No one is happy with MDUSD

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.



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  1. rich eber says

    Your questions about Monte Gardens are all valid and important things
    To consider. In this article I did not go into great detail about the operation
    Of this magnet school because the main intent of bringing it up was to how
    The importance of parental involvement in the educational process.

    I also wanted to point out that race and economic status which is often blamed for low performance in the MDSD can be overcome if there is a will to do so.

    Education is very important to me as I am currently working on some other
    Articles on Charter Schools and other programs that have succeeded above the norm.

    I am glad you are reading Halfway to Concord as I believe it is an important
    Vehicle to further community understanding of important issues.

    Rich Eber

  2. Kelly St. Germain says

    Would you please elaborate on this statement re: Monte Gardens?

    “…heavy involvement from a parent controlled board of directors to help to formulate school policies.”

    What Board of Directors? You mean a PTA? And what school policies are parents formulating? Curriculum? Suspension/expulsion? Class size? I don’t understand but really want to get a handle on your perspective of what parents can do at a school site. Thanks.

  3. says

    Not sure if ‘rubbish’ is the best word. Is there hyperbole? Sure. But in my experience, there is more than a grain of truth to it. More like a quarry with lots of big rocks. Personally, I can’t think of any parent I know who is satisfied with what MDUSD has to offer. I know of at least two families who moved to Walnut Creek and are renting their homes in Concord so they can get a better education for their children. They might move back when their kids get into college. Who knows. I would not be surprised if a thousand or more are district hopping as Eber described.

  4. Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette says

    Schools are affected by the snowball theory. Higher property values in Lafayette, Alamo & other nearby towns came long before so called high performing schools. It is/was because of location
    50 years ago, Mount Diablo High was considered a good school. Latino farm workers children learning English, were a small minority. Monument Boulevard was mostly farmland. Not apartment complexes filled with people learning to speak English.
    The snowball theory continues today with people paying extra to get their children into Lafayette schools. Naturally the people who pay extra to get their children into so called better schools, spend more time getting their children to study. Asian parents are fanatics at getting their children to study. Some parents push their children to hard. Then they fail..
    A gifted child I know, called Lafayette’s schools “Brainwashing”. . She went from the gifted program, to continuation school. .

  5. R ichard Eber says

    Dear Lori

    The reason I mentioned the Asian families in Danville who purchased property there was because this demonstrated the importance to these people of having their children enrolled in the highly rated school system there.

    When it comes to the importance of education, many families will make personal sacrifices because they know having well educated children translates into admittance to institutions of higher education and successful careers that inevitably follow.

    My point was residing in communities with a strong school systems is important both educationally and economically as property prices are enhanced. Going along with this is the desire of less well; off people to do everything in their power to have their kids attend these schools. Going along with this desire for a better education are Charter Schools which are the subject of a couple future postings on my part.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. George Fulmore says

    I find the article simplistic rubbish. The author seems to want to encourage those in the “better” real estate areas to flee from the Mt. Diablo School District, as if it was some kind of diseased beast.

    Monte Gardens is cited as an example of excellence, but there is not much there that tells us what is really going on there. And are the primary goals of life to have high test scores, high-priced real estate and successful kids? There seems to be more fear in this kind of thinking than anything positive.

    I can’t imagine not wanting all schools to be excellent. That is where I am coming from. And using words like “no one,” of course, is silly, especially when the article then goes on to only discuss affluent areas.

    Would it be possible that “someone” DOES like the Mt. Diablo schools and what goes on in a school there? I’m sure that is the case. But you would not get that perspective in this simplistic hit piece on the Mt. Diablo schools.

  7. says

    @Homeschooling… it would really depend on the home teacher more than the kid. I would have been terrible at homeschooling my kids, had to work and their school needs were beyond my capacity to fulfill. It is a very low percentage of home situations these days where homeschooling is practical and I suspect even less where it is a reasonable choice.
    We need to improve our public schools, it is that simple.

    • says

      You and other statists miss the point completely Edi. Why should the State discriminate against any legitimate response to providing for the common welfare in delivery of educational services from any fully licensed and certified K-12 provider irregardless of ethnicity, race, or religion—even a secular religion or worldview?

      This doesn’t happen at the college or university levels, only at the K-12 level dominated by the power of teacher unions like the CTA, waste of time state bureaucrats like Tom Torlakson that the CTA controls, and incumbent candidate campaigns supported by teacher union dues like Susan Bonilla’s.

      The only obligation of the state is legal-administrative oversight and adjudication to provide a level playing field for the purpose of insuring adequate choices in public education—not reducing legitimate schooling to gubbermint-run education.

      Parents, exercising their own authority for their children, should be free to choose schooling of their choice without bigoted discrimination by the state or collusion with undemocratic labor interests.

      Your position is not unique, as many uncritically rely on the mistaken assumption that only the state can authorize “rights” of social institutions. In contrast to this totalitarianism, a more normative approach understands that civil society includes a wide variety of social institutions (families, churches, schools, associations, business, labor or guilds and professional organizations, and other NGOs, that have their own legitimate office and authority that do not arise from the State. The role of the Sate then is not to put itself over civil society but to provide for security and the commonweal so that one mode (e.g. today’s .01% or corporate cronyism) don’t dominate, distort, or threaten the other dimensions of society.

      Unfortunately, your tenets also inevitably lead to treating citizens the same way, reducing them to creatures of the state rather respecting their likeness of God. That’s not a very neutral religious viewpoint upon which to claim that all schools other than the state run schools (failing or not) are “parochial.”

  8. Wendy Lack says

    The biggest losers in mismanaged Districts like MDUSD? Gifted kids. They totally get the shaft.

    For every child, homeschooling is superior to institutionalized babysitting in a prison-like environment.

  9. Lori Erokan says

    In the story “No One Is Happy with MDUSD,” why does it matter that the parents who purchased duplexes in Danville are Asian? Just wondering…