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Tale of two schools: both took drastic actions after alleging failed leadership in Mt. Diablo school district

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 at 12:59 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

During the past six months, teachers at two out of six Mt. Diablo district high schools have taken drastic actions to remedy problems they perceived in the leadership of their campuses.

In June, Clayton Valley High teachers overwhelminly supported a petition to convert to a charter school, seeking to strike out on their own with an independent governing board that would give the site more control. The school board denied the petition in November and the county Board of Education expects to decide next month whether to approve or deny it. If the county denies the petition, advocates have vowed to appeal to the state Board of Education, in the hopes of opening as a charter in the fall.

Last Monday, teachers at Mt. Diablo High overwhelmingly supported a vote of No Confidence in Principal Kate McClatchy, seeking a response from the district to their grievances, which include the school’s failure to meet requirements for Quality Education Investment Act funding. The school stands to lose up to $4.8 million over three years due to its failure to keep class sizes at the required levels.

The district had the opportunity to prevent both of these occurences. Yet, when teachers approached district officials about their concerns, they felt their words fell on deaf ears. So, the teachers explored other options.

Now, the district is faced with a mutiny of sorts on two fronts. And although each case is different, some parallels can be drawn between the two schools.

Despite the school district’s promotion of “Professional Learning Communities” — which involve rich collaboration between administrators and teachers — such collaboration appears to have been missing at Clayton Valley and Mt. Diablo high schools. Among complaints at both sites, teachers said the administration failed to adequately address student discipline, which led to concerns about safety, school climate and low employee morale.

Although charter advocates have been very vocal about their dissatisfaction with district leadership for months, Mt. Diablo High teachers have been working behind the scenes to try to effect change within the system.

A little over a month ago, McClatchy spoke against the charter petition at the Oct. 25 board meeting. At that time, the public did not know that her own teaching staff was reaching a boiling point due to dissatisfaction with her leadership.

Here’s what McClatchy told the board:

“…I am speaking tonight in opposition to approval of a conversion to a charter at Clayton Valley High School for the following reasons: I serve at a high-poverty, Program Improvement school with transitional and limited funding. Mt. Diablo High is a school on the rise and we are very proud of our hard-earned gains in student achievement over the past few years. We simply cannot afford for some students to attend school at a higher cost to the district than others. Budget cuts have been painful and have contributed to both job loss and annual involuntary transfers for many teachers in our district. The stability of our faculty at Mt. Diablo High School is central to our continued improvement in student achievement. I am very concerned about the potential bumping process that could occur if the charter is approved. And finally, I work and I am pleased and honored to work in the Mt. Diablo High School — or in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District — as a school leader committed to the development and improvement of all our schools. It is not currently my experience that bureaucracy overrides educational innovation or growth in our district. To the contrary, I enjoy great support as a school leader — including district support for many teacher and parent-led programs and projects. I support all of my colleagues — administrators and faculty at Clayton Valley High School — for working to improve our schools and to find creative ways to benefit all students and families in our district. Thank you.”

Here is the video link: qik.com/video/45353427

McClatchy failed to mention, however, that Mt. Diablo High School received far more funding per student in 2010-11 than Clayton Valley High. Mt. Diablo received $10,252.39 per student, including more than $4,862.85/ADA in unrestricted funding and more than $5,389.53/ADA in restricted funding, including QEIA. In fact, QEIA funding of $1.6 million made up more than 11 percent of the school’s $14 million budget, representing about $1,375.09 per student.

In comparison, Clayton Valley received $7,839.78 per student — or $2,412.61 less per student than Mt. Diablo High. Of that, Clayton Valley received about $4,648.57 per student in unrestricted funding and $3,191.21 per student in restricted funds, including money for special education. Clayton Valley was not eligible to receive QEIA funding.

Although the school district has known that Mt. Diablo High would lose its QEIA funding since at least July (when it reported its failure to meet class size requirements to the county), district officials have not informed the public about this loss of funding. Instead, Superintendent Steven Lawrence has sent out numerous “news updates” letting the community know that Clayton Valley’s conversion to a charter could cost other schools about $75 per student. For Mt. Diablo, however, the loss of QEIA funding will actually be a much greater loss than the impact of of a charter conversion.

McClatchy said she worried about “bumping” due to the charter conversion, yet, she failed to mention that the loss of QEIA funding at Mt. Diablo could force the district to lay off 22-24 teachers from the school. In comparison, Clayton Valley expects about four teachers to remain with the district, which could cause minimal bumping at other schools, including Mt. Diablo.

Northgate Principal John McMorris has also spoken against the charter, saying Clayton Valley could emulate the Focus On Learning model that McMorris has implemented at Northgate. But charter supporters say they don’t want to gamble by allowing the district to choose their principal. The Mt. Diablo teachers’ vote of No Confidence shows that teachers can feel stymied or even obstructed if they don’t believe their principal is willing to work collaboratively with staff.

When the school board denied the charter petition in November, Trustee Lynne Dennler urged the district to come up with a process for dealing with problems at school sites.

“I think it’s really important to study the problems and issues that fester in this district among our parents and our teachers,” she said. “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.”

A little more than a month later, history was repeated — but in a different way. Mt. Diablo High teachers fed up with their school leadership voted No Confidence in the principal.

Although the county sent the district a letter Nov. 17 about the loss of QEIA funding, teachers were not informed until Dec. 7, according to teacher Dan Reynolds. This was after the school site council had approved a Single Plan for Student Achievement that detailed the importance of the QEIA funding. Here is a link to the county letter: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/109088082/MDHS-QEIA-Letter.

The district is now trying to find out if it can apply for a waiver from the state board of education, which would allow it to retain QEIA funding. McClatchy has informed her staff that she will address their vote of No Confidence on Jan. 4. So far, district officials and trustees have remained silent regarding the vote and its ramifications.

The school board, which is supposed to provide leadership to district officials and schools, is having its own problems working collaboratively. Trustees plan to participate in a governance leadership workshop on Feb. 4 to help them communicate better with each other.

The board is also working on a strategic plan for the district, which is expected to help guide decisions. However, this was put on hold recently, due to staff’s attention to the charter petition, Trustee Gary Eberhart said.

In the meantime, the public is left with many unanswered questions. These include: how much would the conversion of Clayton Valley High really cost the district? And why did Mt. Diablo High fail to comply with class size mandates for QEIA funding?

Do you think the district should create a new process for dealing with problems at school sites, as suggested by Dennler?

DEC. 20 UPDATE: I followed up with Jennifer Sachs in an email, asking whether she or other district administrators knew that MDHS had not met the QEIA requirements before the end of the school year. Again, she did not directly answer the question.

Here is her response: “The regular monitoring of the Mt. Diablo High School QEIA program did reveal challenges and these challenges were discussed. I need to direct you to Rose Lock, Assistant Superintendent, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, if you require more information about this matter.”

Lock still has not responded to my messages. However, Kate McClatchy did leave a message on my work voicemail today. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it until this evening, since I’m on vacation, so we have been unable to connect so far. I left her my cell phone number, in case she wants to contact me again.

DEC. 20 9 PM UPDATE: I have just spoken to Lorenzo Galdon, a student rep on the site council, who told me there will be an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. Friday in McClatchy’s office to approve the QEIA waiver application.

Galdon said he has served on the site council since the beginning of this school year. He said he believed McClatchy should have informed the school community as soon as she knew the funding was in jeopardy (by last July) instead of waiting until Dec. 7, when she informed the faculty. Galdon said McClatchy didn’t say a word about losing the funding to the site council during its Dec. 6 meeting. When he asked why, she told him she believed it was the “ethical” thing to do, since it directly affects teachers, Galdon said.

It would have been more ethical, Galdon said, to have told everyone at the beginning of the school year. Some students, he said, didn’t find out until Friday, when McClatchy made an announcement about the funding loss over the loudspeaker just before school got out. Although she also promised to send out a call to parents about it, Galdon said his parents have not received such a call.

Galdon said McClatchy also spoke about the funding loss to his leadership class Dec. 12.

“Really, the way she’s approached it is kind of doing damage control,” Galdon said. “That’s upset me and some other students. What’s really been bothering me is the way she’s been handling it — just kind of secretive and trying to not get bad publicity for herself.”

Galdon said McClatchy appeared to be trying to minimize the loss when she spoke to his class.

“She said, ‘We lost this money, but hey, we were going to lose it three years from now. So now, we’ve got to just move on.’”

Galdon said it was no surprise to him and his classmates that the school was not meeting the maximum class size of 27 in non-core classes. There were 40 students in his leadership class, he said.

As an aside, I saw on the school’s website that Galdon, who is a senior, has been granted early acceptance to the University of Pacific, along with a scholarship.

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  • Doctor J

    I consider “honest” to always be the truth; “accurate” may often only be a partial truth. If our educators don’t live the example of being honest in all things, who is teaching our children the integrity of being honest ?

  • Anon

    Here we go again, Mt. Diablo District custodian arrested for lewd acts w/ a minor: https://local.nixle.com/alert/4767626/?sub_id=92709

    They don’t say what school he works for though.

  • Doctor J

    When was the Public Hearing conducted by the school Board ?

  • Doctor J

    The Feb 16, 2011 WARNING letter from CDE said:
    “QEIA schools that do not meet all monitored program requirements for school year 2010–11 will have their funding terminated effective July 1, 2012. The QEIA statute requires the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to “provide the district with funds sufficient to cover the staff and other cost adjustments” incurred in discontinuing program participation. To meet this requirement, schools will receive their annual allocation for 2011–12. This and any prior year QEIA funds may be expended through June 30, 2012. All expenditures of these funds are subject to QEIA expenditure rules, and the LEA will be required to submit to the California Department of Education a 2011–12 QEIA expenditure report.
    We recognize that LEAs and schools are faced with continuing fiscal challenges, but we should note that use of QEIA funding is restricted in some important ways. ”
    http://www.ccsesa.org/index/documents/12.4Spring2011QEIAAdvisoryLetter.doc

  • Doctor J

    After the waiver is filed today, I can’t wait until next week to see Theresa’s comparison of the Pittsburg waiver with the MDUSD waiver. Here is the waiver form — Pittsburg filed theirs after a public hearing. How do you think MDUSD is going to be able to answer all these questions ? What if the site council will not support some of the statements made in the waiver application ?
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/lr/wr/documents/generalwaiverrev.doc

  • Theresa Harrington

    Anon: Police have just released a photo of the custodian: https://local.nixle.com/alert/4767798/?sub_id=215768

    Other Anon: Thanks and Happy Holidays to all of you!

    g: Trustee Gary Eberhart did not say “accurate but not honest.” Instead, during the strategic planning board workshop, he said he thought “honest” was subjective, but that accurate was objective.

    I don’t plan to attend today’s site council meeting, but will definitely speak to those who do.

    Also, I know that the No. CA QEIA monitor has passed the link for my blog onto the CDE. I’m not sure, however, whether the CDE considers outside information when it assesses waivers.

  • g

    Yes, Theresa. As I understood him, he wanted to replace the word ‘honest’ with the word ‘accurate’, and used objective/subjective as reason.

    There is nothing wrong with either word, but only in the interpretation one might be looking for.

    I would like to suggest to him on the simplest terms, that: while 2+2 equals 4 is an “accurate” statement, it is not “honest” until you know what you are counting.

  • Doctor J

    No reports posted yet on Sitecouncil and basis for “waiver” application. SBE just posted its agenda for Jan 11-12 BOE meeting. Might be bad news for MDHS if they base request for waiver on fiscal constraints and cuts to funding. Santa Ana USD waiver “states that cuts to revenue limit funding have resulted in teacher reductions causing an increase of the student-to-teacher ratio.” CDE Recommendation is: “The California Department of Education recommends denial of this request based on three factors: (1) QEIA program requirements were known to the district prior to its decision to apply for program participation; (2) QEIA funding is expected to be used to hire teachers resulting in significantly reduced class sizes for students at QEIA schools; and (3) QEIA legislation requires an average classroom size of 25 students or lower for core subjects, with no more than 27 students per classroom regardless of the average classroom size.” http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr12/documents/jan12w20a3.doc
    Unless MDUSD comes up with a more creative excuse, I wouldn’t bet on the waiver. BTW, all the districts seeking waivers HELD a Public Hearing prior to submission of the waiver application. MDUSD did not. Soon I hope someone will post the waiver request since it is now a public record having been reviewed by the site council and filed with the CDE.

  • Theresa Harrington

    FYI, here’s a new blog post about the arrest of MDUSD custodian John Astor, who worked at Cambridge, Holbrook and Walnut Acres elementary schools: http://bit.ly/tnK7jL

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just added a new post about the MDHS QEIA waiver, which the site council approved last Friday: http://bit.ly/tMSO04
    Trustees will vote on it Jan. 9.

  • Doctor J

    Gary, grab your ankles and enjoy. Its going to be a tough week for you next week — you still may be pulling the strings on Monday behind the scenes, but the pressures are mounting from your failed leadership during 2011. What goes around, comes around. Wednesday will be particulary enjoyable for many people, except you. Better get used to “small potatoes” — they are a delicacy. You can find them at your favorite Clayton Safeway. Or maybe I will just have some delivered to you.