Thursday, January 31, 2013

Was A.J. trying to warn us about bad debt in 2010?

Hi David,
I am wondering if former WCCUSD Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) member Anton Jungherr was possibly trying to alert us of this problem in 2010. He was the only member of the oversight committee who voted against the waiver to increase the debt limit in 2010 for this bond measure. I would like to see if his arguments were recorded by the WCCUSD.
What is odd is that the following 2010 waiver request document states that there were no objections to the waiver raised by the CBOC.
Yet, the following minutes mention that one member (A.J.) voted "No." Yet his objections are not documented on the waiver form. I recently asked the Assoc. Superintendent who signed the waiver for clarification, but he never replied.
A.J. was later removed from the committee by the school board for poor attendance. I do not know if A.J. received a warning. Supposedly, the night the board decided to vote him off of the oversight committee, the board president was at home, but he then drove to the meeting to vote this citizen off of the committee.
Here is the a description of this incident as described by the current CBOC secretary, Charley Cowens.
How about a follow-up report, David?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Warnings and Senate Education Subcommittee reports

As the Hercules City Council prepares to vote in February on the Measure E debt limit waiver, I thought it was important to share the following.  Today, I sent this reply (see below) to the Managing Director of KNN Public Finance, Mr. Olson.

My point is this.  How can anyone be expected to approve such bond measures when the Senate Education Subcommittee has recently reported that accountability, checks and balances, and oversight of these monies is inadequate, warranting the formation of a new state-level oversight committee?

Recently, the state issued the following warning as a result of poor financial decisions made by some school districts.  These districts are now in a very difficult situation because the oversight was not in place.

Recent warning

Members of the Hercules City Council were included in the following communication.

Hi Mr. Olson,
The following recent document from the Senate Education Subcommittee does cause me some concern.  This recent document dated 8/7/12 states that the current oversight of school building programs is inadequate. If the voter had seen this report, they might have concerns about voting for such a measure until such oversight and accountability mechanisms were put into place.  It is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.


This document had been on the Senate Education Subcommittee website, but the links on that website went dead two weeks ago, one day after I cited it at our joint meeting, so our council members possibly have not had a chance to view it.  I believe it is relevant to the waiver process. 

The report was previously found here

I do not mean to sound distrustful.  I simply want to be assured that the necessary checks and balances are in place.  I hope you understand.  Thanks.

Giorgio Cosentino

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hercules "one principal for two schools" a bad idea?

With the recent report that Principal Bender has had to rely on the Hercules PD 161 times since the start of this school year, one might wonder if perhaps having one principal for two schools is a bad idea. Add the fact that this is a new principal, correct? Their first job as principal is one that includes taking the helm for two schools? All of the other middle schools in the district have their own principal.
Hercules Middle-High School has one principal, two HS assistant principals and one middle school assistant principal. I do know that an experienced, competent assistant principal can make a difference. How are these assistant principals doing?
When a teacher excessively relies on the use of referral notices to keep their students in check, they are sometimes downgraded for not having control over their students. Could this many calls to the police be signaling that this principal is having a difficult time managing their 2 schools? Is she being set up for failure by having to take the helm of two schools?  The following Hercules High School newspaper gives the reader an idea as to what this principal is grappling with.  Vandalism and a fire accidentally started by a science teacher and a teacher arrested with bags of marijuana are matters requiring the full attention of this principal.
Maybe Hercules Middle School should have its own principal, not just for administrative reasons, but for the fact that each school needs a leader that the parents can look to. Middle school principals can make a huge difference for both a school and a community.
Just look at what Principal Burnham did for Portola Middle School. He has attained hero status. He has quelled disruptions. He has worked with the community, including now trustee Todd Groves, to introduce a math initiative. Portola Middle School has a full time advocate. Hercules Middle School has a half-time advocate. 
Why was this decision made to have one leader for two schools?  For the simple reason that the two schools are on the same campus?  Maybe Superintendent Harter and the school board need to rethink this decision. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Check out this September 5, 2012 meeting at approximately 1 hour 26 minutes.  

Meeting video found here

Does Hercules Middle High School need an additional SRO?

Since the start of the current school year, the police have been called to Hercules Middle-High School 161 times prompting a request for an additional school resource officer (SRO).  Here are some district and school suspension(S) and expulsion(E) rates for 2008-9, 2009-10, and 2010-11 respectively. The rate is computed by dividing the total number of incidents (suspensions or expulsions) by the total enrollment, and then multiplying by 100.

District (S) average: 34, 21, 24
District (E) average: 0.4, 0.5, 0.5
Hercules High:
(S) 33, 10, 25
(E) 0.8, 1.5, 1.4
Hercules Middle:
(S) 99, 39, 42
(E) 0.7, 1.02, 1.4
Pinole High:
(S) 35, 46, 31
(E) 1.3, 1.3, 2.0
Pinole Middle:
(S) 82, 77, 80
(E) 0.8, 0.9, 1.0
Richmond High:
(S) 81, 32, 61
(E) 0.4, 0.2, 0.6
Portola Middle:
(S) 69, 91, 43
(E) 0.4, 0.5, 0
El Cerrito High:
(S) 37, 31, 36
(E) 1, 0.3, 1.6
Hercules Middle-High School recently had a policy that suspended a student for 3 days if they skipped one class. The current principal says this policy is no longer in place. So when do they suspend? When do they call the police?
The WCCUSD has announced they will decrease # of suspensions. How many of these calls to the police resulted in suspensions this year? How many such police calls were made each year in the past 5 years?
The parents and children should be promising to reduce suspensions, not the school. Kudos to Councilman Romero for advocating the Restorative Justice program.
I support an additional SRO as long as this isn't a substitute for common sense policies.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hercules WCCUSD joint meeting mostly positive

On Tuesday night, I attended the joint meeting and was pleased with the discussion that took place.  Almost the entire school board attended, except for Mrs. Merriweather.  The strict time-limit which resulted in cancellation of the public forum was a true disappointment, especially when you consider how many hours have been wasted in the council chambers bickering over the behavior and actions of others.  We wouldn't want the topic of education to steal center stage, would we?  Still, we made the most of our time.  I will post my notes later, but here is an article from the CC Times.

I did receive the following communication from one citizen.  I am hoping there is some sort of misunderstanding.  I attempting to sort this out.  I must admit that with all of the planned development, I was surprised that there was no need for a future elementary school.  I see this as good news and truly hope that is the case.


"The whole point of the meeting came to light at the end. It is to gain support for the bonds ceiling.

Before that happen though, Harter mis-spoke to Myrna about the demographic study that lead to the conclusion that there would be no need for a school here for at least a decade. 

First he said that Victoria Crescent, Syc North, and Parcel C were factored in to the zero growth demographic study.
Then he reported that the demographic study was done in 2010/2011.

There is no way those comments are congruous. Those parcels were not in that position at that time but the Bayfront was in the Waterfront Initiative.

And somehow he missed the Bayfront project altogether, and The Village part, that is on slate for this year. This project has growth that is triple the other plans all added up (the none existent plans).

This was Steve Duran channeling through Harter. 

And then that was followed by Dan Romero making the case that since the demographics are flat and we already have 3 schools in town and we should be careful and not waste the money for a school on that side of the highway. 

Excuse me ???"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ever wait to comment at a WCCUSD board meeting?

Need I say more?

Hercules City Council WCCUSD joint meeting next week

Date: January 15, 2013
Time: 7pm
Where: Hercules City Council chambers

Some suggestions in letter to President and Mayor

Dear President Kronenberg and Mayor Delgado,

Here are some thoughts I have regarding our schools.  Perhaps some of these items can be discussed at the joint meeting next week?  Thank you for taking the time to hold this meeting.

Giorgio Cosentino, Current parent, former WCCUSD teacher

1. Safety:  Can we review the data previously presented at the safety committee which broke down the safety incidents by year and school?  Are there trouble spots at any of our campuses?  Is there a safety assessment report for each school. Can we receive copies of these?  What can Hercules do to make our schools safer?

2. Principal turnover: Here is the job description for school principal.
"Establishes and maintains sensitive and mutually beneficial relationships with the community...The principal is to be a visible and active leader in the school’s community."
Does principal turnover compromise these responsibilities?  What can we do to build strong bridges between our school leaders and our community, bridges that can stand the test of turnover?  What can we do to support new principals?  I applaud the decision of having President Kronenberg as a liaison to Hercules HS for some committee assignments.  

3. Teacher turnover:  The WCCUSD HR Director is reporting a very high teacher turnvoer rate of 47%.  What is the teacher turnover rate at each Hercules school for each year for the past 5 years?  What are the consequences of this turnover?  What can Hercules do to help negate the ill-effects of turnover?  Can we review the last 5 School Accountability Report Cards for each Hercules school for purpose of reviewing average teacher salary?  Hanna Ranch has the highest average teacher salary in the district, so possibly less turnover?  Hanna Ranch is also an award winning school.  I believe the same observation can be made with Madera Elementary School in El Cerrito--highest average salary and highest test scores and possibly an award-winning school?

4. Truancy:  Recently, it was reported in the Contra Costa Times that Hercules Middle High School has a policy that requires a 3 day suspension for any student who skips one class.  As a former teacher in the district, this policy makes no sense to me.  In fact, such a policy could be detrimental as this student could become alienated from the education process.  Can I please get clarification as to the reasoning behind this policy.  What is the truancy rate at each Hercules school for the past 5 years?  Is Hercules PD enforcing truancy laws?  Neighboring Pinole has a high truancy problem, and gangs.  Due to geographic proximity, I must ask does Hercules share these problems to any degree?

5. School rankings and test scores:  Excluding Hanna Ranch, the recent state ranking and test scores for Hercules schools were low.  Can we get clarification on this, including a 5 year history of scores for each Hercules school.  How much of the cause for these scores is the responsibility of the school district and teachers?  If the parent and child does their part, can they excel in our schools?  Part of the problem we have been told is that there are limited AP classes.  If there are limited AP classes, then how can the WCCUSD spend money on Adult School when we cannot afford to offer AP classes to our k-12 children? I support the Adult School program, but not at the cost of our children.  How about a volunteer taught Adult School?  Provide the buildings and the volunteers will come?  I will volunteer to teach science at night at this volunteer school.  You have it in writing.  For formal classes, these adults can enroll in at Contra Costa JC.

6. Intern teachers:  Can we see a break down of how many intern teachers have been employed by each Hercules school in the last 5 years. Are we able to view the test scores of the students who were taught by these intern teachers?  What can Hercules do to support intern teachers?  Can we purchase a copier for them or help them post documents on the school website?  Other?

7. Unsatisfactory teachers: In 2010-11, according to the HR Director, 19 teachers in the district were deemed unsatisfactory and not invited back to teach.  What were the effects of having these unsatisfactory teachers in the classroom?  Was there an intervention on the part of department heads?  What can Hercules parents do to ensure that the education of their child is not compromised by unsatisfactory teachers?

8. Transfer students:  There is a perception that some transfer students bring problems to schools in Hercules.  If not true, what can we do to dispel this myth?  If this is true, what can we do to provide the necessary support for transfer students.  Sometimes, students are transferred because they are having difficulties.  This means they require additional assistance.  Does Hercules Middle-High School offer peer counseling?  I am a strong proponent of this as I participated in it myself as a child.   

9. Teach For America:  Do we have data to show how effective these teachers have been in our district.  If they are effective, can we rely on them more?  Are they more cost-efficient?  In the past 5 years, how many TFA teachers were employed at Hercules schools and how did they perform?

10. A teacher at a Hercules school who received positive feedback from parents was bumped to another district school by a senior teacher.  I am a public employee.  I do not have such bumping rights except when it comes to layoffs.  Where I work, no one transfers unless it benefits the program as a whole.   I would like to see a contract that gives principals more latitude.  

Having said that, once a teacher formally demonstrates competency, they should be given the latitude to teach as they see fit.  Some WCCUSD teachers are reporting that they are not being given this latitude by their respective principals.  If competent teachers are not being given this latitude, then perhaps we will lose them, thus adding to the turnover.  Are there items in the teachers union contract that perhaps should be modified to give more control to the site principal with respect to assignments?   Have I missed the "sun shining" of the next UTR contract?  As I understand it, this is my opportunity to provide my input on any proposed contract. 

11.  Can the school board share examples of how other communities in the district have supported and helped their schools?  Portola had the Math Initiative.  Can Hercules have such an initiative?  

12. City Councils and school district relationships:  It appears some city councils play a more active role with respect to their schools.  Can our city council do more?  The Richmond City Council appears to be very active.  Recently, Councilman Romero requested safety resources from the WCCUSD for our schools.  Is there more that our City Council can do to build bridges with the WCCUSD (and John Swett Unified SD)?  Supporting our schools is good for the city as a whole, so it seems that our city council should be actively involved with decisions regarding our schools.   

13. The need for a new school in Hercules?

14. The selection of our next representative for the CBOC?

15. Formal recognition by City Council of outstanding Hercules teachers?

16. Hercules Education Commission:  Proposed by Councilman Romero.  Update?