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MDUSD may release FCMAT report on special education soon

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, February 15th, 2013 at 9:56 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, special education.

According to a CAC update sent out last October, Mt. Diablo school district Superintendent Steven Lawrence told Chairwoman Lorrie Davis that the FCMAT Special Education Report would be released in December or January. Since it wasn’t released by the end of January, I sent Lawrence an email Feb. 4 asking when he intendended to make the report (which the district received July 26 from FCMAT) public.

Here is his respoonse:

“Our goal was to complete the review/editing process by December or January. However, with Dr. (Kerri) Mills being new coupled with the review/edit process that FCMAT goes through the process has taken a little longer than expected. We are working with FCMAT to make the study public in the near future.”

That night, I attended the CAC meeting and asked Board President Cheryl Hansen about the report. She sent me the following email the next day:

“As a follow up to our conversation last night at the CAC meeting regarding the status of the Special Ed FCMAT report, I emailed the superintendent the following four questions this morning and asked for his response today:

1.  What is the status of the SpEd FCMAT report?

2.  When will it be released to the public?

3.  Why has there been such a long delay in this process?

4.  What does the district intend to do with this report?  How will it use it?

I just received a reply from the superintendent which added nothing of substance to the general response he sent you. Here’s what he offered: ‘The question is when will FCMAT be available to present the findings to the Board. They are busy working with several districts and we are trying to get on their calendar. Once presented to the Board we will get Board direction on which parts of the report they would like us to work to implement.’

So here’s my response: I’m putting the Special Ed FCMAT report on the February 25th agenda so the Board and the public can finally get some information on something that should have been dealt with and made public a long time ago. The public paid for this report yet they aren’t getting any of the information that they paid for.

The only way to achieve transparency and accountability is if everyone involved acts with transparency and accountability, and that’s not what’s happening with these FCMAT reports.”

This is not the same procedure followed with the FCMAT Transportation report, which was never presented to the board by FCMAT. In that instance, district staff began implementing recommendations before they even presented the report to the board. And when they did present it, staff didn’t ask for direction. Instead, staff just explained what they were doing with the recommendations.

Although a date for a FCMAT presentation to the board has still not been finalized to my knowledge, a blog reader who attended the superintendent’s Wednesday feeder pattern meeting at Mt. Diablo Elementary has informed me that Lawrence told that group the report was with FCMAT for corrections and would be released as soon as it is returned next week.

So, now it appears that Lawrence doesn’t plan to wait until FCMAT has time to present the report to the board before releasing it, as he told Hansen.

This piecemeal dribbling of information is one reason it made sense for the superintendent to hold ONE Parent Advisory Council meeting so everyone got the same information at the same time. If he doesn’t want to do that, he should send out TIMELY messages to the community informing the public about what he’s telling parents at various feeder pattern meetings.

Do you think the superintendent should inform special education parents about when he plans to release the FCMAT special education report?

March 1 update: Here is the link to the FCMAT special education report: http://www.mdusd.org/NewsRoom/Documents/FCMAT-special-education-report.pdf

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  • g

    While the report does affect SpEd students most directly, Yes. However SpEd costs greatly affect All children in the district. It isn’t some Enterprise that pays all of its own expenses; not even close.

    One day he’s ‘editing’ and the next day he’s blaming it on Mills being new, and then he’s ‘correcting’ it and the next he’s waiting for someone else’s calendar.

    When the board gets him unwound from that branch he’s clinging to, maybe we’ll start getting straight (understandable) answers to a lot of things.

  • Doctor J

    Don’t forget that Kerri Mills is part of the FCMAT “team” — that’s why Steven Lawrence hired her. He needed a CYA to modify the initial report. That’s why comparing the initial report and the modified report are so important. Did Mildred’s “status” ever appear on a Board agenda ? Why isn’t anyone investigating that ?

  • Flippin’ Tired

    TIMELY messages? Maybe he could do twice-monthly Superintendent messages on the district website, as was asked of him. The last one was 2/4/2011.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, if the board gave him a report card based on his performance evaluation goals, he would likely receive “needs improvement” in this area.
    As the Pleasant Hill city manager’s weekly updates show, it’s not rocket science to let people know what’s going on: http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/Archive.aspx?AMID=56
    We don’t need a pretty Powerpoint or a fancy color newsletter with photos. All we want is the information. Plain and simple.

  • Flippin’ Tired

    Word, TH.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @4 — “IF” the board gave him a report card…but they don’t, do they?

    Do we really have any reliable information on how this superintendent is evaluated — if he is formally evaluated?

  • Brian Lawrence

    Jim,

    The current Board shared the highlights of the Superintendent’s evaluation in public session in January. President Hansen reported out specifically on some of the areas where the Board felt there had been achievement and areas that needed improvement. Prior to being elected to the Board, I stated that the Superintendent’s performance evaluation should be part of the discussion regarding any contract extension. I continue to have that belief.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @7 Brian – Are you referring to the “report” that appears in the “Agendas and Minutes” section of the Board section of the MDUSD website, in which there are audio files of board meetings? It’s not in the Jan 14 audio file, because action on the evaluation was deferred to Jan 18. So after listening to the Jan 14 meeting, I went to the Jan 18 file and listened to the roll call, a speaker commenting adoringly on behalf of the Supe, then an announcement that the board would have a 1 hr open session on other matters (including a public comment on mobile devices in schools and then a long, detailed explanation and discussion of Roberts Rules of Order), which one must listen to entirely if one doesn’t succeed in fast forwarding through the audio stream and has the whole thing crash (and assuming one can hear all of the audio, which I can’t). Then the listener hears that they are going back into closed session, and then back into open session, which is apparently expected to last for some time. (At this point the audio fades out for an indeterminate period of time, perhaps due to problems with the original recording, or latency in the file streaming, or a problem with my device.)

    Brian, I will stick with this to see if I can, eventually, learn anything helpful about our Supe’s evaluation. I applaud the recordings of public sessions, but really, do you think this is an efficient way to convey to the community how the leader of our 30k-student district is being evaluated? Some people have a living to earn and families to attend to. Spending hours listening to audio files doesn’t work for all of us. Would MDUSD ever consider putting explicit goals for the Supe on a web page, in text, and then, somewhere, summarizing, in text, how he was doing? Or have you done that, and I just can’t find it? In which case, I apologize for my error, and I am prepared to be told how stupid I am not to be able to find the correct page on the website.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @7 — And please, don’t refer me to the “District Goals” page of the MDUSD website. Those are from Sept. 2010 and cover a two-year time period that has already expired. I can’t tell whether any of those goals were met. (They look pretty challenging, at least for MDUSD.) I wonder whether anyone in the district remembers them. Maybe that was a one-time project to fight all the nagging about the district’s lack of a strategic plan. Or maybe the district just doesn’t have explicit goals anymore. In any case, they certainly don’t say much about whether our superintendent is meeting current expectations, or not, whatever they are.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Jim, I also listened to the audio of the closed session meeting, hoping to hear a report out about the superintendent’s evaluation. Although I heard there was a report out after the Jan. 18 meeting, it was not on the audio.

    I have heard that Board President Cheryl Hansen repeated that report out at the Jan. 28 board meeting. However, like you, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. And, like you, I have been frustrated with the district’s audio playback system, since it doesn’t allow for fast-forwarding. However, I have learned that if you download it as an mp3 file, you can then listen to it in a more user-friendly media player system, which does allow for fast-forwarding.

    However, if the board agrees in the future to a video recording system such as Granicus, the public would be able to click on an agenda item and be taken to that exact spot in the video. The city of Walnut Creek uses this system and it’s wonderful: http://www.walnut-creek.org/services/citizen/granicus.asp

    Also, it is my understanding that the report that Hansen read may have been written out. If that is the case, perhaps she could provide it to the minutes secretary so it could be included in the minutes. But even if that happened, we wouldn’t see it until the minutes were publicly released.

  • g

    Brian, I’ve listened to the audio of 1/28 a couple times. I heard Ms Hansen discuss Supt. performance “Targets” and discussion around (perhaps changes? perhaps better definition of?) those targets.

    I heard nothing about areas in which the board feels that the Supt. personally has performed well, nor any discussion about where he has not performed well.

    Other than giving him weeks to create a list of his ‘accomplishments’ that he already knew he would need to present in January, which in turn caused weeks of evaluations, the problem I’m having centers around this:

    We were shown on 1/7/13, his “Two Year Targets” defining his future goals from a document ‘purportedly’ used in 8/12 —

    –at the beginning of THIS 12/13 school year.

    Please explain how this board is able to evaluate his past performance on a Target list that still has a year and a half left to go.

    Shouldn’t his Jan 2013 evaluation have been based on his ORIGINAL 2010 “Time of Hire” Targets or at the very least on any 2011 revisions of 2010′s original targets?

    Or, in August, did the prior board merely let Steven/Greg change target two-year-end-dates on the document and run with it Same-Ol’ – Same-Ol’ (much like they did 5 manager contracts).

    Did you let S. Lawrence present the Aug 2012 list and convince you that you should use it instead of an original “at-time-of-hire target list,” or what?

    Surely he wasn’t given a Three Year contract in 2010 with no 2012-13 Student Performance Accomplishment Requirements in mind.

    Was his only three year requirement to get a bond passed?

    We’ve read between the lines, and felt certain on 1/18 that all five contracts would be cleaned up and the extensions would be given. So, fine, we’ll deal with it.

    But as hard as the board is working right now, this whole Lawrence/Rolen evaluation thing begs for revisions and board-rule changes so that it doesn’t take months to accomplish.

    And why does the board approve all of the 4 or 5 Asst Supt’s contracts without any board evaluation or even open review of Lawrence’s evaluation of their performance?

    We are nearing the end of February, and this will all start over again in July!

    Will you base July “past performance evaluations” on Next Year’s targets too????

  • g

    And by the way–wasn’t Rolen supposed to be “evaluated” in January too?

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @10 Theresa — Great suggestion on Granicus. Let’s get that idea on the board agenda so that someone can start ignoring it right away.

    And thank you, G. You’ve saved me quite a bit of time. I can now see that there’s no point in wading through the 1/28 audio file. Most boards see evaluation of the organization’s chief executive as one of their most important responsibilities. Things may be improving on the MDUSD board, but they don’t appear to have fully embraced that obligation yet.

  • g

    Jim, as to being able to hear the audio of entire meetings–that hen don’t lay.

    Posted audio does not go beyond about 1.5 to 1.75 hrs (ever). I’ve taken the 20 minutes needed to download to Mp3 and still get exactly the same 1.5-1.75 hr. When the sound cuts out, I’ve left it on and worked on something else. It never comes back on. I’ve never heard a word of the last 2-3 hours of a board meeting audio except on the very rare occasion that KVHS sticks with the meeting past 10pm.

  • Wendy Lack

    I believe that relationship-building is a key role of a school superintendent.

    From reading this blog it is self-evident that the MDUSD Superintendent has been unsuccessful in building trust, credibility and effective working relationships with the press and public.

    Why that is the case is unclear — but there can be no doubt about deficiency in this area of performance.

  • Theresa Harrington

    He has another chance to strengthen relationships at the upcoming feeder pattern meeting at Bancroft Elem on Wednesday: http://www.mdusd.org/Lists/UpcomingEvents/Attachments/310/02-20-13-feeder-pattern-meeting-bancroft.pdf

    Unfortunately, the district’s agenda doesn’t list which high school feeder pattern this meeting is intended to include. Since Bancroft feeds into both the Oak Grove MS/Ygnacio Valley HS feeder pattern as well as the Foothill MS/Northgate HS feeder pattern, it would be helpful if all the other schools included in the intended feeder pattern were listed on the agenda.

  • Brian Lawrence

    The audio feed is poor and we will improve it because it is important for the public to be able to review the meetings. We received a presentation from Granicus- very impressive but also pricey. I’ve been attempting to webcast the meetings but the sound stops after a few minutes- that appears to be a networking/ firewall issue. I will continue to work on it.

    Regarding the Superintendent’s evaluation, I believe the current Board will make changes to the framework it inherited and continue to make the process more transparent. I attended a CSBA workshop on Superintendent evaluations and would welcome suggestions on other Districts that do this well. It is one of the most important tasks of the Board.

    We certainly will not solve all the District’s problems overnight, but I believe we are moving in the right direction.

  • Doctor J

    Brian, I know you are frustrated with the broadcast issues — and I appreciate your efforts. I also appreciate your efforts to improve the evaluation process not just of the Supt, but the others that report directly to the Board, i.e. General Counsel. I think the BIG5 made a serious mistake by jointly hiring a lawyer to challenge the Board on the issue of the contract extensions — an issue of their own making. Be that as it may, lets remember that it may be “cost effective” to elect the “buyout procedure” in the contracts. One of the first lessons I learned in business many years ago — if someone threatened to resign, accept it. But educators don’t think of themselves as a business. A second lesson I learned, was that no one is irreplacable. If the BIG5 all left tomorrow, the District would replace them without any burps.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @19 Dr. J — Good point, but by accepting the “extensions” the MDUSD Board has significantly increased the potential buyout costs (which might have been the Big 5′s sole intent, since they must be beginning to realize that it’s time to move on to a new gullible employer).

    BTW, did anyone ever determine whether Lawrence’s “extension of his original contract” included the relocation expenses in the original contract, which, of course, were not necessary in the “simple extension”? Many will recall that, in the meeting where the “original contracts” were extended, only Cheryl Hansen raised the point that if this were a “simple extension”, then the terms of the contract could not have been changed, meaning that Lawrence was getting another relo allowance, which would be preposterous. I recall that some MDUSD adminstrator said that no, of course, that provision would be taken out. But I heard nothing more, except for Eberhart’s dismissive comment that any board member who hadn’t read the existing contracts should have been more prepared. Dumb? Or deceitful? So hard to tell…

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @17 Brian — Instead of an expensive technology fix, how about doing this in a slightly more old-fashioned way? Someone could write up the Supe’s goals (which, presumably exist somewhere…or not?), and then write up the Board’s report on the individual’s performance under those goals, with appropriate redactions for private personnel matters? You know, a REAL report? (Not the “reporting out of closed session” that you previously referred to — a process that is apparently memorialized only via audio recording, which clearly does not work in practice.) Then any member of the public could just click on the web page and read the report. Crazy idea, or what?

    Is this public school district really so bound by procedural paralysis that it can’t just report, in writing, how the key executive of this taxpayer-funded organization is doing? BEFORE it makes a commitment for a contingent liability that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to undo?

    Or does the current “process” actually serve everyone involved, by avoiding accountability for anyone?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Jim, This is similar to what I was suggesting about Hansen giving her comments in writing to the minutes clerk, so they could be incorporated into the minutes. But, you’re right that since this was a report out of the Jan. 18 meeting and the comments may have been written out ahead of time to be read aloud, it would be even more transparent for Board President Cheryl Hansen to give her report out in writing to the board secretary ahead of time so they could be attached to that agenda item. As you point out, there is no reason these reports out must be oral, except that that’s the way it’s always been done. Time for MDUSD to think out of the box!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Back onto the subject of special education and mental health, here’s an interesting story that looks at two successful schools in WCCUSD: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_22606719/collaboration-innovation-fuel-gains-at-richmond-elementary-schools

    MDUSD is also implementing many of these same successful strategies, including collaboration. But these WCCUSD schools have one secret to success that is lacking in MDUSD: “The dropout-prevention and mental health counselors help students with their social and emotional needs, allowing teachers to concentrate more on instruction.”

    As has been previously pointed out, some MDUSD students may not be getting the counseling support they need, which affects their ability to succeed academically. MDUSD can learn from what is working in other districts.

  • Anon

    Theresa, MDUSD was starting to head in the right direction with Special Ed. As of the last 2 or 3 months they are going back into the 1940′s. It seems that they just don’t care and don’t have any oversight or accountability, Staff at schools just do what they want and do not listen to Management (not that they are any better) The way Special ED is being run is in my opinion shameful at best. We have middle and highschool students reading at a 2nd grade level that are capable of learning but the way they are being taught is not right for them. We need to get out of the BOX and quit trying to make it bigger. Some will just never fit in the “box” I am so disgusted with this district and staff when it comes to Special Ed.
    Mental Health is a HUGE problem and it is not doing anyone any good to ignore it. We have a deep problem here people and it needs to be solved!
    As far as MDUSD looking at what works in other districts I doubt that will happen. The so called “experts” that we hire don’t even know how to use Google! The world is changing around us and the disabilities and learing styles are changing faster then the schools can blink.

  • Brian Lawrence

    Jim,

    My recollection is that Ms. Hansen stated she would also email her report to the person taking minutes. I will follow up on it this week.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Brian, Thanks for letting us know!

  • Doctor J

    Did Steven Lawrence withhold the July 26 FCMAT draft report from the Board before it hired Kerri Mills on Aug 27 ? Since the January report, just released today, says the district is top heavy in Spec Ed management, what did the draft report say about MDUSD being the only comparable district to have an “Asst Supt” ?