Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch, Pittsburg residents earn degree from Western Governors University

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (Grassroots Newswire) August 26, 2015 – The following local students have earned degrees from Western Governors University (WGU). The university held its 29th semi-annual commencement ceremony in Salt Lake City on August 15 and celebrated the graduation of more than 8,500 graduates. In addition to recognizing students who graduated in the past six months, the nation’s first competency-based university marked another major milestone— 50,000 graduates in just 15 years.

*Carla Boyer-Satterfield of Antioch has received her Master of Science in Nursing – Leadership and Management

*Yiffta Pahoma Elsea of Antioch has received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing

*Michael Fronda of Pittsburg has received his Master of Science in Nursing – Leadership and Management

WGU was founded in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality higher education, and in 2000, the university awarded its first degree. The nonprofit university focuses on providing flexible, affordable degree programs that meet the needs of busy working adults, particularly those who have started, but not completed, a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Of WGU’s 50,000 graduates, nearly 20,000 are first-generation college students.

At its August 15 commencement, the university awarded 5,292 undergraduate and 3,220 graduate degrees in business, information technology, K-12 teacher education, and healthcare professions, including nursing.

Graduates reside in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, as well as Armed Forces personnel stationed overseas. President and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Charles W. Sorenson, delivered the commencement address. Students who were not able to attend the ceremony in person were able to watch the event via live video stream on the WGU website.

About WGU

Established in 1997 by a bipartisan group of U.S. governors with a mission to expand access to high-quality, affordable higher education, WGU is the pioneer and leader in competency-based education.

The nonprofit, online university has been recognized by the White House as what works in post-secondary education, was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and has been featured on NPR, NBC Nightly News, CNN, and in The New York Times.

WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. In 2014, the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked WGU’s secondary teacher education program as number one among a nationwide list of 2,400 programs. WGU has earned the support of a number of leading corporations and foundations, including AT&T, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lilly Endowment, HCA, Hewlett-Packard, Lumina Foundation, Microsoft, Oracle, SunGard Higher Education, and Zions Bank.

More information is available at www.wgu.edu or by calling 866.225.5948.

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District Attorney files misdemeanor charge against county school board trustee Jeff Belle for lying on ballot statement

Thursday, August 6th, 2015
Jeff Belle 300x291 District Attorney files misdemeanor charge against county school board trustee Jeff Belle for lying on ballot statement

Jeff Belle

By Allen Payton

Following an investigation, Contra Costa District Attorney Mark A. Peterson announced today, Wednesday, August 5, 2015 the filing of a single misdemeanor charge alleging a violation of section 18351 of the California Elections Code against Jeffery J. Belle, Area 5 Trustee for the Contra Costa County Board of Education. Belle DA Complaint 08-05-15

According to a press release from Peterson, “It is alleged that Jeffrey [sic] Belle, a candidate in an election, knowingly made a false statement of a material fact in a candidate’s statement with the intent to mislead the voters in connection with his campaign for election to a nonpartisan office.”

Belle was elected last November, defeating incumbent County School Board Trustee Cynthia Ruehlig.

Voters are entitled to know the truth about their candidates when they are voting.” Peterson said, “The democratic process is fundamental to our system of government. The integrity of our elections is fundamental to that process and must be protected.”

Section 18351 of the Elections Code reads “Any candidate in an election or incumbent in a recall election who knowingly makes a false statement of a material fact in a candidate’s statement, prepared pursuant to Section 11327 or 13307, with the intent to mislead the voters in connection with his or her campaign for nomination or election to a nonpartisan office is punishable by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).”

On his ballot statement Belle stated he had a “Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.” Ruehlig & Belle candidate statements

However, in an October article by Herald staff, “according to The Office of the Registrar at Oklahoma City University, although Belle did attend the school, and did study political science, he did not receive a degree from them.”

In an interview with this writer, on October 27, 2014 Belle admitted that he did not have a degree because he still had to pay some fees to the school. He explained that Oklahoma City University works with American University in a program called the Washington Semester, the hours from which applied to his degree.

I still owe American University for room and board for that semester of almost $3,000,” Belle claimed. “However, in 1989 I walked in the graduation, and they acknowledge it, but they won’t confer the degree, until then.”

I don’t have to take any more courses,” he added. “That’s why I’m able to take the Master’s degree program in Public Administration, with an emphasis in Health Policy and Public Policy, from the American Public University System.”

However, his explanation about the fees has proven to be false, as well. Earlier this year, his now-estranged wife, Carmen stated the fees had been withheld from her tax return, yet Jeff still didn’t have his degree. He was working toward a Master’s degree, last year, but Belle had to discontinue that since he did not yet have his Bachelor’s degree, which is required in order to obtain a Master’s degree.

Belle’s false claim of a college degree on his candidate’s statement and false explanation appear to be part of a pattern.

The October Herald article further stated:

“Belle has also come under fire for making false claims regarding his education. For example, at one time he claimed to have obtained a Ph.D. from Harrington University, in London. The ‘school’ is well-documented as a diploma mill, where, according to some reports, degrees could be obtained for as little as $1400, and have even been handed out to pet dogs and cats. During his October 22 [2014] press conference, however, Belle admitted he did not have a Ph.D.

Belle has repeatedly given conflicting statements regarding his education. On his application to serve as Antioch’s representative to the Contra Costa Transportation Authority – Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CCTA-CAC), received by the Antioch City Clerk’s office on July 30, 2013, Belle states that he is scheduled to complete a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) in 2014 from Grand Canyon University. On his Linked-in profile, though, he states that he received his MPA from American Public University System in 2014. At the media event he held on October 22, Belle admitted he has no Master’s Degree.

Also on the CCTA-CAC application, Belle states that he has a BS in Political Science from Oklahoma City University / American Public University.

A different statement appears on his linked-in profile, where he says that he obtained that degree from Oklahoma City University in 1988. At the media event he held on October 22, Belle was repeatedly asked by CBS Channel 5 television reporter Da Lin whether or not he had a Bachelor’s degree at all. Belle, at one point, mentioned having obtained a Bachelor’s degree from ‘Biosystems Institute,’ but then quickly backpedaled, and refused to address the question further.”

His LinkedIn profile now states next to Education, “American Public University System.”

More recently, Belle continued his pattern of making false statements with regards to his residency.

When asked where he now lives, in response to both a Facebook post by Carmen, that she and her daughter now live in Sacramento, after he and they were evicted from their rented Antioch home in April, as well as rumors Belle was no longer living in his district, he said he now lives in Brentwood. Carmen said Jeff had told her that he lives in Pittsburg. Yet, the information Belle provided to the County Office of Education was an address for a mailbox inside a mailing business in Antioch.

After emails and a phone call, last month, informing staff for the County Office of Education about the location of Belle’s address that they had on file, the following week, Katie Gaines, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources provided a new address as reported to her by Belle. That address has been confirmed to be a residence in Antioch, within the district. But, it has not yet been confirmed if he actually lives there.

Belle represents parts of Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point and Brentwood, and all of Oakley, Bethel Island, Knightsen and Clyde on the board.

According to the District Attorney’s press release, the maximum penalty for a violation of California Elections Code section 18351 is $1,000.

Check back for more details as this story further unfolds.

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Antioch teen and law office to hold annual effort to collect school supplies for Antioch students

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

School supply Give a way 2015 2016 791x1024 Antioch teen and law office to hold annual effort to collect school supplies for Antioch students

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Charter high school in Pittsburg, serving Antioch, county students adds arts education

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
SEP photo 1024x611 Charter high school in Pittsburg, serving Antioch, county students adds arts education

Synergy Education Project (SEP) celebrated the July 9, 2015 decision of the California State Board of Education to unanimously approved two material revisions to the school’s charter petition; (1) add an arts education component to the curriculum and (2) use Encore Education Corporation to manage SEP’s specific mission to provide students with college readiness while exploring passion for the arts. The school was presented with Letters of Recognition. (L-R) Erica Rodriguez-Langley representing State Assemblyman Jim Frazier, Cynthia Ruehlig, President, SEP Board of Directors, Denise Griffin Encore/SEP Executive Director, and Maria Henderson, representing State Senator Steve Glazer.

By Cynthia Ruehlig

There is plenty to bark about at Synergy Education Project High School (SEP High School), a tuition-free public school serving grades 6-12 students from Pittsburg / Contra Costa County. On July 9, SEP was unanimously approved by the California State Board of Education to add an arts education component to its project-based learning approach; offering electives in dance, vocal music, theater and visual arts starting this fall.

SEP, which accepts 70% socio-economic disadvantaged students, leads in overall performance for English Language Learners for middle schools within a 15 mile radius from its Pittsburg location. SEP has successfully responded to changing demographics and the challenge to overcome the achievement gap. SEP Board of Directors has chosen Encore Education Corporation to manage the school’s new direction.

Encore Executive Director Denise Griffin will apply the same strategy which earned Encore High School, Hesperia a place of distinction in “Top Schools in America” (US News and World Report); boasting the highest high school ranking by the California Department of Education in Hesperia with API of 793, 98% graduation, 100% passing in the 2013 CAHSEE and approximately two million dollars in college scholarships awarded to graduates.

SEPS High mascot logo 300x87 Charter high school in Pittsburg, serving Antioch, county students adds arts educationA new mascot (bulldog), school colors and newly refurbished facility mark the beginning of SEP’s transformation from a good to a great school.

School starts August 13 for all enrolled students grades 6 through 11. For more information call (925) 207-3626 or visit www.sepschool.net.

Ruehlig is President of the Board of Directors for the Synergy Education Project.

 

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Antioch School Board continues rejection of site plans, approves continued employment of personnel

Friday, July 10th, 2015

by John Crowder

For the third time in three meetings, the 2015-2016 academic site plans for both elementary and secondary schools in the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) were unable to gain full approval from the AUSD Board of Education.

At a special meeting held on Monday, June 29, with the plans being the only item on the agenda, the AUSD school board decided to table the review of the plans as a whole, sending them back to each school for further work. AUSD staff is to provide the board with an update as to their status at their next regularly scheduled meeting on August 12.

The board did, however, on a 5-0 vote, authorize the continued employment of personnel listed in the plans who are already working in the District, along with the hiring of any additional school personnel referenced in any of the plans. According to AUSD Chief Human Resources Officer Jessica Romeo, this latter motion allowed for the continued employment of 26.98 “Full Time Equivalents” (FTE’s) currently employed by AUSD. She said their compensation amounted to about $900,000 annually.

While some of the school site plans were praised by both school board members and members of the public, questions continued to be raised about others. Concerns with the latter plans included: improper certification by school site councils and plan content. An additional issue was that public notice of the previous school board meeting at which the plans had come up for review was insufficient.

June 30 Deadline and Risk of Loss of Funding

At the previous board meeting, held on Wednesday, June 24, AUSD staff members had made statements that, according to school board members, had led them to believe that the plans had to be approved by June 30, or the District risked losing funding. According to AUSD School Board President Claire Smith, this belief had caused her to schedule the special meeting to review the plans again, after the board had twice rejected them, for Monday, June 29.

During the June 29 meeting, though, the contention that there was a looming deadline of June 30 was also called into question. Over the few days between the June 24 and June 29 meeting, board members had independently researched questions concerning deadlines and funding issues with respect to site plans.

Board member Walter Ruehlig stated that he had placed eleven calls to the California Department of Education in order to determine the validity of the voiced concerns. “Plain and simple,” he said, the funding is not threatened and the monies for staffing have been budgeted.” He went on to say, “There is no deadline or compelling reason to immediately accept these plans.”

Board member Debra Vinson, who has been the most outspoken critic of the plans on the school board, said, “Not submitting the plans does not effect school site funding, at all.”

Smith said, “There doesn’t appear to be any deadline. But, we were told that [approval was required] by June 30. Now we know, that is not true.”

With the consensus of the board being that there was no deadline, and that no funding was in jeopardy should the plans not be approved, other issues were taken up.

Public Notification

The issue of proper notification seemed to be resolved. During public comments, Julie Young, the parent who had originally raised this concern, told the board that the plans had now been properly posted.

Even so, board members expressed the idea that improvements could be made when dealing with the public.

Board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray told staff, “Last year was flawed. This year was flawed again…it shouldn’t rely on a person, it should rely on a process.”

Ruehlig said, “We should not just make [the plans] accessible, we should promote them to the public so people know to look at it.”

Certification by School Site Councils

Concerns remained with respect to certification of the academic plans by the school site councils.

Arrieanna Lombard spoke during public comments.

I take issue with the certification, and who signed it,” she said, referencing the statement at a previous meeting by a site council member at Deer Valley High School (DVHS) that there had never been a proper vote on the academic plan at that school.

Smith expressed her concern with the school site meetings, as well. “You need to have a quorum, she stated.” Advocating for the inclusion of the minutes of school site councils when plans are submitted to the board in the future, she said, “That would, indeed, show that they went through the process.”

Ruehlig said, “I’m concerned about the sign-offs.” He continued, stating that he had looked at the minutes for the DVHS site council after hearing concerns expressed at the last board meeting. “At DVHS, the last meeting was in March,” he said. He also said that he had spoken to another member of the site council who claimed to have never seen the document.

Gibson-Gray noted an additional problem with the certifications. “Some don’t have signatures,” she said.

Additionally, it was revealed that some of the plans had signatures, but no dates.

Content of Plans

The content of the plans was questioned during public comments by Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County NAACP. While he felt that the plans for two schools, Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) and Antioch High School (AHS) had merit, he questioned the documents produced by some of the other schools. “The school site plans should be data driven,” he said. “If they are not data driven, they are flawed.”

Young, who addressed this matter during public comments, also expressed concern that there was, “no data.”

Ruehlig, referencing plan content, said, “There is room for improvement. Quite a bit of room for improvement.”

Gibson-Gray complained that, “nothing matched,” and said that, in the future, “maybe an explanation can be given to us.”

On the other hand, Board member Barbara Cowan, who attended the meeting via phone because she was on vacation in Mexico, emphasized the difficulties faced by staff in developing the plans this year.

I’m looking at the evolution of this whole process,” she said. “The schools had a number of constraints this year, [including] LCFF and [the fact that] the District has not had a vehicle to give each school their own data. They (the principals) don’t have the data,” she continued. Cowan further recommended that crucial expenditures in the plans should be approved, including personnel expenses.

Outcome

With the continuing concerns over plan content, but the desire to continue to employ staff listed in the site plans, Gibson-Gray made a motion to approve the continued employment of staff members mentioned in the plans, and to hire any new employees they referenced. This motion, as noted above, was approved on a 5-0 vote.

With respect to the remainder of the plans, and with the understanding that there was no deadline for their approval, the board, by consensus, determined to send them back to the schools for additional work.

Smith emphasized the importance of each school site evaluating their unique needs. “Each school is different, (each) has its own climate,” she said. “These are the people (school site council) I want to sign off on the academic plans.”

Vinson encouraged those who would be working on the plans to, “be thorough, and work as a team.”

As the meeting concluded, Superintendent of Education, Don Gill, said, “The opportunity to hire is a huge relief. Rather than rush, it is better to be thorough.”

Following the meeting, Gill issued the following statement:

The academic progress that the District has made in prior years has been built upon the implementation of a continuous cycle of improvement. Meaning, that we are constantly analyzing ways in which we can improve upon past practice. The input that our Board of Education has provided will allow us to further refine this process. We want to demonstrate higher levels of transparency, and to increase parent and community involvement. With timelines attached, that will allow higher levels of participation of all segments of the education community.

As soon as the new school year begins, our school site councils will be convened to review and refine current site plans with consideration of the input that our Board of Education provided at our last meeting. Throughout the year, our principals will meet regularly with their school site councils to ensure that full participation by all segments of the school community is accomplished.

Our expectation is that all school site programs and services will be fully accountable to achieving their stated goals. We want to expand those that are the most successful, and eliminate those that are not meeting the needs of our students.

We want to continue to have the community and the Board involved throughout the entire process so that the plans can be submitted and approved prior to the end of any current school year.”

The next AUSD board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12, 2015, at which time, as noted above, an update will be given to the board members regarding the school site academic plans. Meetings are held in the school services building, located at 510 G Street, in Antioch.

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Antioch School Board rejects site plans for all schools in district, special meeting called for Monday

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

by John Crowder

In a highly unusual move, the Antioch School Board rejected, with a majority of board members voting no, the 2015-2016 School Site Academic Plans for all of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

This marked the second meeting in a row where the plans failed to gain approval, even though the board room, each time, was filled with the principals of most of the local schools, available to address specific questions from board members. When last considered, on June 10, Stephanie Anello, Antioch Unified School District’s (AUSD) Associate Superintendent for Educational Services, had pulled the item regarding the elementary site specific plans from the consent calendar because, she said, the plans for two schools, Grant Elementary and Marsh Elementary, were incomplete.

At that same meeting, board members had complained about the limited time they were given to review the plans. Board Member Barbara Cowan said that the first time she had seen the plans was that evening, and that she had only had time to review one of them. Board Member Debra Vinson said that she would need time to review all of the plans. Board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray echoed their comments, and added that board members had asked for advance copies of the documents the previous year, as well.

At the June 24 meeting, AUSD Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Don Gill, introduced Dr. Cheryl Domenichelli, AUSD Coordinator of Outreach and Community Development, to speak to the plans. No sooner had she finished her remarks than it became clear that the plans were once again in trouble, as school board member Vinson’s opening comment was, “I don’t even know where to begin.” She then told Domenichelli, “Say that again.”

After another statement by Domenichelli, Vinson expressed her dissatisfaction.

Only a handful of the elementary site plans have enough data to make the plans valid,” she said. “They don’t address foster youth. They don’t address communication with parents.”

Vinson also complained about a lack of consistency with how Supplemental and Concentration funds were being spent across the school sites.

Domenichelli responded to Vinson’s concerns. She explained that, “latitude is extended to [school] sites.” She also said that different schools have different populations, some might have only two foster youth attending, while others might have 30.

After a lengthy question and answer session, with members of the board questioning Domenichelli on various aspects of the plans, Board President Claire Smith called for public comments. Once again, the site plans were roundly criticized.

Arrieanna Lombard singled out the site plan for Deer Valley High School (DVHS), saying that, having looked at it, “I have some serious concerns.”

These aren’t SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound),” she continued. “A goal is a desired result. Some of the actions don’t indicate how the goal will be met.”

When you plan, you should be planning to hit the ground running with your goals. This document is…unacceptable,” Lombard added.

Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County NAACP, told the Board there was a “lack of parental involvement in development of the plans.”

How many parents were involved with this?” he asked. “You don’t want parental involvement. You claim you do. But your actions say you don’t.”

He then pointed to Strategy #14 of the DVHS plan, listed as a strategy to meet the needs of foster youth, and for which the budgeted amount was given as $3.00.

Three dollars? That is crazy,” he continued. “They developed a plan and just threw things in.”

Julie Young, who regularly attends and speaks at school board meetings, brought up the issue of proper public notice. She began by asking the board, “Can you get online? Go to the AUSD website.”

Young then walked the board members through the website links, showing them that the link for school site academic plans took them to the 2014-2015 plans, not the 2015-2016 plans, which they were supposed to be approving.

With this revelation, Domenichelli returned again to the podium, to explain that the plans were on-line, but under the LCAP link. Smith responded by saying the plans needed to be posted where a reasonable person could find them.

I’m a reasonable person, and I couldn’t find them,” she said.

Synitha Walker, of Parents Connected, discussed her concerns with the process for development of the plans.

I’m a school site member at DVHS,” she said, “and I’ve never seen this plan.” (According to a statement on the AUSD website accessed from the School Site Plans link, where the plans are now posted, “The School Site Council recommends this school plan…”) She went on to say that the process last year was, “terrible,” and that it will, “be bad this year, as well.”

Responding to further questions from the board, Louie Rocha, Principal of Antioch High School (AHS), came forward and gave an explanation as to the process used at his school to create their plan, while also elaborating on some of the goals and actions recommended in the AHS site plan.

While Rocha’s presentation received a favorable response, the plans submitted by other schools continued to be questioned.

The DVHS plan is not clear,” said Vinson. “If this plan, as vague and bland as it is, is lined up with LCAP, then we have a problem.”

AUSD staff members, at one point, expressed concern that, without approval of the plans, some school funding might be jeopardized. But in response to questions from Herald staff, they have yet to explain what funding might be in jeopardy, and what, if any, deadline must be met with respect to board approval of the plans so as not to jeopardize such funding.

Responding to further statements from staff, Vinson continued to express her displeasure with what had been presented.

What I don’t want to hear is excuses,” she said. “What I want to hear is that moving forward, we’re [addressing the needs] of all our students. Unequivocally.”

Following Vinson’s statement, Cowan moved to approve the plans, “with caveats.” Board Member Walter Ruehlig seconded, while also expressing reservations. Before the vote could be taken, though, Gibson-Gray added another comment. “This process is as flawed this week as it was two weeks ago,” she stated. “Now, the flaw is, it wasn’t available to the public. I’m going to vote no on this.”

The vote on Cowan’s motion was then taken, and it failed 2-3, with Gibson-Gray, Smith, and Vinson voting no.

These plans are not approved tonight,” Smith told staff.

She then called a special meeting for Monday, at 5:00 p.m. at which the site plans will once again be discussed. The meeting will take place in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street.

Vinson had the last word of the night on the issue, telling everyone in attendance, “If you want to address these plans, that is the time to do it.”

When reached for comment via email about why he voted for the site plans, Ruehlig responded on Monday, June 29 at 7:00 a.m., “We were told the budget could be held back. They said June 30th was pitvotal but nobody at the State has confirmed that. I called the County and State Dept of Ed afterwards and found out that was apparently not the case. I am revoting tonite [sic] to reject.”

 

 

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Antioch School Board hears about African-American promotion ceremony, LCAP, Kids’ Club, again

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

by John Crowder

Once again, it was standing room only at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education, held on June 10, 2015. The overflow crowd in attendance addressed two main concerns, a recently held promotion ceremony for African American students and the on-going saga of Kids’ Club Preschool.

Also on the agenda were public hearings on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the budget for the District.

African American Promotion Celebration

AUSD Superintendent Dr. Don Gill wasted no time in addressing those present about the African American promotion ceremony that has generated so much scrutiny and concern on social media.

Reading from a prepared statement, Gill said, “I wanted to address recent concerns by some community members regarding an African American cultural celebration sponsored by an employee in his capacity as a community member. We acknowledge that there were some procedural errors that occurred regarding communication. We are looking into this so that we can ensure we are effectively communicating procedures for employees. However, I hope that this will not cloud or taint what was truly a well-intentioned positive event for our students. While we did not sponsor this particular event this year, we do see the value in holding such cultural celebrations as they are a chance for students to be recognized and honored and for all of us to learn more about the rich cultures of our students and our community.”

Some of those speaking during public comments, however, did not feel that District staff had gone far enough in supporting Dr. Lamont Francies, the organizer of the event, who recently took a leave of absence from his work as a counselor with AUSD.

This sentiment was most succinctly put forward by Lawrence Rasheed, Founder of Greatness Rediscovered In Our Time (GRIOT), a mentoring and advocacy group focusing on young African American males.

Rasheed stated that all of the Board members, and Dr. Gill, had been notified in April of the African American promotion ceremony that Francies had organized. He said that they should apologize to Francies for not supporting him when the controversy over the event began.

Kids’ Club

Representatives of Kids’ Club Preschool have been attending both Antioch City Council and AUSD School Board meetings in recent months, making various requests for assistance. The lease for the building used by the preschool (and owned by AUSD) is due to expire next month, and, among other things, the group has asked for a lease extension or land upon which to place modular buildings.

While several speakers spoke in support of the Kids’ Club program, as has been the case at each meeting where they have been present, this time one resident, Julie Young, spoke out in opposition to the requests they have been making.

Young began her remarks by saying that Kids’ Club was, “a good program.” But, she said, their requests for land and/or buildings were inappropriate, and, if granted, would be, “against good public policy.”

Pointing out that the program was given a year’s notice to find a new location, she called their demands for land, “a bold request.” “What they are really saying is, we are a private group that does a good thing, and you [AUSD] owe us…”

Young continued, “As a school district, you do not have the authority to give away land…funded by the taxpayer, to a private entity.”

Expressing her sympathy for those in support of the preschool, and looking for alternatives, Young concluded her remarks by telling all in attendance that other preschool options were available, including The Child Day Schools, located at 112 East Tregallas Road in Antioch, which recently announced an award of state funding that would allow them to take 87 additional preschool students.

LCAP Presentation and Hearings

AUSD staff gave a presentation on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) for the 2015-2016 school year, and it was followed by a public hearing later in the meeting. A separate hearing was also held, on the 2015-2016 budget for the District.

Only a handful of people came forward to speak during the hearings.

Sharon Vela spoke in support of restoring and expanding the music program. Others spoke about continuing to engage parents in the process, and the importance of supporting cultural events.

Only one speaker, Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County NAACP, questioned any of the spending that had been outlined, telling the Board that funding Vice Principal positions from money coming from supplemental funds was not permitted.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 24, at 7:00 p.m. Meetings take place in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street.

Alia Bickham contributed to this report.

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Special Report: Antioch and statewide programs target achievement gap of African American students

Friday, June 19th, 2015

By John Crowder

A self-described, “African-American Promotion Ceremony” for students moving from 8th to 9th grade who reside within the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) boundaries, held on May 29, 2015, generated tremendous controversy on local social media, both during and following the event. Many expressed surprise that such an event took place, with some calling it, “segregation.” Now, other school district programs, interventions focused on African American students, are also being questioned.

Antioch Herald staff have been researching these practices, though, and have found that events and programs targeting African American students are common throughout the state of California, they have been for some time, and are supported at all levels of public education, from the California State Board of Education (SBE) to local school boards and school districts.

Throughout the state, since the identification of a substantial gap between the learning outcomes of African American students and their peers several years ago, California’s local school districts have implemented numerous programs designed to close that gap. These programs have included: African American promotion ceremonies, school/parent organizations focused on African American students, reviews and modifications of policies related to the suspension and expulsion of African American students, training of teachers in “cultural awareness,” honor rolls for African American students, and special summer program classes for African American students.

In addition, and related to the achievement gap, the data regarding suspensions and expulsion rates indicate a vastly disproportionate number of African American students being subject to these two disciplinary measures which remove students from the classroom. Locally, this has been acknowledged repeatedly by District staff at AUSD board meetings in recent months.

In this article, we detail some of the history behind the initiatives that have been undertaken to address these matters, and relate current practices, typical of California school districts, focused on African American students.

SBE Creates African American Advisory Committee

As early as 2009, the SBE had become “alarmed” at the “achievement gap that exists between African American students and their counterparts.” On January 8 of that year, the SBE released a press statement regarding the creation of an “African American Advisory Committee.” The committee was to be composed of people, “from throughout the state who are knowledgeable about best practices and research related to improving the academic achievement of African American students.”

The need for an African American Advisory Committee was based on the results of two tests, the 2008 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), and on other statistics regarding such things as high school graduation rates. On the 2008 STAR test, only 33% of African American students in California scored at proficient or above on the English portion of the exam, and only 28% scored proficient or above on the math portion.

Other statistics showed that, in the 2006-2007 academic year, only 57.6% of African American students graduated high school. On the 2008 CAHSEE, African American students scored, “substantially lower” than other ethnic groups in both the English and math sections of the test. (Data was taken from a report provided to the California SBE by the African American Advisory Committee, and reflect statistics for the entire state.)

African American Advisory Committee Makes Recommendations

From January 12-14, 2011, the African American Advisory Committee presented their recommendations to the SBE. These recommendations included such things as:

  • Revise school accountability reports to more prominently display subgroup data

  • Take corrective action with, or sanction, local school districts that, “have compliance issues” relative to “disproportional rates of suspension and expulsion of African American students

  • Create, “culturally responsive systems”

Local Control Funding Formula requires Local Control Accountability Plans

Programs at the local school district level that focus on specific subgroups, such as African Americans (other subgroups that are delineated include Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, English Learners, Students with Disabilities, and Foster Youth), took a major step forward when, a little over two years after the recommendations were provided by the African American Advisory Committee, the state legislature created a new methodology to pay for California schools.

In July, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), significantly changing the way California funds its schools. In an effort to obtain more transparency from local school boards while at the same time ensuring greater accountability, schools were now required to create a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). School districts were required to create these plans with input from “parents and the community.”

LCAP plans must show how a local school district will spend funds and its goals for improving student outcomes according to priorities set by the legislature.

On the Local Control Accountability Plan Template, it states, “the LCAP must describe, for each school district and each school within the district, goals and specific actions to achieve those goals for all pupils and each subgroup of pupils identified in Education Code section 52052…for each of the state priorities and any locally identified priorities.”

According to CA Education Code 52052, “a school or school district shall demonstrate comparable improvement in academic achievement as measured by the API by all numerically significant subgroups at the school or school district, including: (A) Ethnic subgroups.”

State priorities include, “score on API,” “efforts to seek parent input in decision making,” and “promotion of parent participation in programs.”

Antioch Unified LCAP

Like many school districts in the state, AUSD has recognized an education gap with its African American students. A specific subgroup identified in AUSD’s LCAP is the African American subgroup. Additionally, one of the groups specifically identified as a “stakeholder group” in AUSD is the membership of the district-created African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI).

Within the AUSD LCAP, and in accordance with state mandates, are stated “goals and specific actions” which then lead to various initiatives designed to address the identified learning gap with African American students.

Cultural celebrations, which is how many supporters of the African American Promotion Ceremony characterized it, are identified specifically in the AUSD LCAP (6/08/2015 Draft) as something the District intends to support.

Goal 2 of the AUSD LCAP says, “Antioch Unified School District will build inclusive school communities where all students, families, and members of the community feel welcome and valued.” Section 2.5d of the LCAP states, “Allocated school site funding will be used to provide activities that focus on connectedness, which includes, but is not limited to, cultural celebrations.”

Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, referenced this section of the LCAP document at the AUSD School Board meeting this last Wednesday, June 10, when he spoke in support of the African American Promotion Ceremony that had been the subject of the recent controversy. In a follow-up statement, Mims said, “Allocation of school site funds, cultural celebrations, promotions, holding and funding events beyond the school day to engage parents are all contained in Goal 2 of Antioch’s LCAP plan.”

African American focused programs in AUSD

Beyond the African American promotion ceremony, within its LCAP, AUSD includes several other actions/services that, according to the document, are specifically targeted toward African American males. For example, Section 3.2 of the document states, “The District will continue to support and strengthen the African American Male Achievement Initiative (AAMAI).”

Actions to be taken in order to accomplish this goal include such things as continuing to support AAMAI, expanding a “preschool program for African American males entering kindergarten,” expanding the African American Male Preparatory Academy (a program for students making the transition from middle school to high school), providing college tours and a college fair related to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, parent training and the creation of parent resource centers.

Section 3.12 lists several strategies to be implemented in order to, “reduce the number of days and occurrences of suspension especially for African American students who are disproportionately suspended and expelled.” The strategies include increasing, “the number of schools participating in Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS),” and strengthening, “restorative justice practices.”

Section 4.5 says the District will “Provide eight week summer program for students entering kindergarten,” specifically noting the African American subgroup as a target demographic. (The District emphasizes, in promotional literature for the program, that it is open to all, but also states that the curriculum is designed with the African American student in mind.)

Other School Districts Have Similar Programs

As noted above, Antioch is far from unique in the steps it is taking to see African American students achieve greater success in school. An examination of school district websites for districts in the Bay Area alone reveals that programs and strategies, similar to what AUSD has instituted, have proliferated.

For example, while Antioch has the AAMAI, in the Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD) the Parental African American Achievement Collaborative Team (PAAACT) works toward similar goals. According to a brochure produced by the group, “PAAACT is an organization formed to advocate for parents and families of African American students in all grades and in every school of the district.”

Just as in Antioch, an African American Promotion Ceremony was held in Pittsburg, for students moving from 8th to 9th grade. While the Antioch promotion ceremony was held in a local church, and the resources used came primarily from private funds, the event in Pittsburg was clearly and visibly supported by PUSD. Their Superintendent, Dr. Janet Schulze, spoke at the event. PUSD school board member, Da’Shawn Woolridge, attended.

When asked about PUSD support for the Promotion Ceremony, Schulze said, “I was happy to attend, support and participate in the event. I thought it was a beautiful celebration and the PAACT did a great job in organizing it and the students and families were terrific.”

PUSD provided the use of the gymnasium at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, and the use of the school’s cafeteria to serve refreshments afterward. PUSD used LCAP funds in support of the event. According to Schulze, “We have funds in Goal 3 of our LCAP for supporting parent and family engagement as well as student celebrations.” Other supporters of the event included the East County NAACP and the City of Pittsburg. All students attending the event received certificates of accomplishment. Students obtaining a 3.0 or above were awarded medals, and three students who had obtained a 4.0 or better were awarded laptop computers.

PUSD, in its LCAP (approved by the PUSD Board on January 14, 2015), has language very similar to that found in the AUSD LCAP. PUSD recognizes both an achievement gap and a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions taken with African American students. The African American subgroup is specifically addressed throughout the document. Goals for this subgroup include reducing the percentage of suspensions and increasing the percentage of students meeting the UC/CSU graduation requirements. Actions include such things as providing workshops and training in “cultural competency” to staff, creation of an “equity task force,” restorative justice training, and strengthening community partnerships.

Community Groups Remain Engaged

With the implementation of LCFF and the requirement that local school districts create an LCAP with community involvement, there now exists an unprecedented opportunity for members of a community to band together and, ultimately, direct school resources toward the education of those students they represent. In Antioch, such groups regularly participate in LCAP development meetings, and lobby for funding of programs that they believe will help the students they represent succeed.

Community groups advocating for African American students are not the only ones attending these meetings, but they have been particularly effective in seeing programs, targeted toward their youth, funded and implemented. Certainly, as long as an achievement gap with African American students remains, or disciplinary measures remove African American students from classrooms at a disproportionate rate, the advocacy efforts being undertaken by these groups will continue, as will the targeted intervention programs they promote.

For more information about the AUSD LCAP and the AAMAI, visit the AUSD website, www.antioch.k12.ca.us. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the AUSD School Board is Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Meetings typically begin at 7:00 p.m., and are held at the School Services Building, 510 G Street, in Antioch.

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