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State Superintendent of Public Schools outlines some plans for 2014

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is already gearing up for his re-election run next year.

“It’s the toughest work I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding work,” said the Pittsburg resident, who is a former Mt. Diablo school district science teacher and cross country coach. “I love working with students. I’m a teacher and a coach and this gives me a chance to work on a large scale to help students across the state — not only help them, but be inspired by them. I am just amazed at what students are doing and what a great future they have and what potential we could have helping them get their education.”

During an end-of-the-year interview, we discussed several issues, including the new Common Core standards and the state’s school funding formula, which will appear in a story in this newspaper. In this blog, I am excerpting another portion of the interview related to Torlakson’s emphasis on student absenteeism and career technical education.

“Q. What can be done to cut down on student absenteeism and why is that important?

A. On the big focus points for next year, including absenteeism, we have to have parent involvement. We recently had a chronic absenteeism symposium in Orange County. We called it ‘Keep kids in school and out of court.’ It’s the whole idea of turning off the faucet on the school-to-prison pipeline with intervention — more counselors and on-campus suspensions, instead of sending them off to their neighborhood. We’re looking at disproportionate suspensions of African Americans and Latinos. How can we help diffuse situations, help with problems in their lives, implement more effective restorative justice programs and provide more counselors to help these students?

In some areas like Oakland, Richmond and Los Angeles, 20 percent of kindergartners are chronically absent. Once that starts, students get farther behind. We already know low-income an English learners come into kindergarten with one-fifth the vocabulary of students who come from homes where parents read to them. You can’t learn if you’re not there, even if you have the best teachers and best facilities. We need services and interventions to help parents, get kids to school and knock down absenteeism. That’s a moneymaker for the districts as well as the right thing to do with kids. Once the kids are in their seats, the school gets funding for them.

Q. What kinds of interventions do you have in mind?

A. I did some of this when I was a teacher in Pacifica High School in the community of West Pittsburg — everything from calling parents to sending someone out. I used to go out to neighborhoods in Bay Point, which was then called West Pittsburg. I would go out and sometimes I interrupted the family’s dinner and I said, ‘I’m your son’s teacher and we have some issues we want to work out.’

Some students are being left at home because they have an elderly grandparent in a wheelchair and no one to watch them. Or, mom says, ‘I don’t have money to pay for day care for 3-year-old sister Sally, you take are of her.’ We sent social workers out and helped find where they could get elderly care or child care.

Some parents need a wake up call from the district. Attorney General Kamala Harris has worked on this — to inform parents not only of their moral, but legal responsibilities.

We also have a model SARB (School Attendance Review Boards) program that deals with kids who are truant and missing school, sharing best practices. So, those are things we’re already doing and could expand on, along with involving parents.

Q. What’s another priority for you?

A. Career Technical Education is a new emphasis. There are nearly 500 Partnership Academies in the state. They link learning in all curriculum areas at high schools to career pathways, to the real world. My department will be issuing requests for grant proposals in January for the new $250 million Career Pathways Trust fund.

I created a Career Readiness Initiative three years ago. It ties into the goals of the new Common Core standards, with relevancy, workplace readiness and 21st Century skills, which employers want. They want team work. They want communication skills. They want critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

What do you think the state should do to cut down on absenteeism and prepare students for the workforce?

Posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013
Under: Bay Point, California, Education, Pittsburg, Tom Torlakson | 13 Comments »

6th through 12th-graders invited to free Youth Summit about Bullying on March 31 in Pittsburg

A free event aimed at helping teens overcome bullying will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31 at Los Medanos College, 2700 East Leland Rd., Pittsburg.

Here is more information from a news release:

“WHAT: Annual Contra Costa Youth Summit
WHEN: March 31, 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Los Medanos College, Pittsburg, CA
WHO: Sponsored by Supervisor Federal Glover
INFO: Paul Adler, 925-335-8200

Youth Summit tackles bullying
PITTSBURG — The 2012 Contra Costa Youth Summit will be held March 31 at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg.

The youth summit, sponsored by Supervisor Federal Glover, features workshops, exhibits, entertainment and inspirational speakers. The theme this year is ‘Ways to Stop Bullying and Build Character.’

‘Bullying occurs in our playgrounds, our schools and on the Internet,’ says Supervisor Federal Glover. ‘Bullying can by physical or it can be emotional. It has led to reputations being destroyed and in worst case scenarios – suicide by some of the victims.’

Last year, the summit attracted 700 youth who heard comedian Richard Pritchard talk about surviving teenage traumas in an amusing and touching presentation. This year, the keynote address will be given by Mark Blackshear, a sought-after speaker on youth behavioral issues.

Among the workshop subjects are how to get a job, avoiding gangs, financial literacy, getting to know yourself and planning for college. There will be resources appealing to young people, from 6th grade to 12th grad.

Building on this year’s theme there will be a presentation by the Kaiser Theaterical Troupe entitled ‘Nightmare on Puberty Street’ and a workshop on how to deal witih cyberbullying.

Demonstrations include police dogs, the sheriff’s helicopter, some of the latest dance moves and martial arts. Other attractions include: deejay Lady Ray from KMEL, free airbrush tattoos, manicures and dance lessons. Lunch and a light breakfast will be provided at no cost.

Supervisor Glover has been holding the youth gatherings since he was a Pittsburg City Council member. They became county-wide summits when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2001.

‘There’s a lot of useful information for young people, presented in a non-threatening way. Besides, it is a lot of fun, too,’ says Glover, who represents District V.”

Here is more information, submitted by Glover:

“Youth Summit takes on bullying
By Federal Glover

Stefani was an outcast, a frail-looking girl in high school. After meeting up with some friends at a local pizzeria, Stefani, found herself helpless and at the hands of her adolescent bullies.

‘The boys picked me up and threw me in the trash can on the street, on the corner of my block while all the other girls from the school were leaving and could see me in the trash.’ She remembers fighting back tears because she did not want her tormentors get any satisfaction from bullying her.

‘Everybody was laughing and I was even laughing. I had that nervous giggle – heh, heh. I remember even one of the girls looking at me like ‘are you about to cry? You’re pathetic.’ That’s what it felt like, you’re pathetic.’

She was so embarrassed she didn’t tell anyone about the incident, not even her parents.

As she recalls the incident, sitting in a dark studio by herself: ‘It didn’t sink in with me how bullying affected me until later in my life. I knew that it affected me deeply but it wasn’t until a little bit later that I realized how much it affect me and how much it was still very present.’

She finally told her story – through her music. Stefani Germanotta became pop artist Lady Gaga. To hear Lady Gaga tell her story how she was bullied, link to

Bullying really creates two victims. The obvious one is the person being picked on. The other victim is the bully himself, or herself.

‘There’s all this focus on the victims but victims and bullies are on the same playing field,’ Gaga recently told an audience. ‘They both need our help. So how do we not just save the victim but save the bully too?’

Bullying can take the form of physical abuse or taunting. It can also take an emotional toll.

These days, tormenting can also come in the form of social shunning or Internet harassment and the social network is abused by spreading lies and gossip.

Few of us have the talent and fortitude of Lady Gaga. We can’t write the music that turns the despair into inspiration. In the worst-case scenario, victims commit suicide.

How should one react to bullying? How does one recognize a friend or a child is being bullied? Where can you go to get help?

These are some of the topics that will be discussed in this year’s Contra Costa Youth Summit that I am sponsoring. Some will remember last year’s presentation by comedian Richard Pritchard. He had us laughing and crying in his emotional rollercoaster of a speech.

The theme of the summit is ‘Ways to Prevent Bullying and How to Build Character.’ This year’s speaker will be Mark Blackshear, a much sought-after speaker on youth behavior. Kaiser Medical Center’s theatrical troupe will present a skit entitled ‘Nightmare on Puberty Street.’

The summit will be held March 31, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. Lunch and a light breakfast will be provided at no cost. Students from 6th grade to high school are encouraged to attend the free event.

One of the workshops will talk about ‘cyber-bullying.’ Victims may be picked on based on their race, gender, the way they dress, what neighborhood they live in, how they wear their hair, the way they speak or for any number of reasons.

There will also be workshops on how to find a job, how stay out of gangs, learn the latest dance steps, how to handle your finances and other matters faced by young people today.

Demonstrations include airbrush tattoos, manicures, martial arts, weightlifting, Midnight Basketball, the Sheriff’s helicopter will drop in, a demonstration of a police canine unit and firefighters and ambulance emergency medical technicians will be there. Deejay Lady Ray from KMEL will keep the music going and the energy high.

It is day packed with lots of good information that will help the young people get through what could be a difficult time in their lives and plan for their future. What we want them to know is that they don’t have to go on this journey alone, that there is help out there, often at no cost.

The Youth Summit planners want to point out to youth that this is just the beginning of their young lives. If they have the right attitude, the skills and resources – they can improve themselves and the world they live in.

Stefani – aka Lady Gaga – rose above her high school tormenters and created a foundation called the Born This Way Foundation whose mission is to promote tolerance and fight bullying.

The Youth Summit might not have all the answers to bullying and its repercussions, but at least it can point young people in the right direction. It may be a small step … but it is a hopeful step.

Glover represents District V on the Board of Supervisors. For more information about the Youth Summit, link to

What do you think should be done to prevent bullying?

Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: Education, Pittsburg | 1 Comment »

Vandals strike Pittsburg school board candidate signs

By Theresa Harrington

Pittsburg teachers union members who posted campaign signs last week for school board candidates were unpleasantly surprised Saturday night when about 20 of them were sliced up, apparently with a boxcutter.

The signs were in support of candidates George Miller, Duane Smith, Vince Ferrante and William Wong. Teachers and two candidates filed police reports, but they’re unsure whether officers are investigating the incidents, said Steve Longley, co-chair of the Pittsburg Education Association political action committee (PAC).

“The signs came out of the PAC,” Longley said. “Teachers donate a dollar from their paycheck if they choose to, so this is all money out of teachers’ pockets.”

Longley said no other signs were targeted.

“We feel that somone out there is interfering wih the democratic process,” he said. “No one else’s sign was touched. It was just our candidates.”

The three candidates not endorsed by teachers are Pergy McGee Jr., Joseph Arenivar and Robert Bellici.

Longley said teachers plan to put up more signs before the election, but they may leave up a few of the vandalized signs as a symbol of the apparent animosity involved.

“We don’t intend to be intimidated,” he said. “We have about three activities a week planned. We’ll continue to go door to door and phone bank and put signs up till Nov. 2.”

Anyone with information about the vandalism can call the Pittsburg police or county sheriff’s department at 646-6441.

Posted on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
Under: Education, Election, Pittsburg, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Delta View Elementary struts its stuff

By Theresa Harrington
Students at Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg are thrilled about the school’s recognition as one of 484 “California Distinguished Schools,” Principal Susan Petersen told me today.
“I let them know in our announcements this morning,” she said, when I called to congratulate her. “I had a couple of students there leading the Pledge of Allegiance. When they heard me make the announcement, they were jumping up and down, they were so excited! They were very proud.”
Delta View and all the other schools that received the recognition demonstrated “signature practices” that helped them achieve academic excellence and narrow achievement gaps between low- and high-performing students.
Delta View’s signature practices were strategic planning and math education, Petersen said. The state Department of Education plans to post a database of signature practices on its Website later this spring.
Here’s a preview for those who want to know now what Delta View’s secrets are.
Strategic planning: All schools develop plans, but Petersen said Delta View’s strategic planning was more comprehensive and focused on creating a positive learning climate. Staff broke down the climate into four components:
1) overall environment
2) parent component
3) student component
4) staff component
The staff identified a total of 33 action steps to take related to these components, Petersen said.
For example, they implemented school uniforms as part of the environment. Teachers decided to make home visits to better connect to parents. They trained third- through fifth-grade student conflict managers in peer mediation to strengthen the student body. And staff received cultural proficiency training to help them better understand students and their families.
“All of this was designed to bring our climate together, so everyone knew what was expected,” Petersen said. “Our goals were to limit the challenging student behavior — limit the discipline referrals — because too much time was being taken out of the classroom.”
The plan worked. The school logged 632 discipline referrals in 2006-07, 497 in 2007-08 and 202 in 2008-09.
“Our numbers of suspensions decreased, while our expectations for behavior increased,” Petersen said. “It also brought the staff together because we realized we needed consistency and we needed agreement about how we were responding.”
Math education: Called “Math strategies for success,” Delta View’s program includes BoardMath, which I wrote about in September. You can see a video about it here:
The curriculum is rigorous and builds academic vocabulary, which help students to understand test questions, Petersen said. The teaching strategy requires educators to constantly assess students and analyze data such as test scores.
“Its preteaching and reteaching end-of-year standards,” she said. “We reteach where needed or accelerate where kids are ready to move on.”
A team of four outside administrators spent a day at Delta View to look for evidence of the signature practices. They interviewed staff, students and parents, Petersen said.
In the end, Delta View earned the distinguished recognition that lauds the school as a model for others. But, Petersen said the school has been considered a model since it made tremendous gains last year on Academic Performance Index scores, which measure student achievement.
On a scale of 200 to 1,000, the school grew from 747 in 2008 to 830 in 2009, exceeding the state’s proficiency goal of 800. This came on top of a 66-point increase the previous year, giving the school a whopping two-year gain of 148 points.
“We’re very excited that we’re named a distinguished school,” Petersen said. “It is reflecting the work that we’ve done and our students’ success. I would say the students are probably the most excited.”
Here are the East Bay 2010 Distinguished Elementary Schools listed by district:
Knightsen Elementary District: Knightsen Elementary School
Lafayette Elementary District: Happy Valley Elementary School
Mt. Diablo Unified District: Delta View and Hidden Valley elementary schoools
Oakley Union Elementary District: Iron House Elementary School
Orinda Union Elementary District: Del Rey Elementary School
Orinda Union Elementary District: Sleepy Hollow Elementary School
San Ramon Valley Unified District: Coyote Creek, Hidden Hills, Live Oak, Rancho Romero, Sycamore Valley and Vista Grande elementary schools
Berkeley Unified District: Jefferson and Oxford elementary schools
Fremont Unified District: Ardenwood, Cabrillo, E. M. Grimmer, Fred E. Weibel, James Leitch, John Gomes, Joshua Chadbourne, Mission San Jose and Mission Valley elementary schools
Livermore Valley Joint Unified District: Joe Michell Elementary
New Haven Unified District: Tom Kitayama Elementary
Oakland Unified District: Chabot, Montclair, Peralta and Thornhill elementary schools
Pleasanton Unified District: Henry P. Mohr Elementary
The complete list of 2010 California Distinguished Elementary Schools is at
Congratulations to all!

Posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Pittsburg school district gets new superintendent

This just in from Pittsburg reporter Paul Burgarino:
In hopes of keeping the Pittsburg school district on course, trustees have selected a new superintendent from within.
Linda Rondeau, the current deputy superintendent, will replace Barbara Wilson effective Aug. 1.
Rondeau has worked in several Contra Costa districts over the past 35 years, the last five in Pittsburg.
Pittsburg trustees say they felt confident — following a public survey and thorough input from district stakeholders and the community — that Pittsburg schools are going in the right direction.
Board President Vince Ferrante backed that up, saying Rondeau: “could hit the ground running and build upon the momentum of the past few years.”
Contract terms still have to be settled.
Watch for more information Thursday in the East County Times.
Reach Paul Burgarino at Follow him on Twitter at

Posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Under: Education, Paul Burgarino, Pittsburg | No Comments »