This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
Mt. Diablo school district's incoming Superintendent Nellie Meyer is bringing 30 years of experience in education from the San Diego school district, in positions ranging from teacher to deputy superintendent.
On Friday this newspaper published an excerpt of a discussion I had with Meyer about her priorities. Here are some more details from that interview, as we dug into the move to Common Core curriculum standards that emphasize problem-solving and deeper understanding of concepts, her opinion of charter schools, and parent and community engagement.
Q What should the district's budget priorities be under the state's new Local Control Funding Formula?
A As we go into the Common Core, we're going to have to work with teachers to support them as we change our teaching strategies. Moving away from some of the rote memorization to some of the of the critical thinking I'm sure is already occurring will be an emphasis, particularly in the early grades, with early literacy. There are a lot of strategies we could employ, such as smaller class sizes and an extended day. We know there are proven strategies that work. How we make them work within the system will be my challenge.
Q The district is implementing a Master Plan for English Learners. What is your experience with that student population and what direction can you provide?
A I taught (English language learners in San Diego) and have a credential. And that was certainly under my purview (as an administrator in San Diego) and will be here. I've trained staff and secondary teachers in strategies, including English language development strategies. It should be more hands-on. It's a really good match with the Common Core. I'm going to be curious where we see the shift in our English language development standards to Common Core and what strategies we will need to fill in. It's a critical part of any district, particularly Mt. Diablo, so I'll be spending a lot of time studying that.
Q The board has discussed holding town hall style meetings in the community, but hasn't yet done so. Would you support that?
A In San Diego, we had meetings at the high schools for the entire cluster (schools that feed into the high school). There were times when parents and community members would come to speak to specific concerns they had about their elementary or middle school experience. Also, they could hear information and respond. It was a 'we come to you' philosophy. The goal was that it would be reciprocal. We would go out and talk about changes such as making a campus a Chinese immersion school. They were interactive and they occurred on a regular basis within each of the clusters. They were open meetings, not by invitation. Sometimes the board would attend, sometimes it would not. I would like to speak to the board about this.
Q The former superintendent disbanded the districtwide Parent Advisory Council and instead held parent meetings at high schools. Can you talk about your experience involving parents in the schools, and how you plan to involve Mt. Diablo parents?
A We had a Parent Advisory Council and a District Advisory Council in San Diego. Staff would come and present information to the parent group. This was another body that reviewed budgets. They would take information back to their schools and school site councils. It was a formalized group that would advise, but their advice was strongly listened to. I think I need to look at every district committee and see how they work. I believe that parents are experts in what their students need. I've found the budget advisory group is a very useful tool and I'd like to know the makeup of that here and how it works.
Q There was divisiveness in the district when Clayton Valley High converted to a charter last year. What's your opinion of charters?
A I'm not philosophically opposed to charters in any way. I supervised charters in my former capacity. We had 49 in San Diego. At one time about 10 years ago, there were several district-sponsored conversions. Many of the charters that I've worked with were interested in participating in our professional development and they were welcome to do so. They also had ideas they brought to our department on what they were doing. In my experience, it was very collaborative. So I'm curious to see what is working (at Clayton Valley) and I'll have a lot of questions.