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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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  • Flippin’ Tired

    Transportation is still an unmitigated disaster. That needs to be Dr. Nellie’s first priority. Then work on Special Ed.

  • Theresa Harrington

    At Wednesday’s meeting, Dr. Bernard said a robocall went out to everyone affected by busing.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Karen Sakata, former Principal of Ayers Elementary, is running for County Superintendent of Schools: http://www.contracostatimes.com/contra-costa-county/ci_24092158/karen-sakata-announces-candidacy-county-superintendent-schools

  • Frustrated

    Flippin tired……. Seems like the small group here is always ” out to get” special Ed. My guess is this is coming from some parents ho just didn’t get everything they wanted.

  • Flippin’ Tired

    I’m not out to get anyone. These two departments are in shambles. I’d like to see them running efficiently and with organized, intelligent staff.

  • Frustrated

    It would be nice if all the departments ran smoothly and the budget could be managed in such a way that we could truly do what is in the best interest of children. The focus needs to be on the students and we should be adding supports and programs rather than cutting them. Hopefully the new superintendent has the same vision

  • anonymous

    In my opinion Dr. Bernard’s best decision was appointing Liane Cismowski principal of MDHS. His worse decision was transferrring a veteran MDHS English teacher to Northgate (involuntarily).

  • g

    Anonymous @7: While I have liked most of the decisions Dr. Bernard has made, I too question involuntary transfers.

    On the other hand, I have not lost track of who knows whom. Dr. Bernard was the Supt. in Newark, and it was he who hired Morones and then McMorris away from San Ramon. Marones may have given him a few headaches during his time in Newark, but McMorris seems to have stayed a bit more out of the limelight during those couple of years.

  • Anon

    There is a majority at MDHS who are happy that there is a new principal in place and the old principal’s chief antagonist gone.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Antioch district is giving out contract extensions and raises to top administrators: http://www.contracostatimes.com/contracostatimes/ci_24092770/antioch-unifieds-top-administrators-get-contract-extensions-raises

  • Theresa Harrington
  • Doctor J

    I don’t think Antioch USD automatically links raises to teachers with raises to senior administrators like Mt. Diablo does — I am not sure that Mt. Diablo’s “automatic link” is still legal, but apparently still in practice. http://www.hansonbridgett.com/Publications/articles/executive-compensation-and-brown-act-requirements.aspx

  • tmharrington

    I have added a new blog post with more information about the district’s plan to help students succeed with the more stringent graduation requirements: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/09/16/mdusd-increases-graduation-requirements-but-doesnt-bring-back-summer-school/

  • Doctor J

    So WHY, WHY, WHY is Transportation still a mess when Dr. Bernard announced last Wednesday that it was all corrected and under control and letters had been “sent out” with Robo-calls to every family affected ???? Did someone not tell Dr. Bernard the TRUTH ??? McHale’s Navy was more organized than the MDUSD “three blind mice” of Transportation, Special Ed and SASS.

  • Doctor J

    Some real bus nightmares being reported by parents on the Claycord Water Cooler blog. These parents ought to be calling Theresa — it could be front page !

  • tmharrington

    I have received one call and one email so far from parents who are beyond frustrated. One parent wrote: “If you as a parent do not fight, stand up, research laws, talk to others and demand they provide your child with what they need, then the district just lets things slide. You almost have to be a detective, too, because if you aren’t, you won’t know what is going on — or not going on, I should say!”

  • Doctor J

    Upcoming Board Meeting fireworks: Approve Taber Constr contract on YVHS Stadium Project in Consent Agenda BEFORE Board approves the EIR [wasn't Public Hearing continued ?]; No discussion of whether both YVHS & CVCHS Stadium projects and Northgate Aquatics Center comply with Bond law in Taxpayers v. San Diego USD case since not identified specifically in ballot measure; Board By-law revisions to ELIMINATE minutes — why ? ; Why is bus driver resignation from August before school started just showing up on Sept 25 — no hires on agenda — how many bus drivers are we short ? And MOST IMPORTANT item 15.1 Hides from the Public proposed candidates names and biographies prior to the announcement at the Board meeting, but secretly delivers them to the Board 5 days ahead for a public agenda discussion — Does this violate the Brown Act ???? It clearly isn’t the public transparency advocated by 4 of 5 Board members when they ran for office. Maybe the Board members will post the information on their public blogs as soon as received ???

  • Doctor J

    Piece by piece the Martin molestation case leaks. 13 victims — more to come — unfortunately. http://www.contracostatimes.com/contracostatimes/ci_24143374/concord-family-alleges-manipulation-from-suspected-serial-child#top

  • tmharrington
  • tmharrington

    Tragically, a 12-year-old boy riding his bike to school was hit and killed by the parent of another student driving an SUV in Byron yesterday morning: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_24156214/child-hit-and-killed-by-suv-front-byron

    It’s unclear whether the Byron school district participates in the Street Smarts program highlighted at the last MDUSD meeting: http://511contracosta.org/schools/street-smart-diablo/. Although the Street Smarts website doesn’t list Byron, it does say the program is available to schools in Central and Eastern Contra Costa County.

  • tmharrington

    I also notice that the meeting agenda doesn’t list the project or the contractor for item 15.10, which is to Taber Construction for the YVHS field project: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=427

    This is after the board specifically discussed the fact that this lack of transparency on agendas was unacceptable. Until trustees adopt a policy preventing it, however, it appears that it will persist. It gives the appearance that staff doesn’t want the public to know what’s being discussed or to be able to easily search for contractors or projects using the Electronic School Board agenda search.

  • Doctor J

    Principalships for Woodside Elem and Sequoia Middle taken down* — so have they been filled without Board approval or internal transfers ? Three new special ed administrator postings up.
    *Note: One Sequoia Middle — external candidate — left posted but probably a mistake.

  • Doctor J

    It looks like the agenda has been changed since Sunday night — 15.10 was on the consent agenda — see my prior post. Are we really going to have to start printing every Friday evening Board agenda and compare with what shows up on Wed night ? Good grief — you would think these people would quit tinkering with posted agendas.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s more info on Diablo View MS working with 511 Contra Costa and the Clayton PD to slow down traffic and encourage kids to walk to school (item 4, Principal’s Report): http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/f306ea45-c945-4c5b-b5d7-8c26d5b1cb62.pdf

  • tmharrington

    I will do a blog post copying and pasting the agenda as it appears today. Also, I see that the district is trying to help out Sun Terrace students by hiring an intervention teacher there: http://esb.mdusd.k12.ca.us/attachments/23188156-8c4b-49ed-adc2-7ba8d06fff03.pdf

  • tmharrington

    Here’s the new blog post with the agenda as it appears today: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/09/24/mdusd-board-to-consider-approving-yvhs-field-project-and-contract-for-northgate-hs-aquatics-center/

    Again, I question why an agenda item as important as the YVHS field light contract is simply identified as “Award of Bid #1645.” This is not the transparency the public was promised.

  • tmharrington

    I saw that CJ Cammack in SRVUSD is using his twitter account to let people know about job openings, such as this one for a principal: http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/7345008?trk=jobs_share_fb

    Would MDUSD’s personnel dept. consider getting the word out about its job openings this way?

  • Doctor J

    FCMAT today reports details of Martin’s alleged abuse using a Times article. “Despite a 2006 Mt. Diablo school district internal report finding “potential child abuse” at the hands of Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, administrators failed to contact police and allowed him to continue teaching until April of this year, just before his arrest on molestation charges, according to a newly filed claim by seven alleged
    victims.” “The seven victims listed in the claim filed against the district last week are suing Martin, former Woodside Principal Jennifer Sachs, former Woodside Principal
    Michelle Batesole, former Woodside Principal Jenny Reyes Cronan, former district Superintendent Steven Lawrence, former district General Counsel Greg Rolen, former district Superintendent Gary McHenry, and four school board members from 2006, one of whom, Linda Mayo, is still a trustee.” “At least some of the complaints led the district to hire the Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo law firm in 2006 to investigate. The outside firm, according to the claim and police report, concluded: “This report would
    not be honest and its conclusions not fully supported if I did not report the circumstances surrounding these allegations that at least suggest the subject matter of potential child abuse.”
    WoodsideGATE — a typical MDUSD coverup for 7 years — but a coverup that directly harmed children. The CoCoCo District Attorney should prosecute the “mandatory reporters” for failing to report. Each of them needs to accept some responsibility and perhaps some should have their credential revoked.

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_24168036/mt-diablo-district-2006-internal-report-found-potential

  • Doctor J

    LOL. Today its the Sequoia Middle — internal candidate — that remains posted. Who is running this circus ?

  • Doctor J

    Can you believe Doris Avalos is back on the SASS payroll for the third year in a row — Rose Lock knows how to take care of her friends until their retirement allocation ends each year.

  • tmharrington

    FYI, I am attending an Education Writers Association conference at Northeastern University in Boston today and tomorrow entitled: “Guess Who’s Coming to Campus: What Demographic Changes Mean for Colleges and Reporters.” For anyone interested in this topic (which includes changing demographics of high school students and college readiness), I will live tweet from @tunedtotheresa using the hashtag #EWAHiEd.

  • tmharrington
  • Flippin’ Tired

    “The Board’s offer does nothing to address the ongoing inequity between health benefits support for teachers and the support offered to all other District bargaining units.” Teachers, you voted away your benefits. Now you whine about it? You also whine you haven’t had a raise in six years? CST hasn’t had a raise in more than 10 years. CSEA had hours cut. M&O has been cut to the bone, that’s why we wait months to have ballasts replaced. No sympathy at all, teachers.

  • tmharrington

    For those who wonder about the effects of tobacco and drugs on teens, you may be interested in attending a free presentation Thursday at the Willow Creek Center by Dr. Victor DeNoble: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceT0JBZUpRdFd6YWc/edit?usp=sharing

  • tmharrington

    And here is an interesting report on elementary school truancy, which can lead to dropouts, according to the attorney general: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy

  • Doctor J

    CoCoCo is one of the worst in the State of California.

  • tmharrington

    Another item that I’ve heard complaints about is special ed busing, which will be discussed at tonight’s CAC meeting. Here’s a new blog post with the agenda: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/10/01/mdusd-community-advisory-committee-to-discuss-transportation-issues-tonight/

  • tmharrington

    Strange that the district’s websites don’t list the planned joint meeting with the Walnut Creek City Council on Monday, but Walnut Creek’s does: http://www.walnut-creek.org/cals/default.asp

    Still, no location is listed

  • tmharrington

    Please note that I have uploaded six video clips from last night’s CAC Transportation Report on my YouTube account at: http://www.youtube.com/tunedtotheresa.

    Based on the report and subsequent discussion, many problems still need to be worked out.

  • Doctor J

    Tom Bishop quote: “The district shot themselves in the foot. We are trying to stop the bleeding.” Same problems created by Rolen and Goakey: lack of equipment and lack of drivers. Same problems created by Rose Lock — making changes to student assignments up to Oct 1 — almost every change by Rose then creates another change in transportation. We have so many “habitually underperforming schools” that parents transfer out the students and that requires transportation. Years and years go by with no fix to the education to solve the “underperforming” issues — so we have to transport children to high performing schools. Since Rose Lock was appointed in 2008, education of children has been sinking since then. And thanks to Theresa for labeling the segments by number for easy continuity.

  • Doctor J

    Why isn’t the district considering “OUTSIDE” candidates for principal of Sequoia Middle. Its been like that for over a week now.

  • tmharrington

    You’re welcome regarding the CAC videos. Part of the problem with the YVHS videos is that I’m not sure myself where the first three videos fit in and I don’t have time to watch them all over again to figure it out. You can kind of tell by looking at the audience, since several people left when they broke into groups.

  • tmharrington

    FYI, MDEA is rallying the troops on Friday, asking teachers to wear their union t-shirts to show solidarity during negotiations: http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1102938290270-305/Shirts+on+Friday+(1).pdf

  • tmharrington

    Meanwhile, another charter school is pushing to open in WCCUSD, appealing to the County Board of Ed. after being denied by district trustees: http://www.contracostatimes.com/richmond/ci_24218187/county-board-education-hear-arguments-and-against-summit

  • Doctor J

    Any information given to Board members on an Agenda item, should also be made available to the public — The Ralph M. Brown Act “requires that any document relating to a proposal to be discussed or acted on at an open meeting must be available on request as soon as it has been distributed to the body unless exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act,” said Terry Francke, general counsel for CalAware and an open-records consultant for Voice of OC. Franke said officials are legally required to disclose the information before and after the vote. So these “private” Friday memos to Board members on Agenda items and Julie B-M’s secret distribution of biographies to Board members only and not to the public appears to be illegal according to Francke. http://www.voiceofoc.org/oc_central/santa_ana/article_9764432e-2b32-11e3-b918-0019bb2963f4.html

  • Doctor J

    Monday’s agenda now posted. Staff dinner ? Location: Walnut Acres.

  • Doctor J

    I wonder if the Charter school “chains” are now targeting the districts who get the bonus under LCFF ?

  • tmharrington

    I just had a call from an MDHS alum who was shocked that she and her friend were able to walk freely around the campus yesterday — including inside several buildings — without being stopped by anyone or told to check in at the office. She said security was much tighter when she attended the school and wonders why it’s so lax now. She said she believes MDHS is in a high-risk area. When she tried to call the school office to inform them, she was put on hold so long she finally hung up and called me instead, she said.

  • Doctor J

    Hmm . . which Asst Supt is in charge of training administrators ? School security ? School Safety plan ? Abbott & Costello: Who’s on first ? Dr. Nellie needs to get some reorganization going — I will bet that Admiral Bill knew who was in charge of all of the above.

  • tmharrington

    MDUSD no longer has an assist. supt. of administrative services, so some of those may fall to the facilities, operations and resource conservation director, who reports to the general counsel. San Diego has a Deputy supt. for school support services and a deputy supt. of business support services. Its legal services dept. oversees risk management, but not transportation, facilities or food service.