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Archive for October, 2011

MDUSD superintendent warns community about Concord HS threat

Superintendent Steven Lawrence has alerted the Concord High School and surrounding communities that the school received a faxed threat saying someone would come to the school tomorrow at 10 a.m. and shoot people.

Here is a link to the message:

Anyone with information about this threat is asked to call the Concord Police.

In addition, the Times is following this story. Please contact me at 925-945-4764 or if you have more information you would like to share with the public.

Last week, a student at Buena Vista Elementary in the Walnut Creek School District received a racist death threat and Alhambra HS in Martinez beefed up security after an employee received a threatening email:

Are you concerned about the recent rash of school threats in the area?

Posted on Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Under: Education | 2 Comments »

How did your school fare during the earthquake?

I was on the phone interviewing Wayne Reeves, director of project development for the Liberty Union High School District, when the earthquake hit.

He said he didn’t feel a thing.

Did you feel it? How did your local schools hold up? Were students evacuated?

Please post details below or email me at for a story we’re doing about the quake.

Posted on Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Under: Education | 1 Comment »

California seeks Race to the Top grant for Early Learning Programs

Although California has been criticized for failing to signal early interest in a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state is not shying away from going after a federal Race to the Top grant to support early childhood education.

State schools chief Tom Torlakson announced Thursday that California has submitted an Early Learning Challenge grant application for up to $100 million. But California will face competition from 34 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for the $500 million available.

“Our application reflects California’s dedication to the principle that — even in these challenging times — every child deserves the opportunity that comes with a good start in the lifelong journey of learning,” Torlakson said in a news release.

“We know that investments in early learning pay off for our state, our society, and for California’s children. I’m hopeful that federal authorities will see that this application represents an opportunity to build on state and local efforts to help close the achievement gap by improving the quality of California’s early learning and care programs.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the competitive grant program in May along with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The funding is intended to increase the access of low-income and disadvantaged children to quality early childhood education programs.

To be eligible for the funding, states were required to design systems that align early learning programs, workforce development, evaluations, and parent outreach.

More information about the grant program is at

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who is pushing California to apply for a No Child Left Behind Waiver, said today that he was happy his home state entered the competition.

“I am excited to see that so many states are applying to be a part of this innovative and critical initiative,” Miller said, in a news release. “It shows the vast interest and broad consensus about how important high quality early education opportunities are to our nation’s future. I’m especially pleased to see that California decided to apply. Our children begin learning well before they enter kindergarten and our investments in education should reflect this reality. I look forward to seeing the results of this competition. Regardless of who wins, our country will be stronger when more children have access to great early learning programs and I applaud Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius for taking this step in the right direction.”

The U.S. Department of Education expects to award grants to “states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive early learning education reform,” according to its website.

Do you think California has a good chance of receiving funding?

Posted on Thursday, October 20th, 2011
Under: California, Early learning programs, Education | No Comments »

CVHS charter committee seeks families intending to enroll in fall

The Clayton Valley High School charter committee is seeking families interested in enrolling in the school, if its conversion is approved to open in the fall.

Proposition 39 requires school districts to provide local charter schools with facilities that are sufficient to meet their needs. To help determine projected enrollment, charter schools are asked to provide estimates on how many students are interested in attending the school.

The Mt. Diablo school district has asked the Clayton Valley High School charter committee to provide such estimates, committee members say. The committee is requesting that all families of students in grades 8-11 interested in attending the proposed Clayton Valley Charter High School next year to fill out and return signed forms no later than October 28.

Students do not need to live in the Clayton Valley attendance area to submit an “intent to enroll” form, which is available at

Questions can be sent to

Posted on Monday, October 17th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 10 Comments »

Do you agree with governor’s veto of bill that would have expanded school accountability system?

A Contra Costa Times editorial today highlights the fickle nature of Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decisions to sign or veto a number of bills passed by the Legislature:

Here are some excepts related to children, libraries and education:

“Predictability and consistency are traits not often associated with Gov. Jerry Brown, as was once again demonstrated by his choice of which of hundreds of bills to sign or veto at the end of the past legislative session….

“The governor also vetoed another favorite union measure, Assembly Bill 101, which would have allowed at-home child-care workers to organize unions, thereby boosting the cost of child care during a weak economy….

“Brown also signed Assembly Bill 348, which makes it all but impossible for public libraries to contract out for services. As a result, some libraries will be forced to reduce hours or even close branches.

Brown surprisingly vetoed a progressive bill that would have reformed the way high school performance is measured. It would have broadened the methods beyond test scores to include graduation rates and student preparation for college and jobs.

The governor exhibited his inconsistency in vetoing a bill that would have required helmets for young skiers and snowboarders, citing concerns about transferring authority from parents to the state.

Yet he signed legislation to let children 12 and older seek medical care to prevent sexually transmitted infections without parental consent. Then he signed a bill banning minors from using tanning salons.

Brown indicated he would wield his veto aggressively but vetoed about the average percentage of bills previous governors vetoed, even though he complained about the huge number of unnecessary measures.

What the governor will do in the next session of the Legislature is anyone’s guess, but no one should expect consistency to emerge.”

Earlier this week, the Times printed an op ed piece from a reader who praised the governor’s veto of the school accountability bill referenced above:

Patrick Mattimore, who taught at public and parochial high schools in the Bay Area for 13 years, now teaches American law courses at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Here’s what he had to say:

“From the community
By Patrick Mattimore
Contra Costa Times
© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

Gov. Jerry Brown was right to veto SB547, a bill that would have distracted Californians from the test results of students and the corresponding Academic Performance Index of the states’ schools.

Based upon each school’s student test scores, the API informs parents how well schools are performing within the state and relative to schools with similar demographics.

The proposed multiple accountability measure would have added other evaluative factors to the API test scores, such as how well schools are preparing students for college and a school’s dropout rates.

The law, championed by many of the states’ newspapers (‘Mercury News editorial: SB 547 would significantly improve California’s school accountability system,’, would have diluted school accountability, replacing objective evidence of student achievement with vague subjective judgments about college preparation and, in the elementary grades, measurements of a school’s creativity.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with schools providing additional evidence to parents as to what the schools are doing, but those reports should be separate from a school’s API.

The API should not metastasize into an amorphous number that will cloud the student testing picture.

If our tests didn’t give us the information we needed to judge how well our students are learning, then we would be justified in expanding accountability measures. But that isn’t what’s happening. The sad fact is that our kids are not doing well on the tests and schools deflect responsibility by blaming the tests.

The anti-testing folks throw out language such as ‘drill and kill’ and ‘teaching to the test,’ to blunt efforts to make public schools accountable. In fact, ‘drilling’ is nothing more than practicing. Drilling is about instilling and reinforcing important information.

As to teachers ‘teaching to the test,’ that’s what they should be doing. Students are in class to learn.

Presumably, they should know certain discrete things when they finish a class lesson, an academic year and eventually graduate. The best way to facilitate that is for students and teachers to have clear expectations, goals and measurements. The best way to check whether students are meeting the goals is to test them.

It’s convenient to think students will learn without being ‘pushed’ by tests. It’s also wrong. Most of us get things done when we know we have to get things done. Tests are both a means of prodding us to work and the best way to check how well we have done our work.

While Gov. Brown made the right decision regarding SB547, he did it for the wrong reasons. In his remarks, the governor expressed his disdain for tests and data. He suggested we need a more holistic approach to assessment that would take account of students’ ‘love of learning,’ for example. Give educators divining rods and magic sorting hats and they can apparently evaluate students without tests.

Californians should reject those vague evaluation schemes and continue to insist that schools be measured with the easy-to-understand objective API.”

Yet, some people with whom I’ve spoken have said the bill could have paved the way for California to apply for a No Child Left Behind waiver, by showing a willingness in the state to expand accountability measures.

Do you agree with the governor’s decision to veto SB547?

Posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Gov. Jerry Brown | 6 Comments »

Catholic colleges oppose federal law, arsons on Antioch campuses and school closure debate in Oakland

Although this blog typically focuses on education news in Contra Costa County with an emphasis on the Mt. Diablo school district, I would like to throw a few other regional stories out this week for discussion:

Higher education reporter Matt Krupnick reports that Bay Area Catholic colleges are joining a fight against a new federal law that requires health plans to cover birth control. They argue the law violates their rights to oppose contraception:

Do you think Catholic colleges should comply with the law by providing contraception to students?

Antioch reporter Paul Burgarino reports that arsonists have struck two elementary schools, decimating the play structure at one and damaging the wall of a multiuse room at another:

“When the kids saw (the burned play structure), their faces fell,” said Lone Tree Elementary Principal Patty Ward. “You could see some of them were in tears and just asking why this happened.”

What do you think the community can do to try to prevent such incidents in the future?

Oakland schools reporter Katy Murphy reports that some members of the Oakland school board are having second thoughts about a plan to close five elementary schools to save $2 million:

This year, the Mt. Diablo school district in Contra Costa County closed one elementary school and one middle school in an attempt to save $1.5 million, along with other cost-cutting and revenue generating strategies.

Like the Mt. Diablo district, Oakland has experienced declining enrollment. Many Oakland students have also moved out of the district or transferred to charter schools that are not district-operated.

Do you believe it makes sense to close schools in districts with declining enrollment?

Posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011
Under: Antioch school district, Education, Katy Murphy, Matt Krupnick, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakland school district, Paul Burgarino | 9 Comments »

Rep. George Miller urges CA to apply for NCLB waiver

In response to my story about California’s failure to signal early intent to apply for a No Child Left Behind waiver, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, has sent the following letter to the editor:

“California should apply for a waiver from the outdated mandates of No Child Left Behind. It’s the right thing to do for our students, for our teachers and for the future of our state. If California does not apply for a  waiver as was suggested in yesterday’s ‘California fails to signal early interest in No Child Left Behind waiver’ piece, then state officials will be committing a huge disservice to our state’s school children and, in turn, our economic stability. I agree with Tom Torlakson that our best bet is a comprehensive rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, we can’t gamble on our students’ futures. Our students can’t wait any longer for Congress to act, which is why President Obama decided to move forward with waivers in exchange for reforms that will make a real difference in our schools. The waivers will also give school districts more flexibility and free up millions of federal dollars currently set aside for federal requirements. California educates about 10 percent of the nation’s students. A decision to opt out of this tremendous opportunity that the Obama administration is providing would be putting politics before student success, a risky and ill-conceived plan.”

The U.S. Dept. of Education reported that 39 states so far have indicated they intend to request the waivers, also known as “ESEA Flexibility.” A state’s indication of intent, however, is not binding.

Seventeen states said they intend to apply by Nov. 14, the deadline for the first round of funding. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. indicated they would apply by mid-February, which is the deadline for the second round of funding.

Connecticut and Oregon indicated their intent to apply, without specifying which deadline they intended to meet.

California still has time to consider sending an application. The state Board of Education plans to discuss the issue Nov. 9-10, according to John Fensterwald’s Educated Guess column.

Do you think California should apply for a No Child Left Behind waiver?

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2011
Under: Education | 9 Comments »

Fusion Academy and Learning Center coming to Walnut Creek

In January, a new 6th-12th grade alternative private school called Fusion Academy plans to open in Walnut Creek.

It will be the third Bay Area campus introduced in the past six months and the eighth campus to open in the state since February, 2010, according to a news release I received today.

More information about the school — which features flex schedules, one-to-one teaching and no homework — is available at an informational meeting from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the Blackhawk Country Club.

Here are details from the news release:

“Fusion Academy & Learning Center Walnut Creek is modeled after Fusion Academy & Learning Center Solana Beach, which has provided one-to-one teaching and life skills programs to students for more than 20 years. Students may attend Fusion Academy full time or enroll in after-school programs as an educational supplement.

The Walnut Creek campus will be open Monday-Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., providing students and families with optimal flexibility with scheduling.

‘We’re excited to continue our growth across the Bay Area and throughout California with the opening of our campus in Walnut Creek,’ said Michelle Rose Gilman, founder and president of Fusion Academy. ‘While many traditional schools do an excellent job in educating children, there are some children whose needs require an individualized approach, an education that is tailored specifically to their interests to maximize engagement and retention. Our objective is to reach those students.’

Parents interested in learning more about Fusion Academy Walnut Creek are encouraged to attend an informational meeting at Blackhawk Country Club (599 Blackhawk Club in Danville) on Wednesday, October 19 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For more information about Fusion Academy & Learning Center Walnut Creek, please call 866-620-7922 or visit

About Fusion Academy and Learning Center:

Fusion Academy and Learning Center offers students in grades 6 through 12 an alternative to the traditional classroom setting through one-to-one teaching and customized academic programs. Through individual mentoring, teaching and custom-tailored programs, each student’s unique talents are both recognized and encouraged in a positive environment. Fusion Learning Center offers one-to-one tutoring, mentoring, independent studies and test preparation, as well as a rich music and art program.”

Do you believe families in the Walnut Creek area would benefit from this new education option?

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2011
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 2 Comments »

CVHS charter conversion could be close to approval

Despite frustrations expressed during the past month by those who are pushing to convert Clayton Valley High School to a charter, a new sense of optimism is beginning to emerge.

Clayton Mayor David Shuey told me he sent an e-mail to Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart and Superintendent Steven Lawrence today, saying he was encouraged by the overall tenor and outcome of Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It was nice to actually hear some real discussion from the board on the issue,” he wrote. “As you know, we have submitted all of our responses to the conditions to staff on Wednesday and I believe we have a meeting with staff on Tuesday to go over any further concerns. While damage has been done to the relationship between Clayton and the district, if on October 25 this issue can be resolved one way or the other without further delay, I am hopeful that we can rebuild that relationship and move forward in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.”

I also spoke to Trustees Linda Mayo and Cheryl Hansen today about the status of the petition and conditions of approval.

Mayo said she has based her previous votes on staff reports, not the possible financial impacts of the charter conversion on the district.

She clarified this in the following email:

“Since I did not have any advance information on the financial impact to the district and because I know that the fiscal impact cannot be used to deny the charter, therefore on September 13 I made my decision based on staff’s written and oral evaluation of the submitted application.

On October 11, I made my decision to sustain the action taken on September 13, because I believe there are still items that can be clarified and are important to Clayton Valley students and MDUSD students alike. One example is this: the application indicates the lottery priority for students: 1) current students and siblings, 2) students residing in the CVHS attendance area, 3) students from any other area. This has now been clarified to include #3) MDUSD students.

It’s my understanding that the applicants have submitted many documents after business hours on Thursday, October 13. I have stated previously and again on October 11, that I would consider the approval of the charter prior to February pending the evaluation and recommendation by staff.

My comments (on Oct. 11) in regard to the fiscal impact of the charter were to advise those present and the community that it is practice in MDUSD, when a board approved item affects the budget, the revenue/expense is included in the budget documents as soon as possible. For an amount this large, and knowing that there are only seven meetings remaining until March 15, MDUSD must begin to inform the community of the budget reduction potential, commence dialogue and determine where reductions can be implemented.”

Mayo said that her understanding is that the lottery now has a four-tier priority system, with MDUSD students getting preference over those outside the district.

“Since the voters and taxpayers in the MDUSD have funded that facility, I think that district students should have a higher priority,” she said. “It’s my understanding an MOU has been signed. That’s an example of an important elment that I think is worth sustaining the effort to go through the process.”

Hansen said she hopes to vote to give final approval to the charter Oct. 25, either by agreeing the petitioners have met the conditions or by eliminating some conditions that may not be possible to meet entirely this early in the planning stage.

“My goal is not to wait until February,” she said, “because dragging this out is not doing anybody any good at all.”

Neil McChesney, one of the teachers leading the effort, said the steering committee hopes to answer staff’s questions during their meeting Tuesday, to clear the way for an Oct. 25 approval.

“The end result is we want a positive staff recommendation that we’ve met all the conditions,” he said. “So far, we’ve made progress and I’m going to cross my fingers.”

Do you think both parties are moving forward in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way?

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 106 Comments »

Mt. Diablo Flex charter school has decided to wait a year before opening

NOTE: This post has been updated to clarify the date of the letter.

Mark Kushner, who heads up the Mt. Diablo Flex charter school that received conditional approval from the Contra Costa County Board of Education, sent an Aug. 15 letter to the board and county superintendent, informing them of the school’s intention to wait another year before opening (until fall, 2012).

Here’s his letter:

“Dear Board Members and Superintendent,

This letter is to update you on the progress of Mt. Diablo Flex Academy, an innovative charter school approved by your board about a year ago.

Significant Interest in Innovative Flex Model

As you may know, we were very pleased, with almost no advertising, to have received over 350 applicants for the 6th – 12th grade Mt. Diablo Flex Academy with a goal of opening with 250 students and the rest being on a waitlist. The Contra Costa Board of Education condition of approval requires that we open with at least 125 students.

For the board members who were not part of the charter process, Flex Academy will be one of the state’s first fulltime blended learning models, an onsite school combining the academic advantages of online education with the advantages of a tradition school.

Every student gets a free loaner laptop. Students and teachers are onsite five days a week with the teachers leveraging an online curriculum; this is in no way a virtual school or an independent study program.

In particular, the families told us they appreciated having 130 electives, self pacing and more attention for this children when they need it. Average class is size is designed to be five to seven students at a time, enabled because the teachers don’t have to teach all the material.

Instead, the world class interactive online curriculum provided by K12, Inc, the country’s largest provider of online curriculum (now serving students in all 50 states and now 62 countries) helps the students learn much of the material.

Flex Public Schools, the nonprofit holding the charter, already operates a Flex Academy in San Francisco (which by the way is doubling in size this Fall for its second year) and about to open one on September 6 in Morgan Hill, South of San Jose, called Silicon Valley Flex Academy.

Decision to Postpone Opening One Year Due to Facilities Challenge

However, as you likely heard, and as we were allowed to do by our charter approval, we made a tough decision to open a year from now rather than this Fall, believing that it is better to open well and in a space that works effectively rather than trying to squeeze the innovative program into a space that didn’t fit our model.

More specifically, we appreciated being offered a Proposition 39 site by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District at Glenbrook Middle School, but upon reflection decided that this site was too small (only fitting 125-150 students) and not configured appropriately for our learning lab model.

We also found a number a number of private sites that worked well in terms of size, space configuration, and affordability, but were not able to get the zoning and permits we needed to open in time. We feel confident that with an extra year we will have a wonderful space ready for the school for Fall 2012. Though disappointed, most of the families told us they would wait a year and enroll when we open.

National Attention for the Flex Model

We look forward to bringing Flex model and the latest in blended learning to Contra Costa County. As you may know, experts from Harvard believe that over 50 percent of American high schools will be partly online with nine years (see e.g. the new books ‘Disrupting Class’ by Clayton Christensen, and ‘Liberating Learning’ by Terry Moe). Flex Public Schools is leading this effort.

In connection with this, please see the attached articles about Flex:

1. A recent national Education Week article about blended Learning, describing the trend of blended learning and highlighting, among others, San Francisco Flex Academy.

2. A recent article from the Innosight Institute describing types of blended learning models, including one category called ‘Flex,’ named after our model.

3. An article from the Harvard Education Review describing blended models and mentioning San Francisco Flex Academy, among other schools.

In addition, in case you are interested, there is a recent video about San Francisco Flex Academy at and a story about the school by ABC news as well.

The proposed Mt. Diablo Flex Academy has the same model, as does Silicon Valley Flex Academy. We believe this model is one for the future as it enables more personalization by teachers. If you would like me to update the board and staff in person, please let me know.

We look forward to serving the families of Contra Costa County with this innovative model and hope that some of the local districts adopt part of our model. We have many districts and counties that have visited our San Francisco campus, as have some of you. We welcome visits from any of you to either of our Flex schools, and will work hard to open in the Mt. Diablo district area next Fall.

Very truly yours,
Mark Kushner
Executive Director, Flex Public Schools’

Ps: I have heard that the board may be reviewing charter research. I still teach at Stanford University on charter schools, and am happy to present on California and national charter school performance if that is helpful.”

Do you believe students in the Mt. Diablo school district would benefit from the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy program?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »