Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
By John Crowder
At approximately 12:30 a.m. on September 11, the home of a Dozier-Libbey Medical High School teacher came under attack as, according to the victim, a lone gunman, standing in the street, fired 20 rounds at her house. Police picked up casings from a .45 caliber firearm.
The bullets penetrated the ground floor of the home and the garage, leaving large holes on the inside walls with some exiting an interior window. Several bullet holes can clearly be seen on both the outside and inside of the residence.
The teacher was the only one home at the time, but was not injured during the incident.
Antioch police are investigating the matter. No arrests have yet been made.
By John Crowder
A presentation made by the principal, staff members, parents, volunteers, and students from Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) at the September 10 meeting of the Antioch School Board, painted a picture of the school that was significantly different from what these same groups had been saying last year. Unlike prior meetings, when complaints of out-of-control violence dominated board sessions, the message this time was one of support for the new leadership on the campus and optimism for the future.
This year a new administrative team took over at BDMS. Phyllis James has come on board from Vallejo as the new principal. Vice principals are Ken Daniels and Denise Pesmark.
New Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO) Chairwoman Francis Spijker and Vice Chairman Frank DeLuna were among those who spoke about the positive changes seen on the campus. They said that the PTSO already had 150 members, and they invited the board members to join as well. They mentioned several programs being implemented by their group, including family movie nights, a science fair, and a uniform closet, where those parents who considered buying uniforms a financial burden, could stop by and pick up a starter set of uniforms at no cost.
At a two-hour visit to the school last week, many of the positive sentiments expressed by those attending the board meeting were borne out. Representing the Antioch Herald, I was given complete access to the school on Monday morning, September 15, from 8:30 a.m. until 10:30.
Accompanied by Leif Utler, a young, 8th grade English teacher with boundless enthusiasm for the work he is doing, I saw how the school handled the morning uniform inspection, was able to see office staff interacting with students and parents, observed class changes and security staff, and visited three classrooms, the cafeteria, the library, and the ‘opportunity school.’
One of the first things you notice is that most, but not all, of the students on the campus of over 600 were in school uniforms. To date, 84 students have had their parents submit requests to opt out of wearing the uniform. Of those, two were approved by James, and the rest forwarded to the district’s administration for appeal. Two of those appeals have so far been granted, and the other 80 are awaiting decision.
Another thing that stands out is the cleanliness of the campus. Last year, an independent consultant, Dr. John Bernard, had specifically cited the deteriorated condition of the physical site as a problem. This year, there is no trash to be seen. One of the reasons for this, according to James, is that students are no longer permitted to take food from the cafeteria.
The three classes visited were Algebra I, English, and physical science. In each of the classes, students were, for the most part, listening to the instructor and following directions. While in two of the classes, a few of the students were interacting with each other and otherwise distracted, overall, the classes were well-controlled, and the minor distractions were no more than one would anticipate, indeed probably less than one would anticipate, from a large group of middle school students.
Although some staff members that I talked with expressed nervousness about speaking their minds, all ultimately did so, at the encouragement of Utler. All of them were supportive of the new on-site administration, but some expressed worry that “downtown” would not support the efforts that were being made to improve the learning environment.
Of particular concern was whether or not AUSD officials would support the uniform policy and support efforts underway to ensure that disrespect toward teachers and staff was stopped. Specific problems cited included some students pushing past the lone cafeteria lady trying to prevent them from walking out with food after breakfast when, apparently, there is no security or other staff available to assist them.
That being said, the overall view of the school from staff and the PTSO leadership remains positive. In a subsequent interview, Spijker said, “I appreciate the school board for giving us this great new administration. I call them our ‘dream team.’ I’d like to see the board back the decisions, the changes that our administration is making, including the uniform policy. And, support disciplinary actions that the school administration should take with some troubled kids. Parents want to see more expulsions [for chronic bad behavior.] According to James, a half dozen fights have occurred on the campus this year so far, only two of which she characterized as “serious.”
The next meeting of the school board takes place on Wednesday, September 24, at the School Services Building, 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.
By John Crowder
A brutal fight at Dallas Ranch Middle School last week between two 8th grade girls was caught on a student’s cell phone and the video made its way to the internet and to Bay Area news station KRON, channel 4, which has run several segments on the story.
In the video, (which can be viewed by clicking here) one of the girls gets the other down to the ground, and then uses her boot to smash her head into the concrete walkway. Other students can be seen on the video near the two fighters, using their cell phones to film the scuffle.
Since the story first aired, more parents have come forward complaining of fights occurring “every day” on the campus.
Dallas Ranch has a long history of violent incidents occurring on the campus. Last year, as reported in the Herald on different occasions, parents, students, and teachers addressed the Antioch School Board about violence at the school.
At the March 26th school board meeting, student Taylor Donaldson spoke about three P.E. teachers no longer teaching because of violent incidents.
“I’m afraid our school is turning into a disaster,” he said.
At the January 22nd school board meeting, several staff members from DRMS addressed the board with concerns about student violence. At that time, two P.E. teachers vowed not to return to the school as long as a student who had physically attacked one of them was allowed to remain on campus. Following this most recent incident, teachers at the school are once again speaking up, saying they are afraid to go to work, and that they are continuing to be physically attacked by students.
A former teacher’s assistant, Kathy Arroyo, was featured on one of the Channel 4 segments discussing a two-year old incident at the school where she says she tried to intervene in a fight between students. She ended up in the hospital with her back having to be fused together. In the news segment she laments, “nothing’s changed.” Speaking to parents, she said, “There is violence at that school, and they have a right to be concerned.”
In response to this most recent incident, DRMS Principal Ed Dacus states that the two students involved in the incident were disciplined, and that, due to the nature of the matter, the Antioch Police Department was involved.
“We were able to grab as many of the kid’s cell phones, and, trying to prevent this type of video getting out, because it does lead to cyberbullying,” he added.
Bob Sanchez, the school district’s Director of Student Support Services, also weighed in on the matter. He is quoted as saying that, in spite of the fight, Dallas Ranch is one of the best schools in the district. He also talked about steps being taken by the district to address the problem.
“We are in the process of getting people to come and train us on certain issues like this,” he said.
Approximately 40,000 Bay Area students (up to age 18), teachers and chaperones will have the opportunity to ride BART free for educational field trips thanks to a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is funding the program.
Bay Area schools may now apply for free BART rides for educational field trips online on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration ends December 31, 2014 or sooner if the program reaches 40,000 riders.
Enrolled students of elementary, middle, and high schools located in the Bay Area on school-sponsored field trips for educational purposes are eligible.
To better serve more students throughout the Bay Area, each school is limited to six field trips. This will allow more schools to participate in the program. To register, go to www.bart.gov/fieldtrips
“Partnering on ‘Free BART Rides for School Field Trips’ is a natural extension of our commitment to a making sure children in the region have a rich educational experience,” said Mimi Hahn, vice president of marketing and communications for the nonprofit aquarium.
Here is a list of some BARTable cultural and educational destinations:
Davies Symphony Hall: Civic Center BART, walk 3 blocks
Asian Art Museum: Civic Center BART, Walk 2 blocks
California Historical Society: Montgomery Street BART, Walk 2 blocks
Cartoon Art Museum: Montgomery Street BART, Walk 2 blocks
Children’s Creativity Museum: Powell Street BART, Walk 2 blocks
Contemporary Jewish Museum: Montgomery Street BART, Walk 2 blocks
Exploratorium: Embarcadero BART, 15 minute walk
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: Montgomery Street BART, Walk 3 blocks
Berkeley Repertory Theatre: Downtown Berkeley BART, Walk 1 block
Lesher Center for the Arts: Walnut Creek BART, Walk 4 blocks
See more by clicking here.
By John Crowder
A review of emails obtained through a California Public Records Act request reveals that the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) considered the issue of a possible conflict of interest for board member Richard Asadoorian in the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter school petition appeal. Asadoorian is married to Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board Member Barbara Cowan, who voted against the DLMHS conversion petition. There had been some discussion that he should recuse himself from the appeal process.
Emails reveal that county staff were considering how to advise Asadoorian on this matter by mid-April. In an April 11 email from CCCOE Controller Jane Shamieh to Associate Superintendent Bill Clark, she relates a discussion she had with attorney Adam Ferber, from whom she had been seeking advice on the charter question. She says, “He (Ferber) asked if the board member (Asadoorian) with the conflict is going to recuse himself.” She continues, “When I told him I wasn’t sure he said that he absolutely should.” She goes on to say that this opinion is based on community property law, and that his wife has a financial interest because she is paid by Antioch.”
According to Asadoorian, he was approached by county staff with a recommendation that he recuse himself. “Staff presented cases based on common law. My own attorney looked at it, and (rejected their analysis). My own legal counsel saw no case study substantiating the idea that I should recuse myself, and I know other spouses have been in similar situations.”
Indeed, conflicts of interest are extremely common, in government and otherwise. The existence of a conflict of interest is not, in and of itself, an indication of unethical behavior or wrongdoing. Conflicts can exist whenever a situation occurs in which a person has more than one interest at stake in a decision. Concern arises when the possibility exists that a secondary interest might overshadow a primary interest. In this case, the questions raised were twofold. One was whether or not Asadoorian would be able to vote differently than his wife simply because of their relationship. The second, and the one being addressed by the CCCOE, was whether the stipend she received as an AUSD board member might influence his vote.
With respect to laws concerning conflict of interest, the husband/wife relationship is not even a consideration. Examples abound of relatives holding government offices (even the same offices held by Asadoorian and Cowan, as Walter and Cynthia Ruehlig were similarly situated in the not-so-distant past) and, while there exists the possibility of someone wanting to do a favor for a relative, conflict of interest laws do not generally focus on this relationship because it is so difficult to quantify the effect. Therefore, such laws focus on financial interest, because they are easier to quantify and are more objective.
In this case, Cowan is not employed by AUSD, but she does receive a stipend of $400 per month for her service on the board, along with another, smaller payment she receives in lieu of insurance offered to board members. It was argued that Asadoorian has a financial interest because of community property laws.
Public officials are expected to put their duty to the public (their primary duty) ahead of any secondary interest (such as an interest Asadoorian might have in the stipend received by Cowan). Conflict of interest laws are supposed to prevent decisions that could reasonably be perceived as being unduly influenced. Ultimately, it was up to Asadoorian to make the decision as to whether or not he might be influenced by the stipend his wife receives. It is hard to imagine that this small stipend could exert that level of influence. This is especially true when you consider that some, if not all of it, must be expended by her in the performance of her duties, i.e., local travel and other necessary expenses associated with serving on the board, for which she is not reimbursed.
Asadoorian ultimately determined, after consultation with county staff, and with his own attorney, that it was not appropriate to recuse himself. After a thoughtful consideration of the matter, it is hard to understand how he could reasonably have been expected to do otherwise.
By John Crowder
A closed session meeting of the Contra Costa County Board of Education on May 7 resulted in an alleged violation of the Brown Act, according to attendees.
The Brown Act is California’s open meeting law that is meant to ensure that public business is, with specified exceptions, conducted openly. In accordance with the act, items discussed by public bodies, such as boards of education, even in closed session, must be properly noticed on the agenda for a meeting and a report must be made following the session stating what decisions were made.
Emails obtained from the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) through a California Public Records Act request reveal that, during the May 7 closed session meeting of the board, attorney Adam Ferber appeared and spoke with those present about the Dozier Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter petition.
The meeting in question came two days after a letter was sent to Bill Clark, Associate Superintendent of the CCCOE, from Scott Holbrook, which stated that his firm, “serves as legal counsel to the Antioch Unified School District. In the letter, Holbrook states, “This controversy (the DLMHS charter petition) has resulted in several streams of litigation which the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education will very likely be pulled into if the conversion petition is approved on appeal.”
After listing the potential litigation, Holbrook’s letter concludes, “In light of the foregoing, I strongly urge the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education to avoid this controversy in it entirety. My advice to the county boards of education and county offices of education that I regularly counsel under these circumstances would be, at a minimum, to take ‘no action’ and punt this matter to the State Board of Education.”
Ferber’s statement during the board meeting which, according to participants, also recommended that no action be taken on the DLMHS petition, caused some of the board members considerable distress. CCCOE board Vice President Dan Gomes, said, “I think that, in a way, that attorney was working for the district. I was taken aback by the letter from AUSD. This fellow (Ferber) that came in and recommended we do nothing was along the same lines as the AUSD lawyer.” He went on to say, “Ferber went over a script, we ignore, just skip over (approving the petition). I thought to myself, ‘I’ve heard this before (from the AUSD letter)’.”
According to board member Pamela Mirabella, “I was confused about why we were talking about Dozier Libbey in closed session. There were four things on the agenda…not included was Dozier Libbey.”
Board Member Cynthia Ruehlig was even more concerned with Ferber’s presentation. “I think there was an intent to influence the board,” she said. She also stated, “To correct a Brown Act violation, you must report what was said, put it in the minutes, and, if grievous enough, you must report it to the District Attorney.”
Board member Richard Asadoorian stated, “What concerned me was that we were advised to let this attorney speak, and we couldn’t really extend the closed session, and had no real time to respond to this presentation. The only Brown Act issue was that it wasn’t properly put on the agenda.”
Nonetheless, over the next several days, both Mirabella and Ruehlig followed up on their concerns in emails and letters to Dr. Joseph Ovick, Superintendent of Schools for Contra Costa County.
In an email sent on May 12, Mirabella states, “I didn’t agree with the ADUSD lawyer to ‘not take action.’” She goes on to say, “Legal Counsel (Name? Not Cynthia discussed with the County Board anticipated litigation regarding Dozier-libbey and the board took no action. Do we have a brown act problem by not reporting out correctly to the public?” In another email sent by Mirabella to Ovick on May 20, one day after a second closed session meeting which, according to Clark, was held in order to cure any Brown Act problem, she says, “Closed session—after I asked you to remind Dan G. to report out to the public that in closed session the board took no action, he did so. This is against the Brown act and very serious.”
On May 8, the day after the closed session meeting at which Ferber spoke, Ruehlig sent a letter to Ovick, and, in an indication of the seriousness with which she viewed the matter, sent a copy to the Contra Costa County district attorney. In it, she begins by stating, “This letter documents the violations which occurred during closed session of May 7, 2014.”
The letter states, “At this meeting, Atty. Ferber (who was not invited and was, in fact, unknown to all Board Member) discussed an item which was not on the agenda; specifically a threat of a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District. This is a violation of the Brown Act that ‘no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda’.”
“In addition, Atty. Ferber provided every Board Member with a copy of a letter threatening the Office of Education with a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District.”
“Contact with Atty. Ferber was evident by the District lawyer’s public comment urging the Board to listen to staff and ‘our counsel.’”
Ruehlig describes the presentation by Ferber as a “prohibited ex parte communication,” and urges that several steps be taken to correct the situation, including publishing the comments he made.
Associate Superintendent Clark, in an interview conducted last week, acknowledged a possible Brown Act problem with the meeting, but said he believed it had to do with the technicalities of the agenda and reporting requirements, and not with the discussion of the Dozier-Libbey matter.
“Exposure to legal risk was heightened by this case,” Clark explained. “Enrollment, assumptions with revenue, and the independent charter’s right to occupy the building could be found faulty, and might make us subject to a lawsuit from AUSD. We had every right to discuss this in closed session,.”
He also shared Ferber had been hired to help county staff understand the legal nuances of this particular petition. Clark also noted that, on advice from County Counsel, he believed any Brown Act problem had been cured by the closed session meeting held on May 19, at which the agenda and reporting requirements were met.
The district attorney’s office was contacted, last week, but it was not yet confirmed whether the office was investigating this matter.
By John Crowder
Nancie Castro, the embattled former principal of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS), announced today that she has accepted a position as Director of Human Resources and Curriculum with the Jefferson School District in Tracy.
Castro had been with the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) since 2008, when she was hired to be the first principal of the newly formed DLMHS. During her time as principal, the school was repeatedly acclaimed for its success. In 2011, it was awarded a Distinguished School award from the California Department of Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, on hand for the award ceremony, touted the high Academic Performance Index scores achieved by the school and its rigorous, real-world education focused on helping students prepare for careers in the medical field.
Most recently, DLMHS was listed in the top 700 schools in the United States by U.S. News and World Report, which lauded its 70% Advanced Placement Test participation rate with a student body that has minority enrollment of 77%.
Last February, however, Castro was caught up in controversy after a large majority of the teaching staff filed a petition to convert the campus to a charter school. According to the petitioners, the move was made because of “diverging philosophies between the district and site staffs for program implementation at this innovative, health career-themed school.” AUSD, on the other hand, has characterized the move as “extremely divisive,” and took the unheard of step to create its own, dependent charter school, to thwart what has been labeled by their supporters as a “mutiny.”
On April 9, the district appointed Scott Bergerhouse as principal of the dependent charter school, and Castro was told in late June that she would be moved to a teaching position at another Antioch high school.
In announcing her new position, Castro said, “I feel blessed to have worked alongside the incredibly talented and dedicated teachers and staff, industry partners, supportive parents, and amazing students at Dozier-Libbey for the past eight years. With this team approach our students excelled, and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. I was disappointed to be transferred out of Dozier-Libbey, but I am very excited for this new opportunity with the Jefferson School District. I wish the teachers at DLMHS the best in their continued pursuit of excellence.”