Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get To Know Your MDUSD Board Candidates

All MDUSD Candidates were invited to participate in the Get to Know your MDUSD Board Candidates questionnaire. Candidates were asked to answer four questions in 500 words or less. The responses from those Candidates who chose to participate have been posted by name, in alphabetical order. Write your text. Close your text with:

Jeff Adams
(666 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a product of excellent Bay Area public schools many years ago and my wife and I are parents of six children who have attended Mt. Diablo Unified School District schools in the past 18 years. Four have graduated and two are still attending. In addition, my wife and I have devoted substantial time to try to contribute to our schools. My wife, for example, taught in the Parent Educator Program for about ten years and has likewise volunteered in literacy programs for many years. I was appointed to two site councils, and was a founding board member of both the United Mount Diablo Athletic Foundation which is credited with saving high school sports last year (i.e. a $1.2 million budget) after the district cut all funding and the Mount Diablo Music Education Foundation which seeks to support music programs in the district that have also been cut. I have also taught more than 800 classes of high school age students as a volunteer since 2001 and have overseen boy scout and girls programs and have coached youth soccer and basketball teams for twenty years. I have also volunteered in a number of other capacities in the community for over a decade.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for MDUSD?

A number of teachers and community members asked me to run for a seat on the MDUSD Board of Education. And, I am deeply concerned about the state of our public schools. The district must improve delivery of a higher quality education to our students in a safe, drug-free environment and within budgetary constraints. My top priorities are as follows: (1) quality instruction for students while remaining fiscally responsible; (2) complete, well-rounded educational experiences for students; (3) administrative simplification, better district support, financial transparency and timely, accurate communication at the district level; (4) find and obtain every possible dollar available from federal, state and local sources, living within the means available, and leveraging available dollars; and (5) improve school performance and restore a sense of confidence to MDUSD.

What is your background in education and what could it bring to the Board?

In addition to the foregoing, I have also volunteered my time to the Contra Costa County Board of Education programs, including mock trial programs and the educational decathlon for high school students. In terms of what I bring to the board, I have professional business and legal experience spanning 23 years in addition to my JD, MBA and BS degrees. We must not forget that MDUSD is a large organization (56 schools, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual budgetary funds, thousands of employees) and I am the only candidate with the combination of both professional business (specifically in finance, administration, credit and resource management) and legal experience that ties directly to many board oversight responsibilities. I am able to address difficult issues and make tough decisions within the constraints of complex legal issues and financial constraints. I personally believe the board needs this type of experience.
What knowledge do you have about special education and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

I appreciate the endorsement of Mirth Van Vliet, a retired special education teacher in MDUSD. In addition, I have personally assisted a young man with autism, now a senior in high school, over a period of years. He has attended classes I have taught (including classes helping him learn how to read and study material, outline it in an organized form, and then present the material orally) and he has been in my home on, generally, a monthly basis for years where I have asked him to speak and present information to us. I have also supported VIP soccer programs when coaching AYSO soccer, and one of my partners in the firm at which I work is hearing impaired—and he is very successful. What I have learned from these experiences is that special education students can succeed if they are provided the appropriate tools and attention they need and deserve. Indeed, I feel how we assist these students is in major part a clear statement of who we are as a society, and will work to help all students succeed in the Mount Diablo Unified School District.

Lynne Dennler
(478 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I retired from Mt. Diablo after 20 wonderful years of teaching. I had the pleasure of dividing my career between Pleasant Hill Elementary and Westwood Elementary. My three grown daughters were K-12 students in MDUSD, allowing me to see the district from both perspectives.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for MDUSD?

As a teacher in the district, I often felt decisions made or support given, by the Board were not always in the best interest of the students in the classroom. In discussion and as decisions are made, I would have the opportunity to be the voice of the concerns and perspective of the students and teachers. The Board looks to MDUSD administration for recommendations when making crucial decisions. In an effort to provide a balanced educational experience and improve student achievement, the teacher has an important, unique, perspective that needs to be considered.

What is your background in education and what could it bring to the Board?

With my recent teaching experience, I bring a realistic picture of today’s classroom. Education isn’t static, but constantly evolving as society changes. Our EL population continues to increase which presents unique challenges and impacts the presentation of the curriculum. Today’s families vary in their ability to partner with the teacher in educating their child. As a classroom teacher, I have experienced first hand, how students with serious behavior problems, disrupt the classroom, keep the teacher from “teaching” and meeting the needs of all the students. I understand that teachers, as the professionals, should have the ultimate decision in deciding how the curriculum is presented.
Public education is often criticized as we seek ways to assure that our students will be ready for the demands of our changing world. The high expectations of our standards based curriculum, when measured by STAR results, put incredible pressure on the district to improve each year. I know, from my recent experience in the classroom, dealing with all it challenges, I would bring an invaluable perspective to Board deliberations and decision-making.

What knowledge do you have about special education and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

Special education is a Federally mandated program for students identified and who have IEPs. The services and accommodations directed by their IEPs are prescribed by law and not negotiable. I understand the importance of the regular education teacher being flexible and a team player. My special education experience has had many dimensions and been multifaceted. I have had the opportunity to mainstream students from special day classes into my classroom, as they were able to begin that transition. In reverse, I have had students who had Recource services both in class and as pull outs. Working at Westwood afforded me the opportunity to teach the deaf, with an interpreter at my side. I have worked with full inclusion students and their one on one assistant. Students with IEPs often have other special services that require them to be pulled out of class, which requires helping them keep up with classwork. Being part of the world of special education has been an enriching experience for me.

Cheryl Hansen
(544 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your background in education, and what could it bring to the Board?

My career in education has been dedicated to student, parent, and employee success. My mission - the answer to the “why do we exist” question in education - has always been first and foremost “student learning for all”. With this in mind, I have served as a teacher and an administrator in three school districts and the Contra Costa County Office of Education:

Mt. Diablo USD - Teacher and Administrator for 24 years - English Teacher at Oak Grove Middle, Olympic High, Northgate High, and Ygnacio Valley High and Vice Principal at College Park High

Martinez USD - Assistant Principal, Alhambra High School

Fairfield-Suisun USD - High School Principal, successfully opening FSUSD's third high school

Contra Costa County Office of Education - Currently CCCOE Coordinator of Instructional Leadership

My extensive experience as an educator brings an important global perspective as well as a “nuts and bolts” knowledge of educational practice to our Board.

What knowledge do you have about special education, and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

As a teacher and site administrator, I worked with numerous general/special education parents, students, and teachers, participated in a multitude of IEP meetings, and monitored classroom instruction, always with a focus on improving student learning. As a county administrator, I now apply my knowledge with general/special education teachers, administrators, and whole schools and districts.

I believe that children with disabilities need to have equal opportunity to an education that leads them to participate in and contribute fully to society and to attain independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Access to the standards-aligned core curriculum with appropriate accommodations is crucial and instruction in special education needs to be consistently rigorous and strategic to accelerate grade-level achievement.

This concern along with changing IDEA law and state assessment requirements prompted me to develop training for schools and districts on standards-based instruction and planning in special education to assist teachers in aligning IEPs and instruction to standards, raising expectations, and expanding student access to the core curriculum. I’m also collaborating with our Contra Costa SELPA to provide standards-based training to new teachers seeking special education certification so that we ensure the development and support of highly qualified special educators who are prepared to address our diverse learners’ needs.

I promote practices that allow general and special educators to collaborate with and support each other to provide the best instruction possible. In these challenging times, I bring leadership that is grounded on best practices, on bringing people together, on not pitting programs against each other, and on taking immediate steps to eliminate barriers to keep us focused positively on our mission: student learning for all.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for

In support of this dedication to student learning, a number of MDUSD staff and parents have encouraged me to run for School Board, believing that my integrity and experience would be an important asset. I decided to run in this election, not because it will be an easy job, but because for years I have actually done the hard work necessary in schools and districts to improve student learning, build teams, provide positive leadership, and balance budgets. As a concerned educator and community member who cares about the present and future of our students, parents, and employees, I believe my breadth of educational knowledge and experience will bring strength to our School Board and district.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Roy A. Larkin
(467 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have lived in the District since 1986. I have three grown children, two of which graduated from Concord High, and four grandchildren, one that graduated from Concord High, one in 3rd grade at Monte Gardens, one in the Dianne Adair pre-school program and one that just cannot wait his turn. I am a retired CFO and spent most of my career turning companies around and creating an atmosphere of cooperation amongst all employees needed to be successful.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for MDUSD?

I am running for a position on the School Board because the financial condition of the MDUSD has deteriorated significantly over the past several years. I have over 30 years experience in stabilizing and growing financially troubled companies. The ability to stabilize the District is not rooted in the status quo, but in innovation and teamwork. I have found that listening, exchanging ideas, willingness to change and fairness are the keys to a successful organization. It is imperative the funds available must first directly benefit the District’s students before any discretionary spending is considered. Following this tenant will take much of the current confusion out of the decision making process.

What is your background in education and what could it bring to the Board?

My background in education is limited to having children and grandchildren actively being educated in this District for the last 24 years. I have seen the evolution of curriculum over the years and the constantly heightening expectations of the education system. I can bring the parental point of view to the discussions of programs with the active experience of grades pre-school through High School.

What knowledge do you have about special education and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

I experienced the need for special education programs many years ago with my nephew with special needs caused by a birth accident. I know the fight it took to get him enrolled in the special education classes in San Diego. I know the excitement he showed when the “yellow bus” arrived at his front door. I also know how he regressed over the summer when classes were not in session. I have talked with parents of children in our District and they are worried about the shortening of the summer program and the possible closing of one of the summer sessions. I do understand the need for year round classes for the children to give them a chance for their future. I recently ran into one of the District’s children I had not seen for two years and I was amazed at the progress she had made since being enrolled in the special education program.

Every child needs a chance to develop as far as they can and without these special education programs we always underestimate the resilience of the children and tend to hamper their growth. I take my hat off to the staff that has the ability to recognize the capacity of the children to learn and the patience to make it happen.

Brian Lawrence
(299 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself? What is your background in education and what could it bring to the Board?

My name is Brian Lawrence and I’m running for the Mt. Diablo School Board because I am a passionate believer in public education. I am a proud graduate of a public high school in San Diego, completed my undergraduate work at UC Santa Barbara and recently obtained my MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

I have three small children who will all be entering the Mt. Diablo School District over the next four years. My oldest child started kindergarten this fall.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for MDUSD?

I believe that every child deserves a top-notch education and I will adamantly defend special education programs. I have found that many general education parents have a great deal of misinformation about special education programs in Mt. Diablo. I look forward to working with the CAC to better educate the populace at-large about special education programs.
If elected, I will make sure that money is spent on programs that will benefit students, not on ones that will create additional bureaucracy. My background as a technology executive working with startup technology companies will enable me to provide strict fiscal oversight. Additionally, I will provide transparent leadership that will involve all interested members of the community.
Thank you for your consideration and I would greatly appreciate your vote.

What knowledge do you have about special education and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

I have first hand experience with special education in the Mt. Diablo district through the Robert Sheer preschool at Gregory Gardens, which one of my children attended.
My wife and I were amazed at the caliber of people that we encountered in the program and are eternally grateful for their support. I gained a great appreciation for the difficulties that these families faced. A tremendous strain is often placed on the parents and other siblings of special education children in addition to the obstacles that the child faces.

Linda Mayo
(402 words)

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My husband and I moved to Pleasant Hill in 1974 and raised our three daughters, all MDUSD graduates, here. I’ve been a school volunteer and PTA member throughout their education and beyond while also a stay-at-home mom and licensed daycare provider. My husband and I co-own a fire-safety business. I’ve been active in the local and state PTA and am presently California State PTA vice president for communications.

What is your purpose for running for the Board of Education for MDUSD?

My 13 years on the Board have enabled me to direct my passion for public education toward insuring that every child in our district has the opportunity for success and can become a contributing member of society. I see public schools losing support locally, statewide and nationally and am resolved to continue my work on the Board, with the PTA, and in school funding campaigns to restore that support. I value the educators and school staff who serve our students daily and the parents whose involvement is essential to student success.

What is your background in education and what could it bring to the Board?

I hold a BA in German and music from Cal State University, Fresno, but the primary education I bring to the Board comes from volunteering in classrooms and schools for 19 years and observing teachers in their instructional practices for the last 13. I regularly attend education-related conferences, talk with educators and staff, and review research on topics ranging from school finance to student learning styles. In addition, I’m interested in issues of juvenile justice, foster youth, and drug prevention. I’ve served as Board representative on the MDUSD Safe and Drug-Free Schools Task Force as well as on facilities committees, the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council, and . . .

What knowledge do you have about special education and how do you plan on using that knowledge to support students with special needs?

As a classroom volunteer and visitor for the past 19 years I’ve seen remarkable improvements in how students with special needs are served, both by regular education teachers and by dedicated specialists. The Special Education Consent Decree was signed soon after I joined the Board and I have closely monitored its ten-year implementation. More work must be done, of course. I wholly support FAPE, recognizing that services for students with special needs are essential. Early intense intervention, whether the disability is physical, intellectual or emotional, yields the best outcome for the student. The services our students require are numerous and complex. Federal and state government funding is insufficient to create a perfect program in our district. I support advocacy efforts to increase funding and services and to explore options for the best programs possible.
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