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Northgate principal enters Clayton Valley charter debate, Clayton Mayor responds to MDUSD board

As many of you have heard already, Northgate High School Principal John McMorris sent a message to his school community Monday, asking parents to come to tonight’s board meeting and express their concerns about the Clayton Valley High charter petition.

McMorris’ letter quickly made its way to charter supporters. Clayton Mayor David Shuey sent a response to the MDUSD board. Both messages are posted below.



October 10, 2011

Charter School Newsletter

Dear Northgate Community,

I am writing you today with a critical request on an issue that will have a direct negative effect on our students at Northgate High, and for students throughout the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD): The Clayton Valley High School Charter Proposal.

I do not ask for your support to oppose backers of the Clayton proposal, I believe they are top notch, well intentioned educators who want the best for their students. I ask for your support because if their proposal passes our students and student’s district wide will suffer for the following reasons:

* Funding the Charter School will require MDUSD to pull up to $90 per pupil out of each school in the district to pay for the Charter. This is the rough equivalent of 10 sections at Northgate High or two teachers!

* If Clayton Valley becomes a Charter School, the criteria for dismissing teachers is far less cumbersome that in a non-charter school. This means teachers with tenure who do not want to stay at the Charter or whom the Charter School may not want to keep will have priority rights to move to Northgate, I will have no say in this process and we could lose some great young teachers who I have had the good fortune to hire in the past couple of years.

I desperately ask you to contact our board members via e-mail today or tomorrow, or attend the board meeting tomorrow night and let the board know how you feel about this issue; our board must vote this down unless they can show it will not have a negative impact on the students at Northgate High School. As mentioned earlier, I understand the passion of the backers of the Clayton Valley Charter; I also sincerely believe they can accomplish their goals working together with the district. The new principal of CV Sue Brothers is a top notch educator who is already making wholesale changes at Clayton; the charter backers owe it to all our children to give her a chance.

John McMorris Principal Northgate High School”

From: David T. Shuey
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:12 PM
Subject: FW: Letter from the Principal – Charter School Newsletter

Gary and all,

Let me say again, REALLY?

This is how you show ‘We are committed to ensuring that the charter school opens in 2012?’

You say we are creating a battle where there is no need? Again, really?

You either have a rogue principal who is sending out legally wrong and factually incorrect information using district resources (in which case I would like to see immediate public discipline and a retraction to all parties who were sent this email) or this is part of a dedicated campaign by the district against the charter petition. Given that Steve and at least Rose were present at a meeting with principals and others last week prior to his ‘news update,’ could anyone blame us if we feel that maybe there is a campaign of misdirection going on from your offices?

Given that Mr. McMorris has his facts wrong about your ability to consider the financial impact on Northgate, I would suggest that you have him send out a retraction immediately.

Also, since our ‘eyes and ears’ throughout the rest of the district will let us know if other principals go rogue or were told to send out their own newsletters so you could get some heretofore nonexistent opposition to show up tomorrow, I would request that you immediately inform them to not send anything out that is incorrect in the law or facts.

At every turn you (ie district not you individually) send out nice little ‘reasoned’responses to what are obvious disinformation and opposition campaign tactics, but each time you top yourself with new acts of contempt for your constituents in Clayton and Concord. Shame on you. I also wonder what Congressman Miller will think of these tactics? Susan Bonilla? Mark DeSaulnier? the DA?

I am composing a very encompassing public records request and it will cover information that was provided to the principals regarding this misinformation campaign, including emails to and from the district. It will also request all information provided to School Services, including the costs of running CV and the savings if the district does not have to pay for its operation. You should probably start shredding now — wait, that is illlegal isn’t it?


David ‘Shoe’ Shuey
Mayor, City of Clayton”

The school board cannot legally deny the charter based on its financial impact to the district. Also, the charter supporters say the district has not shared with them the financial information to which McMorris refers.

What do you think about the message that went to the Northgate community?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 11 Comments »

Clayton Valley charter committee requests more dialogue with district

At the Mt. Diablo school board meeting Tuesday, trustees unanimously agreed to approve the Clayton Valley High School charter petition, subject to numerous conditions that must be met by February.

Here is a link to video of the staff presentation regarding the conditions by staff attorney Deb Cooksey:

Cooksey was explaining the points in this PowerPoint presentation:

Due to limited storage space on my cell phone and limited battery power, I was unable to videotape the entire meeting.

However, here are a few clips I got:

Beginning of committee presentation:

Explanation of some education programs by CVHS teacher Cate Sundling:

Eighteen people spoke, including 17 in favor of the petition and one against.

Before any board discussion, Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh made a motion to approve the petition with conditions. Trustee Linda Mayo seconded the motion.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen said she would like to amend the motion to postpone the decision so the board could hold a study session with the petitioners to further discuss the conditions. No other trustee agreed with this idea.

Trustee Lynne Dennler said the size of the district contributed to the charter movement, along with poor communication between schools and the district office. She said labor contracts that can inhibit quick, inexpensive actions from taking place at schools. She did not specifically address the conditions.

Trustee Linda Mayo said she appreciated the efforts the charter committee had made. However, she said she would put her faith in the staff attorney, who supported the conditions of approval. She was specifically concerned about the financial plan, which she said needed to be better explained.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh also expressed concerns regarding the proposed budget. She said she had heard from some district parents who urged her to deny the petition.

“I hope the staff will come up with a charter that will meet the conditions and will greatly alleviate the fears of the board and the fears of other parents in the district,” she said.

Board President Gary Eberhart said there was an “amazing energy around trying to make change at Clayton Valley High.” He praised the parent and community involvement in the effort.

“The schools that are truly successful are the schools that have a high degree of parental involvement — there’s no question about that,” he said. “So, that is a huge benefit.”

He said trustees were placing some faith in the charter organizers, but that the plan lacked specificity.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “If a school district said: ‘We are going to do something completely different at a high school — without specificity — it would be rejected by the community and rejected by the staff. We have the responsibility that when we say, ‘yes,’ that we say yes to something we believe is going to reasonably succeed. We are very inspired by the amount of advocacy that we see.”

He said, however, that the plan should be able to stand on its own, without depending on the committee members’ reputations.

“I’m enthusiastic about this,” he said, adding that he thought it would be successful, after more specificity was added to the plans.

“I hope we are not clouding each others’ vision so it will make it difficult to work together,” he said. “I think working together is going to be beneficial. This could be an amazing opportunity for this district. It could be an amazing opportunity for this to continue. And asking that we get a little further down the road on this process is not unreasonable.”

Charter attorney Paul Minney asked to address the board. At first, Eberhart appeared reluctant to let him speak, since public comment had ended. But Hansen said she thought more dialogue between the board and the petitioners would be beneficial.

Eberhart gave Minney two minutes to speak.

“Honestly,” Minney said, “in 18 years, this is the first time I was told the district was going to accept conditions that the committee has said they cannot accept. The petitioners may consider it a denial.”

He asked the board to consider modifying the conditions and returning to vote on them Sept. 27.

“There’s only a few in here that give us heartburn, some of which can be resolved,” he said. “The way it’s being constructed right now is we would essentially be delayed to February to find out if we’re going to be approved.”

The board then vote on the motion and unanimously approved the charter, subject to the conditions outlined in this resolution:

Today, I spoke to Clayton Mayor David Shuey and CVHS teacher Neil McChesney, who said the charter committee plans to ask the district to reconsider the idea of modifying the conditions. They sent me the following statement from the committee:

“We were extremely disappointed in a meeting that appeared to have a pre-ordained outcome from the outset. Despite overwhelming community, teacher and staff support, as well as a charter petition that is based on tried, tested and true successful charter high schools in the State, the School Board effectively denied the petition by stating it was approving with conditions. The concern is that the conditions are subjective, unrealistic, and in some places illegal. The group feels that the decision is a de-facto denial of the petition since they cannot legally impose the conditions they did without the charter’s approval, which was not given. The charter is working on a more comprehensive and detailed response to the Board’s denial of the petition and will provide this to the District and public in the interests of full disclosure. In short, we will urge the District Board to support a more succinct list of objective conditions upon which the charter school and the district can agree.”

I also received this statement from the California Charter Schools Association:

“The California Charter Schools Association fully supports the charter as put forward by the Clayton Valley Charter High School petitioners. We have been working with the teacher-led team throughout this process, including reviewing their petition, which we have found to be fully comprehensive. Unfortunately, the district has unilaterally imposed conditions on its approval that call for a level of detail far beyond what is required by law or necessary.

We have seen many districts use these sorts of tactics to arbitrarily delay quality petitions in recent years. Given the clear support for this petition from the teachers, parents and community, we urge the school board to work with the petitioners to approve a set of mutually agreed upon conditions that are consistent with charter law.”

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school board should reconsider the conditions of approval?

Posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education | 57 Comments »

Clayton Valley HS charter committee responds to district’s concerns

Clayton Valley High School organizers have prepared a lengthy response to concerns outlined in the Mt. Diablo school district’s evaluation of its petition.

The district’s concerns are at

Here is the petitioner’s response:

I will post a story about the outcome after the meeting.

Do you think the board should approve the charter, approve it with conditions, or deny it?

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 24 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district answers questions about proposed CVHS charter school

At Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart’s request, the superintendent has posted a list of Questions and Answers regarding the proposed Clayton Valley HS charter conversion on its website. I am posting it below, in case blog readers would like to comment on it.

“Clayton Valley Charter Update
Charter Petition Process

1. What should I do if I signed the petition saying I am “meaningfully interested in teaching at the charter” but have changed my mind?

A. If you are no longer are interested in teaching at the charter, please e-mail or call Julie Braun Martin in the Personnel Department at or 682-8000 ext. 4136 by September 5, 2011. The district is required to verify that at least 50 percent of the current permanent teachers are meaningfully interested in teaching at the charter, or the petition cannot be considered for review. Regulations exclude probationary teachers from the decision.

2. I was surprised that so many teachers were willing to sign the document. Did they have a chance to thoroughly review the charter petition before they signed it, and did they understand the implications to their employment rights?

A. We do not know whether teachers read the petition before signing, or whether the changes to their employment rights were fully explained to them.

3. When will the public know whether the teachers who signed the petition saying they were ‘meaningfully interested in teaching at the charter’ really plan to teach there? I’m worried that some of the teachers at my school will lose their jobs because of this.

A. If the charter is approved, the district staff will recommend to the board that teachers be required to resign from the district if they work at the charter school. If the charter is approved, we will request that teachers who plan to work there voluntarily submit a resignation to the District by February 1, 2012, effective June 30, 2012. The February time frame allows the charter school to have ample time to recruit teachers. The Feb., 2012 deadline also allows the District time to absorb senior tenured teachers from Clayton Valley High School who will bump into other schools, displacing more junior teachers. Once an employee submits a resignation and the board votes on it, the resignation is irrevocable.

Charter School Board

4. Who will be on the board of the charter, what experience do they have in running a school and do they have a background or significant experience with school finance?

A. The charter petition does not identify the members of its board. We understand that the charter proposers are in the process of identifying Board members. The petition indicates that the board will be composed of 2 teachers, 2 parents, 1 classified staff member, 2 members at-large, 1 retired teacher and 1 administrator. At-large members cannot be current employees of the charter.


5. If a current CVHS teacher chooses to work for the charter, do they retain district seniority and tenure?

A. No. Teachers at charter schools are at-will employees of the charter school and are not District employees. If the charter is approved, the district staff will recommend to the board that teachers who choose to work at the charter be required to resign from the District. Those teachers will lose their District tenure and seniority rights. The charter could grant seniority status and tenure, but those rights would only apply at the charter, and teachers would not have rights to employment in MDUSD.

6. Can teachers who want to work at the charter school take a leave from the District for one year or for any period of time?

A. The district, in its sole discretion, can permit or refuse to allow employees to take a leave to work at a charter school. Staff recommends against this. It is too difficult to plan, and unfair to the district teachers who remain, to hold positions within the district for teachers on leave who chose to work elsewhere. Teachers should be required to resign from the district to teach at the charter school and if they decide to reapply to the district, then they will need to go through the hiring process.

7. What happens at a charter school if a teacher needs an extended leave of absence because of a medical condition? Does the charter school have to pay the teacher who is out plus the sub? Where does that money come from?

A. The charter school board would decide whether to grant leaves of absence and whether or not those leaves are paid. It is unclear how substitute costs related to paid leaves would be funded as the current budget information received from the petitioners does not include a line for substitute teacher expense.

8. Will teachers at the charter have the right to transfer back into the District?

A. No. The district, in its sole discretion, can permit or refuse to allow employees to transfer back to the district from the charter for a limited period of time. Again, if the charter is approved, the staff will recommend against allowing such transfers. In considering transfers, the district must consider the equity of allowing teachers who leave to work elsewhere to return and thereby displace other district employees. If we were to permit transfers back, it would be unfair to our employees at other schools who could lose their jobs to make room for transfers from the charter.

9. Do the Ed Code rules for teacher termination apply to teachers at the charter school?

A. No. While the district must strictly adhere to the due process dismissal rules as set forth in the Education Code, charter schools do not have to abide by those rules. Charter school teachers are at-will employees who can be terminated at any time without cause unless the charter board decides to give them protection from at-will dismissal.

10. Will the teachers and classified staff at the charter be covered by the district’s current bargaining agreements?

A. The charter petition says employees of the charter will be covered by the collective bargaining agreements in place at the time of conversion until it negotiates different agreements. However, those agreements would be between the employees and the charter, not the District. The charter board would need to adopt the contracts as written for this to occur. The charter board could modify any district agreements, or they could write new ones from scratch. Again, contract negotiations would be between the charter school and the charter employees union.

11. The charter school plans to open in September 2012 and district teachers are not required to give notice until June 2012 of their intention to return to the District. How will the District plan to absorb those teachers who decide not to work at the charter school?

A. If the charter is approved, the District will ask CVHS teachers who plan to work at the charter to submit a resignation form by Feb. 1, 2012 to be effective at the end of the 2011/12 school year. If the district is unsuccessful in getting resignation forms, it will have to do precautionary layoffs by March 15, 2012 in order to reduce or eliminate the number of FTE equal to the number of teachers who are eligible to teach at the charter. This will impact staffing at most, if not all, secondary schools.


12. The charter school will be funded at a higher rate than CVHS currently is funded. Will the district cover the shortfall by taking funding away from other schools?

A. Yes. The charter will be funded at the charter high school rate, which is higher than the unified funding rate the district currently receives. The board will have to determine how to cover the shortfall. The difference is about $800 per student at the charter school. There are currently about 1900 students at the school, so the district would lose about $1.52 million dollars each year the charter was in operation.

13. Would CVCHS be willing to forgo the high school funding rate and to be funded at the lower unified rate so as not to create a financial drain on the remaining schools in the district?

A. The budget projections that the charter submitted were based on the higher funding rate. They can negotiate a lower rate with the district, but at this point, they have not indicated they are interested in a lower funding rate to minimize impact to the rest of the district.

14. Is the proposed budget realistic? Can the charter proposers do what they say they want to do with the amount of revenue they project?

A. The charter proposal includes little detail about programs and costs. The ExEd firm that developed the budget for the proposers, and who the petition says will be their business services provider, said in a meeting that they used typical charter budget figures which assume most teachers will be lower on the salary scale. If the charter hires mostly teachers on the low end of the salary schedule, those predictions could be realistic. If they hire experienced teachers, costs would rise significantly. The charter proposers have also indicated that they do not plan to use union custodial or landscape maintenance services, but instead will contract out those services. Charter schools are not required to use the district’s services, and can achieve cost savings by hiring low wage employees.

15. I notice also that the budget that is proposed contemplates a $2 Million loan, presumably for startup expenses. If the sponsors cannot meet projected enrollment or revenues do not match predictions, and the school is forced to discontinue operations, who then pays back the loan? Does this obligation fall back on the District? Have the sponsors said anything about where they will get this loan?

A. The charter will be an independent corporation. The district will not be liable for debts of the charter as long as the district meets its obligation of fiscal oversight. If the charter is approved, the District will follow the oversight obligations to minimize its legal exposure for debts and other obligations of the charter. However, the district will have to adjust its budget, if necessary, for any costs associated with reabsorbing the students back into the District, including the expense of hiring staff and teachers if the charter school is unsuccessful. The charter application does not specify the source of the charter will acquire the $2 million loan.

16. What is the district’s response to comments by the sponsors that the district’s assessment of the financial impact of the conversion is overblown, because it does not take into account the savings that would be realized from expenses relating to the operation of the high school that would be taken off the district’s books?

A. The district will not realize significant savings if it no longer operates Clayton Valley High School. This fact is due to all of the budget reductions that have been made to district office staff prior to now. In fact, we are not aware of a single district level position that could be reduced as a result of Clayton Valley High opening as a charter school.

Instructional Program

17. How long will the charter school day and year be?

A. The information in the charter petition is vague. Bell schedules and calendars were not included, but there is a statement that the school year could be longer.

18. Would my child have to attend school in the summer at the charter school? We usually take a long vacation in the summer, and the petition says the summer induction is mandatory. How long is the induction, when is it, and what happens if we are on vacation during that time?

A. There are no specifics about the mandatory summer induction in the proposal.

19. Will the charter require all students to wear uniforms?

A. There is mention of uniforms in the charter petition, but no clear information.

20. What are the courses of study being offered at the charter school?

A. The petition says ‘a full catalog of courses’ but there are no other details included.

21. What kind of grading system will be used at the charter?

A. There is no description of a grading system.

22. What will be the graduation requirement at the charter?

A. The petition indicates the ‘goal’ is 230 credits, but does not contain a clear timeline to achieve this goal.

23. When will the curriculum plan for the charter school be developed?

A. The petition did not provide a timeline.

24. When will the charter assessment plan be developed?

A. The petition did not provide timeline for developing the assessment plan.

25. How will teaching effectiveness and student learning be monitored to ensure that instruction is rigorous and students are engaged and learning at the charter?

A. The petition did not provide a description or details on how it will ensure rigorous instruction and engagement.

26. What specific strategies will be used to address the diverse learning needs of students at all ability and achievement levels, as well as of all racial, socio-economic, and linguistic backgrounds?

A. The petition does not provide a description or details about this.

27. How will instruction be individualized for students who are more advanced or behind their grade level peers? What will be the curriculum or teaching methodology for these students?

A. No details are provided in the petition.

28. What is the school calendar and how is the school day scheduled?

A. Several options were discussed in the petition but no definite selection was made.

29. Will there be a summer program for students wanting enrichment or remediation? What about students who need to make up credits?

A. A summer program is referenced in the petition for year 2 but there are no details about which students will be eligible or allowed to attend, or what the budget for this program would be.

30. How much English Language development will students who are English learners get? How will this instruction be provided? How will English learners be supported in core instruction?

A. The petition does not contain details relative to how much ELD English learners will receive, how that instruction will be provided or how English learners will be supported in the core instruction.

Special Education

31. Historically, charter schools have not served large numbers of students with special needs. How will the charter school ensure it has personnel and resources in place to assess and support students with special needs so they have access to the charter experience?

A. The charter school must enroll all students whether or not they are in special education. The district would initially need to ensure that the charter school has an appropriate plan for special education students.


32. What is the suspension and expulsion appeal processes? (a) Where will students be placed pending their expulsion hearing? (b) Where will students be placed if they are in fact expelled from the school?

A. There is no appeal process if students are suspended or expelled from the charter school. The petition does not address where the students will be placed pending expulsion hearings or when they are expelled from the charter school. However, if students are expelled from the charter school, parents will most likely seek to enroll their students back in a district school.

Student Services

33. Will students have the services of a school nurse? (a) What will be the role of the school nurse? (b) What will the services be for those students who have medical issues that prevent them from attending school?

A. The charter intends to be a ‘school of the District’ for special education purposes. Therefore, students whose IEPs require nursing services will have those services provided by the District. The charter school organizers have not indicated whether general education students, including those with Section 504 plans that require nursing services, will be provided with them.


33. If all CVHS students don’t attend the charter, will the district be operating CVHS at the same site?

A. For purposes of determining whether to grant the petition, the law requires that the district assume that all or the vast majority of current CVHS students will attend the charter and therefore, that the charter will use the entire facility.

35. I notice the budget does not have any line item for reimbursing the district for the use of the campus through rent or any other mechanism. Is this what is required by the Education Code when there is a direct conversion? It seems any other operator would need to pay for a facility.

A: There are California statutes that address the facility charges that a school district charges a charter school for the use of a district school. Beginning with its first year of operation as an independent conversion charter, the charter will have to pay a charge for the use of the district facility. The applicable rate is determined in statute.”

This message doesn’t state who submitted the questions. Some of them could have been answered by reading the petition, which is available at

It’s surprising that the district didn’t specifically answer the question about whether the district would save money by not having to operate the charter. Instead, it said the savings would not be “significant.” It also stated that no district office positions could be eliminated as a result of the conversion.

As I have previously pointed out, the School Closure Committee was given estimates for how much the district would save if it discontinued operating each campus in the district. The amount for Clayton Valley HS was listed as nearly $1.7 million — including several site administrators, office workers, campus supervisors and custodians — as well as utility savings. No district office staff were eliminated as a result of closing Glenbrook or Holbrook either, yet the district still saved money by discontinuing operations of those campuses.

The Q&A also doesn’t specify how much money the district would receive from Clayton Valley in rental income. These revenues would partially offset the loss of ADA revenues.

Also, the district knows how much each teacher at CVHS earns. It could provide the public with information about whether those who signed the petition are at the high or low pay range.

Finally, the Q&A doesn’t reveal whether district staff plans to recommend that trustees approve or deny the charter.

Although I normally pose only one question at the end of blog posts, this Q&A raises a few I would like to throw out:

1. In light of this new information, do you believe trustees should approve the charter?

2. If trustees approve the charter, do you believe they should require charter teachers to resign from the district? (Or, do you think they should allow a one-year leave of absence?)

3. Do you think the district should tell the public how much it spends to operate CVHS and how much it could charge in rent, so the public would know both the costs as well as the possible revenue loss associated with the possible conversion? (In essence, should the district reveal how much it would save or lose, when the cost of operations and possible revenues from rent are taken into consideration?)

Posted on Saturday, August 27th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education | 31 Comments »

Clayton Valley HS Charter Board members wanted

Alison Bacigalupo, a member of the Clayton Valley HS Charter steering committee, sent me the following information about the election process for the charter school board:

“The Clayton Valley Charter High School (CVCHS) Governing Board electoral process has officially begun. We are currently looking for candidates to fill our nine open board positions:

(2) Teachers

(1) Classified

(2) Parents

(2) Community members at large

(1) Retired teacher

(1) Administrative

To submit an application or resume for candidacy or to find out more information about board member qualifications, terms, powers, and/or the general election procedures please visit the CVCHS website at:

The application deadline for candidacy submission is Thursday, August 25th, 2011. The election will take place in the Clayton Valley High School Multi-use Room on Thursday, September 1st, 2011.”

The Mt. Diablo school board expects to vote on the charter petition Sept. 13.

Do you agree with the charter committee’s decision to elect a governing board before the charter is approved?

Posted on Sunday, August 14th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 24 Comments »

Clayton Valley HS charter public hearing brings throngs of supporters

CVHS sophomore Sara Kommer and her mother Megan Kommer were among dozens of Clayton Valley charter petition supporters at an MDUSD public hearing Tuesday.

All five Clayton Valley City Council members spoke in favor of a teacher-led petition to convert Clayton Valley High School in Concord to a charter school during a packed Mt. Diablo school board hearing Tuesday.

Most of the roughly two dozen other speakers at the meeting also threw their enthusiastic support behind the proposal, which trustees expect to approve or deny on Sept. 13. If it is denied, petitioners plan to appeal to the Contra Costa County Board of Education and the state, if necessary.

“Our physical building and grounds are deteriorating to the point of embarrassment,” said Clayton Vice Mayor Howard Geller. “We, of the City Council, feel strongly that a charter school run by qualified teachers and members of our community would not only bring back the quality of teaching we once had, but also make our community one that people will want to live in — to attend what we are confident will become the jewel of high schools in education for our area and the Mt. Diablo school district.”

The only people who spoke against the petition were the principals of Northgate High in Walnut Creek and Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, which are also in the district. The crowd — decked out in blue T-shirts endorsing the charter — booed Northgate Principal John McMorris, after he said Clayton Valley could accomplish its goals within the district. Ygnacio Valley High Principal Bill Morones referred to a U.S. Department of Education study that showed charter schools on average don’t perform better than other schools.

But many charter supporters disagreed with McMorris and Morones, saying they want to break free of the district so they can reinvigorate the school. Rep. George Miller, D-Concord, who didn’t attend the meeting, is also in favor of the plan.

Here is an excerpt of a supportive letter Miller sent to the district:

“I believe that the proposal by the Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee presents an important opportunity for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to explore alternative educational forums and opportunities in your very diverse and dynamic district.

During my time in the Congress serving on the Education and Workforce Committee, including serving as Chair of the Committee, I have had the opportunity to witness the growth and evolution of the public charter school movement in California and across our nation.

The record of charters to date is mixed but there are many well thought out programs that are providing both learning and teaching environments with significant improvements in both school and student performance. Many of these charters also fulfill the original mission of public charters, which is to give school districts the opportunity to try different models for teaching and learning under more flexible rules and regulations and to serve as laboratories for experimentation for their districts. When done right, important feedback can be shared with districts on such topics as classroom teaching and preparation, time management, professional development, collaborative student learning, use of technology and other common academic interests.

I believe that the Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee proposal has the real potential to be one of the success stories of the public charter school efforts in California. I personally met with the lead petitioners and we discussed their comprehensive research, their innovative ideas, and their plan of action. They displayed enthusiasm and commitment to the limitless potential of this movement that was inspiring. This energy, coupled with important partnerships with some of the best charter support groups in the business (California Charter Schools Association, ExED accounting firm and the law offices of Middleton, Young and Minney), should undoubtedly lead them down the right path.”

Parent Faculty Club President Alison Bacigalupo said charter organizers would post information about the election process for charter board and committee members soon on their website at The Powerpoint presented by teachers Pat Middendof and Neil McChesney is at

District staff did not make a recommendation and trustees didn’t speak for or against it. Board President Gary Eberhart asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence to post Questions and Answers about the petition on the district’s website at

After the meeting, California Charter Schools Association Vice President Nick Driver sent me a 2009 EdSource study of charter schools in the state, which shows that charter high schools in California outperformed noncharters by 8.6 points on the API and middle schools outperformed noncharters by 26 points, while elementary school charters collectively underperformed.

“Overall,” Driver said in an e-mail, “if you were to take all three levels in the aggregate, charter schools in California outperform, since high schools account for 40 percent of all charter schools.”

Do you support the charter petition?

Posted on Friday, August 12th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 53 Comments »

CBCA backs Clayton Valley HS charter petition

Members of the Clayton Valley HS "800 club" celebrate the school's participation in the Clayton "Do the Right Thing" campaign

Members of the Clayton Valley HS "800 club" celebrate the school's participation in the Clayton "Do the Right Thing" campaign

Both the city of Clayton and Clayton Valley High School have embraced the theme “Do the Right Thing” as part of a character-building campaign.

Last month, the Clayton Business and Community Association (CBCA) overwhelmingly decided to support an effort to convert the school to a charter, which had already been unanimously endorsed by the Clayton City Council.

The association voted to allocate $8,500 to the effort, reimbursing the city for an unsecured loan, which council members approved in a 3-2 vote to help pay for upfront legal costs to draft the petition.

Mayor David Shuey told me in an e-mail today that the city had only spent $2,500 on the initial retainer before the CBCA voted and approved its contribution. So, the CBCA funding will reimburse the city’s payment, then the city will forward the rest to the Clayton Valley HS charter fund, he said.

“So we ‘did the right thing’ and took bold decisive action when necessary and it all works out in the end like we anticipated,” Shuey wrote. “As you know, I and the city took some heat for doing the unsecured loan so this is nice vindication.”

CBCA President Ed Hartley said in a phone interview that only three members voted against the expenditure, compared to more than 40 who were in favor of it.

Hartley said he and others voted for it, in part, because they feel it is worth a try to improve the school.

“I think that given the state of the school — how the teachers and students feel about it and how the parents feel about it — that there’s nothing to lose by trying this,” he said. “If it works, it could work well.”

If it doesn’t work, the school would revert back to the Mt. Diablo school district.

“So that it can turn it out good,” he said, “in enough members’ minds, it was a wise use of our money.”

Charter supporters will hold an informational meeting about the petition at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Clayton Library at 6125 Clayton Road in Clayton. Shuey invites those who can’t make it to e-mail questions to him at

The school board expects to hold a public hearing regarding the petition from 5:45-7 p.m. Aug. 9 at Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord. Trustees plan to approve or deny the petition at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the district office in Concord.

More information is at

CVHS teacher Pat Middendorf said organizers are holding the meeting because some people in the community still don’t understand how the charter would operate.

“There’s still some confusion,” Middendorf said in a phone interview.

Some people, she said, believe the school might not be accredited or might refuse to serve special education students, she said. Those are both false rumors.

“So,” she said, “we thought, ‘Gee, if that (kind of rumor) is still out there, maybe we’d better go (back to the community) one more time.'”

Do you think the CBCA did the “right thing” by contributing $8,500 to the charter effort?

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 6 Comments »

CVHS charter conversion to move forward

I just spoke to Clayton Valley HS teacher Pat Middendorf, who told me that more than 40 teachers have signed the charter conversion petition.

“We’re going to make sure that we have way more than we really need,” she said.

Organizers estimated they needed 37 signatures to achieve the 50 percent plus one of permanent teachers required to forward the petition to the district for approval. However, Middendorf said district officials could nullify some signatures, if they question whether some staff members are “permanent teachers.”

Organizing committee members have decided not to release the document to the public until they give it to the district, Middendorf said. Committee members are still discussing whether to present it to the board or to the superintendent, she said.

The next board meeting is June 14.

Middendorf also told me the committee doesn’t plan to issue a statement in response to the district’s most recent memo regarding the possible financial impact of a charter on the district, since district officials haven’t communicated directly with committee members. The committee stands by its assertion that overall, the charter would not financially hurt the district because many expenses associated with running the school would be transferred to the charter campus, she said.

Are you surprised that a majority of CVHS teachers appear to support the conversion?

Posted on Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 77 Comments »

Clayton Valley HS athletic director comments on robberies

After the Times wrote about three Clayton Valley High football players arrested on suspicion of robbing teens of ipods and cell phones in Clayton, several readers commented on the story, asking why the school’s athletic director, Pat Middendorf, declined to comment.
Middendorf posted the following response this afternoon. I am reposting it here, so more people will be aware of it.

Pat Middendorf: My Response:

“I am not sure whether it is appropriate for me to use this forum to comment on the robberies by 3 CVHS students or on the numerous blog comments about the Clayton Valley High School Community as a result of this. I would not normally respond to anonymous accusations but it does appear that some people really do want to know what CV is doing about this or if we are to blame for this happening.

Unfortunately it is summer and both the head FB coach and principal are on vacation so I will try to respond from my viewpoint. When the CCtimes reporter called me I had just found out about the robberies and I told him I knew nothing about it, nor  who  the students involved were, or what the schools stance on it was.  He said that he would take that as a no comment.  Later when I found out what was going on I did speak with a Clayton newspaper reporter. No one else has contacted me about this other than the 3 people who sent me an email encouraging CV to make sure that these players did not play on the team in the fall. 

After contacting Coach Garaventa, the person in charge of passing league and summer weight training I gained a true understanding of what happened and how devastating this was to our team. The 3 players involved were on the JV football team last year.  I think that everyone needs to know that Coach Pardi, Coach Garaventa and many of the other FB coaches teach more than just football at CV ; they are committed to teaching these  athletes life skills and have mentored all of our athletes on becoming better students and citizens. Everyone likes to win but these coaches are stakeholders in our community and in our athletic program.  I hold them to the highest standards and they in turn expect the best from the players.  It is heartbreaking for any coach or teacher when even one of your students fails and then you feel, or someone else feels, that you have failed too. The toughest lesson that we as teachers and coaches have to learn is that you can’t save everyone. Even when you learn it – it doesn’t make you feel much better.  It was a truly disturbing crime these students committed against members of their own community.  They will have to suffer the consequences for that crime and hopefully they will learn a lifetime lesson from this while they are still young.  The boys are not participating in any more summer workouts. If they return to CV in the fall the CV adminiatraion will be in charge of deciding on what is done at that point.

On that note I will clarify for those that want to know – Members of the girl’s soccer team did steal sweatshirts from another school last December.  The punishment at CV for stealing is a 2 day suspension from school.  They served their two day suspension and in addition because they were representing their school at this event they were suspended for the next 2 games, they wrote  apology letters to the school, returned the sweatshirts and played full price for them and completed a community service project I assigned. They were also removed from any leadership class or position they held. There were also 2 girls who were caught drinking at a school dance last school year. The punishment for this is a 5 day suspension from school and a 45 day suspension from all school events.  They both received that punishment and were not allowed to play for their school team for the 45 days.   Was that severe enough?  Too severe?   These are rules that all district schools follow but if you are interested in seeing them changed please contact the superintendent or school board.  These are the only incidences that were mentioned on the blogs that I know about.

I regret that this incidence has shed negative light on the city of Clayton, Clayton Valley High School, the CVHS Football program, and the CVHS Administration. We are not perfect and we make mistakes and sometimes we lose kids, but we are very proud of the accomplishments of our school and our sports program.  Last year 50 of our 54 teams made NCS Scholar team and the majority of Altair winners and scholarship awards go to athletes each year.  For those athletes that struggle in the classroom we offer 2 hour tutoring sessions 2 days a week taught by our CVHS teachers and football coaches. Many athletes are required by their coaches or me to go to these sessions in lieu of practice. Our athletes can be seen all year long serving their community at the Art & Wine Festival, the Clayton Golf tournament, October Fest, the UMDAF 5K, campus clean-up, just to name a few. We have 800 athletes at CV.  Over 150 play 2 sports and over 50 play 3. Hundreds go on to play college sports.  I could go on but I think my point is made.  We do have a big responsibility to many athletes and students who in turn make many  positive contributions to their school and community.  

After reading some of the negative comments I am certain we could do better and will try to do better,  if you think you can help or have positive suggestions please email me. This forum does not allow email addresses to be posted but you can find my address on the CVHS website.  I will not be answering anonymous blogs but can always use good positive advice and help.

If you really knew me you would know that I am one of CVHS’ biggest fans.  I try hard to make CVHS a better place for every student.   I have enjoyed getting to know all of the biggest fans of the other high schools through my work on the sports foundation this year.  I am proud of what we have all accomplished in keeping sports in our community.   If you want to help in that endeavor I encourage you to step up.  It will be a daunting task in the next few years to come.  I think this foundation of all six high schools has proved that it is better to pull together to make this a better place for our children than to work against each other. Please visit our website for more information.  Thanks for reading this.
Pat Middendorf”

I just spoke to Pat on the phone and she asked me to post her e-mail address here. She invites comments at

She also encourages those who are interested in supporting sports in the Mt. Diablo school district to visit the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation’s website at The group’s funding plan for 2010-11 is on the website. Middendof said she has already received supportive e-mails and offers from people wishing to volunteer for the nonprofit organization.

 Do you agree with the district’s discipline policies?

Posted on Saturday, July 17th, 2010
Under: Clayton, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Theresa Harrington | 2 Comments »

More Mt. Diablo principal interviews are underway

By Theresa Harrington
Two Mt. Diablo district administrators met with parents at Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill yesterday to find out what kind of principal would suit the campus.
About 11 parents showed up, after teachers met with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Parents said they want a principal who will continue the excellence at the school and support the teachers and staff the way former Principal Hellena Postrk did. Postrk has been promoted to a position in the district office, where she will coach other principals about how to improve their schools, Lock said.
One parent said she wasn’t aware Postrk had been promoted until she received a district message informing her about the parent meeting.
Braun-Martin explained that the district developed a spring eligibility pool of candidates for high school and middle school openings. The board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High June 15, replacing Carolyn Plath, who retired.
The district first paper screens candidates and then forwards those they’re interested in to first round interviews, Braun-Martin said. These interviews include a parent representative, classified staff rep and teacher rep.
For Sequoia, parent club president Nancy Morgan is the rep who sat in on interviews Monday. Morgan said she is not allowed to discuss the interviews.
After the first round, some candidates are fowarded to a second round interview with Superintendent Steven Lawrence and other district office administrators, including Lock and Braun-Martin. Lawrence will be given the list of qualities Sequoia parents are looking for, Braun-Martin said.
If he believes he has a good match, he will forward a recommendation to the board in July. If not, the district could pursue another round of applicants and might seek an interim principal, who would most likely be a recently retired principal, Braun-Martin said.
Lock cautioned that the district is not looking for an exact replica of Sequoia’s most recent principals, including Postrk, Vivian Boyd and Jim Durflinger. Instead, the district will try to find someone who meets the “hopes and dreams” of parents and staff, she said.
One parent said she’d like a candidate who’s familiar with the district and community, as well as the special “Academics Plus” status of the magnet school, which attracts students from throughout the district. Another parent said she wants a principal who will advocate for Sequoia within the district, is transparent and able to make tough decisions.
The parent of an incoming seventh-grader said she’d like the new principal to be visible on campus and to maintain student safety as a high priority.
Morgan said she wants a principal with an “open door” policy, who is approachable and communicates well with students, parents, staff and the community. She also noted that the school is expected to accept more than 900 students in the fall, including some who request transfers from the district’s lowest-achieving schools (Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord), under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Lock said both she and Braun-Martin have been in the district more than 20 years and that they understand Sequoia and will communicate its unique qualities to Lawrence and principal candidates.
Lock said she started her career in the district as vice principal of Sequoia Middle School. Braun-Martin said she was formerly principal of Monte Gardens Elementary, which feeds into Sequoia.
Braun-Martin assured parents that the district conducts background checks on all applicants who are seriously considered. She said the district invited internal candidates to apply for the openings at Glenbrook and Sequoia after the Glenbrook principal left and Postrk was promoted.
“We’re looking for the best person,” Lock said.
Principals must have an administrative credential, as well as administrative experience, Braun-Martin said. She does not give out information about the size of the candidate pool, she added.
If candidates are interested in both the Glenbrook and Sequoia openings, the interviews could be combined, she said.
The district is also conducting elementary principal interviews for openings at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, and Monte Gardens and Silverwood elementary schools in Concord. The board may hold a special meeting next week, if Lawrence decides to recommend one of the candidates recently interviewed.
Lock said Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees will stay at that school after all, because the state clarified its reform requirements, saying principals could remain if they have been at underperforming schools three years or less, instead of two years.
All administrators in the district were given their tentative fall assignments June 30, Lock said. Both Sequoia’s vice principal and student services coordinator are tentatively scheduled to return to the school, she said.
Lock told me after the meeting that she often conducts reference checks, but isn’t involved in background checks. She said the district always calls the candidate’s most recent supervisor during reference checks.
Lock confirmed that written applications ask candidates if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and ask them to explain, if they have.
“Usually, when they indicate, ‘yes,’, we research that and investigate that,” Lock said.
She said she didn’t know if Christopher Nugent, who was unanimously appointed by the school board as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton last month, revealed his DUI conviction on his application. Nugent later withdrew his name from consideration, after reports surfaced about his DUI arrest, charges of resisting arrest, and his previous resignation from a Tennessee school district after he inadvertently posted student Social Security numbers online.
Nugent wasn’t convicted of resisting arrest and wasn’t prosecuted for the online student security breach.
Lock said she didn’t think Lawrence knew Nugent, since Nugent was from Elk Grove, which is outside Contra Costa County and quite distant from Lawrence’s previous district in West Sacramento.
“It’s not something you usually hide,” she said. “I’ve known several of the candidates.”
Lawrence wouldn’t need to recuse himself from the selection if he knew a candidate, she said.
“Actually,” Lock said, “if you know someone, that gives you more information about a person…that’s first-hand information that I may know and I use that.”
Braun-Martin said she couldn’t discuss Nugent’s application. She said candidates are fingerprinted after they are approved to be hired, but that additional paperwork must be completed before the hire is completed.
Nugent chose to withdraw his name after the board appointed him, she said.
A DUI wouldn’t necessarily exclude a candidate from being appointed as a district administrator, Braun-Martin said. Instead, a DUI would be something that would be investigated further, she said, through interviews, vetting and reference checks, to make an informed decision about the candidate.
In response to questions from parents about the status of pink-slipped teachers, Braun-Martin said the district has begun calling them back.
Today, Jessica Beerbaum informed me she has been hired to teach fifth-grade at Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord, after being laid-off from her job at Silverwood Elementary in June. She was number 24 on the layoff list, she said.
“Things change everyday,” Lock said. “We don’t want to lose good teachers.”
Lock confirmed, however, that popular College Park High School instrumental music teacher Johnnie Johnson moved to Texas after being laid-off in June. Similarly, former Sequoia Middle School instrumental music teacher Marcus Goodlow moved back to Texas last year, after being laid-off.
This year’s Sequoia instrumental music teacher Eric Thompson has also been laid-off. And star Sequoia music student Larry Wang, who was featured in the Times as a “Hometown Hero” on Monday, has transferred to the Acalanes district to attend high school, in part because of its more stable music program. He would have attended College Park, had he remained in the Mt. Diablo district.
Lock acknowledged that some good teachers are moving out of state, tired of going through the anxiety associated with pink slips each year, as the result of state budget cuts.
“What we’re doing in California is a tragedy,” she said.
Would you be comfortable with a principal who has been convicted of DUI? Do you think candidates’ convictions should be disclosed to the board before the superintendent recommends them?

Posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington | 19 Comments »