Thursday, November 21, 2013

The holiday spirit of giving was showcased at the Marsh Creek Detention Facility Handcrafted toys and refurbished bikes by inmates donated to county's children-serving agencies

For the 22nd straight year, representatives from more than 28 Contra Costa County children-serving agencies were on hand at the Marsh Creek Detention Facility's woodshop to choose toys handcrafted and bicycles refurbished by the inmates. The items will be given to the children who are being served by these agencies during the upcoming holidays. The Marsh Creek Detention Facility inmates have participated in this project during the year, fixing up used bikes to look and ride like brand new and building beautiful wooden toys, such as, pull toys, doll houses, doll cradles, fire houses, fire engines, yo-yos, cars, rocking horses, rocking motorcycles, skill games, and many more. All of the toy makers and/or bike mechanics are students in the Contra Costa Adult School, an accredited school directed by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE), which is located within the jail facility. 

(Left to right): Students in the woodshop class gather around the hand-crafted toys with their teacher Khaia McGill, Principal Angela Hatter, Director of Contra Costa Adult Schools Lynn Mackey, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ovick in the Marsh Creek woodshop.

This morning, the Detention Facility's woodshop certainly looked like Santa's Workshop, with its festive decorations and showcasing the beautiful toys and bikes. Along with the non-profit-agency representatives picking out presents, numerous county members of law enforcement and education were on hand. The morning featured remarks made by Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston and Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Ovick. Both speakers thanked all those involved and reminded the attendees what a special partnership this program has been over the past 22 years. Sheriff Livingston introduced Khaia McGill, who is the new woodshop teacher at Marsh Creek. Along with her teaching duties, she will oversee the production of the toys and bikes for next year. Dr. Ovick finished by personally addressing five inmates who were on hand for the event: “Gentlemen, numerous at-risk children in our county will certainly have a brighter holiday season due to your craftsmanship with these bikes and toys.”

Non-profit organizations participating in this special event include: the Bay Area Rescue Mission, Contra Costa County Department of Social Services, Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program, El Cerrito Fire Department, George Miller Center-East, International Orphan Relief Foundation, La Casa Ujima, Lynn Center, Monument Crisis Center, Salvation Army, Shelter Inc., Sheriff Station Bay, and Solomon Temple M.B.C.

During the 2012-13 school year, approximately 2,895 inmates (throughout the three Contra Costa detention facilities) were enrolled in classes ranging from academic programs, including basic literacy and GED preparation, to vocational programs, including woodshop and state-of-the-art computer training. By the end of the school year, 50 student-inmates received their GED and 36 received a high school diploma, and 13 students passed the California High School Exit Exam. In addition, there were 471 students who demonstrated learning gains in reading or math, and 786 students earned a certificate of completion in computer applications. Another course directed by the CCCOE is the DEUCE Program (Deciding, Educating, Understanding, Counseling, and Evaluation). These three-part classes (90 days) focus on substance abuse prevention. Last year, 1,436 students completed at least one of the three phases, and 311 students graduated from DEUCE. The Parenting Inside/Out class teaches vital parenting skills to women and men, with 58 certificates issued last school year. The CCCOE just opened a new re-entry class in November at West County Detention Facility. The re-entry class offers workforce readiness, career exploration, soft skills workshops and a nine-week cognitive-behavior-change program called Transitions. Currently, 54 inmates are already enrolled in the reentry course.

These classes help to provide education and skills needed for successful transition back into the community.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year named state semifinalist

Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year (TOY) Cindy Egan was recently named a California State TOY Semifinalist. Egan teaches biology and AP environmental sciences at San Ramon Valley High School, in Danville. Earlier, on September 26, Egan and Beth Levine, of Montalvin Manor Elementary, in San Pablo, were named the 2013-2014 Contra Costa County TOYs.
Cindy Egan

“What a tremendous and well-deserved honor Cindy Egan has received from the California Department of Education,” says Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Joseph A. Ovick, Ed.D. “When you visit Cindy’s biology or environmental sciences classes, you observe a perfect balance of her professional background in civil engineering, education experience, and passion for teaching that enthuses her students to learn. She has certainly earned this special recognition!  We in Contra Costa County are very proud of her, and our other newest Teacher of Year, Beth Levine, of West Contra Costa USD, as well as the additional 20 teachers representing our county’s school districts during the 2013-2014 school year. They are outstanding ambassadors of all our public school teachers.”

Egan is beginning her ninth year of teaching, all at San Ramon Valley High. Prior to entering into education, she earned her bachelors and masters degrees in civil engineering from the University of California, at Berkeley. Following college, she had a very successful 25-year career as a civil engineer, where she worked all over the world – but at the same time, she often thought about teaching. During her last 10 years of her career, Egan was a managing principal-in-charge of an environmental engineering office with more than 120 professional engineers and scientists. After this time period, she left her job, obtained her teaching credential, and began her new career as an educator at San Ramon High.

Egan will be joining the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, the six finalists, and her fellow seven semi-finalists, as they are honored by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson at a gala in Sacramento, to be held February 3, 2014. For more information on the award program, please visit the California Department of Education’s California Teachers of the Year Web page.
2013-2014 Contra Costa County Teachers of the Year
Cindy Egan and Beth Levine

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Very Successful Shelter-in-Place Drill Held at Marchus School

On November 6, it was a very pleasant and quiet autumn Wednesday morning at Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Marchus School, in Concord, when all of sudden, the County Warning System siren went off! Immediately following, a campus PA system directed all students and personnel into their classrooms and offices, and to close the doors behind them.  The Marchus School was participating with nearly 200 other Contra Costa County schools and day-care centers in the 12th Annual Countywide Shelter-in-Place Drill to practice safety procedures in the event of a nearby hazardous material release or other incident requiring them to shelter-in-place. 

This countywide drill is directed by the Contra Costa County Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER). CAER’s Executive Director, Tony Semenza, who was on the Marchus campus during the drill, said, “Each year we are encouraged with the increased number of participating schools CAER works with.  CAER will continue to work with all the schools and childcare centers in our county to be sure that they know how and when to shelter-in-place. Teachers and students should all know shelter-in-place procedures just as they are trained about what to do in case of a fire or earthquake.  I encourage everyone to join us in preparing for the worst so that we may do our best during an emergency.”

This annual safety event gives children and their caregivers an important opportunity to practice responding to the Community Warning System (CWS) alerts, which includes a series of sirens along the waterfront from Richmond to Antioch. The CWS sounds a siren when there has been a dangerous chemical release or other disaster that requires a shelter-in-place. These alerts are also sent via radio, TV, and Social Media postings.
Hazardous material releases can result from many sources in Contra Costa County, including accidents at chemical treatment plants, wastewater treatment facilities, facilities that store and/or manufacture hazardous materials, refineries, but also from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals. The possibility of accidents, make it important for the county’s youngest members to recognize and respond correctly to shelter-in-place alerts.

Tony Semenza of CAER & Jack Grossman of Marchus School
Long-time Marchus School teacher and campus emergency coordinator Jack Grossman said, “The kids are always so cooperative when we hold our drills.” No argument from the members of CAER who were on hand to monitor the drill. As soon as school Administrative Assistant Michelle Kiernan gave the announcement over the PA, doors began closing up tight, and the few students and staff that were outside quickly followed into their classroom. At the same time, the school’s HVAC system went immediately into shutdown (so no dangerous air would pump into the campus buildings).
During the ten-minute shelter-in-place drill, the CAER people were able to check the entire campus to make sure all specific emergency measures were taken. After everything was checked, it was then back to business.

Semenza also reported, “This was a very successful drill, and I am so impressed with the different emergency plans that Grossman has generated for all types of emergencies this school could encounter: fire, bomb threat, earthquake, chemical spill or air quality, and intruder. Jack has each emergency readied with a campus-wide warning signal and specific procedures.” Grossman says that the school practices one of these drills a month.

Thanks to Grossman, Marchus School was able to secure an emergency grant from CAER earlier this year.  He used the money to purchase portable toilets, emergency supplies, and canopy tents. “We are equipped to safely stay on campus for three days, if needed,” says Grossman.

It was a very impressive drill, and quite notable how Grossman and other Marchus employees work so hard to keep their students and fellow employees safe.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Contra Costa's Environmental Media Workshop a Huge Success

During the month of July, 19 current Contra Costa County high school students and recent graduates had been honing their job and life skills to prepare them for additional education and upcoming employment through participation in the Environmental Media Workshop. Headquartered at Vicente Martinez High School, in Martinez, this impressive workshop was true community partnership to assist our next leaders in East Bay’s high-growth job sectors. 

With funding provided by the Contra Costa County Workforce Development Board, the Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Youth Development Services (YDS), the workshop’s fiscal agent, was able to bring their students together with a number of professional practitioners in the fields of manufacturing and digital media. The four-week program was created and managed by another partner, Lunchbox International.

YDS Specialist Denise Clarke reports, “Along with all of the useful information these students learned, they also earned $800 after completing the 100-hour program.” Clarke and co-worker Oscar Blackwell case-manage the students who are enrolled in a federally funded WIA program (WorkforceInvestment Act). “In addition with their classroom and hands-on education, these students learned life-skills that will certainly help them in school and on the job. These skills included employment interviewing, resume writing, and on-the-job proficiencies.”

The students studied about rainwater harvesting, and how to build efficient systems for homes and buildings by incorporating piping and specialized rain-collection barrels.  Incoming Concord High School senior, Michael Camilleri-Betz, said, “I really enjoy working with the math formulas as we created water-harvesting systems for different types of buildings. We would design specific systems and calculate the best way to collect water coming off a roof and into a rain barrel.”

The entire class impressed the instructors on how well they absorbed the learning materials and then passed the Green Building LEED Certification testing. One of the instructors noted that he’d never seen such a group do so well.  After finishing up their certification, the students went right into digital media training. This was another hands-on instruction where the students created a video public service announcement on rainwater harvesting, while learning about lighting, sound, video production and editing, and working with on-air talent.

YDS Manager Catherine Giacalone said, “Our first order is to make sure these students earn their high school diploma, and then prepare them for post secondary education and careers. We are offering such trainings with this summer where local employment research forecasts the need to fill manufacturing, digital media and well as health care jobs. East Bay employers continue to look for trained and skilled employees in these areas. This is an expensive area for people to live in, and these work experiences will prepare youth for employment in high-wage, high-growth industry sectors. ”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Campolindo High School has an impressive showing at the California State Academic Decathlon Champion

The recently crowned Contra Costa County High School Academic Decathlon Champions, Campolindo High School, (see story) had a very impressive past weekend at the 2013 California Academic Decathlon, held in Sacramento.

Campolindo’s coach Paul Verbanszky reported that the team represented Contra Costa County very well at the state competition. The team received the Most Improved School Award in state ranking for schools of all sizes—increasing from 40th to 24th place and they are the state champions for medium-sized schools. The team also earned 12 individual achievement awards. Verbanszky said “The team is incredibly excited to represent Contra Costa County and Northern California schools in the Online Academic Decathlon National in April!” 

The main winner overall (Los Angeles Unified School District's Granada Hills Charter High School) will represent California at this year's National Academic Decathlon will be held in Minneapolis, Minn., April 25 – 27. All the other division winners, such as Camplindo, will compete online during the same time. 

Campolindo’s highest scorer, Marina Han, said, “I felt pretty confident at State and really enjoyed the competition.  I felt like I was in my element. I am slightly nervous, but looking forward to compete at the national level.”

Tristan Caro, who collected three individual medals in Sacramento, said, “I thought it was great that in just a few years we went from barely reaching 2nd place in county to making national competition. It really says something to the effort of everyone on the team and the dedication of the team members.”

Verbanszky teaches AP psychology and government/economics, and has been Campolindo’s Academic Decathlon coach since 2005. His Academic Decathlon is an after school club with funding coming from generous donations and fundraising.  It is a tremendous accomplishment to compete in the Nationals. 
He continues, “I am very proud of my students.  They have put in countless hours after school preparing for competition. And, our team gives a big thank you to the Contra Costa County Office of Education for all of their hard work with Academic Decathlon, so that the students can have such a positive experience.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

County Office of Education promotes new Deputy Superintendent

Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Joseph A. Ovick, Ed.D., recently promoted Karen Sakata as the new Deputy Superintendent for the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE). Sakata brings more than 38 years of experience as an education administrator and teacher to her new position as the CCCOE's second-in-command. 

Recently, Sakata had been serving as the CCCOE'S Associate Superintendent, human resources, a position she transferred to after working as the agency's Associate Superintendent, student and program services, from July 2008 to July 2010. Before joining the CCCOE, she was the Principal of Ayers Elementary School, in Concord (Mt. Diablo Unified School District). Prior to her principal position, Sakata worked primarily as a special education program specialist, special education teacher, and administrator in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Her teaching positions included serving as a special education teacher, speech and language pathologist, resource specialist, and an early childhood specialist.

"With her wealth of experience in education and numerous successful accomplishments in the classroom and in administration here in Contra Costa County, we are quite excited about Karen taking on this new position," reports Dr. Ovick. “Karen is a dynamic leader who is passionate about life-long learning. Our students, educators, and administrators will certainly benefit from her guidance.”

Under the direction of Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ovick, Sakata will be directing day-to-day activities of the CCCOE; analyze County Office issues and provide recommendations to the superintendent concerning appropriate course of action; serve as the superintendent in the absence of the administrator; and review, analyze, and sign documents and contracts on behalf of the superintendent. In addition, Sakata will continue her role in directing the CCCOE's human resources department.

Sakata holds an M.A. in speech pathology from San Jose State University and a B.A. in psychology from the University of California, at Berkeley. In addition, she has earned a number of education-related certifications, credentials, and licenses.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Campolindo High School is Contra Costa County's 2013 Academic Decathlon Champion

History truly repeated itself when the top three 2013 Contra Costa County High School Academic Decathlon finishing teams were a carbon copy of last year's results. At the exciting Academic Decathlon Awards Reception, held February 4, Campolindo High School (Moraga) Red Team (pictured above) once again finished in first place, and will go on to represent Contra Costa County in the California State Academic Decathlon competition. Also in repeating rolls, Campolindo's Blue Team, took 2nd place, and Acalanes (Lafayette) High School finished in 3rd.

Directed by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) and with the assistance of community volunteers, the county's Academic Decathlon provides an opportunity for high school students to compete as individuals and teams in a series of ten academic tests and demonstrations. The curriculum includes art, economics, language and literature, social science, mathematics, music, science, essay, interview, speech (prepared and impromptu), and the Super Quiz™ Relay.

Approximately, 170 participating high school students had been studying and preparing for this event with their coaches since September. This year's Academic Decathlon theme was Russia, and the Super Quiz™ focused on the areas the participating students had been preparing for with the comprehension portion of Academic Decathlon, e.g., science, art, economics, and literature.

This year's teams represented the following high schools: Acalanes (Lafayette), California (San Ramon), Campolindo (Moraga), Las Lomas (Walnut Creek), Miramonte (Orinda), and Pittsburg (Pittsburg). High school teams were made up of nine students, grades 9-12, with a maximum of three students in each of the following divisions: Honors (3.75-4.00 GPA), Scholastic (3.00-3.74 GPA) and Varsity (2.99 GPA and below).

High schools that have more than nine students who want to participate in Academic Decathlon, can field more than one team, e.g., Campolindo's Red and Blue Teams. The teams can also bring guests or alternate participants from their school.

The Campolindo Red Team will now represent Contra Costa County at the California State Academic Decathlon, to be held in Sacramento, March 14-17.

During the awards ceremony, many individual awards were also given out. This year's Top Overall Academic Decathlon Individual Award went to Zach Scherer, of Campolindo High School. All Academic Decathlon resultss are posted on the CCCOE's website.

The Academic Decathlon was first created by Dr. Robert Peterson, former Superintendent of Schools in Orange County, California. Firmly believing that everyone's learning potential can be maximized through competitive challenge, Dr. Peterson set in motion the contest that has since come to be recognized as the most prestigious high school academic team competition in the United States. The program spread rapidly throughout the states due to the success and excitement it engendered. USAD was founded in 1981.

This year's National Academic Decathlon will be held in Minneapolis, Minn., April 25 - 27.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Contra Costa County High School Mock Trial is looking for legal professionals to volunteer a few hours of their expertise

Bay Area soon-to-be, practicing, and retired law professionals are needed to provide assistance to their future brethren at the upcoming 32nd Annual Contra Costa County High School Mock Trial Program, held in the early evenings throughout the month of February, at the Martinez Court Houses. Last year, 120 Bay Area practicing and retired attorneys, law students, and sworn judges volunteered their time with the Mock Trials.
Miramonte High School Mock Trial Team -- 2012 Contra Costa County Champions
Coordinated by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE), Mock Trial is an academic event provided for high school students. The hands-on educational program was created to help students acquire a working knowledge of our judicial system, develop analytical abilities and communication skills, and gain an understanding of their obligations and responsibilities as participating members of our society. This year’s case is a hit-and-run trial (with a texting-while-driving element mixed in): People vs. Vega.

"I encourage all law professionals to join us in serving as volunteer judges and attorney scorers," says Contra Costa County Presiding Judge Barry Goode. "Not only is it a real service to the students, but it will make you feel good. You will be impressed with the skill these young men and women demonstrate in our courtrooms. Every time I volunteer, I leave with a great sense of optimism about the next generation. It is such a treat to watch them at work."

Teams of high school students work with teachers and volunteer coaches to prepare their version of the criminal case, from both the prosecution and defense perspectives. Students assume the roles of trial attorneys, pre-trial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks, bailiffs, artists, and court journalists. Mock Trial judges and attorneys score their performance and provide immediate feedback. Winning teams advance through seven rounds of competition. The county’s champion advances to the State finals. This year, there will be 17 Contra Costa County high school Mock Trial teams competing.

Volunteers will score two competing schools that argue the cases in their assigned court. Each night, will begin with a 15-minute rules and regulations session, then the volunteers will go into their scheduled courtrooms to serve as Mock Trial judge and scorers. The Mock Trials’ scorers are made up of Bay Area deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, as well as public-sector, private-practice, and corporate lawyers. In addition, seasoned law students are also welcome to participate. A practicing or retired judge or commissioner will preside over each trial, and also serves as one of the trial’s scorers.

Teams from the following 17 Contra Costa County high schools will be competing:
Acalanes (Lafayette), Alhambra (Martinez), Antioch (Antioch), California (San Ramon), Campolindo (Moraga), Clayton Valley Charter (Concord), Deer Valley Law Academy (Antioch), Dougherty Valley (San Ramon), El Cerrito (El Cerrito), Hercules Middle/High (Hercules), Heritage (Brentwood), Kennedy (Richmond), Las Lomas (Walnut Creek), Miramonte (Orinda), Monte Vista (Danville), Northgate (Walnut Creek), and Richmond (Richmond).

Schedule for 2013 Contra Costa County High School Mock Trials:

Preliminaries: February 5, 7, 12, 14, 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Nine competitions each night)

Quarterfinals: February 19, 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Four competitions)

Semifinals: February 21, 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Two competitions)

Final and Consolation: February 26, 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Two competitions)

Mock Trial will be headquartered at the A.F. Bray Courthouse, in Martinez.

Interested volunteers can learn more by visiting the CCCOE’s Mock Trial Web page, or contacting Jonathan Lance at (925) 942-3429.

The two highest-scoring teams will advance to the finals on Tuesday, February 26. The winning team will then represent Contra Costa County at the California State Mock Trial Competition, held in Riverside, Calif., March 23-25. The California state finalist team will then compete in the National Mock Trial Competition, held in Indianapolis, Ind., May 9-11.

In 1977, the Constitutional Rights Foundation (CRF) introduced the concept of mock trials to the Los Angeles schools. In 1980, the program expanded to the state level. The California Mock Trial Program currently involves more than 36 counties and over 8,000 student participants from more than 400 teams. Approximately 1,500 attorney volunteers serve as team coaches and scorers, and 500 Municipal, Superior, and Appellate Court judges preside over the trials.