The Mt. Diablo school board meeting on Tuesday was packed with more than 300 people in the Monte Gardens Elementary multiuse room — with large contingents on both sides of the Clayton Valley HS charter petition debate.
I videotaped portions of the meeting and am posting clips below (with the usual disclaimer that I was unable to videotape the entire meeting due to limited storage space on my phone camera).
Before the board discussed the charter, Superintendent Steven Lawrence reported that the district had posted two items related to the budget on its website: Guidance from the Contra Costa County Office of Education and a letter from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) regarding the estimated financial impact of a Clayton Valley HS charter conversion.
Here is a video clip of his report, along with a report from James Wogan regarding the district’s Foster Youth Services and Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE): http://qik.com/video/45692118
Also before the charter item was introduced, special education Community Advisory Community representative Denise Lambert expressed concerns about the proposed charter special education plan: http://qik.com/video/45692019
Deb Cooksey, attorney for the district, says staff recommends that the board deny the petition: http://qik.com/video/45695889
Cooksey begins outlining staff’s recommendation: http://qik.com/video/45695899
CFO Bryan Richards explains why he believes the charter has not met all the financial conditions: http://qik.com/video/45692412
CVHS teacher Neil McChesney says charter supporters are a passionate group of people who are an asset: http://qik.com/video/45692725
CVHS parent Megan Kommer speaks in favor of the charter and questions the district’s estimates regarding its financial impacts: http://qik.com/video/45692760
CVHS student speaks in support of the charter: http://qik.com/video/45692849
Ygnacio Valley HS student Adam Hastings says he has collected 742 signatures on a petition against the charter: http://qik.com/video/45692873
Speech pathologist Laurie Arbour expresses support for the charter: http://qik.com/video/45692962
Clayton City Councilwoman Julie Pierce says the charter would be open to everyone and that there is no intent to be “elite” or to discriminate against anyone: http://qik.com/video/45693726
CVHS parent Jamie Terry speaks in favor of the charter, saying she believes the special education program would improve: http://qik.com/video/45693808
Chase Davenport, of the Californa Charter Schools Association, says this has been one of the “strangest processes” that he has ever been involved with, with one of the thickest approvals and one of the thinnest denials he has ever seen: http://qik.com/video/45693903
Luke Middendorf, CVHS teacher Pat Middendorf’s son, expresses support for the charter: http://qik.com/video/45693966
Dorothy Weisenberger, vice chairwoman of the district’s special education Community Advisory Committee, expresses concerns about charter plans to contract with the El Dorado County Office of Education Charter SELPA for special education services (partial recording): http://qik.com/video/45694033
Clayton City Councilman Joe Medrano thanks Trustee Lynne Dennler and CVHS teachers for their efforts on behalf of the charter: http://qik.com/video/45698981
Several other people also spoke, whom I was not able to capture on video.
They included CVHS teachers Pat Middendorf, Amber Lineweaver and Misha Safran, parents and students in favor of the charter, along with Barbara Johnson, speaking on behalf of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. In addition, Marshall Mayotte, of ExEd, rebutted the district’s concerns regarding the charter’s financial plan.
Others who opposed the charter included Northgate Principal John McMorris and parent Joan Miller, who is president of the Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation; Ygnacio Valley HS Principal Bill Morones, student services coordinator Socorro Lomas and teachers Steve Accatino, Kelly Cooper and Kara Yu, and a student; Pleasant Hill MS Principal Terry McCormick, Mt. Diablo HS English teacher Dan Reynolds and NAACP East Bay rep Willie Mims.
A few community members stopped short of speaking against the charter, but asked the board to consider the entire district. These included four district parents and Walnut Creek City Councilman Kish Rajan (who is also a district parent).
Due to technical difficulties, I’m unable to link to the videos I shot of the board deliberations at this time. Here is a recap of what happened:
Trustee Cheryl Hansen made a motion to approve the charter without conditions. Trustee Lynne Dennler seconded the motion.
“I would move that we not be afraid of change and approve the charter school without condition,” Hansen said. “I started out this process not the charter school cheerleader. I am open to change. I am open to different systems. I’ve worked with lots of different systems as a school administrator and as a county administrator. And I think what I have come to value and recognize over time is passion, dedication, commitment and the importance of a school culture.”
She said she had previously had a conversation with Lawrence, in which he told her he actually thought it would be a great thing if all of the district’s high schools were charter schools because that would raise the level of competition among the schools and drive some innovation and school improvement.
“I happen to agree with that,” she said. “I don’t think we have to be afraid of something different. I don’t think this is a massive threat to our system. I think it’s been very shameful the way it has divided this community.”
She said discussion about the charter had been obstructed.
“I think it’s one of those issues that should be a public debate and discussion that should bring a community together and not be kind of backroom politics that have gone on.”
She said she didn’t think the charter would be created at the expense of all the other district students.
“I think it is actually for the benefit of all the students that when you raise the bar and when you have passion, dedication and a commitment, we all benefit,” she said. “And that’s what I’d like to see filter through our community. And I’d like to see this actually as a chance to experiment and try some things. And perhaps that contagion will spread because we can always do better and be better. So, that’s why I absolutely support moving forward with this charter school.”
Dennler said she wrote down what she wanted to say, since she is new on the board (she was elected last November).
“I think we have the opportunity to bring resolution to this phase of the Clayton Valley charter and I will be grateful, as a board member — I would hope, as a board member — that I will not ever be faced with another charter in this district, another charter application.”
Many people reacted with surprise and laughter.
“No, it’s not funny,” Dennler said. “I think that it’s a very important question we need to have on all of our minds, is: ‘What led this staff to choose to sever their professional relationship with Mt. Diablo Unified School District?’ That question, I don’t hear being asked at all. Something major happened and we’re not even asking, ‘Why?’ I think, as a board and administration, we need to focus on seeking an understanding of the problems and issues that motivated the Clayton Valley community to make this drastic move to a charter. This is an important issue and it needs our attention.”
She suggested that the district establish a task force to address this.
“I think it’s really important to study the problems and issues that fester in this district among our parents and our teachers. For, the issues are not just at Clayton Valley. I can assure you — from my being in the schools, talking to teachers, hearing parents — this is not a unique problem. They’re just the first ones that did something about it. All is not well in Mt. Diablo. So, we have a choice. We can either choose to ignore the problem and face more charter applications. Or we can honestly examine where we are today and make the changes that are necessary. And then we won’t repeat history.”
The motion failed in a 2-3 vote, with Hansen and Dennler voting in favor and the other three trustees voting against it.
Hansen then moved to deny the charter petition. Trustee Linda Mayo seconded the motion.
Hansen said she approved of passing the charter without conditions, but she expected the board might end up denying the petition.
“I have been trying for the last couple of months to move this forward to closure — not to cut off information, but to get the information to come out more rapidly than what we originally had intended it to be,” Hansen said. “Because I saw the strife and divisiveness that this creates within a community, it’s better to move more rapidly to closure.”
She thanked the other trustees for bringing it to a timely conclusion that allows the charter to move forward.
“The only concern I have is the ongoing resistance I experienced to my requests for open, public discussion around this issue and the repeated incidents of obstruction that occurred in moving this process forward,” she said. “I’ve maintained that the public deserves to participate in open forums on public issues. And the public and the board deserves to receive all information in a timely and accurate manner. Today, we again experienced receiving information only hours before the board meeting, which hinders the process and doesn’t allow for discussion of and reflection on the process. I’ve seen this as a repeated pattern that information is kind of withheld ’til the last minute for whatever reason or explanation. It happened during school closure. It’s happening during the charter school conversion. And my concern is that there’s a lesson here that we need to learn from as a district. And I think Mrs. Dennler’s point is very, very accurate — that we have some symptomatic problems that we need to address. And one of them is around how we share information and how we respect each other — how we respond to open discussion and not be threatened and afraid to share different opinions. And how we can listen to each other and treat each other with respect. I have actually been appalled by some of the undercurrents that have gone on here — some of the backstabbing, some of the pitting of one community against another — and I don’t understand in an educational community why people are afraid to have a difference of opinion and why people have to resort to something personal instead of respecting the differences and trying to work together. I’ve found the withholding of information unacceptable and intolerable. I found it hinders the process. It creates public distrust. And from this, we should have come out stronger, not come out with an additional sense of public distrust. And I’m absolutely appalled by that. So, the district needs to learn from this mistake — and I do view it as a mistake — so we don’t continue on the path of creating more public distrust. We need to err on the side of over-informing. And I’d like to express my admiration for the charter school petitioners, who so passionately believe in their vision to improve student learning — who have actually slogged through the mess that we kind of threw out there for them — and kept on the path of determination and focus and commitment. And, again, I commend that and I think that is exactly what we are missing throughout many of our schools within our district — that passion and commitment. And we talk about Professional Learning Communities, while working toward that, but the core comes from that fire and that passion and commitment to students. And I’m not at all afraid of that. I embrace that and I admire that, so I would like to thank them for their courage in stepping forward and trying to do something. Maybe it doesn’t address all of the inherent issues that we have a district, but I do think it’s a beginning point for us to look at how we might be able to do something differently and better. I do not in any way, shape or form, think this is something to be afraid of and I am stunned that people take it as some sort of threat to all of our students. I actually see it, as I’ve said before, as a way to raise the bar and to encourage better practice. So, I am of a totally different mindset. Since the majority of the community to whom I’ve spoken believe that the charter school petition has merit and that there can be great educational benefit to challenging the status quo, I actually will be voting against my motion to deny. Nevertheless, I’m thrilled that we are finally — and believe me, it’s odd to say this — I am actually thrilled that we’re finally here tonight to bring closure to this issue so that the petitioners can move on.”
She also thanked staff for working on such a short timeline with the petitioners to speed up the process.
“I would have preferred that we approve it here,” she said. “I’m afraid that I saw the handwriting on the wall, when at 3:20 p.m., I got a resolution — just a few hours before the board meeting — saying that staff will recommend denying it. I had no idea until just a few hours ago where that stood. And, to me as a board member, I find that unacceptable and difficult to make really reasoned decisions.”
Mayo thanked everyone for participating in the process and said she did not believe that anyone was denied their rights to participate in it. She also expressed concerns that some people have alleged that she has disrespected and spoken ill of people involved in the debate.
“I would ask that you provide me with an email that I may have made a disparaging remark about one of you about this issue,” she said. “I have maintained my neutrality up until the vote was taken. I did not prepare statements in advance. In coming to this meeting, I have carefully listened to everyone who has provided statements and I have made notes throughout this process.”
She said she had also reviewed a binder full of supplemental material regarding the charter application.
“I also wanted to speak to the fact that I believe that there is much passion, dedication, commitment and courage on both sides of this issue and that both sides deserve to be credited for presenting their views before the Board of Education,” she said. “I am going to vote to deny the charter, based on the fiscal analysis that our staff has provided. At this point in time, that is based on the information that was received from the charter applicants as their final submittal on Friday. The previous analysis that was disputed by some in the Clayton community that was provided by the district has been supported by FCMAT. This leads me to believe further that our district staff does do good work and careful analysis when they are given information.”
She said that perhaps the county Board of Education would allow the charter to submit new numbers.
“But, at this point in time, I cannot accept those numbers that have been submitted for one of the elements in the charter proposal,” she said. “I also have grave concerns about the education program. The charter school application is supposed to present something new and progressive and exciting. There are over 150 course offerings listed in this product that was provided by your charter school applicants. They are the same courses, except for a few, that are currently offered at Clayton Valley High School. This is what your community — your students — will be presented with for courses next year. There is no change in the course offerings. The teachers will be teaching the same subjects and they may even prepare the same Single Plan (for Achievement) that they did prepare the previous year. I don’t know. There are seven courses in this book (referring to the binder) that do not have a CSU or UC approval yet and there are nine courses listed — one that alternates by year — as a class option under ROP (Regional Occupational Program). It is my understanding that the Clayton Valley charter has not contacted the ROP program at the county (Office of Education) to discuss whether or not these ROP programs would be approved. These are supposedly some of the leading programs at Clayton Valley High School that are valued by your students. So, for two reasons, I am going to vote to deny the charter. I don’t believe that there has been sufficient presentation of new and exciting program and I do support staff’s analysis in regards to the fiscal element.”
Board President Gary Eberhart and Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh did not comment before the vote. The motion carried 4-1, with Hansen voting against it.
Eberhart thanked the public for coming to participate in the process.
Do you agree with the board’s decision to deny the charter? Do you think the charter debate exposes larger issues in the district?