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Pleasant Hill mayor wants more community involvement in MDUSD schools

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, February 11th, 2013 at 2:35 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill.

Every week, Pleasant Hill City Manager June Catalano provides the Mayor and City Council with a “weekly update,” which is posted on the city’s website.

Last week, the first item in the update was related to Mayor Michael Harris’ new Education Initiative, announced at his Feb. 7 Mayor’s Breakfast.

Here’s what Catalano wrote:

“Pleasant Hill Education Initiative – The Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted the ‘Mayor’s Breakfast’ event on Thursday, February 7th during which Mayor Michael Harris launched a new program: The Pleasant Hill Education Initiative. The intention of The Initiative is to establish a community-wide volunteer effort to enhance the quality of education for students in Pleasant Hill. The Initiative would include programs such as mentoring and tutoring students, volunteering in schools, career counseling, job shadowing, community teaching labs and afterschool enrichment programs. Mayor Harris is seeking to form a Steering Committee to plan and oversee The Initiative. This committee would be comprised of representatives from various organizations including City Commissions, the Pleasant Hill (PH) Recreation Park District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, PH Library, Foundation for PH Education, PH Chamber of Commerce, Construction Trades, and the PH Community Foundation.

Those interested in being on the Steering Committee or wishing to be a volunteer in the program can sign up online at For more information on The Initiative, contact Martin Nelis at”

Here is a news story by Pleasant Hill reporter Lisa P. White about the breakfast and education initiative:

It says that the district superintendent and principals of Pleasant Hill schools support the initiative. However, to my knowledge, this hasn’t been publicly discussed at a school board meeting.

How do you think Harris’ initiative could affect K-12 district schools?

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80 Responses to “Pleasant Hill mayor wants more community involvement in MDUSD schools”

  1. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: That’s interesting, because the superintendent told Board President Cheryl Hansen he didn’t want to release it until FCMAT could find time in its busy schedule to present it to the board. I’ll post the information Hansen shared with me about this in a separate blog post.

  2. Doctor J Says:

    How long can Steven Lawrence hide a public record ? That’s unfair — I should have included FCMAT in the question too since they are a public entity.

  3. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s my new blog post about the ever-changing excuses from the superintendent about why it’s taking so long to release the FCMAT special education report:

  4. Doctor J Says:

    “ever-changing” is a good description about everything he does. It started at Buttercup . . . and hasn’t ended . . . yet. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, even to the Board president. Disgusting.

  5. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I see the district has quietly posted proposed changes to its Uniform Complaint Policy:

  6. Diane Says:

    Pleasant Hill Mayor Harris, whether he is a strong mayor or a weak mayor, has no authority to establish an agenda within the school system, regardless of whether or not the PTA and the School Board has approved. He is dealing with students and manipulating the educational agenda as well as assuming supervision of the free time of every citizen of Pleasant Hill.
    Of course the community organizations and businesses would want to get at the students. It means more power and authority for them at the expense of the students and the educational establishment. This is a national strategy to transition the citizens into satellites of government.

  7. g Says:

    Where are you coming from. Yes we know about ABAG and UN Agenda 21 and MTC all trying to cluster us into what will someday be little more than tenement housing, but what does that have to do with a Mayor declaring that the citizens must get behind their schools with both voluntary support and taxpayer oversight?

    Assuming supervision of the free time of the citizens? Giving organizations and businesses more power and authority at the expense of the students and their educational?

    No one is costing the students and their education more right now than the Bureaucratic, Inbred, Oligopoly of the Public Education System.

  8. Wendy Lack Says:

    Q: Is greater local control of schools a good thing?


  9. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an interesting post about three different strategies to improve teacher quality:

  10. Theresa Harrington Says:

    For those interested in promoting critical thinking, here’s an upcoming workshop that may interest you:

  11. Jim Says:

    @58 Wendy — Well, that’s the $500 Billion question in the U.S., isn’t it? We spend that much every year from local, county, state, and federal layers of the edmachine. Almost every dollar spent in our local public schools has a long thin string attached to it, stretchning back to a specific pot of money at Dent Center, at the County OoE, in Sacramento, or in Washington D.C. And it’s all designed to force accountability into a system of local public school monopolies that showed little of it before, or after, this structure was put into place over the past 40 years.

    Smaller school systems tend to perform a bit better than large public school systems, which rarely show acceptable performance. But if you take out the most affluent suburban districts, which tend to be small, and correct for other demographic factors, it’s hard to make a case that we do a good job of educating ANY students who do not already come from affluent, educated households. In other words, “local control” often helps only if the elected committees running these little fiefdoms are already working with kids who are likely to succeed.

    Over 80% of the students in this country must attend schools in no-choice local monopolies. We’ve seen the results, and now some people want to know whether “local control” — re-arranging the deck chairs — will save this ship. Sure, if we think all of the “non-local” educrats can leave their paws off $500 Billion/yr, let’s go back to the pre-Sputnik era and try that again.

  12. Jim Says:

    @ 59 Theresa — So Marc Tucker, an NCEE researcher, proposes that schools do what well-run organizations have always done to improve workforce quality, and this makes news?!? 1) Improve the quality of your recruiting pipeline; 2) invest in the people you do hire; 3) and get rid of the bottom performers. Of course, most traditional public schools don’t do any of those three things, although they often claim to prefer #2, even though there is little/no evidence that existing investments in “professional development” have any measurable impact.

    Marc Tucker’s earth shattering sky-is-blue, water-is-wet observations will go into the cyber waste basket, because most school administrators have absolutely no incentive to consider them, let alone do the hard work of implementing them. The fact that these strategies are used effectively by thousands of successful organizations outside the sealed, parallel universe of traditional public schools won’t make any difference.

  13. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yet, one of the district’s stated goals in its adopted (but never looked at again) strategic plan is to attract and retain high-quality employees. A strategy for implementing this goal, however, has not been crafted. The board asked the superintendent and his staff to bring back implementation plans for the highest-priority goals, but so far, we haven’t heard a peep from them about this. I’m not sure if this assignment was included in the superintendent’s performance evaluation goals.

  14. g Says:

    Jim, I think we can, but it won’t be easy or cheap to accomplish! “Sure, if we think all of the “non-local” educrats can leave their paws off $500 Billion/yr, let’s go back to the pre-Sputnik era and try that again.”

    To use your reference, let’s keep in mind that little of what has been developed in technology since Sputnik (or even before), might have even been thought possible without the “schoolmarm” education received by those early students.

    “…system of local public school monopolies that showed little of it before, or after, this structure was put into place over the past 40 years.” The key here is ‘or after’!

    Where did successful teaching come from before the ‘educrat machine’ saw a fortune to be made off the backs of education?

    It came from much loved (albeit underpaid) teachers dedicated to their profession.

    Shaw’s old adage “Those that can, do, and those that can’t, teach” is certainly an insult to good teachers—but fits right into the pocket of the true educrats. I would say “Those highly educated professionals who could teach, don’t.

    They write ‘how-to’ books about teaching–but don’t teach, and in many cases (barely or never) have. They go on the highly paid ‘how-to’ philosophy lecture tour, not to teach, but to sell themselves–and their books.”

    Why? Because they like money a lot more than they like kids, and they are not in it for the sake of education!

    I think we do have to go back to where we were at least 40-50 years ago–start again. We’ll have to pay adequately to get dedicated teachers now–but that’s a good thing.

    I worked for a Fortune 500 company. Their philosophy was: You have every right to organize into a union if you want to. But, they didn’t want to have to put up with that bureaucracy trying to tell them how to do what they already knew how to do. So, they hired us, evaluated us, and if we were successful compensated us at least as well, and in many areas better than we would have ever gotten by fighting them through a union machine.

    So, every adventure has to start someplace.

    We need to start by getting the Ed Code down to something smaller than War and Peace, and the teacher’s manuals more understandable than an un-diagrammed handbook for electrical appliances.

    Jerry Brown promised to fix the Ed Code, and much of what he is talking about now when he campaigned in 2010. Let’s hold his toes to the fire on it.

    Every pilot understands the point of no return. I think we still have enough fuel to get back to base. Turning back can’t be a worse choice than plowing ahead on what is almost certainly going to end in a crash.

  15. Jim Says:

    @64 G — I know many people would like to return to “earlier” days in education, but I don’t believe that that would be necessarily desirable (for some schools perhaps, but not for all) or possible. Schools in the time you are referring to had the benefit of a huge teacher corps of talented, educated women who had almost no other options in the white collar job market except being nurses or secretaries. Moreover, the expectations that our society placed on schools and students were a lot more homogenous then (ie there was considerably more agreement across society on what — and how — students should learn). Nevertheless, even under those favorable circumstances, the number of students who dropped out or graduated with minimal skills was huge back then as well. The system “worked” only because most jobs did not require much intellectual skill, and many of those drop-outs and low-skill graduates could find good jobs with decent pay.

    Now, in too many cases, we are recruiting teachers from the lower reaches of the college graduate pool, and the dropouts/low skill students they teach can’t find decent jobs. Around 30% of students in the U.S. never get a typical HS degree, and the bottom third (or half?) of the remaining 70% do not graduate with usable white-collar skills. That leaves less than half of all kids with any prospect for 21st C. careers. Our country will never be prosperous enough to pay all the bills that we are racking up when half the population cannot participate, meaningfully, in the economy. That’s why organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations have identified our failing educational system as one of the greatest risks to our nation’s security:

    Trying to go back in time won’t help, because the current one-size-fits-all school monopoly wasn’t ever really doing such a great job. Families and students desperately need more options to choose schools that can finally be more accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Jim, At the Ed. Writers conference about STEM I attended, one panelist said the shortage of US students studying STEM is a national security risk because you have to be a US citizen to work in military R&D. Although businesses can import engineers from India, China or elsewhere, the US military can’t, he said. This puts the US at an intellectual disadvantage when it comes to military innovation, he said.

  17. Wendy Lack Says:

    @Jim #65:

    If you reside in Pleasant Hill, I hope you attend the City’s Education Commission meeting at 7:00pm on February 27, 2013.

    Meeting details will be posted on the City’s website soon at:

    Clearly you have much expertise to offer that could benefit our schools.

    Best regards,

  18. Jim Says:

    @67 Wendy — I’m not a PH resident, and will be away on business that week in any case, but I do have a suggestion for attendees at the meeting. Arthur Levine, the president of the Teacher’s College at Columbia U., wrote a candid article last fall in the Wall St. Journal addressing the often-ignored problem of low achievement in our suburban school districts. I covered his article in my blog:

    People too often associate failing schools with urban America, but sadly, that is only one part of the problem.

  19. g Says:

    Jim, I too really appreciate your insight. I also admire the in-your-face politics from Wendy, the expertise of Alicia and yes, I really like Dr. J’s (sometimes) down and dirty, get it done, grit!

    Too often my thoughts stray and I have to stop–because this is a blog, and not my personal treatise 😉

    When I talk about “going back” or refer to schoolmarm education I certainly do not mean Readin’ ‘Ritin’ and ‘Rithmatic for all.

    I am though, a proponent of a whole lot more of the ‘back to basics’ for many. As you and others have indicated, smart kids will at the very least survive, and maybe even excel–in spite of us.

    We all know (when we admit it to ourselves) and in turn must make our government accept the fact that, no matter what fancy name or acronym they tie to the conditional allocations of dollars, some students will never help their K-12 “hit 800”, will not succeed even if shoehorned into a higher academia setting, and will never build that rocket.

    But they could forge the steel, temper the glass, lay the fiber-optic, punch in the data, and yes, sew the uniforms. Public education must assure a future for them as well. But, we must get political to bring jobs back on-shore and we must incentivize both professionals and tradesmen to become educators to those students.

    Tossing the bored (or high strung), lost (or mistreated) kids into ‘continuation’ (with nursing stations) doesn’t seem to have done a good job of keeping half of them from dropping out, nor does it get them a job.

    Throwing too many into SpEd, because no one understands them is not the answer–and cheats SpEd and everyone else.

    Most of these kids can absolutely be motivated and made employable, but we cannot count on the McD’s, Targets or Walmarts or the Mom & Pop store on the corner to employ all of them. Nor can we allow bored, lazy unmotivated teachers to teach them.

    We have proof on our doorsteps that decades of shoving dollars on top of dollars to send our educators to ‘eat-drink-listen-buy’ seminars or pay to have outside ‘experts’ come talk ‘at’ us has not worked. The only thing different in what they say today than they did 20 years ago when they wrote their thesis is now their hypothetical bs is in a PowerPoint.

    But the dollars generated locally could work if they were kept local, and used for positive improvement in teaching and leadership.

    The money that flows so freely out of our district to the traveling salesmen of education needs to be kept at home! We must insist on it. We pay taxes on what we earn locally, but in turn, too much of that money does not benefit our kids when a huge percentage of it is going into a second financial bucket somewhere upstream in D.C. or Utah or Georgia or…even over the rainbow – in Sacramento!

  20. Wendy Lack Says:

    This blog by Penelope Trunk always challenges my thinking and I love the numerous use of embedded links to source documents and articles. Always an interesting read. Am sharing it for the benefit of others:

    @G #69: If there’s one thing just about everyone can agree on, it’s that our current public school system is not working. This is why I’m a proponent of school choice and homeschooling. Just about any alternative is better than public schools.

  21. Wendy Lack Says:

    Sad news from Oakland re top charter schools:

    Excerpt: “Three of the highest-performing schools in the state are on the verge of being shut down by the Oakland school board, a decision that will pit passionate students and parents against district officials trying to safeguard taxpayer cash. The vote will be either the latest or the last chapter in the controversial story of American Indian charter schools.”

    Of course there’s no excuse for financial mismanagement or ethical conflicts. And if charter operators are engaged in misconduct, it must stop.

    However one cannot help but marvel at the hypocrisy of a failed school district such as Oakland Unified criticizing others for financial mismanagement! I think this qualifies as chutzpah — writ large.

  22. Jim Says:

    @71 Wendy — If the charter operator is proved to be misusing public funds, then it would make sense to punish the responsible administrators in the organization, not the students. Imagine the fear that those parents and students must be experiencing — that they will be thrown back into their local Oakland Unified school, or into a lottery for scarce seats in one of the other successful charters in the city.

    But the other “conflict of interest” that the Chron missed is Oakland Unified’s approval and regulatory authority (granted by the state) over schools that offer residents a competitive alternative to the district’s own miserable schools. We’ve seen that conflict quite clearly here in MDUSD and in other districts, although it seldom gets media attention. For some reason, despite all the reams of evidence, people keep believing that these local dysfunctional districts — with their own colorful histories of corruption, legal troubles, and incompetence — are actually “in it for the kids”.

  23. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Speaking of being in it for the kids, a national commission on Equity and Excellence has just released a report called “For Each and Every Child,” which lays out recommendations in five key areas for erasing the achievement gap:

    I just listened in on the teleconference with reporters and commission members releasing this report, which Congressman Mike Honda from Silicon Valley helped to orchestrate. He said he plans to hold Town Hall meetings in his district to delve more deeply into these issues, which include: improving school finance and efficiency – in part by making it more transparent, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers – especially in high-poverty areas, improving access to early childhood education for every child, meeting the needs of students in high poverty communities – by focusing on things outside the schoolhouse that can be done to help students be ready to learn, and changes to the way education is governed – including improvements in accountablity structures, directed towards increased equity and greater excellence.

    I will be interested to hear your reactions!

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a US Dept. of Ed blog post that stresses the importance of counselors in actually providing help to students, instead of just identifying student needs:

  25. Theresa Harrington Says:

    For those interested in getting more involved in local schools, you might be interested in attending the Equity Advisory Team meeting from 2-4 p.m. today at the district office, where the Equity and Disproportionality Plan will be presented:

    Thanks to the board’s decision to make this a board committee, “Public attendance and comments are welcome at this meeting,” according to the agenda.

  26. Theresa Harrington Says:

    To celebrate the good work that is going on in the district, MDEA is planning its First Annual MDUSD Academy Awards, to be held May 17 at Centre Concord:

    MDEA is accepting nominations for teachers, classified employees, administrators and parent volunteers to be honored. Nomination deadline is March 28.

  27. Wendy Lack Says:

    Degree inflation hits disadvantaged families hardest, as this New York Times article illustrates.

    An undergrad college degree has become the new high school diploma — an essential requirement for any white collar job, including file clerk. The education gap further stratifies society . . . an unhealthy cultural trend.

  28. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an article reflecting lack of satisfaction by teachers and principals in their jobs, further addressing the need to attract and retain high-quality employees:

  29. Theresa Harrington Says:

    An here’s a story about the large number of teachers in CA who are teaching subjects for which they have no credential:

  30. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here are two education events coming up Tuesday and Wednesday focused on educating students for college and careers to benefit the California economy:

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