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Richard Ault wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Richard Ault wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Many teachers who would otherwise have been grading papers after work on Thursday instead got dressed up for the San Ramon Valley Education Association’s first Excellence in Education awards ceremony.

Held at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum, the event included 31 awards to educators, administrators and parents.

About 130 people were nominated for the awards, which culminated in Lifetime Achievement recognition for San Ramon Valley High English teacher Richard Ault, whose students shared touching reflections about his impact on their lives. The things that stood out in their minds reflected attributes that many people believe great teachers share.

Here are a few of their comments.

Senior Taylor Cunin said Ault inspired her not to work for the grade, but to make him proud. She also thanked him for pushing seniors “to go out with a bang, not a whimper.”

Student Regan Leach said Ault was by far one of the most passionate people she had met.

“He instills in his students a way of thinking and learning that will carry them very far into the future,” she said. “He truly cares about everybody’s success — not only in school — but in life. He is wise, happy and, best of all, kind.”

Their classmate Whitney Johnsonl said she appreciated the way Ault challenged students with difficult assignments, such as a 15-page paper.

“Great teachers don’t just teach you how to be a great student, but a great person,” she said. “Mr. Ault was able to do this because he is a great man.”

Senior Zachary Baker called Ault “a phenomenal teacher.”

“The reason why I and everyone else care so much about him is he’s also a friend,” he said. “He’s a mentor. He cares about things far beyond the walls of a classroom, such as respect and compassion. But the thing I appreciate most about Mr. Ault is his willingness to pour his heart out for us and to live life to the fullest.”

Jimmy Mitchell, a student from the class of 1999, said Ault gave him confidence in his academic abilities when the teacher praised a paper Mitchell wrote as a sophomore to the rest of the class. Mitchellalso recalled a time when Ault compared creating a good thesis to climbing a mountain.

To demonstrate his point, Mitchellt recalled Ault saying he could easily stand on a table to reach the ceiling. But, instead, he used a more difficult strategy by climbing the wall and then slamming his head into the ceiling, earning a place in historical lore at the school.

Kerri Pike, who previously taught at San Ramon Valley High, said she and the rest of Ault’s colleagues also appreciate his masterful teaching. Pike said she was mesmerized as a new teacher when she sat in on Ault’s class about the play “Waiting for Godot.”

“We all hung on your every word as you explained the decisions that we all have to make in life,” she said. “You taught us all that there’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s our jobs as citizens of the world to know when and how to make important judgment calls. As a teacher, these were words of wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.”

Here are the other awards and winners:

Dedicated Parent: Laurie Horn and Kevin Wiedeman

Outstanding Classified Educator: Kim Cummings, Catherine Grijalva and Andy Kallick

Incredible Community Involvement: Janet Willford

Amazing Committee-a-holic: DeeDee Judice

Sensational Substitute Teacher: Tom Dunlap, Erica Glaser and Elaine Johnson

Shining Golden Apple (new teacher): Analyse George, Christopher Madrid and Kimberley Tretten

Outstanding Administrator: Chris George, Daniel Hillman and Christine Huajardo

Outstanding Leadership: Jamie Brindley, Shirley Convirs, Jana Johnson and Teresa Marohn

Making a Change: Elizabeth Campos, Allison Gardiner and Shea Hunter

Outstanding Creativity: Penelope Davis, Pamela Jarvis and Maria Pan

Fantastic District Administrator: Carol Loflin

Truly Inspirational Teaching: Courtney Konopacky, Heather Russell and Kelsey Wengel

The complete list of nominees is at:

What do you think makes a great teacher?

Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2015
Under: Education, San Ramon Valley school district | No Comments »

Nearly 100 candidates seek school board seats in Contra Costa County

As the election filing deadline neared in Contra Costa County on Friday, nearly 100 candidates had taken out papers for more than 20 school board races.

The filing deadline will be extended to 5 p.m. Wednesday in 11 districts where some incumbents are not seeking re-election. These include: The Acalanes, Brentwood, Byron, John Swett, Lafayette, Moraga, Mt. Diablo, Orinda, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek and West Contra Costa districts.

Just before the filing deadline, it appeared that nearly all of the races would be contested, with most incumbents facing challengers. Here is a list of the races and candidates who had qualified for the ballot by 5 p.m. Friday, followed by potential candidates who had taken out papers, but had not yet completed all the ballot requirements.

County Board of Education, Area 2: Incumbent Christine Deane and Ray Andersen.

County Board of Education, Area 4: Incumbent Richard Asadoorian and Mike Maxwell.

County Board of Education, Area 5: Incumbent Cynthia Ruehling and Jeff Belle.

Community College, Ward 1: Incumbent John Marquez and Cheryl Sudduth.

Community College, Ward 3: Tim Farley and incumbent Matthew Rinn.

Community College, Ward 4: Incumbent John Nejedly (unopposed).

Acalanes: Incumbent Susan (Susie) Epstein, incumbent Nancy Kendzierski, Kristen Correll and Robert Hockett.

Acalanes (short term): Incumbent J. Richard Whitmore (unopposed).

Antioch Unified School District: Incumbent Joy Motts, Incumbent Gary Hack and Debra Vinson and Walter Ruehlig.

Brentwood: Incumbent Emil Geddes, incumbent Heather Partida, John A. Fjeldstad, Scott S. Dudek, Susan Wallace, Johnny Rodriguez, Christina Bell and Marci Lapriore.

Byron Union: Incumbent Jill Marlene Sprenkel, Felicia Schweller and Tania Salinas. Not yet qualified: Karri Jo Murayama.

Byron (short term): Incumbent Betty Sanchez. Not yet qualified: Gina Larmar Parish.

Canyon Elementary: Incumbent David James Smith, incumbent Ian Llewellyn and incumbent Geronimo Bernard.

John Swett: Incumbent Brian Colombo, Michael Kirker and Deborah A. Brandon.

Knightsen: Incumbent Liesel Williams, Patrick Hulleman and Kristen L. Fuller, incumbent Ralph Adam McMeans and Robin Denise Pastor.

Lafayette: Incumbent Teresa Gerringer and incumbent David Gerson and Suzy Pak.

Liberty: Incumbent Roy Ghiggeri, incumbent Daron Spears, incumbent Joanne Louise Byer and Pauline Allred.

Martinez: Incumbent Deidre Siguenza, incumbent Roberta “Bobbi” Horack and Ronald Skrehot.

Moraga: Incumbent Parker Colvin, Heather O’Donnell and Jonathan Nickens.

Moraga (short term): Not yet qualified: Heather o’Donnell.

Mt. Diablo: Incumbent Linda Mayo, incumbent Cheryl Hansen, Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan Egnor-Keil.

Oakley: Incumbent Gloria Jean Lott, incumbent Mark Jordan and incumbent Arthur Fernande.

Orinda: Incumbent Juliane Rossiter, Hillary Shayne Weiner, Carol Brown and Jason Kaune. Not yet qualified: incumbent Christopher Clark Severson.

Pittsburg: Incumbent Joe Arenivar, incumbent Duane Smith and De’Shawn Woolridge. Not yet qualified: Daniel Borsuk.

San Ramon Valley: Incumbent Ken Mintz, incumbent Rachel Hurd, incumbent Denise Jennison and Jerome Pandell.

Walnut Creek: Incumbent Barbara Pennington, Stacey Schweppe, Aimee Moss, Heidi Hernandez Gatty and Sherri McGoff.

West Contra Costa: Incumbent Madeline Kronenberg, incumbent Elaine Merriweather, Elizabeth (Liz) Block, Chester Stevens, Raquel Donoso, Otheree Christian, Mister Phillips and Peter Nicholas Chau. Not yet qualified: Charlene W. Harlan-Ogbeide, Valerie Cuevas and Giorgio Cosentino.

Which candidates do you support?

Posted on Friday, August 8th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa Community College District, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Election, John Swett district, Lafayette school district, Liberty district, Martinez school district, Moraga, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Orinda, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, Walnut Creek School District, West Contra Costa school district | 14 Comments »

A closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County

The state released dropout and graduation rates for districts throughout California last month, showing that on average, 80.2 percent of students in the class of 2013 graduated in four years after starting as freshmen in 2009-10. This was up from just under 79 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the statewide average dropout rate fell from 13.1 percent in 2012 to 11.6 percent in 2013. In Contra Costa County, seven districts surpassed the state average graduation rate, while two fell below it. County dropout averages were not quite as stellar, with five districts posting lower dropout rates, three higher and one mirroring the state.

Here’s a rundown of the countywide results, showing the 2012 graduation and dropout rates followed by 2013 graduation and dropout rates.

2012 Grad. Rate 2012 Dropout Rate 2013 Grad. Rate 2013 Dropout Rate

State 78.9 13.1 80.2 11.6
Contra Costa County 83.9 10.1 85.8 8.3
Acalanes 97.7 1.1 97.8 0.9
Antioch 74.4 16.8 77.6 11.6
John Swett 87.7 8.5 88.8 7.2
Liberty 86.3 3.5 86.4 4.5
Martinez 87.2 6.7 88.4 9.7
Mt. Diablo 81.2 14.2 82.6 12.4
Pittsburg 70.2 21.6 71.3 2.5
San Ramon Valley 97.0 1.6 98.4 0.4
West Contra Costa 75.7 18.2 79.9 13.2

The San Ramon Valley district had the highest graduation rate and lowest dropout rate in 2013, inching past Acalanes, which held that honor in 2012. More than 98 percent of San Ramon Valley seniors graduated on time last year, while less than 1 percent dropped out during their four years in high school.

San Ramon Valley spokesman Terry Koehne said his district’s impressive numbers were the result of “a quality teaching staff that truly cares about kids and a very engaged parent community.”

The tiny John Swett district also made gains, increasing its graduation rate by more than 1 percentage point to 88.8 percent, while reducing its dropout rate by about the same percentage to 7.2 percent. Superintendent Rob Stockberger credited the growth to teachers and administrators at John Swett High as well as alternatives for students who need more support.

“I think staff does a good job working with teens, but if the student becomes at risk, Willow Continuation High School becomes a really viable alternative,” he said. “And in some extreme cases, we work with the county’s Golden Gate Community School to come up with other viable options for students who are struggling in a larger environment.”

The Liberty Union district saw slight improvement in its graduation rate, growing by one tenth of a percentage point to 86.4 percent. But, its dropout rate for students in the class of 2013 compared to the class of 2012 rose 1 percentage point to 4.5 percent.

Superintendent Eric Volta said these percentages don’t tell the whole story because the class of 2013 was larger than the class of 2012. Even though more students dropped out, he said, more students graduated. In the class of 2012, 1,487 students graduated after four years and 60 dropped out. In the class of 2013, 1,573 students graduated on time, while 82 dropped out.

“For whatever reasons, we lost more seniors last year,” he said. “Had we kept the same number of seniors, our dropout rate would have gone down.”

Most of the students who dropped out were enrolled in independent study or continuation high schools, he said.

Although the Antioch district’s overall graduation rate fell below the state average, it showed significant improvement from 2012-2013, growing more than 3 percentage points. Its dropout rate plummeted more than 5 percentage points to 11.6 percent, equaling the state average.

“It’s been a real concerted and focused effort,” said Superintendent Donald Gill.

State, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates are available by visiting

Staff writers Joyce Tsai and Paul Burgarino contributed to this report.

How do you think schools could improve graduation and dropout rates even more?

Posted on Friday, May 9th, 2014
Under: Antioch school district, Education, John Swett school district, Liberty district, San Ramon Valley school district | No Comments »

A closer look at how well unified districts in Contra Costa County are educating low-income and minority students

Last week, the student advocacy group Education Trust-West released its third annual report cards for the largest unified districts in the state, showing how well they educate low-income and minority students.

Here’s a look at the Contra Costa County districts included, showing whether or not they improved between 2011 and 2012. The organization assigned overall letter grades as well as numerical rankings for categories, based on standardized test scores, academic improvement over five years, the size of achievement gaps, and college readiness. Note: This was the first year the report included college readiness and high school graduation data.

ANTIOCH: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 128 up from 135)
Improvement among low-income students: D (same, but rank of 127 up from 129)
African-American and white achievement gap: D (up from F)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2011)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 135 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 129 of 143)

MT. DIABLO: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank of 44 up from 63)
Improvement among low-income students: B (up from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 128 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: C (rank 120 of 143)

PITTSBURG: Overall grade: C- (up from D+ in 2010) (No data from 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2010)
Performance among low-income students: C (same, rank of 107 up from 110)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank dropped to 60 from 48)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank dropped to 61 from 48)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2010)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 134 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 137 of 143)

SAN RAMON VALLEY: Overall grade: B- (up from C+ in 2011)
Performance among students of color: A (same, but rank of 3 up from 4 in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: A (same, but rank of 5 up from 18)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 136 up from 141)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank of 118 up from 119 in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: B (rank 6 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: A (rank 1 of 143)

WEST CONTRA COSTA: Overall grade: D- (down from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: D (same, rank dropped to 148 from 145)
Performance among low-income students: D (same, rank dropped to 147 from 145)
Improvement among students of color: D (dropped from C in 2011)
Improvement among low-income students: D (down from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: D (rank 69 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 130 of 143)

The complete report cards are at

How could districts improve instruction for low-income and minority students?

Posted on Sunday, April 7th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, West Contra Costa school district | 44 Comments »

A look at how two Contra Costa County districts self-reported their state test results

In this country and state, school accountability is a moving target, with goals getting increasingly tougher to meet, as students are pressured to show proficiency on tests.

When test scores come out, school and district officials naturally want to celebrate their successes, while downplaying their failures.

This was very apparent Thursday, when the state released its Academic Performance Index, or API scores, along with data showing whether schools and districts met federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

The API data showed that the state and most districts made progress overall, with more than half reaching California’s proficiency goal of 800 on a scale of 200 to 1,000.

But the same data analyzed under the requirements of No Child Left Behind results showed that some children were still being left behind. This was news that the San Ramon Valley and Mt. Diablo school districts preferred not to highlight.

Both districts issued news releases to their communities that failed to mention they were identified for federal Program Improvement because some of their students did not make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests. Instead, they focused on the achievements of their top-performing schools, as well as those that made impressive gains from 2011 to 2012.

San Ramon’s message, which touted its very high API score of 921, stated, in part:

“These results continue to place SRVUSD as the 8th highest unified school district in the state and the highest among unified districts with more than 9,000 students tested.”

Superintendent Mary Shelton did, however, hint that some students were still struggling.

“It is amazing that a high-achieving district like ours can continue to improve,” she said. “While I am pleased to see that many of our subgroups improved again, a few did not, and we will continue to make that a primary focus in our classrooms.”

What Shelton didn’t say was that students in the following subgroups failed to meet federal requirements: African-Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, socioeconomically disadvantaged and special education students. Instead, San Ramon’s news release pointed out that the district’s English learners and African American students showed improvement, with API scores of 920 and 824, respectively.

But this improvement wasn’t enough to push African American students above the federal requirement that about 78 percent score proficient in English language arts and math. Even with their impressive API score, only 68.5 percent of African Americans in the district were proficient in English language arts, while 59.5 percent scored proficient in math.

Similarly, a community news release from Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence emphasized the district’s 7-point API improvement from 786 to 793. But, it didn’t mention that the district was entering its second year of Program Improvement for failing to meet 18 criteria related to adequate yearly progress. Lawrence did note, however, that about 61 percent of students districtwide scored proficient in English language arts and math, which was below the 78 percent federal requirement.

“While an achievement gap still exists for some of our subgroups,” he said, “our schools are committed to providing necessary support to ensure that every student achieves at the highest level.”

He did not say which subgroups he was referencing or reveal how they fell short.

While it’s commendable that the San Ramon and Mt. Diablo districts distributed some information about test scores to their communities, it’s unfortunate that they shied away from telling the whole story. A district’s Accountability Progress Report is similar to a student’s report card.

If your child’s teacher highlighted his or her accomplishments, while glossing over weaknesses, would you believe you were getting a balanced progress report? And would you feel you received the information necessary to help your child overcome weaknesses?

Although many educators criticize the No Child Left Behind law as being onerous, I haven’t heard any educator say that its ultimate goal isn’t one that every school should be working toward — ensuring that really, truly, NO CHILD should be left behind.

The only question, it seems, is: How can this best be accomplished?

Posted on Friday, October 12th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, San Ramon Valley school district | 5 Comments »