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Archive for September, 2013

Meeting about controversial Ygnacio Valley High field lights at 7 p.m. tonight

I have been informed by Tim Cody, the Mt. Diablo school district’s Measure C program manager, that there will be an “informal gathering of concerned parties” related to the Ygnacio Valley High proposed field improvements at 7 p.m. tonight in the Ygnacio Valley High School Multiuse room at 735 Oak Grove Road in Concord.

Jim MacMillan, a resident in the neighborhood near the school, said he and other neighbors were informed about the meeting by Principal Stephen Brady, who drove from home to home last Friday in a golf cart and got out and knocked on doors, then passed out letters about the meeting. However, MacMillan said he’s still unsure what the real agenda is for the meeting.

MacMillan said he and several other neighbors were at last Wednesday’s board meeting prepared to speak and were surprised when the item was removed from the agenda. He said it’s his understanding that Superintendent Nellie Meyer will be present at tonight’s meeting, along with two board members.

Do you believe the district should approve the proposed YVHS field project?

Posted on Monday, September 30th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »

Northgate HS tennis player urges district to build new tennis courts

I received the following e-mail from a Northgate High School tennis player, who would like to see the district build new tennis courts on the campus. She asked me to post the e-mail on my blog to help get the word out about her concerns.

“My name is Shannon Markiewicz and I am a senior at Northgate High school. I have been playing on Varsity for the tennis team for the past four years, and I am surprised at the condition of our courts. Our school fixed the Football/track field as well as all the baseball and softball fields. The baseball and softball fields are now partially destroyed because of the ground squirrels creating homes in the area. Now the school wants to add a pool without any thought about the tennis courts.

The Women’s team of Northgate won DVAL for the past decade (to the best of my knowledge) and possibly longer. Inside and outside of league we have demonstrated our best efforts and are well known for our sportsmanship as well as competitive play. I believe that we deserve new courts. Building new courts would not just make the school appear nicer and help the tennis team, but it will help the community as well. Many people around the area, and outside the area, come to the Northgate courts and enjoy spending their spare time there.

The girls and boys teams have been raising money for the tennis courts, and have paid booster fees and participated in sport activities (5K run) but never received anything back.”

Markiewicz is hoping that the school and community will take notice of the tennis teams’ achievements and help upgrade the tennis courts.

The school board expects to vote tonight on contracts for Northgate’s new aquatic center, which is being funded partially through voter-approved Measure C construction bonds, as well as through the nonprofit Northgate Pride Foundation.

Like all schools in the district, Northgate High was asked for input into its list of projects to be funded through Measure C after the school board voted March 9, 2010 on the ballot language, which included a very general list of the types of projects to be funded.

Northgate was asked to review a list of priorities created after voters approved the 2002 Measure C, according to a 2006 Master Facilities Update. Here is a link to the original list of priorities: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceNEhZamYzeVVkYms/edit?usp=sharing

This list ranks tennis court repairs as a number 2, on a scale of 1-3, while a pool is ranked lower at number 3.

Principal John McMorris submitted the following priorities in response to the above list: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSm42V09fazVXV00/edit?usp=sharing

This includes a “wish list” with an aquatic center and other items, but no mention of tennis courts. It’s unclear whether students were consulted in the creation of this list.

Here is the final list of Northgate HS projects in the 2010 Measure C facilities plan: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcec2JzNHptZ1VuS3M/edit?usp=sharing

This list does not include a pool or tennis courts. However, it does designate $658,335 for unspecified “technology classroom enhancements.”

Since the Northgate Pride Foundation is helping to fund the aquatic center, it appears that it was able to persuade the district to make this a priority, along with McMorris’ wish list.

The Ygnacio Valley High community is planning to use Measure C funds for a field improvement project even though it wasn’t specifically disclosed to voters. So, it would appear that Northgate could similarly add tennis court upgrades, if enough members of the community believed this should be a priority and if all of its Measure C funding has not already been allocated to other projects.

Do you believe the district should consider replacing Northgate’s tennis courts?

Posted on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »

A closer look at MDUSD Measure C project list for Ygnacio Valley High

Measure C Projects lists

Measure C Projects lists

A group of neighbors who live around Ygnacio Valley High have hired attorney Craig Sherman to voice their objections to the field improvement project slated for a vote tonight. Here is a link to the letter Sherman sent the board last month: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceaDBLbVUyNXo1TE0/edit?usp=sharing

In part, the letter states that the group is disappointed with the accelerated development of 2010 Measure C projects list without true community involvement. It alleges that the district now appears to be “…conjuring up flamboyant and over-the-top school facility projects different from the truly needed and disclosed science centers and other safety, renovation, and repairs promised and obligated by the original and voted-on 2010 Measure C and Proposition 39 project list.”

As has been noted in this blog before, the Measure C projects list was extremely hastily developed. In fact, the list was not completed until AFTER the board voted March 9, 2010 on the ballot language. Here’s a link to the materials provided at the time of the vote: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=2266&mtgId=264

At the time, Pete Pedersen was scrambling to come up with a 2010 Measure C projects list by reviewing all of the projects identified for the 2002 Measure C and updating a facilities master plan that had been developed in 2006. He compiled a list of 1,669 projects at all school sites that would have cost nearly $441 million to complete, not including cost escalations, contingencies, etc. The projects were ranked 1 to 3 in order of priority, with 1 being highest and 3 being lowest.

Here is a link to the list that was developed for Ygnacio Valley High: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecW5iNEVNZlFpUnM/edit?usp=sharing

This list includes stadium lighting as the lowest priority, with an estimated 2010 cost of $576,500. It also lists a PA system as another lowest ranked priority, with an estimated 2010 cost of $4,580. The total YVHS list includes 37 items estimated to cost nearly $25 million.

Pedersen sent memos to every principal in the district on March 16, 2010, asking them to review the priority lists and let him know by March 30 of any changes. Here is a link to the response sent by then-Principal Carolyn Plath: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceMFhpWlFmUUQ2Y3M/edit?usp=sharing

Plath listed a Performing Arts Center as a first priority, lights and bleachers for the stadium as a second priority and remodeling and reconfiguring the office and library as a third priority. On the original list, an auditorim theater was ranked as a 3, the same as the stadium lighting and PA system. There was no mention of remodeling and reconfiguring the office and library.

After Pedersen received all of the requests from principals, he created the “2010 Facilities Master Plan Update/Proposed Bond Profile: 2010 Facilities Improvement Plan,” dated April 2010. It included 817 items districtwide estimated to cost about $202.2 million, not including cost escalation, contingencies, etc.

Here is the link to the final Ygnacio Valley High projects list in that plan: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceRThtTTl5N00xWWM/edit?usp=sharing

This list includes 14 priority 1 items estimated to cost nearly $6.6 million. It does not include field lighting or a PA system. It also doesn’t include Plath’s top priority performing arts center or her third priority reconfiguration of the office and library.

Pedersen’s plan included estimated costs for all of the projects. However, the district merely listed the projects online without the costs. It never posted the entire plan online. At the time, I told Pedersen that it would help show transparency if the district would post the costs as well. He said then-Superintendent Steven Lawrence instructed him not to post the entire plan, saying it was too big.

Later, when then-bond oversight committee member Alicia Minyen questioned the vagueness of the projects list, the district’s bond counsel told the group that it was permissible to add projects to the list that were not identified in the ballot materials. This district has relied on this legal opinion as it has pushed forward with projects that were not originally identified.

In 2010-11, the Contra Costa County Grand Jury found that the district’s 2010 bond Measure C lacked transparency. Here is a link to that report, which mainly focused on the bond financing and other fiscal issues: http://www.cc-courts.org/_data/n_0038/resources/live/rpt1102.pdf

Here is the district’s response to the Grand Jury, which was prepared by then-General Counsel Greg Rolen. It was never publicly discussed at an open board meeting: http://www.cc-courts.org/_data/n_0038/resources/live/rpt1102r1.pdf

I have also received an e-mail from a Northgate High student questioning why the district is spending so much money on a new pool for that school. She believes the tennis courts should be improved and says she doesn’t remember the school or district ever asking for student input on its project list.

I have also heard that some students at Northgate are unhappy with the location of the planned aquatics center because it could prevent them from going outside the building and escaping the crowded corridors in the facility during the day.

When the Measure C campaign committee polled potential voters, it found far less support for new pools and field improvements than it did for replacing leaky roofs and updating science labs. New pools and field lights were not mentioned on campaign materials, but were pursued after voters approved the bond measure.

As the district seeks to become more transparent, newly appointed Superintendent Nellie Meyer is trying to review its history to find out what went wrong. When I met with her to discuss her challenges, I mentioned the Measure C bond election as one example of the district’s lack of transparency. She raised her eyebrows in suprise and said: “That’s a pretty big example!”

Do you believe the district developed its Measure C projects list in a transparent way that included the community?

Posted on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 2 Comments »

MDUSD board to consider approving YVHS field project and contract for Northgate HS aquatics center

The Mt. Diablo school board on Wednesday expects to vote on several items of interest, including the district’s 2012-13 unaudited actual financial report, accepting the Environmental Impact report for the Ygnacio Valley HS field lighting project, approving the field lighting project, awarding an $836,430.00 contract to Taber Construction for the project, awarding an $8,160.00 project inspection contract for the project to Alisha Jensen, a lease-leaseback preliminary services agreement with Kenridge Builders, Inc. for the Northgate HS aquatics center, the extension of Local One union contracts and a Northgate HS volleyball team trip to the 5th annual Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz.

Here is the complete agenda for the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the district board room at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President will call the meeting to order Info

2.0 Announcements
2.1 In closed session, the Board will consider the items listed on the closed session agenda. Info

3.0 Public Comment
3.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during closed session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

4.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
4.1 Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Julie Braun Martin and Deborah Cooksey. Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Local One M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Action
4.2 Readmission of four (4) students to Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.3 Admission of Student #A-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.4 Admission of Student #B-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.5 Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel regarding amicus curiae participation in litigation in one (1) matter pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (c). Action

5.0 Reconvene Open Session
5.1 Reconvene Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info
6.0 Preliminary Business
6.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

7.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
7.1 Negotiations Action
7.2 Readmission of four (4) students Action
7.3 Admission of Student #A-14 Action
7.4 Admission of Student #B-14 Action
7.5 Anticipated Litigation Action

8.0 Consent Agenda Action
8.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
8.3 (Item #3) Request to increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2013-2014 school year Action
8.4 (Item #4) Ed. Code 44623 (Teacher Consent Form) Action
8.5 (Item #5) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
8.6 (Item #6) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase and Decrease Positions Action
8.7 (Item #7) Board Bylaw 9000 – Role of the Board Action
8.8 (Item #8) Board Bylaw 9200 – Limits of Board Member Authority Action
8.9 (Item #9) Increase purchase order with Non-Public Agency Community Options for Families and Youth (C.O.F.Y.) for Mental Health Services for the 2013-14 School Year Action
8.10 (Item #10) Approve adjustments to Non-Public School Contracts/Purchase Orders for the 2013-14 School Year Action
8.11 (Item #11) Agreement with Center for Human Development to provide parent education and counseling services at no cost to the district. Action
8.12 (Item #12) Agreement with La Clinica De La Raza, Inc. to continue providing free dental services in district schools. Action
8.13 (Item #13) Agreement with Youth Homes, Inc to provide counseling and support services for foster youth students in district schools. Action
8.14 (Item #14) Resolution # 13/14-14 – Authorizing District Representative for the School Facility Program Action
8.15 (Item #15) Notice of Completion for MDUSD Project #1637 Paint Package #1 Action
8.16 (Item #16) Notice of Completion for MDUSD Project #1648 Paint Package #2 Action
8.17 (Item #17) Final Change Order for LLB Project # 1648 for painting at various school sites (Meadow Homes & Oak Grove). Action
8.18 (Item #18) Final Change Order for LLB Project # 1637 for painting at various elementary school sites (Shore Acres, Bel Air & Rio Vista). Action
8.19 (Item #19) Contract Amendment: Verde Design, Inc. Action
8.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for MDUSD Project #1639 Strandwood Skylight Infill and Re-roof Action
8.21 (Item #21) Award of Design Services Contract: Interim Housing to Support 2014 Measure C Portable Replacement Program. Action
8.22 (Item #22) Approve of contract with Exploring New Horizons (ENH) for Mt. Diablo Elementary School Outdoor Ed Program Action
9.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

10.0 Recognitions
10.1 Recognition of Improvement on the Academic Performance Index (API) Info

11.0 Public Comment
11.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentation are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
12.0 Communications
12.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

13.0 Reports/Information
13.1 Update on District Pest Control Procedures Info
13.2 New and Revised Technology Policies – BP 3513, BP/AR 4040, BP 6162.7 Info
13.3 Board Bylaw 9323 – Meeting Conduct Info
13.4 Board Bylaw 9323.2 – Actions By The Board Info
13.5 Board Bylaw E 9323.2 – Actions By The Board Info
14.0 Superintendent’s Report

15.0 Business/Action Item
15.1 (Item #8) Pilot Program Regarding the Procedure for Biographies for DMA Employees Being Recommended for Positions. Action

15.2 Approval of Resolution – Hispanic Heritage Month Info/Action

15.3 National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week – September 23-29, 2013. Action

15.4 Approval of Adult Education course titles for 2013-2014 Action

15.5 Resolution #13/14-08 Adopting the District’s 2012-2013 GANN Appropriations Limit Action

15.6 Certification of the District’s 2012-2013 Unaudited Actual Financial Report Action

15.7 Authorizing Investment of Monies in the Local Agency Investment Fund Action

15.8 Adoption of Resolution Accepting Final Environmental Impact Report for the Ygnacio Valley High School Sports Field Lighting Project Action

15.9 Approval of Ygnacio Valley High School Stadium Lighting Project Action

15.10 Award of Bid for Bid #1645 Action

15.11 Award of Inspector of Record (Project Inspector) Contract for Sports Field Lighting Project at Ygnacio Valley High School Action

15.12 Preliminary Service Agreement for Project #1643 – Northgate High School Aquatic Center buiding and site work Action

15.13 RFQ/RFP 1658 – Approval of a Preliminary Services Agreement with Kenridge Builders, Incorporated to Support a new Aquatic Center, New Buildings and Site Work at Northgate High School. Action

15.14 Local One CST and M&O Contract Extension Action

15.15 Northgate High School’s Varsity Girls Volleyball Team Competing in the 5th Annual Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix,Arizona Info/Action

15.16 Meeting Extension Action

16.0 Future Agenda Items

17.0 Board Member Reports
17.1 Board reports Info

18.0 Closed Session
18.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this closed session. Action
19.0 Adjournment
19.1 Adjourn Meeting Info”

It is interesting to note that item 15.10 fails to name the project or the vendor who is to be awarded the contract. Yet, in the past, the board has asked Measure C staff to add this important information to agendas. It’s unclear how this lack of transparency was allowed to continue. The item is an $805,620.00 contract to be awarded to Taber Construction for Sports Field Lighting at Ygnacio Valley High School. This is a very controversial item, which the board and district staff know is of interest to the public. Although the new board majority has promised more transparency, this lapse shows that it may not be implemented unless trustees adopt a policy that demands that projects and contractors be listed on agendas.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the meeting. However, I plan to report on the outcome. Comments before, during and after the meeting are welcome on this blog post.

Which items interest you and why?

Posted on Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 23 Comments »

A closer look at MDUSD’s plan to increase graduation requirements, without bringing back summer school

At its Sept. 11 meeting, the Mt. Diablo school board unanimously agreed to phase in more stringent graduation requirements, partially restoring cuts made more than three years ago. When the district cut requirements from 230 to 200 units in 2010, the rationale was that it would save money because it wouldn’t need to offer summer school to students who failed previously required classes, including a third year of math.

But even though the district will soon expect students to add 20 units to their courseloads — including a third year of math — it does not plan to bring back summer school.

I spoke to a few outside experts about whether this is a sound idea and received a variety of responses. As quoted in my story about the increase, Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Pamela Comfort said the district should look at ways to help students meet the new requirements.

“Summer school would not be the only way you could do that,” she said, “although there’s been research showing that well-designed summer school programs help students to achieve.”

She stressed the importance of trying to ensure that students are successful the first time they take a class, but added that districts should offer alternatives, if students fail.

Similarly, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, said in an e-mail that the value of summer school may depend on its quality.

“The evidence is unclear as to whether it motivates restless adolescents to require more hours tied to desks in conventional classrooms, as opposed to facilitating internships and real-world experience,” he said. “If the old option of summer school was mainly remedial, forcing more seat time could backfire, undercutting their motivation. But if students are challenged with higher level or innovative classes, this could advance learning, even their readiness for college.”

Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford and President of the state Board of Education, said the district should look at its priorities across the board as it reinstates cuts.

“My guess is they’ll put the summer school in as (the requirements) hit,” he said. “You’d have to know what all their priorities are on the ground. But it seems that they know that it’s related to summer school and you have to be able to make up credits.”

Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, explained in an e-mail that the district has devised other ways to help students succeed with the stricter requirements. Here’s what she wrote:

“As you heard the Board discussion at the last Board meeting, we have to begin with high expectations for all our students. For the past two years, our district has been strategically focused on developing a comprehensive system of support for all students to achieve at the highest level. Our staffs are continuing to refine their practice as professional learning communities where our shared values are collaboration, powerful first instruction, use of common assessments, and directed intervention.

During the 2012-13 school year, principals and teams of teachers from all of our schools participated in 4 full days of Response to Intervention (RTI) professional development. They gained information and learned strategies that are helping them to formulate and implement a systemic process to ensure every student will receive the time and support needed to learn at high levels. Many of our schools have identified time during the school day for students to access additional support. In addition, teachers are using benchmark and formative assessments to determine what skills and concepts students are not mastering so the support is targeted. This response system will help us focus on students specific needs immediately and not wait until they fail.

Also in 2012-2013, we provided training in an overview of the Common Core for every district teacher in the district. We also had ongoing training throughout the year on the Common Core for secondary math and English teachers as well as elementary teacher leaders. Almost 1200 teachers took courses in our district’s Summer Learning Academy this past summer. Many of the 52 courses focused on implementation of the Common Core.

For this school year, we are preparing to expand the professional development for all teachers in Common Core. The goal, of course, is to ensure that our teachers are prepared to implement the CCSS and shift instructional practices that support more rigorous content and higher and deeper level thinking for our students.

This past August, the district’s RTI professional development continued for all principals and their school teams with a focus on behavior interventions and maintaining a positive learning environment. During this school year, all secondary and many elementary school teams will participate in the next phase of the district’s professional development plan focusing on the best first instruction. The training is based on Dr. Robert Marzano’s research on the most effective instructional strategies.

Hundreds of our high school students are enrolled in academies in all five of our high schools. We continue to explore adding academies and strengthening the existing ones. Students in academies have shown to achieve at higher levels including higher graduation rates. MDUSD is part of the AB790 Linked Learning Pilot Program that will help to strengthen our academies and increase participation.

We will continue to provide Cyber High for students who need remediation and to make up credits. We will also continue to explore other online curriculum for our students. Our adult school has also been able to offer limited summer school classes for some seniors and juniors to make up credits for graduation.”

When I interviewed incoming Superintendent Nellie Meyer about the district’s plan to increase graduation requirements, she said students need need someone who pushes them, someone who monitors what they are doing, and a relationship with an adult who cares, in order to succeed. She was surprised MDUSD does not have academic counselors who meet regularly with students to guide them through their four years in high school.

If students fail to thrive under Lock’s plan, they could end up transferring to alternative high school programs to make up credits, which are far more expensive than comprehensive high schools.

Do you believe MDUSD students will be able to meet the increased graduation requirements under the district’s plan, as outlined by Lock?

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 14 Comments »

Positive vibe at Mt. Diablo school board meetings, as leadership shifts

Dr. John Bernard, Interim Superintendent of MDUSD

Dr. John Bernard, Interim Superintendent of MDUSD

There’s a shift in the mood at Mt. Diablo school board meetings. The acrimony of the past has given way to a more collegial and optimistic spirit as trustees work together to improve the district.

At Wednesday’s meeting, board President Cheryl Hansen attributed much of the change to Interim Superintendent John Bernard, who was hired in May to work through September, while trustees searched for a permanent superintendent to replace Steven Lawrence. Before Bernard was hired, the board was rarely united, and it was divided in its decisions to fire Lawrence and the general counsel.

But since Bernard took over, Hansen has been downright bubbly as she leads meetings, sometimes cracking jokes and often complimenting Bernard as a “problem solver” who has helped direct the board’s focus. Recently elected trustees Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence have grown into their positions, asking thoughtful questions and considering items carefully and deliberately.

Trustees Linda Mayo and Lynne Dennler, who were often at odds with Hansen before Oaks and Lawrence joined the board, now appear to be getting used to Hansen’s leadership and to working alongside two new board members.

Although this is just the beginning of the leadership transition in the district, it is a hopeful sign to some who were frustrated by the old way of doing things, which included staff giving some board members more information than others.

One change being pushed by Lawrence is more transparency about who will be appointed to administrative positions in the district. Currently, the public gets no advance notice of the candidate’s name, and the board has often received little information about prospective employees before voting on their appointments.

“I’m aware there has been inconsistency, and we are going to remedy that,” Bernard assured trustees on Wednesday.

After listening to each board member’s concerns, he promised to bring back a recommendation at the next board meeting. Later, Bernard showed his sense of humor when he proudly announced that the district would soon be providing PSA tests to every sophomore.

He then realized he had mistakenly referred to a Prostate-Specific Antigen, or PSA test for prostate cancer. So, he corrected himself by saying the district would offer the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT.

He then looked directly at me and said, “I already know what you’re going to write tomorrow. Bernard can’t read.”

Later, when he made an announcement highlighting the district’s after-school programs, Lawrence quipped: “Do they get PSA tests there?”

Bernard quickly replied: “Only the adults.”

At the end of the meeting, Lawrence pointed out that it was Bernard’s last night to sit on the dais with trustees, since newly appointed Superintendent Nellie Meyer will start Sept. 23.

“I just wanted to say thank you and it has certainly been an educational and enjoyable few months,” Lawrence said. “I appreciate you stepping in and helping us out and really helping accentuate some of the really good things going on in the district and helping fix some of the things that weren’t.”

Hansen presented Bernard with a Tommy Bahama gift card, saying she wanted him to enjoy some rest and relaxation after he leaves at the end of the month.

“He’s been an amazing trooper,” Hansen told the audience. “The way we went through this transition was just really amazing to me — that we went into a mode of actual really strong leadership grounded on solid values, constantly focusing on our schools and our students, constantly focusing on how to break down some of the walls and rebuild some of the trust.”

She said Meyer has also expressed appreciation for the tone that Bernard has been set.

“We couldn’t have asked for anything more, because it could have been an extremely tumultuous, bumpy road,” Hansen said. “Dr. Bernard came in and hit the ground running, brought a sense of calm, a sense of purpose and a knowledge base. To me, that’s called leadership. And it’s just been impressive and really, really nice.”

Have you noticed any changes in the district since Bernard took over?

Posted on Friday, September 13th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 81 Comments »

Livermore police and school district report ‘shelter in place’ initiated at Livermore HS to investigate suspected gun on campus

The Livermore Police and Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District issued the following news release and message to the community today regarding a report of a suspected gun at Livermore High that prompted the campus staff and students to shelter in place:

Police news release:

“DATE OF PRESS RELEASE: September 13, 2013

II. INCIDENT: Suspicious Occurrence on School Campus

III. FACTUAL INFORMATION:

On Friday, September 13, 2013 at approximately 7:10am, a concerned citizen called the Livermore Police Department to report a suspicious conversation he had overheard. The citizen said that as he was seated next to two teenage boys on a local transit bus in Livermore, he overheard one of the boys stating to the other boy that he had ‘Brass.’ The boy then made a hand gesture simulating a handgun and pointed at his backpack. Believing the boy may have possession of a handgun in his backpack, the citizen asked the boys which high school they attended as they exited the bus. The boys told him that they attended Livermore High School. The citizen watched the boys remove two bicycles from the bus and ride away.

After the boys left on their bicycles, the citizen called the Livermore Police Department and provided the police with descriptions of the boys and their bicycles they were riding. Upon receiving the information from the citizen, the Livermore Police responded to Livermore High School and found two bicycles matching the description of the boys’ bicycles. Fearing a gun may be on campus, a ‘shelter in place’ was initiated at Livermore High School as a precautionary safety measure. School administrators immediately sent an email to all the Livermore High School teachers with the two boys’ descriptions asking for their assistance in locating boys. Both boys were located in the same classroom shortly thereafter.

Upon contacting the boys, it was determined that neither of them possessed a handgun or any other weapon. One of the boys did have used/spent rifle and shotgun shells in his backpack.

After approximately 30 minutes, the ‘shelter in place’ was lifted as the Livermore Police determined there was no longer a threat on campus.

The Superintendent of the Livermore School District, Kelly Bowers, put out the below messages to the Livermore High School’s parents.

‘This morning, as a precaution, and in full communication and cooperation with the Livermore Police Department, we placed our students and staff at Livermore High School in a shelter in place mode, so that the Livermore Police Department could conduct a thorough search in response to a reported firearm on campus. During the emergency protocol situation, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District worked in tandem with the Livermore Police Department to ensure student and staff safety. All students and staff were safe. All students and staff fully cooperated. Once the Livermore Police confirmed that the report of a weapon on campus was not credible, the
shelter in place order was lifted and school was back in session. We apologize for any anxiety caused by our initial phone call alert, however we always err on the side of extreme caution in following our safety protocols and in keeping our community informed.

We commend the Livermore Police Department for their vigilant response and the LHS administration, staff and students for calmly adhering to our safety procedures to ensure everyone’s well-being. We are extremely fortunate to have such a positive working relationship with our local police department to avert any potential crisis situation.

As a result of the information provided by the citizen, the Livermore Police Department and Livermore High School staff was able to ensure the safety of the students.

As a reminder, the Livermore Police Department highly encourages that if any citizen witnesses any suspicious activity to call and report it immediately.”

Posted on Friday, September 13th, 2013
Under: Education, Livermore | No Comments »

New MDUSD superintendent discusses funding priorities, community involvement and charter schools

Incoming MDUSD Superintendent Nellie Meyer brings 30 years of experience in San Diego to her new job.


Incoming MDUSD Superintendent Nellie Meyer brings 30 years of experience in San Diego to her new job.

Mt. Diablo school district’s incoming Superintendent Nellie Meyer is bringing 30 years of experience in education from the San Diego school district, in positions ranging from teacher to deputy superintendent.

On Friday this newspaper published an excerpt of a discussion I had with Meyer about her priorities. Here are some more details from that interview, as we dug into the move to Common Core curriculum standards that emphasize problem-solving and deeper understanding of concepts, her opinion of charter schools, and parent and community engagement.

Q What should the district’s budget priorities be under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula?

A As we go into the Common Core, we’re going to have to work with teachers to support them as we change our teaching strategies. Moving away from some of the rote memorization to some of the of the critical thinking I’m sure is already occurring will be an emphasis, particularly in the early grades, with early literacy. There are a lot of strategies we could employ, such as smaller class sizes and an extended day. We know there are proven strategies that work. How we make them work within the system will be my challenge.

Q The district is implementing a Master Plan for English Learners. What is your experience with that student population and what direction can you provide?

A I taught (English language learners in San Diego) and have a credential. And that was certainly under my purview (as an administrator in San Diego) and will be here. I’ve trained staff and secondary teachers in strategies, including English language development strategies. It should be more hands-on. It’s a really good match with the Common Core. I’m going to be curious where we see the shift in our English language development standards to Common Core and what strategies we will need to fill in. It’s a critical part of any district, particularly Mt. Diablo, so I’ll be spending a lot of time studying that.

Q The board has discussed holding town hall style meetings in the community, but hasn’t yet done so. Would you support that?

A In San Diego, we had meetings at the high schools for the entire cluster (schools that feed into the high school). There were times when parents and community members would come to speak to specific concerns they had about their elementary or middle school experience. Also, they could hear information and respond. It was a ‘we come to you’ philosophy. The goal was that it would be reciprocal. We would go out and talk about changes such as making a campus a Chinese immersion school. They were interactive and they occurred on a regular basis within each of the clusters. They were open meetings, not by invitation. Sometimes the board would attend, sometimes it would not. I would like to speak to the board about this.

Q The former superintendent disbanded the districtwide Parent Advisory Council and instead held parent meetings at high schools. Can you talk about your experience involving parents in the schools, and how you plan to involve Mt. Diablo parents?

A We had a Parent Advisory Council and a District Advisory Council in San Diego. Staff would come and present information to the parent group. This was another body that reviewed budgets. They would take information back to their schools and school site councils. It was a formalized group that would advise, but their advice was strongly listened to. I think I need to look at every district committee and see how they work. I believe that parents are experts in what their students need. I’ve found the budget advisory group is a very useful tool and I’d like to know the makeup of that here and how it works.

Q There was divisiveness in the district when Clayton Valley High converted to a charter last year. What’s your opinion of charters?

A I’m not philosophically opposed to charters in any way. I supervised charters in my former capacity. We had 49 in San Diego. At one time about 10 years ago, there were several district-sponsored conversions. Many of the charters that I’ve worked with were interested in participating in our professional development and they were welcome to do so. They also had ideas they brought to our department on what they were doing. In my experience, it was very collaborative. So I’m curious to see what is working (at Clayton Valley) and I’ll have a lot of questions.

What’s your reaction to Meyer’s comments?

Posted on Friday, September 6th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 45 Comments »