Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Deer Valley High student wins county “Poetry Out Loud” contest, again

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Kiara Chatman advances to state finals in competition that emphasizes language skill and public speaking

Kiara Chapman, photo courtesy of Robin Moore.

In a remarkable achievement, Kiara Chatman, a senior at Deer Valley High in Antioch, took first place in the Contra Costa County “Poetry Out Loud” competition for the second year in a row. The event was held in the lovely Las Lomas High School Theatre in Walnut Creek on February 11th.  The Runner-up position went to senior Camila Morales-Jimenez from El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, and Third Place to sophomore Wesley Little from Monte Vista High in Danville.

The three were among thousands of students across the state to participate in the national recitation contest, a program started by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and run by the California Arts Council and locally by the Arts & Culture Commission of Contra Costa County (AC5) to engage high-school students in the presentation of poetry through memorization and performance.  Chatman advances to the California state finals in Sacramento on March 12 & 13. At stake are hundreds of dollars on the state competition level and thousands at the national finals of Poetry Out Loud.

This is Contra Costa’s tenth year of Poetry Out Loud competition, and many attendees commented that the recitations just keep getting better and better.  Among the many fine recitations, Ms. Chatman’s “The Gaffe” by C.K. Williams, Ms. Morales-Jimenez’s “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” by Pablo Neruda and Mr. Little’s “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn helped secure the final outcome.

The very competitive pool of finalists included students from eleven county high schools: College Park High in Pleasant Hill, Deer Valley High in Antioch, El Cerrito High in El Cerrito, Independence High in Brentwood, Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, Monte Vista High in Danville, Northgate High in Walnut Creek, Pinole Valley High in Pinole, Truthtrackers Co-Op in Walnut Creek and Making Waves Academy and Salesian College Preparatory, both in Richmond.  Countywide, over 2500 students memorized a poem for the program this year.

“To learn a great poem by heart is to make a friend for life,” said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. “The national recitation program brings fresh energy to an ancient art form by returning it to the classrooms of America.”

The Poetry Out Loud program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry: recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud competitions start in the classroom, then at the school, region, state, and national finals, similar to the structure of the spelling bee. The national initiative is part of an attempt to bring literary arts to students, a critical need in U.S. schools, according to a 2004 NEA report Reading at Risk that found a dramatic decline in literary reading, especially among younger readers.

More information can be found at and

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Antioch High basketball team honors teacher’s late wife in playoff victory over Deer Valley

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Antioch High Panthers on their way to defeating the Deer Valley Wolverines in the first round of the NCS playoffs on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. photos by Jesus Cano

The armband worn by the AHS players in memory of Yvette Mattthews.

By Jesus Cano

Antioch’s victory went beyond the court Tuesday night, as they defeated crosstown rival Deer Valley in the first round of the NCS Division 1 boys basketball playoffs. The win was dedicated to Yvette Matthews, who unexpectedly passed away this last weekend. Matthews was the wife of Antioch English teacher, Chris Matthews. Antioch players wore black armbands with the initials YM in yellow to show their respects.

“We wanted to let him know that the staff players and whole school is behind him,” Antioch head coach Andrew Riva said. “You never know when things like this are going to happen so we have to appreciate the moments we have.”

After leading 20-10 at the end of the first quarter, Antioch looked to carry their momentum. Deer Valley was able to tie up the game as Dominic Pino stole the ball and handed it over to Darius Ware for the game tying layup. This all coming after Dubem Boardman and Raydale Robinson contributed with nine points to reach the Panthers.

Kirmarje Trent scored the most with 26 points in the game and Antioch retained their lead with plays from Trent and Kaleb Smith, and at halftime they led 35-31.

“Coach always tells us that we’re going to have our ups and downs in the game,” Trent said. “We made sure we had more runs than them to make sure we executed in the game.”

The third quarter was a back and forth shootout between the teams. Antioch dominated half of the third quarter but the Wolverines countered back by going on a 11-point scoring streak, as Boardman built up eight of those points but Antioch still lead 53-45 at the end.

Trent’s biggest performance came in the final quarter, as he dropped 11 points. Towards the end of the game however, Antioch kept on fouling Deer Valley, handing them points. Elijah Sturgis was the man that kept them alive by completing four free throws along with dumping two points. It wasn’t enough as the Panthers kept pounding the rim, and defeated the Wolverines 81-72.

Antioch will travel to Dublin to face the top seeded Gales on Friday, February 24th.4

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Antioch School Board blocks contract for “positive news” consultant due to cost, conflict of interest

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

By Nick Goodrich

The Antioch School Board shot down a proposed contract with Burkholder Media Group for social media and community outreach services, during their meeting on Wednesday, February 15th, amid concerns of a lack of public input, the amount of the contract and a possible conflict of interest.

The proposal by Burkholder Media Group, owned by the publisher of news website East County Today, Mike Burkholder, was for a one-year, $53,900 contract. According to the staff report, the duties were to include “assisting in communicating internally and externally on District issues, writing press releases as needed, taking original photography, and creating YouTube videos for use on District websites, blogs, social media, or by news media.”

The main objective of the proposal by Burkholder, an unsuccessful candidate for the school board in the November election, was understood by many to be the promotion of “positive news” that aims to promote the District and represent it in a favorable light, highlighting its strengths rather than focusing on its weaknesses.

The contract is part of Superintendent Stephanie Anello’s effort to rebrand the District and move away from the negative stigma attached to it, due to such things as low proficiency in math and English among K-5 students, in order to maintain the existing student population and attract new students. The AUSD has seen a continuing decline in enrollment in recent years, and Anello has been working to reverse that trend since she was promoted last year.

However, some in attendance at the meeting, including three Board Members, were concerned about a conflict of interest, since Burkholder regularly covers District proceedings through his website.

Anello defended her choice during the meeting, and offered several advantages she believed other possible vendors might not have.

“I thought that would be a plus in this case, where it was somebody who knew [Antioch], knew the history,” she told the Board. “We were comfortable with the proposal, and their ability to do this kind of work based on their media experience.”

Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray agreed, saying, “We hired the Superintendent to do a job, and one of her goals was to improve our connection with the community, with the parents. If we tie her hands, it’s defeating the purpose.”

But other Board Members took issue with the contract. Trustee Walter Ruehlig echoed concerns about a conflict of interest.

“Taking on someone who owns an online newspaper, I just think that’s a conflict of interest,” he told the Board. “Perhaps he’ll be the one we select…But I would rather have more time to throw this back and forth, have a work study session, consider alternate ideas.”

Trustees Debra Vinson and Crystal Sawyer-White also supported giving other bids a chance and receiving more input from parents and the community.

Vinson was also cautious of the dollar amount of the contract, which several Antioch residents like Julie Young and Joshua Klee thought could be better spent improving performance in Antioch’s schools. Another Antioch resident said it reminded him of the Soviet Union and its government controlled newspaper, Pravda.

“I think positive news is good, and it’s a place to start, but I don’t see the value of spending this amount of money,” said Vinson. “Ultimately, it affects the children…If we’re putting out all this positive news, but our test scores stay low, then it’s going to backfire.”

Ultimately, the Board decided to table the matter and discuss it at a future meeting.

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Glazer introduces $2 billion bond bill to improve facilities at CSU, UC campuses

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Sacramento, CA – For the first time in more than a decade, California voters would have the opportunity to approve higher education bonds to improve facilities on California State University and University of California campuses under legislation introduced Thursday by joint authors Sens. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica.

The bill, SB 483, would authorize the statewide sale of $2 billion in general obligation bonds earmarked for higher education facilities at CSU and UC campuses. The bonds would go before voters in the 2018 general election.

“For many generations, California taxpayers have been proud supporters of the greatest higher education system in America,” Glazer said. “Unfortunately, we have allowed classrooms and libraries to deteriorate, affecting our ability to educate our students. Without public support, the burden of financing facilities will be borne by students and their families through higher tuition and fees.

The most recent such bond, which provided $1.6 billion to improve higher education facilities at CSU and UC, was approved by voters in 2006. All those funds have since been depleted. The last higher education-specific bond was passed in 1994.

“California’s public colleges and universities are a source of great pride to our state, but unfortunately we’ve allowed their physical facilities to fall into disrepair,” said Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “This bond measure will provide a much-needed and overdue investment in our higher education infrastructure.”

According to CSU and UC, the two systems have capital needs of $7 billion and $10 billion, respectively, for short-term and long-term projects. The CSU and UC are able to provide their own funding for some construction programs through system-wide revenue bonds, though only half of their capital needs are met.

“We appreciate Senator Glazer’s work to secure funding for necessary repair and replacement of aging higher education buildings and infrastructure,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White. “More than $2 billion in deferred maintenance – due to lack of investment during the previous recession – left our campuses vulnerable to potential failures of critical systems. Safe and up-to-date classrooms, research labs and work spaces are essential to the success of our students, faculty and staff.”

SB 483 would require universities or colleges to submit five-year capital outlay plans that prioritize seismic retrofitting needed to reduce seismic hazards in buildings identified as high priority.

David Lopez, president of the California State Student Association, said the legislation addresses the issues about needed classroom repairs that students have been talking about for years.

“We keep hearing stories of students in classrooms that need major repair,” Lopez said. “Buildings that need to be closed for safety reasons. Our campus infrastructure needs have never been greater than they are today.”

Spending choices will emerge through recommendations from governing boards for both CSU and UC systems and will be reviewed in public hearings during the legislative process, Glazer said.

“The state has failed to provide the funds needed for public higher education faculty, student services and infrastructure,” said Mel Levine, Co-chair of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. “We can’t take in more California students without restoring and improving our classrooms and labs.”

Last November, voters approved Proposition 51, a $9 billion education facilities bond, but did not include any money for the CSU or UC.

“This measure provides important financial backing for critical upgrades to our libraries and classrooms on college campuses,” Glazer added. “And I believe voters should be given a chance to continue the proud legacy of supporting our universities and colleges.”

A December 2016 survey on higher education by Public Policy Institute of California showed broad support – 65 percent – for higher education construction projects. It represented an 11 percentage point increase in support since December, 2014 and was the highest level of support since PPIC first began asking the question in 2007.

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WNBA Hall of Famer Ruthie Bolton-Holyfield at Park Middle School Black History Month event in Antioch, Feb. 23

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

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Following ACLU recommendations, Antioch Superintendent says district will limit cooperation with federal immigration agencies, officials

Friday, February 10th, 2017

By Allen Payton

Stepping into the national debate on illegal immigration and its possible impact on students, and following the recommendations by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Antioch Superintendent Stephanie Anello posted a letter to parents and guardians on the district’s website, recently, in an attempt to allay fears some students have been expressing to staff.

Although the AUSD Board has not declared the district a sanctuary, as the Contra Costa Community College District did, last month, Anello felt it necessary to send the message, following receipt of a letter from the ACLU sent out on December 12, to all Superintendents in California.

In their letter, the ACLU recommends superintendents “Designate your schools as sanctuary ‘safe zones’ for students and families with irregular immigration status” and to “Send a strong message to district and school staff, students, and families in your community, affirming your district’s values of diversity and inclusion, and making clear that unlawful discrimination against students will not be tolerated.” The letter also encourages superintendents to “Take measures to ensure that district and school staff, students, and families understand that all students in your district are guaranteed equal access to school, regardless of their or their families’ immigration status.”

The ACLU further recommends superintendents “Prohibit any communications with federal agencies or officials and refuse all voluntary information-sharing with federal or immigration agents across all aspects of the district to the fullest extent possible under the law” and “Prohibit staff, campus security, or campus police from divulging any information regarding immigration status or country of birth of any student or their family members. Require federal or immigration agents seeking information or access to a school site to have a warrant signed by a federal or state judge.”

In her message Anello wrote “Our students are sharing with school staff concerns they have for themselves, their parents, and other loved ones who may have an irregular immigration status.” Further she wrote, “the AUSD will not, to the extent possible by law, share the immigration status of any student or any student’s parent/guardian with federal agencies or officials.”

However, in responding to questions about the letter, Anello said  that the district is “not required nor do we ask the immigration status of students,” and that they have “no way of knowing if a student was here illegally as immigration status is not part of the enrollment process.”

Following is Anello’s complete message:

Message from the Superintendent: An Open Letter to Parents/Guardians

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Recently, while not in our District but throughout the country and in California, there has been an increase of reported incidents and actions which are predicated on hate such as racial slurs, taunting, and intimidation of students. There has also been an increase of fears surrounding immigration and, along with it, deportation. Our students are sharing with school staff concerns they have for themselves, their parents, and other loved ones who may have an irregular immigration status. This open letter to all Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) families is intended to allay some of those fears and to reaffirm our commitment to ensure school is a safe place for all students.

AUSD values diversity and inclusion; unlawful discrimination against any student will not be tolerated. The California and federal Constitutions as well as long standing federal and state civil rights statutes affirm that every student in our state must be provided with an educational environment that is safe and welcoming regardless of the student’s race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetics, or disability. Thus, AUSD will continue to work tirelessly to prevent such discrimination and will take decisive steps against any individual who threatens that right.

Muslim and immigrant students are especially vulnerable at this time in our nation’s history. Please know that the AUSD will not, to the extent possible by law, share the immigration status of any student or any student’s parent/guardian with federal agencies or officials. Additionally, we will require that all federal immigration agents seeking access to information or access to a school site have a warrant signed by a federal or state judge.

In closing, please know that AUSD will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all of our students feel safe, valued, and appreciated.  As always, we encourage our families and those in the greater community to partner with us in this work.


Stephanie Anello


When asked if the board authorized or directed her to write the message, Anello simply responded, “no.”

When asked why that was necessary to write if obtaining a warrant is already the legal requirement, she responded, “All warrants must be signed by a federal or state judge.”

Asked if the district had become a “sanctuary”, she said, “No, I believe PUSD (Pittsburg Unified School District) declared themselves a sanctuary district, but you might want to check. We have not.”

“My letter is meant to allay fears that students are safe while in schools,”Anello added.

Asked about educating students who are here illegally, she provided the following explanation.

“We are not required nor do we ask the immigration status of students,” Anello explained. “Additionally, undocumented students between the ages of 6-18 not only have a right to attend school in California, but are mandated to attend school pursuant to the compulsory attendance laws. (Educ. Code § 48200.) The U.S. Supreme Court has held that no state may deny access to a basic public education to any child residing within the state, whether residing in the U.S. legally or not. (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).) Further, all students have a right to be in a public school learning environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, violence, and intimidation. (Educ. Code §§ 220, 234 et seq.)”

Asked if the district risked losing federal funds by not following the law and reporting the illegal status of students, she reiterated, “We would have no way of knowing if a student was here illegally as immigration status is not part of the enrollment process.”

Anello responded to a further question asking if the district has no way of knowing the legal status of a student, why she didn’t simply write that in her letter.

“The letter was meant to allay fears that somehow immigration or other law enforcement branch could come on campus without a warrant signed by a federal or state judge to retrieve information about a student’s immigration status, etc.,” she stated. “We are bound by federal and state law to ensure that all students attend school feeling safe. When students and families continued to share their fears about the issues outlined in the letter, we have a duty to respond in my opinion. The letter is, in short, an attempt to ensure students are feeling safe at school.”

Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White was the first board member to respond when asked if she had seen Anello’s letter.

“Yes,” Sawyer-White responded. “I agree with our superintendent in regards to our children’s safety pertaining to immigration status. Based on a recent Deer Valley HS video, produced by the students, one can only empathize [with] the anxiety each student experiences.”

Board President Walter Ruehlig responded to the same questions asked of Anello.

“As has been previously noted by Superintendent Anello, the Board neither approved, nor even pre-read, the letter she put out on the school website. We simply do not edit the website,” he said. “I take the Superintendent’s word that she was reacting first and foremost not to the ACLU but to concerns of parents and students, many who are super anxious. I wouldn’t know where to begin on the reasons for the troubled climate, founded or unfounded.”

“I can only wish that both sides would start by lowering the volume,” Ruehlig continued. “Then maybe we can separate fact from unfact. Administration supporters and detractors, alike, can agree that we live in hyper-volatile times with disquieting misinformation running rampant. If the Superintendent was able to quell at least some of the hysteria, then I say it is for the good.”

As for echoing the language ‘irregular’ immigration, personally I would not have used that word. I don’t like double talk and the plain-speaking terms undocumented or illegal are fine by me,” he stated. “As for tacitly endorsing doing anything against the law, I didn’t see that in the Superintendent’s letter.  It certainly won’t happen on my watch.”

“Hopefully we can move from rumor and hysteria to dialogue and constructive action and that people of good faith on both political sides can get sweeping immigration reform to finally become reality,” Ruehlig added.

An email was also sent to Board Vice President Debra Vinson asking for her responses to the questions and their thoughts on the letter. Please check back later for any responses from her.


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Tickets available for 11th annual Deer Valley Foundation gala dinner and dance, March 4

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

17-DV-Foundation_Gala_Dinner_FlyerClick here to download form – 17-DV-Foundation Gala Dinner Flyer

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Two teens assault others at Antioch school in January, face different consequences

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Juvenile Hall makes determination based on overcrowding, prior arrest history

By Allen Payton

According to Antioch Police, on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 at 10:58 am, a 13 year old male was arrested after assaulting a classmate at Antioch Middle School. The juvenile suspect was sent to Juvenile Hall for felony assault.

Then on Tuesday, Jan. 24th at 1:46 pm, Antioch Middle School staff called to report a 13 year old female student was detained in the office for assaulting her teacher. Upon the officers’ arrival, they determined the student had punched her substitute teacher in the face several times causing her to fall to the ground. While on the ground, the student continued to hit the victim several more times. School staff attempted to intervene and the student assaulted one of them. The victim suffered minor injuries from the assault. Several students filmed the assault with their cellular phones and the videos were collected as evidence. The student was issued a juvenile citation and was released to the custody of her mother.

When asked why the girl wasn’t taken to Juvenile Hall, Antioch Police Captain Tammany Brooks said it was up to Juvenile Hall to decide due to overcrowding and other details.

“When a juvenile is taken into custody for a felony, officers call over to Juvenile Hall, explain the charges, and Juvenile Hall staff determines whether or not they are willing to accept him/her,” he said. “When Juvenile Hall refuses to take an arrestee, we issue a citation and release to a parent.

“Juvenile Hall is extremely overcrowded and typically take kids arrested for very violent felonies, and who are a threat to the public,” Brooks explained. “They also are mandated to take kids who have outstanding warrants. Therefore, they screen all potential incoming kids and turn away ones who don’t fit that criteria.”

When asked why the boy was treated differently and what message that was sending to the other students, Brooks explained further.

“Each case is different,” he stated. “Boy or girl, prior arrest history, availability on the module, etc. that’s why we call first to get a yay or nay.”

“We’d prefer to send them all (to Juvenile Hall), but we’re at their mercy,” Brooks added.

When asked about the two incidents and if the school or district had taken any disciplinary action against the students, Antioch Superintendent Stephanie Anello responded.

“Our disciplining students is separate from any action law enforcement might take so I really can’t speak to the decision to send one student to Juvenile Hall versus the other,” she said. “The school discipline is based on the California Education Code and our discipline matrix and is in addition to any action law enforcement might take.”

However, she did not say if either of the students had been or would face any discipline, such as suspension or expulsion.

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