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WCCUSD Trustee Elaine Merriweather comments on her loss in Tuesday’s election

I received the following statement to the public from West Contra Costa school board Trustee Elaine Merriweather, in response to her unsuccessful re-election attempt Tuesday. I am posting the statement below, since I did not receive it in time for inclusion in my post-election story.

Merriweather was one of two incumbents seeking re-election during a race between 10 candidates for three seats. Board President Charles Ramsey is stepping down, after an unsuccessful run for Richmond City Council.

According to unofficial results from the County Elections office (with thousands of mail in and provisional ballots still to be counted), Merriweather finished sixth, with 9 percent of votes. Elizabeth Block finished first with 19.5 percent, followed by incumbent Madeline Kronenberg with 15.4 percent and Valerie Cuevas with 13.2 percent, Mister Phillips with 11.8 percent and Raquel Donoso with 9.6 percent. The top three finishers are the unofficial winners of the election until all votes are counted. Mister Phillips, who received 944 votes fewer than Cuevas, could have a chance to overtake her if there are enough mail in and provisional ballots outstanding that are cast for him.

Merriweather finished ahead of Peter Nicholas Chau, who received 7.9 percent of votes, Chester Stevens with 4.6 percent, Ayana Kirkland Young with 4.4 percent, Otheree Christian with 4 percent and write-in candidates, who received 0.4 percent. So far, 64,305 votes have been counted in the race.

Here is Merriweather’s statement:

“I wish I had better news for you. Unfortunately, our campaign fell short of our goal Tuesday night. Coming into this election, I knew that it would be an uphill battle because of the opposition from nine other candidates but I am so proud of the hard work and dedication our team put into this race.

To my supporters: I don’t know where to begin to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for all the support, well wishes, financial contributions and love that you’ve given me these last four years. The phone banking, precinct walking and helping to raise fund kept us in the race. Your encouragement meant so much to me in this election. You need to know that your support gave me the strength and courage to push forward our platform.

To my team: Everything in our campaign was built from the ground up, grassroots effort. As a candidate and a board member, I woke up every day determined to work harder for children of this district. I wanted to vindicate all the support and dedication that you had invested in me. To my treasurer who helped fundraise and keep the finances in order. To my campaign manager who worked tirelessly, without preservation, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart and I could not have had better leaders advising me.

This election season is a reminder that there is a lot of work that needs to be done to move our district forward. Despite these challenges, I am as optimistic as ever. We made tremendous strides in the community and we have made progress in our district. I will continue to work and advocate for students at the national and state level. My commitment to quality education has only grown stronger because I was given the opportunity to serve in West Contra Costa Unified School District.

With humility and thankfulness,

Hon. Elaine Merriweather
Board of Education Trustee
West Contra Costa Unified School District”

What impact do you think the loss of Merriweather on the board will have on the district?

Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Under: Education, Election, Walnut Creek School District | No Comments »

Who will undecideds choose in state Superintendent of Public Instruction race: Torlakson or Tuck?

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tom Torlakson (left, AP) and Marshall Tuck (right, handout photo) are vying for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Field Poll released Thursday showed the race for the state’s top schools leader is still off the radar for a lot of voters, with incumbent Tom Torlakson tied with challenger Marshall Tuck, both with 28 percent of likely voters supporting them. At this late date, 44 percent of voters were still undecided, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,536 registered voters in California from Oct. 15-28, including 941 considered likely to vote Tuesday.

The poll noted key differences among subgroups of voters, according to geography, race and ethnicity, political ideology, and union households. Northern California voters favored Torlakson by 9 points, while Bay Area voters supported him by a 14 point margin. Tuck, on the other hand, had a 6-point lead over Torlakson in Southern California, where he worked overseeing some charter and low-performing schools in the Los Angeles area before running for office.

White non-Hispanic voters, who make up about 70 percent of those likely to go to the polls, favored Torlakson by 7 points, the poll found. Tuck had much stronger support among Latino and African-American voters, as well as a slight lead among Asian-Americans.

– Thirty-two percent of white non-Hispanic likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 25 percent for Tuck and 43 percent undecided;

– Twenty percent of Latino likely voters supported Torlakson, compared to 33 percent for Tuck and 47 percent undecided;

– Eleven percent of African-American likely voters favored Torlakson, compared to 49 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided;

Twenty-one percent of likely Asian-Americans supported Torlakson, compared to 38 percent for Tuck and 51 percent undecided.

Ideologically, 40 percent of strongly liberal voters favored Torlakson, compared to 18 percent for Tuck and 42 percent undecided. On the other hand, only 26 percent of strongly conservative voters favored Torlakson, compared to 36 percent for Tuck and 40 percent undecided.

In union households, 31 percent favored Torlakson, 23 percent supported Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. Nonunion households gave Tuck the lead, with 27 percent supporting Torlakson compared to 29 percent for Tuck and 44 percent undecided.

During phone interviews, both men seized on the large numbers of undecided voters, saying they believed they would choose them as they learn more about the race. Both also said they were pleasantly surprised that their opponent had not gained ground since the last field poll, especially after millions of dollars have been spent on ads in the race.

“Ten million dollars from corporate billionaires hasn’t convinced voters to put a Wall Street banker in charge of our schools,” Torlakson said, referring to money spent on behalf of Tuck’s campaign. “The undecideds are a large group here. When people find out I’m the endorsed Democrat and that mayors and superintendents across the state support me, as well as the teachers, the undecideds, I believe, will break our way.”

But Tuck, who worked as an investment banker for two years in his early 20s before pursuing a career in school leadership, said he believes his message of reform will resonate with undecided voters as they learn more about him.

“The bottom line is we’re going against an incumbent and the status quo and we’re on a real change agenda,” he said. “Undecideds are likely to support our campaign because most people want major change in schools.”

Torlakson said he is not a status quo candidate — in fact, he said he helped work toward the new funding formula that gives more money to schools with the neediest students, has led the implementation of new Common Core standards and stood up to the U.S. Department of Education last year to ditch the old fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and instead pilot new tests to better assess student learning.

Tuck wants to weaken tenure laws to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers and to retain good teachers with little seniority. He also wants to give more flexibility to schools.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, said Torlakson may have trouble attracting voters’ attention because Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, are also widely recognized as education leaders in the state.

Who do you support and why?

Posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Election | 8 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board to vote on boosting principals’ salaries, discuss a “graduate profile” and vote on cell towers at MDHS and Pleasant Hill MS

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes a proposal to fast-track pay increases for principals, a “graduate profile” aimed at describing traits and skills of a district grad, and a plan to place Verizon Wireless cell towers at Mt. Diablo HS and Pleasant Hill MS in exchange for money:

“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) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. 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
4.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
4.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
4.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. 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 7:30 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) Readmission of Student #10-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Readmission of Student #19-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.3 (Item #3) Readmission of Student #C-14 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. 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
8.5 (Item #5) Existing Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Section 54956.9 (d)(1) regarding the matter of Bay Area News Group (BANG) v. MDUSD, Case No. MSC N13-1551 Info/Action
8.6 (Item #6) Discipline, Dismissal or Release of Public Employee (Gov. Code Sec. 54957(b)(1) Info/Action
8.7 (Item #7) Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Larry Schoenke and Deborah Cooksey, Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Teamsters M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Info/Action

9.0 Public Employee Appointment
9.1 ITEM PULLED BY STAFF: Appointment of Administrator, Necessary Small High School/Vice Principal – Prospect Action

9.2 Appointment of Vice Principal, High School – Northgate High School 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 Consent Agenda Action
12.1 (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
12.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
12.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
12.4 (Item #4) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
12.5 (Item #5) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year. Action
12.6 (Item #6) Budget Transfer and/or Budget Increases/Decreases for July through September 2014. Action
12.7 (Item #7 Adjustments to Contract Amount between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Medical Billing Technologies, Inc. (MBT) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
12.8 (Item #8) Independent Contracts for the Event Group, Inc. and College Park High School. Action
12.9 (Item #9) Northgate Independent Contracts with Events To The T for Junior Prom and Senior Ball Action
12.10 (Item #10) Approve the contract between Exploring New Horizons and Valle Verde Elementary Action
12.11 (Item #11) Northgate High School’s Women’s Varsity Basketball Trip to Reno, Nevada Action
12.12 (Item #12) Williams Quarterly Summary Report Action
12.13 (Item #13) Approve the Purchase of Vehicles for Maintenance and Operations Action
12.14 (Item #14) Award of Bid #1685 for Custodial Supplies Action
12.15 (Item #15) Exercise extension of RFP #1665: Swimming Pool Maintenance Service Action
12.16 (Item #16) Approve Open Order for Emergency Pool Repairs. Action
12.17 (Item #17) Approve Lease/Leaseback #1663 Final Change Order #1663-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for Portable Replacement 2014 at Eagle Peak MS, Gregory Gardens ES, Silverwood ES and Woodside ES Action
12.18 (Item #18) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1663: Portable Classroom Replacement 2014 Action
12.19 (Item #19) Lease/Leaseback #1659 Final Change Order #1659-001 (DEDUCTIVE)to Taber Construction, Inc. for HVAC Modernization at El Dorado Middle School, Highlands Elementary School, Pine Hollow Middle School, Wren Avenue Elementary School, Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Sequoia Middle School, Valhalla Elementary School and Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
12.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Lease/Leaseback #1659: HVAC Modernization at Various Schools Action
12.21 (Item #21) Award Service Contract for Architectural Services to Design the PE Building Improvements at Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
12.22 (Item #22) Award Project Inspector Contract for Modular Gymnasium Project # 1631 at Concord High School. Action
12.23 (Item #23) Resolution No. 14/15-21 Compensation for Board Members Action
12.24 (Item #24) Approval of Variable Term Waiver Request Action
12.25 (Item #25) Approval of Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) Request Action
12.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 11, 2013 Action
12.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on April 8, 2013 Action
12.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on April 3, 2013 Action
12.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 28, 2013 Action
12.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on March 27, 2013 Action
12.31 (Item #31) Ygnacio Valley High School’s trip to Southern California on October 29 – November 1, 2014 Action
13.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

14.0 Communications
14.1 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

15.0 Public Comment
15.1 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

16.0 Business/Action Item

16.1 Create New Job Description for Workers’ Compensation Specialist Info/Action

16.2 Creation of Intermediate Typist Clerk position for Meadow Homes Elementary, Mt. Diablo Elementary, Hidden Valley Elementary and College Park High School Action

16.3 Public Hearing Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account. Action

16.4 Resolution 14/15-20 Education Protection Account 2014-15. Action

16.5 Principal Salary Schedule Action

16.6 Approve Graduate Profile for Mt. Diablo Unified School District Info

16.7 Procurement of New Firewall/Security/Bandwidth Management Appliance Action

16.8 Award Lease/Leaseback contract #1631 to Meehleis Modular Buildings, Inc. for construction of the Modular Gymnasium Building project at Concord High School for a Guaranteed Maximum Cost of $3,698,805.00 Action

16.9 Approve Cellular Tower Agreement with Verizon Wireless and Mt. Diablo Unified School for placement at Mt. Diablo High School and Pleasant Hill Middle School. (Oak Park) Action

16.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on October 15, 2014 Action

16.11 Meeting Extension Action

16.12 Execution of Documents Info

17.0 Future Agenda Items
17.1 Future Agenda Items Info

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

19.0 Reconvene Open Session
19.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

20.0 Adjournment
20.1 Adjourn Meeting Action”

Do you agree with the plan to make it easier for principals to reach the top of the pay scale more quickly?

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 63 Comments »

Influx of money helps support school counseling services provided by JFK University

Pleasant Hill City Councilman and JFK University alum Dr. Michael Harris has given his alma mater a $30,000 matching grant to help expand counseling services provided by the university’s masters and doctoral students in city schools by covering the cost of counselors, according to a JFK news release.

“I’ve always believed in giving back to the people and places that have given so much to me,” Harris said in a prepared statement.

The grant is also reminiscent of one of Harris’ favorite quotes: “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”

A doctor of optometry, Harris earned his JD at JFK University and is a legal consultant on healthcare issues, as well as a professor of Optometry at UC Berkeley.

In addition, the University recently received a federal grant of more than $450,000 to train mental health professionals from diverse cultures and backgrounds in order to increase mental health services and protect the health of children and communities.

JFK University and the Mt. Diablo school district, or MDUSD, began working together more than a decade ago, after school counseling positions were eliminated in 1989 due to budget cuts.

“Our partnership with MDUSD is truly a win-win,” said Gail Kinsley-Dame, Executive Director of the Community Counseling Center, in a news release. “MDUSD students get the help and support they need and JFK graduate students fulfill the mission and core values of the University while also earning the hours of supervised counseling required to complete their degree and obtain licensing.”

Mt. Diablo students and their families can also utilize the JFK University Community Counseling Center in Concord if they need support over the summer or would like family counseling. Students can be referred to the program by teachers or administrators, but need parent permission to participate in counseling.

“The program has been successful in helping students improve their self-esteem, classroom behavior, and school attendance,” said James Wogan, the district’s administrator of School Linked Services. “The strengths-based approach encourages children and helps them to feel connected to school.”

Students served by the program include some who may be dealing with issues such as homelessness and other stressful situations, or those who would like help making friends. The district is adding back counseling positions this school year, but JFK University students are continuing to help meet the strong demand for counseling services.

Celine DeFranco, a master’s student in counseling psychology at JFK University, served as a counselor at several district high schools through the partnership.

“The teen years are an important developmental time,” she said, in a prepared statement. “My work is about helping them build a solid foundation, fostering a relationship they can take outside to someone else. High school students want a safe place where someone will listen to them without judging them. I’m honored to work with them.”

More information about JFK University’s masters and doctoral programs in counseling and psychology is available at http://www.jfku.edu. Additional details about the Mt. Diablo school district’s School Linked Services is at http://demo.mdusd.org/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1400652641757

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district should devote more of its budget to counselors?

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Under: Education, JFK University, Mt. Diablo school district | 1 Comment »

West Contra Costa school board candidates discuss superintendent’s job performance

During a recent editorial board forum for this newspaper, nine candidates vying for three open seats on the West Contra Costa school board discussed a variety of issues, including Superintendent Bruce Harter’s job performance.

The candidates included incumbent Madeline Kronenberg and challengers Liz Block, Peter Chau, Otheree Christian, Val Cuevas, Raquel Donoso, Mister Phillips, Chester Stevens and Ayana Kirkland Young. Incumbent Elaine Merriweather did not participate.

The superintendent is hired by the board and can be fired by the board. Kronenberg and Christian said they supported Harter. Phillips, Stevens and Young gave mixed reviews. Chau said he would need more information before he could make a decision about whether or not to retain Harter. But Block, Cuevas and Donoso adamantly criticized the superintendent and the current board for failing to act quickly enough to solve district problems, including poor academic achievement.

Kronenberg said Harter is well-connected to teachers, supported by staff and spends up to two days a week visiting classrooms.

“I would keep Bruce Harter,” she said.

Christian said he supports the superintendent, but it’s the responsibility of the trustees to make sure that all students are getting a good education.

“If the board is not doing that,” he said, “then they’re failing.”

Phillips said if Harter’s not doing what he’s supposed to, it’s the board’s fault. However, he pointed out that low academic achievement in the district cuts across all ethnic backgrounds and said all students are being underserved.

“In general, I support Dr. Harter,” Phillips said. “If there are specific issues, then that’s a different discussion.”

Stevens said Harter could do a better job of managing his staff. He said he has seen the American and California flags flying upside down, but that no one at the district seemed to care. As a substitute teacher, Stevens said he has had concerns involving due process that he didn’t want to detail.

“I would give him a C — not a failure, but I think he can do a lot more — and I think he has the wherewithal to do a lot more,” Stevens said. “I think something has to be shaken up there and I think he can address some things that I’ve told him about that he has not yet addressed.”

Young said Harter is personable, attends district events and listens to parents’ concerns. But she criticized him for blaming district problems on the budget, and said he appears to prioritize building new schools over improving education. She also said he needs to make sure every classroom has a teacher at the beginning of the year.

“Dr. Harter is really nice,” she said. “But he has to get a little tougher if he wants to make sure that this district goes in the way it’s supposed to.”

Chau said he would want to evaluate Harter before deciding whether he’s a good fit for the district. Chau wants to find out if Harter would support his idea of creating a student loan repayment program as an incentive to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

“I’m looking for solutions to some of the problems that our school district has,” Chau said.

Block said Harter needs to be held accountable for poor academic performance and lack of communication, innovation and leadership.

“I would make growth in student learning part of the superintendent’s evaluation and he would not be getting a good evaluation,” she said. “He would be not be working for the district anymore.”

Cuevas said Harter doesn’t appear to understand how to spur teaching and learning that will help the district’s diverse students succeed. She also said he should make sure there is a teacher in every classroom when school starts.

“We need a leader that’s not going to be top down and over-burdensome” and will work to build collaboration among staff to meet students’ needs, she said.

Donoso said district leaders have no sense of urgency to improve abysmally low academic achievement in math, or to help English learners become more fluent, or to solve truancy problems, especially among African-American students. She said there is a structural problem in the district.

“It is horrendous to see the kind of lack of attention that we need on our students,” she said.

What do you think of Harter’s job performance?

Posted on Saturday, October 11th, 2014
Under: Education, Walnut Creek School District | 5 Comments »

Mt. Diablo board candidates discuss lack of diversity in district staff

Six candidates vying for three open seats on the Mt. Diablo school board discussed a variety of issues at a forum Thursday in Pleasant Hill, including the lack of staff diversity in the district.

Incumbents Cheryl Hansen and Linda Mayo, along with challengers Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan shared a variety of perspectives on this issue, which Hansen said is a concern for most districts in Contra Costa County. Ideally, most candidates agreed, it is desirable for district staff to reflect the diversity of the student population.

“It’s a problem in communicating to students that education is a viable career,” said Hansen, who is white.

When she visited a career-oriented education academy at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, Hansen said she was surprised that only two of 32 students said they wanted to pursue careers in education.

“A lot of it is that they don’t necessarily see it as a profession or a career or something that’s lucrative,” Hansen said. “You can’t just rely on love of students.”

Districts and the community must work to convince students that education is a meaningful and fulfilling field, Hansen said. She also suggested that districts such as Mt. Diablo could try to think out of the box when recruiting.

“Someone told me,” she said, “that you need to fish in different ponds.”

Langley said the head of the NAACP said several years ago that if you compare the number of African-American sports stars to the number of African-American dentists, you would find that there are many more dentists. But, students don’t know that.

“Kids see athletes as glorified and valued,” Langley said. “If you want to get people into education, you have to stop saying education is failing and is for losers. You have to say: ‘This is where you go to get the top job.’”

Langley said he also supports affirmative action in hiring.

“We have get a diverse workforce,” he said, adding in reference to himself, “said the old white man.”

Lee said he attended schools in Los Angeles, where the student population was 70 percent minorities.

“Most of the teachers were not people of color,” Lee said. “But I felt like it didn’t really matter. They had empathy and they understood where I came from. They cared about me. I think diversity is important, but it’s also important to understand how teachers relate to people and to get the kids to understand that there are people who care about you and they don’t necessarily have to look like you.”

Moderator John Sasaki, quipped: “Said the Asian man on the dais.

Mason, who is white, said she hired a very diverse staff in one of her Bay Point youth programs.

“The kids just thought they were ‘the bomb,’” Mason said. “I was told by a MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union) rep: ‘There’s no teachers of color out there.’ But I don’t believe that. I’ve been to other schools and I’ve seen them.”

One reason students from diverse ethnic backgrounds may not gravitate toward education careers is that they may not have had positive experiences in school, Mason added.

“If you had a negative experience in school, as many children of color do, is that a place you’re going to want to go back to? We have to value them,” she said. “In my program, four kids came back as teachers.”

Mayo, who is white, said teachers need to be esteemed in the district. Colleges, she added, must also reach out to diverse cultures for teacher credential and education programs.

“We also have to make sure that we as a community are welcoming people of color into our community,” she said, adding that diverse cities would likely attract more employees from varied backgrounds.

Ryan, who is white, said “students do better in school when they feel they have teachers who understand them.” He said the district should strive to make sure “students come up through an education system where they feel they belong and want to return to it.”

How do you think school districts could attract more diverse employees?

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 42 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for failing to release court-ordered documents to Bay Area News Group

The Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by this newspaper.

Last month, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ordered the district to release eight documents to this newspaper in response to a California Public Records Act request and subsequent lawsuit seeking all writings related to complaints, investigations or discipline of former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, who was charged last year with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students.

A jury acquitted Martin in August on 21 counts involving three accusers and deadlocked on 95 other counts involving 11 accusers. The deputy district attorney dismissed 34 counts before jury deliberations began and has not yet decided whether to retry Martin on the remaining charges.

Martin was placed on a leave of absence in April 2013 after a parent complained to the principal about suspicions of inappropriate touching. Martin was arrested two months later and remains in jail in lieu of $10 million bail. Civil lawsuits filed by the accusers and their families against him and the district are pending.

In response to this newspaper’s lawsuit, a judge reviewed documents the district considered exempt from disclosure “in camera,” or in the judge’s chambers. Following this review, the judge ordered the district to produce the following eight documents, saying they were not exempt:

1. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Julie Braun-Martin, then-assistant superintendent of personnel, from a parent.

2. Letter to Martin from a parent.

3. Email from Martin to Braun-Martin dated May 16, 2013.

4. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Braun-Martin from parent.

5. Emails from then-Woodside Elementary Principal Jenny Cronan to Braun-Martin dated May 26 and 27, 2013.

6. Letter from Cronan to “Parents of H-I Students” dated May 28, 2013.

7. Phone message of June 7, 2013, for Braun-Martin from Cronan.

8. Email to “Board Members” from then-Interim Superintendent John Bernard dated June 28, 2013.

The district’s outside counsel from Meyers Nave filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the documents were produced through an “improper” inspection in the judge’s chambers. They further argued that the documents are not public records by definition, that they are not responsive to this newspaper’s California Public Records Act request, that they are privileged attorney-client communications, are subject to attorney work product privilege, and they pertain to pending criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the district argued that disclosure would infringe on the privacy rights of families whose children attend Woodside Elementary in Concord, where Martin taught fifth grade.

The district included a declaration under perjury signed by Jayne Williams, who was the district’s interim general counsel when Martin was arrested, arguing that the documents should be exempt from disclosure because they were “retrieved solely from the general counsel’s legal files.”

Regarding Bernard’s email, Williams said: “I am informed, believe and thereon allege that email was sent on June 28, 2013, following the district meeting in closed session on June 24, 2013, to address these matters.”

She attached a copy of the agenda from the meeting, which she asserted “confirms the district’s meeting in closed session to discuss a matter related to a public employee.”

However, the minutes from that meeting — which she did not attach — state that no closed session took place because the public employee issue “has been resolved.” This newspaper asked the court to order the district to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey the Aug. 14 order, and the judge agreed. Both the motion to reconsider and the contempt of court order are set for Oct. 15 hearings.

Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.

Here is the district’s Motion to Reconsider: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecFAxSk9jU0lYUGM/edit?usp=sharing

Here is Meyers Nave attorney Kevin Gilbert’s statement in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSTJWRU5US3V0Wkk/edit?usp=sharing

Here is former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ declaration in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZlVDYTY4UEZjZTQ/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause Why MDUSD Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Obey Aug. 14, 2014 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceekFrT0pOMTg4SmM/edit?usp=sharing

Do you think the district should turn over the documents or be held in contempt of court?

SEPT. 29 UPDATE: BANG filed this Petition for Writ today, which calls into question the actions of former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams, who appears to have compiled certain documents in a “legal” file, while allowing all other copies of those documents to be discarded, in an apparent attempt to withhold them from release to BANG’s CPRA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceWEFsWDYwNXhJZ2s/edit?usp=sharing

OCT. 1 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Opposition to MDUSD’s Motion for Reconsideration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcebWNNOXQ5M1l6YVk/view?usp=sharing

Here are Exhibits 1 and 2, which supplement BANG’s Opposition: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceVEZneFRCTGZlLVk/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 3 UPDATE: Here is MDUSD’s Request for a Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceN2JwU09mR3RJdDg/view?usp=sharing

Here is Jayne Williams’ amended declaration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcedTJqNjVCMURJRTQ/view?usp=sharing

Here is Kevin Gilbert’s Declaration in Support of MDUSD’s Request for Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause why MDUSD Should Not Be Held in Contempt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceYmhKR2J5dnI4OUE/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 7 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Reply in Support of Order Holding MDUSD in Contempt for Failing to Obey the Aug. 14 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQnhPVFRrbGNZbWM/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 27 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s motion for attorney’s fees: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceXzR1a3JwNGpaNWc/view?usp=sharing

And here is a declaration in support of the motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQ1BHUFpmZ0RfM0k/view?usp=sharing

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 58 Comments »

MDUSD tonight to appoint a Northgate HS principal, vote on board benefits and counselor positions

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the school district office board room at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes several items of interest, such as the appointment of a principal for Northgate High in Walnut Creek, a vote on board benefits, the restoration of hours for special education assistants and the creation of 12 counselor positions.

“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) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
4.4 (Item #4) Conference with Labor Negotiator(s) – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks 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 7:30 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) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
8.4 (Item #4) Conference with Negotiators – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions
9.1 Resolution 14/15-12 Disability Awareness Month Action
9.2 Resolution No. 14/15-14 – Attendance Awareness Month Action

10.0 Public Employee Appointment
10.1 Appointment of Principal – Northgate High School Action

11.0 Board Member Reports
11.1 Board Reports Info

12.0 Superintendent’s Report
12.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

13.0 Reports/Information
13.1 Measure C Project Update Info

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 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.4 (Item #4) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
14.5 (Item #5) Fiscal Transactions for the Month of August 2014 Action
14.6 (Item #6) Approval of contract increase with Non-Public Agency, Creating Behavioral and Educational Momentum (CBEM) Action
14.7 (Item #7) Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Spectrum Center for 2014/15 Collaborative Program Action
14.8 (Item #8) Execution of Non-Public School Master Contracts for the 2014-15 School Year Action
14.9 (Item #9) Approval of master contract with Non-Public Agency Community Options for Families & Youth (COFY) Action
14.10 (Item #10) Approve Independent Services Contract with Mary Phalon, Support Counselor and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.11 (Item #11) John F. Kennedy University – Independent Services Contract Action
14.12 (Item #12) Educational Testing Service (ETS) High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) Action
14.13 (Item #13) Approve contract with Talk Solutions/Pleasant Hill Middle School and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.14 (Item #14) Approve contract with Marin County Office of Education (COE) Outdoor School of Walker Creek Ranch for Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
14.15 (Item #15) Approve contract with Westminster Woods Camp and Sequoia Elementary School Action
14.16 (Item #16) Firedoll Foundation Grant Action
14.17 (Item #17) Field Trips: Sequoia Middle School Action
14.18 (Item #18) Approval of text for Honors Economics course: Krugman’s Economics for AP (bfw Worth) Action
14.19 (Item #19) Memorandum of Understanding for Facilities Use between the City of Concord and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Bid #1649: PE Building Renovation at Mt. Diablo High School Action
14.21 (Item #21) Approve Final Change Order (FCO) #1649-001 to B Bros Construction, Inc. Action
14.22 (Item #22) Approve Resolution 14/15-13 for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District for acceptance and consent to a deed or grant of real property. Action
14.23 (Item #23) Approve Quitclaim of Easements between the Contra Costa Water District and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.24 (Item #24) Temporary Suspend Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 5116.1 (Intradistrict Open Enrollment) Action
14.25 (Item #25) Memo Of Understanding Between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 20, 2013 Action
14.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 15, 2013 Action
14.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 8, 2013 Action
14.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 6, 2013 Action
14.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 1, 2013 Action
14.31 (Item #31) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
15.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

16.0 Public Comment
16.1 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

17.0 Communications
17.1 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

18.0 Business/Action Item
18.1 Approve creation of 12 School Counselor Positions Action

18.2 Authorizing Investment of Monies in the Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF) Action

18.3 Adoption of Beginning Guitar as a year long course of study. Action

18.4 Revision of BB 9250 Heath and Welfare Benefits Action

18.5 Additional Monthly Meeting of the Board of Education Info/Action

18.6 SEA Hours Restoration Action

18.7 Agreement for Facilities Use between City of Clayton and MDUSD Action

18.8 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on June 30, 2014 Action

18.9 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on July 14, 2014 Action

18.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on August 13, 2014 Action

18.11 Meeting Extension 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 Info”

Do you think board members should get paid benefits?

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 81 Comments »

Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year share secrets of success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think are the secrets of successful teachers?

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

How should teachers and educational organizations use Twitter?

Recent publicity surrounding inappropriate tweets by a Newark school district teacher about her students have generated a lot of buzz around what not to do on Twitter. But, I have also seen many examples of innovative and inspirational use of Twitter by tech-savvy teachers, schools, districts and county offices of education.

Below is a sampling of some of these tweets, including twitter handles and the number of followers and tweets (in case you want to follow them). Some disseminated important information, while others demonstrated events as they were happening or showed the personalities and passions of the tweeters.

@CoCoSchools: Contra Costa County Office of Education (1,150 followers, 1,791 tweets): “Dr. Ovick keeps the beat with The Contraband. 2014 CCCOE Staff Institute Day, @ The El Campanil Theater” — with a photo of Superintendent Joseph Ovick playing the drums.

@acalanesdons: Acalanes High School (421 followers, 151 tweets): “Parents: Friday Forum is happening this morning at 8:30 in the Faculty Dining Room. Great way to be in the know about AHS. #go Dons”

@MUSDTechTweets: Martinez Unified School District (152 followers, 173 tweets): “Math pilot hit a slight bump in the road, but as usual MUSD teachers, admin. step up & rally! #lovemyprincipals #MUSDteachersrock”

@RamiMuthmusd: Martinez Superintendent Rami Muth (111 followers, 3 tweets): “Great opening day in Martinez. Looking forward to watching Common Core unfold in the hands of talented students and staff.”

@ahsdogs: Alhambra High School (339 followers, 185 tweets): “Math in the common core with Ikea construction. #makesomething” — with three hands-on learning photos.

@jseroadrunners: John Swett Elementary (401 followers, 5,843 tweets): “What could be better than reading in the garden on Friday afternoon! @mwatkins0913 #teamkid” — with photo of students reading in garden.

@Steph_Battles: Third grade teacher in Martinez district (79 followers, 143 tweets): “Responding to our texts and being active readers. #teamkid” — with one photo of teacher instructions and two photos of students’ work.

@MissHullJSE: John Swett First Grade teacher Nancy Hull (113 followers, 485 tweets): “‘Miss Hull, I had a really fun day with you today”-Student as they left today. melts my heart! Love my job! #teamkid #raisethebar #sweetkid’”

@mwatkins0913: John Swett Second Grade teacher Michelle Watkins (41 followers, 28 tweets): “A is for my students. Why? Because they’re AMAZING! #bestreadaloud #teamkid” — with photo of book cover.

@briantlawrence: Mt. Diablo school board trustee Brian Lawrence (115 followers, 257 tweets): “Flattered to keep being asked but no I am not running for wc council. Much to be done in #mdusd and @kdlaw left big shoes to fill!”

@YgnacioValley: Ygnacio Valley High (289 followers, 1,250 tweets): “Senior Sunrise! First Senior event of the year! Join us Friday morning, 7 a.m.!” — with link to Instagram promo for event.

@TeacherCarissa: Ygnacio Valley High teacher Carissa Weintraub (24 followers, 137 tweets): “Back at it. 1st official teacher work day. Let’s hear it for that alarm and 2 cups of coffee!”

@SRVUSD1: San Ramon Valley Unified School District (139 followers, 36 tweets): “Reminder: The 31st Run for Education will be held October 12th, 2014. Hope to see you all there! Register here- http://bit.ly/1CmRkHc” — link to registration website.

@WindemereRanch: Windemere Ranch Middle School (97 followers, 121 tweets): “Some of our 7th grade science classes got a visit from The Falcon Lady to see our mascot up close!” — with link to Facebook photo of Falcon Lady.

@WCCUSD: West Contra Costa Unified School District (575 followers, 222 tweets): “Kennedy HS receives $100,000 donation from @sprint at BOE meeting. @supejohngioia helped make the connection” — with photo of check presentation.

@AlamedaCOE (701 followers, 797 tweets): Alameda County Office of Education: “Press Release: @sheilaalameda receives 2014 Genesis Carl Anthony Legacy Award http://conta.cc/1pavMD9” — link to news release.

@sheilaalameda: Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan (65 followers, 30 tweets): “RIGHT NOW (Aug. 5): Scared #kids desperately need refuge. Speak out to protect them! #moms #borderchildren — http://moms.ly/1kfcUrl” — link to MomsRising. Org. petition asking President Obama and the U.S. Congress to “make sure that all Central American child refugees are treated humanely, that their immediate needs are met and that they are all given fair due process.”
Do you think it’s appropriate for educators to tweet?

Do you think it’s appropriate for educators to tweet?

Posted on Monday, September 8th, 2014
Under: Education | 6 Comments »