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State Superintendent of Public Schools outlines some plans for 2014

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is already gearing up for his re-election run next year.

“It’s the toughest work I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding work,” said the Pittsburg resident, who is a former Mt. Diablo school district science teacher and cross country coach. “I love working with students. I’m a teacher and a coach and this gives me a chance to work on a large scale to help students across the state — not only help them, but be inspired by them. I am just amazed at what students are doing and what a great future they have and what potential we could have helping them get their education.”

During an end-of-the-year interview, we discussed several issues, including the new Common Core standards and the state’s school funding formula, which will appear in a story in this newspaper. In this blog, I am excerpting another portion of the interview related to Torlakson’s emphasis on student absenteeism and career technical education.

“Q. What can be done to cut down on student absenteeism and why is that important?

A. On the big focus points for next year, including absenteeism, we have to have parent involvement. We recently had a chronic absenteeism symposium in Orange County. We called it ‘Keep kids in school and out of court.’ It’s the whole idea of turning off the faucet on the school-to-prison pipeline with intervention — more counselors and on-campus suspensions, instead of sending them off to their neighborhood. We’re looking at disproportionate suspensions of African Americans and Latinos. How can we help diffuse situations, help with problems in their lives, implement more effective restorative justice programs and provide more counselors to help these students?

In some areas like Oakland, Richmond and Los Angeles, 20 percent of kindergartners are chronically absent. Once that starts, students get farther behind. We already know low-income an English learners come into kindergarten with one-fifth the vocabulary of students who come from homes where parents read to them. You can’t learn if you’re not there, even if you have the best teachers and best facilities. We need services and interventions to help parents, get kids to school and knock down absenteeism. That’s a moneymaker for the districts as well as the right thing to do with kids. Once the kids are in their seats, the school gets funding for them.

Q. What kinds of interventions do you have in mind?

A. I did some of this when I was a teacher in Pacifica High School in the community of West Pittsburg — everything from calling parents to sending someone out. I used to go out to neighborhoods in Bay Point, which was then called West Pittsburg. I would go out and sometimes I interrupted the family’s dinner and I said, ‘I’m your son’s teacher and we have some issues we want to work out.’

Some students are being left at home because they have an elderly grandparent in a wheelchair and no one to watch them. Or, mom says, ‘I don’t have money to pay for day care for 3-year-old sister Sally, you take are of her.’ We sent social workers out and helped find where they could get elderly care or child care.

Some parents need a wake up call from the district. Attorney General Kamala Harris has worked on this — to inform parents not only of their moral, but legal responsibilities.

We also have a model SARB (School Attendance Review Boards) program that deals with kids who are truant and missing school, sharing best practices. So, those are things we’re already doing and could expand on, along with involving parents.

Q. What’s another priority for you?

A. Career Technical Education is a new emphasis. There are nearly 500 Partnership Academies in the state. They link learning in all curriculum areas at high schools to career pathways, to the real world. My department will be issuing requests for grant proposals in January for the new $250 million Career Pathways Trust fund.

I created a Career Readiness Initiative three years ago. It ties into the goals of the new Common Core standards, with relevancy, workplace readiness and 21st Century skills, which employers want. They want team work. They want communication skills. They want critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

What do you think the state should do to cut down on absenteeism and prepare students for the workforce?

Posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013
Under: Bay Point, California, Education, Pittsburg, Tom Torlakson | 13 Comments »

MDUSD Bay Point mystery meeting explained

When I heard after-the-fact from a district parent that a Bay Point master plan meeting was held last week, I contacted Pete Pedersen to find out what it was all about.

In an email, he responded, in part:

“On Wednesday, October 10th we convened the first meeting of the committee exploring the Bay Point master planning exercise. This is not a Board-appointed committee but rather, is a committee that was formed at the request of the audience attending the last public master planning meeting at Riverview last year. The meeting was not publically noticed. All Bay Point sites as well as Mt. Diablo High have designated volunteer committee representatives and each of these participants was individually contacted/noticed…”

Pedersen added that the PowerPoint presentation from the meeting should be added to the Bay Point Master Planning website soon.

As of now, it still has not been posted on the site:

The previous Bay Point meeting, held May 15, also was not publicly noticed. And although the PowerPoint from that meeting is posted on the website, there are no minutes from the meeting posted, so there is no public record that this committee was formed.

The website assures readers: “Your opinion matters!” But, if only a select group of people are informed about the committee and its meetings, it appears that many people who might have opinions about the Bay Point Master Planning process could be left out of the loop.

Do you think these meetings should be publicly noticed and that minutes should be posted on the website?

Posted on Monday, October 15th, 2012
Under: Bay Point, Education, Martinez school district | 24 Comments »

Shore Acres Elementary encourages students to drink milk

Shore Acres nutrition services staff members (left to right) Connie Heitketter, manager Agnes Moody and Becky Berg stand in front of a milk carton tree that "grew" to more than 14-feet tall.

Shore Acres nutrition services staff members (left to right) Connie Heitketter, manager Agnes Moody and Becky Berg stand in front of a milk carton tree that "grew" to more than 14-feet tall.

By Theresa Harrington

Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point recently came up with a creative idea to inspire students to drink milk — building a Christmas tree out of the empty cartons.

The Nutrition Services staff sent the following message to teachers Nov. 29:

“Good morning to all,
The cafeteria would like to promote the importance of drinking milk. We need your help! Please encourage your students to drink all of their milk and to save the empty milk cartons. We will be building a GIANT MILK CARTON CHRISTMAS TREE. The more milk we drink, the bigger and bigger our tree will become. We will start tomorrow morning (11-30-10). Mr. Eric will have a bucket to rinse out any leftover milk. Then we will be ready to build!!!!!

With your encouragement and example of drinking milk, it will be a lot of fun and healthy for all of us.

Thank you, Agnes, Becky and the cafeteria staff.”

As a result of this promotion, the staff was able to build a tree more than 14-feet tall, according to Kathleen Corrigan, the Mt. Diablo school district’s director of Food and Nutrition Services.

Congratulations to Shore Acres for “thinking out of the box” — literally!

Posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Testing in the Mt. Diablo school district

By Theresa Harrington

The Mt. Diablo school district has recently created a Student Achievement and School Support division that is pushing for increased testing, as part of eight new goals trustees expect to review Tuesday.

The goals are for students to master California curriculm standards at their grade levels, read by the end of third grade, be fluent in academic English, show proficiency in mathematics, pass the California High School Exit Exam, attend school regularly, graduate, and pass courses that provide the knowledge and skill necessary “to be successful in their future endeavors.”

According to a memo to parents last month, Superintendent Steven Lawrence hopes that teachers will adjust their lessons based on how students are learning. Frequent testing, Lawrence wrote, will give educators feedback about their teaching and help them track student progress.

“Periodic district benchmarks and other common assessments measure the effectiveness of initial instruction and provide important information about where instruction needs to be changed to improve results,” he wrote.

Although teachers won’t be evaluated based on these results, Lawrence intends to evaluate administrators in the new division according to test scores, graduation rates and data related to Advanced Placement coursework and career “pathways” at schools, as well as on annual principal surveys regarding district support for school improvement.

Mike Langley, president of the teachers’ union, said test scores don’t give an accurate picture of a educator’s ability to teache.

 “I firmly believe that the best way to evaluate a teacher is for a trained administrator to observe the teaching going on and see how well a teacher is teaching,” Langley said.

Testing doesn’t take into account variables that include children’s lives outside the classroom, he said. In addition, he said, testing focuses mainly on English and math, while giving short shrift to other subjects, such as P.E. or ceramics, for which it would be nearly impossible to evaluate teaching based on standardized scores.

“If you can’t evaluate all teachers using the system, then the system has to be flawed,” Langley said. “We want to quantity everything in our culture and there are some things, unfortunately, that are not quantifiable. And that makes people angry.”

In the Mt. Diablo district, administrators meet with teachers at the beginning of the school year to review the six California Standards for the Teaching Profession, then choose two to focus on for the year, he said. The standards are: engaging and supporting all students, creating and maintaning effective environments, understanding and organizing subject matter, planning instruction and designing learning experiences, assessing student learning and developing as a professional educator.

“The teacher puts together a plan and works with the administrator to improve in two areas,” Langley said. “At the end of the year, they’re evaluated on that.”

Good teachers, he said, constantly assess students both informally and formally. With the district’s limited resources, Langley said he would like to see the district spend less time and money on formal tests and more on training teachers to improve their skills.

Today, the state released Academic Performance Index and Adequate Yearly Progress scores for all districts and schools. Lawrence sent out a memo praising the district’s overall improvement, rising 11 points from 773 to 784.

Yet, the district failed to achieve the statewide proficiency goal of 800. It also failed to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets for student proficiency in math and English-language arts. 

This means the entire district could be placed into Program Improvement, a status intended to force reforms. Already, ten district schools are in Program Improvement, including six of the lowest-achieving schools in the state.

Here’s how those half-dozen schools fared:

Bel Air Elem. in Bay Point: Dropped 14 points from 660 to 646.

Meadow Homes Elem. in Concord: Dropped 7 points from 655 to 648. 

Rio Vista Elem. in Bay Point: Dropped 2 points from 671 to 669

Shore Acres Elem. in Bay Point: Increased 39 points from 620 to 659.

Glenbrook Middle School in Concord: Increased 17 points from 643 to 660.

Oak Grove Middle School in Concord: Increased 19 points from 627 to 646.

In a voicemail message, Lawrence touted the fact that 37 schools met their API growth targets. This is different from the statewide API target of 800.

Growth targets are incremental increases the state requires to show that schools are making progress. For example, Ayers Elementary in Concord was required to increase its score by 5 points, based on its 2009 API score of 777. Instead, Ayers far surpassed that goal, earning the highest gain of any regular school in the district by shooting up 57 points to 834.

Lawrence also highlighted the success of Cambridge Elementary in Concord, which jumped 41 points, from 686 to 727, even though it’s in Year 5 of Program Improvement.

Lawrence attributed growth to the hard work of teachers and site administrators, working collaboratively and looking at data to inform their teaching practices.

“And,” Lawrence said, “if a student isn’t getting it initially, reteaching the unit.”

To remedy problems at the three low-achieving schools where scores dropped, the district has created reform plans that it expects to fund with federal School Improvement Grants, he said. Jack O’Connell, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, told reporters in a phone conference today that these grants should be distributed to districts in about two weeks. 

“So, overall, very positive,” Lawrence said, “but we do still have areas of growth.”

He pointed out that the new Student Achievement and School Support division is working with schools to help them improve achievement. Susan Petersen, the former principal of Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg, is helping to spearhead this effort as the recently-appointed Director of Elementary Support.

Petersen said in a voicemail message that she is working with Bel Air, Rio Vista and Meadow Homes elementary schools to help them adopt some of her former staff’s successful practices.

“We’re doing some pretty exciting stuff districtwide, which replicates a lot of the work we did at Delta View,” she said.

Do you agree with Lawrence’s plan to increase student testing?


Posted on Monday, September 13th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »

MDUSD administrator responds to questions about principal moves

By Theresa Harrington
The substantial number of moves by principals and other Mt. Diablo school district administrators during the past few months has prompted one big question in the community: “Why!?!”
Superintendent Steven Lawrence and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel, have said they were trying to find good matches for schools where principals have retired or have been promoted to new positions.
Today, I spoke with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, to get more clarification on this process.
She said Lawrence made a Connect Ed phone call message to Mt. Diablo Elementary parents a couple of days ago updating them on the status of their principal search. The message informed parents that interviews were being conducted and explained that the district’s candidate screening procedure now includes Internet searches, she said.
When I asked about the multiple administrative moves, Lock said: “There hasn’t been that many people moving around.”
She said the main reason for the moves is that four elementary principals resigned (Bel Air, Silverwood, Valle Verde and Wren Avenue) and five principals were promoted to positions in her department (Delta View Elem., Hidden Valley Elem., Monte Gardens Elem., Riverview MS, and Sequoia MS).
“We did move a couple of principals who are interested in looking at different assignments,” she added. “It’s not like we’ve been playing musical chairs. Nothing like that at all.”
Lawrence has said the swap of principals between Mt. Diablo High and Olympic continuation high was based on those administrators’ preferences. (Cheryl LeBoef is moving to Olympic and Kate McClatchy is moving to Mt. Diablo High.)
To fill the Bel Air and Delta View positions, Lock said the district needed principals who were experienced. Both Nancy Klinkner (at Highlands Elementary) and Nancy Baum (at Ayers Elementary) had expressed interest in new assignments, Lock said.
Klinker was placed at Bel Air (which has a large English learner population) because she is bilingual. The Bay Point school is one of the district’s lowest achieving campuses and Lock said Klinker was also a good fit because her background had been entirely in Title 1 (low-income) schools (with the exception of last year at Highlands).
The district placed Baum at Delta View to keep the campus moving in the right direction, Lock said.
New principals are also expected at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord.
Lock said Mt. Diablo Elementary’s previous Principal Bob Dodson has not yet been reassigned. Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees told me she expects to be replaced as part of that low-achieving school’s reform plan. Glenbrook Principal Jonathan Eagan found another position closer to his home, Braun-Martin told me last week.
Lock said Lawrence won’t attend the upcoming meeting with Sequoia Middle School parents in Pleasant Hill. Instead, she and Braun-Martin will likely ask staff and parents what kind of new principal they would like.
Lawrence normally doesn’t attend parent meetings, Lock said. He attended the Mt. Diablo Elementary meeting because she was off on furlough leave, Lock added.
However, Lawrence attended the Bancroft Elementary meeting with both Braun-Martin and Lock, to respond to parent concerns about his decision to transfer their principal to Valle Verde. He later reversed that decision, based on parents’ concerns.
Lawrence decides who to recommend for specific positions, with input from her, Lock said. She has been more involved in elementary hires than those at middle and high schools, she added. (Lock was previously the assistant superintendent for elementary education and principal of Walnut Acres Elementary in Walnut Creek).
Lock said Curriculum and Instruction division was eliminated — and replaced with her Student Achievment and Support division — to focus more on the demands placed on the principals districtwide, including high expectaitons for student achievement.
“We have to do a better job of supporting all of the schools,” she said. “In the past, the Curriculum and Instruction department supported all of our Program Improvement (low-performing) and Title 1 schools. Others didn’t get same level of support. But, others are also going to be expected to improve.”
Lock also emphasized that principals are hired for the entire district, not necessarily for specific schools.
“We want to make sure they are equally proficient and competent,” she said. “We want to develop them (through coaching and professional development), because we could be moving them around as needed.”
She acknowledged that the district does, however, try to match principals to schools where they would best fit.
“We certainly are sensitive to the needs of each school,” she said. “We do ask for (community) input, to make sure we have the right person.”
No principal should expect to remain at the same school for his or her entire career, she added.
“Principals don’t stay at schools for 20 years,” she said.
Does this explanation ease your mind about moves taking place before school starts?

Posted on Friday, July 9th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, California, Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 10 Comments »

Plentiful principal replacements in Mt. Diablo district

By Theresa Harrington
All administrators in the Mt. Diablo school district were given pink slips this year, which means they could be replaced or reassigned at will.
Even though the school year has already ended and many principals have made plans with their staffs for the fall, some are being promoted or reassigned. It’s possible some could lose their jobs, although that won’t be clear until all the decisions for replacements have been finalized.
A few resigned, leaving holes the district had to fill. The board expects to vote on the appointment of 25 administrators Tuesday, including the promotion of five principals to district office administrators, the appointment of eight principals and a continuation high school administrator, and the appointment of four vice principals.
Last Tuesday, the board approved a district office restructuring that includes the principal promotions. Here’s a rundown of those:
Delta View Principal Susan Petersen will become Director of Elementary Support.
Riverview Middle School Principal Denise Rugani will become Director of Secondary Support.
Monte Gardens Elementary Principal Patt Hoellwarth, Hidden Valley Elementary Principal Lorie O’Brien and Sequoia Middle School Principal Hellena Postrk are being promoted to administrative positions as coaches who will support local principals.
In addition, the board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High, replacing retiring Carolyn Plath. Morones is a Danville resident with three children who has worked as principal of Florin High in Sacramento for seven months.
But many other principal moves are in the works.
During the June 15 board meeting, Superintendent Steven Lawrence reported that Highlands Elementary Principal Nancy Klinkner has agreed to move to Bel Air, replacing Tom Carman, who retired. He also said Ayers Elementary Principal Nancy Baum has agreed to take Petersen’s former position at Delta View Elementary in Bay Point. Finally, Lawrence said Cynthia Goin, former principal at Strandwood Elementary, is coming back from a leave to become principal at Wren Avenue Elementary, replacing a retiring administrator.
The board will vote on these and other assignments Tuesday, including the appointment of some other district office administrators. Lawrence has already announced that he plans to move Julie Braun Martin, the current director of personnel, to the assistant superintendent position, replacing Gail Isserman, who is retiring. Lawrence has said he plans to move Melinda Hall, the current director of Curriculum and Instruction, into the personnel director position.
The restructuring also calls for Rose Lock, the current assistant superintendent for elementary education, to become the assistant superintendent of a new Student Achievement and School Support Division. Jennifer Sachs, the current assistant director of Curriculum and Instruction, will become assistant director of the new division, since the Curriculum and Instruction division is being eliminated. Carmen Garces, who is currently an administrator who serves socio-economically disadvantaged students and English language learners in the Curriculum and Instruction department will assume a similar position in the new division.
Here’s the list of appointments to be made, with names filled in, if they’ve already been announced:
Ayers Elementary, Concord:
Bel Air Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Klinkner
Delta View Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Baum
Hidden Valley Elementary, Martinez:
Mt. Diablo High School, Concord:
Riverview Middle School, Bay Point:
Valle Verde Elementary, Walnut Creek:
Wren Avenue Elementary, Concord: Cynthia Goin
Meadow Homes Elementary program specialist, Concord:
Mt. Diablo High School vice principal, Concord:
Northgate High School vice principal, Walnut Creek:
Olympic Continuation High School administrator, Concord:
Olympic/Alliance high school vice principal, Concord:
Riverview Middle School vice principal, Concord:
Assistant superintendent of personnel services: Julie Braun Martin
Director of Personnel: Melinda Hall
Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement, Support: Rose Lock
Director, Elementary Support: Susan Petersen
Director, Seconday Support: Denise Rugani
Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support: Jennifer Sachs
Principal Coach and school support: Patt Hoellwarth
Principal Coach and school support: Lorie O’Brien
Principal Coach and school support: Hellena Postrk
Principal Coach and school support: Susan Hukkanen
Administrator, English learners, Student Support: Carmen Graces
The district office reorganization eliminated the position of director of alternative education, currently held by Katie Gaines. It also eliminated five other administrative positions and replaced them with the new Student Achievement positions detailed above.
But there are more vacant principal positions that have not yet been filled. Shore Acres Elementary Principal Kari Rees told me she will be replaced as part of that school’s reform efforts, based on its status as one of the district’s six lowest-achieving schools. The principals who are being promoted to positions as district administrators are also leaving behind vacancies.
In addition, I’ve heard that some other principals may not be returning to their campuses next year.
“In an attempt to find the best match for each school, district staff has gathered input from site staff members and parents,” the district’s staff report for administrative assignments states. “For those positions that we feel we have a match, we will announce the person filling the position; otherwise, we will continue to search for qualified candidates.”
Lawrence told parents at Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek last week that he had conducted extensive interviews with staff and parents at Valle Verde Elementary regarding the kind of principal they would like, after Principal Carolyn Kreuscher announced she planned to retire. But Bancroft parents did not understand why he did not ask them if they were willing to give up their principal before he decided to transfer Linda Schuler to Valle Verde.
Lawrence pointed out that the principal would leave sometime, most likely by retiring or transferring to another school. In reconsidering his decision, he said he would evaluate whether the time was right for Schuler to leave now.
In the end, Lawrence reversed his decision, based on the meetings with Bancroft staff and parents. But he said Valle Verde was a larger school with a significant population of special education students and that his goal with all transfers was to create a “win-win” situation for the principal and the school, offering a new opportunity to the administrator.
Lawrence explained that the district had a pool of about nine to 12 candidates that he looked at for Bancroft. One parent suggested that Lawrence place the person he had in mind for Bancroft at Valle Verde instead.
“You considered the needs of Valle Verde,” the parent said. “It’s inexcusable that we were not involved in this process from the beginning. There’s no reason to take this principal to another high-performing school in this district. If (the candidate) is good enough for us, she should be good enough for Valle Verde.”
Parents also wanted to know if Schuler wanted to move or if Lawrence told her to move.
“I more asked her to go, based on my request, than asked her (if she wanted to),” Lawrence said. “We had a talk. If you want to define that as being told, then, yes, (she was told).”
Here are the other vacancies I know about, based on moves or announcements that have already been made:
Highlands Elementary Principal, Concord:
Monte Gardens Elementary Principal, Concord:
Sequioa Middle School, Pleasant Hill:
Shore Acres Elementary Principal, Bay Point:
If your child attends one of these schools, have you been asked what kind of principal you and your children would like? How do you feel about getting a new principal in the fall?

Posted on Monday, June 21st, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Martinez, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 19 Comments »

Tensions rise in MDUSD as employees face layoffs, tough negotiations, school improvement

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

By Theresa Harrington
Union negotiations are under way in the Mt. Diablo school district as trustees hope to slash $9.8 million a year through furlough days, increased class sizes and reduced benefits. All bargaining units are at the table except for teachers, who are analyzing the results of a recent member survey.
School support staff represented by Annie Nolen, of the California Schools Employees Association, are facing especially hard times, she told the board Tuesday.
“Most of my members are already at poverty level or below,” she said. “With the new proposal, most would only bring home $400 or less per month. So, it gets worse.”
She acknowledged the important work that teachers do, but reminded trustees that other employees also make valuable contributions to schools and deserve to be recognized during Classified Employees Week, May 17-21.
Mike Langley, vice president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, said the teachers’ union was sorting through nearly 1,000 surveys received from members about negotiations. Union representatives are expected to present the information to teachers June 7, before negotiations can begin.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he intended to send teachers a letter today marking “The Day of the Teacher” and thanking them for their service. He said he feels the same sense of gratitude toward classified employees including secretaries, special education assistants and “people on the blacktops who solve disputes about whose ball it is.”
But the tone changed when teachers’ union president Mike Noce objected to plans for reforming four of the district’s lowest-achieving campuses: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. The plans include lengthening the school day, offering summer school and providing incentives for teachers.
“Please don’t go through with this School Improvement Grant application,” he said. “I feel this is being rushed through without bargaining. There are some things we feel need to be negotiated.”
Noce said some teachers at the schools have been told, “If you don’t like it, get out.” So, he said, a transfer system needs to be established.
“There is no state deadline, unless we just want to do a money grab here,” he said. “Why don’t we plan and do it right?”
Noce said the union isn’t willing to sign the grant applications due June 1 as partners in the plans for up to $2 million per school. Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, told Noce outside the meeting that districts have three years to negotiate items in the plans before implementing them.
During the meeting, Lock said all of the district’s schools with Academic Performance Index scores under 700 are creating plans for improvement. These include the six schools identified by the state as being in the bottom 5 percent, as well as seven other campuses. Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord are the two other lowest-achieving schools, who will present their plans May 25.
The other seven schools won’t publicly present their plans to the board, Lock said. They are: Cambridge, Fair Oaks, and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools; El Dorado and Riverview middle schools; and Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools.
Willie Mims, of the Black Political Association in Pittsburg, said school plans should have buy-in from teachers, families and students.
“If students are not engaged, then you are asking for trouble,” he said. “A climate of respect is crucial. Students know and feel when you do not respect them. And if they feel it, then they will not allow you to teach them anything. A wall will go up and it will take a long time to bring it down….But if they know that you care, they will do anything for you…If you respect them, they will respect you.”
To help schools build positive learning environments, Lawrence said he had hoped to reorganize the district office administration by creating a Student Achievement and School Support division under Lock. He said he planned to appoint Delta View Elementary Principal Susan Petersen as the new Director fo Elementary Support, based on her work at that school, which led to tremendous gains in test scores.
“With the moves she has made at Delta View,” he said, “I believe she can be a big asset, particularly in low-performing schools.”
But the board tabled this idea at Lawrence’s request, after he said he was worried about the governor’s revised budget expected Friday.
“Hopefully not,” he said, “but we may need to be reducing more positions.”
Langley asked the superintendent to clarify whether employees in the new department would be getting big raises. Many employees are still bitter about raises totaling $55,000 given to five district office employees before Lawrence arrived, including $28,000 to the general counsel, boosting his pay to $190,000 a year.
Just before the board voted to layoff 200 teachers, Noce said he has heard that some high schools aren’t encouraging juniors to take six classes next year, because the board reduced graduation requirements.
“I hope the district isn’t trying to get kids to only take four periods,” he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart the district is anxious to negotiate its cost-cutting proposals.
“Until we get to the table, until we start having substantive conversations about how we are going to stave off the eventual destruction of more and more jobs in the school district, this is not going to end,” he said. “It’s going to continue. I just hope the two sides get together as soon as possible.”
What concessions, if any, do you think might be reasonable for teachers and other employees to accept to help balance the district’s budget? Do you think the district should move forward with its School Improvement Grant proposals by June 1?

Posted on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 23 Comments »

MDUSD board to vote on layoffs and administrative shakeup, discuss school reforms

Shore Acres Elementary School in Bay Point.

Shore Acres Elementary School in Bay Point.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school board will vote Tuesday on 170 teacher layoffs and discuss plans to reform four of the district’s lowest-achieving schools.
Trustees will also vote on special education cuts, reorganizing the district office and an investment banking contract related to the sale of $348 million in bonds, if Measure C passes in June.
You can get details about these plans on the district’s website. A story about the special education cuts appeared in the Contra Costa Times today and I’ll recap the school plans in a story Tuesday, before the meeting.
The school improvement plans are still sketchy, since the district hasn’t posted them all online yet. According to the state, the district is supposed to choose one of four reforms for its six “persistently lowest-achieving schools”: close the school, replace the principal and half the staff, transform it by replacing the principal and implementing intervention strategies, or reopen the school as a charter.
The schools on the list are: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shores Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord; and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence has said the district could choose another alternative, if it does not pursue federal School Improvement Grants of up to $2 million per school. This is because there currently is no penalty, if schools don’t reform.
The district has posted plans to “transform” Glenbrook Middle School in Concord and has uploaded some data about Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point.
But more complete plans for Shore Acres, Bel Air and Rio Vista Elementary schools in Bay Point are expected to be posted online Monday.
The board expects to review plans for Meadow Homes and Oak Grove later this month or next month.
Trustee Gary Eberhart said Friday he wasn’t sure yet whether schools would apply for the grants, but he was optimistic about the improvement plans.
“My hope is that what we end up is not a plan that’s set in stone, but that’s interactive and allows for monitoring of outcomes, so we can continue to tweak things and make them as good as they can possibly be,” he said. “I think a lot of energy is going into not just making everyone feel good, but our plans are actually going to yield results.”
Here’s the basic plan for Glenbrook:
1) The principal was replaced in July 2009, so he will be able to stay on. If he had worked at the school more than two years, he would need to be replaced.
2) Improve evaluations of teachers and principal
3) Identify and reward school leaders, teachers and other staff
4) Provide ongoing, high quality professional development to staff
5) Provide financial and other incentives to staff
6) Improve curriculum
7) Improve use of student test scores and other data to tailor instruction
8) increase learning time
9) Improve family and community engagement
The school also expects to receive flexibility in terms of its operations, such as governance; and sustained support from the district and outside agencies that assist in helping underperforming schools improve.
Trustees will also vote on sending out 170 final pink slips. The list of teachers to receive pink slips is in the meeting staff report.
In addition, Lawrence is recommending reorganizing the district office staff in light of the resignation of Pete Pedersen, assistant superintendent of administrative services on Sept. 30. Instead of filling Pedersen’s position, Lawrence recommends promoting personnel director Julie Braun Martin to the position of assistant superintendent of personnel.
This position was previously planned to be eliminated, when the current assistant superintendent of personnel, Gail Isserman, retires this summer. Lawrence proposes moving Melinda Hall, who is director of curriculum and instruction, into the position of personnel director.
He also proposes the creation of a Student Achievement and School Support Division under Rose Lock, the current assistant superintendent for elementary education. The assistant superintendent for secondary education position will be eliminated after Alan Young retires this summer.
“As the expectations and demands increase on all our schools,” Lawrence wrote in his staff report, “we need instructional leaders who have successfully moved schools forward to help support and coach other principals and school staffs.”
Under the new division, Lock would supervise the curriculum and instruction department. Pedersen’s duties would be spread between Lock, the general counsel and chief financial officer.
Lawrence recommends eliminating the director of alternative education position held by Katie Gaines on Sept. 1. Her responsibilities would be spread between the new division and the special education and pupil services division.
The superintendent intends to evaluate employees in the new division according to test scores, graduation rates and data related to AP coursework and career “pathways” at schools, as well as annual principal surveys focusing on the district’s support for moving schools forward.
These are the kinds of evaluation criteria the Obama administration is pushing as part of nationwide school reform. Teachers’ unions, on the other hand, have tended to oppose the inclusion of test scores in evaluations of educators.
Eberhart said he is supportive of Lawrence’s reorganization ideas.
“I certainly like what I hear as it relates to the curriculum and instruction department,” he said. “I’m excited that Steven is looking at this from a new angle, so I’m inclined to support what I see. I’m excited that we’re making some real substantial changes in how we deliver education.”
What do you think of the district’s school reform and reorganization ideas? Are you worried about losing the teachers on the pink slip list?

Posted on Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district superintendent discusses budget, low-achieving schools

By Theresa Harrington
As if schools haven’t been ravaged enough by budget cuts, districts including Mt. Diablo in Concord are bracing for more possible reductions based on the governor’s revised budget in May.
The district is also working on developing plans for its six schools labeled among the “lowest-achieving” in the state. In addition, the district is creating plans for other campuses with Academic Performance Index, or API, scores below 700 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 based on standardized test scores.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence sat down with me today to go over the district’s budget and explain what could happen next. He also told me earlier this week how the district is coming along with plans for low-achieving schools.
First: the budget
Lawrence said he was at a Bay Point community meeting last night where one person asked why the district doesn’t just refuse to make cuts and demand more money from Sacramento.
“I think a lot of people think, ‘Why don’t we just make the state pay?’” he said. “It sounds heroic. But there is really no way to do that.”
The district could go bankrupt and a state administrator could come in and start making decisions about how to cut costs, which could include deciding which schools to close, he said. The board expects to adopt its 2011-12 budget at a special meeting June 22.
Originally, the board had planned to adopt its budget June 29, but that meeting was moved up a week, Lawrence said, so administrators can take furlough days during the last week of June. Most administrators who work more than 214 days a year are taking four furlough days and most who work 213 days a year are taking three, he said.
Lawrence said he asked administrators to do this to “show leadership” with the hope that other unions would agree to similar cuts that could save more than $1.7 million from this year’s budget.
“I basically presented them the budget situation and said, ‘based on all this, we’re trying to work toward three furlough days for teachers this year,’” he said.
The board voted to cut $31 million over four years through furlough days, pay cuts and reduced benefits that need to be negotiated with unions. Administrators are not represented by a union, so Lawrence said he asked them to accept the furloughs and most did.
Those who were retiring were not asked to take the furlough days because it would reduce their retirement pay, he said.
Low-achieving schools:
At its May 11 meeting, the board may begin reviewing plans for its lowest-achieving schools, which trustees expect to begin approving May 25. These schools are: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point; Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord; and Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord.
Campuses with API scores of 700 or less include these schools, along with two high schools, two other middle schools and four other elementary schools, Lawrence said.
“The principals are going back and working with parents and teachers on plans,” Lawrence said.
Trustees are likely to approve plans for schools that want to apply for School Improvement Grants first, he said. The deadline for applying for up to $2 million in grant money is June 1.
Schools that request this money must agree to one of four reforms: close the school, replace the principal and half the staff, replace the principal and implement a variety of improvements such as increased instruction time, or reopen the school under new management such as a charter.
“Overall,” Lawrence said, “we need to increase and improve performance at all these schools.
How do you think trustees should balance the budget and improve schools?

Posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 3 Comments »

MDUSD may not chase “carrots” dangled by state

The Contra Costa Times “On Assignment” blog is now allowing Times education reporters to provide the community with background information on education issues in Contra Costa County, links to relevant stories and other details we can’t fit into the paper.

First up: “persistently lowest-achieving schools” in the Mt. Diablo district.

The board plans to hold a community workshop about its lowest-achieving schools in mid-May. Schools on the list are: Bel Air Elementary, Meadow Homes Elementary, Rio Vista Elementary, Shore Acres Elementary, Glenbrook Middle School and Oak Grove Middle School.

Trustee Gary Eberhart and teachers’ union President Mike Noce both expressed concerns Tuesday about the state’s selection of these schools. The district has not yet decided whether to apply for federal School Improvement Grants ranging from $50,000 to $2 million a year for three years to implement one of four interventions: close the school, replace the principal and at least half the staff, replace the principal and make other changes such as increasing instructional time, or reopen the school under new management, such as a charter.

“The board expects us to create a plan,” Superintendent Steven Lawrence told the Times. “I’m meeting with principals. Doing nothing isn’t an option. But there is an option of creating a plan that doesn’t exactly meet one of the four options given by the state.”

He said he has talked to officials in other districts who share Mt. Diablo’s view that replacing the principal may not be the best answer, if schools are making gains.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, teachers’ union President Mike Noce asked trustees to involve teachers in the plans for the schools. He pointed out that all six of the schools have a high percentage of low-income students and those whose first language is not English.

Noce said the California Teachers Association is asking to waive Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord from the list because they are in the second year of reforms under the Quality Education Investment Act. Rio Vista Elementary in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord have each received new principals during the past two years, he said.

According to the state Department of Education, schools that have replaced principals in the last two years do not have to replace them again.

Trustee Gary Eberhart said it would be “silly” to close schools or replace principals that had recently assumed leadership of their campuses.

“We’re going to look at: What are the challenges at the schools? What are we doing already? And, what do we need to do to improve and do better?” he said. “It’s going to be a systematic approach. If our approach fits into (the state’s) requirements and that provides us additional dollars, that would be great. But if it doesn’t, I think we need to stop chasing carrots that are dangled in front of us.”

Although state law requires schools on the list to choose one of the four options, it doesn’t specify a deadline. Federal law requires schools that apply for grants to choose one of the options, but it doesn’t mandate that campus seek the funding.

Some parents don’t want to wait for the district to come up with a plan before voicing their opinions. Bay Point community leaders and parents are holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25 at the Bay Point Church, 2801 Camino Andres in Bay Point, to discuss their schools with district officials.

Elsewhere in the district, the parent advocate group MDUSD VOICE blogged March 18 about “A Serious Missed Communication Opportunity,” emphasizing the need for communication from the superintendent and board regarding plans for the six schools.

How do you think the district should address its lowest-achieving schools?

~ Theresa Harrington, education reporter


Posted on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »