Community Meeting Tomorrow – Lawrence to present plan to improve persistently low achieving schools

There will be a community meeting held on Nov. 2, 2010. This meeting will include a presentation by Dr. Lawrence, Superintendent for the Mt. Diablo School District. Lawrence will present, to the community, his plan for improving our failing schools.
Please attend the meeting at the Ambrose Center in Bay Point, 3105 Willow Pass Rd. The meeting will begin at 7pm and will be held in the Board Room. This is the community’s opportunity to ask questions and get answers about our school district and its future.


Is MDUSD Emphasizing the Importance of Human Capital in Education?


Lamar Alexander, US Senator and former Secretary of Education, May 2009

Human capital in education is a buzz phrase found throughout articles and web pages as one begins to search for school leadership improvement programs. This topic interested me after I had an opportunity to chat with a gentleman from New Leaders for New Schools, a non-profit organization reaching out nationwide to ensure high academic achievement for every student by attracting, training, and mentoring outstanding leaders and supporting the performance of the urban public schools they lead.

“With research indicating that nearly 60% of student achievement can be attributed to principal and teacher quality, our schools not only need principal training and hiring to be highly selective, but also need school systems, states, and the federal government to redefine the principalship to focus on teachers and students,” said Ben Fenton Co-Founder and Chief Strategy and Knowledge Officer at New Leaders for New Schools.

This is especially vital for turnaround schools, where studies find no examples of success without effective principal leadership.

New Leaders found that certain leadership actions within the following five categories are critical to achieving transformative results:

1) ensuring rigorous, goal- and data-driven learning and teaching;
2) building and managing a high-quality staff aligned to the school’s vision of success for every student;
3) developing an achievement- and belief-based school-wide culture;
4) instituting operations and systems to support learning; and
5) modeling the personal leadership that sets the tone for all student and adult relationships in the school.

K-8 schools led by a New Leaders principal for two or more years are nearly twice as likely as others in their district to make breakthrough achievement gains.

As my conversation continued I couldn’t help but think about MDUSD.
Are we putting that much emphasis on our recruitment of new principals?
Is the placement of Dent Center employees as new school principals the best move for student achievement?
How will the new coaching program work?
How much oversight will exist and how high will the bar be raised?
How does our new student achievement program compare to the training and mentoring offered at New Leaders?
Is MDUSD eligible to use New Leaders as a resource for new principal candidates?
Have or will any of our current, or potential, school leaders apply to the program?

New Leaders for New Schools website
Article – New Report Shows Crucial Impact of Principals on Student Achievement
The Report – Principal Effectiveness

Good to Great

In a recent article written by Theresa Harrington, Education Reporter for the Contra Costa Times, Ms. Harrington refers to MDUSD Superintendent Stephen Lawrence in the following statement:

When I asked Lawrence last month why so many administrators were being moved around, he said decisions were based on retirements, resignations, restructuring and “through conversations with people, looking to see if there’s a match and an opportunity.” He cited the book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins, saying it talks about “having the right people on the right seat on the bus.”

Good to Great, written by Jim Collins in 2001 after five years of research, addresses a single question: Can a good company become a great company, and if so, how?  Good to Great claims that greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance; but largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline. The bus reference made by Dr. Lawrence can be found in Chapter 3 – First Who, Then What.

In an excerpt from Collin’s website he summarizes the chapter as follows:

When it comes to getting started, good-to-great leaders understand three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions. Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results. And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results.

Wiki Summaries adds:

With the right people in the right positions, Collins contends that many of the management problems that plague companies and sap valuable resources will automatically dissipate. Collins also underscores the importance of maintaining rigorousness in all personnel decisions. He recommends moving potentially failing employees and managers to new positions, but not hesitating to remove personnel who are not actively contributing. He also recommends that hiring should be delayed until an absolutely suitable candidate has been identified.

Jim Collin’s website
Wiki Summaries

This is a highly regarded book in the business world. What do you think? Is this the beginning of the Superintendent’s plan?

We don’t want what we have, so what do we want?

I read the local blogs and often you can find me responding to various posts about MDUSD. Today I wanted to use those blogs as inspiration to post on Voice.  I would like to find a way to harness all this outrage and the disappointment into something positive.  I am reading comments about replacing the Board, firing the Superintendent, firing the new personnel director, uniting parents at Mt. Diablo Elementary to demand a quality Principal, etc…


There are approximately 32,000 students in this school district with an estimated 40,000 parents.  That easily makes us the largest stakeholder in this district. We should have a louder voice than any other constituency.  Take a page from Bancroft or MDE and be heard.

We know we don’t like what we are getting, so….


I will start the list.

  1. Clear, Honest, and Regular Communication – this means a Monday Memo with important and/or interesting information about our district.  This communication should be used to inform and to begin to build a community partnership.
  2. Vision – A vision to improve the quality of education in this district.  A vision that is backed up with a strategic plan that encompasses input from all stakeholders and provides the structure for sound decision making when reorganizing, cutting budgets, making expenditures, and a myriad of day to day decisions.


Continue reading

MDUSD is not on list of 174 CA school districts facing default

On the heels of the email from Superintendent Lawrence indicating the very real possibility of a State takeover of MDUSD, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell commented in an Associated Press article today that 174 school districts are on the watch list for for being unable to meet their financial obligations. Mt. Diablo Unified School District is not on the list but San Ramon Valley Unified is on the qualified list while John Swett has a negative certification.  This does not mean MDUSD is out of the woods but it may mean a state takeover is not eminent.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said a record 174 districts may not be able to meet their financial obligations over the next two years, a 38 percent increase over last year.
“The economic picture for our schools regrettably is bleak,” O’Connell said. “This clearly is a result of inadequate funding of our schools. The lack of funding is hurting our children, our schools, our neighborhoods and our future.”
The 174 districts on the state’s fiscal watch list represent about 16 percent of California’s 1,077 local education agencies. Fourteen of those districts have a “negative certification,” which means they may not be able to pay their bills in the current or next fiscal year.       Entire Article

List of Negative and Qualified Certifications
Local Educational Agencies
2009-10 Second Interim Report

Negative Certification


MDUSD facing receivership? Communication from the Superintendent with pressure on the bargaining units.

Could it be so…. the communication begins. But the news looks bleak.
The Superintendent just sent out the following email and attachments:

Dear Parents and Community of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District:

In a time of unprecedented budget deficits throughout the state, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District (“District”) like many others is forced into the untenable position of making drastic reductions in staff and services. Ongoing state budget cuts have severely impacted the amount of money we receive from the State of California to educate the children of our community. As a result of decreasing revenues and declining student enrollment, the District’s annual operating deficit is projected to average nearly $13 million per year for the next three years, on top of the approximately $24.8 million deficit for what remains of the 2009/10 fiscal year.

Although we have already responded to the budget deficit by implementing staff reductions and non-personnel cuts totaling $15.88 million, we regretfully find ourselves in the position of having to ask for additional concessions from all of our bargaining units in order to present a balanced budget to the County Office of Education by June 30.

In the event we are not able to present a balanced budget in 2010/11 and beyond, there is a very real possibility that the state could take over our District. If there is a takeover and a State Administrator is appointed, your elected representatives (the Board of Education) and by extension you, will have no say in running the District. That is an outcome I know that none of us want to see come to pass.

I am certain that you have questions about the District’s finances and what is happening at the bargaining table. Therefore, I am enclosing answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the budget and the status of bargaining.

I am confident that with continued cooperation we will see our way through this current fiscal storm. Thank you for your patience. Have a good summer.


Steven Lawrence

FAQ About the District