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Archive for April, 2015

What do you think makes a great teacher?

Richard Ault wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Richard Ault wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Many teachers who would otherwise have been grading papers after work on Thursday instead got dressed up for the San Ramon Valley Education Association’s first Excellence in Education awards ceremony.

Held at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum, the event included 31 awards to educators, administrators and parents.

About 130 people were nominated for the awards, which culminated in Lifetime Achievement recognition for San Ramon Valley High English teacher Richard Ault, whose students shared touching reflections about his impact on their lives. The things that stood out in their minds reflected attributes that many people believe great teachers share.

Here are a few of their comments.

Senior Taylor Cunin said Ault inspired her not to work for the grade, but to make him proud. She also thanked him for pushing seniors “to go out with a bang, not a whimper.”

Student Regan Leach said Ault was by far one of the most passionate people she had met.

“He instills in his students a way of thinking and learning that will carry them very far into the future,” she said. “He truly cares about everybody’s success — not only in school — but in life. He is wise, happy and, best of all, kind.”

Their classmate Whitney Johnsonl said she appreciated the way Ault challenged students with difficult assignments, such as a 15-page paper.

“Great teachers don’t just teach you how to be a great student, but a great person,” she said. “Mr. Ault was able to do this because he is a great man.”

Senior Zachary Baker called Ault “a phenomenal teacher.”

“The reason why I and everyone else care so much about him is he’s also a friend,” he said. “He’s a mentor. He cares about things far beyond the walls of a classroom, such as respect and compassion. But the thing I appreciate most about Mr. Ault is his willingness to pour his heart out for us and to live life to the fullest.”

Jimmy Mitchell, a student from the class of 1999, said Ault gave him confidence in his academic abilities when the teacher praised a paper Mitchell wrote as a sophomore to the rest of the class. Mitchellalso recalled a time when Ault compared creating a good thesis to climbing a mountain.

To demonstrate his point, Mitchellt recalled Ault saying he could easily stand on a table to reach the ceiling. But, instead, he used a more difficult strategy by climbing the wall and then slamming his head into the ceiling, earning a place in historical lore at the school.

Kerri Pike, who previously taught at San Ramon Valley High, said she and the rest of Ault’s colleagues also appreciate his masterful teaching. Pike said she was mesmerized as a new teacher when she sat in on Ault’s class about the play “Waiting for Godot.”

“We all hung on your every word as you explained the decisions that we all have to make in life,” she said. “You taught us all that there’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s our jobs as citizens of the world to know when and how to make important judgment calls. As a teacher, these were words of wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.”

Here are the other awards and winners:

Dedicated Parent: Laurie Horn and Kevin Wiedeman

Outstanding Classified Educator: Kim Cummings, Catherine Grijalva and Andy Kallick

Incredible Community Involvement: Janet Willford

Amazing Committee-a-holic: DeeDee Judice

Sensational Substitute Teacher: Tom Dunlap, Erica Glaser and Elaine Johnson

Shining Golden Apple (new teacher): Analyse George, Christopher Madrid and Kimberley Tretten

Outstanding Administrator: Chris George, Daniel Hillman and Christine Huajardo

Outstanding Leadership: Jamie Brindley, Shirley Convirs, Jana Johnson and Teresa Marohn

Making a Change: Elizabeth Campos, Allison Gardiner and Shea Hunter

Outstanding Creativity: Penelope Davis, Pamela Jarvis and Maria Pan

Fantastic District Administrator: Carol Loflin

Truly Inspirational Teaching: Courtney Konopacky, Heather Russell and Kelsey Wengel

The complete list of nominees is at:

What do you think makes a great teacher?

Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2015
Under: Education, San Ramon Valley school district | No Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board to hold board governance workshop on Monday

The Mt. Diablo school board will hold a board governance workshop at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 3:30 p.m. Info
1.2 Preliminary Business Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 Public Comment Info

3.0 Business/Action Items
3.1 Governance Workshop Info

4.0 Adjournment
4.1 Adjourn Meeting at 5:30 p.m. Action”

Here is the agenda report for item 3.1, the governance workshop:

“3.1 Governance Workshop

Summary: A Governance Workshop will be conducted in order for all governing Board members and the Superintendent to participate in ongoing updates and review of the Brown Act. Our goal will be to stay informed and current, as well as to reflect upon the specific role and responsibilities of School Board members to ensure effectiveness.

The Governance Meeting will be conducted in two parts:

Part 1: Marilyn Cleveland, attorney with the law firm of Dannis, Wolliver and Kelley, will present an update on the Brown Act. Time has been provided for questions and discussion.

Part 2: The Board, in collaboration with the Superintendent, will participate in discussion and review the following areas:

1. Preparation for meetings
2. Seeking information for agenda items
3. Seeking information from Staff for other issues
4. Responses to Public Comment
5. Speaking as an individual/Board
6. School visitation process

Recommendation: Information and discussion.”

How do you think the board could improve its governance practices?

Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2015
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 59 Comments »

Three Contra Costa County districts struggle to prioritize construction projects

Three school boards in Contra Costa County are deciding how to prioritize construction projects to complete with remaining money from their districts’ voter-approved bond measures.

The Martinez school board’s discussion of about $17.3 million left from its $45 million Measure K bond passed in 2010 made the news last week when an edited video of Trustee Denise Elsken’s comments about air conditioning proposed at two schools went viral. Elsken said she supported air conditioning at John Swett Elementary, but not at Las Juntas Elementary, in part because she believed Las Juntas students are more “acclimated” to heat than students at John Swett.

Elsken based her conclusion on the assumption that about 95 percent of John Swett students have air conditioning at home, while about 95 percent of Las Juntas students do not. However, the video did not include Elsken’s further comments explaining her position.

Unfortunately, the Martinez district’s audio recording of the meeting is of such poor quality that Elsken’s comments about air conditioning cannot be clearly heard. It appears the district placed microphones in front of some trustees and public speakers — but not all — resulting in a recording that is not an accurate record of what happened.

However, based on another recording obtained by a colleague, Elsken reminisced about attending Las Juntas herself and sitting under shady trees on the “eight to ten hot days a year.” She also pointed out that Las Juntas did not rank air conditioning as a high priority.

Elsken said staffers instead preferred other upgrades, including “teaching walls.” The Martinez agenda report listed field renovation at Las Juntas as the only staff priority for the school, with a note from the principal stating: “Field/track has holes that are major tripping hazards.”

Besides discussing specific projects, the Martinez board spent considerable time discussing values, including safety, integrity, education and communication. Trustees plan to continue discussing “equity” on Monday, along with the projects they informally agreed to support March 30, including air conditioning at John Swett Elementary, which was listed as a staff priority.

Equity has also been a hot topic in the Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa school districts. The Mt. Diablo school board may vote April 20 on several different proposals for issuing $77 million in remaining Measure C bonds voters approved in 2010.

At two study sessions last month, several Mt. Diablo trustees who were not on the board in 2010 said they needed to see updated project lists before they would agree to spend the money. A consultant suggested the board might also want to consider issuing less than $77 million now and waiting until 2016 to ask voters to pass a new bond measure.

The Martinez and West Contra Costa school boards have also begun talking about asking voters to approve new bond measures to finish additional projects.

In an email to some community members after she was widely criticized for her comments, Elsken said that she believes Las Juntas should be torn down and rebuilt within the next 10 years, which would require a new bond measure.

Similarly, the West Contra Costa school district is planning to rebuild several schools, even though the remaining approximately $592 million from $1.6 billion approved by district voters in six bond measures will not be enough to complete them all. The school board recently agreed to update its Facilities Master Plan and to set up a committee to rank projects based on factors such as age, condition and enrollment.

Although the West Contra Costa district has told voters in the past that it wanted to pass new bond measures to provide equitable facilities for all students, it still has a long way to go to meet that goal after 16 years of construction. It has spent millions to provide top-notch facilities for some, while others are still waiting for their turns.

How do you think school boards should prioritize projects?

Posted on Friday, April 10th, 2015
Under: Education, Martinez school district, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 17 Comments »

WCCUSD contentious community engagement led to more open and constructive dialogue over district plan

TThe West Contra Costa school district’s attempt to create a plan showing how it would spend its state money got off to a rocky start last year, according to a study.

But the case study, released recently by the nonprofit Education Trust-West student advocacy group, found that contentious community engagement at the beginning of the process eventually led to more open and constructive dialogues between district officials and the community.

This spring, the district is again engaging the community in meetings as it prepares its second Local Control Accountability Plan, which determines in part how education dollars are spent to boost achievement. And a presentation to the board Wednesday surprised some board members.

The presentation showed only 27 percent of high school students were considered ready for college in English last year and 37 percent were prepared for college in math, and the district’s goal this year is to raise those levels by a mere 2 percentage points.

“We need to better than that,” said Trustee Liz Block.

But Nicole Joyner, director of accountability and chief data officer, said the Contra Costa County Office of Education advised the district to set goals that were achievable.

Ryan Smith, executive director of Ed Trust-West, said his organization is concerned about low-performing districts setting goals that are not high enough, especially those with large percentages of low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

“The resources that were given to districts like West Contra Costa were explicitly (intended) to improve their outcomes and it should not be over a century that we’ll see these students become proficient,” he said. “It should be within this lifetime. That’s sad if only 2 percent (improvement) is all we can do for these students.”

Only 36 percent of West Contra Costa third-graders and 45 percent of ninth-graders are proficient in English language arts, and about 75 percent graduate from high school, the report found.

The district received $23.2 million in supplemental and “concentration” funds through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula in 2014-15 because 75 percent of its students are low-income, English learners or foster youth. The district also received $189 million in “base grants” for every student, according to the report.

Ryan said low-performing districts “have a disincentive to empower parents to ask the critical questions and to hold them accountable.”

The report said tensions mounted last year when the district began meeting with parents about the plan because district officials didn’t explain that they wouldn’t have enough money to implement all the ideas people suggested. The district also initially failed to hold a town-hall meeting in the Iron Triangle area of Richmond, but later made up for it by opening its parent advisory and English learner advisory meetings to the public, the study said.

It also found that Superintendent Bruce Harter did not initially embrace community involvement by organizations such as CCISCO, which offered to help train parents about the plan. Although Harter eventually agreed to include the groups, the report said the district would not sponsor the meetings and required the groups to pay for janitorial services and a sound system.

As parents became more empowered, they asked why the district hadn’t translated information into Spanish as required by law. The district then began translating its meetings and materials, the report said.

“By the end of the community engagement process,” the study said, “community advocates felt that WCCUSD leaders seemed humbled by the experience and ready to build stronger ties to the community.”

Is your district reaching out to parents to create its plan?

Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2015
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »