Part of the Bay Area News Group

West Contra Costa school board candidates discuss superintendent’s job performance

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, October 11th, 2014 at 9:08 pm in Education, Walnut Creek School District

During a recent editorial board forum for this newspaper, nine candidates vying for three open seats on the West Contra Costa school board discussed a variety of issues, including Superintendent Bruce Harter’s job performance.

The candidates included incumbent Madeline Kronenberg and challengers Liz Block, Peter Chau, Otheree Christian, Val Cuevas, Raquel Donoso, Mister Phillips, Chester Stevens and Ayana Kirkland Young. Incumbent Elaine Merriweather did not participate.

The superintendent is hired by the board and can be fired by the board. Kronenberg and Christian said they supported Harter. Phillips, Stevens and Young gave mixed reviews. Chau said he would need more information before he could make a decision about whether or not to retain Harter. But Block, Cuevas and Donoso adamantly criticized the superintendent and the current board for failing to act quickly enough to solve district problems, including poor academic achievement.

Kronenberg said Harter is well-connected to teachers, supported by staff and spends up to two days a week visiting classrooms.

“I would keep Bruce Harter,” she said.

Christian said he supports the superintendent, but it’s the responsibility of the trustees to make sure that all students are getting a good education.

“If the board is not doing that,” he said, “then they’re failing.”

Phillips said if Harter’s not doing what he’s supposed to, it’s the board’s fault. However, he pointed out that low academic achievement in the district cuts across all ethnic backgrounds and said all students are being underserved.

“In general, I support Dr. Harter,” Phillips said. “If there are specific issues, then that’s a different discussion.”

Stevens said Harter could do a better job of managing his staff. He said he has seen the American and California flags flying upside down, but that no one at the district seemed to care. As a substitute teacher, Stevens said he has had concerns involving due process that he didn’t want to detail.

“I would give him a C — not a failure, but I think he can do a lot more — and I think he has the wherewithal to do a lot more,” Stevens said. “I think something has to be shaken up there and I think he can address some things that I’ve told him about that he has not yet addressed.”

Young said Harter is personable, attends district events and listens to parents’ concerns. But she criticized him for blaming district problems on the budget, and said he appears to prioritize building new schools over improving education. She also said he needs to make sure every classroom has a teacher at the beginning of the year.

“Dr. Harter is really nice,” she said. “But he has to get a little tougher if he wants to make sure that this district goes in the way it’s supposed to.”

Chau said he would want to evaluate Harter before deciding whether he’s a good fit for the district. Chau wants to find out if Harter would support his idea of creating a student loan repayment program as an incentive to recruit and retain high quality teachers.

“I’m looking for solutions to some of the problems that our school district has,” Chau said.

Block said Harter needs to be held accountable for poor academic performance and lack of communication, innovation and leadership.

“I would make growth in student learning part of the superintendent’s evaluation and he would not be getting a good evaluation,” she said. “He would be not be working for the district anymore.”

Cuevas said Harter doesn’t appear to understand how to spur teaching and learning that will help the district’s diverse students succeed. She also said he should make sure there is a teacher in every classroom when school starts.

“We need a leader that’s not going to be top down and over-burdensome” and will work to build collaboration among staff to meet students’ needs, she said.

Donoso said district leaders have no sense of urgency to improve abysmally low academic achievement in math, or to help English learners become more fluent, or to solve truancy problems, especially among African-American students. She said there is a structural problem in the district.

“It is horrendous to see the kind of lack of attention that we need on our students,” she said.

What do you think of Harter’s job performance?

Leave a comment

Mt. Diablo board candidates discuss lack of diversity in district staff

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, October 3rd, 2014 at 6:26 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district

Six candidates vying for three open seats on the Mt. Diablo school board discussed a variety of issues at a forum Thursday in Pleasant Hill, including the lack of staff diversity in the district.

Incumbents Cheryl Hansen and Linda Mayo, along with challengers Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan shared a variety of perspectives on this issue, which Hansen said is a concern for most districts in Contra Costa County. Ideally, most candidates agreed, it is desirable for district staff to reflect the diversity of the student population.

“It’s a problem in communicating to students that education is a viable career,” said Hansen, who is white.

When she visited a career-oriented education academy at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, Hansen said she was surprised that only two of 32 students said they wanted to pursue careers in education.

“A lot of it is that they don’t necessarily see it as a profession or a career or something that’s lucrative,” Hansen said. “You can’t just rely on love of students.”

Districts and the community must work to convince students that education is a meaningful and fulfilling field, Hansen said. She also suggested that districts such as Mt. Diablo could try to think out of the box when recruiting.

“Someone told me,” she said, “that you need to fish in different ponds.”

Langley said the head of the NAACP said several years ago that if you compare the number of African-American sports stars to the number of African-American dentists, you would find that there are many more dentists. But, students don’t know that.

“Kids see athletes as glorified and valued,” Langley said. “If you want to get people into education, you have to stop saying education is failing and is for losers. You have to say: ‘This is where you go to get the top job.’”

Langley said he also supports affirmative action in hiring.

“We have get a diverse workforce,” he said, adding in reference to himself, “said the old white man.”

Lee said he attended schools in Los Angeles, where the student population was 70 percent minorities.

“Most of the teachers were not people of color,” Lee said. “But I felt like it didn’t really matter. They had empathy and they understood where I came from. They cared about me. I think diversity is important, but it’s also important to understand how teachers relate to people and to get the kids to understand that there are people who care about you and they don’t necessarily have to look like you.”

Moderator John Sasaki, quipped: “Said the Asian man on the dais.

Mason, who is white, said she hired a very diverse staff in one of her Bay Point youth programs.

“The kids just thought they were ‘the bomb,’” Mason said. “I was told by a MDEA (Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union) rep: ‘There’s no teachers of color out there.’ But I don’t believe that. I’ve been to other schools and I’ve seen them.”

One reason students from diverse ethnic backgrounds may not gravitate toward education careers is that they may not have had positive experiences in school, Mason added.

“If you had a negative experience in school, as many children of color do, is that a place you’re going to want to go back to? We have to value them,” she said. “In my program, four kids came back as teachers.”

Mayo, who is white, said teachers need to be esteemed in the district. Colleges, she added, must also reach out to diverse cultures for teacher credential and education programs.

“We also have to make sure that we as a community are welcoming people of color into our community,” she said, adding that diverse cities would likely attract more employees from varied backgrounds.

Ryan, who is white, said “students do better in school when they feel they have teachers who understand them.” He said the district should strive to make sure “students come up through an education system where they feel they belong and want to return to it.”

How do you think school districts could attract more diverse employees?

Leave a comment

Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for failing to release court-ordered documents to Bay Area News Group

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 26th, 2014 at 8:06 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district

The Mt. Diablo school district could be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over documents in connection with a lawsuit filed last year by this newspaper.

Last month, a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge ordered the district to release eight documents to this newspaper in response to a California Public Records Act request and subsequent lawsuit seeking all writings related to complaints, investigations or discipline of former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, who was charged last year with 150 counts of molestation involving 14 students.

A jury acquitted Martin in August on 21 counts involving three accusers and deadlocked on 95 other counts involving 11 accusers. The deputy district attorney dismissed 34 counts before jury deliberations began and has not yet decided whether to retry Martin on the remaining charges.

Martin was placed on a leave of absence in April 2013 after a parent complained to the principal about suspicions of inappropriate touching. Martin was arrested two months later and remains in jail in lieu of $10 million bail. Civil lawsuits filed by the accusers and their families against him and the district are pending.

In response to this newspaper’s lawsuit, a judge reviewed documents the district considered exempt from disclosure “in camera,” or in the judge’s chambers. Following this review, the judge ordered the district to produce the following eight documents, saying they were not exempt:

1. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Julie Braun-Martin, then-assistant superintendent of personnel, from a parent.

2. Letter to Martin from a parent.

3. Email from Martin to Braun-Martin dated May 16, 2013.

4. Phone message of May 22, 2013, for Braun-Martin from parent.

5. Emails from then-Woodside Elementary Principal Jenny Cronan to Braun-Martin dated May 26 and 27, 2013.

6. Letter from Cronan to “Parents of H-I Students” dated May 28, 2013.

7. Phone message of June 7, 2013, for Braun-Martin from Cronan.

8. Email to “Board Members” from then-Interim Superintendent John Bernard dated June 28, 2013.

The district’s outside counsel from Meyers Nave filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the documents were produced through an “improper” inspection in the judge’s chambers. They further argued that the documents are not public records by definition, that they are not responsive to this newspaper’s California Public Records Act request, that they are privileged attorney-client communications, are subject to attorney work product privilege, and they pertain to pending criminal and civil litigation. In addition, the district argued that disclosure would infringe on the privacy rights of families whose children attend Woodside Elementary in Concord, where Martin taught fifth grade.

The district included a declaration under perjury signed by Jayne Williams, who was the district’s interim general counsel when Martin was arrested, arguing that the documents should be exempt from disclosure because they were “retrieved solely from the general counsel’s legal files.”

Regarding Bernard’s email, Williams said: “I am informed, believe and thereon allege that email was sent on June 28, 2013, following the district meeting in closed session on June 24, 2013, to address these matters.”

She attached a copy of the agenda from the meeting, which she asserted “confirms the district’s meeting in closed session to discuss a matter related to a public employee.”

However, the minutes from that meeting — which she did not attach — state that no closed session took place because the public employee issue “has been resolved.” This newspaper asked the court to order the district to show cause why it should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey the Aug. 14 order, and the judge agreed. Both the motion to reconsider and the contempt of court order are set for Oct. 15 hearings.

Staff writer Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.

Here is the district’s Motion to Reconsider: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcecFAxSk9jU0lYUGM/edit?usp=sharing

Here is Meyers Nave attorney Kevin Gilbert’s statement in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceSTJWRU5US3V0Wkk/edit?usp=sharing

Here is former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams’ declaration in support of the MDUSD motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceZlVDYTY4UEZjZTQ/edit?usp=sharing

Here’s BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause Why MDUSD Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Obey Aug. 14, 2014 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceekFrT0pOMTg4SmM/edit?usp=sharing

Do you think the district should turn over the documents or be held in contempt of court?

SEPT. 29 UPDATE: BANG filed this Petition for Writ today, which calls into question the actions of former Interim General Counsel Jayne Williams, who appears to have compiled certain documents in a “legal” file, while allowing all other copies of those documents to be discarded, in an apparent attempt to withhold them from release to BANG’s CPRA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceWEFsWDYwNXhJZ2s/edit?usp=sharing

OCT. 1 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Opposition to MDUSD’s Motion for Reconsideration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcebWNNOXQ5M1l6YVk/view?usp=sharing

Here are Exhibits 1 and 2, which supplement BANG’s Opposition: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceVEZneFRCTGZlLVk/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 3 UPDATE: Here is MDUSD’s Request for a Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceN2JwU09mR3RJdDg/view?usp=sharing

Here is Jayne Williams’ amended declaration: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKcedTJqNjVCMURJRTQ/view?usp=sharing

Here is Kevin Gilbert’s Declaration in Support of MDUSD’s Request for Temporary Stay of Disclosure Order and Opposition to BANG’s Application for Order to Show Cause why MDUSD Should Not Be Held in Contempt: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceYmhKR2J5dnI4OUE/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 7 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s Reply in Support of Order Holding MDUSD in Contempt for Failing to Obey the Aug. 14 Disclosure Order: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQnhPVFRrbGNZbWM/view?usp=sharing

OCT. 27 UPDATE: Here is BANG’s motion for attorney’s fees: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceXzR1a3JwNGpaNWc/view?usp=sharing

And here is a declaration in support of the motion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6mS2O1_NKceQ1BHUFpmZ0RfM0k/view?usp=sharing

Leave a comment

Poll shows Americans think teachers need better training, longer student teaching stints

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 26th, 2014 at 7:27 pm in Mt. Diablo school district, Teaching

As the debate over teacher tenure and teacher evaluations continues, a new poll released last week showed Americans support more stringent admission requirements for teacher education programs, more rigorous evaluations and a “bar exam” type of certification test.

Those surveyed in the second release of information from the 46th edition of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools believe performance evaluations are important to help teachers improve and to identify those who are ineffective. But they do not support the use of student test scores as the primary tool for evaluating teachers.

These are issues that those who educate prospective teachers are already beginning to address. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has implemented new rules that will set minimum academic standards for students seeking admission into university schools of education. In addition, more than 100,000 teachers throughout the country have earned national board certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, including many in Contra Costa County.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has endorsed a performance assessment developed by Stanford University, which is built on national board certification and has been compared to a bar exam, to determine whether a teacher candidate is ready to teach.

“Many programs designed to help teachers improve their skills already exist,” said William Bushaw, chief executive officer of PDK International and co-director of the PDK/Gallup poll in a news release. “But this year’s results show that more work, study and action by district, state and federal leaders is needed to implement these programs that Americans support.”

The poll also asked about the public school calendar, curriculum and educating undocumented children.
Key findings include:

— 81 percent of those surveyed said teachers “should be required to pass board certification in addition to earning a degree.”

— 60 percent said entrance requirements to education schools should be raised.

— 44 percent said student teaching stints with a certificated teacher should last one year; 27 percent said two years; 4 percent supported the most common practice of six-week student teaching assignments.

— 45 percent said the number of instructional days should remain the same, but vacations should be spread throughout the year instead of mainly in the summer; about 44 percent generally supported adding more instructional days.

— 31 percent generally supported adding more hours to each school day.
Support for educating undocumented children varied, depending whether or not the question included the word “illegally.”

— 56 percent supported “providing public education to children of immigrants who are undocumented.”

— 49 percent favored “providing education to children of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.”

— 91 percent said a college education is “fairly important” or “very important.”

However, the 2014 poll found an unexpected change in those categories compared to four years ago. In 2010, 75 percent of those surveyed said college was “very important,” while 21 percent said it was “fairly important.”
This year, 43 percent categorized college as “very important,” while 48 percent responded “fairly important.”

“We were genuinely surprised by the divided response on the importance of college,” Bushaw said. “Americans seem to be rethinking the idea that a college education is essential for success in the U.S. economy, perhaps in part because parents are less certain they will be able to pay for it.”

PDK, an international association of education professionals, has conducted this poll annually with Gallup since 1969. The most recent findings are based on telephone interviews completed in May and June 2014 with a national sample of 1,001 American adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percent.

Complete results are at www.pdkpoll.org.

Do you agree with the poll results?

Leave a comment

MDUSD tonight to appoint a Northgate HS principal, vote on board benefits and counselor positions

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 at 10:05 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the school district office board room at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. Here is the agenda, which includes several items of interest, such as the appointment of a principal for Northgate High in Walnut Creek, a vote on board benefits, the restoration of hours for special education assistants and the creation of 12 counselor positions.

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements

3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
4.4 (Item #4) Conference with Labor Negotiator(s) – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m. Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene to Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #15-13 into the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.3 (Item #3) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
8.4 (Item #4) Conference with Negotiators – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action

9.0 Recognitions and Resolutions
9.1 Resolution 14/15-12 Disability Awareness Month Action
9.2 Resolution No. 14/15-14 – Attendance Awareness Month Action

10.0 Public Employee Appointment
10.1 Appointment of Principal – Northgate High School Action

11.0 Board Member Reports
11.1 Board Reports Info

12.0 Superintendent’s Report
12.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

13.0 Reports/Information
13.1 Measure C Project Update Info

14.0 Consent Agenda Action
14.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
14.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
14.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.4 (Item #4) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014/15 School Year Action
14.5 (Item #5) Fiscal Transactions for the Month of August 2014 Action
14.6 (Item #6) Approval of contract increase with Non-Public Agency, Creating Behavioral and Educational Momentum (CBEM) Action
14.7 (Item #7) Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Spectrum Center for 2014/15 Collaborative Program Action
14.8 (Item #8) Execution of Non-Public School Master Contracts for the 2014-15 School Year Action
14.9 (Item #9) Approval of master contract with Non-Public Agency Community Options for Families & Youth (COFY) Action
14.10 (Item #10) Approve Independent Services Contract with Mary Phalon, Support Counselor and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.11 (Item #11) John F. Kennedy University – Independent Services Contract Action
14.12 (Item #12) Educational Testing Service (ETS) High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) Action
14.13 (Item #13) Approve contract with Talk Solutions/Pleasant Hill Middle School and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.14 (Item #14) Approve contract with Marin County Office of Education (COE) Outdoor School of Walker Creek Ranch for Walnut Acres Elementary School Action
14.15 (Item #15) Approve contract with Westminster Woods Camp and Sequoia Elementary School Action
14.16 (Item #16) Firedoll Foundation Grant Action
14.17 (Item #17) Field Trips: Sequoia Middle School Action
14.18 (Item #18) Approval of text for Honors Economics course: Krugman’s Economics for AP (bfw Worth) Action
14.19 (Item #19) Memorandum of Understanding for Facilities Use between the City of Concord and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.20 (Item #20) Notice of Completion for Bid #1649: PE Building Renovation at Mt. Diablo High School Action
14.21 (Item #21) Approve Final Change Order (FCO) #1649-001 to B Bros Construction, Inc. Action
14.22 (Item #22) Approve Resolution 14/15-13 for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District for acceptance and consent to a deed or grant of real property. Action
14.23 (Item #23) Approve Quitclaim of Easements between the Contra Costa Water District and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
14.24 (Item #24) Temporary Suspend Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 5116.1 (Intradistrict Open Enrollment) Action
14.25 (Item #25) Memo Of Understanding Between Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) and Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
14.26 (Item #26) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 20, 2013 Action
14.27 (Item #27) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 15, 2013 Action
14.28 (Item #28) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 8, 2013 Action
14.29 (Item #29) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on May 6, 2013 Action
14.30 (Item #30) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 1, 2013 Action
14.31 (Item #31) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
15.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

16.0 Public Comment
16.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

17.0 Communications
17.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

18.0 Business/Action Item
18.1 Approve creation of 12 School Counselor Positions Action

18.2 Authorizing Investment of Monies in the Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF) Action

18.3 Adoption of Beginning Guitar as a year long course of study. Action

18.4 Revision of BB 9250 Heath and Welfare Benefits Action

18.5 Additional Monthly Meeting of the Board of Education Info/Action

18.6 SEA Hours Restoration Action

18.7 Agreement for Facilities Use between City of Clayton and MDUSD Action

18.8 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on June 30, 2014 Action

18.9 Minutes for the Special Closed Session Board of Education Meeting held on July 14, 2014 Action

18.10 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on August 13, 2014 Action

18.11 Meeting Extension Action

19.0 Future Agenda Items
19.1 Future Agenda Items Info

20.0 Closed Session
20.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this closed session. Action

21.0 Reconvene Open Session
21.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

22.0 Adjournment
22.1 Adjourn Meeting Info”

Do you think board members should get paid benefits?

Leave a comment

Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year share secrets of success

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 12th, 2014 at 7:52 pm in Contra Costa County, Education, Martinez school district, Pittsburg school district

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the classrooms of Elizabeth Lanfranki and Brian Wheeler, named 2014 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year on Thursday.

During phone interviews with them Friday, I conjured up images in my head of kids screaming vocabulary words in Lanfranki’s English classes at Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High in Pittsburg and teens tinkering with automotive technology in Wheeler’s classes at Alhambra High in Martinez.

At 24, Lanfranki is only about a decade older than her students. The Las Lomas High graduate (class of 2008), who grew up in Walnut Creek, said she uses her voice and body language to engage her students.

For example, students in her sixth grade English class have no trouble remembering the difference between “mood” and “tone” in literature.

“I have the students form an M with their hands and we say: ‘Mood affects me.’ And they point to themselves.”
This helps them to understand that mood is related to how the reader feels after poring over a piece of literature, she said.

Tone, on the other hand, reflects the author’s attitude. To drive this point home, Lanfranki and her students demonstrate a bit of attitude themselves. They change their voices and move their heads back and forth, saying “tone,” with an attitude, she said.

“So, when they come to the test, they’re going to remember tone versus mood, because they have the gestures in their heads,” she said. “It’s whole-brain teaching when you throw in a gesture with a word.”

Lanfranki also encourages her students to scream vocabulary words to help them remember them. A reading comprehension technique she uses teaches students to break down texts into smaller chunks and analyze the words and paragraphs to better understand them. This is especially helpful for English language learners, she said.

Lanfranki has also started an after-school intervention program and is involved in several clubs including the Builder’s Club, which focuses on “building community through service,” she said. She said she is excited to have received top recognition as an exemplary teacher in the county at such a young age.

“I’m a product of Contra Costa education and I know how many great teachers there are out there,” she said. “I’m just honored to be recognized among them and for my peers to think that I’ve achieved this feat.”

Although Wheeler is 30 years older than Lanfranki, he has only been teaching a year longer. For three decades, he worked as a collision repair technician, fixing crashed cars.

He said he decided to pursue teaching on the advice of his wife, who is an elementary school principal in Fairfield, where they live. His relationships with his wife and his adult sons, he said, have taught him the importance of building strong connections with others.

“It’s my treasure in my life,” he said. “That’s the thing I want to pass on more than anything else — is to show kids how to have great relationships. I’ve been married for 33 years to the same woman. I have great relationships with my three kids.”

Wheeler’s former student, James Bailey White, said Wheeler’s life lessons were an important part of his classes.
“Mr. Wheeler was without a doubt the single most influential and effective teacher I have had in my collective learning career,” Bailey White said. “He sees no student as an enemy, and has always built excellent rapport with pupils, even with the most difficult ones.”

Wheeler praised the Alhambra High community, which has supported him in his teaching career.

“It is an incredible privilege to teach in Martinez,” he said. “When I came to work here, the people wrapped their arms around me and have helped me. This is an incredible place to work.”

But his real secret to success, he said, is his wife, who taught special education in elementary and high school and was also a first and second grade teacher, before becoming a principal.

“My wife is my secret weapon,” he said. “My wife is an incredible teacher, so I got trained every night when I went home.”

What do you think are the secrets of successful teachers?

Leave a comment

MDUSD board tonight to approve Teamsters contract, approve counselor position and policy prohibiting tobacco use, and discuss board benefits

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 at 12:48 pm in Mt. Diablo school district

The Mt. Diablo school board will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord.

Here is the agenda:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President Will Call the Meeting to Order at 6:00 p.m. Info
2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during Closed Session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info
3.0 Announcements
3.1 In Closed Session, the Board will consider the items listed on the Closed Session Agenda. Info
4.0 Closed Session Agenda
4.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #16-13 into a school in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
4.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
4.3 (Item #3) Conference with Labor Negotiator(s) – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action
4.4 (Item #4) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer and Lawrence Schoenke; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action
5.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.
5.1 Adjourn to Closed Session Action

6.0 Reconvene Open Session
6.1 Reconvene Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info
7.0 Preliminary Business
7.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info
8.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
8.1 (Item #1) Readmission of Student #16-13 into a school in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Action
8.2 (Item #2) Anticipated Litigation – Conference with Legal Counsel pursuant to Gov’t. Code Sec. 54956.9(b, Significant Exposure to Litigation: 2 cases Info/Action
8.3 (Item #3) Conference with Negotiators – Unrepresented Employee – Superintendent. Negotiator: Barbara Oaks Info/Action
8.4 (Item #4) Conference With Labor Negotiator(s) (Gov. Code Sec. 54957.6; Agency Negotiators – Dr. Nellie Meyer and Lawrence Schoenke; Unrepresented Employee: DMA Info/Action

9.0 Board Member Reports
9.1 Board Reports Info

10.0 Superintendent’s Report
10.1 Superintendent’s Report Info

11.0 Reports/Information
11.1 Transportation Report Action

12.0 Consent Agenda Action
12.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
12.2 (Item #2) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
12.3 (Item #3) Request to Increase and Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-2015 School Year Action
12.4 (Item #4) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
12.5 (Item #5) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2014-15 School Year Action
12.6 (Item #6) Education Code 44256(b)- Board Authorization Action
12.7 (Item #7) Contract/Purchase Order with Beyond the Words, Inc. for the services of Educational Interpreters for the Deaf for School Year 2014-2015 Action
12.8 (Item #8) Approve contract/purchase order with Marie Wyman, SLP for Speech and Language services for the 2014-15 School Year Action
12.9 (Item #9) Memorandum of Understanding between The University of the Pacific and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
12.10 (Item #10) Approve grant submission to Dow Chemical to support Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Launch Action
12.11 (Item #11) Approve grant submission to Tesoro for STEM After School Club Action
12.12 (Item #12) Approve acceptance of grant from Kaiser Permanente to Food and Nutrition Services for the Homework Café pilot at Meadow Homes and Riverview. Action
12.13 (Item #13) RFP #1684: Translator Support Providers Action
12.14 (Item #14) Disposal of District Surplus Vehicles Action
12.15 (Item #15) Field Trip: Mt. Diablo High School Action
12.16 (Item #16) Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on June 3, 2013. Action
12.17 (Item #17) Minutes for the Special Board of Education Meeting held on May 28, 2013. Action
13.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

14.0 Public Comment
14.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

15.0 Communications
15.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

16.0 Business/Action Item
16.1 Request to Approve Tentative Agreement between Teamsters Local 856 M&O and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action

16.2 Approval of School Counselor Position Info/Action

16.3 Certification of the District’s 2013-2014 Unaudited Actual Financial Report Action

16.4 Adoption of Resolution #14/15-4 Adopting the District’s 2013-2014 Appropriations Limit Calculation (GANN Limit) Action

16.5 Request approval of the Independent Services Contract with Mt. Diablo Unified School District and New Tech Network, LLC. Action

16.6 UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project Action

16.7 Adoption of Beginning Guitar as a year long course of study. Info

16.8 Adoption of Essential Elements for Band – Book 1 with EEi and Essential Elements for Strings – Book 1 with EEi method books for the Elementary Instrumental Music program. Info/Action

16.9 Contract for EL Achieve to Build District Capacity in the Constructing Meaning Framework Info/Action

16.10 BP 6174 Education for English Learners AR 6174 Education for English Language Learners Action

16.11 Creation of Board Policy 5131.62 and Administrative Regulation 5131.62 to prohibit students against tobacco use. Action

16.12 Revision of Board Policy 3513.3 and Administrative Regulation 3513.3 (Tobacco-Free Schools). Action

16.13 Revision of Board Policy 5030 (Student Wellness). Action

16.14 Revision to BP 2310: Conflict of Interest Info

16.15 Revision of BB 9250 Heath and Welfare Benefits Info

16.16 Minutes for the Board of Education Meeting held on June 25, 2014. Action

16.17 Meeting Extension Action

17.0 Future Agenda Items
17.1 Future Agenda Items Info

18.0 Closed Session
18.1 Items not completed during the first Closed Session will be carried over to this closed session. Action

19.0 Reconvene Open Session
19.1 Reconvene Open Session and Report Out Info

20.0 Adjournment
20.1 Adjourn Meeting Info”

Although the district has been promising for weeks to appoint a new principal for Northgate High in Walnut Creek, no appointments appear on this agenda.

One controversial issue is Item 16.15, which suggests that board members pay for their own benefits.

Also, Item 12.16 on the consent calendar – minutes for the board meeting of June 3, 2013 – are confusing. They note that Interim Superintendent Bernard requested that three items from the “confidential agenda” be added to the public agenda. The board voted to add the three items, but there was no report out regarding those items. The video from this meeting (as well as several others from last year) has disappeared from the district’s website. Where is the transparency and accountability that was promised when the board agreed to begin videotaping meetings?

Leave a comment

How should teachers and educational organizations use Twitter?

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, September 8th, 2014 at 6:02 pm in Education

Recent publicity surrounding inappropriate tweets by a Newark school district teacher about her students have generated a lot of buzz around what not to do on Twitter. But, I have also seen many examples of innovative and inspirational use of Twitter by tech-savvy teachers, schools, districts and county offices of education.

Below is a sampling of some of these tweets, including twitter handles and the number of followers and tweets (in case you want to follow them). Some disseminated important information, while others demonstrated events as they were happening or showed the personalities and passions of the tweeters.

@CoCoSchools: Contra Costa County Office of Education (1,150 followers, 1,791 tweets): “Dr. Ovick keeps the beat with The Contraband. 2014 CCCOE Staff Institute Day, @ The El Campanil Theater” — with a photo of Superintendent Joseph Ovick playing the drums.

@acalanesdons: Acalanes High School (421 followers, 151 tweets): “Parents: Friday Forum is happening this morning at 8:30 in the Faculty Dining Room. Great way to be in the know about AHS. #go Dons”

@MUSDTechTweets: Martinez Unified School District (152 followers, 173 tweets): “Math pilot hit a slight bump in the road, but as usual MUSD teachers, admin. step up & rally! #lovemyprincipals #MUSDteachersrock”

@RamiMuthmusd: Martinez Superintendent Rami Muth (111 followers, 3 tweets): “Great opening day in Martinez. Looking forward to watching Common Core unfold in the hands of talented students and staff.”

@ahsdogs: Alhambra High School (339 followers, 185 tweets): “Math in the common core with Ikea construction. #makesomething” — with three hands-on learning photos.

@jseroadrunners: John Swett Elementary (401 followers, 5,843 tweets): “What could be better than reading in the garden on Friday afternoon! @mwatkins0913 #teamkid” — with photo of students reading in garden.

@Steph_Battles: Third grade teacher in Martinez district (79 followers, 143 tweets): “Responding to our texts and being active readers. #teamkid” — with one photo of teacher instructions and two photos of students’ work.

@MissHullJSE: John Swett First Grade teacher Nancy Hull (113 followers, 485 tweets): “‘Miss Hull, I had a really fun day with you today”-Student as they left today. melts my heart! Love my job! #teamkid #raisethebar #sweetkid’”

@mwatkins0913: John Swett Second Grade teacher Michelle Watkins (41 followers, 28 tweets): “A is for my students. Why? Because they’re AMAZING! #bestreadaloud #teamkid” — with photo of book cover.

@briantlawrence: Mt. Diablo school board trustee Brian Lawrence (115 followers, 257 tweets): “Flattered to keep being asked but no I am not running for wc council. Much to be done in #mdusd and @kdlaw left big shoes to fill!”

@YgnacioValley: Ygnacio Valley High (289 followers, 1,250 tweets): “Senior Sunrise! First Senior event of the year! Join us Friday morning, 7 a.m.!” — with link to Instagram promo for event.

@TeacherCarissa: Ygnacio Valley High teacher Carissa Weintraub (24 followers, 137 tweets): “Back at it. 1st official teacher work day. Let’s hear it for that alarm and 2 cups of coffee!”

@SRVUSD1: San Ramon Valley Unified School District (139 followers, 36 tweets): “Reminder: The 31st Run for Education will be held October 12th, 2014. Hope to see you all there! Register here- http://bit.ly/1CmRkHc” — link to registration website.

@WindemereRanch: Windemere Ranch Middle School (97 followers, 121 tweets): “Some of our 7th grade science classes got a visit from The Falcon Lady to see our mascot up close!” — with link to Facebook photo of Falcon Lady.

@WCCUSD: West Contra Costa Unified School District (575 followers, 222 tweets): “Kennedy HS receives $100,000 donation from @sprint at BOE meeting. @supejohngioia helped make the connection” — with photo of check presentation.

@AlamedaCOE (701 followers, 797 tweets): Alameda County Office of Education: “Press Release: @sheilaalameda receives 2014 Genesis Carl Anthony Legacy Award http://conta.cc/1pavMD9” — link to news release.

@sheilaalameda: Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan (65 followers, 30 tweets): “RIGHT NOW (Aug. 5): Scared #kids desperately need refuge. Speak out to protect them! #moms #borderchildren — http://moms.ly/1kfcUrl” — link to MomsRising. Org. petition asking President Obama and the U.S. Congress to “make sure that all Central American child refugees are treated humanely, that their immediate needs are met and that they are all given fair due process.”
Do you think it’s appropriate for educators to tweet?

Do you think it’s appropriate for educators to tweet?

Leave a comment

Kudos to Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord for hard-earned White House recognition!

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, September 8th, 2014 at 5:43 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district

I was excited to visit Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord earlier this week to see the students, staff and parents showing famous artists and White House officials how they are turning around their school by integrating visual arts, drama and music into their classes.

Alejandra Ceja, executive director of The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence said Meadow Homes is a model for underperforming schools around the country that want to engage students in learning.

“I want you to know you’re putting this conversation on the map and people are paying attention to what’s happening here,” Ceja said during a round table discussion with Mt. Diablo school district staff, Monument Community Partnership representatives and parents. “This is exactly what we need to continue to do across the country. And for us, it’s going to be so critical when we go into those emerging communities — Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee — where there’s parents and students that are trying to figure out: How do they become more of an community in the school district? And so we’re definitely going to take away a lot of the information that was shared and follow up.”

Principal Mary-Louise Newling, teachers and parents talked enthusiastically about how rigorous instruction in painting, drawing, dance, singing and instrumental music is lighting a fire in students for learning, including some who previously didn’t want to come to school or who had behavior problems. Vice Principal Margo Peckham said the parent community at the school is very active and interested in what their children are doing, with some meetings drawing 100 people.

John Abodeely, deputy director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, said hearing about the parent involvement at the school gave him goose bumps. At some schools, he said, the only time parents visit is for disciplinary issues.

The premise of the “Turnaround Arts” program Abodeely is overseeing, he said, is that art is not a flower, it’s a wrench.

“The arts are not something you provide to students when you’ve fixed all the other problems,” he said. “Just like music is not something that’s been a part of humanities after we’ve figured out all of our other problems. It’s been a part of our soul and heart forever. So, the arts are a critical element in reform strategies.”

Despite the impressive work going on the Meadow Homes, some parents and teachers expressed frustration about the negative reputation the school has in the Concord community. Many people don’t understand how special the school is and some students fail to live up to their potential after they leave, one teacher said.

“We want them to take that empowerment with them beyond Meadow Homes,” she said. “They sense it here. We believe in them. But, there’s a point where I see them come back — and I know how smart they were and I know what they could have achieved — and I see that they didn’t. And so that saddens me.”

The teacher said that when she tells people where she works, she often gets the response: “Oh.”

Instead, she said she wants people to say, “Wow, that must be a great place to work!”

“Because that’s what I feel every day,” she said. “I feel honored to come to work here.”

Choking back tears, she added: “And I just want the community of Concord to realize that.”

Opera singer Carla Dirlikov, who dazzled the students with a mezzo-soprano song from Carmen, along with two Spanish songs, said she wants to reach out to other artists to help bring music into schools. Representatives from the Monument Community Partnership said they believe more community members — including elected officials — may be willing to visit the school and possibly partner on programs or activities. Newling said the school will need these kinds of partnerships to continue to flourish after the campus’ School Improvement Grant runs out in June. She described the school’s transformation as nothing short of a “renaissance.”

How do you think the community can help to support the arts in schools?

Leave a comment

Back-to-school advice from the state PTA

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, August 16th, 2014 at 12:29 pm in Education

As students head back to school on campuses around the state this month, the California state Parent Teacher Association offering suggestions to help calm the “Start-of-School Jitters.”

Here’s what the group says, in a back-to-school news release:

“The back-to-school season is an exciting time, but it can also cause anxiety for some children — and parents too! Preparing in advance can help your child feel more confident and have a more positive school experience. California State PTA offers guidance for parents and students for helping to calm jitters during the start of school.

Reassure your child. Anxieties and concerns are normal. Many children will experience these feelings at the start of the school year. Encourage your child to talk openly with you and with teachers about concerns or worries they may have.

Point out the positives. Starting a new school year can be fun. Your child will see old friends and/or meet new ones. The first week of school offers a chance to learn about new things and pursue interests. Reinforce with your child the power of learning.

Prepare ahead. Have your child pick out the clothes he or she plans on wearing to school the next day. This will save time and stress in the morning. Encourage everyone in the house to go to bed early and get up 15 to 30 minutes earlier so they’re not rushing around in the morning. Allow enough time for a good breakfast, and make arrangements for your child’s lunch. During the first week of school, find out if any additional materials are requested (pencils, folders, etc.) Remember: your school, local nonprofit groups and PTAs often can help with providing school supplies.

Encourage safe traveling to and from school. Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your youngster can walk or bike to school, or ride with on the bus. Briefly review the basics of safe walking and biking. If you feel it is appropriate, drive your child (or walk with him) to school and pick him up on the first day.

Plan for special needs. If your child requires medication, treatment or has special needs, talk to the school administrative staff, then talk to your child about how those needs will be handled at school (what time to go to the office for medication or what foods in the cafeteria to avoid, etc.).

Prepare for emergency situations. What should your child do if you are late picking her up, or if no one is at the house when she arrives home? What should your child do if he feels picked on while at recess? Talking in advance with your child and having a plan will help minimize panic and stress.

For more back-to-school tips for parents and information on the importance of family engagement, visit www.capta.org. PTA connects families and schools, and helps kids and parents feel welcomed at school throughout the year.

California State PTA will be featuring the #FirstDayofSchoolSmiles on Facebook and Instagram throughout the back-to-school season. To get the latest information, get connected with California State PTA online.

The California State PTA connects families and schools, and has more than 800,000 members throughout the state working on behalf of public schools, children and families, with the motto, ‘every child, one voice.’ The PTA is the nation’s largest and highest profile volunteer association working to connect families and schools, and improve the education, health and welfare of all children and youth. The PTA also advocates at national, state and local levels for education and family issues. The PTA is nonprofit, nonsectarian and noncommercial.”

I would like to reiterate the importance of traffic safety. Sadly, every year, it seems that children are hit and sometimes killed by motorists who don’t see them walking or biking to school. Please allow extra time to get to school and follow the rules for drop-off and pickup to ensure that everyone gets to school safely.

What’s your back to school advice?

Leave a comment