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Reporter ‘farewell’ to Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 17th, 2015 at 9:25 pm in Education.

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It is with mixed feelings that I say “goodbye” to the Contra Costa Times and Bay Area News Group as I move on to a position as a reporter for EdSource.

I have enjoyed my 15 years with the company, where I have had the privilege of covering the cities of Benicia, Concord, Clayton, Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, along with the Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa school districts. Contra Costa County is filled with interesting people and places.

I will miss the watchdog reporting I have done in the Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa districts, as well as the interviews and features I’ve written about Hometown Heroes and interesting programs.

However, I am excited by the opportunity to cover the Common Core standards as a reporter for EdSource Today, an online publication operated by the nonprofit education information organization EdSource. I hope to continue covering people and schools in Contra Costa and the East Bay, as well as Northern California, focusing on this new beat.

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a recent news release that more than 3 million students in California have been tested under the state’s new online California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, computer-adaptive system.

“Along with new rigorous state academic standards, improved school funding, and more local control, CAASPP is helping us transform education and better prepare California students for college and careers in the 21st century,” he said in a prepared statement. “As this year’s assessment season draws to a close, I am pleased that overall it has gone very smoothly.”

The state piloted the tests last year and gave school districts extra money for technology and training to help transition to the “real deal” this spring. Although the state intends to release scores to parents and districts in the next few months, it does not plan to use them to create the familiar Academic Performance Index, or API scores, which the public has relied on in the past to compare schools.

Instead, the state has suspended these accountability ratings while a new accountability system is created.

Torlakson and school district leaders throughout the state have warned that the new scores will likely be lower than results seen in the past because the tests are more rigorous and assess critical thinking, analytical writing and problem-solving skills.

“Many, if not most, students will need to make significant progress to reach the standards set for math and literacy that accompany college and career readiness,” according to the news release.

Districts expect to receive Student Score Reports eight weeks after their testing windows closed at the end of this past school year. Within 20 days of receiving the scores, districts are expected to mail the reports to students’ homes.

School, district and state test results will also be posted on the state Department of Education’s website by late summer or early fall.

“No one should be discouraged by the scores,” Torlakson said. “They can help guide discussions among parents and teachers and help schools adjust instruction to meet student needs.”

Student scores will range from 1,000 to 3,000, corresponding to the achievement levels: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met, and standard not met.

Since the computer-adaptive technology adjusts questions based on each student’s answer, parents will not be given the number of questions asked or the number that were answered correctly or incorrectly. They will also not be given a percentile ranking showing how their students’ scores compare to the scores of other students at the same grade level statewide.

More information about the new tests is at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ca.

You can follow my future coverage of the Common Core at http://edsource.org.

This newspaper plans to assign another reporter to take over the education beat. In the meantime, contact editor Cecily Burt at cburt@bayareanewsgroup.com with education tips and questions.

Thanks for 15 great years!

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74 Responses to “Reporter ‘farewell’ to Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    MDUSD attorney files appellate brief for Taber Construction in lease/leaseback case. Why is MDUSD paying for Taber Construction’s attorney fees ?

  2. Linda L Says:

    Why is MDUSD considering reopening Glenbrook and Holbrook. District enrollment is down from 2010. School capacity numbers do not reflect a need over all. If these schools reopen, will they close others? Where will the $1.6 million in needed upgrades come from? They have been cut from the Measure C budget, will they come from the general fund? According to the MDUSD report from the school closure hearings, when Glenbrook was still open 46% of the students living in the Glenbrook attendance areas sought, and were given, transfers out of the school. Why is MDUSD considering this move?

  3. Doctor J Says:

    It’s simply a Trojan Horse bargaining chip that the Board will use to attempt, and fail, to gain influence in the location, design and scope of developer proposed schools for the Concord Naval Weapons Station development which is being tightly controlled by the City of Concord.

  4. Doctor J Says:

    Cheryl Hansen often boasts of being the first principal and setting the academic program at Rodriguez High in Fairfield. Well, Rodriguez High has the worst record of students needing remediation at CSUS. “The worst-performing class of graduates came from Angelo Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, where 90 percent of incoming Sacramento State students were directed to basic math or English classes.” Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article39555894.html#storylink=copy

  5. g. de la verdad Says:

    Another former student(s) coming forward against Martin and MDUSD. First court hearing, requesting to join current case, will be held 10/30. District weighing their odds on Monday’s closed session.

  6. Doctor J Says:

    Sudden resignation with no explanation by former MDUSD administrator who left in Jan 2014. The Linden Unified School District and Superintendent Lisa Bojé have mutually agreed she will resign from her position effective Saturday.

  7. Sherry Whitmarsh Says:

    Linda L @52,

    Ask Cheryl Hansen. This is her brainchild and has her support.

  8. Sara Says:

    Let’s see, Sherry. You voted to close both schools without looking at the alternatives. You also failed to get a full accounting of what cost savings there would be if any and never bothered to ask again. You and your good friend Gary also concocted some half baked idea to close Westwood and move those students to Mt View while renaming El Dorado ” Glenbrook”. You left everyone in North Concord with no schools- Well done, Sherry Oh, You also refused to go to the North Concord community and explain your vote or your reason for closing the two schools. Very courageous on your part

  9. Linda L Says:

    Sherry,
    I do understand that.

    Sara,
    The current board is looking at reopening the schools without looking at the alternatives and without an updated demographic survey. This district continues to experience declining enrollment, there is no need for two additional schools in this district. I don’t care if they want to reopen Glenbrook and Holbrook but I want to know which two schools are they going to close, otherwise it is fiscal irresponsibility.

    If it costs $4mil in one time costs and $3.4mil per year to reopen these schools it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the savings in closing Glenbrook and Holbrook.

  10. g. de la verdad Says:

    Hey Rocket Scientist: $4mil, hmmm, that’s about half of what ONE new swimming pool cost the taxpayers (including those in North Concord–who will never get to use it), right?

    I really do not recall you saying a single word against spending money in your neighborhood schools.

  11. Linda L Says:

    Hey G.
    Each high school was provided the exact same amount of bond money through a board resolution at a public school board meeting. There is no inequity by neighborhood, you are comparing apples to oranges.
    My issue is not with the reopening of Glenbrook and Holbrook but the fact that it is being done without factual data. If the Board commissioned a district-wide demographic study they would find that based on enrollment they do not need to open additional schools. Just review the former school closure report and its projections.
    Reopen Glenbrook and Holbrook if that is the right thing to do but don’t stop with what is easy, finish the job and manage the District responsibly. This Board cannot claim there was no proof of savings by closing these two schools when the District staff has told them there is a $3.4 mil cost per year to have them open.
    I happen to agree that the decision to close the North Concord schools was unfair. I was at the meeting the night the Board seemed to veer off course and all of a sudden these two schools were in the forefront. However, the decision was made because the district had too many schools due to declining enrollment (something that has not changed).

    So if this Board wants to “right what they think is a wrong” then great, but what 2 schools are they going to close instead?

    G, you were around back then. We spent roughly $70 mil on solar because it was so important to save $3.2 mil per year…
    Now spending $3.4 mil/yr is no big deal.

  12. Jlo Says:

    Hi there Linda,
    You bring up excellent points, I agree maybe the other schools that should be considered to close might be Ygnacio Valley High School? The students could easily be absorbed into Northgate High School with some facility upgrades? Maybe Valle Verde should be considered to close? It has been mentioned that North Concord residents have been paying their fair share of Measure C tax money and not getting fair representation. Maybe a new school closure committee should be created?

    Rather than have the obvious conclusions of such an effort come to fruition, it might be in your best interests after all to sit back and let North Concord have their taxation with representation, and enjoy neighborhood schools just like you.

  13. Linda L Says:

    JLo,

    Perhaps your suggestions for school closings are right but without a school closure committee and comprehensive demographic study we will not know.

    My issues regarding school closures and the responsibility of the Board stands regardless of which schools are considered for closing.

    Throughout the history of MDUSD schools have closed. In the 1980’s two Walnut Creek elementary schools were closed: Castle Rock in 1985 and San Miguel in 1989. Bay Point lost Pacifica High School in 1976 and Pleasant Hill lost PHHS in 1980. I am sure there are others. As demographics change and the population ages, enrollment declines. School District Boards have to make tough decisions regarding school closures.

    My argument is simple, don’t do it just because it is easy, do it because it is the right thing to do. If the facts support opening the schools great, if they don’t then the Board needs a different plan.

  14. Sara Says:

    I remember when Sherry argued before her site council that she would recommend that Northgate be closed and be absorbed by YV.

  15. Linda L Says:

    I think that Sherry’s argument probably had/has merit. Again, without really studying the facts we won’t know.

  16. Jim Says:

    I’m surprised that there is so little interest in why this Board is planning to open schools and incur +$3mm/yr in new operating expenses, with NO study beforehand. The district’s enrollment is understandably shrinking every year, along with the budget. No new students will be served by this ongoing expense, so there won’t be any offsetting revenue from the State. Why would this NOT be a BIG issue for EVERYONE in the district? The money’s got to come from somewhere, so the question is where? From compensation or benefit increases that teachers might otherwise receive? From other schools’ operating funds?

    If other MDUSD schools have to close, as seems possible with fewer and fewer students, which ones should close? Study the matter and make recommendations! Presumably, the board members did not run for their office just to stick their heads in the sand. OTOH, with almost nobody watching them, why should they suddenly start acting accountably?

  17. Doctor J Says:

    Jim, I agree with your inquiries. Why is there so little interest ? Is it more basic — is there not a forum to ask important questions without fear of retribution ?

  18. Doctor J Says:

    Cheryl Hansen says the choice is between what is best for the budget or best for the community and she will choose “the budget” over “the community” even though she admits the North Concord school community is not being served adequately. Now that the PowerPoints missing from the agenda have been posted, the Board is being haunted by years of reactionary voting based on incomplete misleading information from staff without considering the long range impacts. Guy Moore now says MDEA will not support the Holbrook/Glenbrook reopening because of the large expenditures from the General Fund [which prevent significant salary increases]. MORE SIGNFICANTLY, Guy says MDEA will not support FUTURE BOND elections, ostensibly because of the misleading ballot language and actual expenditures. We can spend how many tens of millions of bond money on swimming pools and athletic stadiums, but can’t afford to funds adequate neighborhood elementary and middle schools ? The Board’s misguided priorities have finally caught up to them.

  19. Doctor J Says:

    Hey Board, be accountable for all the attorney fees and expenses you misspent from the classroom on the BANG case, all the attorney fees and costs you now owe to BANG, and all the attorney fees you have and continue to spend defending Taber Construction on the illegal leasebacks, plus more. These amounts alone are nearly enough to reopen Glenbrook or Holbrook. Be accountable.

  20. Linda L Says:

    Martin is innocent? Really?
    Guilty on 19 counts and sentenced to 12 years and MDUSD is going to argue he’s innocent?

  21. Doctor J Says:

    MDUSD Board loses appeal ruling and now must disclose Martin documents. Next step is CC Times will be awarded around $100,000 in attorney fees to be paid by MDUSD — plus MDUSD paid their own lawyers in this pursuant to cover up MDUSD administrators failure to obey the mandatory reporting law. Estimated that total cost from the classroom will be close to a quarter million dollars: $250,000. Shame on you every single board member !

  22. Doctor J Says:

    Superior Court ruling bars Acalanes USD from using Bonds issued illegally over the stated limit — MDUSD has similar problems and could be barred. http://www.contracostatimes.com/education/ci_29411311/judge-affirms-ruling-against-acalanes-bond-issuance

  23. Doctor J Says:

    Why is the MDUSD Board paying Taber Construction’s legal fees ? Fresno Unified just disclosed that its “no bid” leaseback contract has a clause where the district agreed to “indemnify, hold harmless and defend” Harris Construction and its employees from any action that might challenge the legality of the contract. Did MDUSD put a similar clause in its contract that was not disclosed to the public ?

  24. Doctor J Says:

    MDUSD is in trouble, trouble with new Attorney General Opinion: “School and community college districts violate California law if they hire outside firms to campaign for bond ballot measures or purposely incentivize municipal finance professionals to advocate for passage of a bond measure, the state’s attorney general said in a formal legal opinion.” http://oag.ca.gov/system/files/opinions/pdfs/13-304.pdf

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