Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

African-American 8th grade promotion ceremony in Antioch raises concerns, organizer explains

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015
Flyer African American 8th grade promotion ceremony in Antioch raises concerns, organizer explains

The flier created by Dr. Lamont Francies and distributed by Dallas Ranch Middle School Principal and staff.

By John Crowder

A ceremony celebrating the promotion from middle school to high school of African-American students residing within the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) has generated intense scrutiny on social media, with some claiming that a flier sent through the AUSD email system was a misuse of public resources, and that both the flier and the event may have violated laws against segregation and/or separation of Church and State.

The flier was received by parents of students attending Dallas Ranch Middle School (DRMS) on Friday.

According to Dr. Donald Gill, AUSD Superintendent of Schools, though, the flier should not have gone out.

Unfortunately a flier that had been prepared by one person at one school was forwarded to others, but it was not authorized by the District,” Gill said.

Gill also commented about the event. “It was a community celebration,” he said. “We support community events like this. But, we wouldn’t support the use of the AUSD logo for this.”

We support any organization that wants to honor and celebrate the milestones of our students,” he added.

Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent, Educational Services, while expressing her support for the event, said that the District was taking steps to ensure that the public is not misled as to the sponsorship of such events in the future.

I very much support celebrating the achievements and milestones of all students,” she said. “The District acknowledges and respects the right of community organizations to sponsor celebrations for students that attend District schools. Those celebrations are separate from District “promotion” ceremonies which recognize the achievements of all students.”

However, she added “We are going to be meeting with key staff members to determine where District procedures and protocols may have broken down in order to address future instances wherein it may appear that an event is a District event when, in fact, it is a community sponsored event.”

Anello also acknowledged that District resources were used in support of the event.

Upon investigating the matter, it appears that District resources, including District email, and perhaps some office supplies, were used in support of this event,” she stated.

She went on to say, though, that Dr. Lamont Francies, who is a counselor at Black Diamond Middle School and the pastor at Delta Bay Church of Christ, where the event was held, used his own time and resources in order to have the function.

Ed Dacus, Principal of DRMS, and Pamela Price, a counselor at the school, related the sequence of events surrounding the flier. They said that, some weeks ago, they had received an email with the flier attached, from Francies, who created it.

Mrs. Prices office window 06 02 15 225x300 African American 8th grade promotion ceremony in Antioch raises concerns, organizer explains

Dallas Ranch Middle School counselor Pamela Price’s office window on Tuesday morning, June 2, 2015. by Allen Payton

Dacus related that he believed his role was to disseminate the information it contained to his school community. He had the flier posted throughout the school; in common areas, in the office, and on windows.

Later, on the day of the event, he said he had a conversation with Price, in which she asked if anything further should be done to inform the school community about the function. He then advised Price to inform school parents through School Loop, which she did. “I had no information that the flier was not to be resent,” he said. Price also acknowledged her role in sending out the flier. “I sent it,” she said.

When asked about the event on Tuesday, June 2, Price responded “Is there a problem?”

After being told by Herald staff that it was a private event promoted using school district resources, she pointed to a copy of the flier on the window to her office, unaware that it was not a district sponsored event.

That was confirmed in an email from Gill, received by the Herald Tuesday afternoon, in response to a question of whether district staff were informed that the event was not sponsored by AUSD.

Yes, a memo was sent this morning,” he stated.

When reached for comment, Francies said that he had sent an email with the flier attached on April 24, and again on May 20, informing District personnel about the event. He said that he had not directed or asked anyone to send the email, or the flier, to anyone else.

He confirmed that there was a conversation between him and Anello, on or about April 27, in which they discussed that the program was not a District sponsored event, but it was in the context of funding for the event, and no discussion of the use of the letters ‘AUSD’ took place at that time.

Francies was unaware that any distribution to the public had taken place at DRMS until the evening of the event. Francies did provide fliers to middle school staff members to be used as they thought was appropriate, and handed the fliers to parents and students at Black Diamond Middle School who expressed an interest in the event.

However, a revised flier without the AUSD information included, was not created or distributed.

Francies described the event as a way to build trust between members of the African-American community and AUSD administration, and as a way to encourage families to focus on the value of a good education.

A number of our kids are struggling academically,” he said. “These types of events are common in African-American communities, and are a part of our tradition.”

Francies also talked about the church connection.

The black church is at the heart of our community,” he said. “This was a celebration of black culture.”

We can’t separate that from our faith tradition,” he added.

The celebration of one culture is not a denigration of another culture. People have asked about having other cultural celebrations. I support it. I’ll attend,” Francies added.

In fact, this reporter, who is white, was in attendance at this event, having been invited by the African-American parent of a student being honored. While most people attending the event were African-American, many other races and ethnic groups were represented, both in the audience, and as part of the program. As my son and I walked up to the entrance, we were greeted very warmly by a church member, who said, “Welcome to Delta Bay Church.” Throughout the evening, everyone we spoke with was welcoming, and several in attendance made it a point to introduce themselves to, and interact with, my young son.

The message, delivered by Pastor Kirkland Smith of Grace Bible Fellowship, prior to the handing out of achievement certificates to all students in attendance, focused on the importance of obtaining a good education, and on parenting skills.

Francies said that he hopes to expand the event next year.

School Board Member Debra Vinson, who was in attendance at the event along with fellow Board Member Barbara Cowan and several district administrators, provided a statement in which she spoke positively about the function.

I saw this as a community-sponsored event from community members that wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of students that attended their church, lived in their neighborhood or had received some form of social emotional support from various places in the community,” Vinson shared. “This was not a graduation; it was not a promotion; it was a community celebration and was no sponsored by AUSD.”

This event was open to all students and there were students and families from non-African-American backgrounds that participated,” she stated. “The flyer should not have been released in its current format by anyone without final approval from District Administrative Staff.”

Vinson continued, “I would hope that the educational achievements of all students would be appreciated because celebrating our students in this community helps to reduce crime, builds self esteem, builds pride in Antioch and sends the message to students that they are not alone in the ‘educational process’ and that the community of Antioch stands behind them. Yes, I want all of our school age students in school daily.”

Explaining the motivation behind the event, Vinson said, “Many students struggle daily to remain focused on learning because there are so many non-educational choices available to them and they have many personal hurdles to overcome. If there are people in the community that want to help students maintain success by celebrating their learning milestones, then we should all stand behind that!”

Vinson concluded, “I hope that the community of Antioch will continue to celebrate our students because it will promote positive ‘citizenship’ and teach them to respect this community called ‘home.’”

When asked about the flier in an email sent to all board members, Walter Ruehlig responded, “I never saw this – I saw it on an AUSD weekly calendar memo given to [the] Board, but thought of that as a throw off favor, much like they might mention State of City (as example). Though I did not attend, I assumed it was like the baccalaureate, privately organized sponsored, funded and promoted. We are meticulous to disassociate baccalaureate from AUSD and I assumed that protocol was in keeping with this.”

To go the extra mile we rotate churches and invite the entire public,” he added.

Board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray also responded to the email about the flier, on Sunday night.

The promotion ceremony on May 29th was described as ‘…a joint African American 8th grade Baccalaureate Ceremony,’ which was not on school property and faith based, as is the high school Baccalaureate Ceremony this evening at Most Holy Rosary Church, which is not an AUSD event. I did not see the promotional flyer until it was published on post event. I now understand it has AUSD’s logo on it and was promoted using district resources.

I did not attend the African American 8th Grade Promotion Ceremony. That evening I was attending the E.N.C.O.R.E. Promotion Ceremony, an AUSD event. I will be attending three of the five middle school AUSD Promotion Ceremonies this Wednesday, in which all 8th grade students promoting on to high school will be celebrated.

My knowledge of the history of the African American 8th Grade Promotion Ceremony is:

·I received a last minute invitation for the 2014 ceremony. I voiced my concerns about it being an AUSD event and did not attend.

·Based on the 2015 ceremony description, I did not view it as an AUSD event and did not attend.

I’m asking Dr. Gill for additional background and information. I have asked that it be placed on our agenda for school board discussion.”

Cowan responded by email with links to a 2011 article entitled “Are black graduations at traditional colleges ‘reverse racism’?” and a report from the Journal of Pan African Studies entitled “Using Cultural Competence to Close the

Achievement Gap.” She did not answer the questions in the email from Herald staff.

Board President Claire Smith did not respond to the email.

Comments on the Herald Facebook page, in response to a commentary by Barbara Zivica, included one by Antioch resident Darcie Hill Cooper.

This is just crazy,” she said. “This is a step in the WRONG direction.”

Another Antioch resident, Ron Zaragoza wrote, “This doesn’t seem helpful to the people of our community. Seems like it supports divison (sic)…”

Francies responded to the criticism levied by some that the event was exclusionary.

I understand the backlash. I’m not shocked by it,” he said. “I did this to celebrate one culture and not to exclude anyone else. Everyone was welcome. It was targeted to a group who feels disenfranchised. I make no qualms about that. Of course my intention was never to offend anyone else. We’ve never turned away any kid of any color who wanted to participate.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Antioch School Board hears complaints about English learners program

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

By John Crowder

The May 13 meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education lasted well into the night, with members of the public lining up to speak about three main issues, English Language Development (ELD), the hiring of a head football coach at Deer Valley High School (DVHS), and the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).


Public comments related to ELD at the meeting coincided with a report given to the Board by the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC). Following the report, both parents and students complained that some students were being, “wrongly classified,” as English learners. As a consequence, they said, these students were being removed from core classes during the school day in order to work on their language skills, and were, thus, being prevented from taking electives or Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

The discussion which ensued focused on the process mandated by the state of California for classifying students as English learners. According to Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent, Educational Services, the California Department of Education requires schools to determine the languages spoken at home by each student.

When a parent lists a language other than English on a state-mandated form they are given, the schools are then required to provide their students with, “meaningful instruction” in English. Such instruction continues until they are able to pass the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), a test that gets progressively harder each academic year.

If a parent states that a language other than English is spoken in the home, the District is required to administer the CELDT test. Some students who take the test score ‘initially fluent proficient’ (IFP) and are not classified as English learners,” Anello explained. “Those who do not are classified as English learners and receive services until such time as they are reclassified.”

Those objecting to the process indicated that the programs implemented for English learning, in some instances, were actually harming those they were intended to help. One student said that some of her friends were prevented from taking AP or Honors classes because they were, “stuck in ELD.” She called the process, “unfair.”

Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, said, “The English Language Survey is problematic,” because the parents who fill out the form are not aware of the consequences. He also said that he knows of a student who spoke only English, yet was stuck in ELD classes.

Mims went on to say, referring to the CELDT, that many native English speakers cannot pass the test, and that, “It’s discriminatory in nature,” because, “This one specific subgroup is paying the price for some…[bad] legislation.”

Board Member Barbara Cowan concurred with those speaking out.

It’s inequitable if kids have to take ELD classes and are thus unable to take A-G electives,” she said.

She agreed with Mims that, “the test is difficult to pass, and there are students who are English only who cannot pass the test.” But, she said, it is an issue that must be resolved with the state.

Also in agreement with those speaking out were board President Claire Smith and Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray, each suggesting that the school district work with parents by engaging their legislators to make needed changes.

DVHS Football Coach

Several parents and others spoke in favor of hiring Saleem Muhammad, currently the Strength and Conditioning/Running Backs Coach at Los Medanos College (LMC) as head coach for DVHS. All of the speakers at the meeting praised Muhammad for the work he does and has done with student athletes. “He’s all about the kids,” said one of those speaking on his behalf.

Following public comments regarding Muhammad and the coaching position, the Board entered a closed session meeting, part of which was to include a discussion of the coaching job. After the closed session, the board had nothing to report about the issue at that time.


Also during public comments, a handful of speakers discussed the LCAP process. This followed an update regarding the LCAP given to the board at a work study session which took place prior to the regular meeting.

One speaker, Reggie Johnigan, representing the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), spoke of the LCAP process.

The district is not truly engaging parents,” he said. “Last year…we were not taken seriously.”

Complaining that, “students are not getting the support they need to succeed academically,” Johnigan also referenced the recent threat of a lawsuit, temporarily settled with the NAACP. Saying that, “parents are ignored until a lawsuit is brought forward,” he asked for, “better engagement.”

Other speakers echoed the remarks made by Johnigan, calling for “real, authentic engagement,” and asking the board to, “stop reacting to lawsuits.”

One part of the LCAP presentation that drew a positive response from members of the public and board members alike was the emphasis on bringing back Visual and Performing Arts. Several slides shown during the LCAP presentation focused on this topic. One parent, Julie Young, thanked Anello for, “saving the Deer Valley music program.”

Board President Smith and Board Member Walter Ruehlig both emphasized the importance of music in education.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00 p.m. Meetings take place in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street.

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Antioch students win Toyota and Discovery Education’s TeenDrive365 Video Challenge

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

TeenDrive365 3rd Place Antioch students win Toyota and Discovery Educations TeenDrive365 Video Challenge

Safe-Driving Video Wins Two Awards in National Competition, Students Will Receive $12,500 and Behind-the-Scenes Trip to Velocity Network Show Taping

Silver Spring, Md. (May 11, 2015) – Toyota and Discovery Education announced today that  Jordan Bjorklund, Daniel Harte, Joseph Salazar and Karina Vazquez – students at Antioch Unified School District’s Deer Valley High School- triumphed over 1,000 entrants from across the country to be named winners in the annual Toyota TeenDrive365 Video Challenge. The four teens from Antioch created a video on the importance of driving safety which has won both third place and the People’s Choice Award in this national competition.

Now in its fourth year, the Toyota TeenDrive365 Video Challenge, a key component of an ongoing partnership between Toyota and Discovery Education, invited teens across the country to create short videos to inspire their friends to drive more safely and avoid risky behavior behind the wheel.

The team from Antioch was chosen as third place winners by a panel of judges at Toyota and Discovery Education, netting them a prize of $7,500. In addition, the students’ video was named the ‘People’s Choice Winner’ through an online public vote, garnering them an additional $5,000 cash prize and a behind-the-scenes trip to a taping of a Velocity network show. You can view their winning video here.

We loved how this PSA addressed driving safety with creativity and a clear-eyed view of the distractions that face drivers of all ages,” said Michael Rouse, president of the Toyota USA Foundation. “We offer the team our heartfelt congratulations and are proud to help share their vision for encouraging other teens to drive more safely.”

The TeenDrive365 initiative addresses the need to keep students safe on the road by providing engaging digital resources and experiences that encourage smart choices behind the wheel,” said Bill Goodwyn, President and CEO, Discovery Education. “We are honored to stand alongside Toyota in congratulating Jordan, Daniel, Joseph and Karina and the rest of this year’s winners for their creativity, innovative thinking, and dedication to positively influencing the behavior of their peers.”

The Toyota TeenDrive365 Video Challenge, which was recently named a winner in the annual Communitas Awards, is one component of Toyota and Discovery Education’s TeenDrive365: In School initiative, a comprehensive program offering a range of tools designed specifically for school educators and teens.

The program is part of TeenDrive365 (, Toyota’s comprehensive initiative to help parents model safer driving behaviors for their children. Building on the programs and resources Toyota has offered for more than a decade, the program offers a collection of online tools, events, expert advice and tips as well as social media elements.

About Toyota

Toyota, the world’s top automaker and creator of the Prius, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through its Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands.  Over the past 50 years, Toyota has built more than 25 million cars and trucks in North America, where it operates 14 manufacturing plants and directly employs more than 40,000 people.  The company’s 1,800 North American dealerships sold more than 2.67 million cars and trucks in 2014 – and about 80 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today.  Toyota partners with philanthropic organizations across the country, with a focus on education, safety and the environment. To date, Toyota has contributed more than $700 million to American nonprofit groups. For more information about Toyota, visit

About Discovery Education

Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-based digital content and professional development for K-12, transforming teaching and learning with award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia content that supports the implementation of Common Core, professional development, assessment tools, and the largest professional learning community of its kind.  Available in over half of all U.S. schools and primary schools in England, community colleges and in 50 countries around the world, Discovery Education partners with districts, states and like-minded organizations to captivate students, empower teachers, and transform classrooms with customized solutions that accelerate academic achievement. Discovery Education is powered by Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), the number one nonfiction media company in the world. Explore the future of education at

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Black Diamond PTSO sponsors science fair, holds golf tournament, fun day, achievers gala

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
BDMS golf tourney winning team 768x1024 Black Diamond PTSO sponsors science fair, holds golf tournament, fun day, achievers gala

Black Diamond Middle School PTSO Golf Tournament winning team of Mike Stoiber, Dan Smith, Tim Stiehr and Ross Lopez.

By John Crowder

The Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO) has been very active this year, and recently sponsored a science fair at the school and a golf tournament fundraiser at the Lone Tree Golf Course and Event Center.

Science Fair

The PTSO-sponsored science fair was open to all students at the school, and garnered about three-dozen entries. Cash prizes ($100 for first place, $75 for second place, and $50 for third place) and ribbons were given to the top finishers at each grade level, 6th through 8th. All students submitting entries received extra credit points in their science classes.

Frances Spijker, BDMS PTSO President, recruited school “celebrity” judges for the event, including Dr. Donald Gill, Antioch Superintendent of Schools, and school board members Diane Gibson-Gray, Debra Vinson, and Walter Ruehlig.

Top placing students were:

6th Grade: Dylan Riley (1st), Sabrina Puri (2nd), and Amari Joyner & Jeffery Boatright (3rd)

7th Grade: Nayeli Canedo (1st), Ashanti Jackson & Pilar Pedro-Del-La-Sol (2nd), and Fred Edgmond & Adagoke Adeyemi (3rd)

8th Grade: Jordin Lara (1st), Stephanie Spijker (2nd), and Patrick Queiroz & Tabasom Bahramand (3rd)

Golf Tournament

The BDMS golf tournament fundraiser, sponsored by the school PTSO, took place on Sunday, March 22, and began with a shotgun start just after 1:00 p.m. at the Lone Tree Golf Course and Event Center. The money raised at the event will help fund the BDMS STEM program, the Academic Achievers Gala Event, and other student programs. Following the tournament, participants enjoyed a tri-tip dinner as awards were handed out.

The winners of the tournament, with a team score of 64, were Ross Lopez, Mike Stoiber, Dan Smith, and Tim Stiehr. The “longest drive” was won by BDMS student Jackielou Caniete. “Closest to the pin” went to Chris Santos.

The PTSO organizing team extends their thanks to their business sponsors: A & B Creative Trophies, Ed Caniete of Sun Edison, Jacquelyne Gettone of IG GETTDONE, Kinder’s Meats, Sheffield Orthodontics, and State Farm Agent Ross Lopez.

More Events

The PTSO is sponsored a “Fun Day,” consisting of outdoor fun and games for all students on Wednesday, May 6. Tonight, May 13, the PTSO is sponsoring a “High Achievers Dinner Gala.” This event, to be held at the Veterans Memorial Building in Antioch, is for all students who achieved a 3.5 GPA or higher in the Third Quarter.

For more information on the BDMS PTSO contact Frances Spijker at, or visit their website,

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Black Diamond Middle School band and orchestra perform at music festivals, receive awards

Thursday, April 30th, 2015
BDSM band 1024x768 Black Diamond Middle School band and orchestra perform at music festivals, receive awards

The Black Diamond Middle School band and orchestra.

By John Crowder

On Saturday, March 21, three ensembles of students from Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) performed at the 2014-2015 California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Bay Section Solo/Ensemble Music Festival at San Jose State University, achieving two excellent and one superior rating.

Then, on Friday, March 27, at the CMEA Large Ensemble Festival held at Deer Valley High School (DVHS), both the Advanced Orchestra and the Festival Band received awards. Superior is the highest rating possible, and Excellent the second-highest.

Excellent ratings were earned by the String Trio of Jeremiah Franco, Joseph Griego and Sophia Thoman and the Woodwind group of Tiffany Danh, Brianna Keleti, Tia Zaiser, and Julian Uy. The superior rating was earned by the Percussion Duo of Abraham Moina and Patrick Queiroz.

A composite Superior Rating in performance and an excellent rating in sight-reading was achieved by the Advanced Orchestra. The Festival Band topped the rankings, and earned the coveted Unanimous Superior rating in performance, and another Superior in sight-reading.

The talented students making up the music groups will be performing in concert at the BDMS Open House, 6:00 p.m., on Thursday, May 7, then again on Tuesday, May 12, at the BDMS Spring Concert.

Phyllis James, principal at BDMS, credited the hard work of music teacher Damian Ting for much of the success of the music program.

His caring and concern for our students is only surpassed by his love of music,” she said.

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Antioch schools to participate in new, innovative program serving California food to California kids, Thursday

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Hundreds of Belshaw Elementary School students will sit down to a surprise on Thursday, April 23, 2015: a meal made from foods grown in California and prepared freshly just for them. And, if organizers of California Thursdays are successful, this will become a regular part of menus for Antioch Unified School District students as well as students across the state.

The program is predicated on the simple logic that California children will benefit from more fresh California-grown food. Forty-two school districts, large, small, urban, suburban and rural, that collectively serve over 250 million school meals a year, are participating in today’s statewide rollout. Schools in the Antioch district, alone serve almost 2,500,000 meals annually.

But implementation of California Thursdays is far from simple. The district’s nutrition service director, Stephanie Siemering, has worked countless hours alongside her counterparts statewide to reform an entrenched, centralized food system that ships produce around the nation, sometimes moving California produce out of state before returning it, highly processed, to the district. Added to that are the challenges of creating recipes that kids enjoy and that meet federal standards, finding local farmers who can supply local schools, training staff to cook and serve fresh meals, and encouraging students to try them.

The Antioch district has collaborated with other districts in Contra Costa County to plan for the event. The school districts in Contra Costa have planned their menus together and have taken the unique step of purchasing food together from local farmers. This collaboration has meant that the districts combined were able to order over 3,000 pounds of local produce to serve to their students.

Why bother? The district knows that buying, preparing and serving local California food is a triple win.

Whenever we serve fresh, locally grown food to children with these recipes, they devour it,” says Zenobia Barlow, Executive Director of the Center for Ecoliteracy. “That alone is a victory. Properly nourished children are healthier and ready to learn. California Thursdays also benefits local economies and the environment.”

So, on Thursday, students at Belshaw Elementary School will enjoy menus featuring healthy, student-tested recipes cooked from scratch with local ingredients. Options range from farm fresh sub sandwiches to chicken and asparagus rice bowls, to a full salad bar that includes California grown produce. Students will also have an opportunity to taste test a future California Thursday recipe, Summer Chicken Stew.

California Thursdays was originally developed and successfully piloted with Oakland Unified School District a year ago and rolled out to an additional 14 school districts this past October. The program includes scaled recipes, staff training, and procurement guidelines to assist schools in their transition to a healthier, more sustainable meal program, as well as a website with resources for teachers and parents at

Nourished Students Are Better Learners

Less than one in ten children consumes enough fruits and vegetables a day, yet studies show that kids are more likely to eat school meals if the food is fresh and attractive. This provides an ideal opportunity for the district’s food service staff to have a major impact on the community and students’ lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, better nutrition improves academic grades and standardized test scores, reduces absenteeism and strengthens memory. 57 percent of Contra Costa County children live in food insecure households, and another 33 percent are overweight or obese. Since many kids consume over half their day’s calories at school, it is important that the district ensures that the meals it serves are healthy and balanced.

Nutritious school meals also make perfect financial sense. Healthy kids put less strain on school districts’ health, counseling and special education services, while lowering absentee rates and improving school finances. School districts are funded based on how many kids show up to class, so it’s worth investing in quality meals that children are more likely to eat.

In addition, California Thursdays will take taxpayer funds that might otherwise go out of state and redirect them back into the local economy. Economists say that every $1.00 spent on local food fosters $2.56 in local economic activity. Every job created in the production of local food also leads to an addition of more than two new jobs within the community.

California Thursdays is a great first step in celebrating all that California agriculture has to offer,” says California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “It brings awareness to the fresh, wholesome and seasonally appropriate bounty of our great state. If we feed our children good, healthy food, if we connect them back to the place and the people and the practices that it came from, I think we’re going to have great decision makers in our future.”

The Center for Ecoliteracy and its partners are planning to expand today’s California Thursday to a weekly program and invite more school districts to participate. Antioch Unified School District will start monthly and expand weekly district-wide during the 2015-2016 school year.

For more information about the California Thursdays program, visit


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Antioch School Board hears concerns about Kids’ Club preschool losing lease, relocating

Monday, April 20th, 2015

By John Crowder

Antioch residents shared their concerns about a lease between the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) and Kids’ Club Preschool at the Wednesday, April 15, 2015, regular meeting of the Antioch School Board.

Ariana Sanchez was the first member of the public to address the board about Kids’ Club. In a moving statement, she credited the preschool with allowing her the opportunity to graduate from high school, since she was able to have her daughter in the program. “Kids’ Club holds a very special place for me,” she said. “Thanks to them, I am where I am today, and my daughter is, too.”

Other Antioch residents also came forward to speak about the preschool, with one parent presenting a stack of, “over 700 letters” in support of Kids’ Club. Calling the program, “one of the most successful preschools,” he asked the board, “Please, renew Kids’ Club’s lease.”

Mark Mokski, Executive Director of Kids’ Club Preschool, and the last member of the public to speak on the matter, first told the board about Kids’ Club being founded by an AUSD administrator and board members. He then stated he was not asking for a renewal of the lease, but help in raising “$100,000 to $200,000” to renovate one of a number of buildings he said he had, with the assistance of a real estate broker, which Mokski claims able to house the program, going forward.

The fate of the preschool has been the subject of some debate recently, both at public meetings, in a letter to the editor, and in an AUSD statement posted on their website. Kids’ Club is currently located at the former Bidwell Elementary School site, 800 Gary Avenue in Antioch.

In a letter written by Mokski and Sara Octaviano, Chairperson, Parent Advisory Committee for Kids’ Club Preschool, and posted on another news website on March 31, 2015, several statements are made which appear to make AUSD staff seem capricious and unconcerned about the preschool.

In the first paragraph, they state, “Kids’ Club Preschool…will be closing permanently in June 2015.” In the second paragraph they state, “The closure is due to the loss of the lease with Antioch Unified School District.” Later, they state, “AUSD is currently unwilling to renegotiate or continue with the lease.” Then, the letter states, “Why does a district with reduced enrollment need the space occupied by the preschool?” and “AUSD administration has not negotiated on the current space, nor have they presented viable options for alternative locations on district property.”

AUSD has a response posted on their website. The response states that, Kids’ Club, “has no relationship with the District other than leasing facilities from the District,” and “Kids’ Club is not a School District program and is not associated with the District.” It goes on to explain that, “As a result of the District’s growing need for special education, the District found it necessary to expand its current special education programs at Bidwell.” The statement then says that District personnel informed Kids’ Club that it did not intend to renew the lease in May, 2014, that they have attempted to assist Kids’ Club to identify alternative space, and that, although, “the District’s primary obligation is to provide an education to its students and plans to do so by utilizing the Bidwell property,” it has, and “is prepared to continue to assist Kids’ Club to find alternate space.”

Through a public records request, Antioch Herald staff obtained a copy of the lease agreement between AUSD and Kids’ Club, and a letter acknowledging the Bidwell facility would no longer be available for Kids’ Club at the end of this school year.

The Lease Agreement, dated August 1, 2012, allows Kids’ Club the use of the Bidwell facility for two years, the original lease expiring on July 31, 2014, but with a one-year option to renew. Further in the agreement, it states, “AUSD may terminate this Lease upon sixty (60) days’ written notice in the event that AUSD determines…the Premises are needed by AUSD for carrying out its primary mission of educating school children.”

The accompanying letter, sent from Kids’ Club to AUSD, signed by Mokski and dated May 22, 2014, states in part, “Kids’ Club Preschool acknowledges, based upon a verbal conversation on May 20, 2014 that the leased space will no longer be available after next year.”

The next Antioch School Board meeting will be held on May 13, 2015. Meetings are held at the AUSD School Services Building, located at 510 G Street, and begin at 7:00 p.m.

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Deer Valley Student wins National Achievement Scholarship

Sunday, April 19th, 2015
Katia Williams 225x300 Deer Valley Student wins National Achievement Scholarship

Katia Williams

By John Crowder

Katia Williams, a 17-year-old senior at Deer Valley High School, who is an Advanced Placement (AP) scholar and ranks in the top 1% of her class, was recently named as a recipient of a National Achievement Scholarship.

The National Achievement Scholarship Program, part of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, was established as an academic competition in 1964. It provides recognition for outstanding Black American high school students. Students qualify for the program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). More than 160,000 competed for the award last year, and Katia was one of only 700 students across the nation to receive one of the $2500 scholarships awarded.

The prestigious award is only one of several that Katia has garnered for her academic endeavors as far back as her fourth grade year, when she won the school spelling bee at Jack London Elementary School and went on to reach the semifinals in the Contra Costa County Spelling Bee.

Since then, her awards have extended beyond academics. Through the years she has received numerous awards at the Contra Costa County Fair for her creative writing. Katia also sings with the Deer Valley High Show Choir and dances with the high school’s Dance Crew.

More recently, Katia and her science partner, who are both taking AP Calculus AB and AP Physics this year, placed third in the Contra Costa County Science and Engineering Fair, for their project, “Simple Calculus: The Transformation of an Oxymoron into a Reality.” The project, entered in the Math and Computer Science Category, was selected to advance to the California State Science Fair. Established in 1952, the fair will be hosted this year at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on May 18 and 19. Katia will be one of over 1,000 students competing for over $50,000 in prize money at the event.

Katia does not spend all her time on academic pursuits and art competitions, however. Last August, she traveled to Honduras on a mission trip and helped build seven homes, distributed food to the poor, and assisted in a medical clinic. She is also a camp counselor for underprivileged children and children from foster care. This last Easter, she could be found at Shepherd’s Gate, a shelter for battered women and children, serving a traditional Easter meal.

Katia has applied to, and been accepted at, all four of the University of California schools to which she sent an application; no surprise given her list of accomplishments and her 2060 SAT score (which places her in approximately the 97th percentile of all students taking the test). Her plan is to attend either UC Berkeley of UCLA in the fall, and to major in Statistics. She would like to pursue a career in Data Science.

While she may not have settled on a choice of school, one thing is certain: Katia will continue to achieve success wherever she goes, and DVHS can take pride in this soon-to-be alumna.

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