Monday, July 30, 2012

ACLU files complaint against WCCUSD

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Additional complaint item #1: WCCUSD Board President attack on Hercules and Pinole

Additional complaint item #1: WCCUSD Board President attack on Hercules and Pinole

Although greater than 50% of the Hercules voters supported the 2012 Measure A parcel tax, it was not enough for the 2/3 requirement. This prompted President Ramsey to recommend that the two cities form their own district.

Ironically, Hercules had previously been told by the County Board of Education that they do not qualify for secession. This was the 2005 ruling after some Hercules citizens sought secession from the WCCUSD. 

President Ramsey's recent remarks against a city who also had to support a tax measure for purpose of preventing bankruptcy of the city on the same ballot was mean-spirited, reckless and divisive.

2005 Denial of petition

2012 Remarks of WCCUSD board president

Quote from the article
"The measure passed overwhelmingly in most of the district, but in Pinole and Hercules, they voted just enough to kill it," school board President Charles Ramsey said. "They just don't embrace the funding measures like most of the district voters do."

Ramsey said he hopes the vote will spur renewed debate about the possibility of breaking up the district.

"We have to have the conversation about whether or not it's in all parties' best interest for Hercules and Pinole to start their own district," Ramsey said. "It's not fair for other communities in our district to have funding measures they overwhelmingly support being stopped by a tiny minority that says no."

Recall? Grand Jury complaint? Other?

Some citizens have voiced some very valid concerns, some of these concerns possibly warranting a review by the Contra Costa Grand Jury.  The Grand Jury appears to be the only oversight entity with respect to the management and performance of school districts.  Individual schools are inspected-assessed by an accrediting agency, such as Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) 

The school district is subject to financial and performance audits, but these audits are not conducted by anyone with authority.  

Examples of Grand Jury reports found here:

1999-2000: Mt. Diablo USD and San Ramon USD
2000-2001: Dougherty Valley School
2002-2003: Mt. Diablo USD
2005-2006: Antioch USD
2007-2008: Multi-district report on school food safety
2009-2010: Multi-district report on truancy
2010-2011: Mt. Diablo USD report on finances
2011-2012: Multi-district report on bond oversight
2011-2012: Multi-district report on compensation of board members

With the truancy report, the WCCUSD did not provide responses to the questions as directed by the Grand Jury.  

Truancy report

Response to truancy report

The requested responses were left blank.  At a later date, a district school (Pinole Valley High) was discovered to have one of the highest truancy rates in the state.

The Grand Jury is currently awaiting a response to the following recent (May, 2012) report on bond oversight.

Some board members received large amounts of campaign contributions from developers who have contracts with the district as reported here

 The following observation was made during a district Financial audit found here 
"The District also places an over-reliance on construction management firms to perform the budgeting and cash flow functions of the projects."

Incomplete School Accountability Report Cards:
The numbers of non-credentialed teachers is left blank on the SARC documents found here:
Omitting such information is a violation of the California Ed Code.  The SARC staff with the CA Dept of Ed have stated that it is the school board's responsibility to ensure that these documents are complete and accurate prior to posting.  They further stated that due to budget constraints, no one is enforcing this requirement.
The following Contra Costa Times article reports that non-crdentialed teachers are being employed by the district, yet this does not appear on the SARC documents.

California Education Code Section 33126
(a) The school accountability report card shall provide data
by which a parent can make meaningful comparisons between public
schools that will enable him or her to make informed decisions on the
school in which to enroll his or her children.

(b) The school accountability report card shall include, but is
not limited to, assessment of the following school conditions:

(5) The total number of the school's fully credentialed teachers,
the number of teachers relying upon emergency credentials, the number
of teachers working without credentials, any assignment of teachers
outside their subject areas of competence, misassignments, including
misassignments of teachers of English learners, and the number of
vacant teacher positions for the most recent three-year period.

(d) It is the intent of the Legislature that schools make a
concerted effort to notify parents of the purpose of the school
accountability report cards, as described in this section, and ensure
that all parents receive a copy of the report card; to ensure that
the report cards are easy to read and understandable by parents; to
ensure that local educational agencies with access to the Internet
make available current copies of the report cards through the
Internet; and to ensure that administrators and teachers are available to answer any questions regarding the   report cards.

The following Parcel Tax Financial statement does not specify how $1.9 million   was spent on Class Size Reduction (CSR). How many positions were funded?  Were   they credentialed or non-credentialed teachers?

Is a Grand Jury complaint warranted?  Perhaps a recall of the board President?  Other?
Complaint Form

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The death of a former student

I wrote the following essay about a student of mine who died from gang-gun violence.  One of the messages from this essay is about my ineffectiveness as a non-credentialed teacher.  Ricky's (not his real name) death haunts me to this day.  I was anything but a sign of hope for a child who needed such.  This is why I am paying close attention to who the WCCUSD places in our classrooms.  I dedicate my efforts to all of our children, including my daughter, but also to "Ricky."

The Death of RickyThe Death of Ricky

The headlines of the West County Times described a brazen daylight “rolling shootout” on a street in west Richmond.  Gunshots and roaring engines shattered the morning calm at 10:45 AM at the same time geese were flying south overhead on this sunny, but chilly, winter day.  People were scattering, ducking and taking cover.  “Just like the wild, wild, west!” as some children of Richmond would say.  Shootouts were nothing new to Richmond, but this one stood out from all others which usually took place in the dark shadows of a poorly lit street sometime after midnight.  At 10:45 AM, stores were open for business, kids with rumbling stomachs sat in classrooms, eagerly awaiting the lunch hour.  Mail was being delivered, and dogs barked behind fences to anyone who would listen.   Jackhammers nearby loudly busted through cement. 

On this day, I was working in a laboratory as a microbiologist in a highly secure compound for the California Dept. of Health less than a couple of miles away from the battle, after taking a leave of absence from teaching science at Richmond High School.  And Ricky Clark, one of my dearest former students(teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but we do), was in the process of dying in a hail of large-caliber bullets fired from a Soviet-made rifle more commonly found in war-torn countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. 

I wish I could preserve Ricky's innocence by telling you that he was just a bystander, but that was not the case, as evidenced by the AK47 assault rifle found on his lap in the crashed Plymouth at the cordoned-off yellow-taped “Crime Scene”.  On another street somewhere in Richmond, the same yellow tape still dangled from a lamp post, evidence of the previous day’s prequel—another shooting that started the clock ticking for Ricky's final 24 hours of life.

In the news, Ricky would be a mere statistic.  He was 19 years old—an age when an African-American male homicide victim is nothing more than a number added to the yearly Richmond homicide tally.  Judging from the New Year’s Eve style countdown of reporting this number, I believe some perverse readers are cheering for Richmond to beat the previous high of 62 homicides, a Richmond personal best set in 1991.  Richmond cannot compete with the large neighboring cities of Oakland or San Francisco for total absolute number of  homicides, but Richmond does win hands down on a homicides per-capita basis as some of my students have boasted when making their point that “Frisco and Oaktown is for suckers!”  The 1991 record translated to 67.2 per 100,0000, 7 times the then national average of 9.5 homicides per 100,000.

When the victims are still children, as defined by the arbitrary “under the age of 18 criteria”, there is usually written a short story about their brief life. Often included is a picture of a smiling young boy, taken at a time in his life when the violence of his surrounding environment has not yet robbed him of his innocence, including his inalienable right as a child, to smile. The fact that Ricky was armed also added to the cool, even unsympathetic, nature of this piece of journalism. No one would ask questions about the short life of this young man.  Only those blessed to have known him would see Ricky as a victim as opposed to just another “gang-banger”, “hoodlum”, “angry black man”, or worse.

No one would read about how hard his single-parent mother worked to keep him on a path that did not include guns, gangs, drugs, and violence, in a neighborhood saturated with all. From our phone calls and meetings, it was clear to me that she wanted the best for Ricky, and as a new, inexperienced teacher, I certainly did not merit her approval.  I tried.  New teachers in low-performing schools are just expected to try—results come later after years of experience, assuming the teacher does not leave for an increase in compensation and or better working conditions.  We do not tolerate inexperienced mechanics who cannot solve our car troubles, but we do allow and excuse inexperience and failure with those playing a vital role with respect to the futures of our neediest children.

From the first 5 minutes of the first day of class, Ricky began his clowning antics, taunting me when I instructed the class to prepare to work.  Eager to establish order, I quickly locked my eyes on this medium-black skinned young man with braided hair sitting in the second column of chairs from the right, third row back.  With an average build, wearing a white T-shirt, black slightly baggy work pants, he spread out in his seat like a giant amoeba, both of his legs outstretched in the aisles with the soles of his construction-style work boots facing me.  I casually strode over to where he sat, slapped my hand down on the table top and gave him my hardest “Let’s get with the program” stare.  He flinched, quickly straightened up, shot a brief look of fear, then relaxed and smiled.  I then explained the rules of my classroom to him.  I believe after a quick assessment of me, he realized that I was not a “hater”, just a teacher doing his job.  We had an understanding from that day onward.

Ricky's warmth and vital disposition made a teacher only want to try harder at mastering the tricks of motivation.  The other students also enjoyed his comedic, jocular nature.  The boys appreciated and respected him for his cool and cockiness.  All of the girls, irrespective of race, wanted to help him.  Not missing a beat, I took advantage of their maternal quality and paired them with Ricky.  Shy at first, but with a grin and eyebrows raised, I believe Ricky to have been most appreciative of this strategy. 

The stale sweet smell of cigarettes and marijuana on his oversized jacket and his bloodshot eyes provided clues into the life that this 16 year old child led when he left the musty-smelling dilapidated “ghetto” classroom, Room 655, out near the back parking lot of Richmond High School.  Occasionally, Ricky would blurt out in the middle of my lectures, “Mr. C.  I love you, man!”  Slightly distracted, I would calmly respond, “I love you too, Ricky”, then quickly resume my lecture amidst the laughter of Ricky's classmates.  I never saw one hint of anger in Ricky, making it even more difficult for me to fathom any scenario that could have led to Ricky picking up an assault rifle.  Maybe it was not about anger, but about self defense.  Kill or be killed.  Take it to the enemy before he does you.  I choose to believe Ricky was just trying to survive the day he died.

The last time I saw Ricky was in a bike shop in the neighboring city of Berkeley, 3 years after I was his teacher, one year before he died.  There was some commotion coming from the back of the store as Ricky and a few of his friends had put the store employees on a heightened state of alert.  I recognized Ricky's laughter.  Again, wearing a white T-shirt and black baggy pants, he recognized me.  “Mr. C!” he hollered across the store, now drawing eye-raising attention of employees and shoppers alike.  We gave each other a quick hug and slap of the shoulders while everyone, including Ricky’s friends, looked on, trying to comprehend what they were seeing take place on the store floor—an unlikely reunion of sorts. 

We chatted briefly about what we had been up to and the good ol’ days of Physical Science class in room 655.   We wished each other well, then laughing uncontrollably, Ricky and his buddies stumbled out the door, bouncing into the street, so full of life.  I kicked myself for not treating them to lunch at the next door McDonalds.  With some students, a teacher can predict such an ending.  With Ricky, I never saw it coming.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More observations regarding lack of transparency

The following comment raises more questions, specifically the last two sentences regarding a Parcel Tax financial document.

12:38 pm on Tuesday, July 17, 2012(M.K.)

G.C. Well ,well, well !!! No wonder Dr. Harter and the board of Trustees did not fill 
in the blanks of how many credentialed school teachers at each school in the SARC 
2011 report to the state. THEY would have had to declare that they had 100 
non credentialed Teacher of America interns in the classrooms. OUR children 
in this school district deserve to have the best qualified ,best educated, best 
and highest credentialed teachers on this planet. We have the lowest track 
record of education and test scores in the county, and the state. The board of 
trustees including Ramsey HAVE not been open and transparent on the hiring 
of these interns.....The parents and taxpayers in west county deserve answers 
and now. This explains why the column on the Parcel Tax financial 2008-2012 
report show blanks on how $1.9 million was spent each year to reduce class sizes and why there were no Teachers hired for 4 years. They were hiring unqualified 
Interns. The board has a lot of explaining to do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Letter to the WCCUSD board

Dear WCCUSD Board President Ramsey and members of the board,

In response to Mr. Radin's (copied) recent article regarding the West Contra Costa Unified School District's use of intern teachers, I am requesting a statement as to why the 2010-11 School Accountability Report Cards do not include the information regarding the number of credentialed and non-credentialed teachers.  All surrounding districts have provided this information. The WCCUSD documents have been left blank with respect to item #V.  The documents are found here

I understand there might be a valid reason for the omission of this information, but it does cause me concern that this information has not been provided, especially with the recent request of approve a school parcel tax.  As a taxpayer, I would like to know exactly what I am paying for prior to approving any future parcel tax.  It is important to me that I see the distribution of non-credentialed teachers per school site, but this information is currently missing.  I do not see this information as interchangeable with the NCLB data that is included on the report.  

As I shared with the board during public comment at the July 2nd special meeting in El Cerrito, these documents are required by law to be completed prior to posting.  The SARC staff from the CA Dept. of Ed (copied) have informed me that it is the responsibility of the local school board to review and approve these documents prior to posting. 

Will these documents be updated anytime soon, President Ramsey?  The WASC accreditation Executive Director, Mr. David Brown (copied) has informed me that the accreditation survey team will request that these documents be completed as a requirement of the survey process. 

Thank you for any clarification you can provide regarding this matter.

Giorgio Cosentino, Hercules parent who voted yes on Measure K

Monday, July 16, 2012

WCCUSD explains use of non-credentialed teachers

West Contra Costa teacher's union, school board president question use of low-cost Teach for America interns
The West Contra Costa school board president and the head of the district's teacher's union are questioning the continued use of low-cost teaching interns from the Teach For America program when credentialed teachers can't get jobs, but others say the district cannot afford to let it go.
More than 100 Teach For America interns the district will employ this coming school year take jobs that in many cases could be filled by instructors who have been laid off by the district, or by other credentialed teachers who are looking for work in the current tight job market, said Diane Brown, president of United Teachers of Richmond.
"We have a number of surplus and laid off teachers who still need to be called back," she said. "This is causing division within our ranks."
Participating districts nationwide pay for teacher stipends between $30,000 and $51,000 per year along with health insurance and retirement benefits, generally a considerable savings over hiring an experienced teacher.
West Contra Costa is also spending a total of about $172,000 this year in orientation support and training for its interns.
Teach For America helps some interns with their student loan obligations. In return, participants agree to teach in the school district for two years. Only districts with students from low-income neighborhoods with below average test scores, such as West Contra Costa and Oakland, are eligible.
Board Member Antonio Medrano touted the economic benefit to the district of using Teach For America interns, who cost the district less than experienced teachers, at a time when West Contra Costa continues to face potential staff and program cuts.
"If I find out that if we eliminate Teach For America we have to add 10 students to a class of 35, what am I going to tell the teachers?" he said.
However, Medrano said he favors bringing back laid-off teachers and hiring experienced, credentialed teachers whenever it is feasible economically.
West Contra Costa laid off about 50 teachers this spring before offering new contracts to about 29, Brown said. She was told by district's personnel department that it was only seeking interns in math, science and special education, normally the hardest positions to fill. However, she said there are credentialed teachers available locally to fill those positions.
"We have teachers who have been laid off who teach those subjects," Brown said.
Board President Charles Ramsey agreed with Brown's concerns.
"The teachers bring up a good point," Ramsey said. "Why is there a need for this temporary service? We want teachers for a lifetime."
Teach For America can undermine the careers of people who have already made a commitment to teaching, Ramsey said.
"Part of the reason people don't go into education is you can't make a decent living," he said. "TFA interns are nice people and they're good in spite of the training they get, but you have to have more of a commitment than that. You have to have skin in the game."
School board member Madeline Kronenberg said she thinks the Teach For America model may be outdated in a market where there is a teacher oversupply, rather than a teacher shortage.
"Teach For America was originally started to solve a problem that no longer exists," she said. "We should put our energy into growing our own teachers."
West Contra Costa Superintendent Bruce Harter, who has expressed support for the district's participation in the program, did not return calls seeking comment late last week.
But the issue is expanding beyond the district. The Richmond City Council will consider Tuesday whether to send a letter to Harter "expressing concern over recruitment" and hiring of uncredentialed interns that could serve to undermine the teaching profession.
Richmond saluted about 100 Teach For America interns who will work in the Bay Area this year with a two-day orientation that gave them background about the city's history and culture and participation in community activities.
About 10,000 interns will be employed this year nationwide and about two-thirds of the program's 28,000 alumni have chosen education as a career, either as teachers or administrators, according to the organization's website.
Teach For America says it is the largest employer for graduating seniors at 55 universities nationwide this year, including Yale University and UC Berkeley.