OK, let’s just say it — no one is very happy with the Mount Diablo Unified School District ( MDUSD ) — there, it’s been said. And it’s why terms like “Secluded,” “stunner,” “nestled in the pines,” and “dream kitchen,” are part of real estate agents’ lexicon used to attract buyers of the desirability of the location-location-location of the properties they are trying to sell. For instance, all of these descriptors, at least in the Concord/Walnut Creek area are overshadowed by the tru magic words, “located within the prestigious Northgate High School boundary.”
What this really means is that if a family resides in this unique geographical area, their children will be able to attend a select group of grammar-middle schools culminating with becoming enrolled at Northgate High School. Given historical data in the last quarter century, attending these schools will greatly improve the odds of being admitted after graduation to a well regarded four year college.
This means everything as well educated children are far more likely to succeed in life than lower performing students.
In the real estate world, Northgate is synonymous with higher home values than neighboring communities that feed into Ygnacio Valley, Concord, and Clayton Valley Charter High Schools. It is no wonder that that some of the residents of the Northgate area want to separate from the MDUSD and start their own school district.
In order to do this, there is a long drawn out process that would take several years to complete. It is not possible to leave one school district and join another either, so jumping to the Walnut Creek School District is not an option. Another matter to take care of is infrastructure and bonds. Were Northgate able to secede from MDUSD and do its own thing, it would still be liable for school bonds that are being paid for in property taxes for the next 40 years.
Despite this uphill fight, it may still be advantageous—both educationally and economically—for Northgate residents to start their own district which mirror what has been done close by in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Orinda. This same idea is also being floated around lately in the semi-affluent College Park and Clayton areas, where many residents are frustrated with MDUSD school system as well.
Reasons commonly cited for why no one is happy with MDUSD
Where there is smoke, fire can be found. During the past decade the MDUSD has been plagued by:
1. Scandals with administration and legal representation which has resulted in three superintendents in the past five years with two of them having been fired.
2. Dissatisfaction in the way bond monies since 2010 have been spent with over 20% of $348 million in Measure C funds going to solar power installations (thanks to a nepotistic pork project from Rep George Miller that got white-whashed) at every school—including a couple that have been closed—not to mention the price tag for Measure C to reach $1.87 billion over the life of the bond.
3. Fighting and discord on the School Board since former Chairman Dick Allen retired in 2008.
4. Allocation of resources within the MDSD to lower performing schools at the expense of those doing better.
5. The perception of parents that the district has lost it focus on its mission, i.e. actually educating the children of parents that they serve.
6. The well publicized clash between teachers and the administration of the MDUSD over the years dealing with pay, pensions, and working conditions.
In short, no one is very happy with the MDUSD. As recent discord has indicated, people are running out of patience with the underperforming school district.
The question is who is to blame not only with the MDUSD but with neighboring areas as well for dismal state test results, low graduation levels, and the inability of those who do make it though the system to be trainable in the job market or entering college programs.
The families of those receiving major government entitlements (mostly black and Hispanic) have accused the schools of not serving their special needs and practicing a benign institutional racism. Whether it is class size, quality of instruction, language barriers, suspension policies, or a myriad of other issues, those on the bottom feel trapped and ignored.
Many middle class folks feel they are being mistreated as well. It is a well known fact that the term “no child left behind” has morphed into “no child gets ahead.” This is the problem with equality. There is a perception among this group that they have been cast aside by school districts who appear to spend most of its resources on those who are already failing and really don’t care.
Wealthier folks can place their kids into private schools or purchase homes in school districts with higher educational standards. Not everyone has this option. This does not keep those with fewer economic resources from placing their children in more favorable educational environments, however.
Some families have rented apartments in wealthy communities so that their kids can attend school there. In Danville, income housing has resulted in Asians purchasing duplexes subsidized by Shappel Homes so their children can attend the highly regarded school system. This is a vivid illustration of the real estate term “Location, Location, Location.”
Not to be forgotten is the common practice of “district jumping” where families give false addresses of P.O. Boxes or relatives in order to enroll in better schools. Despite efforts of school districts to combat this, it is difficult for them to quell this desire for upward mobility. The poor quality of MDUSD education in this regard, pressures parents to become criminals.
One thing everyone can agree on is that the system is not working. Parents of all demographic levels are panicking because they know their children are not learning. And the scores prove it.
They are frustrated by the educational system and are looking for a silver bullet to solve complex problems. The battle cry is always the same. Blame the principal, blame the budget, blame the superintendent, blame the teacher, blame the curriculum, blame the State and Federal governments etc… The bottom line is that all of these factors play into what has turned out to be a low performing educational system.
If the truth be known, what goes on at home is a great indicator of success or failure in the classroom.
Proving this point is Monte Gardens grammar school in Concord. Several years ago when it faced closure, parents in the area intervened with the school district and turned Monte Gardens into a magnet school feeding into highly regarded Sequoia Middle School.
In order to attend Monte Gardens, families have to commit to volunteering their time and resources at the school while making sure their kids adhered to higher academic standards than neighboring institutions. This has meant aggressive fund raising by the parents club and heavy involvement from a parent controlled board of directors to help to formulate school policies.
The Monte Garden model has worked out well. (See nearby chart) Its test scores are through the roof and are better than any grammar school in the area. This success has lead to a waiting list for parents trying to enroll in the school which takes in students from throughout the district.
Of course there are “progressive” critics who claim Monte Gardens is cherry picking good families and raising more money than other schools to assist teachers in the classroom. At the same time it has been mentioned that these “magnet” or “schools of choice” are hurting neighboring institutions because they are being deprived from having involved families in their ranks.
However, as with the entire public educational system, parents are principally concerned about how their kids are doing, not yours. Whether it is with magnet, Charter, Northgate, or neighborhood schools, most people only want what is best for their family.