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

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 6th, 2013 at 4:07 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

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?

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

  • Michael Langley

    With a clean slate, so far I am positive about our new superintendent. Her answers show an understanding of the complexities she faces, yet she shows wisdom in getting to know MDUSD and not assuming it is just a smaller version of her former district. As a Master Craftsperson, she brings a variety of tools, but will not renovate this “Winchester Mystery House” of education without first looking into the original blueprints and previous additions.

  • Vindex

    Hmmm… I’m rooting for her. What surprises me is that she didn’t really answer any questions with specifics. Especially the first question. This concerns me. We need a leader not a politician who happens to speak teacher language. So, I’m rooting for her, but this interview is concerning

  • Carroll

    I’m pretty much on the same page as Vindex #2. I’m rooting for Ms. Meyer, but not sensing a great deal of vision or leadership from her interviews yet.

  • Teachme

    So you two (#2 and #3) think she should tell everyone exactly what she will do before she has even had her first day? What did you expect from the first interview? Do you think chess or poker players know ahead of time what play will have the best outcome? Changing this district for the better is going to be a long, difficult and probably slow battle against the status quo. Do you want a new Sup that comes in and tells everyone what they will do from some kind of pre-made one size fits all master plan? Was the last Superintendent a good “politician”? Every leader is a politician sometimes, and good ones know when it is not the right time to commit publicly to a course of action. You may not “sense” what you think you are looking for, I don’t really sense any real leadership experience in the people writing here.

  • MDUSD Parent

    I’m sure the new superintendent will be much more popular than the last one. The previous superintendent had to deal with declining revenue for the district. He had to implement the highly unpopular budget cuts the BOE had to make to keep the district financially solvent, including angering the unions with furlough days that cut their pay. He was making changes in our out of control special education department. He told the truth about the financial impact of the charter school. When new BOE members got elected, they chose to make him the fall guy. Nellie Meyer, on the other hand, is coming in when education funding is on the rise. That fact alone will make her much more popular.

    Of course she didn’t give any specifics on what she’s going to do. She has to learn about the district and see what’s working and what’s not and learn the political lay of the land. As she pointed out, even when you know what strategies will work to improve student achievement, it can be difficult to implement them in our educational system. Any time you have a highly unionized environment, significant change is going to be difficult. She’s also got to deal with a mediocre school board.

  • Doctor J

    The educational financial tug-o-war between teacher unions and civil rights leaders — watch out for the “clean up” bills to be signed by the Governor that will drastically alter LCFF — and whether more money ends up in the class room or teacher’s bank accounts ? Don’t look for classified to gain either way.

  • Doctor J
  • Doctor J

    The Dent Student Services Senior Secretary gets a $1700 dollar raise without having worked a single day — yet no increased hours or raises for school site secretaries. Agenda item 10.6, by a sly sleight of hand, seeks to increase a “vacant” position created on August 14 from a 228 day position to a 238 day position, increasing the salary by nearly $1700 and it has never yet been filled ! Sounds like an “inside” favor for a friend who wouldn’t apply for the job unless it was a 238 day position.

  • Wait a Minute

    @#5,
    So you think Stevie Lawrence did a good job working with what he had like “telling the truth about the financial impact of the charter”???

    I question your judgement.

    Stevie Lawrence and his coattails following sidekick Sue Brothers have now thoroughly run 2 separate school districts into the ground.

    This was proven by declining API, corruption and extreme negative employee morale from the West Sacramento district and now the MDUSD.

    Anyone who thinks he is competent in any way is themselves likewise incompetent or corrupt and/or in some way personally benefited from his tenure.

  • Doctor J

    @9&#5 Anyone who thinks that under LCFF there will be plenty of money for teacher salary increases [and automatic administrator raises to match the teacher raises] actually believed the tax campaign propaganda. That’s why if you see the link in #7 you will see why the teacher’s union is trying to postpone the implementation of the “strings attached” until after they can negotiate their raises. The teacher’s unions are not putting the students first in the implementation of Common Core which will take millions for computers and new textbooks, plus continued Professional Development.

  • Doctor J

    I agree with Arnie Duncan: “Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools’ performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition,” he said in a statement. “No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing.”
    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-duncan-opposes-testing-plan-20130909,0,5545295.story?track=rss

  • Doctor J
  • Giorgio C.

    @11Dr.J,
    I am shocked and concerned at this decision. I need to read this more thoroughly, but on the face of it, it approaches the realm of reckless. There should be a parallel crosswalk period of the old and newer assessment methods, but instead a complete gap?

  • Giorgio C.

    On the one hand, I don’t like the Feds meddling. On the other hand, California appears to be one of the worst when it comes to accountability for their public schools. I say this after a CDE staffer told me they didn’t have anyone to enforce the laws pertaining to the SARC requirements. So we have accountability via the honor system.

  • Doctor J

    Steven Lawrence’s administrative credential and teaching credential were just renewed on July 1, 2013 — did MDUSD pay for that ?

  • Doctor J
  • Theresa Harrington

    The Walnut Creek school district is holding three parent meetings to explain how it is implementing Common Core Standards: http://www.contracostatimes.com/walnut-creek/ci_24070687/school-notes-district-holds-meetings-new-common-core

    Will MDUSD provide similar informational meetings to MDUSD parents?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s a CTA story highlighting what some schools are doing with QEIA funding: http://www.cta.org/en/Professional-Development/Publications/2013/09/September-2013-Educator/QEIA-Cultivating-Student-Success.aspx

    This funding expires June 30, 2015. Many MDUSD schools also receive this funding. Will LCFF effectively replace it?

  • Doctor J

    Where is Brian Lawrence ? The video part 1 did not have a roll call.

  • Doctor J

    Typically, Tim Cody changed his PowerPoint from that was posted. He has already learned the “work around”.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Lawrence is here.

  • Doctor J

    Julie B-M seems to have forgot about her “stellar” research of Patrick Nugent — his mugshot was on line before she even got home from the Board meeting.

  • Doctor J

    Dr. John Bernard should be accorded HERO status in MDUSD for “righting the ship”, providing solid leadership, and transitioning the district to a new Superintendent with the opportunity for success.

  • Concerned

    Dr. John Bernard did a wonderful job getting MDUSD back on track. Now may the district move forward for the sake of the students and staff.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Interesting that Braun-Martin didn’t mention doing a google search as part of her reference checks, as I believe the board began requiring after the Nugent incident.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#25 What Julie B-M read is NOT what has been happening, but is the “new” procedure — listen carefully to the words of Dr. Bernard. Based on her statement, I am convinced that she knew that Christopher Nugent had a DUI conviction and failed to disclose it. It would be a good idea to transcribe her statement, and ask her where in the “process” the google search happens. And my apologies to “Patrick” — I think he married some President’s daughter. :-)
    The big story of the night was the continued skepticism over Tim Cody’s preference of continuing to award the higher construction contract under the lease-lease back procedure without justification. John Parker has been ringing the same alarm for many months, and Lynne is finally wondering why no one can answer his questions.

  • g

    That is the big story. Too bad Cheryl has decided to help skipper that ship.

    This “no money” bid for Taber is, in fact, a half million dollar deal-in-the-waiting to have Taber “oversee” the security installments. There are/have been architects, engineers, inspector of record, DSA and finally bidders for the equipment and installation of the security additions and retrofits. ADD to that an in house team of “pencil pusher” overpaid “Construction Managers” that never put a hammer to a nail nor do any “oversight” for the actual projects.

    So, Cody wants to give Taber half a mil to “go up on each roof” and make sure everything all the other experts did will be OK????

  • Theresa Harrington
  • Doctor J

    I thought Linda Mayo’s question was well taken, as it showed that neither Rose Lock, Bill Morones nor Julie B-M had even thought about, let alone “run the numbers” on what resources would be needed to ramp up to meet the needs of the new graduation requirements, especially as the district is in negotiations with teachers for salary increases. Ironic that Rose Lock had “signed off” approving the increased graduation requirements, but didn’t have a clue as to what it would cost or what new classes or teachers would be needed to meet those requirements. IMHO, Rose can’t look past her elbow as to what factors need to be considered, which is why SASS has functioned so poorly. I am still waiting a month later for her analysis of where efforts need to be doubled.

  • Doctor J

    Are students in non Title 1 schools physically stronger so they can walk 5 miles to school, but Title 1 school children can only walk one mile ? Monday will begin the MDUSD “walk-a-thon” — no its not a fund raiser — its Rose Lock’s version of reassignment of children to save on bus costs by switching the non Title 1 children to schools where they have to walk 5 miles before they are bussed. Monday should be chaos as many parents have not been advised of the reassignments — do it on Friday so they have no one to call over the weekend ! Rose has spent the last two weeks cancelling classes at one school and adding at another so as to require less bussing. You heard her silence the other night — no clue as to the financial impact of raising the graduation requirements — she has been too busy playing chess with students.

  • Theresa Harrington

    This is interesting because it contradicts what Dr. Bernard said Wednesday about the district’s past practice of moving students to fit staffing. He said there is a lot of room at many schools and the district is starting to shift staffing instead of students to better accommodate the students.
    Also, I wonder if the Streetsmart program highlighted Wednesday has been alerted about the fact that more children may be walking to certain schools starting Monday. It sounds like that program has a lot of funding for things like giveaways and repeating trainings regarding bike safety sometimes twice at the same schools. I wonder if it could spend some of that money on busing students instead.
    After spending a lot of money on outreach to students, the presenter said bike ridership rose from about 1 or 2 bikes to about 12 at one school. She presented this as though it was a giant increase in ridership. But, I wonder how much money was spent to get 10 more kids to ride their bikes at a school with hundreds of students.

  • LesBHonest

    Theresa, or others, do you know anything about this? In all my years in the district, I’ve never heard of someone not being in school this far into the school year due to “no room?” Someone else posted they also had the same issue. Is MDUSD just letting kids sit at home? (This was posted on claycord, but I’m surprised no one has really addressed it there).

    erin September 10, 2013 at 4:07 PM
    Mt Diablo School District is withholding students: My daughter has been home for the third straight week from school. Why? because Mt. Diablo School District is so full. My daughter was suppose to start her 6th grade year at Pine Hollow Middle School but got bumped due to too many kids. The school district has yet to find her a new school. While all of her friends are exploring and discovering 6th grade (middle school), my daughter is at home wondering when she get to go to school. I received a phone call from Mt. Diablo school district Friday September 6 and they informed me that she would be in a school by Monday September 9 or by Tuesday September 10. I have yet to hear from the district, and when you call them regarding the situation they tell you that they are aware of it and are trying to find a school for numerous students. Is anyone else having the same problem???

  • Theresa Harrington

    No, as I mentioned in my last post, Dr. Bernard said during the grad requirements discussion that the district had lots of space at some schools and was trying to move staff to accommodate students. He said the district is evaluating its inter-district and intra-district transfer process. But, Trustee Linda Mayo said she is hearing from teachers that classes are full. Bernard did not mention anything about some middle schools being so full that they were completely turning away students and failing to place them at all.
    Also, during the Measure C update, Tim Cody talked about many new classrooms being added to schools throughout the district.

  • Doctor J

    Lets get facts not generalities. Rose Lock is CYA on her poor projections last spring of student enrollment — why ? Her objective was to assign teachers so students would be overflowed and avoid additional bussing costs — I think this was being kept from Dr. Bernard until he recently saw what was happening and figured it out. Same reason he had to have Julie B-M “fix” the hiring process and read it verbatim on Wednesday night. So what is driving this mad-dash today ? Its the 18 day class size adjustment period in the MDEA contract that kicks in next week. So why does MDUSD have this discriminatory transportation policy ? 1 mile for Title 1 schools — 5 miles for non-Title 1 schools. Don’t both schools have socio-economically deprived students ? No wonder Rose Lock insists on playing chess with student assignments — always the last minute. This policy hurts students.

    Oh, and Cody’s comments — its not new classrooms being “added” but replaced. The inventory of available classrooms has not grown as he suggests — he is just trying to justify his $2.3 million a year “department”.

  • g

    @32 and Theresa, Good Question. Just how far off the 2014-15 enrollment projections was the 2010 Jack Schreder demographic study? Could he have miscalculated by enough to put schools like Pine Hollow (and Wren/Sun Terrace) at or over capacity in 2013?

    http://www.mdusd.org/Community/Documents/scac/powerpoint/09-30.pdf

    OR, did Rose Lock and company just ignore all demographics and projections while allowing 20+% of interdistrict students to fill the seats leaving no room for resident students?

  • Doctor J

    Did I understand correctly that Dr. Bernard said on Sept 11 that the current district enrollment is about 30,400 students ? That would compare with the 2012-13 enrollment of 32,001, another loss of 1600 students for this year.

  • g

    Would that be accounting for the 1800 or so that the district lost to CVCHS?

  • g

    Oops, hit enter too soon. If that is the case, the rest of the district has actually gained students — probably in K_5.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s an unrelated blog post about an unfounded suspicion that students may have brought a gun to Livermore HS today: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/09/13/livermore-police-and-school-district-report-shelter-in-place-initiated-at-livermore-hs-to-investigate-suspected-gun-on-campus/

  • Doctor J

    @G#37/38 The CVCHS “loss” was between the 11/12 and 12/13 school years. The official CDE enrollment in 11/12 was 33,987 and in 12/13 was 32001, a loss of 1,986 [accounting for much of CVCHS] but this would be another 1600 — bring us very close to the brink of the 30,000 student minimum before additional “reserves” are required, which would take away money from potential teacher and administrator salary increases. Did you pick up on the closed session report out, that the Board approved only one of the labor contracts ?

  • Doctor J

    Here is the Enrollment Graph from CDE. Project a 30,400 figure on that. Not pretty. Hope Theresa can confirm the precise enrollment. http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/DQ/EnrTimeRpt.aspx?Level=District&cYear=2011-12&cname=MT.%20DIABLO%20UNIFIED&cCode=0761754

  • g

    It appears that after several years of incorrect information on the MDUSD “About MDUSD” home page, Dr. Bernard (or someone) finally, within the last few months, updated it. As of 12/12 the K-12 enrollment was 31,829.

  • g

    Oops, did it again! I believe actual enrollment from 2011-2013 (eliminating CV from the equation) is actually up over 200, most of them K-1 and about a third of that is from just the Holbrook resident area.

  • Doctor J

    Sorry G I don’t follow your math. If you take 1800 [CVCHS] and add it to the Dec 2012 figure of 31,289, that gives a total of 33,089, still less than the CDE official enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year of 33,987. I call that about 900 student loss not including CVCHS.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s a new blog post about the positive outlook at MDUSD meetings since Bernard took over: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/09/13/positive-vibe-at-mt-diablo-school-board-meetings-as-leadership-shifts/

    Still, as Flippin’ Tired notes, there are many issues that need to be resolved. Busing could be one. Union negotiations are another and a deeper look at lease-leasebacks appears inevitable.