent “Shake Out” earthquake drill, some areas of Contra Costa County felt a real earthquake.

Do you think schools should participate in these types of drills?

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education | No Comments »

Diller Teen ‘Tikkun Olam’ award seeks nominations of Jewish teens making a difference in the world

Do you know a Jewish teen who is trying to improve his or her local community — or the world — through community service?

If so, he or she could be eligible to receive one of five 2012 Diller Teen ‘Tikkun Olam’ awards of $36,000 each.

Here are more details, from a news release:

“Now in the sixth year, the coveted Diller Teen ‘Tikkun Olam’ Awards provide one of the most prestigious and rewarding opportunities for Jewish teenagers in the state of California. Recognizing a wide range of community service and social action projects, the awards are given annually to up to five young volunteers who demonstrate leadership and commitment to making the world a better place. Recipients are each awarded $36,000 to be used to further their education, to expand current projects or to explore new possibilities.

‘Tikkun Olam’ is (a) central precept of Judaism that translates to ‘repair of the world.’ The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have created exciting opportunities for past recipients, who have since engaged with world leaders, celebrities and internationally-known sports figures. Recipients have harnessed media and public attention to develop awareness, partnerships and truly make a difference in the world.

Established by Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller, who has given more than $200 million over the past decade to charitable projects supporting education, the arts, medical research and leadership training for teens, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards aim to celebrate and encourage the next generation of Jewish leaders who are already pursuing their visions for significant social change. The award is funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation.



– Teens may be nominated by teachers, community leaders, rabbis, or anyone who knows the value of their volunteer service and commitment —EXCEPT family members. Teens may also nominate themselves.

Each candidate must be a California resident aged 13-19 years old at the time of nomination, and must self-identify as Jewish.

Community service projects may benefit the general or Jewish community.

Teens remunerated for their services are not eligible.

TO ENTER: Complete the simple online nomination form at For more information:; (415) 512-6437;


Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education | No Comments »

Is bullying a problem in the Mt. Diablo school district?

Northgate High School’s crisis counselors recently held a parent education night to discuss issues of importance. According to an email blast from the school’s Parent Faculty Club, parents were especially concerned about bullying.

Here’s information from the email, which includes useful information for all parents and students:

“Since it was clear that many parents had felt the effects of bullying first-hand (their child had experienced some type of bullying in the past), we felt like it would be beneficial to provide an overview of bullying to all the Northgate parents. Much of the following has been taken from the National Crime Prevention Council website. We hope that this information can help parents better understand what bullying is and can assist parents in supporting their kids, either as the victims of bullying, the witnesses to bullying, and/or as the bully him/herself.

What bullying is

– Fighting, threatening, name-calling, teasing, or excluding someone repeatedly and over time

– An imbalance of power, such as size or popularity

– Physical, social, and emotional harm

– Hurting another person to get something

Many parents don’t think that bullying is as big a problem as bringing a weapon to school or drug use but its effects can be severe and long lasting. Every day, nearly 160,000 children miss school because they are scared of bullying, according to the National Education Association. Bullying doesn’t only negatively affect its victims, but also the bullies themselves.

Kids who are bullied are more likely to

– Do poorly in school

– Have low self-esteem

– Be depressed

– Turn to violent behavior to protect themselves or get revenge on their bullies

Kids who bully are more likely to

– Do poorly in school

– Smoke and drink alcohol

– Commit crimes in the future

Parents can play a central role to preventing bullying and stopping it when it happens. Parents are often the best resource to build a child’s self-confidence and teach him or her how to best solve problems. Here are a few ways you can help:

– Teach your teen to solve problems without using violence and praise them when they do (i.e. walking away, using humor to diffuse the situation, talking it out).

– Give your teen positive feedback when they behave well to help their build self-esteem. Help give them the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in. With your teen, practice walking upright, looking people in the eye, and speaking clearly.

– Ask your teen about their day and listen to them talk about school, social events, their classmates, and any problems they have.

– Take bullying seriously. Many teens are embarrassed to say they have been bullied. You may only have one chance to step in and help.

– Don’t encourage your child to fight. This could lead to him or her getting hurt, getting in trouble, and beginning more serious problems with the bully.

– If you see any bullying, stop it right away, even if your teen is the one doing the bullying.

– Don’t bully your children or bully others in front of them. Many times kids who are bullied at home react by bullying other kids. If your children see you hit, ridicule, or gossip about someone else, they are also more likely to do so themselves.

– Encourage your child to tell an adult at school. Explain to your child that “snitching” is when you report something just to get someone in trouble. ‘Telling’ is when you report that you or someone else is in danger.

– If your child is telling you that someone else is being bullied, encourage your child to take a stand against the bully by reporting it to an adult.

– Involve your child in activities outside of school. This way he or she can make friends in a different social circle.

In general, be ready with your ears when your teen does decide to open up, even if it’s to share simple news.

One great place to engage your teen is when you’re driving in the car together. When you are sitting beside each other in the front seat of the car, you’re facing forward. With both of you looking straight ahead, you’ve created a non-confrontational setting, in which a conversation can start and flow more easily.

Also, whether it’s in the car or somewhere else, when your teen is sharing some news, it helps to encourage more dialogue by saying, ‘Tell me more.’ This simple request gives your teen an indication that you’re interested in what they’re saying. At the same time, it’s completely non-judgmental; you’re not offering an opinion on what way just said.

Often when parents attempt to provide heartfelt advice, even with the best of intentions, teens will perceive it as a ‘lecture’ and automatically shut down the communication process.

Asking a question, on the other hand, will generate a response and lead to a dialogue. A question, particularly one that requires more than a yes or no answer, engages the brain.

Asking more and telling less also gives parents a better opportunity to learn what pressures their teens may be under. Whether it’s bullying, relationships, grades, or something else, the information more likely will come to light by asking simple, non probing questions.

Here are some websites that provide more detailed information:

At the October Parent Advisory Council meeting, James Wogan talked about programs in the district that deal with bullying, along with programs for foster youth and homeless students. Here is a link to video of a portion of that meeting:

More information about the Positive Behavior Team is at Click on CARE team.

Do you think bullying is a problem in the Mt. Diablo school district?

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education | 28 Comments »

California school spending near bottom in country

An October 2011 report by the California Budget Project shows that California is near the bottom in school spending when compared to other states.

“A decade of disinvestment has left California’s spending for public schools lagging the nation by a number of measures,” it states. “The Proposition 98 guarantee, designed to ensure a minimum level of funding for California’s schools and community colleges, has not prevented significant cuts to the resources available to schools. Lawmakers have repeatedly cut state spending in recent years in response to the dramatic decline in revenues caused by the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s. As a result, 2010-11 estimated General Fund spending was lower as a share of the state’s economy than in 35 of the prior 40 years. Recent cuts have reversed longstanding policies and have left public systems and programs ill-equipped to cope with the ongoing impact of the Great Recession and the challenges of a growing population and an ever-more-competitive global economy.

California public schools, unlike those in many other states, receive a majority of their dollars from the state budget, and the largest share of state spending supports K-12 schools. As California cut spending for schools to help close perennial state budget shortfalls, the gap between California spending for education and that in the rest of the US widened. While federal dollars provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) helped schools fill budget gaps that resulted from state cuts to education spending, resources available to California schools dropped to historic lows relative to the rest of the US by the end of the decade. This School Finance Facts compares state and local spending on public schools in California with the rest of the US and shows that California’s education spending ranks near the bottom according to several measures.”

It shows that California ranks last in number of K-12 students per teacher (20.5 compared to then national average of 13.8) and last in number of students per librarian (5,489 compared to the national average of 839). The state is 49th in the number of K-12 students per guidance counselor (810 compared to the national average of 433) and 47th in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income (3.27 percent compared to the national average of 4.29 percent).

California is 46th in both K-12 spending per student and number of K-12 students per administrator, according to the report. The state spends an average of $8,908 per student, compared to the national average of $11,764. It employs one administrator for every 301 students, compared to a ratio of one to 203 in the rest of the country.

You can see the full report at

In the Mt. Diablo school district, the number of students per teacher is much greater than even the state average. Most K-5 classes are about 30 students per teacher, while some middle and high school classes have around 37 students.

Do you think that more education spending would solve California’s problems in narrowing the achievement gap?

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 10 Comments »

MDUSD seeks contributions for homeless and foster youth during holidays

In the Mt. Diablo school district, many foster youth and homeless children struggle to survive day to day.

But the district’s School Linked Services Department, headed up by James Wogan, has programs that help them in a variety of ways.

Every year, Wogan sends out a message inviting those in the community to make donations to help make the holidays a little brighter for these students. Here is this season’s invitation:

“Dear Friends,

I am writing to let you know about children in our community who do not have enough to eat, adequate clothes to wear to school, and who are without a predictable place to sleep at night. I am writing from Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s Foster Youth Services (FYS) and Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE), model programs that foster youth serve and homeless students and in grades K-12. Foster youth and homeless children live throughout our school district and the Bay Area.

In the spirit of the holiday season, please accept this as an invitation to assist our local foster youth and homeless children and to consider how we can work together to support their education. During the 2010-11 school year, HOPE served 515 homeless students (a record high) and FYS served 212 foster youth. Many of our homeless children live with parents who lost their jobs, can’t afford to pay the rent or mortgage, and care deeply about their children’s education. They live in motels, cars, homeless shelters, churches, The Winter Nights program, ‘double up’ with friends or family members, or are unaccompanied teenagers who ‘couch surf.’  They defy the stereotypes about homelessness. Foster youth live with foster families to whom we are very grateful, relative caregivers, or at one of the five group homes in our district.

The good news is that Mt. Diablo’s Department of School Linked Services runs FYS and HOPE and works collaboratively with district personnel and State, county and community agencies dedicated to improving the well being and education of our kids. I’m impressed by the strength and resiliency of the children and teenagers who have overcome many barriers to do well in school.

Over the past five years, FYS and HOPE has received generous donations from our friends, teachers, parents, students, the Special Education Dept., TIS Dept., district office personnel, PTSA groups, school board members, Local One M & O, CST, CSEA, School Psychologists MDSPA,  Supervisory – all of the bargaining units in our district. Google has generously donated to Mt. Diablo homeless children for the past three years. THANK YOU!

If you would like to contribute to the educational success of our foster children or homeless students this year, and help to make their holiday season a little brighter, please consider donating Kohl’s, Target, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, or other gift cards. Gift cards are easy to distribute and allow students and families to choose their own clothes, food, or gifts for each other. If you or your organization would like to sponsora family with over $250, please e-mail Elsa Dalpiaz, Secretary, School Linked Services at and copy me at With permission, we will link you with foster children or a homeless family.

Please send contributions or requests for information to: James Wogan, District Foster Youth and Homeless Liaison, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, 2730 Salvio St., Concord, CA 94519. If you prefer, you can drop off contributions to: Lori Amenta at the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord, CA, 94519. Tel: (925) 682-8000 x3054. Please make checks payable to ‘MDUSD HOPE’ and indicate if you would like a receipt for tax purposes. 100 percent of all contributions will support foster youth and homeless students.

PLEASE forward this letter to your coworkers, friends, and family.

Thank you for your consideration.

Have a happy holiday season.

Yours truly,
James C. Wogan, MFT, LCSW, PPSC
Administrator, School Linked Services
Mt. Diablo Unified School District
Foster Youth Services
Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE)
District Positive Behavior Team
2730 Salvio Street, Concord, CA 94519
(925) 682-8000, Ext. 3054”

More information is at

Please also feel free to forward a link to this blog post to anyone who might be interested in helping.

Wogan told me that many people in the district don’t seem to realize the extent of poverty and hardship that exists in pockets of the community. Yet, each year he is heartened by the outpouring of generosity from those who do.

Here’s a clip of Wogan telling the Parent Advisory Council about the program, during a discussion about bullying: Sometimes, he said, students act out because they are hungry or are dealing with other troubling issues in their lives outside the classroom.

Posted on Friday, October 28th, 2011
Under: Education | No Comments »

MDUSD will try to recoup lost funding after threats

Greg Rolen, general counsel for the Mt. Diablo school district, alerted parents today that an arrest had been made in the aftermath of several threats at local schools, including Concord High last Friday and Valhalla Elmentary in Pleasant Hill this week. Here is a link to his message:

In response to questions from the Times regarding how much money the district lost due to student absences, Rolen sent an e-mail to public safety reporter Rick Hurd, explaining that the district will attempt to recover that lost funding by filing a state waiver.

“I fear a monetary calculation would be premature and a bit misleading,” Rolen wrote. “Simply put, we did have a significant drop off in attendance specific to the Concord High School threat. However, when there is a dramatic, single day, decrease in attendance (I believe the threshold is a 10 percent increase) the state allows us to apply for a waiver. Consequently, by filing the J-13(a) form any district has the capability of recouping what would have otherwise been lost in finding related to lost ADA [Average Daily Attendance]. Our fiscal staff is currently analyzing the data, doing the calculations, and preparing to submit the required paperwork in order to capture is much funding as possible.”

I believe the district filed similar waivers after the swine flu epidemic.

Were you concerned about students’ safety before the arrest was made?

Posted on Friday, October 28th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »