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Torlakson or Tuck? Who will you choose for state Superintendent of Public Instruction?

Marshall Tuck greets Dan Hatfield

Marshall Tuck greets Dan Hatfield

Tom Torlakson walks into Contra Costa Times editorial board interview

Tom Torlakson walks into Contra Costa Times editorial board interview

An incumbent former teacher who is a seasoned politician is running against a challenger known as an education reformer and political outsider in the race for state schools chief.

In interviews with the editorial board of this newspaper, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and his opponent Marshall Tuck revealed similarities and differences in their opinions about education issues.

Torlakson said he waiting to see the final judgment in the recent Vergara court case, where a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure laws, before deciding whether or not to appeal.

“We want the most highly qualified, excellent teachers in front of all of our students in all of their classes, so I am working diligently on different ways to accomplish that,” Torlakson said. “At the same time, I want to make sure that the final judgment doesn’t detrimentally affect our ability to recruit and retain our teachers.”

Granting tenure after two years is reasonable if teacher training programs provide hands-on classroom experience and if competent administrators provide adequate programs to mentor and evaluate teachers, along with peer reviews when they first become teachers, he said.

Tuck wholeheartedly supported the judge’s decision and promised to drop any appeal the state files if he’s elected. He said most people he’s talked to in the state believe that tenure laws are not benefiting kids.

“I think that kind of lack of leadership — where it requires a lawsuit by students rather than true leadership by elected officials to really drive change that we know our kids need — was a big challenge,” he said.

After the lawsuit was filed, Tuck said the state superintendent of public instruction, whose job is to advocate for kids, should have been the first witness for the plaintiffs. After the ruling came out, Tuck said the state superintendent should have immediately begun working to fix the system.

Both men are passionate about improving education statewide. They agree that it’s important to help charter schools succeed and to share best practices among teachers at all public schools. They also want to help schools involve parents in their children’s education.

However, they have taken different paths to accomplish their goals.

Torlakson has worked as a classroom teacher and legislator, collaborating with others to pass laws to benefit students. While in office, he has convened education leaders and others to create a Greatness By Design report focused on “supporting outstanding teaching to sustain a golden state,” A Blueprint for Great Schools report, No Child Left Offline report and a report on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. He has worked to implement Common Core standards and the new Local Control Funding Formula, which shifts more money to schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged students.

“I’m determined. I‘m a bulldog when it comes to getting things done,” Torlakson said. “I’m a coalition builder. I’m a team builder. I’m a coach. I’m a teacher. I’ve done some good work by building strong teams.”

Tuck, who started his career as an investment banker in his early 20s, later transitioned into running Green Dot charter schools, then working with the Mayor of Los Angeles to turn around low-performing schools in the city.

“I jumped into education full time in 2002. I made the decision that I wanted to spend my time and energy helping as many people have a better life as possible,” he said. “(With the) combination of values I was raised with growing up, I decided, ‘I’m jumping off the material success train and jumping on the helping people and better life train.’ And to me, there’s nothing better than education to do that.”

Torlakson has strong backing from the California Teachers’ Association. Tuck says the voices of parents should be given more weight.

But, like Torlakson, Tuck said change can only happen if everyone comes together behind common goals.
“Without question,” Tuck said, “to get to where California needs to get to — which is everybody focused on a kids first agenda — we’re going to need everybody on the same team.”

Here’s the complete video of the Torlakson interview:

Here’s the complete video of the Tuck interview:

Here are two short videos of Torlakson and Tuck in which they were free to talk for one minute about why they want to be California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction:



Who do you support in the state Superintendent of Public Instruction race?

Posted on Monday, August 4th, 2014
Under: California, Education, Tom Torlakson | 3 Comments »

Did your school district seek your input into its accountability plan?

WCCUSD parents hold signs asking trustees to listen to their concerns.

WCCUSD parents hold signs asking trustees to listen to their concerns.

Time is running out for local school districts to adopt new plans for the future showing the public how they will spend state money to meet student goals. School boards must adopt the plans by July 1.

This month, districts throughout the state are holding public hearings to review their draft plans before finalizing them. School districts were required to seek input from parents, staff and community members regarding their priorities for meeting the needs of students, especially low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

Now is the time to look for your districts plan on its website and to e-mail your superintendent and school board if you have questions or suggestions. You can also attend school board meetings where your plans will be discussed and speak directly to trustees about your concerns.

Every plan must address eight state priorities. These are:

1. Basic services: Including appropriately assigned and credentialed teachers, availability of appropriate instructional materials, facilities in good repair.

2. Common Core standards: Implementation for all students including English learners.

3. Parental involvement: Including seeking input and improving parent participation.

4. Student achievement: Including test scores, English learner reclassification rates to proficiency, college-readiness and Advance Placement courses taken.

5. Student engagement: Including attendance, absenteeism, dropout and graduation rates.

6. School climate: Including suspensions, expulsions and other data.

7. Broad course of study: Including student access to all required curriculum areas.

8. Course of study outcomes: Other indicators of student performance

The Education Trust-West student advocacy group has developed a Local Control and Accountability Plan Evaluation Checklist to help parents and other community members review their district’s plans to be sure they meet legal requirements and clearly communicate district goals and plans for achieving those goals.

It includes guiding questions aimed at ensuring your district is developing its plan in a transparent and coherent way.

Here are some sample questions from the checklist, broken into categories required to be included in the plans:

1: Stakeholder engagement

Legal requirements

— Is a parent advisory committee reviewing the draft plan and providing written comments? Is the superintendent answering in writing?

— Did the district consult with parents, students, teachers, principals, administrators, other school employees and local bargaining units?

Beyond minimum requirements

— Did the district explain how it planned to incorporate community input into the plan?

— Are the advisory committees comprised primarily of parents?

2: Goals and progress

Legal requirements

— Did the district specify to which student groups each goal applies (e.g. all students, English learners, etc.)

— Did the district incorporate school-specific goals from school site plans?

Beyond the minimum

— Are the goals specific enough that the district can measure progress toward achieving them?

— Does the district have a clearly stated vision for how it plans to improve student success?

3: Goals, actions and expenditures

Legal requirements

— Is it clear how much money has been budgeted for each action? Does the amount seem reasonable?

— Did the district describe how it arrived at the amount of spending it is required to use to increase and improve services to high-need students?

Beyond the minimum

— Are the proposed actions likely to help the district achieve the related goals?

— Are the listed actions or services specific enough to convey exactly what the district will be doing or implementing?

The entire checklist is available by visiting Click on “View Checklist.”

How do you rate your district’s plan according to the check list?

Posted on Friday, June 6th, 2014
Under: California, Education | 63 Comments »

Congrats to Campolindo HS on its National Academic Decathlon championship title!

Campolindo HS Academic Decathlon team named National Champion for medium-sized schools 2nd year in a row!

Campolindo HS Academic Decathlon team named National Champion for medium-sized schools 2nd year in a row!

Congratulations to the Campolindo High School’s Academic Decathlon team, which has been named a National Champion for the second year in a row for medium-sized schools!

Campolindo placed 10th overall at the 2014 State Competition in Sacramento last March, competing against much larger schools several times its size. The overall winner went to the national competition, while the winners in the small and medium-sized categories competed online for their national titles, along with the second-highest scoring large schools.

Here is more about the accomplishment as described in a news release from the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

“Medium schools in this completion are high schools whose student population is between 650 and 1,300. Campolindo (California) was followed by New Jersey, 2nd place and Wisconsin, third place.

‘When I found out we won Nationals for the 2nd year in a row, I was incredibly excited,’ says Campolindo’s Academic Decathlon coach Paul Verbanszky. ‘The team has worked very hard to accomplish this. An opportunity like this does not come often in a lifetime. These are some of the finest students I have ever worked with in my 13 years of education!'”

Here is a link to final medium-school team and individual results:

Campolindo students were top-scorers in these categories as well. The students and team will be awarded trophies and medals, as well as scholarship money. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, presented the team with Congressional Recognition last week.

“I am really proud of how far our school’s Academic Decathlon has come in the three years I have been in it, and how successful it has become,” said Campolindo Academic Decathlon member Christoph Steefel, in a news release.

Teammate Graham Wade said, “I did not believe it at first, but I was really excited and happy that all of our hard work had paid off.”

Verbanszky teaches AP psychology and government/economics. He has been Campolindo’s Academic Decathlon coach since 2005.

The Academic Decathlon team is an after-school club with funding from donations and other fundraising.

“I am very proud of my students,” Verbansky said. “And, our team gives a big thank you to the Contra Costa County Office of Education for all of their support and hard work with Academic Decathlon, so that the students can have such a positive experience.”

The East Bay Regional Academic Decathlon is coordinated by the Contra Costa County Office of Education with the assistance of community volunteers. It provides an opportunity for high school students to compete as individuals and teams in a series of 10 academic tests and demonstrations.

The curriculum includes art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science, essay, interview, speech (prepared and impromptu), and a Super Quiz™. About 170 high school students from 10 schools participated in the regional event.

The theme for this year’s Academic Decathlon was World War I. The Super Quiz™ focused on the subject areas the participating students had been studying, such as science, art, economics and literature.

The Academic Decathlon was created by Dr. Robert Peterson, a former Superintendent of Schools in Orange County, who believed that everyone’s learning potential can be maximized through competitive challenges. The contest that has since become recognized as the most prestigious high school academic team competition in the United States, according to a news release. The U.S. Academic Decathlon was founded in 1981.”

Do you think more schools should send teams to the Academic Decathlon?

Posted on Monday, May 19th, 2014
Under: Acalanes school district, Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education, Moraga | 1 Comment »

New statewide Common Core field tests coming in March

Many school districts are still adjusting their instruction to implement new Common Core standards that require more rigor, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. But, starting next month, 3 million students throughout the state will be tested on the new standards in pilot assessments that are being called “tests of the tests.”

No scores will be released for students, schools, district or counties. Instead, the Smarter Balanced test developers will use the results to work out the kinks before they are administered in earnest next year.

To help prepare the community for the radical testing changes ahead, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson outlined plans for the assessments slated to take place in every district from March 18 through June 6, in a recent news release.

“It’s an exciting time for our students and our schools as California prepares to usher in assessments that reflect more of the real world than a bubble test ever could,” Torlakson said in a prepared statement. “From individual classrooms to school district offices and certainly at the state level, the preparations that have gone into this have been immense, and I’m looking forward to incorporating what we learn from this year’s field test into next year’s inaugural assessments.”

Assembly Bill 484, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, ended most of the state’s Standards Tests and other assessments that made up the California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR program, over the last 15 years. The new tests are aligned with the Common Core standards in English-language arts and mathematics, adopted by the California Board of Education in 2010.

Administering the tests on computers will allowing for a broader range of questions than the previous multiple-choice STAR exams. New questions will emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving, reflecting the kind of learning necessary to prepare students for college and 21st Century careers.

The California Department of Education has worked with the Educational Testing Service testing contractor, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and other in the education community to develop school and parent outreach and resources.

These include:

– A Smarter Balanced website with information on the pilot test, including practice tests, at

– A clearinghouse of testing information for local school and district testing and technology coordinators, with forms, instructions, videos, and a schedule of workshops about administering the tests at

– A Smarter Balanced Field Test Questions and Answers website, which is often updated with frequently asked questions and answers touching on issues such as whether a paper-and-pencil version will be available and what technology is required, at

n A technology readiness tool to help schools determine the status of their computers and bandwidth is at asp.

n Assessment workshops for schools and districts are at

n Information about the K–12 High Speed Network created for the test is at

For middle and high school students, two new videos provide information about the test, including the role they will play in helping to prepare for the real deal in the 2014-15 school year. The high school video is at

The middle school video is at

More information about Common Core standards is available by visiting:

Do you think your school and students are ready for the pilot tests?

Posted on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
Under: California, Education | 1 Comment »

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 »

Possible showdown at state Board of Education meeting Thursday over proposed Local Control Funding regulations

The state Board of Education could face a showdown Thursday over proposed regulations for school spending under the new Local Control Funding Formula.

A coalition of civil rights groups including Education Trust-West sent a letter Thursday to Michael Kirst, board president, expressing strong concerns about whether money intended for disadvantaged students will really end up helping them. The advocacy group EdVoice sent a similar letter.

Draft language to be reviewed by trustees would give school districts three ways to satisfy the requirement that they demonstrate increased or improved services for English learners, low-income students and foster youth in proportion to increased funding distributed through supplemental and concentration grants.

1. Districts could spend more money on services for those students in proportion to the increase in supplemental and concentration grant funds over the amount spent the previous year.

2. Districts could provide more, or improve, services for those students in proportion to the increase in grant funding.

3. Districts could promise to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students in proportion to the increase in grant funding.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, said the civil rights coalition supports combining the first two options and eliminating the third.

“We think that’s the most rational way for them to actually comply with the law,” he said. “That would be providing for and spending more on high need students.”

The first option could allow districts to claim they will spend more, without documenting what they would spend it on, he said. If the second option is combined with the first, districts would be forced to outline how they would spend the money on needy students, he said.
Ramanathan called the option to plan to increase achievement “the biggest loophole ever.”

“So basically, you say, ‘OK, we’re just going to plan on increasing achievement in the next few years and we’re just going to use our money whatever way we want,” Ramanathan said. “They have structural costs they want to address. They want to put chunks of money into salary increases and to offset health benefits costs and put money into reserves. But that money is to be used for kids.”

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s radical shift in school funding, districts get three pots of money: base student grants, supplemental grants for English learners, low-income students and foster youth; and concentration grants for districts where more than 55 percent of students fall into those categories. The idea behind the new law was that the supplemental and concentration grants would help districts overcome persistent achievement gaps.

After the law went into effect July 1, an implementation working group began meeting to come up with draft recommendations for spending regulations the board must approve by January. Although Ed Trust-West and some other advocacy groups participated in the group, Ramanathan said their voices were drowned out by representatives of those who work inside school systems, including unions for teachers and administrators.

Many union members are now eyeing the new money for raises. Ramanathan said it’s appropriate to use the base grant money for across-the-board raises, but not the supplemental and concentration grants.

“I think what they’ve done now is essentially a bait and switch,” he said. “When it comes down to it they are listening to the Sacramento interest groups.”

Similarly, the letter from EdVoice said the proposed regulations “fall far short of the governor’s promise and don’t satisfy the protections of all students guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Ramanathan challenged the board to think about the legacy promised to California children.

“If you’re going to have essentially a vast swath of civil rights organizations saying this isn’t fair,” he said, “then what’s the legacy here?”

Here is the coalition’s letter:

Here is the EdVoice letter:

Do you support the three proposed options for demonstrating evidence of increased or improved services for disadvantaged students?

Posted on Friday, November 1st, 2013
Under: California, Education, Local Control Funding Formula | 34 Comments »

Congrats to student journalists from local schools honored with Dean S. Lesher Scholastic Journalism Awards!

Northgate students celebrate their in-depth investigative journalism award.

Northgate students celebrate their in-depth investigative journalism award.

Every year, writers and editors at the Contra Costa Times take time out from their work to scrutinize news stories and photos by local students who have entered the Dean S. Lesher Scholastic Journalism Awards contest.

As always, the entries this year were impressive. But a few stood out from the rest.

Kat Rowlands, Bay Area metro editor for Bay Area News Group, presented 27 awards in 11 categories along with promotion manager Deborah Nordstrom, during a ceremony Wednesday at the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

Cheered on by proud parents and teachers, students accepted their awards, while also soaking up advice from Rowlands about how professional journalists approach their work. Many entries, she said, were judged based on style and quality of writing, accuracy of coverage and the thoroughness of reporting.

Photos were judged based on visual impact, content and composition, and quality of the image. Rowlands expressed a little disappointment that more students didn’t enter the in-depth or investigative reporting category and said she hoped more would attempt such projects next year.

“Honestly, that’s the toughest category for professional newspapers to pull off too,” she said, “because it takes a lot of time and a lot of upfront conceptual work about what the project is going to entail, and then many, many pieces have to fit together because so many different departments are involved in that.”

Here are the winners.

Scholastic Journalist Award for leadership:
Caroline Theirry of Northgate High School and Shalaka Gole of California High

Best Editorial/Opinion Writing:
1 – Cole Souder, Las Lomas High School
2 – Michael Wong, Acalanes High
3 – Sam Fraser, Acalanes High

Best News Writing:
1 — Shalaka Goal, The Californian, California High
2 – Clare Varellas, Blueprint, Acalanes High
3 – Sarah Cole, The Page, Las Lomas

Best Column:
1 – Rachel Kastigar, Acalanes Blueprint
2 – Scott Dresser, Las Lomas Page
3 – Sean Cremin, Northgate Sentinel

Best Lifestyle or Feature Writing:
1 – Cara Doran, The Page, Las Lomas
2 – Adrienne Lee, Blueprint, Acalanes
3 – Joyce Ho, The Californian, California High School

Best Design Presentation:
1 – California High School, The Californian
2 – Hercules Middle High School, Titan Template
3 – Las Lomas High School, The Page

Best Sports Writing:
1 – Luke Finkel, California High
2 – Kelsey LaCour, Northgate Sentinel
3 – Jonathan Hawthorne, Las Lomas

Best Photography:
1 – Brad Wash, Blueprint, Acalanes High
2 – Brendan Foster, Acalanes High
3 – Amir Sagafi, California High, The Californian

Best In-depth or Investigative Reporting:
1 – Northgate High School, Sentinel

Best website:
1- Acalanes Blueprint
2 — California High

Overall Excellence:
1- Las Lomas, The Page
2- California High, The Californian
3- Hercules Middle High School, The Titan Template

When presenting the overall excellence awards, Rowlands asked students to comment on their work. No one from Las Lomas was present.

The California High award winner said she was proud of a story her paper did about a teacher who was treated unfairly by the administration, which included a YouTube video that got more than 1,000 hits and an online story that garnered several reader comments.

Hercules High student Joshua Bueno said some community and faculty members objected to a few of the paper’s stories, but the newspaper didn’t back down.

“Our year was very turbulent to say the least,” he said.

His classmate, Jobel Vecino, agreed.

“I’d say the greatest part about this year,” he said, “was learning how to grow a thick skin and not let anybody’s criticism get to us.”

Video clips from the awards are posted at

Do you think school administrators should censor student newspapers?

Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education | 1 Comment »

Contra Costa County 7th and 8th graders invited to explore college and careers during Friday ‘COOL Nite’

There is still space available for walk-ins at the 4th Annual free “COOL Nite” on Friday aimed at showing seventh-and eighth-graders and their parents in Contra Costa County that College Offers Opportunities for Life.

Here’s more information from a news advisory:

“WHAT: More than 200 Contra Costa County current seventh- and eighth-grade students, as well as their parents/guardians, will be attending a dynamic evening to learn more about their future opportunities in education and career, at the 4th Annual COOL Nite (College Offers Opportunities for Life), this coming Friday evening, at California State University, East Bay, Concord Campus. Presented by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) and the Contra Costa Community College District (CCCCD), this FREE informational program will offer useful workshops on how to be successful in high school, prepare for college, and explore exciting careers.

ACTION: Along with the workshops, there will be an exhibit hall featuring local businesses and college representatives for attendees to meet with and gather information. (See COOL Nite’s program for scheduled events.)

WHEN: Friday, May 4, 6:30-9:00 p.m.

WHERE: California State University, East Bay, Concord Campus, 4700 Ygnacio Road, Concord.

ADDITIONAL INFO: For additional event information, contact Hilary Dito, CCCOE, at (925) 942-3396.”

The exhibit Hall opens at 5:30 p.m. and the program begins at 6:30 p.m. Food will be available for purchase.

Do you think it’s important for students to start thinking about college and careers in middle school?

Posted on Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
Under: Contra Costa Community College District, Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education | No Comments »

Campolindo retains title as county Academic Decathlon champ

Two Academic Decathlon teams from Campolindo High in Moraga again bested their competition during the annual Contra Costa County competition, sponsored by the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

Since the Alameda County Office of Education doesn’t put on a similar event, Contra Costa also hosted two schools from that county in its competition, with Irvington High from Fremont winning.

Both the Campolindo and Irvington teams will advance to the state competition representing Contra Costa and Alameda counties, respectively.

Here’s more information about the competition from a news release I received today:

Campolindo High School Returns as Contra Costa County’s 2012 Academic Decathlon Champion

PLEASANT HILL, Calif., February 9, 2012 – Last night, during an exciting awards reception, it was announced that Campolindo High School (Moraga) Red Team successfully defended its title as the overall team winner of the 2012 Contra Costa County High School Academic Decathlon. Along with Campolindo Red Team’s triumphant return, the school’s Blue Team also repeated its second place standing from last year, as well. This year’s third place team went to Acalanes High School (Lafayette). The Campolindo Red Team will now represent Contra Costa County at the California State Academic Decathlon, to be held in Sacramento, March 15-18. (This year’s National Academic Decathlon will be held in Albuquerque, N.M., April 26 – 28.)

Also noteworthy, of the two Alameda County participating schools, Irvington took first place; the school will represent their county at the California State Academic Decathlon. (Alameda County Office of Education does not produce a county-wide Academic Decathlon.)

Directed by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE), and with the assistance of community volunteers, the county’s Academic Decathlon provides an opportunity for high school students to compete as individuals and teams in a series of ten academic tests and demonstrations. The curriculum includes art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, essay, interview, speech (prepared and impromptu), and the Super Quiz™. More than 155 participating high school students had been studying and preparing for this event with their coaches since September. This year’s Academic Decathlon theme was The Age of Empire, and the Super Quiz™ will focus on the topic of The Age of Imperialism: The Making of a European Global Order. The Super Quiz™ included readings on such topics as mercantile empires, the Atlantic economy, motives for imperialism, the role of technology in the age of imperialism, New Imperialism, tactics of colonial rule, and decolonization and postcolonial immigration.

This year’s participating teams represent the following high schools: Acalanes (Lafayette), Antioch (Anticoch), California (San Ramon), Campolindo (Moraga), Dublin (Dublin), Freedom (Oakley), Irvington (Fremont), Las Lomas (Walnut Creek), Miramonte (Orinda), and Pittsburg (Pittsburg). Acalanes High School has won the past four years. High school teams are made up of nine students, grades 9-12, with a maximum of three students in each of the following divisions: Honors (3.75-4.00 GPA), Scholastic (3.00-3.74 GPA) and Varsity (2.99 GPA and below). High schools that have more than nine students who want to participate in Academic Decathlon, can field more than one team, e.g., Campolindo’s Red and Blue Teams. The teams can also bring guests or alternate participants from their school.

During the awards ceremony, many individual awards were also given out. (All Academic Decathlon statistics will be posted on the CCCOE’s website in the very near future.)

The Academic Decathlon was first created by Dr. Robert Peterson, former Superintendent of Schools in Orange County, California. Firmly believing that everyone’s learning potential can be maximized through competitive challenge, Dr. Peterson set in motion the contest that has since come to be recognized as the most prestigious high school academic team competition in the United States. The program spread rapidly throughout the states due to the success and excitement it engendered. USAD was founded in 1981.”

Do you think this competition is a worthwhile event for the Contra Costa County Office of Education to organize?

Posted on Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County Office of Education | 4 Comments »

The state of education in California, according to governor

Gov. Jerry Brown devoted a substantial amount of his State of the State address on Wednesday to education. He introduced a new funding plan and threw out ideas for overhauling tests and pensions.

Here are his (prepared, excerpted) comments regarding education:

“…Next, I want to say something about our schools. They consume more tax dollars than any other government activity and rightly so as they have a profound effect on our future. Since everyone goes to school, everyone thinks they know something about education and in a sense they do. But that doesn’t stop experts and academics and foundation consultants from offering their ideas — usually labeled reform and regularly changing at ten year intervals — on how to get kids learning more and better. It is salutary and even edifying that so much interest is shown in the next generation. Nevertheless, in a state with six million students, 300,000 teachers, deep economic divisions and a hundred different languages, some humility is called for.

In that spirit, I offer these thoughts. First, responsibility must be clearly delineated between the various levels of power that have a stake in our educational system. What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision-making at the federal or state level. For better or worse, we depend on elected school boards and the principals and the teachers they hire. To me that means, we should set broad goals and have a good accountability system, leaving the real work to those closest to the students. Yes, we should demand continuous improvement in meeting our state standards but we should not impose excessive or detailed mandates.

My budget proposes to replace categorical programs with a new weighted student formula that provides a basic level of funding with additional money for disadvantaged students and those struggling to learn English. This will give more authority to local school districts to fashion the kind of programs they see their students need. It will also create transparency, reduce bureaucracy and simplify complex funding streams.

Given the cutbacks to education in recent years, it is imperative that California devote more tax dollars to this most basic of public services. If we are successful in passing the temporary taxes I have proposed and the economy continues to expand, schools will be in a much stronger position.

No system, however, works without accountability. In California we have detailed state standards and lots of tests. Unfortunately, the resulting data is not provided until after the school year is over. Even today, the ranking of schools based on tests taken in April and May of 2011 is not available. I believe it is time to reduce the number of tests and get the results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months. With timely data, principals and superintendents can better mentor and guide teachers as well as make sound evaluations of their performance. I also believe we need a qualitative system of assessments, such as a site visitation program where each classroom is visited, observed and evaluated. I will work with the State Board of Education to develop this proposal.

The house of education is divided by powerful forces and strong emotions. My role as governor is not to choose sides but to listen, to engage and to lead. I will do that. I embrace both reform and tradition—not complacency. My hunch is that principals and teachers know the most, but I’ll take good ideas from wherever they come.

As for pensions, I have put forth my 12 point proposal. Examine it. Improve it. But please take up the issue and do something real. I am committed to pension reform because I believe there is a real problem. Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn’t add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don’t believe they do today. So we have to take action. And we should do it this year…”

Although Brown released his proposed 2012-13 budget earlier this month, administrators at school districts throughout the state are still trying to find out more details about how it affects them. More than 100 school officials attended a School Services of California conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, which laid out an overview of the state budget, then got into nitty-gritty education funding details.

School Services staff advised districts to set aside $370 per student (or Average Daily Attendance) in case voters don’t approve the proposed taxes. Statewide, cuts would equal roughly three weeks of school, but it’s unclear whether that’s where reductions would be made, since unions (and parents) would likely object to shrinking the school year from 180 to 165 days.

Brown’s proposed “weighted” student funding formula was first dreamed up by Michael Kirst, who is now President of the State Board of Education, according to Robert Miyashiro, School Services vice president. Brown proposes phasing in the program over five years, with 20 percent of 2012-13 funding according to the new model and 80 percent doled out the old way (with revenue limits based on elementary, unified and high school districts — along with lots of restricted “categorical” funding for specific programs, such as class size reduction).

“Right now,” Miyashiro said, “there’s nothing in writing that we can tell you specifically.”

Essentially, he said, the governor wants to take all the money and put it into a big pot, then distribute it according to a formula based on the number of students, with extra weight given to English language learners and poor students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

“Overall, there will be winners and losers if it is implemented in 2012-13,” Miyashiro said. “This is a big problem for your planning. This is a huge problem.”

He predicted the governor might present a trailer bill in February with more details and reminded district officials that the Legislature would have to approve the idea before it would become law.

The budget would provide more money for charter schools, boosting the general purpose block grant amount to about $6,188 per student for grades 9-12, plus $410 from a categorical block grant, for a total of approximately $6,598 per student. The governor aims to level the playing field for charters by providing more borrowing options, mandate reimbursements and more flexibility related to facilities costs.

Although most categorical program funding would be eliminated, money would still be available through QEIA (Quality Education Investment Act) and ASES (after-school programs).

Another major change in the governor’s budget is the elimination of funding for Transitional Kindergarten, which was originally expected to begin in the fall.

The Legislature has changed the date by which traditional kindergarten students must turn 5 — from Dec. 2 to Nov. 1 — under the assumption that those who turned 5 from Nov. 2 to Dec. 2 would enter a new transitional kindergarten.

Under the governor’s proposal, approximately 40,000 students statewide would be denied that option. Instead, the $223.7 million originally planned for Transitional Kindergarten will be used to fund existing programs.

Districts should evaluate staffing to see if they need to notify more teachers of possible layoffs in March, based on this. But, under state law, any school can admit students who will turn 5 anytime during the year on a case-by-case basis.

School districts should also watch their cash flow very carefully, due to deferred funding.

It is wise to retain large “ending fund balances” to plan for possible budget cuts, said John Gray, executive director of School Services. Still, he acknowledged that many unions are eyeing that money and asking for a piece of it.

“If you give away your ending fund balance,” Gray said, “your third year (in multi-year projections) could be very problematic.”

He suggested that union contracts include contingency language, based on different budget scenarios. New laws regarding collective bargaining have extended the right of representation to part-time and substitute employees, but management and confidential employees are still excluded.

And as of Jan. 1, school boards cannot raise contracts for local education executives such as superintendents that exceed the California Consumer Price Index. Also, boards cannot approve these raises at special meetings, said Sheila Vickers, vice president of School Services.

She also cautioned that lawsuits regarding special education, child molestation and student injuries and harassment are on the rise.

In closing, Gray said he is seeing more district administrators, superintendents and boards paying attention to the economy because they realize that what happens in world, national and state economies affects schools.

Do you support the governor’s education proposals?

Posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Under: California, Education | 16 Comments »