Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Antioch School Board splits 3-2 to approve new position of school safety supervisor

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Hears from public on school violence, budget issues

By John Crowder

At the October 22 meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees, board members heard from the public on issues of school violence and school finances.

As it has for months now, school violence remained a major focus of the meeting. The first person to address the issue at the board meeting was Superintendent Don Gill. During his regularly scheduled agenda item, entitled, ‘Superintendent’s Thoughts for the Evening,’ Gill took the opportunity to provide his perspective on the matter.

We’re committed to student safety,” Gill said, “our highest priority has to be safety.”

Later in the evening, he added that the board would be asked to approve a new position, Supervisor – Site Safety and Emergency Preparedness. He said that the person in this position would provide oversight and support for all Antioch schools.

Gill also spoke about suspensions and expulsions as a means of dealing with unruly students. While AUSD leads other Contra Costa County school districts in suspensions and expulsions, according to Gill, “Suspending a child that doesn’t want to be in our schools isn’t effective.”

Gill later elaborated on his comments, explaining in more detail his thinking on school discipline.

District administrators have been working with our school administrators on an ongoing basis to find ways to address discipline issues that will create lasting, meaningful results,” Gill said. “Despite these efforts, the number of suspensions and expulsions are up over the same time period from last year. The increase is of concern to both staff and district administrators, and we continue to monitor and examine this situation closely.”

We have worked hard to build a discipline process that is effective, and that is fair and objective. Our discipline, and everything we do in our district, is built on the belief that no child, regardless of circumstances or background, is expendable in our community. I think educators recognize that all forms of discipline have limitations to their effectiveness, and that what works in one situation may not work in another. For example, suspending a child who doesn’t want to be in school in the first place – and who sees no consequences at home for the suspension – is not a lasting solution. Many expulsions, by law, are not permanent. So, while school site administrators certainly use suspensions and expulsions as a mean of discipline, they represent the top end of the discipline spectrum, and in some cases, neither may be truly a lasting solution.”

The work of keeping our schools safe for our students and our staff is our highest priority, and it is a task that requires constant attention and focus. Meaningful, lasting solutions will require the participation of everyone involved, and we are pleased our community is engaging in the kind of dialogue that is necessary to find the answers to a complex problem.”

During public comments, several people spoke on safety-related matters, expressing a wide-range of views. Gil Murillo, for the second time in two board meetings, called for the removal of Principal Ken Gardner from Deer Valley High School (DVHS). Murillo said that many parents had, “lost confidence” in Gardner’s leadership, citing teachers, parents, and students speaking out repeatedly at school board meetings about violence at that school.

A student who said she attends Dallas Ranch Middle School expressed similar concerns. There is, “uncontrolled violence in our school,” she said. “Kids are terrified to come to school,” she continued, “the [incidents] get more violent all the time.” She also said, “The students do know the blind spots. We need more teachers and more site security.”

Another aspect of school discipline was addressed by Willie Mims, Education Chair of the NAACP. Speaking after a presentation by Principal John Jimno of Park Middle School, Mims said, “The African American subgroup had tremendously disproportionate suspensions last year” at that school. Mims asked, “What have you done to address this problem that you have here?”

Jimno asked for the opportunity to respond to the question posed by Mims, and the board granted his request. “It’s a fact, I agree, I don’t duck away from that,” said Jimno. “Students of color are suspended more than anyone else. We’ve had policies in place that unintentionally caused that. The answers will come from trying different things. I don’t have the answers for you yet.”

Another student, Alejandra Amigo, a junior at DVHS, and cofounder of a group called Students in Action (SIA), announced a meeting that her group was planning for 3:00 p.m. on Friday, October 31, at the DVHS amphitheater.

We will be discussing the recent negative news about our school so that we can help the problems stop and also get the word out about a Peace Walk that the Student in Action program is planning,” she said in a subsequent statement. “This meeting will also express to the community that Deer Valley High School has many students that want to learn and are positive members of our community.” Amigo invited all present to attend the meeting.

Amigo’s mother, Candi, also spoke on the problems with some students. She said that it was the responsibility of the teachers to focus on education, “not to teach our children manners and respect…that is our job as parents.” She went on to say that parents should be held responsible for how their children behave in school.

DVHS Chemistry teacher Jeffery Swietlik offered yet another view. Focusing on what he considered a disproportionate amount of negative reporting, he said, “Stories about violence sell a lot more newspapers.” He said that, in his classroom, “In terms of behavior, there is basically no room for improvement. I never, ever, felt unsafe in my classroom.” One of Swietlik’s colleagues also spoke up, expressing his support for Principal Gardner.

Concerns regarding finances, and the oversight of district spending, were addressed by parent Julie Young when it came time for the board to approve the Consent Calendar. Young addressed three items, each of which was pulled from the Consent Calendar and discussed by the board and/or administrative staff.

The first item Young addressed was an amendment to an agreement with Comcast which would allow that firm to lease property at Antioch Middle School for only $1 per year. Staff said that Comcast was generous with help offered to AUSD schools, and this was a way the district could return the favor.

The second item Young addressed was an agreement with School Services of California, Inc. (SSC), for professional and consulting services. Young noted that this group had, at a previous board meeting, given a presentation regarding the LCAP, and wondered why, with the amount of deficit spending the district has been doing, we couldn’t find somebody on the AUSD staff to make such presentations. Young was particularly concerned that the firm would be paid, “hundreds of dollars per hour” for such mundane tasks as, “making copies.” She also noted that the contract was for three years and had no cap on expenditures.

In response to Young’s comments, Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent – Business & Operations, said that he didn’t think the district would spend more than $30,000 on services provided by SSC and, in any event, he and Dr. Gill had authority to spend up to $50,000. With respect to the group advising on the LCAP, Forrester went on to say, “They’re the leading experts, because they’re writing the legislation.”

Board Member Claire Smith, however, did not appear satisfied with the explanation, or the contract in general. “A lot of under $50,000 purchase orders are being signed for,” she said, “but cumulatively they could go over $50,000.”

Board Member Diane Gibson-Gray also spoke out against the contract. “We’re relying on consultants, over and over again,” she said, “and we have highly paid experts here.”

The final item Young spoke about from the Consent Calendar was the aforementioned Supervisor for Site Safety position. Noting the cost of the position ($109,598 for salary and benefits), Young said the position amounted to extra spending for more bureaucrats.

Two board members, Claire Smith and Diane Gibson-Gray, expressed concerns with the item. Smith said that the proposal submitted by staff was not only costly, but, “void of any kind of qualifications.” Smith and Gibson-Gray both also stated that the board should have more input for such hiring decisions.

But two board members disagreed with Smith and Gibson-Gray on delaying the hiring. “I’ll trust you,” Board President Joy Motts told staff, “there is an urgency here.” Board Vice President Gary Hack echoed her comments, telling staff, “I have faith and trust in you.”

Following the discussion on the items, each was ultimately passed by the board. The Comcast contract was approved 5-0, the SSC agreement was approved 4-1 (Smith dissenting) and the Supervisor position was approved 3-2 (Smith and Gibson-Gray dissenting).

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, November 12, at the AUSD office at 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.

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County School Board candidates offer details on backgrounds, top priorities

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

By John Crowder

Four candidates are vying for two seats, each of which includes parts of Antioch, on the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) board. Richard Asadoorian, the incumbent serving Area 4, is being challenged by Mike Maxwell. Cynthia Ruehlig, the incumbent serving Area 5, is being challenged by Jeff Belle. Three of the candidates, Asadoorian, Maxwell, and Ruehlig, provided the Herald with answers to questions in which they outlined their backgrounds, experience, positions, and what they consider the most important issues in the current election. Belle, who has been dealing with allegations regarding a criminal past, and recent news articles alleging he falsified his education and medical credentials, did not respond.

Career History

Richard Asadoorian County School Board candidates offer details on backgrounds, top priorities

Richard Asadoorian

Richard Asadoorian was a classroom teacher, counselor, high school principal, director of Summer Youth Employment Training Program, restaurant owner, church youth director, served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard, was a domestic violence counselor for three years, and trained and was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (abused and abandoned children).

Mike Maxwell is currently Vice President of Sales for TaylorMade Water Systems/Waterlogic. He has been working for the firm since 2005. He was also the CEO for San Francisco Giants – Baseball Camps from 1996 to 2004. From 1993 to 2002 he worked for the Mt. Diablo Region YMCA as Membership, Program, and Executive Director(s). From 1984 to 1993 he was Leadership/Student Activities Director, and worked as a coach in football, baseball, golf, tennis and basketball for Monte Vista High School in Danville.

Cynthia Ruehlig is currently a Senior Level Clerk with Contra Costa County, a position she has held for 17 years. Prior to that she worked for the Central Contra Costa County Sanitary District as a Risk Management Technician. She was also a franchise owner of Teves Dry Cleaning and Steam Laundry, and worked as a computer teacher for Global Computers Corporation.

Education History

Mike Maxwell 300x285 County School Board candidates offer details on backgrounds, top priorities

Mike & Shari Maxwell

Richard Asadoorian has both a BA and MA from California State University, Fresno.

Mike Maxwell graduated from Monte Vista High School in 1981, and then attended Diablo Valley College and San Francisco State University, where he received a BA in Speech Communications in 1987.

Cynthia Ruehlig holds a BA in English from St. Scholastica’s College, Manila, and attended California State University, East Bay, obtaining a certificate in Nonprofit Management.

Why Running?

Richard Asadoorian said he was running, “to continue my service in the County Office of Education by representing the 220,000 people in Area 4 as well as Contra Costa County as a whole. To complete my election term as a delegate assembly person to the California School Boards Association and the executive committee of the California County Boards of Education. To advocate for the best legislation to serve the 173,000 students and 18 school districts in the county.”

Mike Maxwell said he was running for the following reasons:

  • It’s time we put the needs of the kids first, teachers and staff a close second

  • We need more folks fiscally responsible

  • The families and employees need a voice at the county level

  • Change is good

Cynthia Ruehlig said, “I grew up in the Philippines under Martial Law. The concept of People Power unfolded and became a reality before my eyes. The experience of the People Power revolution made me aware of the importance of the democratic process. It has molded my conviction that if you want something done – do it yourself.” She went on to say, “I believe I have the knowledge, experience, and constitution needed to become a good trustee for the County Board of Education. The CCCBOE, as an appellate body, must, at all times, maintain neutrality and uphold the intent of the law. It must adhere to its complementary role to the Office of the County Superintendent in order to ensure efficient operation of the County Office of Education.

Cynthia Ruehlig 208x300 County School Board candidates offer details on backgrounds, top priorities

Cynthia Ruehlig

Top Priorities

Richard Asadoorian said his top priorities are “to ensure that the best educational practices are being delivered to our students, to offer full transparency in board dealings, to assist districts in conducting their fiscal duties, and to be visible to my constituents.”

Mike Maxwell said his top priorities are the same as the reasons he is running for office.

Cynthia Ruehlig said her top priorities are to maintain fiscal solvency, promote transparency and accessibility, provide career oriented education and improve academic performance. She also said she wants to maintain neutrality, uphold the California Education Code, and ensure fairness in all adjudicative decisions.

Previous Accomplishments

Richard Asadoorian lists his accomplishments as being a member of the Antioch Economic Commission, and his service on the Board policy committee. Asadoorian sings the National Anthem for many civic and school functions, and is a Neighborhood Watch Captain.

Mike Maxwell listed his previous accomplishments as:

  • Developed Monte Vista High School Leadership into a self-sufficient and fiscally contributing portion of the operation of he school

  • CASC Leadership Program of the Year, MVHS, 1984

  • Brought YMCA programs to 600+ students annually at 8 high schools

  • Past President, Rotary Club of Pleasant Hill

Cynthia Ruehlig listed her previous accomplishments as:

  • Trustee, Contra Costa County Board of Education

  • Cofounder and Nonprofit Administrator – Antioch Music Foundation

  • Advisory Board Member – Fil-Am Society of St. Ignatius

  • Past Member – Contra Costa County Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Council

  • Past Chief Shop Steward – AFSCME Local 2700

  • Past Member – Conciliation Forums of Oakland

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Antioch School Board candidates provide details of their backgrounds, views, goals

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

By John Crowder

Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) board. They are, incumbents Gary Hack and Joy Motts, and challengers Walter Ruehlig and Debra Vinson. Each candidate provided the Herald with answers to questions in which they outlined their backgrounds, experience, positions on the issues, and what they consider the most important topics in the current election.

Career History

Gary Alan Hack said that he was employed by AUSD from 1969-2010 as a certificated employee. Up until 2000, he was an elementary school classroom teacher, working at Sutter Elementary School. From 2000 to 2010, he was President of the Antioch Education Association. From 2010 to the present, he has served on the AUSD board.

Hack also owned an independent business, Hack’s Painting, from 1977 to 2000.

Joyann E. “Joy” Motts said that she has been President of the AUSD board for the last two years, and that she has been serving on the board since 2010. She is also on the California School Boards Association Linked Learning Task Force.

Motts has also been a Senior Mortgage Consultant with Delta Lending Group, and on the Board of Directors for the Celebrate Antioch Foundation. She has served as a member of the Suburban Poverty Task Force, representing Antioch.

Motts also said that she is on the California School Boards Association LCFF Collaborative Team representing AUSD (one of only 15 school districts in the state chosen to participate).

Walter Kenneth Ruehlig said that he has had a 46-year career that revolved around education. In 1968, he taught English as a Foreign Language for the Peace Corps in a Turkish village that had no electricity. Upon returning to the states, he taught ESL, Adult Basic Education, and GED for the City University of New York, Boston School Department, and Polaroid Land Corporation.

For the last 16 years he has worked for the Pittsburg Adult Education Center teaching career development classes and counseling adults with disabilities seeking reentry into the workplace.

Ruehlig said that he was also an admissions counselor at Control Data Institute, Dickinson Warren Business College and Unilex College and was a job developer in private industry.

Ruehlig was on the AUSD school board from 2004 until 2012.

Ruehlig has also owned a dry cleaning business, taught speed reading for Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics, and operated his own resume writing business.

Debra Vinson said that she has worked as a Clinician in the mental health field in several capacities and for different organizations all over the Bay Area. Some of her work highlights include:

  • Behavior Consultant

  • School-based Therapist

  • Day Treatment Therapist (children)

  • Clinical Case Manager and Mental Health Clinical Specialist with a focus on children and families, adults and community mental health services

  • Adjunct Professor

  • Trained facilitator in Violence Prevention and Response Strategies and Implementation

Education History

Hack attended UC Davis from 1964-1968, graduating with a BA in History. From 1968-1969 he was enrolled in a M. Ed. Program in Educational Psychology. He received his permanent teaching credential through the state of California in 1970. In 1979 he received an M. Ed. In Curriculum and Instruction from the University of San Francisco. From 1979 through 2000 he obtained approximately 120 semester post-graduate units in Education.

Motts attended Los Medanos Junior College and Sacramento State University, studying Business Administration and Criminal Justice.

Ruehlig graduated cum laude as an English major from the State University of New York at Albany, School of Education. He graduated from Rutgers University John Heldrich Center for Workplace Development with a certificate as a Global Career Facilitator.

Vinson has an AA in Computer Operations from Computer Learning Center, a BA in Business Administration from Greenville College with a minor in Psychology, and a MA in Counseling from JFK University.

Why Running?

Hack said, “As a long time resident of Antioch, I understand that our public schools are an asset to our community. When I retired from the AUSD, I knew that I wanted to continue serving the students in the AUSD. Being elected to the AUSD school board allowed me to do so. I’m running for a 2nd term because I still have the passion to make a difference in the lives of our young people.”

Hack continued, “The educational landscape in Antioch has changed. That’s not a negative statement; nor is it a positive one. It’s simply a statement of reality. It is what it is. As a result, the school board is even more important than perhaps at times in the past. Over the past 4 years, the board, which I have been part of, has had to consider options, solve problems, plan strategies, make decision, be transparent, increase community involvement and communicate in new and different ways. We have done that and I look forward to continuing and enhancing those processes. It requires a tremendous commitment of time and energy – both physically and mentally. Great responsibility; awesome opportunity. I look forward to it…yet again.”

Motts said, “As a lifelong resident of Antioch, and a committed and passionate community leader, I know that Antioch students deserve the very best in education and I am dedicated to leading our schools to that goal.”

Ruehlig said, “I am running because I am greatly pained at the downward spiraling of the AUSD.” He went on to compare the state of the schools when he left the board two years ago, to where they are today. He said that a $31 million surplus had dwindled to only $5 million, the state-mandated minimum.

Out-of-control students run rampant on many of our campuses, with daily reports of disruption and violence, including teacher assaults,” Ruehlig continued. He noted there had been several parental lawsuits, including an $8 million settlement for the physical and verbal abuse and alleged cover-up involving eight autistic students, ranging in age from five to seven.

Ruehlig said AUSD, “spent vast amounts of good will, time, and money fighting Dozier-Libbey Medical High School teachers wanting to bolt the District. It should have never gotten to that point.”

Ruehlig also expressed concern with the academic performance of the district, saying that STAR tests scores, on average, are ten points below the state rankings in reading, math, and science, and that “Ed-Trust gave us a D on their last report card.”

As a District, we can’t be victims anymore, just blaming the “changing landscape,” Ruehlig said. “We need a plan and then accountability, transparency, and common sense. We can do much better for our kids.”

Vinson said she is running, “because I know that I can make a difference and work with the families to do the following:

  • Improve educational outcomes for ALL students

  • Bring focused leadership to AUSD to support the teachers and students

  • Work with the community so they will know that their concerns about the education of Antioch’s students are being heard by AUSD and acted upon.”

Top Priorities

Hack listed his top priorities as:

  • Successfully implement LCFF and LCAP

  • Maintain the fiscal solvency of the District

  • Enhance the academic integrity of the AUSD

  • Increase the number of elective class options for both secondary and elementary schools

  • Continue to make our district exemplary in the education, safety and support of our students

Motts listed her top priorities as:

  • Schools that are safe and promote a culture of positive behavior and academic achievement

  • Keeping our students in school, engaged and on pathways for success in college, career and life

  • Provide early and consistent intervention strategies and programs that will support our high needs students’ academic success

  • Successful implementation and integration of LCAP (local control accountability plan) and LCFF (local control funding formula), involving community and stakeholders through full implementation

Ruehlig listed his top priorities as:

  • Bring safety, respect, order and a conducive teaching/learning environment back to all our campuses

  • Increase the number of guidance counselors to offer academic and social direction and interventions

  • Expand on-going tutoring and the summer booster programs for incoming freshmen with particular attention to closing the achievement gap

  • Stop the three-year deficit spending habit and reverse the fiscal slide

  • Continue stressing choice, as one-size doesn’t fit all. The career-themed academies are a boon that have proved immensely enriching. We can’t exclude home schooling, digital learning, independent study, charter schools, etc., as viable alternatives that deserve a seat at the table.

  • Establish a more professional distance so that the Board does not fall prey to the “Club” syndrome where people are so buddy they feel reticent about asking tough questions, occasionally poking, prodding staff and stirring the pot

  • Increase parental involvement through televised meetings and more accessibility by rotating meeting locations in the community; more welcoming atmosphere of parental volunteers, bilingual office aides, expansion of the PIQUE program (Parental Involvement in Quality Education), more school sponsored workshops on topics like anti-bullying, gang prevention, tutoring, School Loop, navigating college admission, etc.

  • Accentuate accountability with a standardized, simple, user-friendly annual report card that details progress or regression in graduation rates, U-C qualified, CAHSEE passing, STAR or other state-wide testing scores, college admissions, SAT scores, truancy, and violent acts

Vinson listed her top priorities as:

  • Safety concerns at school and in the community

  • Fiscal accountability

  • Parent engagement

Previous Accomplishments

Hack said that his previous accomplishments include his “ongoing commitment (45 years) to the youth of Antioch in both public and private avenues (with all that involves)…thereby making a difference in their lives.” He also said that he has been an ordained deacon at St. Ignatius of Antioch, has been involved in both adult and youth education, and has been involved with multiple community programs.

Motts said, “During the last four years, I have worked to improve education at all levels with early intervention programs, increased counseling, Linked Learning Academies and through openness to innovation and new ideas.”

She continued, “The economic recession was a very difficult time for public education. Many school districts were forced to lay off employees, institute furlough days, cut programs and counselors and shorten the school year. I am proud to say Antioch Unified did not have to make those tough choices. Through diligent planning and budgeting we established a significant reserve that allowed us to make it through these tough financial times without making those types of cuts that would have dramatically affected our students. Thanks to Proposition 30, the voters of California and a legislature that is determined to equitably fund public education, revenue for our schools is improving and in Antioch, graduation rates are increasing and CAHSEE pass rates are improving. Our projection for next year and beyond is that AUSD revenues will meet expenditures and we will continue to be fiscally solvent, will maintain sufficient reserves and will continue to build our capacity to provide academic excellence for all of our students.”

Motts also listed other significant achievements she said she was, “proud to have supported in the last 4 years and will continue to build upon.” These included the installation of solar panels on 20 of 24 school sites, that she said would save AUSD $47 million over the next 30 years, and energy savings programs that would lessen our carbon footprint and lower energy expenses. Other programs include the full implementation of Linked Learning Academies, Lead the Way, and STEM.

Motts also mentioned, “Supporting the full intention of the new Local Control Accountability Plan that will bring our parents and community members to the table in determining policy and programs that will best serve the students of our community.” Other achievements she touted were transitional programs to provide intense support for “our most at risk youth, updating our infrastructure to meet the 21st [century] needs of students in technology and curriculum,” and “continuing the employment of additional security to support the safety of our schools until such time the City of Antioch resources are at full restoration,” and the passage of Measure B to rebuild Antioch High School.

Ruehlig said that his accomplishments included serving two terms on the AUSD board (2004-2012) and included his being a two-time president of the board, 2012 Antioch Citizen of the Year (Lifetime Achievement), 2004 County Board of Supervisors Humanitarian of the Year Award, 2004 Columbian Squire California Counselor of the Year, Former Chairman of both the CCC Human Relations Commission and Library Commission, a Founder of the Antioch Music Foundation, Former President of the Mello Roos Board, and a member of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation (involved with bringing the 4th of July parade back to Rivertown four years ago.)

Ruehlig’s accomplishments while serving on the AUSD board included:

  • Bringing back guidance counselors and elementary instrumental music program

  • Taking District off Fiscal County Watch list in first year on Board and building rainy day fund (ending fund balance) to $31 million

  • Instituting an innovative k-8 school (Orchard Park)

  • Encouraging school choice by opening five career-themed academies and the second and third Antioch-based charter schools

  • Introducing school uniforms district-wide to elementary and middle schools

  • Overseeing dropout rate fall from 27% to 19%

  • API increase in seven of eight years from 702 to 742

Vinson said her previous accomplishments include serving as:

  • California State Appointed Advocate

  • Volunteer in Probation

  • Youth Intervention Network Family Mediator

  • Antioch Site Council

  • PTA Member

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Antioch student at Washington State makes President’s Honor Roll for Summer 2014

Sunday, October 19th, 2014
Kristoff Williams Antioch student at Washington State makes Presidents Honor Roll for Summer 2014

Kristoff Williams, courtesy of WSU Athletics

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University has announced that Kristoff Isiah Williams of Antioch has, once again, made the President’s Honor Roll, this time for the 2014 Summer semester.

The President’s Honor Roll recognizes students who stand above the rest with excellent academic performance. To be eligible for the honor roll, undergraduate students must be enrolled in a minimum of nine graded hours in a single term at WSU and earn a grade point average of 3.75 or earn a 3.50 cumulative GPA based on 15 cumulative hours of graded work.

A criminal justice major in his senior year, Williams is a 2010 graduate of Deer Valley High School, where he was a four-year scholar athlete and a National Football League Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete, as quarterback for the Wolverines. He now plays wide receiver for the WSU Cougars football team. Williams is the son of Daniel and Corlette Williams.

For more information on Kristoff Williams, click here or here.

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Antioch School Board hears from frustrated residents about school safety, behavior problems

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

By John Crowder

Dozens of people attended the October 8th meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board, packing the small meeting room and lining the hallway leading to it. Several of those in attendance were there to speak out against what they described as unruly and violent behavior by students in schools throughout the district. Parents, students, and teachers all expressed their dismay over the situation.

Even so, some at the meeting defended the schools, blaming the media for focusing on the problem behavior exhibited by a minority of students and telling the protesters they should be providing solutions instead of just complaining.

The most poignant pleas came from the children, who led off the public comments. They spoke about being scared to go to school. One young girl, a student at Dallas Ranch Middle School (DRMS), spoke about a friend of hers, who she said, “had a knife waved in her face,” and her hair cut off by another student. “She dropped out,” said the speaker.

Kathryn O’Shea, a sophomore at Deer Valley High School, said she was, “tired of classmates disrupting our classes.” She said that, on average, 30 minutes of each class is lost due to disruptive behavior.

We can’t learn anything,” she concluded.

Parents attending the meeting expressed grave concern with the amount of violent and disruptive behavior by students taking place in the classroom, on campuses, and in the surrounding community.

Lara Lindeman said she was speaking because, “my daughter is not safe at Dallas Ranch Middle School.” She listed a host of examples. They included two teachers leaving the school after being threatened and assaulted by a student, a student threatening to “return and shoot” a teacher, and a boy trying to kick down the door to gain entry to a classroom while students inside were, “helpless,” and “repeated calls for security were unanswered” during the incident. She went on to say, “Restorative justice practices are being implemented, but we’re told it will take several years before we can expect measurable results. What about in the meantime? What about in the NOW?”

Gil Murillo, a parent with children at Deer Valley High School (DVHS), began by taking issue with a statement he attributed to a current board member that, “the campuses we have are just fine,” with respect to student safety. He went on to demand the resignation of the DVHS principal, Ken Gardner, saying his leadership at the school had failed. Murillo said that students were, “running out of control,” and cited gambling, drug use on the campus, and violations of the dress code as just some of the problems evident. “As a parent, I am tired of poor management,” he said. He continued, “It is time for change, immediate change!”

Frank DeLuna, Vice President of the PTSO at Black Diamond Middle School (BDMS) and a long-time volunteer, noted several problems on that campus. He talked of students smearing feces in the boys’ bathroom, smoking pot, using profanity, cursing out adults, and committing acts of violence. “Just last month we had an incident where some relatives of a student came on campus,” he said. “They went to a P.E. class and had their kid beat up another kid while they watched and kept anyone from helping. The student who got beat up was taken away in an ambulance. The P.E. teacher who tried to stop it was also injured.” DeLuna summarized the concerns of many in attendance, when he said, “Stop worrying about the rights of the bad kids, and start worrying about the rights of the good kids who want to learn, but can’t.” This statement was greeted by loud applause from the audience.

Ellen Marie Sun, Vice President of the PTO at Jack London Elementary School said she was there because she was, “upset about the increasing violence in our schools which often spills over to the rest of the community.” She related an incident she said she “personally” knew of at DVHS, in which a girl student was walking to the bathroom and, “a stranger grabbed her and tried to carry her away.” Saying that the administration had downplayed the incident, she asked, “Do we need someone to really finish the deed – a sexual assault, an attempted kidnapping, or to find a girl murdered in the bathroom to finally have AUSD and Principal Gardner say, ‘Hey, something needs to be done-enough is enough?’” She also spoke about the BDMS fight that was brought up by DeLuna.

Jamie Clee said that she was a parent with children in the second, fourth, and sixth grades. “I am here tonight to address my concerns with the violence and lack of classroom learning from disruptive students,” she said. “Why do I feel as if I am dropping my children off at juvenile halls?” In a written statement detailing her comments, she states, “The parents in this community are talking about a STRIKE!! We are ready to stop sending our kids into schools in which they feel scared, unprotected and are always looking over their shoulders.”

Although most speakers at the meeting expressed dismay with how the schools are being managed, AUSD did have supporters speaking up as well.

Angie Jorgenson, Deer Valley Band Booster Vice President, said she had children attending both DVHS and DRMS. “I am here in support of Deer Valley in light of recent events in the media and on campus,” she said.

Jorgenson said she did not want to, “discount anything that has been said tonight,” and said other speakers had expressed, “valid concerns,” but that some had, “let their anger get the best of them.” She called for better communication, and said, “We need to stop placing blame and start presenting solutions.” She called DVHS, “a good school.” She also indicated that the attention being given to the “problem group” was causing a false impression. “I believe the pervasive negativity by the community and the media is taking a toll on our kids and teachers.”

Velma Wilson, a youth education advisor with the local NAACP, said that she had been to Deer Valley Plaza with Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, and had spoken with some of the students there. She said that, “some of [the misbehavior] is because of a bad home life.” She went on to say, “Kids want to keep it up because of the media,” arguing that media reports about students acting out actually encourage that type of behavior.

Following Wilson’s statement, board member Claire Smith indicated her agreement. “I went and I helped at school,” she said. The problem is not with every child. It’s with a small group of children.” Referring to the reference made by Wilson to some of the children having a bad home life, she said, “You absolutely do grasp the situation. It’s a community working together issue. It starts with supporting these kids, and telling them they’re good kids.”

Other speakers challenged those in attendance to spend less time complaining, and more time at school helping out.

At one point, board president Joy Motts called on Bob Sanchez, Director, Student Support Services with AUSD, to comment. “The city has changed,” he said. “We are trying to do the best we can.” He went on to talk about having a “discipline matrix.” He also referenced an agreement he said the district has with the American Civil Liberty Union regarding suspensions and expulsions.

In the end, concerns with violence, both on and off school campuses, appear to be coming to a head, given the talk of a strike and the fact that different groups of disaffected parents seem to be coalescing. The issue has been a major point of discussion among candidates for school board, and will certainly remain a focus leading up to the November 4 election and beyond.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, at the AUSD office at 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.

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Writer supports new location for community college

Saturday, October 4th, 2014


The Contra Costa Community College District, as with every educational agency, is mandated to provide educational equity, ensuring every student equal access to tools and programs necessary to succeed in career and in life.

The current land area by Marsh Creek Road chosen by the Board to locate a new community college facility does not have the public works framework in place for disability access or public transportation.

How will the physically challenged be served?  Many students of Far East Contra Costa (known as the stepchild of the county) are minorities, English language learners or poor.  How will the socio-economically disadvantaged, dependent on the bus or train for mobility, be served?

Speaking as a private citizen and not for the CCC Board of Education for which I am the elected Trustee for Area 5 (Antioch, Bay Point, Bethel Island, Brentwood, Clyde, Discovery Bay, Knightsen, Oakley and Pittsburg), I believe exploring the possibility of a land swap (for a more conveniently located and development ready area) is an exercise in good governance, responsive to the needs of the community.

Cynthia Ruehlig


Ruehlig represents part of Antioch and other parts of East County on the Contra Costa Board of Education

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Citizen groups, Antioch school district, reach understanding on accountability plan

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

By John Crowder

At the September 24 meeting of the Antioch School Board, the trustees and the public heard a report on changes made to the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) before voting, 5-0, to approve the revised LCAP budget.

Michael Ricketts, Associate Vice President of School Services of California, Inc., a private company providing, among other things, consulting and legislative advocacy services to California school agencies, presented the LCAP report to the board.

Ricketts began his presentation by emphasizing the changes that the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) had made with respect to the spending distribution of Supplemental Funds, funds provided by the state to local school districts that are designated for providing help to high needs students, such as English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster children.

Three changes to the LCAP were noted. First, the raise that AUSD employees received for the current fiscal year was shifted to Base Funds (funds provided to local school districts for all students). As Ricketts explained, the money for raises had been moved because, including it in Supplemental Funds had become a divisive issue with community groups.

The second change noted was the addition of “more than $1 million,” described as “new money,” realized when AUSD recently completed their analysis of actual revenues and expenditures, and found that income was greater than anticipated, and expenses were less. Ricketts said that this money would all be “earmarked for services directed toward the goals of students with the greatest need for support.”

The third change was the identification of actions being taken by AUSD, “supporting goals for English learners, students eligible for the meals program, and foster youth.”

With these changes, Ricketts’ presentation showed, the $9 million AUSD expects to receive in Supplemental and Concentration Grants for the 2014-2015 school year will be designated for: Economic Impact Aid ($2.3 million), technology upgrades ($1.4 million), counseling services ($1.3 million), special education ($1.1 million), vice principals ($751,000), and new services ($1.67 million). About $581,000 is set aside for security services, summer schools and programs, and an English/Spanish translator position.

Following the presentation by Ricketts, two speakers who had been involved with community groups advocating for changes to the LCAP, addressed the board.

Yuritzy Gomez, Community Organizer with the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) said she was, “very excited” about the changes. She said that she was thankful that AUSD had been open to collaborating with her group, and that she was looking forward to continuing her work with AUSD in the future.

Angelica Jongco, Senior Staff Attorney with Public Advocates, Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that, in part, seeks to “strengthen community voices in public policy” and achieve “tangible legal victories advancing education,” also spoke. In her statement, she recognized the progress that had been made.

In a statement released by Jongco, she commented further on the talks between AUSD and the community organizations, such as CCISCO.

Persistence paid off,” she said. “Because community members stood up on this issue, Antioch Unified has a much improved local spending plan.”

The district is no longer seeking to fund last year’s across-the-board salary increase with money that is supposed to serve high-need students,” Jongco continued. “This really shows the power of community collaboration. Together we were able to win significant changes in the LCAP. We commend the district for having the flexibility to listen to community concerns and generate a better LCAP as a result.”

We expect the district to follow through on its commitment to work closely with parents and students in planning for the future years. A hallmark of the Local Control Funding Formula is increased transparency around spending and programs. The district must do a better job going forward of making sure that community members can understand and meaningfully participate in discussions around how future money should be spent to best serve the kids.”

School board President Joy Motts responded to comments at the board meeting, thanking the community groups for collaborating with AUSD on improving the LCAP.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for October 8. Meetings are held at the AUSD School Services Building, located at 510 G Street. Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m.

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Community College Board invites community for State of the District meetings this week, next

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Governing Board meetings Community College Board invites community for State of the District meetings this week, next

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