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Who will undecideds choose in state Superintendent of Public Instruction race: Torlakson or Tuck?

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Field Poll released Thursday showed the race for the state’s top schools leader is still off the radar for a lot of voters, with incumbent Tom Torlakson tied with challenger Marshall Tuck, both with 28 percent of likely voters supporting them. At this late date, 44 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,536 registered voters in California from Oct. 15-28, including 941 considered likely to vote Tuesday.

The poll noted key differences among subgroups of voters, according to geography, race and ethnicity, political ideology, and union households. Northern California voters favored Torlakson by 9 points, while Bay Area voters supported him by a 14 point margin. Tuck, on the other hand, had a 6-point lead over Torlakson in Southern California, where he worked overseeing some charter and low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area before running for office.

White non-Hispanic voters, who make up about 70 percent of those likely to go to the polls, favored Torlakson by 7 points, the poll found. Tuck had much stronger support among Latino and African-American voters, as well as a slight lead among Asian-Americans.

- Thirty-two percent of white non-Hispanic likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 25 percent for Tuck and 43 percent undecided;

- Twenty percent of Latino likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 33 percent for Tuck and 47 percent undecided;

- Eleven percent of African-American likely voters favored Torlakson, compared to 49 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided;

Twenty-one percent of likely Asian-Americans supported Torlakson, compared to 38 percent for Tuck and 51 percent undecided.

Ideologically, 40 percent of strongly liberal voters favored Torlakson, compared to 18 percent for Tuck and 42 percent undecided. On the other hand, only 26 percent of strongly conservative voters favored Torlakson, compared to 36 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided.

In union households, 31 percent favored Torlakson, 23 percent supported Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. Nonunion households gave Tuck the lead, with 27 percent supporting Torlakson compared to 29 percent for Tuck and 44 percent undecided.

During phone interviews, both men seized on the large numbers of undecided voters, saying they believed they would choose them as they learn more about the race. Both also said they were pleasantly surprised that their opponent had not gained ground since the last field poll, especially after millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the race.

“Ten million dollars from corporate billionaires hasn’t convinced voters to put a Wall Street banker in charge of our schools,” Torlakson said, referring to money spent on behalf of Tuck’s campaign. “The undecideds are a large group here. When people find out I’m the endorsed Democrat and that mayors and superintendents across the state support me, as well as the teachers, the undecideds, I believe, will break our way.”

But Tuck, who worked as an investment banker for two years in his early 20s before pursuing a career in school leadership, said he believes his message of reform will resonate with undecided voters as they learn more about him.

“The bottom line is we’re going against an incumbent and the status quo and we’re on a real change agenda,” he said. “Undecideds are likely to support our campaign because most people want major change in schools.”

Torlakson said he is not a status quo candidate — in fact, he said he helped work toward the new funding formula that gives more money to schools with the neediest students, has led the implementation of new Common Core standards and stood up to the U.S. Department of Education last year to ditch the old fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and instead pilot new tests to better assess student learning.

Tuck wants to weaken tenure laws to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers and to retain good teachers with little seniority. He also wants to give more flexibility to schools.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said Torlakson may have trouble attracting voters’ attention because Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, are also widely recognized as education leaders in the state.

Who do you support and why?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 8 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board to vote on boosting principals’ salaries, discuss a “graduate profile” and vote on cell towers at MDHS and Pleasant Hill MS

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes a proposal to fast-track pay increases for principals, a “graduate profile” aimed at describing traits and skills of a district grad, and a plan to place Verizon Wireless cell towers at Mt. Diablo HS and Pleasant Hill MS in exchange for money:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
4.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
4.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
8.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
8.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action

9.0 Public Employee Appointment
9.1 ITEM PULLED BY STAFF: Appointment of Administrator, Necessary Small High School/Vice Principal – Prospect Action

9.2 Appointment of Vice Principal, High School – Northgate High School Action

10.0 Board Member Reports
10.1 Board Member Reports Info

11.0 Superintendent’s Report
11.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

12.0 Consent Agenda Action
12.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
12.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
12.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
12.4 (Item #4) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
12.5 (Item #5) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year. Action
12.6 (Item #6) Budget Transfer and/or Budget Increases/Decreases for July through September 2014. Action
12.7 (Item #7 Adjustments to Contract Amount between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Medical Billing Technologies, Inc. (MBT) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
12.8 (Item #8) Independent Contracts for the Event Group, Inc. and College Park High School. Action
12.9 (Item #9) Northgate Independent Contracts with Events To The T for Junior Prom and Senior Ball Action
12.10 (Item #10) Approve the contract between Exploring New Horizons and Valle Verde Elementary Action
12.11 (Item #11) Northgate High School’s Women’s Varsity Basketball Trip to Reno, Nevada Action
12.12 (Item #12) Williams Quarterly Summary Report Action
12.13 (Item #13) Approve the Purchase of Vehicles for Maintenance and Operations Action
12.14 (Item #14) Award of Bid #1685 for Custodial Supplies Action
12.15 (Item #15) Exercise extension of RFP #1665: Swimming Pool Maintenance Service Action
12.16 (Item #16) Approve Open Order for Emergency Pool Repairs. Action
12.17 (Item #17) Approve Lease/Leaseback #1663 Final Change Order #1663-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for Portable Replacement 2014 at Eagle Peak MS, Gregory Gardens ES, Silverwood ES and Woodside ES Action
12.18 (Item #18) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1663: Portable Classroom Replacement 2014 Action
12.19 (Item #19) Lease/Leaseback #1659 Final Change Order #1659-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for HVAC Modernization at El Dorado Middle School, Highlands Elementary School, Pine Hollow Middle School, Wren Avenue Elementary School, Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Sequoia Middle School, Valhalla Elementary School and Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
12.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1659: HVAC Modernization at Various Schools Action
12.21 (Item #21) Award Service Contract for Architectural Services to Design the PE Building Improvements at Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
12.22 (Item #22) Award Project Inspector Contract for Modular Gymnasium Project # 1631 at Concord High School. Action
12.23 (Item #23) Resolution No. 14/15-21 Compensation for Board Members Action
12.24 (Item #24) Approval of Variable Term Waiver Request Action
12.25 (Item #25) Approval of Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) Request Action
12.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 11, 2013 Action
12.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on April 8, 2013 Action
12.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 3, 2013 Action
12.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 28, 2013 Action
12.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 27, 2013 Action
12.31 (Item #31) Ygnacio Valley High School’s trip to Southern California on October 29 – November 1, 2014 Action
13.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

14.0 Communications
14.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

15.0 Public Comment
15.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

16.0 Business/Action Item

16.1 Create New Job Description for Workers’ Compensation Specialist Info/Action

16.2 Creation of Intermediate Typist Clerk position for Meadow Homes Elementary, Mt. Diablo Elementary, Hidden Valley Elementary and College Park High School Action

16.3 Public Hearing Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account. Action

16.4 Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account 2014-15. Action

16.5 Principal Salary Schedule Action

16.6 Approve Graduate Profile for Mt. Diablo Unified School District Info

16.7 Procurement of New Firewall/Security/Bandwidth Management Appliance Action

16.8 Award Lease/Leaseback contract #1631 to Meehleis Modular Buildings, Inc. for construction of the Modular Gymnasium Building project at Concord High School for a Guaranteed Maximum Cost of $3,698,805.00 Action

16.9 Approve Cellular Tower Agreement with Verizon Wireless and Mt. Diablo Unified School for placement at Mt. Diablo High School and Pleasant Hill Middle School. (Oak Park) Action

16.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on October 15, 2014 Action

16.11 Meeting Extension Action

16.12 Execution of Documents Info

17.0 Future Agenda Items
17.1 Future Agenda Items Info

18.0 Closed Session
18.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this Closed Session. Action

19.0 Reconvene Open Session
19.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

20.0 Adjournment
20.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

Do you agree with the plan to make it easier for principals to reach the top of the pay scale more quickly?

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 63 Comments »

Influx of money helps support school counseling services provided by JFK University

Pleasant Hill City Councilman and JFK University alum Dr. Michael Harris has given his alma mater a $30,000 matching grant to help expand counseling services provided by the university’s masters and doctoral students in city schools by covering the cost of counselors, according to a JFK news release.

“I’ve always believed in giving back to the people and places that have given so much to me,” Harris said in a prepared statement.

The grant is also reminiscent of one of Harris’ favorite quotes: “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”

A doctor of optometry, Harris earned his JD at JFK University and is a legal consultant on healthcare issues, as well as a professor of Optometry at UC Berkeley.

In addition, the University recently received a federal grant of more than $450,000 to train mental health professionals from diverse cultures and backgrounds in order to increase mental health services and protect the health of children and communities.

JFK University and the Mt. Diablo school district, or MDUSD, began working together more than a decade ago, after school counseling positions were eliminated in 1989 due to budget cuts.

“Our partnership with MDUSD is truly a win-win,” said Gail Kinsley-Dame, Executive Director of the Community Counseling Center, in a news release. “MDUSD students get the help and support they need and JFK graduate students fulfill the mission and core values of the University while also earning the hours of supervised counseling required to complete their degree and obtain licensing.”

Mt. Diablo students and their families can also utilize the JFK University Community Counseling Center in Concord if they need support over the summer or would like family counseling. Students can be referred to the program by teachers or administrators, but need parent permission to participate in counseling.

“The program has been successful in helping students improve their self-esteem, classroom behavior, and school attendance,” said James Wogan, the district’s administrator of School Linked Services. “The strengths-based approach encourages children and helps them to feel connected to school.”

Students served by the program include some who may be dealing with issues such as homelessness and other stressful situations, or those who would like help making friends. The district is adding back counseling positions this school year, but JFK University students are continuing to help meet the strong demand for counseling services.

Celine DeFranco, a master’s student in counseling psychology at JFK University, served as a counselor at several district high schools through the partnership.

“The teen years are an important developmental time,” she said, in a prepared statement. “My work is about helping them build a solid foundation, fostering a relationship they can take outside to someone else. High school students want a safe place where someone will listen to them without judging them. I’m honored to work with them.”

More information about JFK University’s masters and doctoral programs in counseling and psychology is available at http://www.jfku.edu. Additional details about the Mt. Diablo school district’s School Linked Services is at http://demo.mdusd.org/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1400652641757

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district should devote more of its budget to counselors?

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Under: Education, JFK University, Mt. Diablo school district | 1 Comment »

MDUSD board on Wednesday to consider extending superintendent’s contract through 2017

The Mt. Diablo school board on Wednesday expects to consider extending Superintendent Nellie Meyer’s contract through 2017, just before the November election, in which three of five seats are up for grabs. The board also expects to boost the salary for its Student Services Director, based on increased responsibilities. In addition, it expects to agree to increased benefits for Classified, Secretarial and Technical employees.

The board will meet at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive. Here is the complete agenda:

“1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.2 (Item #2) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer and Lawrence Schoenke; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action

5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info
8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions
9.1 Proclamation of October 23 – 31, 2014 as “Red Ribbon Week”. Action

10.0 Student Representatives
10.1 Student representatives will report on activities and happenings at their schools. Info

11.0 Board Member Reports
11.1 Board Reports Info

12.0 Superintendent’s Report
12.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

13.0 Reports/Information
13.1 Presentation from Concord Disposal regarding Recycling Program Action

14.0 Public Employee Appointment
14.1 Appointment of Vice Principal, Middle School – Oak Grove Middle School Action
14.2 Appointment of Program Specialist/Special Education Action

15.0 Consent Agenda Action
15.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
15.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
15.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase and Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
15.4 (Item #4) BTSA Induction Support to charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.5 (Item #5) BTSA Induction Support to Charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.6 (Item #6) BTSA Induction Support to Charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.7 (Item #7) BTSA Induction Support to charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.8 (Item #8) BTSA Induction Support to Charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.9 (Item #9) BTSA Induction Support to charter/Private School Teachers Action
15.10 (Item #10) Approval of Variable Term Waiver Request Action
15.11 (Item #11) Approval of Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) Request Action
15.12 (Item #12) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
15.13 (Item #13) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
15.14 (Item #14) Fiscal Transactions for the Month of September 2014 Action
15.15 (Item #15) Approve Contract with Angela Barra for Services at Meadow Homes Elementary. Action
15.16 (Item #16) Approve contract with Exploring New Horizons Outdoor Schools and Strandwood Elementary Action
15.17 (Item #17) Approve the contract between Exploring New Horizons-Loma Mar and Bancroft Elementary Action
15.18 (Item #18) Approve the contract between Exploring New Horizons-Loma Mar and Hidden Valley Elementary Action
15.19 (Item #19) Memorandum of Understanding between California Physical Education-Health Project/California Center for Excellence in Physical Education and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
15.20 (Item #20) Memorandum of Understanding between Saint Mary’s College of California and Mt. Diablo Unified School District to provide experience to Interns in the Area of Education Specialists, Pupil Personnel Services, School Counseling, Educational Therapy, School Psychology, School Administration and Teaching Interns Action
15.21 (Item #21) Adult Education course titles for 2014-2015. Action
15.22 (Item #22) Northgate High School’s Cross Country Team Trip Action
15.23 (Item #23) Mt. Diablo High School’s Trip to Mt. Diablo State Park, October 31 – November 1, 2014 Action
15.24 (Item #24) New Membership Recommendation for Community Advisory Committee (CAC) Action
15.25 (Item #25) Revision to BP 2310: Conflict of Interest Action
15.26 (Item #26) Approve the Illness Injury Prevention Plan (IIPP) Action
15.27 (Item #27) Award of Request for Quotation #1671: Unleaded Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Action
15.28 (Item #28) Extension of Contract with Office Depot Action
15.29 (Item #29) Contract with WestEd Action
15.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 28, 2013 Action
15.31 (Item #31) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 25, 2013 Action
15.32 (Item #32) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on April 22, 2013 Action
15.33 (Item #33) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 16, 2013 Action
15.34 (Item #34) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 15, 2013 Action
16.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

17.0 Communications
17.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

18.0 Public Comment

19.0 Business/Action Item

19.1 Reclassification of Management Position (Student Services Director) Action

19.2 First Amendment to Employment Agreement for Superintendent (through 2017) Action

19.3 Request to Approve Contractual Enhancements Due to the “Me Too” Provision of the 2013-16 Clerical, Secretarial, Technical (CST) Unit Contract Agreement with Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action

19.4 Changes to CST Members Due to Reorganization. Action

19.5 Public Hearing regarding Sufficiency of Textbooks and Instructional Materials for 2014/2015 for Pupil Textbook and Instructional Materials Incentive Program and Williams Settlement Instructional Materials Funds. Action

19.6 Adoption of method books and music books for Middle and High school music courses. Info/Action

19.7 Annual Renewal of Sungard-Bi-Tech Services Contract Action

19.8 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on August 27, 2014 Action

19.9 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on September 10, 2014 Action

19.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on September 24, 2014 Action

19.11 Meeting Extension Action

20.0 Future Agenda Items
20.1 Future Agenda Items Info

21.0 Closed Session
21.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this Closed Session. Action

22.0 Reconvene Open Session
22.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

23.0 Adjournment
23.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

Do you think the board should extend the superintendent’s contract through 2017?

Posted on Saturday, October 11th, 2014
Under: Mt. Diablo school district | 107 Comments »

West Contra Costa school board candidates discuss superintendent’s job performance

During a recent editorial board forum for this newspaper, nine candidates vying for three open seats on the West Contra Costa school board discussed a variety of issues, including Superintendent Bruce Harter’s job performance.

The candidates included incumbent Madeline Kronenberg and challengers Liz Block, Peter Chau, Otheree Christian, Val Cuevas, Raquel Donoso, Mister Phillips, Chester Stevens and Ayana Kirkland Young. Incumbent Elaine Merriweather did not participate.

The superintendent is hired by the board and can be fired by the board. Kronenberg and Christian said they supported Harter. Phillips, Stevens and Young gave mixed reviews. Chau said he would need more information before he could make a decision about whether or not to retain Harter. But Block, Cuevas and Donoso adamantly criticized the superintendent and the current board for failing to act quickly enough to solve district problems, including poor academic achievement.

Kronenberg said Harter is well-connected to teachers, supported by staff and spends up to two days a week visiting classrooms.

“I would keep Bruce Harter,” she said.

Christian said he supports the superintendent, but it’s the responsibility of the trustees to make sure that all students are getting a good education.

“If the board is not doing that,” he said, “then they’re failing.”

Phillips said if Harter’s not doing what he’s supposed to, it’s the board’s fault. However, he pointed out that low academic achievement in the district cuts across all ethnic backgrounds and said all students are being underserved.

“In general, I support Dr. Harter,” Phillips said. “If there are specific issues, then that’s a different discussion.”

Stevens said Harter could do a better job of managing his staff. He said he has seen the American and California flags flying upside down, but that no one at the district seemed to care. As a substitute teacher, Stevens said he has had concerns involving due process that he didn’t want to detail.

“I would give him a C — not a failure, but I think he can do a lot more — and I think he has the wherewithal to do a lot more,” Stevens said. “I think something has to be shaken up there and I think he can address some things that I’ve told him about that he has not yet addressed.”

Young said Harter is personable, attends district events and listens to parents’ concerns. But she criticized him for blaming district problems on the budget, and said he appears to prioritize building new schools over improving education. She also said he needs to make sure every classroom has a teacher at the beginning of the year.

“Dr. Harter is really nice,” she said. “But he has to get a little tougher if he wants to make sure that this district goes in the way it’s supposed to.”

Chau said he would want to evaluate Harter before deciding whether he’s a good fit for the district. Chau wants to find out if Harter would support his idea of creating a student loan repayment program as an incentive to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

“I’m looking for solutions to some of the problems that our school district has,” Chau said.

Block said Harter needs to be held accountable for poor academic performance and lack of communication, innovation and leadership.

“I would make growth in student learning part of the superintendent’s evaluation and he would not be getting a good evaluation,” she said. “He would be not be working for the district anymore.”

Cuevas said Harter doesn’t appear to understand how to spur teaching and learning that will help the district’s diverse students succeed. She also said he should make sure there is a teacher in every classroom when school starts.

“We need a leader that’s not going to be top down and over-burdensome” and will work to build collaboration among staff to meet students’ needs, she said.

Donoso said district leaders have no sense of urgency to improve abysmally low academic achievement in math, or to help English learners become more fluent, or to solve truancy problems, especially among African-American students. She said there is a structural problem in the district.

“It is horrendous to see the kind of lack of attention that we need on our students,” she said.

What do you think of Harter’s job performance?

Posted on Saturday, October 11th, 2014
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 5 Comments »

Mt. Diablo board candidates discuss lack of diversity in district staff

Six candidates vying for three open seats on the Mt. Diablo school board discussed a variety of issues at a forum Thursday in Pleasant Hill, including the lack of staff diversity in the district.

Incumbents Cheryl Hansen and Linda Mayo, along with challengers Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan shared a variety of perspectives on this issue, which Hansen said is a concern for most districts in Contra Costa County. Ideally, most candidates agreed, it is desirable for district staff to reflect the diversity of the student population.

“It’s a problem in communicating to students that education is a viable career,” said Hansen, who is white.

When she visited a career-oriented education academy at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, Hansen said she was surprised that only two of 32 students said they wanted to pursue careers in education.

“A lot of it is that they don’t necessarily see it as a profession or a career or something that’s lucrative,” Hansen said. “You can’t just rely on love of students.”

Districts and the community must work to convince students that education is a meaningful and fulfilling field, Hansen said. She also suggested that districts such as Mt. Diablo could try to think out of the box when recruiting.

“Someone told me,” she said, “that you need to fish in different ponds.”

Langley said the head of the NAACP said several years ago that if you compare the number of African-American sports stars to the number of African-American dentists, you would find that there are many more dentists. But, students don’t know that.

“Kids see athletes as glorified and valued,” Langley said. “If you want to get people into education, you have to stop saying education is failing and is for losers. You have to say: ‘This is where you go to get the top job.’”

Langley said he also supports affirmative action in hiring.

“We have get a diverse workforce,” he said, adding in reference to himself, “said the old white man.”

Lee said he attended schools in Los Angeles, where the student population was 70 percent minorities.

“Most of the teachers were not people of color,” Lee said. “But I felt like it didn’t really matter. They had empathy and they understood where I came from. They cared about me. I think diversity is important, but it’s also important to understand how teachers relate to people and to get the kids to understand that there are people who care about you and they don’t necessarily have to look like you.”

Moderator John Sasaki, quipped: “Said the Asian man on the dais.

Mason, who is white, said she hired a very diverse staff in one of her Bay Point youth programs.

“The kids just thought they were ‘the bomb,’” Mason said. “I was told by a MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union) rep: ‘There’s no teachers of color out there.’ But I don’t believe that. I’ve been to other schools and I’ve seen them.”

One reason students from diverse ethnic backgrounds may not gravitate toward education careers is that they may not have had positive experiences in school, Mason added.

“If you had a negative experience in school, as many children of color do, is that a place you’re going to want to go back to? We have to value them,” she said. “In my program, four kids came back as teachers.”

Mayo, who is white, said teachers need to be esteemed in the district. Colleges, she added, must also reach out to diverse cultures for teacher credential and education programs.

“We also have to make sure that we as a community are welcoming people of color into our community,” she said, adding that diverse cities would likely attract more employees from varied backgrounds.

Ryan, who is white, said “students do better in school when they feel they have teachers who understand them.” He said the district should strive to make sure “students come up through an education system where they feel they belong and want to return to it.”

How do you think school districts could attract more diverse employees?

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 42 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for failing to release court-ordered documents to Bay Area News Group

The Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by this newspaper.

Last month, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ordered the district to release eight documents to this newspaper in response to a California Public Records Act request and subsequent lawsuit seeking all writings related to complaints, investigations or discipline of former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, who was charged last year with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students.

A jury acquitted Martin in August on 21 counts involving three accusers and deadlocked on 95 other counts involving 11 accusers. The deputy district attorney dismissed 34 counts before jury deliberations began and has not yet decided whether to retry Martin on the remaining charges.

Martin was placed on a leave of absence in April 2013 after a parent complained to the principal about suspicions of inappropriate touching. Martin was arrested two months later and remains in jail in lieu of $10 million bail. Civil lawsuits filed by the accusers and their families against him and the district are pending.

In response to this newspaper’s lawsuit, a judge reviewed documents the district considered exempt from disclosure “in camera,” or in the judge’s chambers. Following this review, the judge ordered the district to produce the following eight documents, saying they were not exempt:

1. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Julie Braun-Martin, then-assistant superintendent of personnel, from a parent.

2. Letter to Martin from a parent.

3. Email from Martin to Braun-Martin dated May 16, 2013.

4. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Braun-Martin from parent.

5. Emails from then-Woodside Elementary Principal Jenny Cronan to Braun-Martin dated May 26 and 27, 2013.

6. Letter from Cronan to “Parents of H-I Students” dated May 28, 2013.

7. Phone message of June 7, 2013, for Braun-Martin from Cronan.

8. Email to “Board Members” from then-Interim Superintendent John Bernard dated June 28, 2013.

The district’s outside counsel from Meyers Nave filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the documents were produced through an “improper” inspection in the judge’s chambers. They further argued that the documents are not public records by definition, that they are not responsive to this newspaper’s California Public Records Act request, that they are privileged attorney-client communications, are subject to attorney work product privilege, and they pertain to pending criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the district argued that disclosure would infringe on the privacy rights of families whose children attend Woodside Elementary in Concord, where Martin taught fifth grade.

The district included a declaration under perjury signed by Jayne Williams, who was the district’s interim general counsel when Martin was arrested, arguing that the documents should be exempt from disclosure because they were “retrieved solely from the general counsel’s legal files.”

Regarding Bernard’s email, Williams said: “I am informed, believe and thereon allege that email was sent on June 28, 2013, following the district meeting in closed session on June 24, 2013, to address these matters.”

She attached a copy of the agenda from the meeting, which she asserted “confirms the district’s meeting in closed session to discuss a matter related to a public employee.”

However, the minutes from that meeting — which she did not attach — state that no closed session took place because the public employee issue “has been resolved.” This newspaper asked the court to order the district to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey the Aug. 14 order, and the judge agreed. Both the motion to reconsider and the contempt of court order are set for Oct. 15 hearings.

Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.

Here is the district’s Motion to Reconsider: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecFAxSk9jU0lYUGM/edit?usp=sharing

Here is Meyers Nave attorney Kevin Gilbert’s statement in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSTJWRU5US3V0Wkk/edit?usp=sharing

Here is former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ declaration in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZlVDYTY4UEZjZTQ/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause Why MDUSD Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Obey Aug. 14, 2014 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceekFrT0pOMTg4SmM/edit?usp=sharing

Do you think the district should turn over the documents or be held in contempt of court?

SEPT. 29 UPDATE: BANG filed this Petition for Writ today, which calls into question the actions of former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams, who appears to have compiled certain documents in a “legal” file, while allowing all other copies of those documents to be discarded, in an apparent attempt to withhold them from release to BANG’s CPRA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceWEFsWDYwNXhJZ2s/edit?usp=sharing

OCT. 1 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Opposition to MDUSD’s Motion for Reconsideration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcebWNNOXQ5M1l6YVk/view?usp=sharing

Here are Exhibits 1 and 2, which supplement BANG’s Opposition: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceVEZneFRCTGZlLVk/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 3 UPDATE: Here is MDUSD’s Request for a Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceN2JwU09mR3RJdDg/view?usp=sharing

Here is Jayne Williams’ amended declaration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcedTJqNjVCMURJRTQ/view?usp=sharing

Here is Kevin Gilbert’s Declaration in Support of MDUSD’s Request for Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause why MDUSD Should Not Be Held in Contempt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceYmhKR2J5dnI4OUE/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 7 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Reply in Support of Order Holding MDUSD in Contempt for Failing to Obey the Aug. 14 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQnhPVFRrbGNZbWM/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 27 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s motion for attorney’s fees: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceXzR1a3JwNGpaNWc/view?usp=sharing

And here is a declaration in support of the motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQ1BHUFpmZ0RfM0k/view?usp=sharing

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 58 Comments »

Poll shows Americans think teachers need better training, longer student teaching stints

As the debate over teacher tenure and teacher evaluations continues, a new poll released last week showed Americans support more stringent admission requirements for teacher education programs, more rigorous evaluations and a “bar exam” type of certification test.

Those surveyed in the second release of information from the 46th edition of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools believe performance evaluations are important to help teachers improve and to identify those who are ineffective. But they do not support the use of student test scores as the primary tool for evaluating teachers.

These are issues that those who educate prospective teachers are already beginning to address. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has implemented new rules that will set minimum academic standards for students seeking admission into university schools of education. In addition, more than 100,000 teachers throughout the country have earned national board certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, including many in Contra Costa County.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has endorsed a performance assessment developed by Stanford University, which is built on national board certification and has been compared to a bar exam, to determine whether a teacher candidate is ready to teach.

“Many programs designed to help teachers improve their skills already exist,” said William Bushaw, chief executive officer of PDK International and co-director of the PDK/Gallup poll in a news release. “But this year’s results show that more work, study and action by district, state and federal leaders is needed to implement these programs that Americans support.”

The poll also asked about the public school calendar, curriculum and educating undocumented children.
Key findings include:

— 81 percent of those surveyed said teachers “should be required to pass board certification in addition to earning a degree.”

— 60 percent said entrance requirements to education schools should be raised.

— 44 percent said student teaching stints with a certificated teacher should last one year; 27 percent said two years; 4 percent supported the most common practice of six-week student teaching assignments.

— 45 percent said the number of instructional days should remain the same, but vacations should be spread throughout the year instead of mainly in the summer; about 44 percent generally supported adding more instructional days.

— 31 percent generally supported adding more hours to each school day.
Support for educating undocumented children varied, depending whether or not the question included the word “illegally.”

— 56 percent supported “providing public education to children of immigrants who are undocumented.”

— 49 percent favored “providing education to children of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.”

— 91 percent said a college education is “fairly important” or “very important.”

However, the 2014 poll found an unexpected change in those categories compared to four years ago. In 2010, 75 percent of those surveyed said college was “very important,” while 21 percent said it was “fairly important.”
This year, 43 percent categorized college as “very important,” while 48 percent responded “fairly important.”

“We were genuinely surprised by the divided response on the importance of college,” Bushaw said. “Americans seem to be rethinking the idea that a college education is essential for success in the U.S. economy, perhaps in part because parents are less certain they will be able to pay for it.”

PDK, an international association of education professionals, has conducted this poll annually with Gallup since 1969. The most recent findings are based on telephone interviews completed in May and June 2014 with a national sample of 1,001 American adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percent.

Complete results are at www.pdkpoll.org.

Do you agree with the poll results?

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014
Under: Mt. Diablo school district, Teaching | 1 Comment »

MDUSD tonight to appoint a Northgate HS principal, vote on board benefits and counselor positions

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the school district office board room at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes several items of interest, such as the appointment of a principal for Northgate High in Walnut Creek, a vote on board benefits, the restoration of hours for special education assistants and the creation of 12 counselor positions.

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
4.4 (Item #4) Conference with Labor Negotiator(s) – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
8.4 (Item #4) Conference with Negotiators – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions
9.1 Resolution 14/15-12 Disability Awareness Month Action
9.2 Resolution No. 14/15-14 – Attendance Awareness Month Action

10.0 Public Employee Appointment
10.1 Appointment of Principal – Northgate High School Action

11.0 Board Member Reports
11.1 Board Reports Info

12.0 Superintendent’s Report
12.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

13.0 Reports/Information
13.1 Measure C Project Update Info

14.0 Consent Agenda Action
14.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
14.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
14.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.4 (Item #4) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
14.5 (Item #5) Fiscal Transactions for the Month of August 2014 Action
14.6 (Item #6) Approval of contract increase with Non-Public Agency, Creating Behavioral and Educational Momentum (CBEM) Action
14.7 (Item #7) Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Spectrum Center for 2014/15 Collaborative Program Action
14.8 (Item #8) Execution of Non-Public School Master Contracts for the 2014-15 School Year Action
14.9 (Item #9) Approval of master contract with Non-Public Agency Community Options for Families & Youth (COFY) Action
14.10 (Item #10) Approve Independent Services Contract with Mary Phalon, Support Counselor and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.11 (Item #11) John F. Kennedy University – Independent Services Contract Action
14.12 (Item #12) Educational Testing Service (ETS) High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) Action
14.13 (Item #13) Approve contract with Talk Solutions/Pleasant Hill Middle School and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.14 (Item #14) Approve contract with Marin County Office of Education (COE) Outdoor School of Walker Creek Ranch for Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
14.15 (Item #15) Approve contract with Westminster Woods Camp and Sequoia Elementary School Action
14.16 (Item #16) Firedoll Foundation Grant Action
14.17 (Item #17) Field Trips: Sequoia Middle School Action
14.18 (Item #18) Approval of text for Honors Economics course: Krugman’s Economics for AP (bfw Worth) Action
14.19 (Item #19) Memorandum of Understanding for Facilities Use between the City of Concord and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Bid #1649: PE Building Renovation at Mt. Diablo High School Action
14.21 (Item #21) Approve Final Change Order (FCO) #1649-001 to B Bros Construction, Inc. Action
14.22 (Item #22) Approve Resolution 14/15-13 for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District for acceptance and consent to a deed or grant of real property. Action
14.23 (Item #23) Approve Quitclaim of Easements between the Contra Costa Water District and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.24 (Item #24) Temporary Suspend Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 5116.1 (Intradistrict Open Enrollment) Action
14.25 (Item #25) Memo Of Understanding Between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 20, 2013 Action
14.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 15, 2013 Action
14.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 8, 2013 Action
14.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 6, 2013 Action
14.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 1, 2013 Action
14.31 (Item #31) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
15.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

16.0 Public Comment
16.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

17.0 Communications
17.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

18.0 Business/Action Item
18.1 Approve creation of 12 School Counselor Positions Action

18.2 Authorizing Investment of Monies in the Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF) Action

18.3 Adoption of Beginning Guitar as a year long course of study. Action

18.4 Revision of BB 9250 Heath and Welfare Benefits Action

18.5 Additional Monthly Meeting of the Board of Education Info/Action

18.6 SEA Hours Restoration Action

18.7 Agreement for Facilities Use between City of Clayton and MDUSD Action

18.8 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on June 30, 2014 Action

18.9 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on July 14, 2014 Action

18.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on August 13, 2014 Action

18.11 Meeting Extension Action

19.0 Future Agenda Items
19.1 Future Agenda Items Info

20.0 Closed Session
20.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this closed session. Action

21.0 Reconvene Open Session
21.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

22.0 Adjournment
22.1 Adjourn Meeting Info”

Do you think board members should get paid benefits?

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 81 Comments »

Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year share secrets of success

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the classrooms of Elizabeth Lanfranki and Brian Wheeler, named 2014 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year on Thursday.

During phone interviews with them Friday, I conjured up images in my head of kids screaming vocabulary words in Lanfranki’s English classes at Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High in Pittsburg and teens tinkering with automotive technology in Wheeler’s classes at Alhambra High in Martinez.

At 24, Lanfranki is only about a decade older than her students. The Las Lomas High graduate (class of 2008), who grew up in Walnut Creek, said she uses her voice and body language to engage her students.

For example, students in her sixth grade English class have no trouble remembering the difference between “mood” and “tone” in literature.

“I have the students form an M with their hands and we say: ‘Mood affects me.’ And they point to themselves.”
This helps them to understand that mood is related to how the reader feels after poring over a piece of literature, she said.

Tone, on the other hand, reflects the author’s attitude. To drive this point home, Lanfranki and her students demonstrate a bit of attitude themselves. They change their voices and move their heads back and forth, saying “tone,” with an attitude, she said.

“So, when they come to the test, they’re going to remember tone versus mood, because they have the gestures in their heads,” she said. “It’s whole-brain teaching when you throw in a gesture with a word.”

Lanfranki also encourages her students to scream vocabulary words to help them remember them. A reading comprehension technique she uses teaches students to break down texts into smaller chunks and analyze the words and paragraphs to better understand them. This is especially helpful for English language learners, she said.

Lanfranki has also started an after-school intervention program and is involved in several clubs including the Builder’s Club, which focuses on “building community through service,” she said. She said she is excited to have received top recognition as an exemplary teacher in the county at such a young age.

“I’m a product of Contra Costa education and I know how many great teachers there are out there,” she said. “I’m just honored to be recognized among them and for my peers to think that I’ve achieved this feat.”

Although Wheeler is 30 years older than Lanfranki, he has only been teaching a year longer. For three decades, he worked as a collision repair technician, fixing crashed cars.

He said he decided to pursue teaching on the advice of his wife, who is an elementary school principal in Fairfield, where they live. His relationships with his wife and his adult sons, he said, have taught him the importance of building strong connections with others.

“It’s my treasure in my life,” he said. “That’s the thing I want to pass on more than anything else — is to show kids how to have great relationships. I’ve been married for 33 years to the same woman. I have great relationships with my three kids.”

Wheeler’s former student, James Bailey White, said Wheeler’s life lessons were an important part of his classes.
“Mr. Wheeler was without a doubt the single most influential and effective teacher I have had in my collective learning career,” Bailey White said. “He sees no student as an enemy, and has always built excellent rapport with pupils, even with the most difficult ones.”

Wheeler praised the Alhambra High community, which has supported him in his teaching career.

“It is an incredible privilege to teach in Martinez,” he said. “When I came to work here, the people wrapped their arms around me and have helped me. This is an incredible place to work.”

But his real secret to success, he said, is his wife, who taught special education in elementary and high school and was also a first and second grade teacher, before becoming a principal.

“My wife is my secret weapon,” he said. “My wife is an incredible teacher, so I got trained every night when I went home.”

What do you think are the secrets of successful teachers?

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Martinez school district, Pittsburg school district | No Comments »