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

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 13th, 2013 at 5:37 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

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?

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81 Responses to “Positive vibe at Mt. Diablo school board meetings, as leadership shifts”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    Do you really believe that absentee and interim Jayne Williams supervises facilities, operations and resource conservation director ? That’s why there needs to be a complete realignment of the organizational management. Admiral Bill would shake his head at the tangled web woven by Eberhart, Rolen, Steven Lawrence and company.

  2. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s the latest on the MDEA negotiations:

    I also heard from Annie Nolen, who represents CSEA. She said some of her members are bringing home $0 on their paychecks because all their money is going toward their benefits, especially those whose hours were cut. Some, she said, may actually have to pay the district for the privilege of being employed. They are not allowed to opt out of health coverage unless they can prove they have it from another source, she said. Union negotiations for CSEA are also ongoing.

  3. tmharrington Says:

    Here is the board action summary for the Sept. 25 meeting:

  4. tmharrington Says:

    The district will hold four parent meetings this month (with the first Monday) to explain Common Core implementation in the district:

  5. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s the agenda:

    FYI, I may not be able to attend and I’m not sure if this will be videotaped.

  6. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s a news brief about the Common Core meetings:

  7. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s a news brief about the joint Walnut Creek meeting:

  8. tmharrington Says:

    In contrast to the positive vibe at recent MDUSD meetings, there was a very defensive vibe at the most recent Central Contra Costa Sanitary District board meeting, where Trustee Jim Nejedly defended himself against Facebook allegations that he was a “sour grape” during a discussion about a proposed sustainable farm that could help supply salads to schools in MDUSD, along with educational programs and produce for the food bank:

  9. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s a story about Kennedy HS in Richmond, which has seen dramatic increases under new leadership focused on consistent discipline to improve safety, along with consistent instructional practices and a teacher leadership team, resulting in a changed culture at the school that has led to a renewed sense of school pride:

  10. tmharrington Says:

    Speaking of union negotiations, I was going through some files and found the SIG MOUs, which were never brought before the board for approval. Here they are:

  11. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s a new blog post about the joint MDUSD-Walnut Creek City Council meeting tomorrow night:

  12. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, tonight’s joint meeting will be livestreamed and videotaped by the district.

  13. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, can you give us details or post a copy of the lawsuit filed by Bay Area News Group against MDUSD on September 27 and is an agenda item for Wednesday ?

  14. Doctor J Says:

    Another new lawsuit filed Sept 24 v MDUSD, Mildred Browne, Marji Calbeck, MARY HENDERSON BYIAS, ASHLEY MCKINLEY. Any details ?

  15. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, Kelly Cooper at YVHS is seeking donations through for tumbling mats for her dance class:

    Many other local teachers are also seeking donations through this program, with an anonymous donor paying half the cost:

  16. tmharrington Says:

    I haven’t seen the BANG lawsuit, but I believe it could be related to the district’s failure to release documents related to the Joseph Martin molestation allegations.

  17. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s the link to scant details about the BANG filing:

  18. Doctor J Says:

    Why should MDUSD cover-up administrators and teachers violating the mandatory reporting laws ? Why isn’t the district putting the children victims first and foremost ? There is no legitimate reason to try and save the careers of administrators and teachers who violated the law — the TRUTH is the most important part.

  19. tmharrington Says:

    Here’s the link to online info about this case:

    Plaintiff is listed as “HW.”

  20. tmharrington Says:

    Annie Nolen told me she was not satisfied with the mandated reporting training that was offered last year. This year, it looks like the district is finally offering the mandated reporter training from the Contra Costa Child Abuse Prevention Council that they decided not to consider last year, after I brought it to their attention.

  21. Doctor J Says:

    We really need to see a copy of the lawsuit to know what the District is withholding.

  22. tmharrington Says:

    FYI, the state has just updated its school snapshots with data from 2012-14:

  23. tmharrington Says:

    MDUSD meeting Wednesday includes several interesting items, including lease-leasebacks that still aren’t labeled with the names of the projects, an expensive consulting contract with the company that Dr. John Bernard works for to mentor Dr. Nellie Meyer for nine months, the YVHS field lighting project, a public hearing regarding the Northgate Aquatics project and several new and revised board bylaws:

  24. Doctor J Says:

    The consulting contract with TSS lists no fiscal impact nor a funding source — how misleading when the contract says $650 x 18 plus mileage.

  25. tmharrington Says:

    MDUSD is accepting intradistrict transfer applications for grades 1-12 through Jan. 15:

    Surprisingly, there is no information about this posted in the district’s “News Room”:

  26. tmharrington Says:

    Yes, clearly there is a fiscal impact of nearly $12,000, not including mileage. Again, the promised transparency is lacking. It’s great that they’re listing strategic goals on every agenda item, but I think the public is even more interested in how much the items are costing taxpayers.

  27. tmharrington Says:

    Here is a news brief about the California School Quality Snapshots:

  28. Doctor J Says:

    It is also concerning that Dr. Bernard has a relationship with that company AND that his daughter is a defendant in the Martin molestation case as a result of being a Principal at the school — will there be some effort by the consultant to stonewall disclosure of the documents that might implicate his daughter in wrongdoing ? I would rather have Admiral Bill doing the consulting.

  29. Doctor J Says:

    Is BANG pressuring you not to post a copy of the BANG v MDUSD lawsuit ?

  30. Doctor J Says:

    2013 Police report confirms MDUSD administrators knew of Martin’s suspicion of child abuse in 2006 and FAILED to report to law enforcement or CPS — MDUSD refuses to release documents showing their knowledge. Bay Area News Groups sues for documents.

  31. T.C Says:

    Holy spirit from here I believe you can trace the negative vybe come my first punch on the Wally talky while patrolling the campus that came across the positive then…. all the way up to…here….x marks the spot……….. 10 ‘4. Terrill T.C

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