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Layoffs hit schools hard

Jessica Beerbaum, fifth-grade teacher at Silverwood Elementary.

Jessica Beerbaum, fifth-grade teacher at Silverwood Elementary.

By Theresa Harrington
When I visited Silverwood Elementary in Concord to write a story about teachers being laid-off, I was impressed by the dedication of educators I interviewed and touched by the relationships they have built with their students.
I interviewed fifth-grade teacher Jessica Beerbaum and special education teacher Robin Evans. Both of them also spoke on camera about how they feel to be leaving the school, after receiving pink slips.
Here is Beerbaum, talking about her time at the school.
And here is Evans explaining why she loves to teach special education students.
Across the Mt. Diablo school district, students and teachers are facing the difficult reality that campuses are losing some valued staff members. Northgate High School Sentinel reporter Antonio Lau wrote about how layoffs are affecting his Walnut Creek school in this story.
Here’s an excerpt:
“One of the teachers who received a pink slip was chemistry teacher and swim coach Kevin Taylor. Taylor, who has only been at Northgate for a couple of years, is a well liked teacher among his students. One of his students even made a Facebook group dedicated to asking people to help save Taylor’s job.
“I am very happy to have students who care about my well being. I hope they can show the same care for the whole system and work to make their voices heard in a productive manner,” Taylor said.
With the budget cuts, schools are losing more than just their teachers. All 5th grade music in the Mount Diablo Unified School District will be cut as well causing students to lose a crucial year in music.
“It’s really bad that they would cut music class in 5th grade. It causes all the students to be a year behind which is going to affect them in the long run,” said sophmore Fabien Vaucheret, a member of orchestra at Northgate.
Northgate’s own music teacher Mr. Brown also received a pink slip by the district, which had many students worried. Thankfully during the Northgate Jazz Band’s performance at Yoshi’s, Brown proudly announced that he was not going to be fired.
With this country at its current economic state, it is only safe to assume that the California budget crisis is going to continue getting worse. However firing well-liked teachers and cutting good classes is not going to help with our education. It will only turn good schools into mediocre schools and deprive students of knowledge they will need in the future.”
Do you believe that budget cuts and layoffs are making good schools mediocre and depriving students of important knowledge?

Posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Which school district would Measure C support?

Measure C Walnut Creek schools mailer

Measure C Walnut Creek schools mailer

By Theresa Harrington
If you’re a registered voter who lives on the Ygnacio Valley side of Walnut Creek, you’ve probably received three mailers from the “Yes on Measure C” campaign urging you to support local schools.
But Walnut Creek resident Don Huggins noticed something rather unusual about these mailers: the name of the school district that would benefit from the measure is missing.
One, called “Where it Counts,” shows Ygnacio Valley and Northgate high schools on a map of Walnut Creek on one side, with Walnut Creek Councilman Kish Rajan and three other prominent city residents endorsing the measure on the other side.
Another mailer, entitled “Cutting Edge Tools for Local Students,” features a Foothill Middle School science teacher and former councilman Charlie Abrams (who is identified only as a professional engineer) lending their support to the measure.
The third, called “Rainy Days and Mondays,” says that leaky roofs, broken windows and old wiring “top the list of repairs needed at our neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools.”
The return address is “Yes on C” or www.protectourlocalschoos.org. The mailers are paid for by United for Excellent Schools.
Huggins wondered why the campaign left off any mention of the Mt. Diablo school district (except for endorsements from the Mt. Diablo Education Association and United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation).
So, he wrote the following letter to the City Council and sent a copy to me:

“Honorable Mayor and City Council Members, City of Walnut Creek
(Please distribute to all Council members.)

I recently received a flyer supporting Measure C that makes no mention of the Mt Diablo Unified School District — obviously an intentional omission that is deceptive and shameful.

The reason I’m addressing this to you is that the flyer appears to be all about Walnut Creek and its schools; contains photos and quotes from Gwen Regalia and Kish Rajan; has the endorsement of the WC City Council as well as its individual members; identifies certain schools in a sketch labelled WALNUT CREEK; and concludes with ‘Make Your Vote Count for Walnut Creek Schools.’

It would appear that the preparers (and supporters?) of this flyer decided to deceive voters into thinking that they were voting for only Walnut Creek schools and not for the entire MDUS District, which includes many other schools. Is this because of the relatively poor academic reputation of the MDUSD? It’s unexcusable.

What say you? (I’d appreciate your response.)
–Don Huggins”

Since Rajan is a member of the campaign committee, I forwarded my copy of the letter to him and asked if he helped prepare the mailers. I also asked for a response to Huggins’ assertions that the omission of the Mt. Diablo school district’s name was deceptive. Here’s Rajan’s response to me:

“Theresa – I am glad you got the Cutting Edge mailer. We are pleased to have so many leaders from Walnut Creek in education, city government, business, community orgs, parents, etc. that understand how critically important it is pass Measure C so we can better prepare our kids to compete in today’s economy. We wanted Walnut Creek voters to be informed of the breadth of Measure C’s support among their neighbors and community leaders.
Thanks
K
Kish Rajan”

When I asked if the council intended to respond directly to Huggins, Rajan responded: “Sure. I dont speak for the Council. But if Mr. Huggins were to contact me – I would refer answer him with the statement I gave you.”

I forwarded Rajan’s response to Huggins and asked for his reaction. Here’s what Huggins wrote in an e-mail to me:

“Theresa –

First, thanks for forwarding to me Mr Rajan’s response.

What do I think? I choke, then chuckle in an effort to keep calm.

It’s crystal clear. Kish just repeats what the mailers say and, like so many politicians, totally avoids the specific/hard questions that can’t be ‘spun’ sufficiently to defend the questionable actions. By avoiding the questions, he’s telling us that if you believe in the goal (which apparently he does), any means to get there is totally acceptable. To me, his response turns a minor issue into a larger one. You can forward my reply to him if you wish.

Theresa, these are the same city officials that got so stirred up crying ‘foul’ over the opposition to the Neiman Marcus project. Remember?

I’m fed up with national, state and local politics.

Up to you. You could ask him ‘What about the specific questions on process?’ Or I could. But is it worth it?
–Don Huggins”

I forwarded Huggins’ reaction to Rajan and haven’t heard back.

Do you think the Walnut Creek mailers should have mentioned that Measure C would benefit the Mt. Diablo school district?

What about solar projects or air conditioning, which also weren’t mentioned, although they are expected to account for more than half of the $202.2 million in facilities improvements? Nearly $69 million is earmarked for solar projects and $41.6 million is for air conditioning, totaling $110.5 million.

Items highlighted in the mailers included new facilities (which would cost $28.6 million), technology (which is slated for $20 million), roofs ($9.8 million) and windows ($1.6 million).

Posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 18 Comments »

Some pink-slipped MDUSD music teachers to keep jobs

Northgate jazz band at Yoshi's Oakland on May 17, 2010

Northgate jazz band at Yoshi's Oakland on May 17, 2010

By Theresa Harrington
At the Northgate High School jazz band performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Monday, instrumental director Greg Brown made a surprise announcement: “I just found out I still have a job!”
The crowd cheered and Brown said he was celebrating with the students, who rocked the house with an awesome show.
Afterwards, Brown told me that Mt. Diablo school board President Paul Strange interrupted his dinner to tell him his pink slip was rescinded. Brown said he had spent one of the worst weekends of his life worrying about losing his job at the end of the year.
Although he has 13 years experience directing bands and orchestras at the Walnut Creek school, he was one of 25 music teachers in the district to receive a pink slip.
Teachers’ union president Mike Noce confirmed that Brown was among several music teachers whose pink slips were rescinded this week. Others included Concord High School band teacher Gary Coartney and choir director Christian Emigh. Johnny Johnson, who directs the College Park High School bands, was not on the list of teachers who have been informed they will be able to keep their jobs, Noce said.
Gail Isserman, assistant superintendent for personnel, told me that many pink-slips were rescinded because the district won’t have time to negotiate the elimination of fourth- and fifth-grade prep time, since the teachers’ union has not yet come to the bargaining table.
She provided this list of music teachers who will not be laid-off or bumped to another subject area in 2010-11:
Geoffry Carter
Kirk Wetterhold
Judy Ryken
Patrick Abbott
Bruce Saxton
Loretta McNulty
Pamela Madsen
Jason Klein
Karen Ashford
Lynn Quinones
Joffria Whitfield
Linda Snyder
Monica Maddern
Martha Burgess
Eve Albright
Gregory Brown
Kathryn Crandell
David Wright
Deborah Bullard
Elizabeth Emigh
Basil Viar
Josephine Bromley
Sherri Bensen
Stella Brown
Michael Hanna
Gena Blind
Gary Coartney
Christian Emigh
Emilie Patton
Teachers with less seniority who are not on this list are either still in layoff status or could be bumped into anonther subject area, if they have a second credential, Isserman said. Some teachers will be laid off because trustees have eliminated fifth-grade instrumental music next year.
The Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation continues to fund-raise to try to save fifth-grade music.
Some proceeds from the KidFest on May 29-31 in Concord will help benefit the nonprofit organization.
More information is at http://www.mdmusicfoundation.org/index.html.

Posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Walnut Creek resident to appear on Primetime tonight

Christi Hockel on her wedding day.

Christi Hockel on her wedding day.

By Theresa Harrington
Christi Hockel, who works part-time at a Safeway in Walnut Creek, will appear during a Primetime: “What Would You Do?” segment tonight about the Down Syndrome Congress’ “We’re More Alike Than Different” campaign.
The segment will use an actor with Down syndrome to portray a grocery store bagger who is berated by a customer (played by another actor).
The program uses hidden cameras to find out how other shoppers will respond. Advocates for people with disabilities are hoping the segment will educate the public about workers with disabilities.
The show will include video clips from the “We’re More Alike Than Different” campaign featuring Hockel and Mark Hublar on their jobs at Safeway and Wal Mart, showing that employees with Down syndrome are more like their coworkers than they are different. Both Hockel and Hublar are “self advocates” who speak publicly about Down syndrome.
I wrote a story about Christi’s wedding in February. Her “More Alike Than Different” video can also be seen on the National Down Syndrome Congress website.
You can see the Primetime segment at 10 p.m. tonight on Channel 7. What would you do?

Posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

Mt. Diablo Sport Aid event raises $25,000

Sports supporters race to the finish line of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation's 5k run in October, 2009.

Sports supporters race to the finish line of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation's 5k run in October, 2009.

By Theresa Harrington
The plight of Mt. Diablo school district athletes has touched the hearts of many who have helped keep after-school sports alive this year, without district funds.
Many of them came together at a fundraising dinner last week to celebrate the camaraderie that has developed between the district’s six high school communities and to forge ahead with fundraising for next year.
The mood was festive at the Pyramid Alehouse in Walnut Creek on April 22, with guests wearing attire that ranged from fancy party dresses to sports team sweatshirts. But the commitment to students who play sports — and the coaches who lead them — was unwavering.
Auctioneer Steve Hayworth said news reports spurred him to pick up the phone and call the district, even though he doesn’t live within its boundaries.
“When I read the articles, I was flabbergasted that any school would consider eliminating sports,” Hayworth said. “I called the superintendent and I said, ‘I want to help.’”
Oakland Raider Sam Williams moved the audience when he spoke fondly of his days as “Mr. Defense” on the Clayton Valley High School football team and expressed his desire to help his alma mater and other district schools.
“I don’t know where I would be without Clayton Valley High School football,” said Williams, 29, who grew up in Clayton. “I’m so honored to be here with you tonight to save the programs and save our youth. And I can promise you — this will not be the last time you hear of me trying to make a difference.”
Williams said he has started a foundation called “Tackling the Odds” aimed at helping underprivileged kids. You can see a video of him talking about his foundation and community involvement on the Oakland Raiders’ website.
Williams helped auction off merchandise, then posed for photos and cheerfully handed out autographs. Retired Oakland Raider Art Thoms was also at the event, chatting with attendees including Northgate High School Principal John McMorris.
“I talked to him and he was a very nice guy,” McMorris said.
In this economy, McMorris said he’s concerned that parents may start to feel “tapped out” by all the school fundraising they are asked to support.
“I worry about donor fatigue,” he said. “We had a Spring Fling fundraising event and a crab feed and we ask for money at open house. And you always tap the same people.”
The United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation, or UMDAF, is trying to come up with new ideas for raising money to keep people motivated to fund sports. The foundation will share some proceeds from the May 29-31 Concord KidFest with the Mt. Diablo Music Education Foundation. Board members are also planning another 5K run October 10 in Concord’s Newhall Park.
In addition, supporters can sponsor an athlete or buy T-shirts or wine to benefit the foundation. For details, visit the foundation website at www.unitedmtdiabloathletics.org.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence, who swam and played water polo in high school, told me he was impressed by the turnout and the community support at the fundraiser. He said the foundation treasurer sent him an e-mail today reporting that Sport Aid brought in $25,000.
“For a first annual event — to raise $25,000 — that’s fantastic,” Lawrence said. “So, they’re just obviously doing a good job and they’re taking this very seriously to make sure our children experience athletics.”
Do you think the foundation has enough momentum to raise another $1.2 million for next year?

Posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Walnut Creek | No Comments »

School librarians decry budget cuts

Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner

Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner

By Theresa Harrington
Foothill Middle School librarian Diana Conner works three days a week at the Walnut Creek school and two days a week at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill. She works one more day at Foothill because the parents’ club there raised $17,000 to keep the library open for students all week.
A library aide staff the facility from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the days when Conner isn’t there.
“I only wish our state lawmakers held the same priorities as the people they represent and invested in our schools and our state’s future,” she said at a news conference in the library today.
Linda Mayo, vice president of the California state PTA and a Mt. Diablo school board trustee, said budget cuts have caused school libraries to close throughout the state.
“Many school libraries in California haven’t been as fortunate as Foothill Middle School,” she said.
Parent Rebecca D’Lima said Conner turned her son onto reading. Click here to see a video of her comments: Foothill Middle School
Other middle schools in the district must get by with librarians only two days a week, said librarian Jo Carson, who works at two middle schools two days a week each: Oak Grove Middle School in Concord and Pleasant Hill Middle School.
“The issue is equity,” she said. “This is the first year in my 15 years of working in libraries that we have had to ration our time.”
She said one teacher who wanted students to start a research project in February was not able to get time in the library until last week.
“I came to this profession because I love kids, schools and libraries,” she said. “But, right now, I’m concerned I am no longer having a measurable effect and that makes me very sad and very angry.”
In the Castro Valley Unifed School District, only one credentialed librarian remains — at the high school, said Phyllis Libbe, a library instructional assistant. All the elementary libraries are run by assistants, she said.
But library assistants do not have the same level of expertise as librarians, the speakers said. Librarians teach students how to find information and stock their facilities with books that support the curriculum, they said.
Chris Evans, a librarian at East Side Union High in San Jose, said his district has also drastically cut librarian hours.
“Our job is to help the teachers,” he said. “The library is everyone’s classroom.”

Posted on Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
Under: Education, libraries, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 1 Comment »

Tickets still available for Mt. Diablo ‘Sport Aid’ fundraiser

Sports supporters participate in 5k run.

Sports supporters participate in 5k run.

By Theresa Harrington
The Mt. Diablo school district sports community has pulled off a feat it wasn’t sure it could accomplish a year ago — it has raised $1.2 million to fund after-school athletics.
“Now, we’re starting over again for next year, which is kind of depressing,” said Pat Middendorf, Clayton Valley High athletic director, as she took a break from last-minute preparations for a Sport Aid fundraiser to be held tomorrow. “We have to. Next year is going to be a whole new matter, because it was an emotional tug for people last year. There were some one-time donations — like $100,000 here and $20,000 there — that we’re not going to have. So, we have to come up with all new strategies for next year.”
Middendorf and a handful of tireless volunteers are working on behalf of the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation to support the district’s after-school sports program, since the school board has eliminated its sports funding because of state budget cuts. The foundation includes representatives from all six district high schools who came together with an “all for one and one for all” philosophy that inspired many.
They held an enormously successful 5k run last fall and asked parents of athletes to pay donations to help fund coaches, equipment, transportation, league fees and other costs. This was in addition to fundraising that team boosters were already doing to pay costs that were never covered by the district, Middendorf said.
With a continued bleak budget outlook next year, the foundation is launching its 2010-11 fundraising campaign at the Sport Aid 2010 dinner, dance and auction, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 22 at the Pyramind Ale House in Walnut Creek. Tickets cost $75 per person or $125 per couple. Or, $700 will get you a premier table for 10.
The event will kick-off with a silent auction and cocktails, followed by dinner and a live auction at 7 p.m., then dancing at 8:30 p.m. Attendees can hobnob with special guests including retired Golden State Warriors basketball player Chris Mullin, Oakland Raiders football players Sam Williams and Marcel Reece, retired Raider Art Thoms and Jeff Tedford, Cal Bears head football coach.
Organizers hope to sell 200 tickets. By this afternoon, they reached 170, Middendorf told me.
“We’ll sell tickets right up to the end,” she said. “For some reason, we’ve had this huge jump today. We’ve still got 30, but I think we’ll plan for the whole 200.”
Although she’s pleased by this level of support, Middendorf doesn’t want anyone to think it’s going to be easy to meet the $1.2 million fundraising goal again. In this economy, with state budget cuts eating away at education and social services, district athletes are not the only ones asking for money.
“There’s more people in the same boat — school groups and certain charities,” she said. “But the school groups are the ones that are really desperate right now. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. So, it’s going to be tough.”
More information about the foundation is at www.unitedmtdiabloathletics.org.

Posted on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Walnut Creek | No Comments »