Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

OP-ED: 2018 test scores show need for charter schools

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

By John Crowder

Last week the California Department of Education released the 2018 test scores in English and math for all districts and schools in the state.  This is the fourth year of data from this latest testing scheme, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAT), meant to align with the Common Core teaching standards and methods.  Students completing the test are placed into four broad categories in the subjects tested.  These are, Standards Not Met, Standard Nearly Met, Standard Met, and Standard Exceeded.  By combining the percentages from the latter two categories, we can compare how well schools and districts are doing in preparing students to, at a minimum, meet basic standards.

As has been the case since California began using this test in 2015, the results are not good for the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD).  AUSD students have the lowest scores of all eighteen school districts in Contra Costa County (See table below).  Further, the results for AUSD have remained, essentially, unchanged for the last four years.  In 2015, the percentage of students achieving success in English was 30%, while it is currently 31%.  In math it was 19% in 2015, and it now stands at 18%.

It is this low performance, combined with a lack of progress, that led hundreds of Antioch parents to sign the petitions and to turn out to the hearings held over the last couple of years to support bringing new charter schools, the Rocketship Elementary School and the Tech Academy Middle and High Schools, to Antioch.

The Charter School Act of 1992 was passed by the California legislature to address exactly the situation we find in Antioch.  Public charter schools, with longer school days, more interventions, and proven programs, bring hope to parents who want their children to have a good education, but who can’t obtain it from the district schools they find their children assigned to.

Parents only have one chance at ensuring their students learn the skills they need to be prepared for college and the job market.  They can’t afford to wait years, or decades, for change, especially when progress toward positive outcomes is nonexistent.  Each year of delay is another year lost.

Establishing high-quality, public charter schools in districts where students are not being adequately educated is imperative for communities where students are being failed by the education establishment when the district schools can’t, or won’t, change.

English Language Arts – Contra Costa County School Districts

Rank                            District                                                                        % Meet/Exceed

1                                  Orinda Union Elementary                                           88

2                                  Lafayette Elementary                                                  85

2                                  Moraga Elementary                                                    85

4                                  Acalanes Union High                                                 82

4                                  San Ramon Valley Unified                                        82

6                                  Walnut Creek Elementary                                           73

7                                  Canyon Elementary                                                    67

8                                  Brentwood Union Elementary                                    60

9                                  Liberty Union High                                                    58

10                                Byron Union Elementary                                            56

11                                Martinez Unified                                                        53

12                                Mt. Diablo Unified                                                     51

13                                Knightsen Elementary                                                43

14                                Oakley Union Elementary                                          39

15                                John Swett Unified                                                     37

16                                Pittsburg Unified                                                        34

16                                West Contra Costa Unified                                        34

18                                Antioch Unified                                                          31


Mathematics – Contra Costa County School Districts

Rank                            District                                                                        % Meet/Exceed

1                                  Orinda Union Elementary                                           85

2                                  Lafayette Elementary                                                  82

3                                  Moraga Elementary                                                    79

4                                  San Ramon Valley Unified                                        77

5                                  Walnut Creek Elementary                                           71

6                                  Acalanes Union High                                                 69

7                                  Canyon Elementary                                                    65

8                                  Brentwood Union Elementary                                    50

9                                  Byron Union Elementary                                            47

10                                Martinez Unified                                                        42

11                                Mt. Diablo Unified                                                     39

12                                Knightsen Elementary                                                38

13                                Liberty Union High                                                    31

14                                Oakley Union Elementary                                          27

15                                John Swett Unified                                                     26

16                                West Contra Costa Unified                                        23

17                                Pittsburg Unified                                                        20

18                                Antioch Unified                                                          18


Crowder is a candidate for Contra Costa County School Board, Area 4

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County School Board Trustee Belle to host School Safety Symposium Thursday in Antioch

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018


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Two former Antioch mayors among seven candidates running for two seats on Antioch School Board

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Former Antioch Mayor Jim Davis who filed papers to run, Wednesday in a photo from Facebook, Dr. Clyde Lewis, Jr. in a photo from his LinkedIn page, and Janice Lipnisky from her Facebook page. No photo or contact information for Candida Gonzalez-Amigo could be found prior to publication time. Photos of the other three candidates were posted with a previous article. See link in first paragraph.

By Allen Payton

Former Antioch mayors Jim Davis and Mary Rocha, and five other candidates, have filed papers to run for the two seats on the Antioch School Board in the November election.  Both incumbents, Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson, chose to not run for reelection and instead will be challenging Jeff Belle for county school board. (See related article).

The four other candidates for Antioch School Board include 2018 Dozier Libbey Medical High School graduate and Antioch Youth of the Year Shagoofa Khan, who is running a joint campaign with former Antioch Measure C Citizens’ Oversight Committee Vice Chair Ellie Householder; education administrator Dr. Clyde H. Lewis, Jr., business owner Janice E. Lipnisky, who is a parent of a special needs student, and Candida Gonzalez-Amigo whose ballot designation includes financial representative.

Rocha has served in local office, both on the school board and on the city council for a total of 32 years, including four as Mayor of Antioch from 1996-2000. She lost her run for reelection to the city council in 2016.

Davis, who served on the council from 1998-2012, and mayor for his final four years, was the final candidate to file his papers and did so on Wednesday. That was the deadline which had been extended five days since at least one of the incumbents didn’t file for reelection.

In his campaign statement he said, “as of 2017, Antioch schools met basic, state literacy standards of only 22.35% and basic math standards of 14.19%.  That’s unacceptable. We owe our students better. How can we properly prepare them for a positive future if we continue business as usual?”

Davis further stated that school safety and financial responsibility and accountability are his top two priorities, to ensure Antioch students get a better education.

Householder worked for two years as a Research Analyst contractor for the school district on their Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). She is beginning a master’s degree program in Public Policy, this fall. Khan is a college student and works in sales according to her ballot designation.

Lewis earned a master’s degree in educational administration, and his doctorate in education leadership. He currently works as the Director for Workforce Development at Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS). He has two children in district schools. In his ballot statement, he wrote, I believe that Antioch schools must provide the best for our children, support our dedicated teachers and staff, and create graduates ready for college or careers. We must push our schools to provide better choices for parents, and to reach for higher standards. Quality schools are essential to maintaining a wonderful community.

Lipnisky initially pulled papers to run for city council, but changed her mind as she cares more about education and children’s issues, having dealt with the district regarding her son’s educational needs. She is the 2018 Ms. Antioch Plus Size and volunteers with the Junior Giants  youth baseball program in Antioch.

Candida-Gonzalez has served on the PTSA’s and School Site Councils for both Dallas Ranch Middle and Deer Valley High Schools and applied for the appointment to the board in 2016 which was given to Alonzo Terry, to replace Trustee Claire Smith who had resigned.

Please check back later for updates to this report.

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6th Annual Stuff The Bus School Supply Giveaway Saturday, Aug. 4

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

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Back to School event at HIMC Barber Studio in Antioch offers free backpacks and haircuts Sunday, July 29

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

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Vinson, Ruehlig to take on Belle for County School Board, three run for their seats on Antioch School Board

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

Antioch School Board Trustees Debra Vinson and Walter Ruehlig will challenge incumbent Jeff Belle for County School Board. Photos from AUSD and CCCBOE.

By Allen Payton

Long-serving Antioch School Board Trustee Walter Ruehlig let it be known on Saturday, July 14 that he will not run for reelection and instead join fellow Trustee Debra Vinson and take on County School Board Vice President Jeff Belle in November’s election.

While Vinson, finishing her first and rather contentious term on the Antioch School Board, didn’t officially announce her campaign, she did ride in a car in the Antioch July 4th Parade with a sign indicating her decision to run for the county board. In 2017 Vinson was censured by her fellow board members for her interactions with district employees. (See related article). She was also passed over for the board presidency, following her year as Vice President. (See related article).

In an effort to achieve greater transparency for the public, earlier this year and after years of the Herald pushing the issue, Vinson was instrumental in getting the school board meetings televised live for the first time in the district’s history, via their YouTube channel.

On one issue, all three will most likely agree, which is approving charter schools. Both Vinson and Ruehlig were two of the three board members who, earlier this year, voted in favor of the East Bay Tech Academy middle and high charter school petitions, and Ruehlig was one of the three who voted for the Rocketship elementary charter school petition in 2016. Belle has voted against one and approved five other charter schools while on the county board.

“I have decided definitely to run for Area 5 County Board of Education,” Ruehlig stated, following rumors of the possibility.

In his official announcement, he wrote:

I will be submitting my candidacy papers on Monday, July 16th to run for Area 5 of the County Board of Education, which covers Antioch, Bay Point, Bethel Island, Brentwood, Byron, Clyde, Knightsen, Oakley, and Pittsburg.
In June of 1968, I dedicated myself to public service and youth education when I taught English for the Peace Corps in Sultandag, a rural village in Turkey that had no electricity.  Fifty years later, the idealism continues.

I believe that that my twelve-year service, with three years as President, on the Antioch School Board, and my experience with the Pittsburg Unified School District as a California Department of Rehabilitation Workability Program Director for adults with disabilities and as a career counselor, have given me useful insight into County Trustee duties.  I am excited by the challenge of overseeing career training programs, special education, community day schools, and facilities for incarcerated juveniles.

I was a late-bloomer myself but, fortunately, had teachers who didn’t give up on me. I eventually caught fire and worked my way through college.  My passion for sharing opportunity and persisting with high-risk, disadvantaged or under motivated students is my way of returning thanks.

Aside from counseling, teaching and administrative background, I feel I have the proven temperament and intangible skill sets requisite for good governance.

I enjoy communication and transparency. I am open, creative and innovative but believe in sober budgeting, no-nonsense classroom behavior standards and back to the basics core curriculum.  I am pragmatic and put my ego at the door to focus on getting the task at hand done one building block at a time.  In this age of divisiveness, I am proud to say that I can get along without always going along. I am a consensus-builder but no pushover. I cannot be bullied or bought.

I look forward to meeting the voters of Area 5, hearing their concerns, and presenting my vision. I welcome their scrutiny and would be honored by their support. I pledge not to let them, or their kids, down.

Walter Ruehlig

Candidate, Area 5

Contra Costa County Board of Education

Incumbent Jeff Belle

Elected in 2014, Belle has faced a variety of controversies before and during his term on the County School Board. In January 2016, Belle admitted to claiming he was a respiratory care practitioner even though he didn’t have a license and was fined $8,200 by the state. (See related article).

He and his wife had to move from their home in Antioch in spring of 2015 for failure to pay rent, due to a loss of his wife’s job and Belle not earning enough through his consulting business. They separated and Mrs. Belle moved to the Sacramento area. As a result, questions have arisen about Belle’s residency. He rented rooms in other people’s homes in the district. The two have since reconciled and Belle now splits his time between his wife’s place in the Sacramento area and a home in the district.

In December 2016, facing prosecution by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office for lying on his ballot statement, Belle admitted in court that he didn’t have a college degree which he claimed. He agreed to community service to avoid a trial and possible fine of up to $1,000. (See related article)

In 2017 Belle suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Recently, he posted a fundraising effort on his Facebook page to help him pay off $8,000 in medical bills. The total raised was $50 from former County School Board Trustee and Clayton Valley Charter High School Trustee Richard Asadoorian.

Until recently, Belle claimed to be serving as a producer for a TV show in Southern California for women over 40.

Three Candidates, Two Open Seats on Antioch School Board

Ellie Householder and Shagoofa Khan in a photo from Facebook on July 6, 2018.

Mary Rocha from her Facebook page.

As a result of Vinson’s and Ruehlig’s decisions there will be no incumbents running in the November elections. Three candidates have announced, so far, including former Antioch School Board Trustee and Mayor of Antioch Mary Rocha, Shagoofa Khan, a 2018 Antioch Youth of the Year award winner, 2018 graduate of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, and currently a School Site Council Member for the district, and Elizabeth “Ellie” Householder, who was a Research Analyst working as a vendor on the LCAP for the district for two years, and is beginning a Master’s Degree program in Public Policy, this fall. She has also served as a member and Vice Chair of Antioch’s Measure C Sales Tax Citizens’ Oversight Committee.

The two are backed by Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and have been campaigning together, including during the Antioch July 4th parade and on Facebook. In a post on July 5, Householder wrote, “Filing out our campaign finance forms. I couldn’t of [sic] asked for a more passionate and dedicated running mate.” Then in a post on July 6 she wrote, “Officially mailed in our finance papers to the Secretary of State! August 4th is our official campaign kickoff. Fundraising season starts soon – stay tuned for more details! #EllieandShagoofaforAUSD

Filing opens on July 16th and closes August 10th if the incumbent seeks reelection. If not, the filing period will be extended to August 15th. The election will be held on Tuesday, November 6th.

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Antioch School Board extends Anello’s contract on split, 3-2 vote

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Superintendent Stephanie Anello

Finalizes LCAP and budget, discusses 53 Consent Items and approves nine new board policies

By Robert Pierce

The June 27 Antioch Unified School District board meeting was a particularly lengthy affair, with agenda items including a massive 53 Consent Items, nine new board policies and final approval of the district’s 2018-2019 Local Control Accountability Plan and budget. Most were approved unanimously. But the board split 3-2 on approving the contract extension for Superintendent Stephanie Anello with Board Vice President Crystal Sawyer-White and Trustee Debra Vinson voting against.

The greatest amount of time was spent discussing the Consent Items, which went from A to Z, AA to ZZ and finished with AAA. Clarifying questions were asked on several of the items in a process that took about an hour and a half, however only items B, O and GG were voted on separately, with all others passed as a group by a 5-0 vote.

Item B, a tort claim for damages regarding an altercation between two students filed against the district, was pulled by Sawyer-White, who stated that the claim, which involved a minor, should be discussed in closed session before being voted on.

Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray responded that the claim, which the district’s insurance company recommended rejecting to avoid liability, was not an item that was up for discussion as it was based on confidential information and meant for immediate action. Ultimately the motion to reject the claim was approved 4-0, with Sawyer-White electing to abstain, citing the Brown Act.

Item O involved Facility Use Fees charged by the district, an issue that has been a source of contention for a long time. The new fee schedule outlined by the item – seen here – raised some fees and lowered some others and was approved at the previous meeting as part of a group consent item vote, the first change since 2010. However, Vinson requested that it be brought back for further discussion. The fees only apply to large scale or particularly lengthy uses of facilities, or situations in which the user would make money, for example a cookout where the food is sold. “Family use” situations such as a group of friends playing sports on the field Girl Scout troupes holding meetings are not currently charged.

Vinson brought the item back due to “concern” she has for the community and has heard from community members regarding “excessive” facility fees. Vinson also mentioned the Civic Center Act, which allows local education authorities to charge less than recommended fees for facility use, or to not charge a fee at all. Ultimately, Vinson pushed for greater accessibility for community members in the form of lowered fees and mentioned the positive impact it could have on the district’s image, expressing a desire to make sure that the rates were “fair and equitable to the community,” with particular emphasis on the non-profit rate.

As a counterpoint, Anello mentioned that “handing out” facilities could incur serious costs for the district; the main purpose for facility use fees, as outlined in the Civic Center Act, is not to create profit for the district but to help recoup the costs the district pays to operate the facility, such as custodial costs.

During public comments, Kim Scott took the time to thank the board for brining the issue back and requested they find a solution to it quickly.

“We started the process about a year ago,” Scott stated. “Our kids are looking for a resolution, our community… we’re looking for a resolution.”

Despite approving the fee schedule last meeting, the board almost unanimously expressed regret at doing so, with Sawyer-White declaring that she would have never “intentionally” raised fees. Ultimately Trustee Ruehlig requested more research be done and that multiple potential models be presented to the board instead of just one, and the board voted 4-1 to override and reject the fees approved last week, with Gibson-Gray voting nay.

Item GG, pulled by Sawyer-White, was a revision to the salary schedule for the district Superintendent, Associate Superintendent, and Chief Human Resources Officer to bring them in line with a 2.25 percent increase other district staff received recently. Superintendent Anello, however, waived her 2.25 percent raise, a decision praised by several members of the board.

Sawyer-White stated she was “not in agreement for a raise at this time,” but the motion to accept the revisions passed 4-1 with only Sawyer-White voting nay.

For Action Items, the board approved the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan or LCAP and 2018-2019 Budget, both of which were discussed at length in the previous meeting.

Antioch School District 2018-19 budget decreases again, this year by $4.2 million

The LCAP did not change in substance, however the board emphasized that it can be brought back at any time and encouraged parents and other community members to provide feedback.

“It’s not personal,” said Vinson, urging the board to detach themselves emotionally and embrace feedback. “It’s to extend and develop the plan… so that we’re actually improving academic outcomes.”

As far as the budget goes, while the final presentation went into much greater detail on several funds, the raw numbers changed very little – the district still anticipates an ending balance of about $11.7 million and remains weary of a looming potential recession.

Preliminary Budget, presented last meeting          Final 2018-2019 Budget

Anello Contract Extended One Year on 3-2 Vote

The final two action items were one-year extensions to the currently two-year, originally three-year contracts of Chief of Human Resources Officer Jessica Romeo and Superintendent Stephanie Anello. Both extensions were passed 3-2, with Sawyer-White and Vinson voting no, citing not any sort of performance issues but merely a preference of shorter contracts in an economically uncertain time.

The last major items of discussion were nine Board Policies for Second Reading and Action, revised to reflect new state legislation. The policies, minus C and E, were passed as a group with a 5-0 vote, however both C and E later passed 5-0 as well.

Item C dealt to district residency requirements and new legislation preventing the district from asking about a student’s immigration status; Vinson clarified that homeless students can still get into any school district and were unaffected by the new policy. Item E responded to “new legislation requiring districts to educate students about the negative impact of bullying based on actual or perceived immigration status or religious beliefs and customs” as well as other legislation that now “requires staff training with specified components related to bullying prevention and response.”

Revised Board Policy 5111.1 District Residency

Revised Board Policy 5131.2 Bullying

With the district on summer break, the board will not be meeting again until August, with meetings scheduled for August 8 and August 22. Future items requested by the board included increasing the district’s financial reserve percentage, revising the district mission statement and changing the board logo.

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The Learning Experience® Opens Academy of Early Education in Antioch

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

The Learning Experience’s new location in Antioch, near Mel’s Diner, Staples and Walmart. Photo by Allen Payton

First-time franchisee brings nationally-recognized childcare, enrichment programs and early education to toddlers and preschoolers in community 

The Learning Experience, one of the country’s fastest-growing Academies of Early Education, is pleased to announce the opening of its newest center at 4831 Lone Tree Way in Antioch, California.

The Learning Experience’s center in Antioch, which is now enrolling for summer camp for preschool and school age children and offering private tours for families, provides childcare, enrichment programs, and early education for children from six weeks to six years of age. Its all-inclusive curriculum and programs include phonics, mathematics, science, foreign language, yoga, and a philanthropy program that teaches children the value of kindness and generosity.

The independent franchise location in Antioch is owned by Rajya Ponnaluri, a first-time franchise owner who will employ over 30 teachers and staff members to serve upwards of 180 children in the community.

“The Learning Experience provides the perfect balance of owning a small business and having the support of a nationally-recognized franchise brand with a proven track record of success,” said Ponnaluri. “I am thrilled to bring such an outstanding curriculum to the little citizens of our surrounding communities.”

The Learning Experience’s proprietary Learning Experience Academic Program (L.E.A.P.®) curriculum and enrichment programs were developed through more than 30 years of experience in early childhood education. Its early literacy programs have 9 out of 10 children reading before Kindergarten, and its unique philanthropy curriculum was created in partnership with Make-A-Wish®.

The center in Antioch marks the franchise’s first location in San Francisco area, and fourth location in California. The Learning Experience is ranked no. 79 on Entrepreneur’s 2018 Franchise 500 and has over 220 centers across the country serving more than 25,000 toddlers and preschoolers with childcare, enrichment programs, and early education. The franchise also has over 100 locations currently in development in select markets nationwide.

For more information about The Learning Experience center in Antioch, please visit

About The Learning Experience®

The Learning Experience ( is one of the nation’s fastest-growing Academies of Early Education for children ages six weeks to six years old. With a greater national emphasis on educational development during the most crucial years of a child’s growth, The Learning Experience places a prominent focus on programs that advance scholastic preparation. The Learning Experience prepares children academically and socially via innovative scholastic and enrichment programs such as the L.E.A.P.® curriculum, a cutting-edge proprietary approach to learning which has 9 out of 10 of its children entering Kindergarten already reading. To complement the academic curriculum, The Learning Experience utilizes various enrichment programs crucial to advancing learning and overall balance, such as philanthropy, Yippee 4 Yoga™, Music 4 Me®, Movin’ N Groovin’®, manners and etiquette, and foreign language.

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