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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:

Poem: http://youtu.be/V98LBQD28os

Hachijo: http://youtu.be/uqLQcp9RoyQ?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Raku: http://youtu.be/rxN19NZ-GiY?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

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 »

Longtime education advocate Rep. George Miller bids farewell as Congressman

Rep. George Miller sent out his final message to the community as a Congressman earlier this week, marking the end of his four decades of service representing Martinez, Concord and surrounding areas. Since he has been a stalwart proponent of education issues, I am reprinting his message below, along with a few of my own impressions of his work on behalf of students throughout the country, as well as here in Contra Costa County.

“Dear Friend,

It is with mixed emotions that I write this final e-mail as a Member of Congress. At the end of this month, I will officially retire after serving 40 years in the House of Representatives.

As I said in January when I announced my plan to retire, I am proud of what I have accomplished and what I have fought for but I am also clear that it is time for me to pursue my passions and interests in new venues. And that is what I will do.

More than anything, however, I will be forever grateful to the constituents of Contra Costa and Solano counties who have been so supportive and engaged in the issues that we have fought for together over the years to improve the lives of children and working families and to protect our environment and open spaces.

I will miss my work in the Congress, without a doubt. Despite the frustrations of a highly partisan institution, it is still a place where every now and then we can turn our values and our ideals into reality.

No issue is a better illustration of that than the passage of national health care legislation in 2010, an issue I fought for from the beginning to the end of my career and that is now improving the lives of millions of Americans and helping our economy.

I have considered it a privilege and an honor to serve you in Congress, whether it was to protect our precious fresh water resources, improve public schools for all kids and their teachers, increase the minimum wage, make our workplaces safer, or preserve our history and heritage through the expansion of national parks.

Thank you for your confidence in me, for your trust, and for your friendship over the years. If you live in the 11th district, I know that your new congressman, Member-elect Mark DeSaulnier, will be ready and able to assist you starting in 2015, just as my staff and I have done all these years.

Best wishes this holiday season and thank you for staying involved in the issues that matter most to you and to our country. Congress is at its best when our citizens are fully engaged.”

Miller has been fully engaged as a Congressman. When he returned home, he frequently visited schools and spoke about education at community gatherings.

I have appreciated his down-to-earth, no-nonsense communication style, tinged with quick wit. He’s approachable, doesn’t dodge questions and isn’t afraid to make bold statements that might not please all of his constituents.

In 2011, he expressed strong support for the controversial conversion of Clayton Valley High to a charter school, which the Mt. Diablo school district opposed.

“I believe that the proposal by the Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee presents an important opportunity for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to explore alternative educational forums and opportunities in your very diverse and dynamic district,” he wrote, adding that charters done right share feedback with districts that can be mutually beneficial.

“I believe that the Clayton Valley Charter High School Steering Committee proposal has the real potential to be one of the success stories of the public charter school efforts in California,” Miller wrote.

His endorsement gave the school powerful leverage when it sought and received permission from the Contra Costa County Board of Education to convert to independence.

Miller also defends No Child Left Behind, even though he says the law that aims to get every student in the country performing at grade is flawed and needs to be rewritten because of its harsh penalties for schools that fail to meet the strict federal goals.

What do think is Miller’s education legacy?

Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014
Under: Education | No Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The group’s recommendations include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | 68 Comments »

What is Charles Ramsey’s legacy in the West Contra Costa school district?

At former West Contra Costa school Board President Charles Ramsey’s last meeting Dec. 3, more than two dozen residents, union representatives, architects, lawyers and former and current elected officials praised his 21 years of service. Many highlighted Ramsey’s work to help pass six construction bond measures to fund the district’s $1.6 billion bond program, while others commended him for founding the Ivy League Connection, which has helped place students in top-notch universities around the country. One parent thanked Ramsey for his accomplishments, along with his “guts.”

However, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the district’s bond financing program, along with a subpoena to Ramsey that has triggered $350,000 in legal fees approved by the board for his brother’s law firm, have raised questions from some residents who don’t believe the district should fund those costs. Now that the FBI is also asking questions related to the bond program, it may be too soon to determine Ramsey’s legacy.

But Ramsey’s staunch supporters didn’t let those developments dampen their enthusiastic accolades. Architect Fred Powell joked that he had a gift for Ramsey, but he didn’t want to be investigated by the SEC or FBI, so he wondered if it was OK to give it to him. Here are excerpts of some other comments:

Former teachers’ union President Diane Brown: “You have made an incredible difference … It wasn’t always easy, but it was a hell of a journey.”

Parent Romy Douglas: “The thing that I learned about Charles Ramsey is that he is involved in everything.”

Former Trustee Karen Fenton: “You started off as a pretty ‘bad boy,’ but you’ve evolved into a major force … I’ve sometimes compared you to Daddy Warbucks (for fundraising). Your standards for yourself and your family are really high and I hope everyone else realizes it. How else could we have gotten all this money out of the poor taxpayers of Contra Costa? You are the West County Steve Jobs … You didn’t just tell people to do things. If they weren’t moving fast enough or hard enough, you stepped in and did it yourself. And we followed you. So, your leadership is one of bullying, but also leading the charge.”

Former Richmond City Councilwoman Donna Powers: “This legacy that you have, it gives me goose bumps. You can drive all around West County and you can point out all of these facilities and you can go, ‘I did that. I got that done.’ … It’s so nice to have people who actually get elected and get off their butt and they do something.”

Peter Hanley, San Mateo Union High School District Trustee: “We all kind of learn that it’s not about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. And I think Charles has learned to do that very well, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

Robert Studdiford, former bond oversight committee member: “I feel like you’re one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met in my life. ”

Former Trustee Karen Pfeifer: “Without you, we wouldn’t have gotten out of bankruptcy. We wouldn’t have (Superintendent) Dr. Harter sitting up there. … You’re a cherished member of this district. I’m certain that the district will miss your hands-on participation.”

Architect Wally Gordon: “It’s just been an incredible ride to know that excellence happens everywhere in this world, even in places where people don’t expect it.”

Architect Douglas Davis: “You are truly the Robert Moses (New York City master builder) of the school district.”

Former Richmond City Councilman Jim Rogers: “He is the Energizer Bunny. He’s going: ‘Talk, talk, talk. Think think, think.’ Very bright. Very shrewd. Very committed. And, you know, a few rough edges, yeah. But the proof’s in the pudding. He’s gotten the job done.”

Even resident Mike Ali Kinney, who opposed Ramsey, found something to compliment: “You’re one of the best damned hell-raisers I know.”

What do you think is Ramsey’s legacy?

Posted on Friday, December 12th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 5 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district is collecting donations for homeless and foster youth

For the past three years, the Mt. Diablo school district has collected donations during the holiday season for its homeless and foster youth. Last year, the district served 190 homeless students and 224 foster youth through its holiday donation drive, said James Wogan, program administrator. This year, the district is collecting donations for 128 foster youth and 226 homeless students through Dec. 17.

Some homeless families have lost their homes and have moved in with other family or friends, he said. Others have lived in vehicles, tents, homeless shelters or on-and-off in hotels.

Over half of the foster youth live in group homes, Wogan said.

“It’s those kids who we prioritize for the holidays,” he said, adding that it’s hard for them to wake up Christmas morning wondering where their biological parents are. “Just growing up in a group home is very difficult. At least, homeless families have each other, whereas for foster youth, they’re with staff members.”

Wogan and other district staff members and social workers distribute gift cards, hoodies and other donations, he said.

“We brighten their holiday season,” he said, “because we’re able to grant some of their wishes.”

Here is the group’s donation request:

“Dear Mt. Diablo Unified Community,

In the spirit of the holiday season, we are writing to ask for your consideration to contribute to a local foster youth or homeless child. There are children who attend our schools who do not have enough to eat, stable housing, or parents in their lives. Life is a struggle and they are doing their best to overcome trauma, stress and hardships. We do all that we can to support homeless students and foster youth, and we need your help. You do so much already, we can’t thank you enough. If your family and friends are looking for additional ways to make a real and lasting impact in kids’ lives this holiday season, please consider contributing to Mt. Diablo HOPE and Foster Youth Services.

Below are ways that you can help:

1. Donations of gift cards are greatly appreciated. Gift cards enable caregivers and youth to pick out and buy their own items, a luxury that many families live without. Department store (Target, Kohl’s, etc.) and grocery store (Safeway, Albertson’s, Raley’s) gift cards can be dropped off at the front desk of the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord; mailed or dropped off to Mt. Diablo HOPE at 2730 Salvio St., Concord, CA (94519); or dropped off with the principal at all Mt. Diablo Unified schools in care of Mt. Diablo HOPE.

2. Donations by check can be made payable to ‘Mt. Diablo HOPE.’ We will send you a receipt for tax purposes. Please drop off or send contributions to:

Elsa Dalpiaz and James Wogan
Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education (MDUSD HOPE)
2730 Salvio St., Concord, CA (94519)

Checks can also be dropped off at the front desk of the Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord; or dropped off to the principal at all Mt. Diablo Unified schools in care of Mt. Diablo HOPE.

3. Donations can also be made by PayPal via www.mdusd.org. (Click on Holiday Donation Drive — Mt Diablo Homeless and Foster Youth.)

4. If you would like to ‘sponsor’ an individual foster youth or homeless child for the holidays, please e-mail your name and contact information to hope@mdusd.org or visit https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16KJTWxVw89lDuJdWJ2uzAevGdYBr0v_lqOraE-Ed3Vw/edit?usp=sharing or E-mail hope@mdusd.org.

5. We are collecting new hoodies and sweatshirts for our homeless students and foster youth. New hoodies and sweatshirts can be dropped off at three locations:

– Mt. Diablo Unified District Office, 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord.
– Willow Creek Education Center, 1026 Mohr Lane, Concord.
– Mt. Diablo Homeless Outreach Program for Education (Mt. Diablo HOPE) 2730 Salvio St., Concord.

Please feel free to forward this. Thank you for helping to spread the word.
On behalf of our homeless children and foster youth, we THANK YOU!

Happy Holidays!”

Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »

New information regarding West Contra Costa school district’s WLC Pinole Valley contract, Nixon Peabody contract and district insurance

Tonight’s West Contra Costa school board meeting will include a vote on a $7.5 million increase to the WLC Architects’ contract for Pinole Valley High’s design, as well as several contract increases related to the SEC investigation.

However, as usual, the district has not attached all of the relevant back-up documents to the agenda. In an attempt to get more information for the public, I requested the original WLC contract for Pinole Valley High, along with the first five Additional Services Authorizations (or ASAs) and the original Nixon Peabody contract.

Marcus Walton, communications director for the district, provided me with ASA 5, along with 10 attachments that shed light on the proposal to be considered tonight. ASA 5 was similar, and would have bumped the total contract up to $17.4 million. Of special note is attachment 3, which spells out the $134.4 million in construction costs on which WLC is basing its 12 percent fee. Here is a link to ASA 5 and its attachments: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceY3Jqc2tlLThsOE0/view?usp=sharing.

Also, although there appear to be TWO separate contracts for Nixon Peabody on tonight’s agenda, Walton told me that he has been told they are both increases to an existing contract. Here is the contract he sent me: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZ0lteW1nckhuY1E/view?usp=sharing

However, this contract does not say anything about the SEC investigation, Bond MCDC or IRS audit. Instead, it was approved as a “continuation of services” Engagement for Disclosure Counsel Services on June 25, 2014 in the amount of $50,000. When I pointed out that the agenda for tonight says the Nixon Peabody contract is an increase to an existing $30,000 contract, Walton said that was a typo. He didn’t have an explanation for why the other Nixon Peabody contract is not listed as an addition to an existing contract.

Also, some members of the public have been questioning why the district’s insurance doesn’t cover these contracts. Also on June 25, 2014, the district approved two continuing services contracts for risk management-liability totaling more than $2 million with Northern California Relief and Keenan and Associates: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceMzVfWG5GeFZEMUU/view?usp=sharing. It’s unclear why these policies do not cover the types of services being funded by the district for the SEC investigation.

Finally, one member of the public questions why the board has proposed a bylaw amendment that would provide the board with specific authority to hire outside legal counsel. In an email to the board and superintendent today, Charley Cowens wrote:

“Dear Board Members and Superintendent:

From reading the board policies for BB 9310 Board Bylaws there is a provision that says:

‘Board Bylaws

The Board shall prescribe and enforce rules for its own government consistent with state law and regulations. (Education Code 35010)

Bylaws governing Board operations may be developed, adopted, and amended following the same procedures as those used for the adoption or amendment of Board policy.’

In this section before this passage, it says board policies require a first reading before action can be taken, so that would apply to any bylaw changes.

Here’s the link to the section: http://www.gamutonline.net/district/wccsd/DisplayPolicy/436948/9

I hope you realize this can only be the first reading of this bylaw change.

I have a few more questions for this first reading:

1. Why is this on a special meeting agenda at all? The only items that need to be dealt with are the charter school apps that are overdue because of WCCUSD.

2. Why is this bylaw change being made at all? People may feel your current arrangement for the fees to be unheard of, unwise, extravagant, contemptuous, or ridiculous, but the legal authority of the Board to do this is not in question. Adding these words or not — after the fact, especially — has no effect on the legal authority to do this or the overwhelmingly negative public opinion about it.”

Do you think the board should approve the proposed bylaw change, WLC contract increase and SEC contracts?

Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 89 Comments »

Eukel Teacher Trust Award winners talk about their passion for teaching

Each year, the Warren W. Eukel Trust awards three outstanding educators $10,000 each in honor of their excellent teaching.

At the awards dinner Thursday, Campolindo High school social studies teacher Paul Verbanszky, Stanley Middle School science teacher Michael Meneghetti and St. Francis of Assisi School first grade teacher Karen Kreider inspired the audience with speeches that highlighted their dedication to their students.

Verbanszky said he wanted to recognize the amazing, hardworking and inspirational teachers who influenced him. He said he noticed that strong teachers share several traits, such as dedication to their jobs, flexibility in their teaching and empathy toward their students.

“Successful teachers are passionate — passionate about their students, passionate about their subject,” he said. “They are animated, energetic, and teach the material with enthusiasm. And this passion becomes contagious and students get excited about even the most mundane topics that need to be covered. And I know this well. I teach the potentially boring subjects of government and economics. But I always try to teach with passion and perhaps some humor, hoping to make the material interesting and relevant to their lives.”

Verbanszky said a previous award winner nominated him.

“He told me that when he received his award almost two decades ago, the colleague who had nominated him had asked him to pass on the honor and nominate someone in the future,” Verbanszky said. “Per the request of my colleague, I plan to again pass on the honor. I will keep in mind these traits I have outlined to you and I will nominate a colleague — or many colleagues — in the years to come, that I feel fit the description, because many times, teaching is a little thankless, but this award means so much.”

Meneghetti said he was also fortunate to have had teachers who inspired him. These included a middle school teacher who allowed him to teach a lesson about adverbs, a high school teacher who talked about the science behind ordinary things such as soap, and a community college teacher who told him his great ideas got lost in his writing due to spelling and grammatical errors.

“I still have that paper and I keep it as a reminder,” Meneghetti said. “I had never been told that my ideas were good or that they became lost because of my neglect.”

Meneghetti said he remembers all the lessons he learned when he approaches his own students.

“I love providing experiences that engage, promote deeper thinking and heighten curiosity,” he said. “I’m thrilled when I hear my students heading off to their next class still discussing the day’s activity or parents telling me that their frequent dinner conversation is what happens in science or robotics class.”

He also said he is forever learning with his students.

“Never, ever, leave hot glue guns unattended,” he quipped. “And, school smoke alarms are extremely sensitive. Even 13-year-olds, who try not to show any emotion, become animated and amazingly overjoyed when the LED lights in their soldering projects simply blink on and off.”

Kreider shared the secrets of bringing joy to first graders, explaining how she uses puppets and other visual aids to enrich her lessons. She said she encourage her students in a variety of ways.

“Children are very sensitive,” she said. “They know when they’re weak in certain areas, like academics, or social interaction or speaking in front of the class. I try to shore up these areas by tutoring, praising and a lot of responsibility.”

Kreider said she tells students she doesn’t care if they make mistakes. Instead, she asks them to do their best.

“You’d be amazed at what a confident and empowered first-grader can do,” she said.
After telling many anecdotes from her classroom, Kreider said: “What do I receive for all my efforts?”

“Something more valuable than rivers of gold and buckets of diamonds. I receive a child’s love and respect.”

Here are links to video of the introductions and speeches (unfortunately, I ran out of storage space on a few of the clips, so I wasn’t able to capture all the speeches in their entirety.)

Into to Verbansky speech: http://youtu.be/NaWisiMkYs4?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Verbansky speech, part 1: http://youtu.be/udez-gHvkq0?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Verbansky speech, part 2: http://youtu.be/jkGBVaUbS_U?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider intro: http://youtu.be/oHzHpKwgI14?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider speech, part 1: http://youtu.be/Vp5fM3Z8Vl8?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Kreider speech, part 2: http://youtu.be/nwq3fchPiqg?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

Meneghetti intro and speech: http://youtu.be/uPqfc7zHmcc?list=UUzNb8poV27WgVD3TDzblkZw

What do you think are the traits of a great teacher?

Posted on Friday, November 21st, 2014
Under: Education | No Comments »

How do you think the West Contra Costa district could be more transparent?

A few years ago, many residents and employees in the Mt. Diablo school district complained about a lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making. Today, things have improved under new leadership.

For example, contracts are listed separately on agendas and the documents are attached to agenda packets, so the public can see what is being decided. When the board recently extended Superintendent Nellie Meyer’s contract, it was listed on the public agenda with the contract attached.

Now, the Mt. Diablo district looks like a poster child for transparency compared to the West Contra Costa district. A case in point was the chaotic West Contra Costa board meeting Wednesday, where the board agreed to extend Superintendent Bruce Harter’s contract under the vague heading of “performance evaluation” on a closed session agenda (Item 8). The contract was not attached and there was no mention that the “one year extension” would actually last through June 30, 2018.

District residents say this is business as usual in West Contra Costa, where the public is left in the dark, while the board wonders why trust is deteriorating.

“Still, no one knows what the arrangement is with the superintendent at all,” said resident Charley Cowens. “That was not real sufficient notice of what’s going on. They should have a hearing. They should allow the public to have a meaningful opportunity to give them feedback. Who wouldn’t be interested in getting feedback on their job from the people they’re trying to serve?”

Cowens suggests that the district make the superintendent’s goals and objectives public so that everyone knows what he’s striving to achieve. This is an idea that has already been implemented in the Mt. Diablo district.

Resident Linda Ruiz-Lozito said the West Contra Costa district should look for new leadership.

“WCCUSD is one of the lowest performing districts in California,” she said. “This school board has voted to keep the same (administrative) leadership in place for four more years, right before new school board members come on the board.”

Resident Scottie Smith said the board is not good at making things clear to the public.

“In all my years of being in this district,” she said, “I have found this board to be the worst in terms of clarity.”

Smith and several other district residents were incensed when the district placed four controversial contracts for nearly $500,000 related to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation on the “consent” portion of the agenda (Item C. 4), which is normally reserved for routine items that don’t need to be discussed.

“It should have never been on the consent calendar from the beginning,” Smith said. “The way they did that was underhanded and very deceptive.”

But both Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg defended the agenda placement, saying this is the way the board always handles contracts. When I told Kronenberg about the way Mt. Diablo lists contracts separately and attaches them to agendas, she said she would suggest this idea at her board’s January retreat.

“That’s the kind of practical suggestion that I think is actually useful to us,” she said. “I get told a lot that we need to be more transparent. I have no problem supporting any suggestion.”

Hercules City Councilman Dan Romero said the West Contra Costa school board needs to change the way it does things if it wants to regain public trust. For example, Romero said he believes board members who recuse themselves must step out of the room before discussion begins, instead of participating as Ramsey did.

Romero also said he was surprised that neither the district’s attorney nor Harter stepped in to correct Ramsey when he made a parliamentary mistake by trying to amend a motion made by Trustee Todd Groves related to Kronenberg’s legal representation, before seeking a second. Instead, Sheri Gamba, associate superintendent for business services, told Ramsey there was already a motion on the floor.

“I’m glad somebody knew the rules,” Romero said.

How do you think the board could be more transparent?

Posted on Friday, November 14th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 54 Comments »

Mounting legal fees for SEC investigation rile some WCCUSD residents

As word of four contracts to be considered by the West Contra Costa school board tonight related to the SEC investigation into the district’s $1.6 billion bond program has spread, some residents are questioning why taxpayers should foot the bill for responses to subpoenas for Board President Charles Ramsey and Trustee Madeline Kronenberg.

In addition, I question why the district placed these contracts on its “consent calendar,” which is supposed to be used only for “routine” items with no discussion. I also question why the contracts themselves are not attached to the agenda packet.

When I spoke to Ramsey yesterday afternoon about these issues, I started off the conversation by saying there were some “controversial” things on the agenda (referring to these contracts).

“That’s not controversial,” Ramsey said. “I’ve not gotten one phone call. I haven’t gotten one email, so it’s not controversial.”

When I told him that I had received phone calls and e-mails about this, he responded: “Why would people call the media and not call me?”

Ramsey said that contracts have always been placed on the consent calendar, so he didn’t see any problem with that. Debbie Haynie, the superintendent’s executive secretary, said it’s not the district’s practice to actually attach the contracts to the agenda packets.

Even more surprising, the district doesn’t even list the contracts on the agenda. It merely lists the heading “contracts,” and states: “Permission is requested of the Board of Education to approve contracts as detailed, dated Nov. 12, 2014.”

The amounts are also not listed. Instead, under “Fiscal Impacts,” the agenda states: “As noted per contracts summary.”

This forces the public to then go online and scroll through the entire agenda packet to find a summary of contracts to be approved. The summary includes short descriptions and dollar amounts, but leaves out other important details. For example, it was unclear whether the dollar amounts listed for contract increases referred to new money or to the new total amount. It is also unclear whether Madeline Kronenberg received an individual subpoena or whether her representation is related to the district’s subpoena. Further, it is not clear why Associate Superintendent Sheri Gamba was being deposed or when the deposition was scheduled.

Trustee Todd Groves told me yesterday that he thought the additional amounts listed were cumulative, not incremental. But I found out today from the district’s Business Services Department that was not true. In fact, the amounts are IN ADDITION to the current contracts. It’s surprising that Groves didn’t know this.

The district’s failure to transparently reveal such information has prompted resident Charles Reichmann and others to ask the board to delay its vote on these contracts. With Reichmann’s permission, I am posting his “Open Letter on Ramsey, Kronenberg Legal Fees” below, which he sent to Trustee Todd Groves, along with copies to Trustees Randall Enos and Elaine Merriweather:

“Dear Todd,

I was distressed to read in the paper that the WCCUSD Board will soon vote on whether to allocate an additional $200k to pay Charles Ramsey’s brother’s law firm in connection with the SEC investigation. And another $100k in defense of the person you’ve described as your “close ally” on the Board, Madeline Kronenberg.

I hereby request that the Board delay its scheduled vote on this matter for one month to allow more opportunity for public discussion.

You have been quoted in the paper a couple of times saying that it is only right that the WCCUSD pay Charles Ramsey’s legal fees because the investigation arises out of work he did while on the Board. This proposition is not at all self-evident to your constituents. First, I don’t understand why this isn’t exactly the kind of matter that your insurer would pay for pursuant to the board’s D&O policy. Even if you ignore the rest of this email, can you please explain why the District’s insurer isn’t obligated to provide a defense? Second, it is unseemly that Charles Ramsey is taking this final opportunity to enrich one of his close associates, in this case his brother. (Ismail Ramsey and his firm are highly regarded and certainly are competent to handle investigations of this kind. That is not at issue.) Third, Ismail Ramsey’s firm has made it clear that their duties run entirely to Charles and not to the District so any argument that benefits from this engagement inure to the good of District taxpayers is unavailing. Charles Ramsey and his attorneys are pursuing one thing and one thing alone – the exoneration of Charles Ramsey. They are not at all concerned with the best interests of the WCCUSD, however they may understand them.

Finally, it is noteworthy that you seem entirely convinced that the SEC investigation will uncover no wrongdoing on the part of Ramsey or any others associated with the bond program. You have been a trustee for only a couple of years and recently wrote that you are still getting up to speed on the bond program, so you may lack a sound basis for having reached such a conclusion. The fact that the SEC opened an investigation is a pretty extraordinary thing in itself, and the fact that the Board apparently now feels compelled to spend in excess of $500k of District funds in response to what you call a “pretty deep examination” may end up meaning that we all will be unpleasantly surprised about what the investigation uncovers. As a District taxpayer I certainly do not want to be paying the attorneys’ fees of WCCUSD personnel whom the government elects to prosecute for malfeasance. Do you feel the same way, or will you continue to assert that since the conduct happened while they were in the District’s employ, it is only proper that we continue to pay for a first-class defense?

Very truly yours,

Charles Reichmann
Kensington”

I have also received the following comment from district resident Anton Jungherr:

“Note that all of the contracts are illegal as they all started before Board approval.

Kronenberg contract started October 1, 2014, prior to the election!

Why does Kronenberg need a criminal defense attorney to respond to records request?”

However, the original contracts for Ramsey and F1 Discovery were previously approved.

Do you think the board should delay its vote on the contracts for one month?

Posted on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 16 Comments »