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MDUSD interim superintendent urges community to ensure students are in school

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 at 5:42 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

As students, parents and local neighborhoods gear up for another school year, Mt. Diablo school district Interim Superintendent John Bernard sent a message to the community via the Contra Costa Times, reminding everyone about the importance of getting to class.

Here is his message, which was published last Sunday. I am posting it below to allow for blog reader comment.

“Making Sure Kids Stay in School is Everyone’s Business

When you are absent in the workplace, you could miss important training that might allow you to perform more efficiently and to advance yourself.

It is the same for students in our schools.

When a student is absent from school, regardless of the reason, important learning can be missed. In the early grades, being absent could mean missing the experience of writing a class story about, for example, observing how steam cools and collects on a mirror to become water droplets.

In the middle grades, being absent could mean missing the important lesson on short cuts in dividing fractions. At the upper grades, it could mean missing the class discussion about Jane Austin’s book, ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ or learning about the unique biological differences between two similar reptiles.

The learning a person acquires during important lessons often serves as building blocks of knowledge for future comprehension, understanding and success in school.

Educators and parents are not the only persons concerned about student attendance and its impact on student achievement. In the cities and communities that make up the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD), civic leaders, religious leaders, business owners, and community individuals are concerned as well.

While teachers and principals focus their energies on educating the student, it is next to impossible to ensure that the knowledge has been acquired if the student is absent from school.

Following are some ideas on how parents, schools and the community can support student attendance and positively impact student achievement.

Parents can help by:

• Monitoring bedtime to ensure that your child is well rested.

• Helping your children develop a morning routine so they arrive at school on time ready to learn.

• Monitoring study time and provide assistance with homework when necessary.

• Helping your child develop a positive attitude about school, include good study habits, a love of books and reading, and respect for those who lead and teach them.

• Showing an interest in your children’s learning to help make school a place where children want to go.

Schools in the districts can help by:

• Acknowledging and rewarding students and their parents when students have good attendance.

• Reminding parents of the importance of attendance and encouraging parents to use independent study when their child will be absent for five days or more.

• Developing intervention programs to work positively with families whose children are truant.

• Showing an interest in each student’s learning to help make school a place where children want to be.

• Informing parents of how much district revenue has been lost based upon the number of absences the previous month ($52.31 per student per day in MDUSD).

Community and businesses also can help:

• Doctors and other medical professionals – please schedule routine medical appointments for school-aged children outside the school day.

• Law enforcement officers – please investigate school-age children who are observed not being in school, and not accompanied by their parent/guardian.

• Judicial officials – please insist that parents take responsibility for their child’s attendance in school.

• Retail businesses – please do not sell to school-age children during the school day unless they are high school age and it is during lunchtime.

• General businesses and community – please contribute “incentive awards” to schools for students who have good attendance.

Additionally, quite a few years ago, State legislation no longer allowed school districts to include excused absences for attendance reporting toward reimbursement.

The State only provides funding for school days when a student is physically in attendance. Therefore, not attending school because of a doctor or dentist visit, funerals, court appearances and being ill will penalize school funding at a time when there is already limited money.

Through a concerned community effort, supported by parents, schools and the community working together to improve student attendance, the Mount Diablo Unified School District goal of increased student achievement will be realized.

Dr. John Bernard, a Bay Area native, serves as the interim superintendent for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. He has more than 43 years experience in public education, with 19 years as a superintendent or a state administrator.”

Do you think improved attendance rates in the district would boost student achievement?

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

46 Responses to “MDUSD interim superintendent urges community to ensure students are in school”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    Great advice from a father, grandfather, and one smart educator !
    Theresa’s question: Only if there is quality teaching and not just entertainment. We have some pretty dismal API scores coming out — without significant changes at those schools to improve instruction — WHY ? Are we just going to underserve those children another year, and year after year ?? Like I said earlier, MDUSD is way, way behind the curve on the Common Core implementation. I can’ wait for Dr. Nellie to arrive — I feel change on the horizon, and that includes upper management.

  2. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Speaking of API, I have been informed the scores will be released next week.

  3. Just wondering Says:

    Dr J. A lot of importance, for better or worse, is put on test scores. How do you know there are no changes taking place? Just because the administrator stays DOES NOT mean no changes will be made. I know scores are important. I just wish people could/would take time to look beyond the scores and the different circumstances at each site. No one wants low scores. Hopefully, schools will look at their scores and work collaboratively to put strategies in place for improvement. Unfortunately schools are judged by how their students did on a few days out of the whole year. Many good things are going on at these schools all year long and that progress is not reported. There are good administrators whose schools could do better. Hopefully they will!

  4. Just wondering Says:

    TH. The more children are in school, the more connected they are to the classroom and they do not miss important concepts, instructions, or directions. This district has people taking a week, few weeks, even a month off of school. Often times it is the student who needs the most instruction. Every day a student is absent they are missing valuable information. Many lessons build on prior lessons. If you are not in class, you miss instruction and return to school a little behind the rest of the class. I would think it hard to argue that students benefit from being in school.

  5. Doctor J Says:

    @JustW#3 Perhaps you heard Dr. Bernard in person — I just heard what was shared with me portions of his powerpoint. I am told it was powerful — he summed up his presentation saying to the effect: Upon our review of Disproportionality DATA, Healthy Kids DATA, and Student Achievement DATA, we see these trends have been evident for YEARS. Administrators should ask: What has my school done to SUCCESSFULLY address these gaps ? Administrators should ask teachers: What will happen in your classroom that is different from last year, and will IMPROVE student ACHIEVEMENT ? I am told Dr. Bernard asked Teachers to ask themselves: What did I NOT DO to cause this child NOT TO LEARN ?

    So Just W, next week when you look at the API & AYP scores, remember that it is data that measures student learning from the classroom. Ask yourself, if this has been evident for years, why haven’t we made more progress ? Is this our BEST work ? Even in schools that score above 800 API, are we closing the achievement gap ?

    When you see schools who drop 10, 20, 30, 40 or more API points — one has to wonder what was happening in the classroom, how was the principal addressing the benchmark assessments several times a year, how was the principal being the “instructional leader” in the school through regular classroom visits ? These scores really should be no surprise to principals if they have been part of the benchmark assessments all year, and doing their classroom instructional visits regularly.

    As Dr. Bernard said: …we see these trends have been evident for YEARS. Ironically, we have had the same senior management for years — why haven’t they successfully addressed these negative trends — based on their public statements and Board presentations they apparently didn’t even see the trends, and consistently sang the message: ALL IS WELL. Even Rose Lock’s statement on the 2013 STAR tests did not address the seriousness of the low scores in way too many schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. All you have to do is watch the Whittier District powerpoint shared at the last State Board meeting, and see that there are districts out there that have successfully addressed these educational issues, with much more difficult demographics than we have.

    So next week, I am sure the thoughts will cross many minds: Why is that principal still there ? Why are those teachers still there ? Why do we just keep renewing our senior management contracts ?

    The first step to repair the ship is Dr. Nellie. She has what no other Superintendent in the last 12 years has had: a track record of success in improving student achievement. There will be changes — maybe even immediately.

  6. Mr. T Says:

    Dr. J,
    While I agree with you that the district is in need of improvement, I believe that you are incorrect when you say that we are way behind on common core implementation. This is simply wrong. Common core doesn’t come into effect until next year and the district has been very good about providing a ton of quality PD in that area. There is a ton of technology money coming into the schools to support that area too, and the district is moving forward towards common core in a positive way.
    While I am of the opinion that the MDUSD needs a major overhaul, strong leadership, and an investment in their staff, they should also get credit where credit is due. The SASS department HAS been doing this right.

  7. mika Says:

    I hope this important message is translated and shared with our EL families.

  8. Doctor J Says:

    @JustW#4 Your points are well taken but lets not forget another huge factor — the high rate of absenteeism by Teachers from the classroom, a large percentage of which is for “school or district business”. Several months ago, one regular blogger “G” had some appalling statistics on teacher absenteeism from the classroom and identified huge amounts of absences due to school or district business. Every day that teacher is gone from the classroom, student learning suffers — not because subs don’t try [well sometimes its not a best effort] but ostensibly because of the lack of continuity that the regular teacher brings along with the knowledge of the students through regular benchmark assessments.

  9. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Mika, You make a good point. Dr. Bernard chose to distribute this message via the newspaper, but he did not send it out as a Superintendent’s Message like previous messages from former Superintendent Steven Lawrence. If he really wants to reach all parents with this message, you are right that it should be translated and also distributed in other ways.

  10. Doctor J Says:

    State Auditor finds Districts don’t evaluate the effectiveness of anti-discrimination programs, including anti-bullying policies — Districts adopt the policies, but don’t determine if they are implemented. Sounds familiar with most school programs. No follow up. No evaluation. No improvement.

  11. Doctor J Says:

    @Mr.T#6 Our administration has really failed to communicate with parents about Common Core. Did you know that CDE has a link to a “Parent’s Handbook” for Common Core ? “This handbook gives parents an introduction to California’s Common Core Standards and a summary of what students are expected to learn as they advance from kindergarten through grade 8.” And there are lots of other resources. While full implementation occurs next school year, partial implementation should occur this year. MDUSD is not prepared. Check out the Parent’s Handbook and other resources that our District is keeping secret from us.

  12. Mr. T Says:

    Dr. J,
    While you may be right about the in effectiveness of the administrations communication, I still stand by my assertion that the district has been doing a good job training teachers and getting them ready for the CCSS.
    Also, do you truly believe that district is intentionally keeping this information from parents? That’s the way your post comes across.

  13. Theresa Harrington Says:

    API and CAHSEE results will be released next Thursday, Aug. 29.

  14. anon Says:

    have there been many teachers involuntarily transferred this summer?

  15. Doctor J Says:

    T#12 No, but there is no one “in charge” to make sure parents are educated about CCSS. Dr. Nellie will soon discover where we are; and then she will make changes to get us where we need to be.

    Theresa: I just noticed that my “Leave a Reply” box was populated with another blogger’s name and email address. I cleared my “cache” [delete recent browsing history] and my info popped up again.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have heard of one.

  17. Jim Says:

    @6 Mr T: You don’t mention assessments, but that will be where the Common Core rubber meets the road. One of the few things that almost all educators agree on, is that if you want to accurately assess student achievement, the learning standards (goals), the curriculum, and the assessments must all be aligned. When you change the standards, without updating the other two, you end up with the kinds of BIG disappointments that we’ve seen in Kentucky (+30% decline in proficiency) and New York (31% proficient, down from 65% in the prior year), where scores plummeted under the new standards.

    Professional development for teachers is just the beginning of the process. Where are significant funds being spent to update the curriculum and to create all of the new assessments aligned to that new curriculum? (Hint: it’s not there). Folks are in for a big surprise.

  18. Doctor J Says:

    New Ed-Source report compares MDUSD with other top 30 districts and continued stresses of school finances.

  19. Mr. T Says:

    I’m at the elementary level, and we still have the original math series, which should do for the year, but needs to be changed for Common Core next year. But in terms of L/A, we have a new common core aligned series, and assessments that go with it.

  20. Doctor J Says:

    @Mr.T#19 Please take a look at the district “action plan” under “teachers” and please share with us if teachers completed last year’s “action plan” or where you stand on that.

  21. Doctor J Says:

    The panic of disorganization in MDSUSD for the opening of school on Wednesday has set in. New teacher orientation today and tomorrow and questions regarding Common Core cannot be answered — no single person is in charge, but just a bunch of disjointed segments, and no one person who is in charge — governance by committee — recipe for disaster. Common Core materials not available for all classes. Classes are being shifted between school sites due to miscalculations in enrollment and changed boundaries in Bay Point. This affects the bus routes which are now in total disarray — IEP’s have not been completed for Special Ed. And don’t forget the NCLB transfers due to the largest population of Program Improvement schools in the east bay. And of course, still searching for two principals. A week from today, there will be many parents upset with the API results and AYP results — just a few schools will be celebrating.

  22. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have heard from a school administrator in another district that schools expect to get their own API results tomorrow.

  23. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a look at how Florida is tracking Common Core readiness among its districts:

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a free Aug. 27 webinar that might interest school administrators regarding boosting student attendance:

  25. Mr. T Says:

    Dr. J,
    I went through all the phase 1 sections… I have been involved in ALL of those things, either at a site level, or through district provided training last year or earlier this summer.
    Pick one.l or two of anything from the list, and I’ll give you the specifics of when that was completed… At Least for me.

  26. Doctor J Says:

    @Mr.T#25 I am very impressed and congratulations. Please don’t take this as a challenge from me to you, or as a “test”, but I think our blog could benefit if you would give us specifics on the following; from Phase 1, “Teachers” “How”, please share with us about the following [since you invited me to ask about two]:

    • Develop Lessons
    • Begin to develop CCSS Common Formative Assessments
    including rubrics

  27. Theresa Harrington Says:

    On the subject of the superintendent, I just received copies of letters sent by the CDE to the district about the STAR security breaches at MDHS, CPHS and Horizons. Interestingly, the word “superintendent” is misspelled on the date stamp used in the superintendent’s office:

    I’m not sure how long this date stamp has been used. A previous letter from June, 2012 that I received from former Superintendent Steven Lawrence had no date stamp on it:

    Although Trustee Barbara Oaks told me she doesn’t expect a big shakeup when the new superintendent comes on board, perhaps a new date stamp would be in order.

  28. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#27 I believe the date stamp is a standard protocol instituted by Dr. Bernard — Its good business practice. Also notice that SASS has a date stamp also — that is also new. I would bet a dozen donuts that Dr. Bernard didn’t order it — but whoever did, should bring the dozen donuts for the staff ! How embarrassing.

  29. Mr. T Says:

    @Doctor J.,
    No worries, no offense taken… I invited the challenge. My site started working on this at the beginning of the school year last year. Grade levels worked independently and in teams with other adjacent grades to determine essential standards and to align them with the CCSS. As we did this, we began to look at how to begin to build and create formative assessments that would be used as we move into the CCSS.
    This summer, in the MDUSD summer PD sessions, I was in a class that focused on the new supplementary materials that have been adopted by the district for this transition year. It was mostly a presentation by the publisher to help teachers become familiar with the new materials, but it was run by a couple of SASS admins who did a nice job of helping teachers to see how the summative assessments would be used, and how we might use some existing materials from our current adoption, OARS, and literature study units to use as well, and to use as formative assessment materials as well.
    The standard you chose says “begin to develop…”, which I believe is exactly what has been happening.
    I certainly can’t speak for all elementary schools though. I beleive that my site administrator has been very good about being proactive with the Common Core. My guess is that as you go higher up in grades that the resistance to change becomes greater, and not as much has been done.
    I don’t want to come across as a cheerleader for the district though. We have a lot of issues that need to be dealt with. But credit should be given for what has been done right, and there are some good things happening.
    Personally, I am excited about the shift to the CCSS. I am taking it as a new challenge to help kids become better problem solvers, critical thinkers, and communicators.


  30. Doctor J Says:

    Ed Source summary of key legislation on the horizon — a must read.

  31. Mdusd employee Says:

    One of the things that makes me crazy about tracking API is that school populations in some areas like Bay Point change wildly from year to year. I know one school out there that added an entire SpEd cohort last year, during their last year of SIG no less, and I’m sure that will make a crazy change in their scores. There must be a better way to track progress.

  32. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I know the state has developed longitudinal tracking of individual students, especially as it related to graduation and dropout rates. However, I don’t believe it currently reports this information as it relates to STAR and API scores.

  33. Anonymous Says:

    With the desperately needed “departures” of the principal and her two VPs, things were starting to look up for MDHS. But the MDHS community has now learned that one of its dedicated, veteran teachers has been transferred AND to add insult to injury, the teacher is going to Northgate. Seems as if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

  34. Doctor J Says:

    @#33 McMorris is trying to save his job — wait until the API/AYP scores are released to the public next Friday. It will be a long weekend for some principals — they will probably turn off their cells.

  35. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a new blog post comparing STAR scores in East Bay districts, with comments from Rose Lock and Martinez Superintendent Rami Muth:

  36. Doctor J Says:

    State Auditor blasts school districts for lackadaisical implementation of anti-bullying policies and procedures. Looks like MDUSD is like many districts — has a pro forma policy but doesn’t ensure implementation at the school site level.

  37. Doctor J Says:

    Why isn’t MDUSD instituting Class Size Reduction in K-3 under the new LCFF ?? Are they trying to keep class sizes larger to give administrators and teachers a raise ? Remember, when teachers get a raise, administrators invoke the secret non-Board approved DMA’s agreement to get the same % raise. Here is what Walnut Creek School District sent out on Friday: “We anticipate opening the district at approximately 3500 students. Grades l and 2 will be staffed at approximately 20:1. Grades K and 3 will be staffed at 25:1; grades 4 and 5 at 28:1. The middle school core classes will be approximately 30:1.” Do smaller class sizes result in more student learning ? Absolutely — all the research says it does.

  38. Theresa Harrington Says:

    On a positive note, here’s a sweet letter to the editor from a Walnut Creek man thanking teachers for all they do (last letter in string):

    He ends with this line: “Because of them, I’m still learning at age 89.”

  39. Doctor J Says:

    Students first in MDUSD ? or Teacher/Administrator salaries first ? Its time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk for the MDUSD Board. The negotiations between MDUSD and MDEA have reached a critical stage — and students seem to have been forgotten. In its opening discussion, MDUSD said it wanted to negotiate Article 6 Maximum class sizes to the Education Code limits — MDEA has refused to bargain on Class Size reduction and wants the status quo — check out their negotiations updates on their website. What is the status quo on maximum class sizes in the MDUSD/MDEA agreement ? Its appalling. K:32; 1-3:31; 4-5:34. See my post #37 for the Walnut Creek SD max class sizes. Yesterdays Times article by Doug Oakley highlighted the dilemma. Because MDUSD doesn’t have a high enough percentage of low income/minority populations, it receives less money per student than other districts, like WCCUSD. Oakley said yesterday: “Tim Erwin, assistant superintendent of the Newark Unified School District, which had an average class size of 28 in 2011-12 and is expecting 29 this year, said his district is looking at lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to qualify for extra funding. To get from an average of 27 to 26 students in kindergarten through third grade will mean hiring three new teachers at an estimated $80,000 each with benefits.” “Prior to the big budget mess of 2008 and 2009, it was common to find K-3 class sizes at 20,” Erwin said. “Over the next eight years, the state wants us to bring class size back to 24 for K-3. We have to reduce class size by 11 percent to qualify for the funding.” MDUSD hasn’t even figured out how many teachers would need to be hired to bring down class sizes by 11%. Why not ? The Board seems to be beholden to MDEA’s demand to raise salaries of teachers and administrators at the cost of better educating our students. Oakley also said: “The new funding formula backs up decades of research showing a direct connection between lower class sizes and better education, especially kids in kindergarten through the third grade, and it benefits minority kids the most.” Who suffers most in MDUSD — on Thursday check out the AYP and API scores and you will see — low income and minorities. We cancelled their busses, we increased their class sizes and their academic achievement is in a free fall.
    Lets get Article 6 back on the bargaining table — lets follow the LCFF formula for Class Size reduction down to 24 students for K-3 instead of a bloated MDEA formula that only has one agenda: increase salaries of teachers [and by default administrators]. That will be a tough choice for this Board, dominated by three lifetime educators, one member of the State PTA Board, and one budding politician heavily financed by the unions. MDUSD Board — lets do the right thing and PUT STUDENTS FIRST.

  40. Michael Langley Says:

    Class size maximums do not prevent the district from reducing class sizes. They prevent the district from exceeding the number. “Article 6 Maximum class sizes to the Education Code limits” means what for specific numbers? Does it reduce maximums for some classes but increase maximums for others? Note that reduced K-3 class sizes are a funding formula, not Ed Code limits. When the district asks to put specific numbers for lower maximums for class sizes in contract language, I am sure the teachers who make up the membership of MDEA would welcome that district offer.

  41. Doctor J Says:

    @Mike#40 I believe the best way to reform Article 6 is to put the maximum class sizes at the LCFF full funding maximums for the increased K-3 funding. Under the LCFF if the district fails, in just one of the 29 elementary schools in just one of the grade levels, to meet the LCFF K-3 funding maximum class sizes, the district loses $712 per student in the ENTIRE district — that’s about $7.6 million dollars. The risk is too large to take a chance — and despite Lori O’Brien’s magic with the numbers at Mount on the waiver, no waivers are allowed under LCFF.

  42. Michael Langley Says:

    I agree that hard numbers are the best way to lower class sizes. However, the district opens the article and then can propose to blow the lid off other key maximums. They can save a lot of cash by packing other classrooms beyond the current negotiated limits. Again, there was nothing stopping the district from proposing specific lower maximum numbers without “soft” language about Ed code limits. That type of contract language begs for manipulation.

  43. Doctor J Says:

    Mike, at the risk of soiling your reputation, 🙂 , I agree with you on the K-3 — adding MDEA buy-in to monitor the K-3 class sizes to ensure compliance with LCFF funding requirements and make darn sure we don’t lose $7.6 million dollars that would inevitably come out of teacher salaries. Grades 4 and above, can be negotiated with hard maximums. I also think its time we eliminate these automatic and hidden administrator raises tied to the teacher raises.

  44. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s Interim Superintendent John Bernard’s “Welcome Back” message to students and parents on the eve of the new school year:

  45. Doctor J Says:

    Any word on last nights CAC ? Did it even take place ? I could never find an agenda.

  46. Doctor J Says:

    Could this happen in MDUSD ? Would MDUSD hold a “press conference” or cover it up ?

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