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Kathy Strong’s ‘impossible prayer’ was answered

Kathy Strong holds a Special Forces Green Beret medallion in her Walnut Creek home.

Kathy Strong holds a Special Forces Green Beret medallion in her Walnut Creek home.

For Kathy Strong, wearing an MIA bracelet for 38 years was an act of faith, as well as an act of patriotism.

She put the bracelet on at age 12 after receiving it in her Christmas stocking and promised to wear it until the soldier whose name it bore — James Moreland — came home.

At that time in the early 1970s, thousands of people throughout the country wore similar bracelets bearing the names of soldiers who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action in Vietnam, through a program honoring the commitment not to forget them. Many people did see the soldiers return alive. For others, the remains were found and returned to their families.

As the years passed, most people removed the bracelets, considering them a fad. But not Strong. She kept her commitment and said she often thought about what that it would be like to meet Moreland.

On the 20th anniversary of the date Moreland was last seen alive in Lang Vei, Vietnam, Strong’s hometown newspaper in Sherman Oaks, Calif. published a story about Strong and her bracelet.

“I dream of him coming off the plane and there would be all these people waiting to see him,” then-28-year-old Strong told the Daily News on Feb. 7, 1988. “I’d be there, no matter where he was landing, no matter how much money it would take to get there. I’d go there to meet him.”

After that story was published, Strong said it was emotionally difficult for her to re-read it, because she feared her dream would never come true.

On the 40th anniversary of Moreland’s disappearance, I wrote a story for the Contra Costa Times about Strong and her bracelet. Thanks to the Internet, it reached Moreland’s sister in Washington state, who contacted me and asked to meet Strong.

For that story, I contacted Moreland’s commanding officer, Col. Paul Longgrear. After I told him that Strong said she would love to talk to him about Moreland, he also agreed to meet her.

Strong felt a much closer bond with Moreland after these meetings, and she continued to hope and pray that the military would one day discover some trace of what happened to him.

A few months ago, she saw a basket at her church containing small “impossible rose” prayer cards, with tiny fabric roses attached to them.

She took a card and wrapped the stem of the rose around her purse, praying for Moreland’s return. Later, when she heard that Moreland’s remains had been found, she brought that rose with her to Alabama, where the funeral was held.

When the plane with Moreland’s remains touched down, Strong was there to meet it.

“It didn’t turn out exactly as planned,” she said, recalling her earlier dreams of meeting Moreland alive. “But, I did get to meet him at the airport and I did get to see him come off the plane.”

She stood by as the coffin was loaded into the hearse.

“Before they closed the door, I said: ‘Wait!’” Strong recalled. “I just had to touch it, so it would be real that he was home. That was one of the most special parts of the whole weekend to me. That definitely seemed like an answer to a prayer.”

Strong’s sincere commitment to leaving the bracelet on for so long on has inspired many who have read about her in the newspaper or seen stories about her on the television news.

The story also brought back memories to a retired doctor, who played a key role in Strong’s ability to keep the bracelet on.

Dr. Daniel Morgan, an orthopedic surgeon in Fremont, let her wear the bracelet during wrist surgery in the summer of 1985.

“I wore my bracelet on my right wrist for about three months,” she said. “Dr. Morgan had me place my wrists together and then slid my bracelet from my left wrist onto my right wrist without my bracelet leaving my body.”

After seeing Strong’s story on CBS news earlier this month, he called her and said that fate played a role in their lives.

“He told me he was proud of me and that I was meant to be his patient and he was meant to be my doctor,” Strong said. “He allowed me to keep it on an extra 26 years.”

People who don’t know Strong are also proud of her. Her story seems to strike a chord with people because she embodies character traits that most people hold dear: faith, hope, love, honor, respect, integrity and patience.

When she attended Moreland’s funeral in Alabama, several people gave her mementos, such as Green Beret medallions, an embroidered pillowcase and a framed certificate from the Khe Sahn veterans commending her “unwavering vigil” for Moreland.

On behalf of the funeral Honor Guard, Chief Warrant Officer Chris Golling sent Strong an e-mail after the ceremony, expressing gratitude for her commitment to remembering Moreland.

“We are truly honored to have met you,” wrote Golling, who grew up in Oakland. “It touches each of us how you have held out hope all these years and honored SFC Moreland, a brother to us all. Thank you, Kathy.”

A retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant who served in Vietnam wrote to Strong from Lakewood, Wash., after reading about Strong and Moreland’s homecoming in the newspaper.

“I am not ashamed to tell you that I was overcome with deep emotion,” he wrote. “In part, it was because all such homecomings are tragic, and one cannot help but think, ‘that could have been me.’ But mainly, what brought tears to my eyes was the knowledge that there are still people in the world like you; people whose steadfast loyalty to, and honoring of, our fallen warriors is a most wonderously great and shining example to all.

May I therefore tell you how proud I am to claim you as a countrywoman of mine, and say that I, on my own and on behalf of many other veterans, feel humbled by such devotion? While in Vietnam, our military and our political leaders often referred to a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as a simile for the resolution of that conflict. But in my mind, your 38 years of faithfulness to a code of remembrance far outshines anything they could have imagined. Thank you, Miss Strong.”

Strong is humbled by such praise for doing something she knew in her heart was right. And she is grateful that, in a way, she has been able to meet Moreland by meeting his family and those who served with him.

“My impossible prayer was answered,” she said.

Here is a video of her speaking about the experience:

Does Strong’s story touch you?

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Under: Walnut Creek | 2 Comments »

Teachers rally against education cuts during “Week of Action”

Walnut Creek school district teachers rally outside City Hall on Tuesday.

Walnut Creek school district teachers rally outside City Hall on Tuesday.

As part of a “Week of Action” aimed at drawing attention to a “State of Emergency” in California education funding, teachers are rallying in streets, malls and at the capitol.

Several educators from the Walnut Creek School District and Contra Costa County gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday to voice their opposition to an “all cuts” state budget and urge the Legislature to approve tax extensions.

Speakers included CTA Vice President-elect Eric Heins, firefighter Vince Wells, state PTA education advocate Nancy Vandell of San Ramon, County Superintendent of Schools Joe Ovick, Lafayette School District Superintendent Fred Brill and Walnut Creek Teachers Association President Kandi Lancaster.

Here’s an excerpt from what Heins, who teaches in Pittsburg, had to say:

“All of us have lived with drastic state budget cuts that are having a devastating impact on education and on community services. We meet here today on Main Street because these are Main Street issues. We can’t afford an all-cuts answer to the state budget deficit — which is why the California Teachers Association has launched a State of Emergency campaign statewide this week — to pressure legislators to extend current taxes legislatively. Our schools and cities can’t afford to wait any longer to protect the revenue we have left.

Our schools and colleges alone have had $20 billion cut in the past three years, while 40,000 educators have been laid off. This spring, at least another 20,000 California educators received pink slips, including more than 3,100 teachers in the Bay Area. We are losing new and veteran teachers who have committed themselves to our students.

Our classes are overflowing and the school year is being shortened. Teachers are taking unpaid furlough days. Arts, music, PE, school libraries, counseling programs are all eliminated from schools throughout the Bay Area and state. Our college students are paying higher fees and tuition for classes they can’t even get into….

This week is not the beginning, nor will it be the end. It won’t be the end until California comes up with a long-term solution to our budget problems so that we don’t continue to spiral downward. The health of our schools, services, our communities and our entire state depends on it.”

Lancaster, who teaches at Walnut Creek Intermediate, said that as her class sizes have gone up, the amount of time she can give to each student has diminished.

She also blasted Conoco Phillips for spending $100,000 to defeat a recent parcel tax in the John Swett district. The company complained that the tax would cost the company $400,000 a year. Yet, the company donates $300,000 annually to schools, she said.

“Do the math,” Lancaster said. “Three-hundred-thousand plus 100,000 equals 400,000.”

She also noted that $400,000 would be only 1.3 percent of the CEO’s $31.34 million salary.

The Walnut Creek district, on the other hand, has been able to pass parcel taxes and receives substantial parent and education foundation donations.

“But what about communities that aren’t so fortunate?” she said. “How will those districts — how can any district for that matter — continue to receive 80 cents on the dollar and strive to train students for the 21st century?

As a teacher, I work every day to open minds, build dreams, encourage diversity and serve as a role model. I expect nothing less from my elected officials. It’s time to send a message to our state legislators: If you won’t pass a budget that fully funds education, let the people decide, or get out of the way. Isn’t the future worth it?”

Across the street, some WCI teachers were holding a “Grade-In” at Caffe La Scala, showing that their day doesn’t end at 3 p.m. I spoke to a few of them about their concerns regarding the state budget.

Math teacher Carol Reeves, English and social studies teacher Carol Hoy and special education teacher Denise Weiss said larger classes are hurting students.

“I can’t teach them the way I did before,” Hoy said. “Their education’s already suffering and their parents aren’t aware of that. But I know it is.”

Lancaster, who joined them briefly, agreed. She said she gives fewer essay tests and assignments because they are so time-consuming to grade.

Now, Lancaster said, she gives tests using multiple choice Scantron forms that students bubble in, which can be read by a machine.

Hoy and Lancaster said they have six classes of about 32 students, compared to about 25 students per class before budget cuts. When they assign reports, they spend at least 15 minutes correcting each one, resulting in 48 hours of work outside class.

The teachers said they also have more special education students, those who don’t speak English as a first language and students whose parents are divorced.

“I had a kid today telling me his parents are divorced and he feels caught between the two and his dad was yelling at him,” one of the teachers said. “I was talking to him at lunch.”

Weiss said she sometimes buys food for needy families and Hoy said some students can’t afford athletic shoes for P.E.

“There are kids that we could help if we had the services,” Weiss said, adding that counselors have been cut. “We have one part-time nurse for the whole district.”

Yet, Hoy said, California’s curriculum standards have become more rigorous since she started teaching 35 years ago. This places a greater burden on teachers, even though they have fewer resources, she said.

Lancaster and hundreds of other Bay Area teachers plan to join a huge regional rally in San Francisco today (Friday) from 4-6 p.m. in front of City Hall in the Civic Center Plaza, marking the culmination of the State of Emergency “week of action.” The “Angry Tired Teachers Band” made up of Hayward Unified music teachers will perform, including pink-slipped saxophone player, Bryan Holbrook.

Speeches will begin at 5 p.m. from speakers include Carol Kocivar, president-elect of the State PTA; Alicia Sandoval, Parent Leadership Action Network; Cathy Campbell of the California Federation of Teachers; and pink-slipped Bay Area educators, including Union City teacher Quyen Tran, who is eight months pregnant.

In response to calls for Legislative action, local Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, plans to host a community event on Wednesday explaining the budget: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com:443/m/?s=QLQNTs1AxAs

Do you think the Legislature should extend taxes set to expire this summer?

Posted on Friday, May 13th, 2011
Under: Education, Walnut Creek | 6 Comments »

More on the rafting tragedy that took the lives of two Walnut Creek teens

Matt Campbell, Principal of Las Lomas High School, has issued the following statement regarding the deaths of two students in a rafting accident on Saturday:

“In light of the tragic news, the Las Lomas community is deeply saddened by the loss of two of our students. Gavin and Matt were well respected by staff members and peers, and will be greatly missed.

Las Lomas will offer extended counseling services to help students deal with their grief.

We offer our condolences to the families and friends who are dealing with this extremely difficult time in their lives.”

Times columnist Tony Hicks has posted a somber column about the accident, saying boys are “hard-wired” for adventure.

I visited the site where Gavin and Matt reportedly launched their two-person inflatable raft and was surprised to see no barrier to the creek on what appeared to be the unincorporated county side of a small bridge on Vanderslice Avenue, near Murwood Elementary.

An unfenced area along a creek near Murwood Elementary in unincorporated Walnut Creek gives easy access to the water.

An unfenced area along a creek near Murwood Elementary in unincorporated Walnut Creek gives easy access to the water.

A sign on the chain link fence seen above warns that creek access is restricted, but doesn’t say it’s prohibited:

Sign on Kayser Court side of Vanderslice Avenue bridge

Sign on Kayser Court side of Vanderslice Avenue bridge

On the other side of the bridge, which appears to be in the city limits, the creek is completely fenced off with County Flood Control signs.

Sign on fence near Murwood Elementary School, above creek.

Sign on fence near Murwood Elementary School, above creek.

Friends of the boys who died have made a creek sign into a makeshift memorial.

"Matt Miller and Gavin Powell. We love and miss you," has been written on this sign above the creek.

"Matt Miller and Gavin Powell. We love and miss you," has been written on this sign above the creek.

Here’s some video I shot of the creek, which was flowing slowly today. A bunch of daisies had been left on a rock.

Do you think a fence and signs warning about the dangers of entering the creek should be posted?

Posted on Monday, February 21st, 2011
Under: Education, Walnut Creek | 1 Comment »

Special education fundraiser today at Rocco’s

By Theresa Harrington

Rocco’s Ristorante and Pizzeria will donate a portion of its proceeds all day today to Special Olympics of Northern California to help pay for special equipment that allows children to bowl using switches.

To participate, mention the “Switch bowling” Special Olympics fundraiser when you order to dine in or take out.

Rocco’s is at 2909 Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek. Phone: 925-947-6105. Website: www.roccospizzeria.com.

The Special Olympics will host free practice training for interested children every Saturday in September at Diablo Lanes, culminating with a tournament.

Here’s the schedule:
September 11: 1:30 pm practice
September 18: 1:30 pm practice
September 25: 1:30 pm practice
October 2: 1:30 pm tournament

A “Poss-i-bowl” device and ramp will be used. Children should bring their own switches to Diablo Lanes at 1500 Monument Blvd. in Concord.

To register, call Laura Cartwright, VP Regional Sports
Special Olympics No. California, at 925-944-8801 ext.211

Posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Special Olympics, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

MDUSD administrator responds to questions about principal moves

By Theresa Harrington
The substantial number of moves by principals and other Mt. Diablo school district administrators during the past few months has prompted one big question in the community: “Why!?!”
Superintendent Steven Lawrence and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel, have said they were trying to find good matches for schools where principals have retired or have been promoted to new positions.
Today, I spoke with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, to get more clarification on this process.
She said Lawrence made a Connect Ed phone call message to Mt. Diablo Elementary parents a couple of days ago updating them on the status of their principal search. The message informed parents that interviews were being conducted and explained that the district’s candidate screening procedure now includes Internet searches, she said.
When I asked about the multiple administrative moves, Lock said: “There hasn’t been that many people moving around.”
She said the main reason for the moves is that four elementary principals resigned (Bel Air, Silverwood, Valle Verde and Wren Avenue) and five principals were promoted to positions in her department (Delta View Elem., Hidden Valley Elem., Monte Gardens Elem., Riverview MS, and Sequoia MS).
“We did move a couple of principals who are interested in looking at different assignments,” she added. “It’s not like we’ve been playing musical chairs. Nothing like that at all.”
Lawrence has said the swap of principals between Mt. Diablo High and Olympic continuation high was based on those administrators’ preferences. (Cheryl LeBoef is moving to Olympic and Kate McClatchy is moving to Mt. Diablo High.)
To fill the Bel Air and Delta View positions, Lock said the district needed principals who were experienced. Both Nancy Klinkner (at Highlands Elementary) and Nancy Baum (at Ayers Elementary) had expressed interest in new assignments, Lock said.
Klinker was placed at Bel Air (which has a large English learner population) because she is bilingual. The Bay Point school is one of the district’s lowest achieving campuses and Lock said Klinker was also a good fit because her background had been entirely in Title 1 (low-income) schools (with the exception of last year at Highlands).
The district placed Baum at Delta View to keep the campus moving in the right direction, Lock said.
New principals are also expected at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord.
Lock said Mt. Diablo Elementary’s previous Principal Bob Dodson has not yet been reassigned. Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees told me she expects to be replaced as part of that low-achieving school’s reform plan. Glenbrook Principal Jonathan Eagan found another position closer to his home, Braun-Martin told me last week.
Lock said Lawrence won’t attend the upcoming meeting with Sequoia Middle School parents in Pleasant Hill. Instead, she and Braun-Martin will likely ask staff and parents what kind of new principal they would like.
Lawrence normally doesn’t attend parent meetings, Lock said. He attended the Mt. Diablo Elementary meeting because she was off on furlough leave, Lock added.
However, Lawrence attended the Bancroft Elementary meeting with both Braun-Martin and Lock, to respond to parent concerns about his decision to transfer their principal to Valle Verde. He later reversed that decision, based on parents’ concerns.
Lawrence decides who to recommend for specific positions, with input from her, Lock said. She has been more involved in elementary hires than those at middle and high schools, she added. (Lock was previously the assistant superintendent for elementary education and principal of Walnut Acres Elementary in Walnut Creek).
Lock said Curriculum and Instruction division was eliminated — and replaced with her Student Achievment and Support division — to focus more on the demands placed on the principals districtwide, including high expectaitons for student achievement.
“We have to do a better job of supporting all of the schools,” she said. “In the past, the Curriculum and Instruction department supported all of our Program Improvement (low-performing) and Title 1 schools. Others didn’t get same level of support. But, others are also going to be expected to improve.”
Lock also emphasized that principals are hired for the entire district, not necessarily for specific schools.
“We want to make sure they are equally proficient and competent,” she said. “We want to develop them (through coaching and professional development), because we could be moving them around as needed.”
She acknowledged that the district does, however, try to match principals to schools where they would best fit.
“We certainly are sensitive to the needs of each school,” she said. “We do ask for (community) input, to make sure we have the right person.”
No principal should expect to remain at the same school for his or her entire career, she added.
“Principals don’t stay at schools for 20 years,” she said.
Does this explanation ease your mind about moves taking place before school starts?

Posted on Friday, July 9th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, California, Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 10 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district principal and administrator playbill

By Theresa Harrington

The cast of characters at Mt. Diablo district schools is changing over the summer, leaving some parents wondering who will greet their children when they return to campuses next month.

Here’s a rundown of recently approved or announced staff changes by school:

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS:
Ayers Elementary, Concord: Principal Spoogmai Habibi (former curriculum specialist)
Bel Air Elementary, Bay Point: Principal Nancy Klinkner (former Highlands Elem. principal)
Delta View Elementary, Bay Point: Principal Nancy Baum (former Ayers Elementary principal)
Hidden Valley Elementary, Martinez: Principal Sandy Bruketta (former curriculum specialist)
Highlands Elementary in Concord: Vicki Eversole (a program specialist and former principal and vice principal of Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord)
Meadow Homes Elementary, Concord: Program specialist: Diane Sargent (former curriculum specialist)
Mt. Diablo Elementary: Christopher Nugent (former vice principal at Joseph Sims Elementary School in Elk Grove)
Valle Verde Elementary, Walnut Creek: Principal Rhys Miller (former curriculum specialist)
Wren Avenue Elementary, Concord: Principal Cynthia Goin (former Strandwood Elem. principal, returning from leave)

MIDDLE SCHOOLS:
Riverview Middle School, Bay Point: Principal Christine Huajardo (promoted from vice principal); Vice principal Ean Ainsworth (promoted from student services coordinator)

HIGH SCHOOLS:
Diablo Community Day School in Concord: Linda Pete (former vice principal at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord)
Mt. Diablo High School, Concord: Principal Kate McClatchy (former administrator of Olympic High School); Vice principal: Lianne Cisnowski (former Olympic High teacher)
Northgate High School, Walnut Creek: Vice principal Linda Hayes (promoted from student services coordinator)
Olympic Continuation High School/Alliance special ed., Concord: Administrator Cheryl LeBoef (former Mt. Diablo HS principal); Vice principal Katie Gaines (former Alternative Education director); Vice principal Rachelle Buckner (former counselor at Mary Bird Community Day School in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District)

Here’s a list of changes at the district office:
DISTRICT OFFICE ADMINISTRATORS:
Assistant superintendent of personnel services: Julie Braun-Martin (former personnel director)
Director of Personnel: Melinda Hall (former director of Curriculum and Instruction)
Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement, Support: Rose Lock (former assist. supt. for elem. education)
Director, Elementary Support: Susan Petersen (former Delta View Elem. principal)
Director, Seconday Support: Denise Rugani (former Riverview MS principal)
Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support: Jennifer Sachs (former assist. dir. of Curriculum & Instruction)
Principal Coach and school support: Patt Hoellwarth (former Monte Gardens Elem. principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Lorie O’Brien (former Hidden Valley Elem. principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Hellena Postrk (former Sequoia MS principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Susan Hukkanen (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Administrator, English learners, Student Support: Carmen Graces (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Special Education Program Specialist: Danielle Beecham (former resource specialist at Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter High School in Los Angeles)

Braun-Martin told me the district still intends to fill principal positions at the following schools:
Glenbrook Middle School in Concord to replace Jonathan Eagan
Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord to fill Hoellwarth’s position
Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill to fill Postrk’s position
Silverwood Elementary in Concord to replace retiring Principal Sandra Rogers-Hare

However, Shore Acres Elementary Principal Kari Rees told me she would be replaced as part of that school’s reform plan for low-achieving campuses.

Braun-Martin also anticipates filling the following other administrative positions, based on promotions and retirements:
Director of Student Services (to replace retiring Margot Tobias)
Northgate High School Student Services Coordinator (to fill Hayes’ position)
Riverview Middle School Student Services Coordinator (to fill Ainsworth’s position)
Ygnacio Valley High School Vice Principal (to fill Pete’s position)
Four districtwide special education program specialists

Superintendent Steven Lawrence asked trustees to grant him the authority to make the above appointments during the board’s summer break in July. But trustees said they want to maintain oversight of these decisions and asked him to call special board meetings to approve the appointments.

Although the district is facing major budget cuts that Lawrence has warned could lead to a state takeover if they aren’t accomplished, five administrative promotions and raises went into effect July 1, based on a split board decision made Nov. 17, before Lawrence arrived. Trustees Dick Allen and Linda Mayo voted against the restructuring plan, which included raises totaling $55,029.

Here is the rationale for the decision, according to the staff report:
“Recognizing the impact of both the recently eliminated as well as the approved, prospective elimination of a position in the Superintendent’s Council it is essential that a restructuring of organizational relationships and a consolidation of tasks be defined and implemented to insure continuity in leadership and the delivery of critical services. Although the reorganization will not be effective until July 1, 2010, the plan needs to be considered earlier to allow adequate time for implementation.”

Here are the changes, effective yesterday:
General Counsel (Greg Rolen): Increase salary by $27,998 to $190,000 including education and longevity

Director Budget & Fiscal Svcs (Bryan Richards): Reclassify as Chief Financial Officer and increase salary by $8,114 to $140,000

Director Certificated Personnel (changed June 22 to Director of Personnel Services, Melinda Hall): Increase salary range by $5,989 from range 29 to 32 (range 29 is $86,559-$105,217; range 32 is $90,722-$110,262)

Facilities & Ops Project Mgr (changed June 22 to Director of Facilities, Operations and Resource Conservation, Jeff McDaniel): Increase by $11,136 from range 12 to 25 (range 12 is $72,803-$98,702; range 25 increase is approximately $83,939-$109,838).

Admin Secty To Supt Conf (Loreen Joseph): Increase by $1,792 from range of 536 to 576 (range 536 is $21.31-$25.90 per hour; range 576 is $24.07-$29.26 per hour).

At the Nov. 17 meeting, trustees also agreed to reclassify the Associate Superintendent position held by Alan Young to Assistant Superintendent, reducing the salary by $14,913 to $141,000. This position was later eliminated and Young retired last month.

The full range of salaries paid to district employees is on the district’s website.

Some union members have decried the raises, in light of the cuts they are being asked to take at the bargaining table. One high school registrar said the general counsel’s raise would pay for a clerical worker’s salary. At the time, Interim Superintendent Dick Nicoll told me he generated all of the recommendations for salary increases except the general counsel’s. That request came from the board, as noted in his memo (attachment) to trustees.

Richards said in his June 22 budget report that the district might need to lay off more employees or reduce their hours, if unions don’t agree to furlough days and benefits cuts. In addition, the district could increase class sizes for teachers and consolidate some part-time positions into full-time jobs.

The layoffs would include about 19 maintenance and operations workers. The cuts in hours would include: 29 elementary secretaries and 16 middle and high school secretary’s hours reduced by half to 3.5 per day; and approximately 100 California School Employees Association workers hours reduced to 3.5 hours a day or less, plus the creation of new 3.5 hour positions as needed.

Management has already agreed to three or four furlough days in 2009-10, plus seven to nine furlough days in 2010-11; a cap on health benefits at 2010 Kaiser rates; a reduction of post-retirement health coverage from two-party to employee only for new retirees effective July 1, 2011; and no vacation payoffs beyond carryover limits effective July 1, 2010 (use it or lose it).

Do you agree with the new administrative appointments? What is your reaction to the board’s budget dilemma?

Posted on Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Uncategorized, Walnut Creek | 10 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school board to appoint more administrators, vote on sports banners

By Theresa Harrington
At a special board meeting Thursday, the Mt. Diablo school board expects to appoint more site administrators and to approve a banner policy that would help raise money for after-school sports.
In addition, Superintendent Steven Lawrence is seeking authorization to make administrative appointments during the summer, when the board is on its break. These appointments would be officially approved by trustees in August.
It is impossible to know which administrators will be appointed by looking at the board agenda. It merely states that “interviews have been conducted and candidates have been selected to fill school site administrator positions.”
At the June 22 meeting, the board made the following school site administrator appointments:
PRINCIPALS:
Ayers Elementary, Concord: Spoogmai Habibi (former curriculum specialist)
Hidden Valley Elementary, Martinez: Sandy Bruketta (former curriculum specialist)
Mt. Diablo High School, Concord: Kate McClatchy (former administrator at Olympic High in Concord)
Riverview Middle School, Bay Point: Christine Huajardo (promoted from vice principal of Riverview MS)
Valle Verde Elementary, Walnut Creek: Rhys Miller (former program specialist in curriculum and instruction)
Wren Avenue Elementary, Concord: Cynthia Goin (former Strandwood Elem. principal, returning from leave)
SITE ADMINISTRATORS:
Meadow Homes Elementary program specialist, Concord: Diane Sargent (former curriculum specialist)
Mt. Diablo High School vice principal, Concord: Lianne Cisnowski (former Olympic HS teacher)
Northgate High School vice principal, Walnut Creek: Linda Hayes (promoted from student services coord.)
Olympic Continuation High School administrator, Concord: Cheryl LeBoef (former Mt. Diablo HS principal)
Olympic/Alliance high school vice principal, Concord: Katie Gaines (former Alternative Education director)
Riverview Middle School vice principal, Concord: Ean Ainsworth (already vice principal at Riverview)
Although the agenda attachment listed 25 positions to be voted on, the board didn’t vote on these two principal positions, which Superintendent Steven Lawrence announced during his June 15 report:
Bel Air Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Klinkner (former principal at Highlands Elementary in Concord)
Delta View Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Baum (former principal at Ayers Elementary in Concord)
The board also didn’t vote June 22 on the administrative positions listed below, even though they were in the agenda attachment. The board approved these appointments May 11 and June 15:
DISTRICT OFFICE ADMINISTRATORS:
Assistant superintendent of personnel services: Julie Braun Martin (former personnel director)
Director of Personnel: Melinda Hall (former director of Curriculum and Instruction)
Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement, Support: Rose Lock (former assist. supt. for elem. education)
Director, Elementary Support: Susan Petersen (former principal of Delta View Elementary)
Director, Seconday Support: Denise Rugani (former principal of Riverview Elementary)
Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support: Jennifer Sachs (former assist. dir. of Curriculum & Instruction)
Principal Coach and school support: Patt Hoellwarth (former principal of Monte Gardens Elementary)
Principal Coach and school support: Lorie O’Brien (former principal of Hidden Valley Elementary)
Principal Coach and school support: Hellena Postrk (former principal of Sequoia Middle School)
Principal Coach and school support: Susan Hukkanen (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Administrator, English learners, Student Support: Carmen Graces (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Lawrence said June 22 that he anticipated the need for special board meetings to fill other positions. But at the July 1 meeting, he will ask to make these appointments without calling special board meetings.
“In order to assure there is adequate staffing for the opening of school, the superintendent requests authority to appoint candidates to positions, including administrative positions, during the summer months when there are no board meetings,” the staff report states. “Any such appointments will be brought to the board in August.”
Based on moves or announcements that have already been made, here are other openings I anticipate:
Highlands Elementary Principal, Concord:
Monte Gardens Elementary Principal, Concord:
Mt. Diablo Elementary, Clayton:
Northgate High School student services coordinator, Walnut Creek:
Riverview Middle School vice principal, Bay Point:
Sequioa Middle School Principal, Pleasant Hill:
Shore Acres Elementary Principal, Bay Point:
Two Mt. Diablo High School teachers voiced concerns June 22 about the administrative shuffle taking place during the summer, saying their staff was given no notice of the changes. Do you think trustees should allow Lawrence to make appointments during the summer, without notifying the public until August?

Posted on Sunday, June 27th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Martinez, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 36 Comments »

Plentiful principal replacements in Mt. Diablo district

By Theresa Harrington
All administrators in the Mt. Diablo school district were given pink slips this year, which means they could be replaced or reassigned at will.
Even though the school year has already ended and many principals have made plans with their staffs for the fall, some are being promoted or reassigned. It’s possible some could lose their jobs, although that won’t be clear until all the decisions for replacements have been finalized.
A few resigned, leaving holes the district had to fill. The board expects to vote on the appointment of 25 administrators Tuesday, including the promotion of five principals to district office administrators, the appointment of eight principals and a continuation high school administrator, and the appointment of four vice principals.
Last Tuesday, the board approved a district office restructuring that includes the principal promotions. Here’s a rundown of those:
Delta View Principal Susan Petersen will become Director of Elementary Support.
Riverview Middle School Principal Denise Rugani will become Director of Secondary Support.
Monte Gardens Elementary Principal Patt Hoellwarth, Hidden Valley Elementary Principal Lorie O’Brien and Sequoia Middle School Principal Hellena Postrk are being promoted to administrative positions as coaches who will support local principals.
In addition, the board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High, replacing retiring Carolyn Plath. Morones is a Danville resident with three children who has worked as principal of Florin High in Sacramento for seven months.
But many other principal moves are in the works.
During the June 15 board meeting, Superintendent Steven Lawrence reported that Highlands Elementary Principal Nancy Klinkner has agreed to move to Bel Air, replacing Tom Carman, who retired. He also said Ayers Elementary Principal Nancy Baum has agreed to take Petersen’s former position at Delta View Elementary in Bay Point. Finally, Lawrence said Cynthia Goin, former principal at Strandwood Elementary, is coming back from a leave to become principal at Wren Avenue Elementary, replacing a retiring administrator.
The board will vote on these and other assignments Tuesday, including the appointment of some other district office administrators. Lawrence has already announced that he plans to move Julie Braun Martin, the current director of personnel, to the assistant superintendent position, replacing Gail Isserman, who is retiring. Lawrence has said he plans to move Melinda Hall, the current director of Curriculum and Instruction, into the personnel director position.
The restructuring also calls for Rose Lock, the current assistant superintendent for elementary education, to become the assistant superintendent of a new Student Achievement and School Support Division. Jennifer Sachs, the current assistant director of Curriculum and Instruction, will become assistant director of the new division, since the Curriculum and Instruction division is being eliminated. Carmen Garces, who is currently an administrator who serves socio-economically disadvantaged students and English language learners in the Curriculum and Instruction department will assume a similar position in the new division.
Here’s the list of appointments to be made, with names filled in, if they’ve already been announced:
PRINCIPALS:
Ayers Elementary, Concord:
Bel Air Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Klinkner
Delta View Elementary, Bay Point: Nancy Baum
Hidden Valley Elementary, Martinez:
Mt. Diablo High School, Concord:
Riverview Middle School, Bay Point:
Valle Verde Elementary, Walnut Creek:
Wren Avenue Elementary, Concord: Cynthia Goin
SITE ADMINISTRATORS:
Meadow Homes Elementary program specialist, Concord:
Mt. Diablo High School vice principal, Concord:
Northgate High School vice principal, Walnut Creek:
Olympic Continuation High School administrator, Concord:
Olympic/Alliance high school vice principal, Concord:
Riverview Middle School vice principal, Concord:
DISTRICT OFFICE ADMINISTRATORS:
Assistant superintendent of personnel services: Julie Braun Martin
Director of Personnel: Melinda Hall
Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement, Support: Rose Lock
Director, Elementary Support: Susan Petersen
Director, Seconday Support: Denise Rugani
Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support: Jennifer Sachs
Principal Coach and school support: Patt Hoellwarth
Principal Coach and school support: Lorie O’Brien
Principal Coach and school support: Hellena Postrk
Principal Coach and school support: Susan Hukkanen
Administrator, English learners, Student Support: Carmen Graces
The district office reorganization eliminated the position of director of alternative education, currently held by Katie Gaines. It also eliminated five other administrative positions and replaced them with the new Student Achievement positions detailed above.
But there are more vacant principal positions that have not yet been filled. Shore Acres Elementary Principal Kari Rees told me she will be replaced as part of that school’s reform efforts, based on its status as one of the district’s six lowest-achieving schools. The principals who are being promoted to positions as district administrators are also leaving behind vacancies.
In addition, I’ve heard that some other principals may not be returning to their campuses next year.
“In an attempt to find the best match for each school, district staff has gathered input from site staff members and parents,” the district’s staff report for administrative assignments states. “For those positions that we feel we have a match, we will announce the person filling the position; otherwise, we will continue to search for qualified candidates.”
Lawrence told parents at Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek last week that he had conducted extensive interviews with staff and parents at Valle Verde Elementary regarding the kind of principal they would like, after Principal Carolyn Kreuscher announced she planned to retire. But Bancroft parents did not understand why he did not ask them if they were willing to give up their principal before he decided to transfer Linda Schuler to Valle Verde.
Lawrence pointed out that the principal would leave sometime, most likely by retiring or transferring to another school. In reconsidering his decision, he said he would evaluate whether the time was right for Schuler to leave now.
In the end, Lawrence reversed his decision, based on the meetings with Bancroft staff and parents. But he said Valle Verde was a larger school with a significant population of special education students and that his goal with all transfers was to create a “win-win” situation for the principal and the school, offering a new opportunity to the administrator.
Lawrence explained that the district had a pool of about nine to 12 candidates that he looked at for Bancroft. One parent suggested that Lawrence place the person he had in mind for Bancroft at Valle Verde instead.
“You considered the needs of Valle Verde,” the parent said. “It’s inexcusable that we were not involved in this process from the beginning. There’s no reason to take this principal to another high-performing school in this district. If (the candidate) is good enough for us, she should be good enough for Valle Verde.”
Parents also wanted to know if Schuler wanted to move or if Lawrence told her to move.
“I more asked her to go, based on my request, than asked her (if she wanted to),” Lawrence said. “We had a talk. If you want to define that as being told, then, yes, (she was told).”
Here are the other vacancies I know about, based on moves or announcements that have already been made:
Highlands Elementary Principal, Concord:
Monte Gardens Elementary Principal, Concord:
Sequioa Middle School, Pleasant Hill:
Shore Acres Elementary Principal, Bay Point:
If your child attends one of these schools, have you been asked what kind of principal you and your children would like? How do you feel about getting a new principal in the fall?

Posted on Monday, June 21st, 2010
Under: Bay Point, Concord, Education, Martinez, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 19 Comments »

Transfer of Walnut Creek principal causes outrage

By Theresa Harrington
The decision to transfer Bancroft Elementary Principal Linda Schuler to Valle Verde Elementary in the fall has some staff members and parents at Bancroft outraged.
Parent Kim Friedman told me teachers were planning to meet with Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence at 3 p.m. today, followed by a parent meeting with Lawrence at 4 p.m.
Many plan to protest the move to the school board tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“Because of the way it was handled, that’s most of the reason why we are very upset,” Friedman told me today. “We have very little trust in this district as it is.”
I couldn’t reach Schuler, Lawrence or Rose Lock, assistant superintendent of elementary instruction, this afternoon. But I spoke to Valle Verde Principal Carolyn Kreuscher, who confirmed that Schuler will be taking the over leadership of the school in the fall.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Kreuscher said. “She’s going to be an incredible person to take over the helm. I’ve known her as a colleague for years and years. And I’ve known her as a friend. So, I feel like my community is blessed to have her coming aboard.”
Kreuscher said she notified her staff about their new leader Monday after school ended. She also sent an email to parents letting them know who would greet them in September.
Lock called Kreuscher over the weekend to tell her Schuler would be her replacement. Kreuscher’s last day is June 29.
She said she had no say in deciding who would replace her. And although some in the community are calling Schuler’s new assignment an “involuntary transfer,” Kreuscher said there is no such thing for principals.
“I don’t think that is true, because I don’t think that kind of language applies to us as principals,” Kreuscher said. “We’re hired as part of our district. What I know and what I’ve understood is that we go where we’re going to best service our communities.”
Kreuscher said she was transferred to Valle Verde 13 years ago, after working as principal at Holbrook Elementary in Concord. Schuler was transferred to Bancroft after working as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton.
Some Bancroft parents said they found out about Schuler’s departure from friends who received Kreuscher’s email. Kreuscher said Lock didn’t ask her to keep the news under wraps and told her she could inform her staff.
“I know that once I inform my staff, my community knows within five seconds of that,” Kreuscher said. “I know that Linda Schuler told her staff prior to me telling my staff.”
Still, Kreuscher said she could sympathize with concerns of the Bancroft community.
“That’s to be understood,” she said. “It’s very difficult, I think, for people to let go of good leadership.”
Kreuscher also said she would have expected the district to inform her school ahead of time, if she were being transferred (instead of retiring).
“Absolutely,” she said. “That’s the difficult piece.”
When asked if the Bancroft community uproar could have been prevented, Kreuscher said she couldn’t speak to that.
“To be honest,” she said, “I feel like my boss (Lock) and superintendent are working as hard as they can to do things that are right for kids and I dont think this is easy times. I think they’re trying to be responsive with so much to be responsive to.”
Do you think the district handled the transfer appropriately?

Posted on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 15 Comments »

Some unions say MDUSD proposals would devastate them

By Theresa Harrington
Budget cuts are causing union negotiations to go sour quickly in the Mt. Diablo school district, according to some employee representatives.
Members of the Calfornia School Employees Association and Local One say they plan to rally before the board meeting tomorrow to express their frustrations over proposals they find unacceptable.
“The district is looking to make permanent concessions, which would be devastating to our membership,” said James Jones, who represents members of Local One. “They just want to tear out of the collective bargaining agreement all the things we’ve worked for and basically not even try to work together. We think the community needs to know that.”
Jones said the union is willing to make temporary concessions for three years or less to help the district get through the current state budget crisis. Members plan an “informational picket” at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday outside the district office, he said.
Annie Nolen, who represents members of the Calfornia School Employees Association, said negotiations came to an impasse quickly, when the district refused to increase benefits workers rely on.
“What is getting ready to happen is going to be so bad,” she said. “We figure some of the members may not bring home a paycheck.”
This is because most members of the union, which includes campus supervisors and other non-teaching positions, work six hours a day or less. Nolen estimates most of their paychecks would be eaten up by benefits contributions under the district’s proposal.
Nolen said the statewide union president plans to attend the Mt. Diablo rally.
“We’ve been planning this for quite a while,” she said. “They’re getting ready to layoff and reduce hours, which will hurt my people even more. Most of them are poverty level anyway, especially my single women. They’re already working more than one job.”
Fiscal services director Bryan Richards said the board has to cut somewhere. It could try to push through cuts to employee salaries and benefits.
“Absent getting those, we’re going to have to be able to make cuts to make up the difference,” Richards said. “I anticipate that we are going to have to have a plan. We should have direction on how that plan’s going to take shape after tomorrow night’s board meeting.”
A list of possible budget reductions was not included in the agenda. But the board expects to discuss union negotiations during closed session and may report its decisions during the public portion of the meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m. at the district office.
Meanwhile, the teachers’ union doesn’t anticipate coming to the negotiating table until September, said president-elect Michael Langley. Union members are voting today on a new vice president to fill Langley’s previous position.
Former union president Mike Noce will return to teaching at Foothill Middle School. Three members seeking the vice presidency were narrowed to two after the first vote was taken.
Today, members are choosing between Northgate teacher Guy Moore and librarian Jo Carlson. Moore received 237 votes in the first election and Carlston received 347.
El Monte Elementary teacher Linda Ortega received 116 votes and didn’t qualify for the runoff.
The new union officer would be part of the executive board, which doesn’t plan to meet again until August, due to summer vacation, Langley said.
Do you think the district should agree to temporary concessions, instead of permanent ones? Do you think the district should make other cuts to prevent employees from taking deep reductions?

Posted on Monday, June 14th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Walnut Creek | 4 Comments »