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Student protest at De Anza High stirs debate over West Contra Costa school board’s decision not to retain law academy teacher

"Law Academy students at De Anza High protest "

A protest last week at De Anza High in the West Contra Costa school district over the board’s decision not to renew Law Academy teacher Tahitia Dean’s contract prompted the following response from the district:

“WCCUSD is committed to recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our students. California law provides that new teachers have a two-year probationary period. During that time, teachers are evaluated and must meet the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, which include six dimensions of professional service. Teachers may excel at some components of professional practices while needing to develop in others. Students and parents may observe many, but not all, aspects of these professional standards whereas principals must evaluate all of them. The probationary period is designed to reinforce teachers in their areas of strengths and support teachers in areas where they fall short of the standards. If, however, they are not meeting all of the standards by March 15 of the second year of probation, the District, at the recommendation of the principal, issues a notice of non-re-election for the following year.

While we value and respect the opinions of our students and parents, the ultimate responsibility for evaluating teachers lies with the principal and the District. The District does not and cannot legally review staff performance in public or share the specific reasons that particular teachers are not recommended for tenure, which is awarded at the end of the second year. The process is thorough, comprehensive and aligned with all of the California teaching standards. The District requires principals to non-re-elect teachers when, in the judgment of the principal, teachers do not meet all components of those six standards. Throughout the District, 16 teachers from various schools have received notice of non-re-election for the 2015-16 school year. While the timing, coming so early in the year, is unfortunate, it is essential that the District hold high standards for professional practice in all six areas before conferring tenured status to teachers.”

Here is a link to more information about the teaching standards:

But some students and parents question whether there may be other factors contributing to the principal’s decision not to recommend Dean for tenure.

Here is a letter to the school board from one De Anza HS parent outlining her concerns about the process for dismissing Dean, which I am posting below, with her permission

“Sent: Sunday, March 15, 2015 8:02 PM
Subject: Issues at DeAnza High School

Dear Board Members,

I am writing you based on the assumption that you have never been fully informed on events pertinent to the renewal of Miss Dean’s contract at De Anza High School. I have to believe this to be true as it is the only viable explanation as to why you did not at the very least review Miss Dean’s case before rubber stamping Principal Evan’s recommendation. I will keep this email as brief as possible. Please give me the benefit of the doubt as I am giving you the benefit of the doubt, read this entire email and trust that any details given are pertinent.

Also, please know that although I am writing to you as a singular person, my views are shared by many parents and students at De Anza, as witnessed by our protest last Monday. Also know that the events I am going to detail for you regarding Miss Dean have moved this from a plea to renew one exceptional teachers contract, to a movement to change what we have found as a system that allows for an abuse of power with no accountability for those who are making recommendations to the board regarding probationary teachers employment.

In order to paint the entire picture I need to go back to April of last year. Miss Dean and Miss Rivera accompanied 8 children on a trip to Washington DC and New York during spring break. My daughter Madelyn, a junior at the time, was the only child to participate who was not in the law academy. As such, I did not know anything about Miss Dean. When I picked up Madelyn and another child from the airport they informed me that two girls on the trip were rude and disrespectful most of the trip. Miss Dean and Miss Rivera disciplined these children who then called their parents to complain about it. Those parents in turn sent threatening texts to the two teachers. They then went to the district, fabricated stories about Miss Dean and began a campaign of lies with the express intent of getting her fired. I was informed by my daughter that Miss Dean was escorted off of campus the Monday after school resumed. Tuesday, I had a meeting with Mr. Evans. He told me that the matter was completely out of his hands and in those of the district. He assured me that he was interviewing all 8 children. When I asked if he would be giving my statement and theirs to the district he assured me he would. After a week or so of hearing nothing form Mr Evans or the district, I began soliciting the district for answers but getting none. I and a few others continued to put pressure on the district. A month or so after Miss Dean was escorted off the school grounds she returned to class. I assumed everyone had come to their senses, but learned she was back only until the end of the school year as her contract had not been renewed. I believed the district knew we would assume she was going to be back the following year and never imagined that we would find out otherwise.

Mr. Evans continued to assert he had no influence on the decision not to bring Miss Dean back. So we had a meeting with Adam Taylor. Mr. Evans chose not to attend. After about a half hour expressing our very strong opinions about the situation, Mr Taylor informed us that in fact, it was not the district, but the sight managers decision. Mr. Evans decision. He was brought in and asked why he lied to us for nearly two months about his role in Miss Deans employment. We were never answered. As disturbing as that was, it was equally disturbing that Mr. Taylor claimed that the allegations against Miss Dean by these two sets of parents were being investigated. However the district never reached out to any of the other parents or the students that were on the trip. Nor did they reach out to Miss Rivera. Mr. Taylor was suppose to get back to us on how that could be so, but never did so. Miss Dean was offered her job back about a half an hour after that meeting ended. Never imagining in my wildest dreams that less than a year later, I would once again be forced to fight for her job, which in essence is our children’s access to one of the best teachers at De Anza, I let both Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor off the hook and went on with my life.

So less than a year later we find ourselves here. I am assuming you do know the details surrounding controversy of the children’s emails to Nancy Schiff the director of The Center for Youth Development. You do know that many parents and students believe Mr. Evans decision not to renew her contract is retaliation for those emails. I am not going to assume that you know about a meeting that parents, students and Miss Dean held Friday night February 27th which about 100 people attended including and unexpectedly Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor. Parents spoke about Miss Deans positive effect on their children. The children spoke about the impact Miss Dean has had on their lives. Some crying and bringing parents to tears in the process.

It was after this meeting that Adam Taylor told us we needed to attend the school board meeting on 3/4. He also informed the parents that what we thought really did not matter and we should have the kids speak. Many of us are very curious as to whether or not it is a district policy that our voices do not matter, or just his policy. The children expressed fear of retaliation if they were to speak at this meeting. Mr. Taylor then turned to Mr. Evans and instructed him not to retaliate. A directive that certainly adds credibility to the belief that there was in fact retaliation to the letters written to Ms. Schiff.

Now here is what I believe based on the incidents that occurred last year in conjunction with those that occurred this year. In addition to some political power plays, I believe there is a personality conflict between Mr. Evans and Miss Dean. I believe that Mr. Evans has decided to put his own self interests ahead of the students of De Anza and get rid of what he perceives as a thorn in his side. I believe he never intended to bring her back. I believe that anyone in the district who knows or suspects this to be true is derelict in their obligations to the students and parents of De Anza and are complicit in letting this happen. I believe Adam Taylor is one of those persons, and if he is not giving you the entire story, his continued employment at the district should be questioned.

Furthermore, it seems the criteria for evaluating whether or not a teachers contract is renewed is subjective. So maybe that criteria should be reevaluated. Or better yet, how about reevaluating whether or not the person interpreting criteria is capable of putting aside his personal aspirations and feelings and is capable of doing what is best for the children. If any teacher present or future is able to increase their students grades from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s and has community support but still do not have their contract renewed by the principal and the district, then I can only conclude that there is a systemic problem within the district.

Here is what I want to see happen. I believe I am speaking for many of us involved:

Revisit the renewal of Miss Deans contract.
Find out why the allegations against last year were never investigated.
Form a committee of parents and district representatives to come up with a procedure where parents and students voices will be heard before important decisions that effect their children’s education will be made, and where teachers can come without fear of retaliation.
Investigate whether or not there were other instances of the pushing out of good teachers at all WCCS high schools.

In closing I will tell you that as a tax payer and a parent, I expect to be taken seriously. When I went to bat for Miss Dean last year, I had no skin in this game. My daughter was not in the law academy and her eduction was not going to be effected personally. But I knew what was happening was wrong. Mr. Evans and Mr. Taylor can attest to the fact that I am tenacious when I perceive that there is a wrong to be righted. I will inform you now that I do have skin in this game. My son will be attending De Anza next year as a freshman. Before hearing those students speak at the meeting I was going to let him decide what academy he would be in. Now I have made the decision that it will be the law academy if Miss Dean is teaching. So I am not about to let this go. I am hopeful that now that you have the facts, you will attempt to regain our trust.

Thank you,
Pamela Fields”

It’s my understanding that Fields, other parents and some students may speak during public comment about this at Wednesday’s board meeting.

How do you think the school district should respond to the concerns being raised by students and parents?

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015
Under: Education, Richmond, West Contra Costa school district | 3 Comments »

MDUSD holds study session on $77 million bond issuance

The Mt. Diablo school board is meeting tonight to discuss issuing the remaining $77 million in 2010 Measure C funds. Here is the agenda:

“TYPE: Study Session
DATE: 3/9/2015 TIME: 6:30 PM CODE:
LOCATION: School District Board Room-1936 Carlotta Drive, Co

1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order Info

1.2 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

3.0 Study Session
3.1 Study Session to Discuss Future Bond Sales Info

4.0 Adjournment
4.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

Here is the agenda report:

“Study Session to consider potential future resolution authorizing Issuance and Sale of General Obligation Bonds, 2010 Election, 2010 Series F. Aggregate Principal Amount not to Exceed Seventy-Seven Million Dollars as authorized by the June 8, 2010 bond election. The proceeds of the bonds would be used to fund capital improvements/modernization work as previously deemed by the Board of Education to be essential to the maintenance and improvement of educational programming. Work includes, but is not limited to: Classroom technology improvements, roof replacements, restroom renovations, and kitchen improvements (Priority 1 projects).

Fiscal Impact : No impact to the General Fund. All costs of a future bond sale would be paid from monies raised through the sale of the bonds.

Recommendation: Study Session”

Here is the PowerPoint:

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the study session will be videotaped or archived.

What do you think of the proposal to sell the remaining $77 million in bonds in time for the 2015-16 building season?

Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2015
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 112 Comments »

MDUSD board tonight to vote on summer school intervention, Eagle Peak charter MOU, review special ed transportation handbook

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet at 7 p.m. tonight in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Some items of interest include summer school intervention and high school credit recovery, an MOU with the Eagle Peak Montessori charter school and a review of a special ed transportation handbook.

Here is the agenda:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 Board President Will Call The Meeting To Order at 6:00pm Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 Public Comment Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Admission of Student #B-15 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiator: Deborah Cooksey, Agency: MDSPA Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b), Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:00 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Admission of Student #B-15 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotia3ions or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiator: Deborah Cooksey, Agency: MDSPA Info/Action
8.3 (Item #3) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b), Significant Exposure to Litigation: 3 cases Info/Action

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions
9.1 Recognition of the MDUSD 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year Nominees and Finalists. Recognition of the MDUSD 2014-2015 Teachers of the Year for the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year 2015-2016 Program. Info

9.2 California Adult Schools Week – March 22-28, 2015. Action

10.0 Board Member Reports
10.1 Board Member Reports Info

11.0 Superintendent’s Report
11.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

12.0 Reports/Information
12.1 School Spotlight: Adult Education Info

13.0 Consent Agenda Action
13.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
13.2 (Item #2) Contract between the YMCA at Camp Arroyo and Meadow Homes Elementary Action
13.3 (Item #3) Contract between University Corporation Camp SEA Lab and Westwood Elementary Action
13.4 (Item #4) Mt. Diablo High School’s FAME Academy trip to Los Angeles April 6 – April 9, 2015 Action
13.5 (Item #5) Increase to the Contract for Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) to Provide Temporary One-to-One Assistants for Students Served by the CCCOE Special Education Programs during the 2014-2015 School Year. Action
13.6 (Item #6) Increase to Master Contract with Non-Public Agency Progressus Therapy for the 2014-15 School Year Action
13.7 (Item #7) Independent Service Agreement between MDUSD and G. Wayne Oetken & Associates Action
13.8 (Item #8) Adjustments to Position Control for the 2015-16 School Year Action
13.9 (Item #9) Request to Increase and Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
13.10 (Item #10) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action

14.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

15.0 Communications
15.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

16.0 Public Comment
16.1 Public Comment Info

17.0 Business/Action Item
17.1 2015 Summer School Intervention for grades 1, 5, 8 and High School Credit Recovery: Extended School Year, Title I Summer Program and District Summer Program Info/Action

17.2 Appointment of Summer School Administrators Action

17.3 Contract Between Mt. Diablo Unified School District and AVID for Implementation at College Park High School, Mt. Diablo High School, El Dorado Middle School, Oak Grove Middle School and District Leadership Info/Action

17.4 2015-16 School Calendar Action

17.5 PULLED BY STAFF: Financial and Operational Memorandum of Understanding and Supplemental Charter Agreement Between the Mt. Diablo Unified School District (“District”) and The Eagle Peak Montessori Charter School (“EPMS”) Action

17.6 Chabot Las Positas Community College District Inter-Agency Agreement with Mt. Diablo Adult Education and related MOUs with Pittsburg, Liberty, and West Contra Costa Adult Education. Action

17.7 Second Interim Report Action

17.8 Create Job Description for Administrator-Assessment, Research and Evaluation Action

17.9 Request to Increase and Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year. Action

17.10 Updated Cellular Phone Allowance Action

17.11 Review of Special Education Transportation Parent Handbook Info

17.12 Revised Job Description for Transportation Services Coordinator Info/Action

17.13 Membership Recommendation of Mr. John Parker as mandated taxpayer organization representative for the 2010 Measure C Citizens Bond Oversight Committee Action

17.14 Membership Recommendation for Mr. Todd Silva to serve on the 2010 Measure C Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. Action

17.15 Award of Service Contract to PHd Architects for Design of 2010 Measure C, Group 1, Restroom Renovations at Various Sites Action

17.16 Lozano Smith Legal Services Contract Action

17.17 Meeting Extension Action

17.18 Execution of Documents Action

18.0 Future Agenda Items
18.1 Future Agenda Items Info

19.0 Closed Session
19.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this Closed Session. Action
20.0 Reconvene Open Session
20.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

21.0 Adjournment
21.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

What items most interest you?

Posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2015
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 44 Comments »

Danville Whiz-Kid known for winning National Spelling Bee, Math and Intel Science contests is headed to University of Cambridge


For about a decade, journalists and editors at this newspaper have reported that Danville resident Evan O’Dorney was a scholar of extraordinary brilliance who appeared destined for greatness.

And this week, I received a news release from the University of Cambridge that confirms what people have said about him since he was a child — and even goes further — by calling him “a once-in-a-century talent.”

The former spelling bee, math and science competition champ has earned a prestigious Churchill Scholarship to attend the University of Cambridge for a year of Master’s study in pure mathematics. He will “solidify his foundations before pursuing a Ph.D. in arithmetic geometry,” according to the news release. “He looks forward to a career teaching and researching mathematics.”

We first reported about O’Dorney 10 years ago when he placed third in the Contra Costa County spelling bee as a 10-year-old third-grader, beating out more than 100 other top spellers who were significantly older. The following three years, O’Dorney aced the county bee and represented Contra Costa in the Scripps National Bee, which he won at age 13 in 2007.

At the time, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement: “Evan is a great example to all students that if you study hard, you can accomplish anything.”

O’Dorney met President George W. Bush and impressed the hosts on “Good Morning America” when he correctly spelled “radicchio” while juggling three balls. Also a pianist, O’Dorney was delighted when ABC-TV aired a prerecorded segment about him that featured a piano concerto he wrote.

A home-schooled whiz-kid who received math instruction through UC Berkeley, O’Dorney went onto win the American Mathematical Society’s “Who Wants to be a Mathematician?” competition at age 16 in 2010, after pointing out a mathematical error in a question he was asked.

The following year, at age 17, he won the Intel Science Talent Search, which included a $100,000 prize. For his project, O’Dorney solved a complex math problem involving the square root of numbers.

After this, he met President Barack Obama. He had chatted with Obama on the phone the previous year after winning the mathematician contest.

O’Dorney was also a four-time medalist in the International Math Olympiad.

“For four years now, Danville teenager Evan O’Dorney has amazed us,” an editorial in this newspaper said. “Simply put, the guy is brilliant. Seriously, he’s a genius.”

As he headed to Harvard, this newspaper wrote: “He clearly has a natural gift that he can use to make a very significant contribution to society. We congratulate him and wish him the best of luck.”

We didn’t hear anything else about him until we learned that his intellectual prowess is now recognized in the United Kingdom. The Cambridge news release, however, reveals that O’Dorney continued to earn accolades during his undergraduate studies.

He expanded his Intel Science project for publication, completed two National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and won several Harvard academic prizes, as well as the Putnam Mathematic Competition three years in a row. He now grades the US Math Olympiad and trains young mathematicians for it.

O’Dorney also composes and performs music, and is part of a choir specializing in Renaissance music.

Churchill Scholarships go to those who have “a capacity to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the sciences, engineering or mathematics by pursuing original, creative work at an advanced level … ” according to the website. A professor who taught a graduate-level class O’Dorney took as a Harvard freshman said, “He was by far the best student in the class, but even saying that doesn’t do him justice; the fact is, at many turns it was clear he knew the material better than I did.”

Others said: “ … A once-in-a-century talent,” and, “I think that Evan is going to be a mathematical leader in his generation.”

He’s on his way.

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015
Under: Danville, Education | 3 Comments »

West Contra Costa: Nystrom Elementary teachers air frustrations with principal

Several teachers at Nystrom Elementary in Richmond are hoping the district will act quickly to resolve a Uniform Complaint and 10 grievances they have filed related to their dissatisfaction with Principal LaDonna Williams.

Teachers Jocelyn Rohan, Kristiana Schmidt, Jacqueline Tank, Abbie Schultz and Mary Flanagan spoke to the board Wednesday night, sharing concerns about safety, responsiveness, respect, support and student services.

“We are currently in discussions with the district regarding many grievances we have against our principal,” Rohan said. “We’re hoping that the board will help expedite and prioritize our concerns.”

Rohan said Williams failed to proactively plan for emergencies. Broken walkie-talkies make it difficult to evacuate the school during fire drills, she said.

When staff has asked to order first-aid kits and emergency backpacks, Rohan said they have been told, “We can’t get that” or “We won’t get that.”

Standing side by side, the other teachers followed Rohan’s lead.

“This is a very difficult issue for us to talk about,” Schmidt said, “which is why we’re all here together standing in unity.”

She said their remarks were not a personal attack on Williams, but she may not be a good fit for the school. Schmidt said teachers feel unheard, and complained that $50,000 was not spent from the school’s budget last year, even though teachers have expressed many needs.

This year, she said, the school received a fairly large donation to pay for three kindergarten aides. Although the jobs were posted in September, she said applicants waited for months and that two of the positions were only recently filled, while one position is still vacant.

Schmidt also said teachers feel their judgment is undermined because they are forced to assess all students using a single assessment, even though they know their students best and know that they learn and test differently. Because of this, Schmidt said teachers would prefer to be able to assess their students using multiple testing methods.

Based on the one single test allowed, Schmidt said some students are placed in learning groups that don’t accurately reflect their academic levels, in part because some of them don’t speak English fluently.

Tank said she has felt personally attacked and affronted by the principal on multiple occasions. She said she was originally hired to teach third grade at Stege Elementary and didn’t learn she would actually be teaching at Nystrom until someone from the school called her and asked when she would pick up her keys.

She said she often has more than 40 children in her classroom, accommodating students from other classes where substitute teachers don’t show up. She said she does not feel safe, supported or respected.

She said the principal communicates negative messages by leaving notes instead of speaking to her in person.

“This is not a professional form of communication,” she said. “It has put a huge stress on my teaching as well as on the education of our students. No one can work or learn in an environment such as Nystrom.”

Schultz said she was a little too exhausted to add much, but was there to give moral support to her colleagues.

Flanagan said the teachers care deeply about their students, but that 19 out of 24 who were there three years ago when Williams came to the school have left, leaving only five from the original staff.

She cited lack of discipline as “a huge issue,” saying students leave class and roam around the campus without supervision. Flanagan also said many students are not tested for disabilities when teachers request such tests, preventing them from potentially receiving needed services for years. In addition, Flanagan said teachers must buy school supplies for their classes because the principal delayed ordering some until December.

The board did not respond during the meeting, but Trustee Val Cuevas said Friday that without taking sides, the comments she heard lead her to believe there’s something wrong at Nystrom.

“I think that’s evidence that something warrants our attention,” she said, “when five teachers come and are shaking in their boots to tell us minimally what their experience is.”

How do you think the district should resolve these complaints?

Posted on Saturday, February 14th, 2015
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 5 Comments »

How is the next generation of musicians influencing jazz evolution?





Out of the 83 GRAMMY Award categories this year, only five are devoted specifically to jazz.

The the uniquely American music rich in improvisation and imbued with soul is largely overshadowed at the glitzy star-studded event by more mainstream music such as pop, rap, rock, rhythm and blues and even country.

But while many of today’s teens may load up their iPods with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus tunes, there is also a new generation of jazz enthusiasts who are grooving to greats like trumpeter Miles Davis and bassist Ron Carter, while adding their own touches to the music and as they influence its evolution into the future.

Paul Contos, a music educator who directs the SFJAZZ and national Next Generation jazz orchestras, said many of the same musicians who go to GRAMMY Camp are also accepted into the Next Generation group.

“We know the majority of kids are into rap and stuff like that, but these kids are definitely into jazz,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of tours with these all-star groups and on the bus they’re listening to classic jazz recordings of all the greats, but they’re also coming up with the new stuff. And it’s an exciting process to see.”

Some Bay Area teens selected to participate in GRAMMY Camp this year had varying views about how to honor the history of jazz and keep it alive, while also making the music relevant to their generation.

For example, the two bass players selected for GRAMMY Camp — who are also both in the SFJAZZ orchestra — play very differently, in part due to their tastes, influences, experiences and personalities, Contos said. He described Kanoa Mendenhall, a Richmond resident who attends the NOVA Independent School in Novato, as “a wonderful person,” “precocious,” “quiet,” and “very mature.”

Mendenhall was selected as last year’s GRAMMY Combo bassist and is this year’s bass player for the GRAMMY Camp band. Contos described Max Schwartz, a Berkeley High student who is the GRAMMY Combo bassist this year, as “a treat.”

“He’s an energetic, focused, demonstrative young man,” Contos said. “He’s just got a great spirit.”

Mendenhall and Schwartz agreed that they come from different schools of bass.

“He comes more from a Ray Brown style and I come more from a Ron Carter style,” said Mendenhall, 17. “I pretty much accept all different areas of jazz, but I really like the old type of jazz as well. That’s what I’m really working on right now, just to get my foundation. I think it’s really important to learn all the masters because that’s where jazz came from and I think it’s better to focus on that rather than delving into today’s music.”

Mendenhall said she’s listening to “post-50s bee-boppish piano trios,” but not so much to Dixieland or swing big bands. Schwartz, who also plays bluegrass music, said most people his age are into more contemporary music.

“They’re more obsessed with modern music, with modern musicians, with everybody new,” he said. “So to me, it’s a dying breed of musicians who strive for authenticity.”

Schwartz said he tries to learn as much as he can from the masters who pioneered the music, but is most interested in what was “game-changing.”

Trombonist Lindsay Dobbs, 17, of San Mateo, said she wants to incorporate different kinds of music into jazz, such as R&B, funk and neo-soul, which she described as a gospel soul sound with a jazz influence. Dobbs said she likes neo-jazz from Los Angeles and contemporary jazz groups such as Snarky Puppy.

“I think contemporary jazz is really interesting because it’s so complex,” Dobbs said. “I think a lot of people would hear it and they wouldn’t know what to call it because it doesn’t sound like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.”

Jazz vocalist Joshua Tazman, 16, of San Francisco, said he’s a fan of “crossover jazz pop” music by artists such as Stevie Wonder. Tazman said he wants to help bring jazz to his generation by transforming it from what it has been in the past into something new.

“I feel like my contribution to jazz is going to be to move it forward into a new era,” Tazman said. “It’s clear that jazz is losing popularity, but I think it means we need to innovate.”

How do you think jazz will evolve?

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2015
Under: Education, Jazz | 28 Comments »

What is the value of performing arts in society?

Just a little over a week after newly-sworn in Contra Costa County Superintendent Karen Sakata proudly performed with a Taiko drum group at her inauguration ceremony, the president of the county board of education has questioned the value of performing arts in society.

Board President Daniel Gomes angered a crowd of arts advocates at a board meeting earlier this week by suggesting that pursuing the idea of a countywide performing arts charter school might be “wasting money and wasting time — and we might be wasting lives by supporting this.”

This prompted Rob Seitelman, a local teacher and professional actor, to yell back: “That’s how I want to waste my life — by supporting the arts!”

In a long and rambling monologue, Gomes said it would be better to pursue a countywide charter focused on robotics or environmental science than performing arts.

“These are programs that are vital to our survival as a society,” he said. “It’s well and good that arts — and performing arts especially — are part of our society, but they’re not the vital part of our society.”

When the crowd erupted with gasps of disbelief, Gomes said those who disagreed with him could vote against him in the next election.

“But until then,” he said, “you should listen to what I have to say because I listened to what you have to say.”

Many people left after the board unanimously denied the proposed Contra Costa School of Performing Arts, based on staff findings that the petition did not meet state requirements for approval.

But Gomes’ comments set off a larger debate, causing some people to question his characterization of the arts as less important than science. In education, arts have suffered severe cuts and have been considered “extras” by some, in part because of the No Child Left Behind emphasis on math and English language arts, coupled with years of budget cuts.

As the economy has recovered and studies have shown the value of the arts in education, there has been a renaissance of arts in many schools. Even the Contra Costa County Office of Education emphasizes the value of arts alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — known as STEM — by hosting a STEAM Colloquium that integrates the arts into STEM.

And earlier this year, representatives from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence visited Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord to praise its integration of the arts into its curriculum. John Abodeely, deputy director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, said the arts are a vital part of a well-rounded education and are especially powerful in efforts to engage underperforming students.

“The arts are not something you provide to students when you’ve fixed all the other problems,” he said. “Just like music is not something that’s been a part of humanities after we’ve figured out all of our other problems. It’s been a part of our soul and heart forever. So, the arts are a critical element in reform strategies.”

Outside the county board meeting, performing arts teacher Jason Miller said he disagreed with Gomes.

“Arts education is essential to our society,” he said. “The sentiment expressed tonight (by Gomes) was alarming — the idea that arts education isn’t valuable or that arts students are wasting their lives.”

After my story about the meeting was published, retired arts teacher Suzanne Cerny called to express her dismay about Gomes’ comments.

“How did this guy get to be president (of the board)?” she asked. “Studies show how arts are important. This reminds me of people in power who demean the people whom they are supposed to be helping.”

I also spoke to Richard Asadoorian, a former Contra Costa County trustee who lost his seat in the November election, who said he didn’t believe the arts should be considered as secondary behind other subjects.

“So often, the arts have been cut in schools,” he said. “They’re usually the first to go, along with librarians and counselors.”

Do you think performing arts are vital to society?

Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2015
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education | 56 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board tonight to discuss linked learning, special ed identification, audit and early retirement notification incentive

The Mt. Diablo school board has agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Mondays instead of at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, starting tonight. Here is the agenda for tonight’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the district office board room at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.

Highlights include the district’s participation in a regional career pathways consortium, revisions to identification and evaluation for special education, the 2013-14 audit and a $1,000 early retirement notice incentive.

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Expulsion of Student #04-15. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Admission of Student #A-15 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.3 (Item #3) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee Info/Action
4.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b), Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:00 p.m. Info
7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Expulsion of Student #04-15. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Admission of Student #A-15 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.3 (Item #3) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee Info/Action
8.4 (Item #4) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b), Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions

10.0 Board Member Reports
10.1 Board Member Reports Info

11.0 Superintendent’s Report
11.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

12.0 Reports/Information
13.0 Public Employee Appointment
13.1 PULLED BY STAFF: Appointment of Vice Principal, Adult School Action
13.2 Appointment of Manager, Grounds & Facilities Assessment Action

14.0 Consent Agenda Action
14.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
14.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
14.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.4 (Item #4) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
14.5 (Item #5) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year. Action
14.6 (Item #6) Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) Request Action
14.7 (Item #7) Education Code 44256(b Board Authorization Action
14.8 (Item #8) Variable Term Waiver Resolution Action
14.9 (Item #9) Ygnacio Valley High School Marching Band & Jazz Ensemble New Orleans Performance Tour, February 4-9, 2015 Action
14.10 (Item #10) Sequoia Middle School’s Leadership Field Trip Action
14.11 (Item #11) Northgate’s Folsom Jazz Festival January 23-25, 2015 Action
14.12 (Item #12) Contract between University Corporation-Camp Sea Lab and Ayers Elementary Action
14.13 (Item #13) Contract between ENH-Loma Mar and Woodside Elementary Action
14.14 (Item #14) Clinical Affiliation Agreement-Nursing between California State University Dominguez Hills and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.15 (Item #15) Submission of Two Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for Eleven Eligible Bay Point and Concord Mt. Diablo CARES After School Programs Action
14.16 (Item #16) Notice of Completion Lease/Leaseback #1635: Athletic Facility Improvements Project at Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
14.17 PULLED BY STAFF: (Item #17) Joint Use Agreement between Pleasant Hill Recreation and Mt. Diablo Unified School District regarding Pleasant Hill Middle School Tennis Courts Action
14.18 (Item #18) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on December 10, 2014 Action

15.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion
16.0 Communications
16.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

17.0 Public Comment
17.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

18.0 Business/Action Item
18.1 Board of Education Committee Assignments for 2015 Action

18.2 MOU between MDUSD and Contra Costa County Office of Education for the Regional Diablo Gateway to Innovation California Career Pathways Trust grant. Action

18.3 Independent Services Contract with ConnectEd Action

18.4 AP US History Textbook Adoption Presentation Info

18.5 Psychology Textbook Adoption Presentation Info

18.6 Amended Contract With Bay Area Community Resource (BACR) Action

18.7 Revision to BP 6164.4 – Identification and Evaluation of Individuals for Special Education Action

18.8 Revision to AR 6159.4 – Behavioral Interventions for Special Education Students (Post-Hughes Bill) Action

18.9 Budget Development Calendar 2015-2016 Action

18.10 2013-2014 Audit Report Action

18.11 2014-15 Early Retirement Notification Incentive Action

18.12 Approval of Tentative Agreement between CSEA (Mt. Diablo 43) and MDUSD for 2014/15 Re-Opener (Benefits Action

18.13 Public Hearing for Resolution 14/15-30: Increase Statutory School Facility Fees Imposed on New Residential and Commercial/Industrial Construction Action

18.14 Resolution No. 14/15-30 Increasing the Statutory School Fees Imposed on New Residential and Commercial/Industrial Development Projects Action

18.15 Meeting Extension Action

18.16 Execution of Documents Action

19.0 Future Agenda Items
19.1 Future Agenda Items Info

20.0 Closed Session
20.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this Closed Session. Action

21.0 Reconvene Open Session
21.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

22.0 Adjournment
22.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

What items pique your interest?

Posted on Monday, January 12th, 2015
Under: Education, linked learning, Mt. Diablo school district | 135 Comments »

A New Day Dawns in County Superintendent’s Office, but drumbeat continues

Karen Sakata is sworn in as the Contra Costa County superintendent of schools outside of the Contra Costa County Office of Education

At her swearing-in ceremony earlier this week, Contra Costa County Schools Superintendent Karen Sakata was honored with an original poem written and presented by Kathy Moore, who is a curriculum and instruction coordinator in the San Ramon Valley school district and is also the city of San Ramon’s Poet Laureate.

The poem, which appears below, references the fact that Sakata has got many traits and talents, including prowess as a Taiko drummer. Former Superintendent Joseph Ovick was also a drummer, although he did not play Taiko drums.

“A new day dawns
A new era begins
This day, today
Built on a vision of kindness and civility
Passed from hand to hand, heart to heart
Past becomes future, a rhythmic drumbeat,
Carried on each heartbeat
Student by student by student

Today we hear the drumbeat
Of Respect
Of Integrity
Of Diversity
Of Teamwork
Of Ethical Leadership
Of Creativity and Innovation
Of Advocacy for all learners

The persistent advocacy of education that matters for one, for all
Passed from hand to hand, heart to heart,
Teacher to teacher, drummer to drummer, leader to leader
Here and now

Karen Sakata, your moment is our moment
From there to here, you’ve traveled well
Following your passion with strength and compassion
Listening loudly to each child in need
Lifting the spirit, spreading the word
Drumbeat by drumbeat, heartbeat by heartbeat,
Walking the true path and leading with love”

Here is a video clip of Moore reading her poem, followed by two video clips of Sakata’s performances with the Diablo Taiko group:




After she was sworn in, Sakata said the most important thing for her and her career and her life have been my relationships. Sakata said she and her husband and sons had an “incident” in December, on which she did not elaborate.

“It shook us up, but I think it made our priorities really important,” she said. “What I really learned from it is that it’s the relationships that make all the difference — everything that we do at work, everything that we do at home, everything that we do with one another. So, I’m so pleased to be here with all of my colleagues, my friends. I think friends and family make all the difference and make us more relevant and important.”

She proudly introduced her husband, sons and brother, referring to them as her “men in black” in the front row because they were all clad in dark clothing. Sakata also thanked Ovick for his support throughout her career.

“Joe’s been my friend and mentor for the last over 30 years,” she said. “He hired me when I was in my late 20s at Santa Clara County. I never thought at that time that we would be working together and that I would be in this position. And so, I owe most of it to you, Joe, and of course, everything to my family and my friends.”

Sakata said she was excited about her new role as superintendent.

“I know that what I want for students in Contra Costa is the same thing I always wanted for my boys,” she said. “I want kids to be successful, ready to work, to find something that they love to do and that will enhance their talents, to have choices in their lives, and to be — most importantly — good people and good citizens.”

However, Sakata acknowledged that some hurdles remain.

“I know that right now, there are some big challenges that we face in education with the state standards, new assessment, new funding model and new accountability for school districts,” she said. “But, I see this as an opportunity and I see this position as a way to promote the county office and the wonderful work that we do in programs and support and in oversight. Again, I want to thank all of you and I am very excited about my next four years as superintendent.”

What are your hopes for Contra Costa County students?

Posted on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015
Under: Education | No Comments »

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 »