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MDUSD trustee warns that ignoring school problems constitutes ‘educational malpractice’

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 at 10:20 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

For the past three years, the Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) teachers’ union has asked its members to complete “school climate” surveys, rating the environments at their campuses according to a variety of criteria, including how respected they feel and whether their administrators demonstrate integrity, honesy and follow-through.

After reviewing surveys from two of the lowest-ranking schools this year, Trustee Lynne Dennler decided to speak to teachers at those sites to gain more insights into their concerns. Dennler, who is a retired elementary teacher from the district, shared her thoughts about the surveys and the teachers’ comments with the board Monday, without naming the two schools.

Here is what she said:

“Last week, I met with the teachers at two schools. I asked to meet with these teachers, as their recent MDEA climate surveys indicated these staffs are extremely dissatisfied with their administrators.

Each school has uniquely different issues, but in each, they are unacceptable and undermine a positive teaching environment. We recently had Clayton Valley choose to become an independent charter. One, of their teachers’ motivations that led to consider a charter, was dissatisfaction with their ineffective, unsupportive administrators. At that time, the district administration turned a blind eye.

I am not suggesting the reason to respond to a poor school climate, is the avoidance of a charter. We as a Board of Education , have the responsibility to provide the best possible environment for our teachers to teach and our students to learn.

A positive classroom climate is an essential factor in a quality education. There are many elements that go into this positive environment. For a teacher or any worker anywhere, being treated respectfully, feeling valued, by management is essential.

Imagine going to your work each day and not being treated with respect by your supervisor. We have teachers who are yelled at in the presence of their students. Teachers are called to the office on false pretenses by the principal, then blindsided by a parent.

Imagine having your administrator make decisions that aren’t in the student’s best interest, just to please the parent. Would you be comfortable with your confidential information being shared with your coworkers, by your supervisor?

Would a supervisor who misrepresents facts or who is outright dishonest, foster confidence in your work environment? Inconsistent communications and ever changing policy creates a difficult work environment. ‘Walking on eggs’ is not a mindset that produces the positive energy and the creativity required for teaching, or for creating a positive classroom climate.

Were all these teachers’ comments regarding their administrators, negative? Absolutely, definitely not! These teachers certainly gave credit where it was due. However, these teachers aren’t accorded the respect and professionalism deserved.

We must be careful, to not assume there is something wrong with the survey questions just because the results make us uncomfortable. I hear teachers blamed because they have spoken up.

This is incorrect. They are professionals who care deeply about teaching and their students. It is our mistake to appoint administrators who lack adequate experience and the required leadership skills to move our schools forward.

Instead of addressing the problem, we make excuses and ignore the problems. The problem not the questions asked, or the number of responses received. We as a Board need to be certain our students have the best climate we can provide. To ignore these problems is educational malpractice.”

Here is a link to video of her statement: http://qik.com/video/51263350

How do you think the district should address the issues raised by Dennler and the teachers with whom she spoke?

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  • Doctor J

    The Board needs to clean house immediate and decisively, beginning with those that allowed this horrific climate to occur, those who failed to recognize this climate, and those who have failed to correct it. It starts with Supt Lawrence, and includes Asst. Supt Rose Lock, and some in SASS. The above, and those who are/were “coaches” for these schools, should no longer be employed by MDUSD. Unless the Board takes quick action, MDUSD will continue to be a “buddy” district; it being more important to protect your friend, than to insure quality education.

  • Wait a Minute

    Well Mrs Dennler that is an excellent statement that correctly identifies this mission-critical problem and making this statement shows leadership.

    However, it will be the actions taken to solve this gordian knot that is most important and most reflective of leadership.

    Dr J. is correct. The problems started at the top levels of administration and it is at the top that corrective actions must be taken first.

    I would suggest that along with Stevie Lawrence and Rose Lock, it is essential that Greg Rolen be removed from the MDUSD.

    This because of his constant unethical actions like pushing for 400% increases in the compensation for his lover Marisol Padilla, owner of the translating company “awarded” the contract (Now at $99,910.000 or put another way only $10.00 short of SIX FIGURES) for district tranlations. Nice way to supplement your household income Greg!

    It is clear that Rolen is deeply involved in all the scandals that are constantly swirling the district closer and closer to the final flush and he must be held accountable and removed along with the others responsible here.

    I hope that Trustee Dennler joins with Trustee Hansen and Trustee Mayo hopefully in opposing EberMarsh and bring true positive change to the MDUSD ASAP.

    I think it is also essential that 2 new Trustees are elected to continue and further the changes that MUST START AT THE TOP.

  • Doctor J

    Lynne Dennler visits the two schools with the worst educational climates — why didn’t Lawrence, Lock and SASS visit them also ? I guess they never took “Management 101A” — “For a teacher or any worker anywhere, being treated respectfully, feeling valued, by management is essential.” The culture in MDUSD starts with Lawrence’s habitual behavior described succinctly by Dennler: “not being treated with respect”, “yelled at”, “false pretenses”, “your administrator make decisions that aren’t in the student’s best interest”, “confidential information being shared”, “misrepresents facts”, “outright dishonest”, “Inconsistent communications”, “ever changing policy”, ‘Walking on eggs’, and the list goes on and on.

  • Doctor J

    Postponement of the AIS contract was rather deflating since Rolen had the chance to comment about whether the item should be considered in “closed session”. Not sure it qualifies, but Rolen certainly isn’t the one to decide or not since he is the subject of concern as to whether or not he has a business or personal relationship with the owner of AIS.

  • Doctor J

    In her SASS report, Susan H says principal coaches like herself get to schools 2 to 3 times a month. Really ? So she was at Sun Terrace 3 times a month since August and didn’t see all the problems happening at Sun Terrace ? Please. Dates and times. And Rose saying they are building communication with the parents by doing a Survey Monkey ? That’s a unique way to build trust and confidence.

  • Sun Terrace Elementary

    WOW! She totally hit the nail on the head in describing principal GRETCHEN JACOBS!

  • Anon

    We already have Educational Malpractice….Perhaps Greg Rolan can define that! LOL

  • Marilyn King

    Thank you Lynn for visiting our site and for speaking up for teachers. It will be interesting to see how the District moves forward. We are ready for positive change.

  • MD teacher

    There are many valuable people in the SASS department, who truly have the best interests of students in mind every day when they come to work.
    That being said, as an employee of the district at an elementary school: I have NEVER seen anyone from SASS visit our school, and I actually have no idea who, if anyone, is assigned to our school as support.
    There are definitely problems here that need to be dealt with.

  • Doctor J

    @MDTeach#7 Thanks for your honesty — its just shameful of SASS and their leadership. The dog and pony show last night was such fluff — no meat. The job descriptions and actual accomplishments are light years apart.

  • anon

    Funny, hansen couldn’t control the praise that she showered on the sass department.

  • Sun Terrace

    Informed by Sun Terrace teachers that Sun Terrace is one of two schools that was visited. Not a surprise at all.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Regarding school climate, I just received an email from PHMS about an event they are planning on Friday to celebrate students’ accomplishments. They plan to create a student/faculty human tunnel to proudly send off Nick Lambert, the Contra Costa Colunty Spelling Bee Champ, who is headed to Washington DC this weekend to compete. The school will also honor Band and Choir students who participated in the Great America Competition this past weekend and brought home 5 awards, including– “Best Overall”. In addition, the school will honor recent Talent Show winners. The entire student body and faculty will line up and applaud these student and their accomplishments.
    These kinds of schoolwide events likely help create positive climates on campuses.

  • Sun Terrace

    #13 Such wonderful news to share Theresa. I sure hope Sun Terrace administration can bring back some of these important events which will certainly help our school climate.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#11 No problem with the broad brush strokes of SASS, but the specifics are missing, as is the implementation. Just compare the Board approved Job Descriptions of the SASS principal coaches with what is happening, and you can see there is no management, ALL of which was taken back by Rose Lock during the last round of job description adjustments.

  • Doctor J

    The $64 question: why only two Elem Principals announced when the agenda said up to 4 ? When the agenda was set, SASS knew of the size of the Elem pool. What changed in those 3 days, including the appointment of LC who was not even in the Elem Pool ? Then the re-opening of the Elem Principal Pool interview on Sunday, the day before the Board meeting. What was going on behind closed doors ? Another NugentGATE of larger proportions ? Or just more unprepardness of SASS ?

  • wondering

    Dr. J

    How do you know who was in the Elem Pool?

  • vindex

    Bravo to Ms. Dennler. There are certainly excellent administrators in the MDUSD (notably the Bancroft Linda Schuler as evidenced by the uprising at Bancroft when the District tried to move her), but many of them should be fired. Granted inept administrators and teachers are not just a MDUSD problem, but should be taken seriously when it is brought forward. Bravo again Ms. Dennler.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is some more wonderful news, although it may be unrelated to MDUSD.
    Please take the time to read about these 17 Kennedy-King Memorial College Scholarship award-winners: http://bit.ly/LgnGWz
    Each community college student has overcome obstacles to pursue his or her education, most likely with support from caring teachers and administrators.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I am curious about these comments made by Dennler:

    “Teachers are called to the office on false pretenses by the principal, then blindsided by a parent. Imagine having your administrator make decisions that aren’t in the student’s best interest, just to please the parent.”

    Although the two schools have not been named, one poster in another thread who appeared to be a parent staunchly defended a school that was alleged to be one of the low-scorers. Is it possible for an administrator to win over parents, while at the same time damaging the climate for teachers?

  • Doctor J

    @W#17 The Board Agenda was published to the public on Thursday evening. Items had to be added to it by the Monday previous. That means at least by that Monday, a week prior to the Board meeting, when it said “up to 4 Elementary principals” to be appointed, that the pool had at least 4 candidates who had passed at least two interviews per district policy. LC was not one of them. By Friday, only 1 of those 4 was left standing. The only review after the two interviews is the NugentGATE google review, established in July 2010 after the appointment of Dr. Nugent, and his mugshot appearing on the Claycord blog before the Board members even got home. Interstingly the one remaining candidate is from Hayward USD and there had been some articles about her by Katy Murphy of the Times. So to say they had 4 openings, and only one candidate to be appointed, was quite embarrassing. Rose Lock began scouring the district roster for candidates, and the best one, and I say a good one, was LC. Most of her experience is in Secondary, which is why I say there had to be some promise of future promotion for her to “take a demotion” from Secondary to Elementary. Just the pay scale differential is quite dramatic. Interestingly the Board members never ask what is the financial impact to the district between the candidates. And then the Edjoin solicitation for a second Elem Principal Pool is placed last Sunday. Hardly a coincidence.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#20 Some administrators will sacrifice teachers to avoid complaints to the Supt. I think the message is pretty clear. You might ask Trustee Dennler to explain herself.

  • Doctor J

    Is the BAC for tomorrow cancelled because no Agenda is posted as required by the Brown Act ?

  • anon

    Dr. J,
    I usually appreciate your information, but I am becoming painfully aware that you are not much more than a s*&*disturber.

    There is nothing sinister behind the pool for elem. principals shrinking. There were more, but in waiting to get official appointments by the board, they accepted positions elsewhere.

    And why is it deemed a “demotion” to go from an assistant vp at the high school level to a Principal position at the elementary level. Are you implying that elementary students and staff are merely the training ground for the upper levels?

    As I said, I appreciate your facts, but you spend way too much time speculating. Just stick to the facts please!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a recap of the board’s April 23 discussion regarding contract extensions for the superintendent and four top administrators: http://bit.ly/JIK1AH
    This blog post also includes Brian Lawrence’s Monday public comment to the board and Trustee Cheryl Hansen’s suggested goals for the superintendent.

  • Wait a Minute

    Anon@24,

    I can’t speak for Dr. J but I think the best point to be made here is that as an EXCELLENT administrator at the secondary level WITH GOOD RELATIONS WITH TEACHERS:

    #1 Lian Cismowski should instead of being put in charge of an elementary instead should have stayed at been made Principal at Mount.

    #2 This is the place where her skillset could be best utilized to fix the many egregious problems at Mount.

    And, #3 Kate MClatchy should have been given the boot as she has misreably failed in so many respects including to even make Mount a safe school for students and staff!

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#24 “Demotion” in terms of salary and size of student body. Those are facts and you can compare them. The Elem Prinicipal pool was only in place a couple of weeks — there was only two weeks between board meetings, so I can’t buy your speculation as to the reason for the shrinkage. Additionally, the history of the district is if you are an Elementary administrator, you don’t transfer up.

  • Realia

    @DJ27. Regarding the lack of promotion possibilities for elementary school administrators, that’s not always the case. Julie Braun Martin was an elementary school administrator and look where she is now – with virtually no human resources background and in charge of all district employees. Nowhere in the private sector would you have a non-HR professional overseeing so many employees, but at MDUSD a former grade school principal has the job. And look how that’s worked out.

  • Doctor J

    JBM was Principal of Delta View for the first year and a half or so, but it took the current SASS Director Sue Petersen to turn that school around and become a Distinguished School with some astronomical API gains two years in a row. JBM was a Personnel Director, without any background or experience, for a couple of years before she was promoted to Asst. Supt. over Personnel. Realia, you are so correct that a non-HR professional in the private sector cannot self promote like she did. How has that worked out you ask ? Problem after problem.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dr. J: As these comments point out, there are at least three elementary principals who have “transferred up” bigtime: Rose Lock, former principal of Walnut Acres Elementary is now assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support; Julie Braun-Martin, former principal of a few different elementary schools is now assistant superintendent for personnel services; and Susan Petersen, former principal of Delta View Elementary, is the director of elementary education.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#30 Lock and Petersen ladder climbing are within normal Elementary circles — what you don’t see is Elementary principals becoming Secondary principals. Lock’s previous title was Asst. Supt. Elementary and she just took on a different title, Asst. Supt. SASS. Direct supervision of the Secondary Principals remains with the Supt. Its all in their job descriptions. When there are problems in Secondary like there has been at Mount and CVHS, Lawrence loves to shift the responsibility and blame to others, and thus puts JBM and RL in the line-up of suspects.

  • Doctor J

    “The State of the District” signed by Steven Lawrence. Its the LEA Addendum dated May 22, 2011 and Board Approved June 28, 2011. When you read it slowly and carefully, its really pathetic, and now one year later, is it any better ? http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/e3e31153-1f85-4911-9f25-ac47fb459486.pdf

  • Sarah

    This article describes the principal @ Shore Acres perfectly. I have no idea where the district found her, but they need to return her ASAP. She has never taught in a classroom, so how in the world does she become a principal? Who ever hired her, needs to find another profession -poor, poor choice. She’s lacks any type of leadership skills. I’m glad the teachers and staff are finally being heard, not its time for the district to finally LISTEN!!! No one deserves to work in such a chaotic/unprofessional/rude/unpredictable work environment.

  • andrew

    @ Dr J (32): I read it. Sure sounds pretty, but nothing was put into practice.

  • Theresa Harrington

    In addition to SARCs, the WCCUSD also provides its community with Counselor Support Personnel Accountability Report Cards (SPARCs):
    http://www.wccusd.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=2193&ViewID=047E6BE3-6D87-4130-8424-D8E4E9ED6C2A&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=667&PageID=1

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s how 8 of California’s most influential superintendents are pushing school reform: http://www.siacabinetreport.com/articles/viewarticle.aspx?article=2393

  • brenda aaron

    Please note that the article written about Sun Terrace Elem principal Ms. Jacobs is a great example of a school that has a negative atmosphere due to the rude, unfriendly, and unprofessional administrator. A low performance rating of the school is indicative of the administration and low morale of the staff, untrained to deal effectively with the students and total disregard to the parents in put wanting the best climate for their children. This principal is a bully in every sense of the word. Behavioral problems, low performance ratings are due inpart to poor leadership. Our public schools are failing our children and the staff do not make the grade for creating a positive atmosphere for learning. It starts at the top!

  • brenda aaron

    I stated my concerns to both the school staff and at the District level regarding the climate of the school with bullying. I suggested a positive alternative appoach, NURTURED HEART APPROACH. An approach that would build a strong communication between the student, parent and school. Building positive inner wealth and creates an eviroment and atmosphere that promotes and acknowledges the Positive behaviors of the student. Ms. Jacobs has not created that type of atmosphere at the school.
    The Nurtured Heart Approach, trains the staff how to build success in our children at school and the parent workshops help to build on the success of the child.
    Only showing up when the child does something “wrong” is the only relationship that has been established with the child is negative totally negative, even the staff were intimdated by Ms. Jacobs. I voiced my concern at the District level as well.

    The number of complaints about this principal, before mine. why was not something done? I question the integrity of those who knew of this behavior and decided to ignore the concerns of the staff and parents. The Nurtured Approach instills VALUES that elevates the child to success in both academics and social skills that builds CHARACTER.

    The Nurtured Heart Approach will be offering a workshop in the fall at New Hope International Church on Olivera Crt.
    All interested staff, parents, caregivers, and the public are invited.
    For upcoming dates contact:
    Deputy Director, Ms. Michelle Williams
    (925) 313-6151
    Deputy Director, Michelle Williams
    (925)

  • brenda aaron

    The issues addressed are serious and should not be ignored, and to do so is at what cost?
    The board must address the concerns of both parent and staff, the children are being affected in a negative way.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a story about bullying at Oak Grove MS in Concord: http://bit.ly/LSIqaM

  • Anon

    Unfortunatly this happens all over. The no tollerance policy is rarly enforced. I see it all the time at our middle school. Parents complain the principle gives a standard answer to everyone. Don’t worry I will take care of it and I have ways of finding out what happened. Nothing ever gets done. Parents are just fed up with all of it. We need Admins. that want to be there and have a backbone. Not affraid of the paperwork that is involved…..We also need a Board that will handle the concerns and leadership that is just that, LEADERSHIP not broker promises and lip service.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is the agenda for Monday’s board meeting: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=344
    They plan to take action on a complaint about a certificated employee, which could include discipline or dismissal.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The board may adopt a countywide “choose civility” code of conduct on its consent calendar: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5388&mtgId=344

    AIS interpreting is also back on the consent calendar: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/5d81a210-4802-4ff4-82df-59a4c5875d43.pdf

    Also, trustees plan to approve third interim report (which is not attached) “as presented”: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5287&mtgId=344

    Pete Pedersen’s contract is also up for renewal: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5368&mtgId=344

    The board also plans to promote a current certificated employee to the position of director of secondary support: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5454&mtgId=344

    There is also a revised agenda item for public input meetings, including two focused on the state of the school district: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=5503&mtgId=344

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is the district’s graduation schedule: http://bit.ly/KyGdm4

  • Just curious

    Why is post #44 on this particluar story?

  • Theresa Harrington

    No particular reason. It didn’t necessarily fit with the special education posts. But, I am not implying that there are problems at the high schools that need to be addressed. I was just trying to get the information out.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Northgate HS is inviting parents to complete a survey about the school: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NorthgateParentSurvey2012

    I wonder if other high schools are also inviting feedback from parents.