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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:

Natalie Moore’s speech:

Intro to Sarah Creeley:

Sarah Creeley’s speech:

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

A closer look at student fitness results in the East Bay


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 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 Shorter Tout excerpts are at

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

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 »

A closer look at Academic Performance Index scores in Contra Costa County districts

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

When it comes to test scores, the Academic Performance Index, or API, is considered by many to be the most important rating a California school receives. Based on standardized tests scores taken by students in grades 2-11 in the spring, the API is a composite number between a low of 200 and a high of 1,000 that shows how schools throughout the state compare to each other.

Since the scoring system was created, schools and districts have tried to reach a score of 800, considered by the state to mean most students are working at grade level. This year, 11 Contra Costa County districts achieved this goal.

But the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law measures schools according to a harder-to-reach bar. This year, 90 percent of students were required to score proficient on math and English language arts tests to meet this standard.

Those who fail to meet the standard for two years in a row are placed in federal Program Improvement and required to implement interventions. This year, 10 Contra Costa districts were in Program Improvement.

Here’s a side by side comparison of county district API scores in 2012 and 2013, showing growth or decline:

Acalanes 904 908 -4 No
Antioch 740 746 -6 Yes
Brentwood 861 859 +2 Yes
Byron 846 836 +10 No
Canyon 874 876 -2 No
John Swett 745 751 -6 Yes
Knightsen 816 840 -24 No
Lafayette 934 938 -4 No
Liberty 794 785 +9 No
Martinez 836 844 -8 Yes
Moraga 955 964 -9 No
Mt. Diablo 791 794 -3 Yes
Oakley 799 816 -17 Yes
Orinda 958 967 -9 No
Pittsburg 733 738 -5 Yes
San Ramon 923 928 -5 Yes
Walnut Creek 906 915 -9 Yes
West Contra Costa 717 715 +2 Yes
CALIFORNIA 789 791 -2 N/A

Districts that failed to meet the state API score of 800 were Antioch, John Swett, Liberty, Mt. Diablo, Oakley, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa. Stephanie Anello, associate superintendent of educational services in Antioch, said the district’s dip in scores came as a surprise, after teachers had been assessing students every six weeks throughout the year and principals increased classroom observations.

“It’s very disappointing, we felt we were headed in the right direction,” she said. “We’re trying to look for patterns to see what happened, but we don’t see one. For now, we are just going to have to use it to strengthen our resolve and focus on the quality of teaching that happens every single day.”

No schools in the John Swett district surpassed the state’s target of 800. In the Liberty district, one of four comprehensive high schools met that goal.

Mt. Diablo’s API score dropped three points to 791. Interim Superintendent John Bernard sent a message to the community saying the district is continuing to train teachers and administrators in the new Common Core curriculum standards, which focus on critical thinking and problem-solving.

Oakley’s API score dropped 17 points and nearly all schools in the district also saw double-digit declines, with the exception of Vintage Parkway Elementary, which posted a 14-point gain to 831. Anne Allen, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, said the district has assigned a second teacher to work as a full-time math coach at elementary grades and another to serve as a part-time middle school literacy coach.

The Pittsburg district’s score fell five points to 733, with only three of 12 comprehensive schools reaching the state’s proficiency target. The West Contra Costa district was one of four in the county to improve its API score, rising two points to 717.

“We’re happy to show improvement,” said Nia Raschidchi, assistant superintendent of educational services.

Here’s a link to the Contra Costa Times’ searchable database of API scores for all schools and districts in the state:

Staff writers Paul Burgarino and Rowena Coetseee contributed to this report.

What do you think lower-performing districts should do to improve student achievement?

Posted on Friday, August 30th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Liberty district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Paul Burgarino, Pittsburg school district, Rowena Coetsee | 64 Comments »

Pleasant Hill Library Teen Advisory Group invites community to World Party on July 20

Families and area residents of all ages are invited to a communitywide party from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Pleasant Hill library that will celebrate world cultures with fun activities.

The Pleasant Hill Library’s Teen Advisory Group is organizing the event, called “World Party — a multiethnic extravaganza.” Then on Sunday, the Contra Costa County Library System will celebrate it 100th anniversary during a separate community party.

Natalie Hill, a 16-year-old College Park High School junior, was busy preparing for the World Party along with three other members of the teen group earlier this week. Natalie, who is president of the teen group, said she got the idea for the World Party from a multicultural rally at College Park High earlier this year. She and other students in the group decided it would give them a way to celebrate their own diversity, she said.

“Our goal is to basically educate patrons who come in through fun activities and food,” she said. “It’s going to be super awesome, so everyone should come!”

The party will include art, dancing, food and games, Natalie said. She and her friend Dean Shim were creating signs to hang in the library on Thursday, while Pleasant Hill Middle School eighth-grader Alanna Dangerfield was making decorations along with Abhinav Singh, a Valley View Middle School eighth-grader.

Alanna, 13, was making “papel picado,” which means “cut paper.” She was cutting a butterfly design in colorful tissue paper, which could be folded and hung on string or used to decorate booths at the event.
Abhinav, who is also 13, was creating “rangoli” designs from India on paper window hangers. These floral designs are typically created during the Indian holiday called Diwali, he said.

“It’s supposed to make your home have good luck,” Abhinav said. “It can be made with white flour, rice or chalk. But, we’re doing it with paper, because we don’t want it to be messy.”

The World Party will also include traditional Japanese dancing, origami, Farsi calligraphy, Mexican arts and crafts, Irish soda bread and Hindu bread, Natalie said. To make visitors feel like they are traveling around the world, the teens were also making airplane decorations.

Both Veronica and Abhinav said they have been members of the teen group since it started two years ago. Natalie also joined the group at that time, after moving to Pleasant Hill from Southern California.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the library since I was a kid,” Natalie said. “The teen advisory group is a really great way for teens to learn leadership skills and to work together as a team. We all have the same love for the library, so it’s a really great group to be in.”

About 20 middle and high school students are in the group. Dean, who is now a college student, was also in the group during high school.

“I just like them so much because we all share that passion with the library,” Natalie said. “It’s not like school, where you feel pressured by other people. It’s a very free experience, so that’s what I really like about it.”

Natalie said the group includes a lot of middle school students, in part because the library is close to Pleasant Hill Middle School.

“The teen advisory group gives them a way to be creative and work toward something together,” Natalie said. “It’s really cool.”

Natalie said she has always appreciated libraries because they provide a place where everyone can feel safe in a free learning environment. In fact, she loves libraries so much that she said she’d like to become a librarian after she graduates from college.

Both Natalie and Dean have been selected by the library to be interviewed by the national StoryCorps program about how the library has impacted their lives. Alanna’s mother, Veronica Dangerfield, is also participating in the program along with library Commissioner Katherine Bracken.

An article about the StoryCorps program should be published in this newspaper on Tuesday. You can see video of Natalie talking about the World Party here: And here is a video of Natalie talking about the library:

To weigh in on a survey to help shape the county library’s strategic plan, visit

What do you value about your local library?

Posted on Friday, July 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, libraries | 3 Comments »

A closer look at how well unified districts in Contra Costa County are educating low-income and minority students

Last week, the student advocacy group Education Trust-West released its third annual report cards for the largest unified districts in the state, showing how well they educate low-income and minority students.

Here’s a look at the Contra Costa County districts included, showing whether or not they improved between 2011 and 2012. The organization assigned overall letter grades as well as numerical rankings for categories, based on standardized test scores, academic improvement over five years, the size of achievement gaps, and college readiness. Note: This was the first year the report included college readiness and high school graduation data.

ANTIOCH: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 128 up from 135)
Improvement among low-income students: D (same, but rank of 127 up from 129)
African-American and white achievement gap: D (up from F)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2011)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 135 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 129 of 143)

MT. DIABLO: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank of 44 up from 63)
Improvement among low-income students: B (up from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 128 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: C (rank 120 of 143)

PITTSBURG: Overall grade: C- (up from D+ in 2010) (No data from 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2010)
Performance among low-income students: C (same, rank of 107 up from 110)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank dropped to 60 from 48)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank dropped to 61 from 48)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2010)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 134 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 137 of 143)

SAN RAMON VALLEY: Overall grade: B- (up from C+ in 2011)
Performance among students of color: A (same, but rank of 3 up from 4 in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: A (same, but rank of 5 up from 18)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 136 up from 141)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank of 118 up from 119 in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: B (rank 6 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: A (rank 1 of 143)

WEST CONTRA COSTA: Overall grade: D- (down from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: D (same, rank dropped to 148 from 145)
Performance among low-income students: D (same, rank dropped to 147 from 145)
Improvement among students of color: D (dropped from C in 2011)
Improvement among low-income students: D (down from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: D (rank 69 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 130 of 143)

The complete report cards are at

How could districts improve instruction for low-income and minority students?

Posted on Sunday, April 7th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, West Contra Costa school district | 44 Comments »

County school districts compared in budget presentation to Mt. Diablo school board

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting last week to prepare for its Monday budget discussion, where it approved its Second Interim Report.

John Gray, a consultant from School Services of California, gave an interesting presentation comparing districts in Contra Costa County in terms of spending and revenues. The presentation is at

Gray looked at enrollment growth and decline in the county, which showed that the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood has grown the most — about 18 percent from 2006 to 2011 — while the Antioch Unified District has lost more than 6.5 percent of its students during the same time period. Mt. Diablo’s student population has dropped about 2.5 percent, which means its state funding is also declining. If the district’s student population falls below 30,000 students, it will have to set aside 3 percent of its budget in reserve, instead of the 2 percent it now sets aside. The district’s current enrollment is around 32,000 students.

Gray also showed the difference in state per-student funding in Contra Costa districts, with Acalanes at the top of the heap with about $7,319 per student and Moraga at the bottom at $6,050 per student in 2010-11. Mt. Diablo ranked 10th with $6,346 per pupil. Gray said that high school districts receive more per student than unified districts, which receive more per student than elementary districts.

But the total amount of money each district has to spend varies even more, due to parcel taxes, education foundations and large parent donations in the wealthier areas of the county. The Orinda district topped this list, with a whopping $4,111 per student in “other local and prior-year revenue” per student n 2010-11, while Mt. Diablo had the smallest amount, with $408.43 per student.

In comparing teachers and other certificated employees who are not managers, Acalanes spent the most on salaries per student, with $4,387, while John Swett paid the least, at $3,035. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, at $3,534.

When looking at school and district administrator salaries, Canyon spent the most — at $1,040 per student — and Brentwood spent the least, or $381 per student. Mt. Diablo ranked 16th in this category, at $412 per student, in part because it is such a large district. Canyon spends more because it only has about 66 students.

Due to the fluctuating state budget, most districts statewide have accumulated large reserve funds, Gray said. This is because they have been bracing themselves for cuts that haven’t materialized thanks to the passage of Proposition 30.

Canyon has the highest reserve per student, at $6,496, while Liberty has set aside the least amount per student, at $1,060 in 2010-11, Gray said. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, with a set-aside of $1,795 per student.

All districts must submit their budgets to the County Office of Education this month, certifying whether or not they believe they will be able to pay all their bills in the next three years. When Mt. Diablo prepared its last budget, it projected that it would need to make cuts or raise more revenues in order to meet its financial obligations.

The board reviewed the budget in detail Monday and approved a “positive” certification, after CFO Bryan Richards told trustees the district will be able to pay its bills through the next three years:

The board on Monday also heard dozens of recommendations for spending cuts in special education during a FCMAT special education report presentation:

The district’s Budget Advisory Committee expects to review the budget in more detail at 5 p.m. Wednesday:

Do you think the district should make budget cuts to reduce its deficit-spending?

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »

Governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula would create winners and losers, some say

A new formula proposed by the governor to radically change the way school districts are funded is creating a buzz statewide, as officials look at projections released Wednesday that show some would get big revenue boosts, while others would receive far less per student.

The rationale for the funding overhaul is that disadvantaged students cost more to educate. So, districts that have a higher percentage of English learners and students who quality for free and reduced priced meals should get more money than those that don’t, the governor argues.

He would also do away with dozens of “categorical” funding streams that were created to funnel money into specific programs. Instead, the governor wants to give local control to school boards to decide how best to spend their dollars.

While most school officials praise the local control part of the proposal, some that would get less money under the plan are critical of the funding formula, which would provide supplemental grants equal to 35 percent of the base per student revenue for each English learner, economically disadvantaged student or foster youth.

Contra Costa County districts would see a wide variety of funding increases, ranging from a low of 12 percent growth in the tiny Canyon district to a high of nearly 71 percent in the Pittsburg district.

Although the state says Canyon has no English learners or low-income students, Superintendent Gloria Faircloth said that’s a mistake and she estimates about 12 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. In Pittsburg, 80 percent of students are low-income and 32 percent don’t speak English fluently.

Officials in these and other districts said they are waiting to see what the final outcome will be.

“It should change a little bit, but it still doesn’t look good for us,” said Faircloth, whose district educates about 66 K-8 students. “We’re so small, but with our operating costs, there’s a lot of things we have to do, so we’re not crazy about the new funding method. I understand why the governor wants to do this. It seems equitable for other districts, but we were all low, so it would be nice if we could go up (more).”

Canyon’s funding would rise by $857 per student, from $6,945 in 2011-12 to $7,802 when the plan is fully implemented. Pittsburg’s per student funding, on the other hand, would grow by $4,813 per student, rising from $6,799 in 2011-12 to $11,612 with full implementation.

Enrique Palacios, Pittsburg’s Deputy Superintendent of Business Services, said more money will mean more accountability.

“The challenge is, OK, we’re getting all this money,” he said, “but now the expectation is we have to bring the performance of students up and the decisions are going to be left to the local level.”

For districts that believe they will need more money, Palacios said the governor is also proposing to lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds voter approval to 55 percent.

The San Ramon Valley Unified District, which currently receives about $6.6 million a year through a parcel tax, would get a funding increase of about 39 percent under the local funding formula, based on a relatively low number of needy students, including 4.5 percent English learners and 2.5 percent who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

“The concept of local control is something that I think all school districts have wanted back for a long, long time,” said district spokesman Terry Koehne. “But, the devil’s in the details. That comes with a certain level of disparity. It’s going to mean that our district will most likely not receive as much money as other districts, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

Orinda Union Elementary would see a bump of about $2,027 per student when the formula is fully implemented, going from about $5,753 in 2011-12 to $7,780 per student, or a 35 percent increase.

“We’re very disappointed in the formula,” said Orinda Superintendent Joe Jaconette, “There shouldn’t really be winners and losers.”

Moraga Superintendent Bruce Burns agreed, saying the state should strive to raise all districts to the national average.

“There’s going to be some push-back from communities like Lamorinda,” he said. “They pay higher property taxes and income taxes and would expect a return on their tax dollar investment.”

A breakdown of all the projections is at

Do you support the governor’s funding proposal?

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 118 Comments »

Do you know how to shelter in place?

Children across Contra Costa County participated in the 11th Annual Countywide Shelter in Place Drill on Wednesday to practice safety procedures in the event of a hazardous materials release.

At Murwood Elementary in Walnut Creek, students and staff assembled in the main school building and made sure doors and windows were shut tight, said Tony Semenza, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Community Awareness Emergency Response Group, or CAER, which coordinated the drill.

“Remember,” he said, “this was a school that was only a few hundred yards away from the (gas) pipeline explosion a few years ago and that is about a quarter of a mile from Interstate 680 where you could have a tanker truck overturn.”

Children in day care centers and public and private schools were invited to practice responding to Community Warning System sirens, as well as radio, TV, social media and subscribed cell phone alerts.

Hazardous material releases could result from accidents at chemical or wastewater treatment plants, manufacturing or storage facilities and refineries, or from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals, according CAER.

Participants are asked to take shelter in enclosed areas and to shut off ventilation systems that bring air from outside indoors.

Semanza said his staff visited Murwood a week before the drill and inspected the school’s windows and doors to see if air might leak through.

The doors were airtight and no windows were cracked, he said. The staff was advised to evacuate four trailers on the campus and bring everyone to the main building, which includes rest rooms, drinking fountains and a cafeteria, he added.

“If they sheltered in place for a long time,” he said, “they could survive very well.”

In addition to the custodian, Semanza said several teachers were trained to shut off the ventilation in the event the custodian might become incapacitated or unavailable in an emergency, he said.

CAER also typically recommends that younger children congregate with teachers in large areas such as multipurpose rooms, where older students and adults can help support them, he added.

More information about sheltering in place is available by calling 925-313-9296 or by visiting Click on “Prepare for Emergencies.”

Posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

STAR scores show improvement in Contra Costa County

California’s recently released Standardized Reporting and Testing, or STAR, results for students in grades 2-11 showed most districts in Contra Costa County made gains in English language arts and math from 2011 to 2012. The state’s goal is for each student to score proficient or better.

Here’s how the districts stacked up against each other, with comparisons of English scores from 2011-12 followed by comparisons of math scores:

Percentage of Contra Costa district students scoring proficient or better:

2011 English, 2012 English,(Change), 2011 Math, 2012 Math,(Change)
Acalanes HS: 84.8, 87.2,(+2.4), 56.1, 57.5, (+1.4)
Antioch Unified: 47.1, 49.2,(+2.1), 38.3, 40.4, (+2.1)
Brentwood: 65.8, 69.1, (+3.3), 68.3, 68.4,(+0.1)
Byron: 62.1, 64.4, (+2.3), 64.4, 65.5, (+1.1)
Canyon: 79.6, 78.8, (-0.8), 70.4, 71.7, (+1.3)
John Swett Unified: 46.4, 50.3, (+3.9), 42.1, 43., (+0.9)
Knightsen: 64.4, 61.7, (-2.7), 68.4, 67.9, (-0.5)
Lafayette: 85.3, 87.6, (+2.3), 85.4, 88.0,(+2.6)
Liberty HS: 52.9, 60.4, (+7.5), 26.0, 29.5,(+3.5)
Martinez Unifed: 66.8, 69.0, (+2.2), 62.3, 65.6, (+3.2)
Moraga: 91.8, 93.3, +1.5, 90.6, 90.6, same
Mt. Diablo Unified: 56.8, 59.4, (+2.6), 52.1, 53.1, (+2.0)
Oakley: 55.9, 61.0, (+5.1), 52.9, 57.3, (+4.4)
Orinda: 91.6, 93.1, (+1.5), 91.2, 92.1, (+0.9)
Pittsburg Unified: 41.0, 44.3, (+3.3), 41.9, 43.5, (+1.6)
San Ramon Unified: 84.7, 86.1, (+1.4), 78.5, 79.4, (+0.9)
Walnut Creek: 81.0, 83.4, (+2.4), 79.9, 82.7,(+2.8)
West Contra Costa Unified: 42.0, 44.2, (+2.2), 37.8, 38.1, (+0.3)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 60.6, 63.3, (+2.7), 55.1, 56.5, +1.4)
CALIFORNIA: 54.4, 57.2, (+2.8), 50.4, 51.5, (+1.1)

High schools in unified districts tended to score worse on math than elementary and middle schools in those districts, according to this 2012 comparison provided to the Times by the Liberty high school district, which said its scores were comparable to other high schools:

Acalanes HS ELA: 88.2; math 59.3
Campolindo HS ELA 89.1; math 57.7
Las Lomas HS ELA 81.3; math 48.7
Miramonte HS 93.5; math 67.2

Antioch HS ELA 40.4; math 10.8
Deer Valley HS ELA 53.2; math 18.9
Dozier-Libby HS ELA 70.5; math 16.4

Freedom HS ELA 56.6; math 29.4
Heritage HS ELA 73.4; math 34,0
Liberty HS ELA 60.0; math 25.8

Alhambra HS ELA 69.1; math 55.8

Clayton Valley HS ELA 58.0; math 26.4
College Park HS ELA 67.9; math 37.1
Concord HS ELA 51.5; math 22.9
Mt. Diablo HS ELA 33.2; math 10.8
Northgate HS ELA 78.3; math 46.6
Ygnacio Valley HS ELA 32.9; math 15.0

Pittsburg HS ELA 35.1; math 18.2

California HS ELA 80.4; math 65.0
Dougherty Valley HS ELA 88.7; math 74.5
Monte Vista HS ELA 85.7; math 60.1
San Ramon HS ELA 79.0; math 56.4

De Anza HS ELA 37.2; math 11.8
El Cerrito HS ELA 42.4; math 15.8
Hercules HS ELA 50.0; math 14.8
Kennedy HS ELA 16.3; math 3.1
Middle College HS 81.3; math 32.6
Pinole Valley HS ELA 36.5; math 9.5
Richmond HS ELA 20.5; math 2.5

How do you think high schools could improve math instruction?

Posted on Saturday, September 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 37 Comments »