Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch School Board to offer proper recognition of new Trustee Sawyer-White, past members Navarro, Terry at meeting tonight

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

By Allen Payton

The Antioch School Board faced criticism over the way the oath of office ceremony for new Trustee, and top vote-getter in the November election, Crystal Sawyer-White was handled, as well as the recognition of outgoing Trustees Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry, in December. In response, new Board President Walter Ruehlig and Vice President Debora Vinson have set a redo for tonight’s meeting.

A re-enactment of Sawyer-White’s oath of office will begin at 6:15 p.m. followed by a time of special recognition of Navarro and Terry. Members of the public will be allowed to speak and offer their thoughts and thanks to all three. That will be followed by a reception.

According to a previous Herald article, Sawyer-White’s original ceremony was rescheduled for 6:00 p.m., an hour before it was listed on the agenda for the December 14th meeting, without announcing it publicly. So, very few people were in attendance.

An attempt by former Board President and re-elected Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray was made to replace Navarro and Terry with Sawyer-White and returning Trustee Gary Hack, before the Rocketship Charter School vote at the December 7th special board meeting. Navarro saw the removal of his and Terry’s photos from the wall inside the District offices and their presentation to the two outgoing board members at the meeting on November 16, as part of that effort. He refused to accept his photo that night and Gibson-Gray’s effort was later rebuffed by Ruehlig and Vinson.

Until tonight’s meeting there has been nothing on a school board agenda for an official farewell to the two former trustees, the way the Antioch City Council handled it during the transition of power, there.

The ceremony, recognition and reception will be followed by the regular school board meeting at 7:00 p.m. Both will occur in the Board Room at the District Administrative Offices at 510 G Street in downtown Antioch.

To view the entire meeting agenda, please click here.


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Antioch school board members concerned about renewing Charter Academy II

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Ruehlig is new Board President, Vinson Vice President

By Dave Roberts

Just a week after narrowly approving the Rocketship charter school, despite a staff recommendation to reject it, two members of the revamped Antioch Unified School District Board expressed concern Wednesday about granting another five years to the Antioch Charter Academy II school.

The charter for the school, which has been in operation for 10 years at the Antioch Fairgrounds, is set to expire July 1, 2017. It boasts superior test scores to most of the district-run schools. But it’s also been marred by a child abuse controversy that resulted in the school paying $250,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a teacher placed duct-tape over a boy’s mouth and another immobilized and humiliated him by forcing him under a chair.

Crystal Sawyer-White, who was attending her first board meeting as a trustee, said that she didn’t even want to accept the charter school’s application for a five-year extension until she has a chance to visit it.

“I have an issue with the child abuse history,” she said. “I think the teacher’s still working there. That’s why.”

Sawyer-White was apparently referring to Marianne Dubitsky, who was allegedly involved in the chair incident. The teacher who was allegedly involved in the duct-tape incident, Michelle Mankewich, is no longer listed on the school’s website as a teacher. Dubitsky’s mother, Jeannie Dubitsky, is the school principal and a co-founder of the school.

The other board member who raised concerns about the school was Debra Vinson, who voted against the Rocketship application based on a variety of concerns that included its special education program.

“I have a lot of concerns,” Vinson said about the charter academy. “I would want there to be a capacity interview around special ed. I’ve looked at the petition. I know that it was signed years ago under certain conditions. I would want to review that. I would want to look at the details, especially around the special ed concern. I’ve visited the site, but I would like to go back again for a more comprehensive visit. There’s just a couple of different things we really need to look at.”

The only other board member comments came from President Diane Gibson-Gray, who said she doesn’t agree with the need for an interview with the charter school administrators, and from Walter Ruehlig, who asked staff to provide information at a future meeting on the AUSD board’s oversight of the charter school “just so we can see what we’ve been doing.”

Jeannie Dubitsky, in her brief remarks to the board, did not address the child abuse controversy or Vinson’s concerns about the special ed program, but did invite the board members to visit the school.

“We are very excited about this,” she said. “What happened was we allowed public students to have Montessori experience. Typically it was a private [school] endeavor. We are the first in Contra Costa County to be a charter. The first charter in the United States was a Montessori. We also offer many other programs.”

The school’s website describes the Montessori method: “The Montessori philosophy has an unwavering belief in the individual – an individual who through time, experience and support becomes a self-disciplined, independent, and self-confident learner. In Primary & Elementary (TK-3) the environment will be prepared for students to interact with specially designed materials that are hands-on which promote a concrete understanding of verbal, mathematical, and sensory skills.”

The method may be working. Slightly more than half of the school’s students are proficient in language arts compared to just one-third of students in the AUSD average. And twice as many Antioch Charter Academy II students are proficient in math than the district-wide average.

A significant contributing factor may be the demographic difference between the school and the district. The school is 41% white versus the district’s 16%, the school is 32% Hispanic or Latino versus the district’s 42%, the school is 9% African American versus the district’s 26%, and the school is 8% Asian versus the district’s 4.5%.

The board voted unanimously to accept the petition, formally beginning the 60-day process to either approve or disapprove it. A hearing on the petition has been scheduled for the board’s next meeting Jan. 25, and a vote is scheduled Feb. 8.

In other board action:

  • Several parents pleaded for the continuation of the after-school math program at Jack London Elementary, which they have been told is due to terminate. School officials did not comment on their concern, but Ruehlig asked that it be placed on a future meeting agenda.
  • Ruehlig was elected as board president for the next year and Vinson was elected as vice-president, each on a unanimous vote.
  • The board unanimously voted to refinance up to $20,752,944 in Measure C bonds in an attempt to save several hundred thousand dollars that can be used to help repair some of the district’s dilapidated schools, including Turner Elementary School’s leaking roof.
  • A budget update revealed that the district is no longer engaged in deficit spending after years of having done so, but the district’s technology system is, as one staffer put it, “on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
  • The agenda specified that the new board members, Sawyer-White and Gary Hack, along with re-elected member Gibson-Gray, would be sworn in at the beginning of the public portion of the meeting at 7 p.m. But Gibson-Gray said they had already been sworn in – she and Hack the day prior and Sawyer-White at 6 p.m. – to allow the full board to participate in the closed session prior to the public portion of the meeting. The board also went into closed session after the public portion of the meeting.
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New Antioch School Board Trustees sworn in, but not when it was publicly announced and scheduled

Thursday, December 15th, 2016
Few people were in attendance when new Antioch School Board Trustee is given her oath of office by County Supervisor Federal Glover during a special session, before the regular Board meeting, Wednesday night, December 14, 2016. Photo by Debra Vinson.

Few people were in attendance when new Antioch School Board Trustee is given her oath of office by County Supervisor Federal Glover, as district staff look on, during a special session, before the regular Board meeting, Wednesday night, December 14, 2016. Photo by Debra Vinson.

Former board members got send off during November 16 meeting before term ended, also without being on agenda

By Allen Payton

The new members of the Antioch School Board, Crystal Sawyer-White and Gary Hack, along with Diane Gibson-Gray who was re-elected to a third term in November, took their oaths of office, this week. But, not when they were supposed to according to Wednesday night’s board meeting agenda.

The oaths were scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the beginning of the board’s regular meeting, but Hack, who the voters returned to the board after having lost his re-election bid in 2014, and Gibson-Gray were sworn in on Tuesday, according to Superintendent Stephanie Anello. She said Hack thought he was going to have a scheduling conflict.

Sawyer-White, who received the most votes in the school board race in the November election, was given her oath by County Supervisor Federal Glover at 6:00 p.m. prior to the board’s previously scheduled closed session. Only her husband Casper and a few others were in attendance.

When asked if the public or media was informed of the change in schedule for the oaths of office for the new and returning board members, and why it wasn’t on the agenda for 6:00 p.m., Anello stated, “We don’t have to.” She later said her answer was in response to not having “it on the agenda prior to closed session, not about informing the media.”

Asked when Sawyer-White’s oath ceremony had been rescheduled after the meeting agenda was published on Friday, December 10th, Anello said she would respond later today. Sawyer-White said “Nancy (Stephanie’s Admin)…asked if I could be sworn in at 5:45 with Stephanie. I preferred Federal Glover and we decided 6:00 p.m. after all the confusion.”

Asked again about when the change in scheduling of her oath ceremony occurred, Sawyer-White responded, “I am not sure which day. Nancy would know. Nancy sent out all the emails.”

When contacted about the matter, Nancy Belleci, Senior Executive Assistant for Anello, did not respond.

UPDATE 1: However, Anello did respond, Thursday afternoon, as she said she would.

“We sent an email to all three incoming Board Members approximately a week ago stating that they would need to be sworn in prior to Closed Session Wednesday night which was scheduled for 6:20 pm. We figured that 6:00 pm would be enough time for all three to be sworn in,” she said. “Tuesday, both Gary and Diane asked if I could administer the oath that day rather than prior to Wednesday’s meeting.”

“We then contacted Crystal to let her know that if it was more convenient for her to come at 6:15 pm. we could administer the oath then as Gary and Diane had already been sworn in,” Anello continued. “She said she needed to come at 6:00 pm since Federal Glover was swearing her in and he had another commitment.”

“The ceremonial oath of office was agendized,” she added. “None of the three Board Members felt they needed to participate in a ceremonial swearing in.”

She was then asked why then did the agenda which was sent out on Friday, two days later, show the oaths of office during the regular meeting that started at 7:00 p.m.

“Because in the past, Board Members wanted to have a second ceremonial swearing in after closed session when more people may be present,” Anello explained. “The three incoming Board Members declined.”

But, that was for a re-enactment ceremony, which is not how the item was listed on the agenda at 7:00 p.m.

The item on the agenda for the regular meeting was listed as a “Ceremonial Oath of Office.”

5. Recall to Open Session – 7:00 PM

A. Reports from Closed Session

B. Flag Salute

C. Ceremonial Oath of Office – Diane Gibson-Gray, Gary Hack, Crystal Sawyer-White

The confusion lay in the use of the term “ceremonial” by Anello and the new board members, to refer to the re-enactment of the actual oaths of office which occurred earlier. There was no oath of office ceremony for the public to be aware of and attend.

Former Board Members’ Farewell

The two former board members who were not elected in November, Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry, did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting, as they were given their farewell send-off at the board’s meeting on November 16, according to Anello. However, it wasn’t on that meeting’s agenda for the public to know.

Navarro said he refused to have his photo, which was hanging on the wall inside the district office, given to him that night, since he and Terry were still on the board and continued serving until the new members took their oaths of office. He saw the effort as an attempt to demonstrate that the two of them were no longer on the board, so that they could not vote on the Rocketship Education charter petition at the board’s meeting held on Wednesday, December 7.

Asked if they were going to be recognized at the Wednesday’s meeting, Anello said, “They were recognized by Board Members and myself at our last regularly scheduled meeting.”

Asked if it was on the agenda, she responded, “My administrative assistant sent them an email letting them know that we would be recognizing them at our last regularly scheduled board meeting as we have done for all other outgoing board members in past years. Fernando said it would be inappropriate and that he would come pick up his picture at a later date. He said he spoke for both he and Alonzo. Thus, during my comments I acknowledged and thanked them for their service. Other Board members thanked them during their comments.”

According to Navarro, following the comments made by Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson, Gibson-Gray’s was merely, “ditto.”

I’m sorry if it appeared to…Fernando like it was a political move to formally recognize them as we had done in the past in order to send an inferred message of powerlessness,” Anello added. “I can assure you that from my perspective that was absolutely not the case. I didn’t always agree with them — nor they me, but I enjoyed working with them.”

However, Gibson-Gray did make an attempt, as board president at the time, to get Ruehlig and Vinson to join her in swearing in the new board members at the meeting on December 7th, prior to the vote on the Rocketship petition.

While the state Education Code states that terms of school board members end on the first Friday in December after the election, it also states that they serve until the new members are qualified. That has been interpreted to mean when the new members are given their oaths of office.

So, there was no formal, dignified ceremony of the transfer of power by the Antioch School Board as happened last Thursday, by the Antioch City Council. A video of Sawyer-White’s oath of office, taken by her husband Casper, can be viewed on the Antioch Herald’s Facebook page.

UPDATE 2: However, as of Thursday afternoon, Sawyer-White said that new Board Vice President Debra Vinson told her that a ceremony for the new board members and and a re-enactment of the oaths of office will be held Jan. 25th. That was confirmed by new Board President Walter Ruehlig, who wrote via email, “More details to follow.”


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Rocketship vote question answered, current Board members serve until new ones sworn in

Monday, December 12th, 2016

By Allen Payton

Questions surrounding the Antioch School Board’s vote to approve the Rocketship Education charter petition at last Wednesday night’s special meeting were raised at the meeting and since then. Some have asked and considered challenging if there was a quorum of members, since current Trustees Diane Gibson-Gray, Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry’s terms ended on Friday, December 2nd, according to one part of the state Education Code. Both Navarro and Terry lost their bids for election. While Gibson-Gray was re-elected, she won’t take the oath of office for her new term, along with the other two election winners, Crystal Sawyer-White and Gary Hack, until this Wednesday night, December 14.

The portion of Education Code Section 5017 which has caused people to call into question the Rocketship vote, reads “Each person elected at a regular biennial governing board member election shall hold office for a term of four years commencing on the first Friday in December next succeeding his or her election.”

Therefore, they conclude there were only two voting, current members of the Board – Vice President Walter Ruehlig and Trustee Debra Vinson – at the meeting and voting on the charter school petition.

However, the rest of that section reads, “Any member of the governing board of a school district or community college district whose term has expired shall continue to discharge the duties of the office until his or her successor has qualified. The term of the successor shall begin upon the expiration of the term of his or her predecessor.”

That begged the question of what is the definition of “qualified.”

Antioch Unified School District Superintendent Stephanie Anello answered that question, today, Monday, December 12, 2016. In an email, she providing the following explain and define the various terms and how they apply to the school board election:

“‘Qualifying’ for Office

Though the law does not explicitly state what is meant by the term ‘qualify,’ many counties interpret it to mean (1) the individual won the election, and (2) the individual has taken the oath of office. Technically, an individual has not ‘won’ the election until the election results are ‘certified.’

‘Certifying’ Election Results

The elections office must provide a certified statement of the results of the election to the District within 30 days of the election. (Elec. Code, § 15372.) The law is unclear whether the election results must be ‘certified’ prior to newly elected board members assuming office pursuant to Education Code section 5017. (According to County Clerk Joe Canciamilla, the election was certified last Tuesday, December 6, 2016).

‘Declaring’ Election Results

Separate and apart from the certification requirement, Elections Code section 15400 requires the ‘governing body’ to officially ‘declare’ the winner of the election. While section 15400 does not specify who the ‘governing body’ official is, generally the county board of supervisors will ‘declare’ the winner shortly after the election. Such is the case for the District. Unlike certification, there is no express deadline or timeline for the declaration of election.

Our legal counsel advised that they recommended that the new Board be sworn in after the certification of the results. However, they also advised that a district or other entity may choose to wait until the winners are declared to avoid a situation in which the winner appeared to be one individual when, in fact, it was another.”

So, the vote on the Rocketship charter petition by the current Board of Trustees was valid, they had a quorum of members in order to take the vote that night. However, the situation could have been avoided had the Board held the required to vote on the Rocketship petition on November 28th, meeting – within the 60-day limit after receiving the petition on September 30th – as it was originally scheduled.

An attempt was made last Monday, December 5th, by current Board President Gibson-Gray to have the new trustees sworn in last Wednesday night, before the vote on the Rocketship charter petition, when she called Ruehlig and asked him to discuss it with Vinson and to decide if they wanted to do that and let her know. (That created a violation of the state’s Brown Act open meeting law, by holding a serial meeting in private of a majority of board members. Both Ruehlig and Vinson say they rejected the idea. That matter will be the subject of a separate article.) But, her term had also expired on Friday, December 2nd, so any action by her could have also been challenged, if the new board was sworn in and the Rocketship charter petition vote had failed. But, that won’t occur until this Wednesday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. during the regular school board meeting, at the School Services Building, 510 G Street in downtown Antioch when Sawyer-White, Gibson-Gray and Hack all are given their oaths of office.


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Antioch School Board gives Rocketship charter school countdown to blast off

Friday, December 9th, 2016
Supporters of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch line up to speak at Wednesday night's special school board meeting, as other supporters in purple shirts and opponents in yellow shirts listen.

Supporters of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch line up to speak at Wednesday night’s special school board meeting, as other supporters in purple shirts and opponents in yellow shirts listen. Photos by Allen Payton

By Dave Roberts

The Antioch School Board narrowly approved the Rocketship Education charter school petition Wednesday night, eliciting cheers from hundreds of Rocketship supporters packed into the Lone Tree Elementary School multipurpose room who say it will provide a better education for their children than the academically underperforming AUSD-administered schools.

The board’s 3-2 decision approving Rocketship went against the recommendation of district staff to reject the charter school on the grounds that it’s likely to fail and its petition request doesn’t meet the numerous requirements specified in the state education code.

A Rocketship student  named Beto, known as a "Rocketeer", speaks in support of the Antioch charter school.

A Rocketship student named Beto, known as a “Rocketeer”, speaks in support of the Antioch charter school.

Rocketship plans to open in 2018 with an enrollment of 386 students. That could cost AUSD’s budget at least $3.7 million based on $9,670 in lost average daily attendance revenue the district receives from the state, according to California Department of Education data. That lost revenue and the resulting teacher layoffs and/or program cuts prompted nearly half of the attendees at the meeting to oppose the charter school application.

But ultimately it was the pleas from dozens of predominantly Hispanic and African-American parents seeking a better education and future for their children that won the day.

“Tonight our community needs a school model that demonstrates cultural responsiveness and authentic community engagement,” said Dr. Lamont Francies, a former counselor in the district and pastor of Delta Bay Church of Christ where Rocketship held a community outreach meeting, last month. “Have we tonight become more interested in saving schools than the students that actually occupy them? This is not about improving teachers but about improving students. We are not questioning effort, but we are assessing outcomes. In my years of education, I’ve encountered many teachers who could not teach, but I’ve never met a student who could not learn.

“So now is the time and the place to change the narrative of the past, and put people over politics and people over paychecks. Our children are more than just ADA. Do you tonight see their future or do you see their finances? In order to change the future we must change our focus. We can no longer focus on saving jobs but saving children.

“Tonight we reject the soft bigotry of low expectations. We see low test scores, low morale, low graduation rates. And based on that assessment, I can say, ‘Houston we have problem.’ It’s time to get on a new rocket. Rockets go where others do not go. Rockets explore where others won’t. Rockets, however, must be fueled. And you tonight are that fuel. And together we can launch our students into a future full of endless possibilities.

The slogan on one of the shirts of the Antioch supporters of the Rocketship charter school.

The slogan on one of the shirts of the Antioch supporters of the Rocketship charter school.

“To echo our First Lady, when test scores go low, our students must go high. Right now is liftoff time, it’s game time, growing time. In order to have a change, you must have a choice. When you don’t like Verizon, you change to Sprint. When you don’t like Dial, you change to Zest. Tonight, just like Celie, we choose the color purple.”

The last reference was to the purple shirts worn by Rocketship supporters that contain the slogan “We are FEARLESS in pursuit of our FUTURO!” The Rocketship opponents, who were predominantly white, wore yellow shirts with the slogan “No Rocketship.” Many of them were teachers like Sarah Nichols, who teaches 4th and 5th grade at Lone Tree.

“It’s really hard to be going through all of this on both sides,” she said. “It’s really hard to hear all of this. And it’s frustrating for me as a teacher. I would hope that the money that would be pulled away from our school to support this charter would rather be put into our schools to make them better, maybe our special education department. As the 600-plus students are pulled from our schools to fill this charter, the more than 20 great newer credentialed teachers that will become unemployed in our district would appreciate you saying no to it too.

A shirt worn by an opponent of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch.

A shirt worn by an opponent of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch.

“We are greatly concerned about scheduling for elementary children [at Rocketship]. Children need to learn non-cognitive skills, social skills, life skills, problem-solving skills through cooperative work and play. There doesn’t seem to be much time if any for socialization skills, play time etc. according to the schedule on the AUSD website for this charter.

“This program doesn’t seem conducive to the educational and emotional development of the child. The schedule is dense and instruction taught continuously with one break at lunch. I believe this will lead to a high level of stress for students. The day is way too long for teacher and students, especially kindergarten students.”

Cheye Calvo, chief growth and community engagement officer for Rocketship, acknowledged that Rocketship schools have longer days than public schools, but he said there’s plenty of time for social and emotional engagement, beginning with a community meeting, songs and dance in the morning. “We find our families engage in a way that is joyful and playful,” he said. “It’s not just sitting. There’s time to be quiet and learn, and a time to be joyful and play.”

The board majority agreed with the Rocketship supporters that low-income minority children deserve the same chance at a quality education as wealthier whites who can afford to send their children to alternative schools.

“The [Antioch] chief of police [Allan Cantando] and the newly elected mayor of Antioch [Sean Wright] both send their children to charter schools,” said board member Walter Ruehlig. “Charters are a great equalizer for those who can’t afford $15,000-$20,000 to send their kids to De La Salle. I wouldn’t want to have to think you have to be chief of police or a mayor or white or middle class or privileged to have that free choice…. After 48 years of public service I’m not going to now turn my back and my ideals and deny a chronically underserved minority population a free choice and the right for their precious children to have a decent and competitive future.”

The slogan on the shirt of a supporter from Concord of Rocketship whose child attends Rocketship's Futuro school, there.

The slogan on the shirt of a supporter from Concord of Rocketship whose child attends Rocketship’s Futuro school, there.

Ruehlig noted that Rocketship students perform much better academically than AUSD students on average. “Our superintendent is committed to a goal, which we haven’t had in years, a goal of improving 5 percent a year. That would take us eight years if we achieve, if we achieve that goal – we’ve been in stagnation, we’ve been spinning wheels – it would take us eight years to get to where Rocketship is today.”

In agreement was Fernando Navarro, who was attending his last meeting as a trustee, having failed to win election in November. He’s impressed with what he saw during a visit to a Rocketship school as well as the better test scores by Rocketship students.

“I observed the enthusiastic parents, the smiles of the children. [Tonight] I observed those who spoke in favor and those who opposed Rocketship. In favor were parents seeking a better education for their children, parents seeking the fulfillment of the American dream. Who opposed the charter? Those seeking to protect the status quo and willing to take the position of intimidation of anyone who dared to stand up against a system that has failed our children.

“The bottom line is we are the temporary guardians of the children in our schools. The children belong to the parents. The money belongs to the children. Where the children go, the children should have their money. My vote tonight is going to be with the children and the parents in the district. They are already leaving AUSD in record numbers in search of something better. Now with Rocketship we can have something better in Antioch.

“I don’t see division. I see an opportunity. They won’t build their schools for another two years. This gives us as a district an opportunity to get our act together. Let’s compete. One school will not dismantle our whole district. Competition is healthy. It’s the American way. I’ll stand for the rights of Americans to let their kids get the education they deserve every day of the week.”

Board member Debra Vinson said she also has the best interests of the children in mind by voting against the Rocketship application. She’s concerned about “the obvious friction that would come from having a charter school in AUSD also trying to maintain some degree of solvency.” Other concerns include charter schools having less experienced teachers, an insufficient number of low-income white and African-American students, a wait list to get in and insufficient special education programs.

Also casting a no vote was board President Diane Gibson-Gray, who agreed with the staff findings that the charter petition had not met all of the state requirements.

Trustee Alonzo Terry chose to stand while making his arguments in favor of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch during an impassioned speech.

Trustee Alonzo Terry chose to stand while making his arguments in favor of the Rocketship charter school in Antioch during an impassioned speech.

But Alonzo Terry, who like Navarro was attending his last meeting as a trustee having failed to win election in November, cast the deciding vote. He, like Navarro and Ruehlig, visited a Rocketship school. “I was so impressed, I was on my knees,” said Terry. “I wish we could instill what you have and Antioch charter has and do it here [in district-run schools]. We have some of the greatest teachers. Every school is not bad. We get caught up in red tape. Our children are not commodities. They are human reality.”

Ruehlig, Navarro and Terry all expressed concern that the district administration had stacked the deck against Rocketship’s application. Terry challenged the negativity of one of the district’s consultants, asking if she had anything positive to say about Rocketship. Navarro asked the legal counsel how many charter applications she had reviewed and approved – the answer was “hundreds” and “many,” including a previous Rocketship application.

Ruehlig was vexed that the board had only been provided 48 hours to review the district’s 23-page report rejecting the Rocketship application – and that the rejection seemed to be a foregone conclusion. “I’m not happy,” he said. “Why wasn’t this an opportunity for two sides to sit down to work cooperatively to improve the petition. To me the verdict was in. The final chapter of the story looks like it was written before the story even began.”

One possible surprise ending to the story concerns the question of whether the board actually had the authority to make its decision. Dylan Howell, an English teacher at Antioch High, told the board that, according to the state education code, school board terms of office expire on the first Friday in December, which was Dec. 2. Therefore, Navarro and Terry, who failed to win election, and Gibson-Gray, who did win re-election but had not yet been sworn in for another term, were not technically board members.

“There’s only two real board members here,” said Howell. “There is not a quorum. I don’t believe this vote can take place tonight.”

None of the board members addressed his challenge, as the entire Education Code Section 5017 reads “Each person elected at a regular biennial governing board member election shall hold office for a term of four years commencing on the first Friday in December next succeeding his or her election. Any member of the governing board of a school district or community college district whose term has expired shall continue to discharge the duties of the office until his or her successor has qualified. The term of the successor shall begin upon the expiration of the term of his or her predecessor.”

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Antioch church to host free, annual concert by Canadian academy’s orchestra and singers, Dec. 16

Thursday, December 8th, 2016


It’s that time of year again. While some may acknowledge this news with a smile and a Christmas song on their lips, scores of others will groan about the stress, the cold, the money, and the commercialization that the Christmas season brings. Whether you’re the person who strings Christmas lights in August, or the one who’s been dreading it since New Years, there is something for you to enjoy: a free Christmas concert performed live by the Fountainview Academy Orchestra and Singers.

Sweeping down all the way down from British Columbia, Canada this group of smiling young people is eager to help Antioch welcome the season with a dazzling Christmas repertoire of old classics and new, soon-to-be favorites. For about 15 years, Fountainview Academy has performed live concerts along the west coast as well as to a wide range of audiences, released numerous DVDs filled with uplifting music and beautiful BC scenery, and have been seen on national and international TV. Music fits neatly into the students’ lives along with work–experience training and academics. If you visit Fountainview Academy, you’re likely to hear students polishing their vocal abilities in the reverberating acoustics of the cafeteria while cleaning up the remains of a delicious vegan meal. Sometimes, you’ll even hear pre-lecture harmonies happening in the class room, or in the carrot barn as the students bag juicy, organic carrots grown on the school’s acreage.

Fountainview Academy is a private Christian high school that is dedicated to training young people to be people of character, active in service and leadership all around the world.  2017 will bring an exciting mission opportunity for these students. They have been invited to travel to the country of Mongolia to share music, work alongside their peers in helping in English classes, engage in medical mission work, and film some new music videos. During the concert you will have an opportunity to support them in continuing to bring music, service, health training, and smiles to people around the world.

Fountainview Academy is excited to share music with you and hopes to see you at our free concert being held at the Antioch SDA Church, 2200 Country Hills Dr., Antioch on Friday, December 16 at 7:00 p.m.

You won’t want to miss this evening filled with Christmas cheer as we focus on the true reason for the season. We can’t wait to see you there!

To learn more about Fountainview Academy, visit our website, and visit us on YouTube (search Fountainview Academy).

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Antioch School Board to decide Rocketship charter petition at Wednesday meeting

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Public comments allowed; district staff opposes; approval expected, eventually

By Allen Payton

The Antioch School Board will hold a special meeting, within the required time, to decide Rocketship Education’s petition to open a public charter school this Wednesday, December 7th. Although the board held and closed the public hearing on the proposed charter on November 9th, according to Superintendent Stephanie Anello, public comments will still be allowed at the meeting on Wednesday.

While AUSD has the lowest level of proficiency in both English and math among elementary students in all school districts in East County, Rocketship boasts of being able to help underachieving students in the districts they serve with their six schools in the Bay Area. They’re able to demonstrate that fact showing achievement statistics which outrank all of Antioch’s elementary schools, and many others, as well.

On Rocketship’s website, it states, “Nearly 9 of 10 Rocketeers in California were classified as ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’ last school year.”

“In math, 49% of our disadvantaged Rocketeers met or beat the standard compared to 26% of similar students in the state and 28% in the local districts we serve.  Nearly twice as many Rocketeers are on the college and career ready path. In fact, our disadvantaged Rocketeers beat the state average in math for all students by 10 points! This is powerful proof that demographics do not define student achievement.”

In addition, their website also states, “In English Language Arts, 39% of our disadvantaged Rocketeers are on the college ready path compared to 32% of similar students in the state and 34% in local districts.”


With only 33% of Antioch students in grades K-5 proficient in English and 19% proficient in math, the private, non-profit organization’s success rate is appealing to many Antioch parents. Some spoke in favor of opening the school and wore purple shirts to show their support, during the public hearing.

Those statistics are even worse for Hispanic and African American students in Antioch elementary schools. Only 30% of Hispanic students are proficient in English and 16% are proficient in math, while only 22% of African American students are proficient in English and just 10% are proficient in math.

However, and although Rocketship pays their teachers more than AUSD does, many Antioch teachers oppose the charter school, speaking against it and wearing yellow shirts in opposition at the public hearing meeting. Although, Antioch High School teacher Sara Savacool, one of the leaders of the local teachers’ union, toured one of the Rocketship school sites with school board Trustee Alonzo Terry, she didn’t speak against the organization’s efforts to open one in Antioch at the public hearing.

If the charter school is opened, the district will lose 600 students who will transfer to the new school, continuing the decline in enrollment due to Antioch’s low performing schools, That will result in a loss of revenue from the state which is based on Average Daily Attendance of students in schools. Instead those funds will go to Rocketship to pay for their charter school operations.

The district’s staff is recommending a no vote on the petition. In the staff report, it states, “The Petition, as submitted, fails to provide a reasonably comprehensive description of several essential charter elements and suggests that the Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.  Accordingly, staff is recommending denial of the Petition.

The following reasons justify denial of the Petition prior to the commencement of the school’s operations: The Petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program presented in the Petition; and The Petition fails to provide a reasonably comprehensive description of all required elements of a charter Petition.”

To view the entire 23-page staff report, click here.

However, another effort by Rocketship to open a school in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, last year met with the same opposition, there, with both the school board, as well as the county school board voting no. But the petition ended up getting approved by the state Board of Education, which included the vote of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a former Antioch teacher and city councilman, who was backed for election by the state teachers’ union. He instructed his staff to help Rocketship with their petition for that charter school in order for it to be acceptable. The school is now in operation. (See article on that, here).

As a result, proponents, and at least one opponent, are making the claim that regardless of how the Antioch School Board votes Wednesday night, Rocketship will eventually get their proposed charter school approved and opened in Antioch.

This will be the last decision both appointed incumbents, Terry and Fernando Navarro, will make as school board trustees. They both lost for election, last month and their term will end at next week’s regularly scheduled meeting on December 14.

The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be held off-site at Lone Tree Elementary School at 1931 Mokelumne Drive to accommodate the expected larger crowd, as attended the public hearing meeting on the petition.

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Antioch man appointed to Contra Costa Community College Board to fill the late John Nejedly’s Ward IV seat

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
Gary Walker-Roberts in a screenshot from a video on the CCCCD website.

Gary Walker-Roberts in a screenshot from a video on the CCCCD website.

MARTINEZ, CA – At their November 29, 2016, special meeting, the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board unanimously approved the provisional appointment of Gary Walker-Roberts of Antioch to represent Ward IV.  This appointment, in accordance with California Education Code 5091, is being made due to the vacancy created by the unfortunate passing of Governing Board member John T. Nejedly last month. Ward IV includes the communities of Blackhawk, Byron, Danville, Diablo, Discovery Bay, San Ramon, and parts of Alamo, Antioch, Brentwood, Clayton, and Concord.

Walker-Roberts will be seated at the next regular Governing Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Walker-Roberts is an alum of Los Medanos College where he graduated Suma Cum Laude in 2013 with an A.A. in Behavioral Science and Social Science. Then he graduated again from LMC with an A.A. in Arts & Humanities in 2015. He served on the community college board as a student trustee this past school year, was student body president of LMC in 2014-15, student representative to the United Faculty, and was instrumental in the formation and opening of the Veterans Resource Center at LMC, earlier this year.

Walker-Roberts also graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. degree in Ethnic Studies: Gender & Sexuality from Cal State East Bay in 2015 and with a Masters degree in English from Arizona State University, this year.

His public service has included working on Antioch Councilwoman Monica Wilson’s reelection campaign, this year and as a volunteer and mentor for foster youth with Contra Costa County Children & Family Services.

With his application, Walker-Roberts submitted letters of support from both Wilson and State Assemblyman Jim Frazier.

He works in retail as a Fragrance Expert/Trainer for Louis Vuitton, USA in San Francisco and has worked in the field of skin care and cosmetics since 2005.

When reached for comment, Walker-Roberts said, “I’m looking forward to serving Ward IV from East Contra Costa County all the way around Mt. Diablo to southern Contra Costa County. I appreciate that the trustees feel I can handle the position of trustee.”

Asked what his plans are in the new position, he stated, “I want to continue to represent under-represented minority students’ needs and also continue to develop the Veterans Resource Centers throughout the district. We’re working with the Sentinels of Freedom to open one at each of the three college campuses.”

Other applicants considered for the provisional appointment were non-profit manager and educator Carl Nichols, litigation attorney Jerome Pandell and barber college owner Frank Quattro, all of Danville, and Director of the STEM-Workforce Initiative of the Contra Costa Economic Partnership, April Treece of Clayton. To see the application from and letters of support for each candidate, click here.

Unless a petition calling for a special election, containing a sufficient number of signatures, is filed in the Office of County Superintendent of Schools within 30 days of the date of the provisional appointment, the provisional appointment shall become an effective appointment until the next regularly scheduled election for Governing Board members in November 2018.

For more details on the petition process, visit the District website at

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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