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A look back at some significant state and local education stories in 2014

Here’s a sampling of some significant education stories that appeared in this newspaper in 2014.

1. New school funding, curriculum and testing

- The California Board of Education adopted regulations to help districts implement the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which changed the ways schools were funded and required districts to create plans showing how they would spend money, especially for English language learners, low-income students and foster youth.

- Districts implemented new Common Core standards for education, focusing less on memorization and more on critical thinking.

- Students piloted new computer-based tests aimed at gauging how well they were learning with the new standards.

2. School child abuse cases

- The Brentwood school district agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit with the families of eight special needs children over its handling of a special-education teacher who was convicted of child abuse, yet allowed to remain in the classroom.

- An Antioch district teacher charged with abusing special-education students pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse and two misdemeanor charges.

n The Moraga school district agreed to pay $14 million to two women who sued over sex abuse by a former teacher, in what was believed to be the nation’s largest molestation settlement per student.

n Former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin was charged with 150 counts of child molestation involving 14 students. The District Attorney later dismissed 34 charges, a jury acquitted Martin of 21 more and failed to reach consensus on 95 charges. The District Attorney is retrying the former Mt. Diablo school district teacher on 24 felony molestation counts involving nine students.

3. Charter schools

n The Contra Costa County Board of Education approved an agreement paving the way for the Summit K2 Charter School to open in El Cerrito in the fall, after the West Contra Costa school board rejected the charter petition.

n The Antioch school district reached an agreement with Dozier-Libbey High teachers to keep the site under its authority, after a months-long campaign to convert the school into an independent charter. The Antioch school board and Contra Costa County Board of Education denied the charter petition and teachers dropped their appeal to the state Board of Education.

n Although the Contra Costa County Board of Education renewed the charter for Clayton Valley Charter High for five years, tensions built throughout the year between some staff members and the school’s governing board. An original petitioner for the school was fired, the board president resigned and a teacher board member was asked to resign, but refused. Teachers voted no confidence in Executive Director Dave Linzey and the board dismissed the school’s coordinator of technology after he was accused of breaching Linzey’s confidence.

n The West Contra Costa school board approved three charter petitions in December, after initially proposing to seeking a waiver from its responsibility to vote on charters, saying the independent schools negatively impact the district.

n The Knightsen school board rejected a charter proposed by ChartHouse Public Schools, which also seeks to operate a countywide Performing Arts charter.

4. West Contra Costa bond program

n Voters rejected a $270 million bond measure in June.

n The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed the district, board president, county, and district financial advisers and consultants in an inquiry into the district’s bond financing. The school board approved hundreds of thousands in contracts for legal representation related to the SEC inquiry, along with representation related to separate questions from the FBI.

What do you think were the most significant education stories in 2014?

Posted on Friday, January 2nd, 2015
Under: Antioch school district, Brentwood school district, California Department of Education, Clayton Valley Charter High, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Knightsen school district, Moraga school district, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 7 Comments »

How is the shift in state funding is affecting your local schools?

Do you know how the state’s new school funding formula is making a difference in your child’s school?

During the past year, every school district in California was required to create a Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, showing how it planned to spend new money allocated for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, along with overall funding for all students. School districts were supposed to involve parents, students, staff and community members in creating their plans.

Now that the plans have been completed, students, parents, staff and community members are expected to hold their school districts accountable for following through on the promises made. But some plans could make it difficult for communities to track how well school districts are meeting their goals, according to a report released earlier this week by the Education Trust-West student advocacy group.

The report describes how districts developed their plans and offers suggestions for improvement as those plans are updated next year, said Carrie Hahnel, director of research and policy analysis for the group.

The organization analyzed 40 plans from some of the largest districts in California, including the Berkeley, East Side Union High, Mt. Diablo, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and West Contra Costa districts in the Bay Area. It also reviewed 60 more plans including Antioch’s in Contra Costa County and Alameda and Emery’s in Alameda County.

While some districts are taking bold steps to create new programs, the report found that others provided little specific information about how goals would be met and that most did not clearly show how supplemental funding aimed at disadvantaged students was being spent.

“While LCFF has sparked a remarkable level of public engagement,” she said, “community stakeholders have been left with LCAPs that offer frustratingly little insight into how LCFF will be used to increase or improve services for high-need students,” Hahnel said.

The group’s recommendations include:

- County offices of education, the state Department of Education and the newly formed California Collaborative for Education Excellence should offer better support and resources to districts to update and implement plans;

- The state should revise its reporting requirements to make it easier for the public to see how much funding earmarked for disadvantaged students is being spent, and should report how much supplemental funding each district is receiving;

- The state should require review of plans by county offices of education to be rigorous and consistent with each other, and should consider local and informal processes for community members to elevate concerns to the county level if they can’t be resolved at the district level.

In the future, the state Board of Education will create evaluation criteria to help communities gauge whether districts are meeting their goals. The report urges the state to make these criteria clear and to make data by which districts will be measured easily accessible to the public.

It also pointed out some “best practices” that could be implemented by others to improve their plans. These include creating an executive summary, along with user-friendly presentations without jargon and acronyms that no one but educators would understand.

“A year into this bold reform,” said Ryan Smith, the organization’s executive director, “now is the time to pause and ask ourselves if we have made decisions that will raise the achievement of our low-income students, English learners, and foster youth.”

Most district plans, along with samples of executive summaries from the Berkeley and San Jose districts, and explanatory materials from the San Francisco district, are available on the Education Trust-West website at http://lcapwatch.org.

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | 60 Comments »

Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year share secrets of success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think are the secrets of successful teachers?

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

Nearly 100 candidates seek school board seats in Contra Costa County

As the election filing deadline neared in Contra Costa County on Friday, nearly 100 candidates had taken out papers for more than 20 school board races.

The filing deadline will be extended to 5 p.m. Wednesday in 11 districts where some incumbents are not seeking re-election. These include: The Acalanes, Brentwood, Byron, John Swett, Lafayette, Moraga, Mt. Diablo, Orinda, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek and West Contra Costa districts.

Just before the filing deadline, it appeared that nearly all of the races would be contested, with most incumbents facing challengers. Here is a list of the races and candidates who had qualified for the ballot by 5 p.m. Friday, followed by potential candidates who had taken out papers, but had not yet completed all the ballot requirements.

County Board of Education, Area 2: Incumbent Christine Deane and Ray Andersen.

County Board of Education, Area 4: Incumbent Richard Asadoorian and Mike Maxwell.

County Board of Education, Area 5: Incumbent Cynthia Ruehling and Jeff Belle.

Community College, Ward 1: Incumbent John Marquez and Cheryl Sudduth.

Community College, Ward 3: Tim Farley and incumbent Matthew Rinn.

Community College, Ward 4: Incumbent John Nejedly (unopposed).

Acalanes: Incumbent Susan (Susie) Epstein, incumbent Nancy Kendzierski, Kristen Correll and Robert Hockett.

Acalanes (short term): Incumbent J. Richard Whitmore (unopposed).

Antioch Unified School District: Incumbent Joy Motts, Incumbent Gary Hack and Debra Vinson and Walter Ruehlig.

Brentwood: Incumbent Emil Geddes, incumbent Heather Partida, John A. Fjeldstad, Scott S. Dudek, Susan Wallace, Johnny Rodriguez, Christina Bell and Marci Lapriore.

Byron Union: Incumbent Jill Marlene Sprenkel, Felicia Schweller and Tania Salinas. Not yet qualified: Karri Jo Murayama.

Byron (short term): Incumbent Betty Sanchez. Not yet qualified: Gina Larmar Parish.

Canyon Elementary: Incumbent David James Smith, incumbent Ian Llewellyn and incumbent Geronimo Bernard.

John Swett: Incumbent Brian Colombo, Michael Kirker and Deborah A. Brandon.

Knightsen: Incumbent Liesel Williams, Patrick Hulleman and Kristen L. Fuller, incumbent Ralph Adam McMeans and Robin Denise Pastor.

Lafayette: Incumbent Teresa Gerringer and incumbent David Gerson and Suzy Pak.

Liberty: Incumbent Roy Ghiggeri, incumbent Daron Spears, incumbent Joanne Louise Byer and Pauline Allred.

Martinez: Incumbent Deidre Siguenza, incumbent Roberta “Bobbi” Horack and Ronald Skrehot.

Moraga: Incumbent Parker Colvin, Heather O’Donnell and Jonathan Nickens.

Moraga (short term): Not yet qualified: Heather o’Donnell.

Mt. Diablo: Incumbent Linda Mayo, incumbent Cheryl Hansen, Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan Egnor-Keil.

Oakley: Incumbent Gloria Jean Lott, incumbent Mark Jordan and incumbent Arthur Fernande.

Orinda: Incumbent Juliane Rossiter, Hillary Shayne Weiner, Carol Brown and Jason Kaune. Not yet qualified: incumbent Christopher Clark Severson.

Pittsburg: Incumbent Joe Arenivar, incumbent Duane Smith and De’Shawn Woolridge. Not yet qualified: Daniel Borsuk.

San Ramon Valley: Incumbent Ken Mintz, incumbent Rachel Hurd, incumbent Denise Jennison and Jerome Pandell.

Walnut Creek: Incumbent Barbara Pennington, Stacey Schweppe, Aimee Moss, Heidi Hernandez Gatty and Sherri McGoff.

West Contra Costa: Incumbent Madeline Kronenberg, incumbent Elaine Merriweather, Elizabeth (Liz) Block, Chester Stevens, Raquel Donoso, Otheree Christian, Mister Phillips and Peter Nicholas Chau. Not yet qualified: Charlene W. Harlan-Ogbeide, Valerie Cuevas and Giorgio Cosentino.

Which candidates do you support?

Posted on Friday, August 8th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa Community College District, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Election, John Swett district, Lafayette school district, Liberty district, Martinez school district, Moraga, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Orinda, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, Walnut Creek School District, West Contra Costa school district | 14 Comments »

National Merit $2,500 Scholarship Winners announced

Congratulations to East Bay National Merit $2,500 Scholarship winners, named earlier this month by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation!

Nastionwide, 2,500 Merit Scholars were chosen from among more than 15,000 finalists in the 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program. Those selected were judged to have the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills, and potential for success in rigorous college studies in their state, according to a news release. The number of California winners is proportional to the state’s percentage of the nation’s graduating high school seniors.

These winners were selected by a committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors, who reviewed information submitted by the finalists and their high schools, including academic records, standardized test scores, leadership and other contributions to school and community activities, a student essay, and a high school recommendation. Semi-finalists were chosen based on their Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores from their junior years.

Winners can use their scholarships at any regionally accredited college or university in the country.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation urges the public not to compare high schools based on their numbers of Merit Scholarship winners, stressing that the program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The program does not measure the quality or
effectiveness of education within a school, system or state.

Here are the East Bay winners, listed by county and city of residence, school and probable field:

ALAMEDA COUNTY:

Alameda: Cari Noelle Ebel Hartigan, Alameda High, Architecture
Albany: Catherine H. Li, Albany High, Neuroscience
Berkeley: Jasper Phillips Burget, Head-Royce School in Oakland, Writing
Berkeley: Thomas Woolsey Peterson, Head-Royce School in Oakland, Acting
Berkeley: Katherine I. Reed, Berkeley High, Computer Science
Castro Valley: Amanda C. Leung, Castro Valley High, Medicine
Dublin: Christine Xu, Amador Valley High in Pleasanton, Biomedical Engineering
Dublin: Kimberli C. Zhong, Dublin High, Engineering
Fremont: Adarsh N. Battu, Harker School in San Jose, Business
Fremont: Krishna S. Bharathala, Mission San Jose High, Computer Science
Fremont: Shivani Chandrashekaran, Harker School in San Jose, Medicine
Fremont: Adrija K. Darsha, American High, Medicine
Fremont: Emon Datta, Irvington High, Biomedical Engineering
Fremont: Christopher D. Fu, Harker School in San Jose, Biomedical Engineering
Fremont: Arnav J. Gautam, Mission San Jose High, Computer Science
Fremont: Rosemond L. Ho, American High, Law
Fremont: Vivian Jair, Mission San Jose High, Business
Fremont: Michael Ju, Irvington High, Computer Science
Fremont: Lucy Chaolu Li, Washington High, Patent Law
Fremont: Levina J. Lin, American High, Pediatrics
Fremont: Yixin Lin, Washington High, Computer Science
Fremont: Jenny Z. Lu, Irvington High, Biomedicine
Fremont: Amal Rohit Nanavati, Mission San Jose High, Computer Science
Fremont: Yuming Qin, Washington High, Healthcare Administration
Fremont: Kerrie Wu, Mission San Jose High, Engineering
Fremont: Patrick Zeng, Mission San Jose High, Engineering
Oakland: Francesca Paris, Head-Royce School, Journalism
Pleasanton: Bryce P. Hwang, Foothill High, Molecular Biology
Pleasanton: Aditi N. Newadkar, Amador Valley High, Medicine
Pleasanton: Brian K. Shimanuki, Amador Valley High, Computer Science
Pleasanton: Jennifer R. Teitell, Amador Valley High, Law

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY:

Alamo: Charlotte M. Lawrence, College Preparatory School in Oakland, Public Policy
Concord: Sohyeon Hwang, Northgate High in Walnut Creek, International Relations
Danville: Lance A. Chou, San Ramon Valley High, Medical Research
Danville: Lia L. Dawson, San Ramon Valley High, Chemical Engineering
Danville: Ariana N. Moghbel, San Ramon Valley High, Medicine
Kensington: Rebecca L. Shoptaw, Head-Royce School in Oakland, Film Production
Martinez: Shreyas A. Bhave, Monte Vista High in Danville, Computer Science
Moraga: Marina S. Han, Campolindo High, Psychology
Moraga: Dhruv A. Suri, Campolindo High, Undecided
San Ramon: Katherine A. Camenzind, California High, Engineering
San Ramon: Sarah R. Hay, Dougherty Valley High, Biochemistry
San Ramon: Flora Z. Wang, Phillips Exeter Academy in NH, Undecided
San Ramon: Christine H. Zhang, Dougherty Valley High, Medicine
San Ramon: Brian L. Zhong, Dougherty Valley High, Chemical Engineering
Walnut Creek: Vishank Jain-Sharma, Monte Vista High in Danville, Academia
Walnut Creek: David Simon Shif, Las Lomas High, Mathematics

The complete list of California winners is at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecExDd3hmMmhjalk/edit?usp=sharing

Posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

Congrats to 46 East Bay California Distinguished Elementary Schools!

California Distinguished School Certificate received by Hanna Ranch Elementary in 2012

California Distinguished School Certificate received by Hanna Ranch Elementary in 2012

Congratulations to the nearly 50 elementary campuses in the East Bay that have been named 2014 California Distinguished Schools!

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson announced this week that 22 Alameda County schools and two dozen Contra Costa County schools are among 424 elementary campuses statewide designated as distinguished, based on innovative strategies for narrowing the achievement gap.

“I applaud these strong, thriving schools that are making such impressive strides in preparing their students for continued success,” Torlakson said in a prepared statement. “This award is well-deserved by these school communities for their enduring dedication to high standards, hard work, and unwavering support.”
Here is a list of East Bay 2014 California Distinguished Schools by county and district.

ALAMEDA COUNTY

Alameda Unified: Edison Elementary

Dublin Unified: Harold William Kolb Elementary (also award for Exemplary Physical Activity and Nutrition Program)

Fremont Unified: Ardenwood, Fred E. Weibel, James Leitch, John Gomes, Joshua Chadbourne, Mission San Jose, Mission Valley and Niles elementary schools

New Haven Unified: Pioneer Elementary

Newark Unified: James L. Bunker and John F. Kennedy elementary schools

Oakland Unified: Achieve Academy, Montclair Elementary and Think College Now

Pleasanton Unified: Donlon, Henry P. Mohr, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, Vintage Hills and Walnut Grove elementary schools

Sunol Glen Unified: Sunol Glen Elementary

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY

Lafayette Elementary: Lafayette Elementary

Mt. Diablo Unified: Mt. Diablo, Sequoia, Silverwood, Strandwood, Valle Verde and Walnut Acres elementary schools

Orinda Union: Del Rey, Glorietta, Sleepy Hollow and Wagner Ranch elementary schools

San Ramon Valley Unified: Bollinger Canyon, Coyote Creek, Golden View, Greenbrook, Hidden Hills, John Baldwin, Live Oak, Neil A. Armstrong, Rancho Romero, Sycamore Valley, Tassajara Hills and Vista Grande elementary schools

Walnut Creek School District: Walnut Heights Elementary

The “signature practices” that helped earn these schools their recognition will be posted online later this year. Signature practices of past campuses named as California Distinguished Schools are at www3.cde.ca.gov/signaturepractices.

Each school is visited by a team of local educators to see how the signature practice have been implemented. In Contra Costa County, a team of 19 educators from the Contra Costa County Office of Education, along with 18 school district administrators and four retired district administrators visited the sites, according to a news release.

Greg Santiago, principal of Hanna Ranch Elementary in Hercules, was one of the district administrators on the site visits. Hanna Ranch was one of two West Contra Costa district elementary sites named as California Distinguished Schools in 2012.

Its signature practices were analyzing test data to provide extra support to low-performing students and trying to close the achievement gap between high-achieving Asian and Filipino students and lower-achieving African-American and Latino students by using culturally relevant teaching methods.

One such teaching methods is “call and response,” which allows students to chant responses to teachers’ prompts instead of raising their hands to be acknowledged. In reading the signature practices, it is clear that the principal keeps the staff, students and parents focused on them.

The school’s description of signature practices states: “The principal’s message about academics is simple, ‘You may not get it the first time, but you never give up!” Santiago heads up a school equity team, which walks through classrooms with a checklist that includes these questions: “Are students engaged? Are they participating? Is there bell-to-bell instruction?”

I met Santiago last month during a ride-along with Hercules School Resource Officer Greg Sanchez, who told me when we arrived: “This principal has got it down.”

What are the signature practices at your school?

Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 2 Comments »

Intra-district transfer deadline is Wednesday in MDUSD

The deadline is Wednesday to submit applications for transfers outside neighborhood school attendance areas in the Mt. Diablo school district for students in grades 1-12 in 2014-15.

Applications are available at district schools or from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in student services wing D in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord. Applications are also available on the district’s web site at http://www.mdusd.org/Departments/studentservices/Pages/14-15Transfers.aspx.

Intra-district applications for incoming kindergartners may be submitted on or after the student is registered at his or her school of residence from Feb. 4-28.

Inter-district transfer applications for students who want to transfer to schools outside the Mt. Diablo school district will be accepted beginning Feb. 15.

More information is available by calling 925-682-8000 ext. 4069 or by e-mailing smithf@mdusd.org.

Here is an audio message from Student Services Director Felicia Stuckey-Smith about the Wednesday deadline: https://msg.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=HQgd57zk-JI

Do you think the district does a good job of informing parents about the different types of transfers available?

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 3 Comments »

Warren Eukel Teacher Trust Award winners inspire with their speeches

Every year, I look forward to attending the Warren Eukel Teacher Trust Awards dinner to hear inspiring speeches from three educators selected to receive $10,000 each in recognition of their exemplary work.

This year, Acalanes High English teacher Natalie Moore compared her time with each student to hanging out with them on a porch, Hanna Ranch Elementary teacher Sarah Creeley summed up her teaching experiences as giving and receiving love, and Kensington Hilltop Elementary teacher Beatrice Lieberman said she often plays her trusty guitar and sings to her students, who respond enthusiastically to the arts.

“The profession of teaching is misnamed,” Moore said. “To me, it should be called being a ‘learner.’”

Even though she has read “To Kill a Mockingbird” numerous times with classes over the years, Moore said she learns something new each time. For example, after reading the last chapter of the book this year, one of her students pointed out that Scout Finch was on the porch of Boo Radley, seeing things from Boo’s perspective.

The student reminded the class that Scout’s father had previously told her that you never really understand a person until you see things from his point of view. Moore said her students discussed empathy and compassion and learning through their parents’ examples, along with the importance of seeing things from other points of view.

“I sat back, I listened, I learned,” she said. “Because that’s really what teaching is — it’s standing on the porch of our students’ minds and seeing things from their points of view. It’s seeing things from fresh new perspectives outside of ourselves, every year, every day, every period.”

As students move on at the end of the year, teachers move off their porches and make room for new students.

“As we step away from them,” she said, “we hope that at least one lesson, at least one memory, will be carried with them as they expand, remodel, develop.”

Creeley thanked her family and her education mentors for their inspiration.

“For me, tonight is all about love,” she said. “The love my family gives me, the love I give to my students, the love they give to me, love for our community and all who are there.”

She said some people tell her she is always smiling and always happy. After working with special education students who had no choices in their lives, Creeley said she always feels grateful.

“I don’t care how much money I have,” she said. “I am poor. I’ll tell you right now. But, I’m rich, because I realize how lucky I am. And I just would like for everybody to appreciate those things that we have — that may seem so simple — but are so tremendous to so many people.”

Lieberman took the opportunity to talk not only about her classroom teaching, but her education philosophy.

“First and foremost, the humanity of all children should be honored at all times,” she said. “There is no magic formula or one-size fits all method.”

Nothing, she said, can substitute for the warmth and nurturing a teacher can provide. Her secrets, she said, are music and great stories.

“With my fearless guitar, I use great folk songs or songs I write myself,” she said. “The best teaching and learning occurs when art is wed to academics.”

She railed against standardized curriculum, saying teachers must have a voice in discussions about changes.

“Children are not factory products and they are not for sale,” she said. “We must not let anyone’s financial interest in our tax dollars drill the beauty of learning out of our children.”

A formulaic curriculum and high stakes testing will not take the country in the direction it needs to go, she said.

“Education is a basic human right,” Lieberman said. “We need to work together not to fill the pail, but to light the fire to ignite the desire in children to learn.”

I also got a chance to chat briefly with Sarah Peddie, who won the award last year.

“When you win something like this,” Peddie said, “it just re-energizes you for the next millennium.”

What is your reaction to the speeches?

NOV. 23 UPDATE: Here are links to video clips from the first two speeches. Unfortunately, my cell phone died during Sarah Creeley’s speech, so I was unable to videotape the end of it or to record Beatrice Lieberman’s speech and intro.

Intro to Natalie Moore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-_p5VmCbas&feature=share&list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw&index=3

Natalie Moore’s speech: http://youtu.be/04nmuCC1zxQ

Intro to Sarah Creeley: http://youtu.be/_wQJSKsbxC0

Sarah Creeley’s speech: http://youtu.be/GctRA7-uL08

Posted on Friday, November 22nd, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 7 Comments »

A closer look at student fitness results in the East Bay

ecct1024cafitness~1

State fitness test results for students in grades 5, 7 and 9 released earlier this week showed that many children need to eat better and get more exercise to improve their aerobic capacity, strength and flexibility.

Based on six different tests of these areas, about a quarter of fifth-graders statewide met all fitness goals, compared to roughly one-third of seventh-graders and nearly 37 percent of ninth-graders.

Alameda County’s fifth-graders scored slightly higher than those statewide, with about 29 percent meeting all six fitness goals, while the same percentage of seventh-graders as those throughout California met the goals and 36.4 percent of ninth-graders met the goals. Contra Costa County students were also in the same range, with 28.1 percent of fifth-graders meeting all six fitness goals, compared to 31.8 percent of seventh-graders and 37.7 percent of high school freshmen.

Here’s a closer look at how fifth, seventh and ninth-grade students in some local districts compared to those throughout the East Bay and state:
Grade 5 Grade 7 Grade 9
STATE 25.5 32.4 36.5
ALAMEDA COUNTY 28.9 32.4 36.4
Castro Valley Unified 49.3 47.8 54.7
Dublin Unified 32.7 55.7 59.6
Livermore Valley Joint Unified 27.3 38.2 47.8
Pleasanton Unified 32.8 40.3 57.9
Sunol Glen Unified 70.0 50.0 (Grades 5 and 7)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY 28.1 31.8 37.3
Acalanes High 53.5 (Grade 9)
Antioch Unified 18.7 29.4 33.5
Brentwood Elementary 28.1 38.5 (Grades 5 and 7)
Byron Elementary 41.4 46.2 (Grades 5 and 7)
Clayton Valley Charter High 31.7 (Grade 9)
John Swett Unified 19.2 27.4 28.8
Knightsen Elementary 42.0 28.6 (Grades 5 and 7)
Lafayette Elementary 54.5 24.1 (Grades 5 and 7)
Liberty High 46.0 (Grade 9)
Martinez Unified 23.3 36.2 25.0
Moraga Elementary 66.7 64.9
Mt. Diablo Unified 17.8 28.1 27.1
Oakley Elementary 7.3 23.7 (Grades 5 and 7)
Orinda Elementary 53.9 44.7 (Grades 5 and 7)
Pittsburg Unified 22.2 20.4 21.5
San Ramon Valley Unified 50.0 43.8 53.0
Walnut Creek Elementary 50.8 39.3 (Grades 5 and 7)
West Contra Costa Unified 15.2 20.3 21.9

Seventh-graders at Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek surpassed the Mt. Diablo district average and roughly matched the state average, with about 32 percent of students meeting all six fitness goals.

Anna Meehan, 13, who is now in 8th grade, said she likes PE classes because she knows it’s good to get her heart rate going faster everyday and to work a little harder as she progresses through the school year.

Maggie Claire McCoy, who is also a 13-year-old eighth-grader, said she also participates in club volleyball outside of school and is hoping to play on the top-notch Northgate High volleyball team next year. She said exercise helps to condition her body for after-school sports, as well as keeping her fit overall.

Andrew Rinella, another 13-year-old eighth-grader, said he thinks it’s a good idea to participate in after-school sports in high school, so that students can stay fit even if they don’t take PE in their junior and senior years.

Chris deClercq, chairman of the PE department at the school, said he and other teachers promote lifelong fitness and try to find something that every child can enjoy.

“We try to expose them to as many activities as we can,” he said. “Our goal is getting them to believe fitness is a good thing and that it can still be fun, even though it’s hard at times.”

Complete fitness results by school, district, county and state are available by visiting www.cde.ca.gov. Click on “Physical Fitness Test Results for 2012-13.”

Why do you think older students score better overall than younger students?

Posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | 1 Comment »

Sustainable farm on sanitary district property a political hot potato

Central Contra Costa Sanitary District Board meeting

Central Contra Costa Sanitary District Board meeting

A proposal to create a sustainable farm on Central Contra Costa Sanitary District property appears to be fraught with political wrangling.

Although it is one step closer to coming to fruition after trustees voted Thursday to allow staff to enter into negotiations with the project’s organizers, the deal is far from done.

Project creator Carolyn Phinney and farm manager Bethallyn Black dreamed up the idea of the “CoCo San Sustainable Farm” with the goal of growing organic produce using recycled water to provide salads for schools and fresh vegetables to the local food bank.

But politics overshadowing the deal bubbled to the surface during the meeting, when Board President James Nejedly accused Phinney — who was not present — of posting false allegations about him on Facebook. Nejedly also noted that the press (me) was videotaping the proceedings.

I videotaped part of the debate to provide a record for the public, since the district doesn’t videotape its own meetings. Ten clips from the meeting are at www.youtube.com/tunedtotheresa. Shorter Tout excerpts are at http://www.tout.com/m/4wyf8z.

Nejedly and some other trustees said details of the plan were vague and confusing, including basic information such as how much property is needed for the project to be successful. Although it was originally conceived to encompass 33 acres of land next to the district’s Martinez treatment plant, it was later scaled down.

The district wants to consider leasing some property for other potentially more lucrative uses, like allowing agencies such as Caltrans to dump dirt on it.
The farm proposal was embraced by Trustee Mike McGill, who served on the Enterprise Committee that reviewed the proposal, along with Nejedly. But Nejedly said the Facebook posts accused him of being a “sour grape” who wanted to “gut” the project.

The committee recommended pursuing an agreement for 10 plantable acres, with the condition that five acres could be vacated if necessary with 60 days’ notice. The committee also recommended pursuing a Request for Proposal for the remaining acreage, and a land use permit for the entire property. Staff recommended that the board create an ad hoc committee to negotiate the lease terms.

After back-and-forth discussion between Black and trustees, some questions remained. Based on the Facebook posts, Nejedly said farm manager Black was being given inaccurate information by Phinney. Black said she hadn’t spoken to Phinney in about a week and hadn’t seen the posts.

Still, Nejedly was determined to clear his name. He read several of the Facebook accusations aloud, then refuted them, saying he has always supported the project and that he was the one who suggested the district should provide the land for free.

He reminisced about his childhood growing up with wildlife and said he is so committed to advocating for recycled water that he once drank some to show John Coleman, an East Bay Municipal Utility District director, that it’s not so bad.

By the end of the discussion, trustees agreed to McGill’s motion to pursue an agreement for 15 acres, which would allow 10 acres to be planted and five to be used for educational purposes. Trustees also agreed to protect two of those acres from a requirement to vacate in a short amount of time, which could allow structures to be built.

In addition, trustees agreed to pursue a Request for Proposals on the remaining property, in case someone might want to pay to dump dirt on it or propose other ideas that could generate money for the district. Trustees also agreed to pursue a land use permit for the new uses.

But they balked at McGill’s suggestion that the proposal should come back to the full board without first returning to the Enterprise Committee. Other trustees said they wanted the committee to review it and make a recommendation. Nejedly abstained.

Phinney said afterward that she stood by her Facebook posts and she didn’t go to the meeting because she didn’t want feeding thousands of children to be about “personality or politics.”

It may be too late for that.

However, she’s looking at the bright side.

“I’m trying to be optimistic,” she said, “now that the farm can move forward and bring great benefit to the community.”

More information about the proposal is under Item 8a at http://weblink.centralsan.dst.ca.us/WebLink8/DocView.aspx?id=673819&dbid=0

Do you support the sustainable farm proposal?

Posted on Friday, October 4th, 2013
Under: Central Contra Costa Sanitary, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, Contra Costa County | No Comments »