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Brian Lawrence jumps into MDUSD board race in November election

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, April 5th, 2012 at 2:48 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Mt. Diablo school district parent Brian Lawrence has announced his intention to run for a seat on the school board in November.

Here is the message he has just sent out to the community (which I am reposting with his permission):

“Dear friends,

I wanted you to be the first to know that I’m running for the Mt. Diablo School Board in the November election. As the father of one current student and three future ones (we’ve done our part- student population growth will now have to come from other people), I’m passionate about making sure that we provide an outstanding education for our kids.

There are brilliant students, amazing teachers and dedicated staff in this district, but we face some challenging problems. The district continues to decline in enrollment- at one time it was above 50,000 students but now it is on pace to soon drop below 30,000 students. Two schools were closed last year and more school closures may follow. The dropout rate is 50% higher than in the rest of the county. Families are fleeing the district because they are concerned that it will not provide a quality education for their children. We can do better.

We have the opportunity to create a vibrant district that has people clamoring to get in. The Board needs to lay out a clear road map of how we get there. A comprehensive strategic plan involves all of the stakeholders in the district and guides every decision that the Board makes.

Here are my top priorities:

- Close the Achievement Gap. Too many students at too many of our schools are absolutely being left behind. Every student in the District should graduate and be prepared to enter college or obtain a high wage job.

- Strict Financial Accountability. Taxpayer money must be spent wisely to make sure it provides the best educational opportunities for our children. Let’s utilize technology to increase collaboration at the same time we decrease travel costs.

- Transparent Decision Making. Too many decisions are made behind closed doors and the public is not privy to the reasons why these decisions are being made. The residents of Mt. Diablo deserve to know what decisions are being made and why.

- Recognize, Reward and Retain our top employees. Outstanding employees are vital to improving the District- we have to keep them. Employees who don’t meet our high standards need to be identified and coached. If performance does not improve, we need to replace them.

I would greatly appreciate your help in this campaign. Good news- I’m not asking you for money (today)! But I will later on- campaigns are expensive…

Ways you could help today:

- Join my Facebook page
- Follow me on Twitter
- Tell your friends
- Drop me a note and let me know your thoughts

Thank you!

Copyright © 2012 Brian Lawrence for MDUSD Board, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because I thought you’d be interested in my campaign for the Mt. Diablo School Board.
Our mailing address is:

Brian Lawrence for MDUSD Board
3163 Cafeto Dr
Walnut Creek, CA 94598″

Please note that I am posting this to inform the community about Lawrence’s candidacy and this blog post is not an endorsement. If any other candidate wishes to submit a similar statement, I will post it as well.

As far as I know, Lawrence is the first candidate to announce his intention to run. Board President Sherry Whitmarsh and Trustee Gary Eberhart will be up for re-election, but neither has said so far whether they intend to run.

Bay Point resident Debra Mason told me she is considering running, but she has not yet made an official announcement. Mt. Diablo teachers’ union President Mike Langley told me that he also knows of one other person who is considering running.

Do you support Lawrence’s candidacy?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Anon

    Words, words, words. We need to hear how he can he fulfill each goal, how will he improve the district technology, how will he get transparency from this perennially benighted administration…? And will he support ideas from the district’s best hope, Cheryl Hansen?

  • MoMx3

    He needs to start distancing himself from the very public support he had of Eberhart (et al) last time around. We do not need more of the same. So far it’s just blah blah blah political speak.

  • Brian Lawrence

    Theresa- thanks for posting my announcement.

    Anon- there are definitely ideas of Cheryl Hansen’s that I support. One very specific instance is when she suggested having the Board hold 3 meetings outside of the Dent Center so that they could interact more with the public. During the public comment, I spoke in strong support of her idea- it directly correlates with my position on Transparent Decision Making- the Board needs to be more accessible in the community. Instead of being hunkered down in the Dent Center, I’d like to hear what members of the community have to say and respond to them. I’d make sure staff and legal counsel properly noticed and agendized the meeting so we could engage with people attending the meeting- the Board shouldn’t hide behind the Brown Act.

    If someone has a good idea, let’s act on it- I don’t particularly care which Board member suggested it.

  • Linda L

    Brian,
    Thank you for reaching out to the community. I have a couple of questions for you:

    1.)You did not mention a strategic plan as one of your top priorities. What is your position on strategic planning and where do you believe it falls within the scope of work as a Board member?

    2.)What do you believe is the role of a school board? Where can it be effective and what are its limitations?

    3.)There has been some discussion and even workshops on Board decorum. Assuming by-laws that can be modified if necessary, what is your understanding of how a Board should work with respect to agenda and non-agenda item discussions, differing opinions, and inclusion of agenda items? Do you think that what appear to be the current policies best serve our students and community?

    Thanks again Brian for be willing to address questions.

    Linda

  • Brian Lawrence

    Hi Linda,

    An inclusive, comprehensive strategic plan is needed to drive change in the district. We’ve taken a small step towards it, but a lot more needs to be done. Based on the meetings I’ve attended and my conversations with other participants, there are questions about the current strategic planning process. Is it truly being driven by the community or are the results largely pre-ordained?

    Based on the strategic plan for the District, the Board should be setting goals and monitoring the progress towards them. At a recent Board meeting, I asked what primary criteria the board was using to measure the Superintendent and how the District was performing against those benchmarks. I did not receive an answer. I will ask the same question at future board meeting until I receive an answer- whether it is as a member of the public or as a Board Member.

    The Board should be asking hard questions and demanding strict accountability. For instance, how did Mt. Diablo High fail to correctly apply for a QEIA grant of $1.5 million? Who was responsible for making sure it was done correctly? What mechanisms are in place to make sure that never happens again? Why were other Districts able to successfully apply for the grant?

    As a Board Member, I’ll make sure that other Members have the opportunity to express their views and concerns. I may not agree with their position, but I will emphatically protect their right to be heard. Vigorous but respectful debate is the cornerstone of democracy. A ridiculous amount of time has been spend discussing how many public forums should be held and where. That time could have been much better spent asking about some of the important issues before the Board and communicating with the public.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    Brian — It’s great to see a prospective candidate participate in forums like this. One has to wonder how many of the recent dramas in the district could have been reduced by more direct communication with constituents.

    I have some questions about your first point on closing the achievement gap:
    1) Since this was the only point in your platform that pertained specifically to academic achievement, how do you feel this priority should be aligned with other academic challenges facing MDUSD? For example, many of our schools perform well below their peers around the state, even when measured against schools with similar socio-economic factors. That is also a “gap” that concerns many MDUSD parents. Clearly, it is clearly important to improve the performance of our most disadvantaged students, but isn’t it also a shame that students at ALL levels in MDUSD are underperforming their peers elsewhere? Should this gap also be a priority, and if so, how should it be addressed?
    2) Can you cite districts that have been successful in closing the achievement gaps that you refer to, and can you elaborate on the types of policies or programs that have a record of success and ought to be used in MDUSD?
    3) This district has maintained one of the most intransigent positions against school choice of any large district in CA. Coincidentally — or perhaps not! — MDUSD has also had remarkably consistent problems with accountability and academic performance. Do you see any role for increased school choice in this district, to increase the options available to students and families of all types, and to demonstrate that our children are capable of achieving much more than they have in the environments that this district has chosen to provide?
    4) Finally, in advocating “recognizing, rewarding, and retaining” the district’s “top” employees, could you address the many structural and attitudinal barriers that have undermined that priniciple almost everywhere in traditional public K-12 education (certinaly not just in MDUSD)? Again, do you have any specific thoughts on how MDUSD might introduce improvements in this key area?

  • Brian Lawrence

    Jim,

    Great questions. I am on my way out of town and will respond next week.

  • Brian Lawrence

    @ Jim

    1. As a whole, our District is underperforming. The situation is particularly dire with the low-performing schools and student groups, but we need to focus on improving the quality of education for all students in the district.

    2. Here in the Bay Area, Milpitas has had considerable success in closing the achievement gap. They recognize schools such as Rose Elementary and Pomeroy Elementary that have had success in improving low-performing student groups and they more broadly recognize schools that have increased overall student performance.

    How have they done it? They have a comprehensive strategic plan and school success plans that work in tandem. There are regular progress reports to the Board and a focus on measuring results. Here is how they describe it on their website:

    Focus on Success is the accountability program put into effect that has been in place at Milpitas Unified School District since the 1998-99 school year. Focus on Success was developed to ensure the alignment of the each school’s goals and objectives as stated in their school site plan with the Board-adopted goals and objectives as stated in the Board’s Strategic Plan.

    In order for goals and objectives to be useful and meaningful in an operational sense at the school and classroom planning levels, there must be clear criteria for measuring progress. “Focus on Success” is a continuous improvement evaluation model that addresses three of the District’s Strategic Plan Goals (improving student achievement, improving preparation of teachers, and increasing community involvement and support) and describes how each of these goals will be measured and evaluated. There are 17 indicators measuring the district’s three goals. The indicators are linked to the district’s strategic plan. Results on these indicators by school, with baseline measures for comparative purposes of determining progress, are reported to the Board throughout the school year. These measures are constructed, analyzed and reported in order to support the district’s two major initiatives: implementing state and district content standards (including high standards, measurable and reported, for all students) and “closing the gap,” which refers to the achievement gap between our African-American and, Hispanic and Filipino students and compared to our White and Asian students. “Focus on Success” presents summary reports to the Board. The data analyzed include results from the California Standards Tests, Academic Performance Index, and Adequate Yearly Progress

    3. Yes, I see an increased role for school choice in this district. We need safeguards to protect students, but let’s allow teachers and parents to work together to provide better educational opportunities. If something is working we should learn from it and share it throughout the district. I’m concerned with creating better outcomes for students, not maintaining fiefdoms.

    4. Rewarding top talent in the District will have to be done in conjunction with the employees of the District. Currently there is a deep distrust of the District and that makes collaboration extremely difficult. For example, many teachers and staff members are extremely upset about furlough days in light of the District having a $40 million surplus that is much larger than was projected. The Board will have to make difficult decisions, but doing it in a transparent manner will help improve relations and allow us to find ways to partner.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Brian, do you support the proposed contract extensions?

  • Doctor J

    @Brian Lawrence — What is your position on Monday night’s proposal to extend the contracts of the Big5 – Lawrence, Rolen, Richards, Lock, Braun-Martin — until July 2015 ? Note all contracts have automatic escalators, and next years enrollment will be dropping to about 31,000 with the loss of CVHS plus historical trending down. http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/DQ/EnrTimeRpt.aspx?Level=District&cYear=2010-11&cname=Mt.%20Diablo%20Unified&cCode=0761754

  • Brian Lawrence

    The new Board should be given the opportunity to decide on long-term contracts.