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Hands-on learning opportunities in high schools could grow in state

Students at DeAnza High in El Sobrante got to strut their stuff Tuesday, when state Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, visited the campus.

Student “ambassadors” led the legislators, press and business reps through the school to see classes that help prepare students for college and careers. Each student must choose between three “academies,” focusing on health, law or technology.

In the health academy, teacher Kenyetta Haynes explained the importance of strong communication skills to students. Student Romina Pelaez, 16, of Richmond, told me these skills will serve students well throughout their lives.

The senior wants to major in psychology in college, then become a neurologist. Last summer, Romina said she had an internship in a dental office where she did filing and prepped the room for patients.

Internships are a hallmark of “linked learning” programs that link what is being taught in the classroom with the real world, making the learning relevant to students and motivating them to explore a variety of career options. Steinberg and other officials visited the campus to generate community and business interest in competitive grants through a $250 million Career Pathways Trust set aside in the state budget to fund similar linked learning programs statewide.

Health academy student Brandy Phillips, 17, said she thinks it’s a good idea to offer career-oriented classes to more students so they can receive the same kinds of opportunities she and her classmates have had.

“Once they get into an area, they will find a calling in it,” she said. “I want to be a nurse practitioner because I feel like I have good communication skills and it’s something I would be good at. It wouldn’t be ‘work’ because it would be something I’d be happy to do every day.”

Brandy said the academy also offers students the opportunity to become Certified Nursing Assistants through Contra Costa Community College and begin working while still in high school.

Some health academy students are studying diabetes in an integrated curriculum that even includes their Spanish class, linking coursework so they can see connections in their community. Similarly, law academy students visit courtrooms to see justice in action, said Judge Judy Johnson, who works with the program.

“In an academic framework, we bring it home to them when they see a defendant in court being arraigned and told what the charges are against them,” she said. “Or sometimes they’ve seen people taken away and incarcerated for a crime they’ve been convicted of committing.”

Law academy senior Michael Reyes, 17, of El Sobrante, said he is learning valuable life skills such as public speaking, collaborating with partners and backing up arguments with facts. He plans to major in criminology and dreams of becoming a district attorney.

“I think the law academy really set me up to pick my profession,” he said. “We had a mentor program with 25 local lawyers and judges. I feel like I got a head start on my college career.”

Technology academy students build robots and participate in robotics competitions. The school also offers Advanced Placement courses, said Principal Bob Evans.

“You can’t give up on any kid,” he said. “Every one of our kids is going to be successful in some way.”

Yet, many DeAnza students must overcome challenges to stay focused on schoolwork, Evans said. Sixty percent are bussed in, many from the often violent Iron Triangle. Some have parents in jail or don’t have enough food for dinner.

“Most of our kids have lived in multiple homes and don’t know where their next home is going to be,” he said. “This is a safe haven for them. We have to look at every student individually and think: ‘How can I support them?’”

DeAnza High is in the West Contra Costa School district. Other East Bay districts with linked learning programs are Antioch, Mt. Diablo and Pittsburg in Contra Costa County, and Oakland and San Lorenzo in Alameda County.

More information about linked learning is available at

Posted on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Education, Oakland school district, Pittsburg school district, San Lorenzo school district, Walnut Creek School District | 4 Comments »

State Board of Education delay of grant awards causes frustration

By Theresa Harrington

There is no new information today from Sacramento about whether the U.S. Department of Education supports the state’s method for prioritizing which districts should be awarded School Improvement Grants.

“The department is still in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education and there’s been no word as to what their decision is or rescheduling of a date for the state board to take action,” department spokeswoman Maria Lopez told me late this afternoon. “The point of the grant is to get the money to the schools, so it’s very important that they act quickly.”

The state Board of Education decided to postpone awarding about $311 million in grants Monday, after some trustees and district representatives said the selection process was unfair.

Districts that sought money for all of their lowest-achieving schools were given priority over those that only applied for some of their campuses, according to the state Department of Education recommendation. This means some districts with highly rated applications could be aced out of funding by others with applications that scored lower, but include all low-performing schools.

Here’s a breakdown of the recommendations for East Bay schools:

Priority One
San Lorenzo: Score: 96.00.
Requested: $1.6 million. Recommended: $1.6 million
School:  Hillside Elem. 

Hayward: Score 88.41.
Requested $25 million. Recommended: $10.3 million
Schools:  Burbank Elem., Longwood Elem., Tennyson High (funded)
Harder Elem. (not funded)

Priority 2

Mt. Diablo: Score:  97.50    
Requested $15.4 million. Recommended: $0
Schools:  Bel Air Elem., Shore Acres Elem., Glenbrook Middle School, Rio Vista Elementary
(Schools not included: Meadow Homes Elem. and Oak Grove Middle)

West Contra Costa: Score: 95.50
Requested: $6 million. Recommended: $0
School: Lincoln Elem.     
(Schools not included: De Anza High and Helms Middle School)

Oakland: Score: 92.78
Requested: $9.5 million. Recommended: $0
Schools: Elmhurst Community Prep., United for Success Academy and Explore Middle (closing)
(Schools not included: Alliance and ROOTS academies)

As you can see, Mt. Diablo’s application scored higher than San Lorenzo’s and the West Contra Costa and Oakland district applications were rated more highly than Hayward’s. Some trustees and district representatives argued districts shouldn’t be penalized for failing to include all their low-performing schools in their applications and should be prioritized by scores alone.

Even though they knew they wouldn’t get top priority, they argued, they weren’t under the impression the suggestion to include all schools was a mandate that would end up excluding them from receiving awards. Some trustees and members of the public suggested reducing the awards so they could be spread to more districts.

A few trustees seemed especially concerned that the Los Angeles and Oakland districts were not recommended for any funding. Los Angeles representatives argued that if they had included all of their lowest-performing schools, there would be very little money left over for anyone else.

Instead, they said, they chose schools that would benefit the most from reform and submitted applications that were well thought-out.

Confusion over how the grants should be distributed is causing frustration among districts recommended for funding, as well as those that aren’t.

Dennis Byas, Superintendent of the San Lorenzo district, wrote in an e-mail today that it appears small districts are undervalued by some.

“I’m not exactly sure when the needs of a school in a smaller school district became less significant than that of a larger school district,” he wrote. “Speaking on behalf of many smaller districts; we do not have a problem with the weighing of funds; however we do have serious concerns when the entire process is thrown out because a larger district didn’t apply, misapplied or simply doesn’t like the results.”

He said his community worked extremely hard on its grant application and is still hoping to receive funding before school starts.

“I would suggest that the State Board of Education call for Special Board meeting ASAP and resolve this issue quickly so children don’t lose out because of politics,” he wrote.

Lopez said the board will likely call a special meeting when the state Department of Education decides whether to amend its recommendations.

Mt. Diablo trustee Gary Eberhart told me today that it makes no sense to require districts to include all of their lowest-performing schools in their applications, if they don’t believe it’s in their best interests.

“In my opinion, it should be based on the merits of the programs that they’re in applying to fund,” he said. “So, it would make sense to me that grant dollars be provided to programs that have an action plan that is the highest rated, so that dollars are being spent on programs that are going to be successful.”

Eberhart said this is just another example of the state’s failure to adequately fund schools.

“It shouldn’t be a lottery as to whether a school district is provided dollars,” he said. “Our kids need those dollars and to put us at the back of the line is an abomination.”

The complete list of recommendations is at under item 4 in attachment 8.

Do you agree with the state’s recommendations?

Posted on Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Under: Education, Hayward school district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakland school district, San Lorenzo school district, Theresa Harrington, West Contra Costa school district | 8 Comments »