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.


C.C. County Board of Education Votes 4-1 to APPROVE Mt. Diablo Flex Academy Charter School!

Tonight the Contra Costa County Board of Education voted 4-1, against the recommendation of staff, and approved the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy Charter School. The final conditions of approval are being drafted by the attorneys for both sides and will be presented at the November 10 Board meeting. Flex’s ability to open next fall will depend upon enrollment and finding a suitable location for their campus.
The County Board asked difficult questions of Mark Kushner of Flex Public Schools/K12 and he provided the answers they needed to move forward. Dr. Foster was the first to voice her support of the charter high school and indicated it was time for parents to have a choice.
Here is a link to my previous blog post about Flex Public Schools.

A Manifesto on how to fix our schools

Yesterday the Contra Costa Times printed a single manifesto written by today’s top leaders in education in this country.  This group of Chancellors, Superindentents, Chief Executives, and Educators represent the interests of over 2.5 million school children in our country. The title: A Manifesto on how to fix our schools. I am going to reprint it in its entirity below.  It is compelling.

A manifesto by:

Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools; Peter C. Gorman, superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Ron Huberman, chief executive, Chicago Public Schools; Carol R. Johnson, superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Andris A. Alonso, chief executive, Baltimore City Public Schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Arlene C. Ackerman, superintendent of schools, the School District of Philadelphia; William R. Hite Jr., superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools; Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools, Rochester City School District (N.Y.); Josi M. Torres, superintendent, Illinois School District U-46; J. Wm. Covington, superintendent, Kansas City, Missouri School District; Terry B. Grier, superintendent of schools, Houston Independent School District; Paul Vallas, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District; Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools; LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (Illinois)

AS EDUCATORS, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 21/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us.

It is our obligation to enhance the personal growth and academic achievement of our students, and we must be accountable for how our schools perform.

All of us have taken steps to move our students forward, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades. But those reforms are still outpaced and outsized by the crisis in public education.

Fortunately, the public, and our leaders in government, are finally paying attention. The “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” documentary, the defeat of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools, and a tidal wave of media attention have helped spark a national debate and presented us with an extraordinary opportunity.

But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children.

These practices are wrong, and they have to end now.

It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.

So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Barack Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career. Each day that we ignore this reality is precious time lost for children preparing for the challenges of adulthood.

The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.

There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.

District leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. When teachers are highly effective — measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more.

Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.

Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school — a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds.

We need the best teacher for every child, and the best principal for every school. Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve, but let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence.

Even the best teachers — those who possess such skills — face stiff challenges in meeting the diverse needs of their students. A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school.

Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to address all the needs of 25 or 30 students when some are reading on a fourth-grade level and others are ready for Tolstoy? We must equip educators with the best technology available to make instruction more effective and efficient. By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teachers’ time.

To make this transformation work, we must also eliminate arcane rules such as “seat time,” which requires a student to spend a specific amount of time in a classroom with a teacher rather than taking advantage of online lessons and other programs.

Just as we must give teachers and schools the capability and flexibility to meet the needs of students, we must give parents a better portfolio of school choices. That starts with having the courage to replace or substantially restructure persistently low-performing schools that continuously fail our students.

Closing a neighborhood school — whether it’s in Washington, Harlem, Denver or Chicago — is a difficult decision that can be very emotional for a community. But no one ever said leadership is easy.

We also must make charter schools a truly viable option. If all of our neighborhood schools were great, we wouldn’t be facing this crisis. But our children need great schools now — whether district-run public schools or public charter schools serving all students — and we shouldn’t limit the numbers of one form at the expense of the other. Excellence must be our only criteria for evaluating our schools.

For the wealthiest among us, the crisis in public education may still seem like someone else’s problem, because those families can afford to choose something better for their kids. But it’s a problem for all of us — until we fix our schools, we will never fix the nation’s broader economic problems.

Until we fix our schools, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only grow wider and the United States will fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world in education, rendering the American dream a distant, elusive memory.

<What do you think?

High School – Looking for a New Option?

Award-winning curriculum, state-of-the–art school facilities, individualized attention, small group learning environments, consistent course content… Interested?

New Charter High SchoolWith future state budget cuts we will continue to see an impact on our children’s education. The loss of class-size reduction in 9th grade has hurt our incoming freshman class and left them without the individual attention given to classes that have preceded them.  Some district high schools are facing the possibility of losing AP classes and electives.  Our teachers are struggling to accommodate larger classes with less time.

Out of adversity, often comes innovation.

Flex Academy is a charter school organization with proposed plans to open Mt. Diablo Flex Academy here in the Mt. Diablo School District attendance area in fall 2011 and in San Francisco in fall 2010. The San Francisco location is in downtown San Francisco, close to BART, open to students throughout the Bay Area and is currently accepting enrollment applications. Student can attend Flex Academy in San Francisco this year and transfer to Mt. Diablo Flex at a later time. Flex Academy is tuition free and offers the following:

  • California’s first full-time, five-days-a-week “hybrid” high school, serving students in grades 9-12 from anywhere in the Bay Area
  • Engaging and personalized learning that truly maximizes each student’s full potential
  • Award-winning curriculum that meets University of California “a-g” requirements
  • State-of-the-art digital tools and online courses and resources
  • A robust catalog of 130 core and elective courses, many of which aren’t offered in other high schools  – Course List
  • Classes and small group instruction with highly qualified, California-credentialed teachers
  • Books, materials, and laptops for each student to help facilitate the learning process
  • Tuition-free public education
  • Small class sizes for more personalized schooling, plus after-school clubs, tutoring, and sports

This new charter school option is being called a “hybrid” due to the fact that it will provide the best attributes of a traditional school, a sense of community, academic supports, clubs and activities and the best attributes of online schools, with their differentiated learning, broad course offerings and continuous feedback through assessments built into the curriculum.   At Flex Academy the majority of classroom instruction is delivered online at a new state-of-the-art school facility. On-site and online credentialed teachers will have the ability to spend more individual time with students and facilitate small group discussions and projects. In addition, students will have the opportunity to individualize the pace of the course content by spending extra time where needed and moving ahead if ready.  Flex Academy offers a wide breadth of electives and AP courses including; Computer Programming, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, and Anthropology, just to name a few.  Online curriculum provides consistency of content for all students and offers students the ability for meaningful review of lectures and materials at anytime.

If you would like to attend an informal get-together where you can ask questions of the Flex Academy Founder/Superintendent and the  San Francisco Flex Academy Principal, please contact me for more information.

Flex Academy

Chat with Mark Kushner, Superintendent/Founder of Flex Academy

Alan Frishman, Principal S.F. Flex Academy

August 10, 2010

7:00 pm

Walnut Creek

For Information and RSVP

Mt. Diablo Flex Academy is proceeding through the charter process for approval of the new school in this area.  Flex Academy has already obtained approval to open one school in San Francisco (receiving unanimous approval at the state level) and three in Santa Clara County (receiving unanimous approval at the county level). After being turned down by MDUSD, Flex Academy is in the appeal process and is confident that they will be successful either through the County or State approval process. There is currently a great deal of pressure both at a national and state level to provide parents school choice by approving new state charter schools that meet high quality standards.  Provided below are bios for both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Frishman.

About Mark Kushner

Mark Kushner is one of the country’s leading charter experts as a charter school founder, state charter commissioner, and instructor on charter schools at Stanford University. In 1995, he founded and led Leadership High School in San Francisco, one of the pioneering charter high schools dedicated to equity and excellence. In 2001, Mr. Kushner next founded, and led as CEO, Leadership Public Schools (LPS), a prominent charter management organization dedicated to serving low-income students in California. LPS is now ably led by the former chief academic officer of Oakland Unified School District and Mr. Kushner serves on the board. In 2008 he joined K¹² Inc., the country’s leading provider of online courses.

A former high school English teacher, coach, school administrator, and attorney, Mr. Kushner also serves on the board of trustees of San Francisco University High School and the Town School for Boys. Selected honors include the Harvard Club of San Francisco’s Secondary School Educator of the Year, and the Hart Vision Award, the highest award given to charter school educators in California.

Mr. Kushner earned a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a J.D. from University of San Francisco and an Ed.M from Harvard University. He also completed graduate work in literature at The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Oxford University. He is married to Dr. Mimi Winsberg and has two children. Recent honors include the Hart Vision Award for School Site Administrator, the highest award given to charter school educators in California, and the Harvard Club of San Francisco’s Secondary School Educator of the Year.

About Alan Frishman

Mr. Frishman has a long and distinguished career in school leadership, most recently with New Leaders for New Schools where he served as support to ten area schools (seven high, one middle, and  two elementary schools), and coach for nine principals, six assistant principals, and five teacher leaders. He worked with two schools and two principals in partnership with Partners in School Innovation and was a presenter to resident principals-in-training.  He has extensive experience as a High School Principal, leading innovative programs and driving school reform. He founded, led, and maintained groups whose primary focus is school reform at both the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and the Anneberg Institute of School Reform. He holds a B.A. and a M.A.T. from Yale University.

San Francisco Flex Academy website

MDUSD Change – Where we were and where we wanted to go

On February 28, 2008 Gary Eberhart and Paul Strange wrote what I believe was a heartfelt letter to the MDUSD community through their MDUSD Blog. The post was entitled What Next and Why Now? In light of the upcoming evaluation of the current superintendent I decided it would be a good idea for all those who wanted change in 2008 to be reminded – where we were and where we wanted to go.

“What Next and Why Now?

…It is critical that we change leadership in our district because much of the dysfunction in our district is directly attributable to the Superintendent and the majority of the Board… How can we serve children as Board members if we are denied access to critical information? How can we make critical budget decisions if the budget information that we are provided is incomplete or incorrect? How can we ignore the fact that employee morale is at an all time low? How can we stand by and watch the Superintendent maintain the status quo?

…many of the issues we face are tied to a failure to engage in strategic planning. We need to launch a full scale strategic planning process as soon as possible if we want to save this district… By failing to engage in such a process over these many years he has demonstrated that he does not believe in such efforts. Strategic planning requires employee buy in and collaboration – the Superintendent does not collaborate well. Community involvement is also necessary for a successful planning process. Given the current lack of community support for Mr. McHenry, he cannot lead the community in a planning process…

… it is a necessity that this district secure a parcel tax as soon as possible… the community is not in support – because the district has done nothing in the interim to inform or educate the community…

Our district is desperate for change. Our students depend on us as Board members to stand up and do what’s right. It is never too early to do what is right. This path that we have embarked upon is not the easy path, but it is the only path that will serve the students of the district. It would be far easier to continue to embrace the status quo, but the status quo will not begin to solve the challenges that we all face as a community. We were elected to serve the students and our community and we will stand up to our obligations, no matter how difficult that task becomes. We have no choice but to call things the way that we see them. Our district needs to change to better serve the community and that change requires that we find a new Superintendent who will help to rejuvenate and revitalize this district.”

Gary Eberhart and Paul Strange  –  Entire Post

I have no idea if our current Superintendent is right for the job.  I don’t know if he has had enough time on the job for any of us to know that answer.  I, like many people, have concerns.

It appears the board did not receive a complete analysis of the cost of Measure C before they voted to proceed.  Some or all board members did not receive complete information before approving the new Principals. The solar presentation that was presented to the board in June was fraught with math errors totaling almost $200,000,000. The Superintendent has publicly stated that he does not want to embark on strategic planning but would like to set goals and objectives instead. And crucial to so many of the fundamental problems in this district, and specifically the inability to gain community support, is the lack of willingness to provide clear, honest and regular communication.

Before anybody writes to explain the differences between these issues and those in the McHenry administration, I understand there are differences. It is the bigger issues of vision, inspiration, community, and ultimately quality education that are hindered by the actions of both administrations.

At the special board meeting in late summer 2009 the board was asked to list the qualities they would like to see in a Superintendent candidate. Here are their responses. Please note that they all may have supported certain attributes but were asked not to repeat what another board member had suggested.

Sherry Whitmarsh
Open and honest communicator
Works with bargaining units
Able to work with diverse cultures
Ability to analyze data
Understands schools
Experience moving schools out of program improvement
Technology competent

Linda Mayo
Understands instructional leadership, policies and practices
Has a financial background
Ability to achieve acceptance of all parents
Values each employee
Promote parent engagement
Able to analyze assessment data
Understands curriculum development and training
Inclusion – awareness of outreach to improve student performance
Meet with students, listen to student input
Experience with facilities and maintenance
Experience with collective bargaining and negotiations

Gary Eberhart
Visionary leader
Has a great presence
Track record and success in strategic planning
Understands business systems
Proven track record for fiscal
Open and Honest – full explanations / transparency
Understands customer service skills
Proven track record in important areas
Consistent and high quality evaluation of staff
Bridge builder
No status quo excuses – “that is how it has always been done”
Lives in the community

Paul Strange
Would consider non-traditional Administrator who possess leadership skills
Work with the board as a team
Analyze organizational structure and make recommendations
Active and engaged with the sites, has the disposition to be visible
Truly cares about students and the district
Bilingual good but should not be required
Values technology as a learning tool

Dick Allen
Ability to facilitate consensus building amongst the staff
Possesses the ability to foster strong community relations in a diverse community
Strength and character when relating to the board
Experience with Parcel Tax elections
Develop relationships with community service organizations
Strong oral and written skills

This post doesn’t ask a question, it is simply intended to provide a reminder.

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