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Should Mt. Diablo High convert to all academies?

By Theresa Harrington
Sunday, January 29th, 2012 at 8:14 pm in Education.

At the Jan. 23 Mt. Diablo school board meeting, Superintendent Steven Lawrence explained the district’s process for responding to a vote of No Confidence in Mt. Diablo High School Principal Kate McClatchy.

First, he said the district could not discuss the job performance of any specific employee. Unfortunately, I was unable to videotape that portion of his comments.

However, I did videotape his comments regarding the process for addressing the concerns raised by teachers who voted No Confidence in McClatchy last month, as well as the other public comments made at the meeting.

Below is a summary of those comments, along with links to the video clips.

Lawrence said that teachers will break into groups on Monday, Jan. 30 to hear plans for dealing with five major concerns that have been brought up. Teachers will be able to respond to the plans and district staff will follow-up in the spring to be sure the plans are being implemented, he said.

Following Lawrence’s remarks, teachers’ union president Mike Langely made the following statement:

“President Whitmarsh, Members of the Board, Superintendent Lawrence,Council, community members:

The layers of difficulties at Mt. Diablo High School must be addressed by the board and the district administration. We acknowledge that bringing this to a public forum is a positive step in meeting the needs of all stakeholders. We understand that this not be done in haste.

The difficulties have not suddenly occurred. The vote by the faculty of Mt Diablo High was not an isolated incident triggered by a single event. Solutions will be best found by a thoughtful review and a meaningful plan to remedy the underlying conflicts and dysfunctions.

We have been told that the board will not rush to judgment simply because the faculty went public with their frustration. We support your caution. However, if the board and administration circle wagons and say they can’t appear to bow to the vocal majority, even if action is warranted, we will withdraw support for the process. Staying the course because a change would admit to past errors is not only foolish but is destructive to the process of education at any school heading toward the shoal waters of conflict.

One last concern; as the discovery process moves forward with deliberation, current site policies and changes that may impair vital programs may continue. It is imperative that site administration be directed to postpone the massive restructuring until all consequences, intended and unintended, are identified and evaluated as to their effect on the most important stakeholders: the students.”

Video of Lawrence and Langley:

District resident Brian Lawrence, who ran for the school board and lost in the last election, calls the potential loss of Quality Education Investment Act funding at Mt. Diablo High an “unmitigated disaster” and a “colossal failure.” He asked several questions about the failure of the school administration to comply with class size requirements in order to keep its grant of about $1.5 million a year, including the responsibility of the board, superintendent and principal.


District resident Willie Mims also spoke about the possible loss of QEIA funds, as well as low morale at Mt. Diablo High. Video:

English teacher Stephanie Sliwinski, who teaches in the ACME academy, talks about concerns teachers have regarding McClatchy’s plan to require every student to enroll in one of four academies. Video:

Mt. Diablo High senior Savannah Ridgley tells board that the all-academy model negatively impacted AP students and the FAME (performing arts) academy. She also complains about locked bathrooms, missing toilet paper and soap, and punishment of the entire student body for the actions of a few. Video:

Staff member Wendy Spencer says employees who ask questions about the plan to become an all-academy model have been told they are “toxic” and shut down. Video:

AP Environmental science teacher Patrick Oliver says McClatchy refused to master schedule for the QEIA grant. Video:

Science teacher Colin Jones says the loss of QEIA funding would be devastating to the school because it would mean about 22 teachers would be laid-off and class sizes would increase. Video:

Woodshop teacher Steve Seaman talks about safety concerns related to the scale-up of academies at MDHS. Video:

Trustee Gary Eberhart said he has high hopes for the process of responding to the vote of No Confidence. He said he did not believe the school’s conversion to an all-charter model had been brought before the board.

“Trying to make a wholesale change like this would be difficult to make if everyone were on the same page,” he said. “A change of this magnitude it would seem to me would be impossible to successfully implement unless you have a staff that is in unity.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get video of Eberhart’s comments. Next, Board President Sherry Whitmarsh clarified that the plans would be drafts, subject to input from teachers. Video:

JAN. 30 UPDATE: I just spoke to Janet Haun, who oversees ROP classes for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, regarding the MDHS plan to become a wall-to-wall academy. She said she is working with the school to ensure that ROP classes will be integral to the plan.

“Our goal is to have them as the capstones in every academy,” she said. “A capstone is sort of the culminating class for a high school student.”

Haun said the county currently operates ROP classes in the
biotech, IHTA and biotech academies, but not in the Digital Safari academy.

She said she was not aware of any other neighborhood high school in the county that has converted to an all-academy model. Dozier Libby Medical HS in Antioch is a magnet academy high school, which requires students to apply to attend, she said. It was recently named a California Distinguished School.

Haun said the Antioch district and WCCUSD have multiple academies at each high school, but haven’t gone all-academy.

She said she personally hasn’t heard of any dissatisfaction with the MDHS plan to convert to an all-academy model, but she primarily works with ROP teachers, who are happy to be a part of an academy.

“I don’t know their opinion of wall-to-wall,” she said.

I also asked about ROP classes at the CVHS charter. She said the county would continue to offer those classes on the campus.

“It’s part of the document that the Board of Education approved that the students at Clayton Valley HS are entitled to the same types of services and educational programs as any students in public schools,” Haun said. “So, we plan to maintain the ROP programs that we have there.”

Do you think Mt. Diablo High school should convert to all academies in the fall?

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79 Responses to “Should Mt. Diablo High convert to all academies?”

  1. Theresa Harrington Says:

    If this appears on another board agenda, I will be very interested to hear Trustee Lynne Dennler’s comments, since she attended all five sessions.
    MIke Langley told me MDEA was an impartial observer. Also, he said he was only able to attend a few sessions because of negotiations. Likewise, Julie Braun-Martin was not able to stay for the entire time, due to negotiations, Langley said. However, he seemed pleased that she thought it was important enough to check in on the process.
    Langley didn’t mention whether Superintendent Lawrence was there.

  2. g Says:

    Maybe Lawrence wants to wait until Spring to see who might be coming available from CVCHS with bumping rights. Then he could avoid the appearance of retaliation against teachers who rock his boat.

  3. Doctor J Says:

    The Mount teachers are having the wool pulled over their eyes just like the CVHS teachers were when they agreed to the District’s request for a Charter response extension, only to be met with 56 onerous conditions and a battle the entire way. After that it was only with the strength of the CV community backing up the teachers that kept the relentless pressure and dirty tricks from Dent from destroying the Charter movement. Unless MDEA steps up, I am afraid that the Mount teachers lack the unifying force of the community to be able to fight tooth and nail for the truth and for a sound educational plan for Mount. It was no accident that the Jan 30 musical chairs left little time for real consolidated input from the teachers as a group, but instead divided them into small bunches so they could not collaborate.

  4. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#51, won’t Lynne Dennler return your phone calls to disucss this with you before the meeting ? Or is she under the wing of Linda Mayo ? Why has Dan gone so silent ?

  5. g Says:

    Dr. J You are correct that the musical chairs approach was a slick maneuver. You are also correct that Mount would not be able to pull a community together. Thanks to the District, the Mount of my youth no longer has a community. Unlike Clayton/south Concord, Mount has only miles and miles of spread out and very disparate family lifestyles and neighborhoods.

  6. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have been working on other stories and haven’t yet tried calling Trustee Lynne Dennler. I also haven’t tried calling teacher Dan Reynolds. He told me he reads the blogs, but does not comment on them.
    Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he would check back in with MDHS in the spring to see if the plans were being implemented. But, the first question is whether the plans will be revised based on the teacher input.

  7. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#56 That’s a laugher — Lawrence check back in the Spring over a school he is the direct supervisor of ? I guess he needs to take Management 101. As far as Gary’s intestinal pains, is there a written ageement with the City of Clayton about the gym ? What goes around, comes around.

  8. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Clayton Councilman David Shuey today disputed district General Counsel Greg Rolen’s claim that he had called the Clayton attorney on Jan. 23, as he told the board. According to Shuey, the city attorney had not heard from Rolen.
    I pointed out to Eberhart that I don’t recall any joint meetings between the district board and city councils since Gary McHenry was superintendent. Shuey said he doesn’t recall ever having such a joint meeting with the district.
    When I used to cover the city of Walnut Creek, I recall that City Council complaining that MDUSD was not as receptive to having joint meetings as district officials in Walnut Creek and Acalanes.
    Shuey said he heard that MDUSD held a meeting with city managers of every city in the district except Clayton, to discuss the proposed joint sales tax increases. It appears that Clayton is feeling snubbed yet again.
    I also recall that McHenry used to present “State of the District” reports to the Concord Chamber of Commerce. I don’t believe those are occurring anymore either.
    I attended the Pleasant Hill Education Advisory Committee meeting this month for the first time and was struck by the fact that there was no district representative on the committee. Instead, committee members reported to each other about district business without any corroboration by a district official, It would seem that if a committee is established for the express purpose of improving communication with the district, and advocating for Pleasant Hill, that a district official should at least be invited to attend the meetings to respond to questions and concerns that are raised.
    Also, there was no comprehensive report about the meeting between Pleasant Hill parents and Superintendent Lawrence regarding the charter. It was referenced in passing, without any information about the substance or outcome of the meeting.

  9. Doctor J Says:

    Regarding Rolen’s record of telling the truth — he has none. MDUSD is totally disfunctional in dealing with the various local cities within the district boundaries. Today marks the TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY of Steven Lawrence as Supt, and the district fails to communicate with parents, fails to communicate with local governments, and most significantly fails to communicate with teachers and administrators. The district is spinning out of control from a lack of leadership from the Supt and from the Board, three of whom are in a triparte majority but have accomplished nothing, while letting state grants be in default. Its a very sad state of affairs.

  10. Anon Says:

    Once more with feeling-review the 2008 Grand Jury Report No 0906. “Conclusion: The administrative and financial functions of the Mount Diablo School District have been in chaos.” It is no better today. The District squandered millions. Brian Lawrence called them out. David Shuey joins the chorus. The District is still chaos.

  11. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Perhaps Clayton and Mount Diablo HS parents could ask to have private meetings with the superintendent, like the Pleasant Hill parents did.

  12. Anon Says:

    the squeaky wheel gets the grease . . .

  13. Wait a minute Says:

    Don’t forget,

    The superintendent who replaced Stevie Lawrence in West Sac said that he found an appalling lack of communication and distrust between that district and the community and various constitutent groups.

    Houston, we have a problem–and a pattern here with Stevie Lawrence.

  14. Theresa Harrington Says:

    WAM: Many people praised Lawrence for his community partnerships during the MDUSD board interview in West Sacramento before he was hired.

  15. Wait a minute Says:

    From what I have been told many of the people who “praised” him, did so in the hopes of getting rid of him!

  16. Just J Says:

    This is the problem. People need to stop giving glowing reports in hopes of getting rid of the garbage.
    It is time to stop passing the trash around and out rite FIRE the bad ones. Change is happening in many states and the only way it will happen here is if we the people start demanding it!

    Mount should go Charter and take back their school! There is absolutly no reason why these kids should fail.

    Does anyone remember Lawrence going from school to school and promising response to questions from the public…..Well I am still waiting for responses to my questions (2 years and counting) It is time to clean house at the District office. We can start with Lawrence, Rolen and Brown!!!!

  17. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Since I have worked at the Times, I have seen the Walnut Creek City Council part ways with former City Manager Mike Parness, the Martinez schools superintendent leave for Monterey amid controversy, and MDUSD Superintendent Gary McHenry step down when he didn’t see eye to eye with trustees. In all these instances, the administrators didn’t do anything so egregious that it warranted firing. But they had differences of opinion with their elected leaders and divided support from employees and the public.
    Yet, all of these leaders were able to land new jobs easily. Parness went to Napa and McHenry is in Inglewood. In covering these turnovers and speaking to headhunters who help fill such positions, I have found that there are very few people qualified to do these jobs, so they tend to just bounce from one to another around the state.

  18. anon Says:

    TH#67. I’m shocked that you would make a statement that McHenry’s only issue was that he didn’t see eye to eye with the board. Perhaps you should go back and research some of the reporting that was done while McHenry was here. Perhaps you should take a look at the progress that’s being made in Inglewood since McHenry has joined that district. I’m certainly not on here in support of Steven Lawrence, but to in any way categorize McHenry’s departure as a difference of opinion with the board is absurd.

  19. Doctor J Says:

    OMG, I can hear Lawrence whinning now to the Board: you didn’t let me bring in my own “team” instead you saddled me with Gary McHenry’s team with 3 year extensions before I even got here. Funny how each Supt seems to bring with them, their trusted sidekick. McHenry had Alan Young follow him around, and Lawrence has Sue Brothers. Kind of a Cisco Kid/Pancho syndrome.

  20. Anon Says:

    Anon #68
    I wanted McHenry gone as much as anyone but in retrospect I have to ask myself, “What has changed?”
    Has this District gained the community’s trust and confidence that we believed was missing because of McHenry? Have we seen a rise in student acheivement? Has the District’s customer service improved? The lines of communication? The relationship with teachers? Transparency? Fiscal responsibility? Strategic planning?

    Nothing has changed. The school board made the mistake of hiring the wrong individual as Superintendent. It is 100% their fault and the BIGGEST mistake they have made to date. This mistake encompasses all. Lawrence possesses very few of the qualities that the School Board SAID they wanted in a Superintendent.

    So while it is easy to point out McHenry’s flaws I suspect many of the problems, past and present, lay at the feet of the three remaining Board members.

  21. Wait a minute Says:

    My take on McHenry is that he was simply incompetent.

    Lawrence is every bit as incompetent and is extremely manipulative, dishonest and narciccistic as well.

  22. Doctor J Says:

    @Anon#70 Why did Lawrence’s former district have so many applicants as opposed to MDUSD for Supt ? Two different Board approaches. The MDUSD board kept on Dick Nichol for a year as the “interim” Supt and then gave 3 year extenstions to the Asst. Supts and Rolen. That way the Board under Eberhart and Strange, could control and micromanage Lawrence. The WUSD board took a different approach. They hired an experienced and highly respected retired Supt, Michele Lawrence from Berkeley, to come in and clean house before hiring the new Supt, who didn’t take long to send Sue Brothers to Siberia looking for a new job. Now WUSD has API scores that are rising dramatically, and MDUSD gained just “two points” last year on API after the first year of SASS — Lawrence’s brainchild. Since then, Lawrence has unilaterally managed to orchestrate CVCHSchartergate, QEIAgate, and now Mountgate. Everything Midas touched turned to gold. Everything Lawrence touches turns to $#&@.

  23. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I believe Lawrence would count passage of Measure C and the largest K-12 solar project in the country as achievements.
    Also, as Lisa Boje pointed out in her SIG presentation, many districts’ applications were not deemed to be fundable. MDUSD did what it needed to do to get those grants for Meadow Homes and Oak Grove. Now, it has to follow through on its promises. That’s where leadership, training and oversight come in.

    WAM: Did you ever meet McHenry? He was not incompetent. He could not have lasted as long as he did if he were. Being superintendent of MDUSD is not an easy job. Unfortunately, neither McHenry nor Lawrence embraced open, transparent, responsive government. I recently met Terry Koehne, the PIO for the San Ramon Valley school district, and was struck by the difference in their approach to their community. They actually survey the community to find out what the public thinks they are doing right and where they could improve. MDUSD, on the other hand, doesn’t ask and isn’t very responsive when people give unsolicited opinions.

    Anon: There are still people who staunchly support McHenry and feel he was treated unfairly. I hear both sides. I agree there was more to his departure than not seeing eye to eye with the board. He made mistakes and the IRS penalty is one of his legacies. I didn’t mean to minimize the problems that arose under his tenure and appreciate your perspective.

  24. Anon #70 Says:

    The fact that Lawrence may consider the passage of Measure C and the implementation of a $100 mil solar project his accomplishments (keeping in mind that in many ways they are one in the same) speaks directly to the point. These projects will not fare well for Lawrence over time.

    He is scrambling to keep his bonds from becoming another “gate”. How many advanced refundings will it take to be able to sell the remaining bonds? How many times will they get away with selling small lots of bonds to close the gap up to $60? At some point they will just give up and REALLY break that political promise of not raising the voter’s tax rate (of course they have already broken that promise but not enough to enrage the community). Quite frankly the alternative is worse – they could continue to sell capital appreciation bonds and really sock it to the taxpayer. Before Gary Eberhart goes off in another school board meeting about how much money they are saving the taxpayers he may want to take a class (on his dime) on how bonds work, time value of money, net present value, how to hire a Superintendent.

  25. g Says:

    We don’t want to forget that waaay back when, Eberhart was on the McHenry Rah-Rah Hiring Squad. Ten years later, in order to redirect the negative attention away from himself, the board, and their own gross lack of oversight and due diligence he formed a Firing Squad.

    It is interesting to go back and read all that went on around getting rid of McHenry The Online Petition:
    “We the undersigned, demand that the Board of Trustees of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District remove Mr. Gary McHenry, the current District Superintendent, from his position. Under his management the District continues to be impacted by, among other things, errors in budgeting, inability to settle employee contracts, lack of long range strategic planning, historically low employee morale, poor communications, poor customer service, and lack of community trust. Superintendent Gary McHenry cannot correct the problems of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and cannot win back the employee spirit and community trust. Superintendent Gary McHenry must be replaced immediately”.

    Deja vu!

    Or in the 2/4/08 Clayton Pioneer, Mayo staunchly defending McHenry and his successes while Eberhart/Strange are calling on the people to finish him off.

    Read back on the Eberhart/Whitmarsh targets and campaign promises… and

    When you stop laughing, take that Petition and change the name to Steven Lawrence. You will not have to delete a single one of the complaints, but you can add pages of new ones. Don’t forget to add the several million dollars of our various grant dollars, down the drain.

    Once again, the students suffer under the same lack of Board oversight and due diligence that we had in 2008–but we can now add a gross lack of transparency and accountability.

  26. Anon #70 Says:

    Thank you for confirming exactly what I remember.

  27. Anon Says:

    G #75 – Well said.

  28. Theresa Harrington Says:

    G: One difference is that the MDEA teachers’ union voted No Confidence in McHenry. So far, no district union has taken that step regarding Lawrence. Although the classified employees appear to be getting more and more frustrated with more work, less hours and what appears to be a lack of responsiveness from the district regarding their demands to have hours reinstated before officials consider giving teachers a raise.

  29. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have just posted a new blog about the Monday meeting at MDHS, along with follow-up Wednesday:
    Some teachers may speak during public comment next Monday.

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