Skip to main content

All News

Erica and Bryan Shaw

Ygnacio Valley HS history and ethnic studies teacher Bryan Shaw, above right, has been selected a 2023 James Madison Memorial Fellow following in the footsteps of his wife, College Now history teacher Erica Shaw, above left, who was chosen as a James Madison Memorial Fellow in 2022.

Erica and Bryan in their classrooms

By Theresa Harrington Brandt
MDUSD Public Information Officer


You've probably heard of a "match made in heaven." But in MDUSD, teachers Bryan and Erica Shaw could be considered "a match made in history." 


They met while they were both teaching history at Mt. Diablo HS in 2009. "That's what brought us together," Bryan said with a smile. After a whirlwind romance, they married in 2010 and started a family. Erica now teaches 11th grade U.S. History, senior Government and Economics, and AVID in the College Now program at Diablo Valley College and Bryan teaches social studies and ethnic studies in the Education Academy at Ygnacio Valley High School.


As lifelong learners themselves, both Bryan and Erica are always searching for history-related information that they can share with each other and their students. This led Erica to apply for a James Madison Memorial Fellowship, which she received last year, to pursue a master's degree in U.S. history with an emphasis on the U.S. Constitution. This year, Bryan was selected as a 2023 fellow, following in Erica's footsteps. Both are studying through an online Gettysburg College program in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.


Heralded as "America’s most prestigious award in constitutional history and government for secondary teachers," the fellowship provides recipients with up to $24,000 each to pursue a master's degree in a program that includes "courses on the history and principles of the Constitution" in recognition of President James Madison's reputation as the "Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights."


"The program is magical place where I get to learn history just for myself," Erica said, adding that much of what she learns helps to inform her teaching in MDUSD, such as a recent "historiography" course that looked at how scholars have studied issues such as the New Deal. One point now being addressed that was not considered 15 or 20 years ago, she said, is who didn't have access to New Deal programs.


After seeing how rigorous the fellowship was, Bryan decided he wanted to take on the same challenge as Erica, in part, "to prove that I can do it." This mindset is something he sees his own students grappling with when they take on rigorous projects. "Erica and I are both pushing ourselves and trying new things," Bryan said, adding that this helps their children and their students to see them as learner role models. 


The pair are so engrossed in history that they discussed the relative merits of Communism during their first dance together at their wedding, they are both members of the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project, and they regularly discuss history at home with their family. They wrote their own history curriculum, which relies heavily on primary source materials instead of textbooks and requires students to think critically about their roles in creating today's history.


"Teaching gives us the opportunity to help students realize they have a voice that deserves to be heard," Erica said. "That is why I love history so much, because history is full of people who have fought to have their voices heard - and helping students see themselves in the history of the past is something I just love to do."


Bryan said he likes "helping students learn how to think." He recalls being required to memorize a lot of dry, boring facts in his high school history classes. But that's not what he requires from his students. In both his history and ethnic studies classes, he wants students to "understand where they fit into the narrative today and have conversations with their parents" about this. Regarding the fellowship, he said: "I love history, but my strength is not the Constitution, so I'm excited to learn more about it."


Erica said having a firm understanding of the Constitution will help her better communicate to her students "what their rights are and what the ideals of this nation are" so they understand how to use their voices most effectively to advocate for themselves.


After a year in the program, Erica said she expects to be halfway through the 10 courses required by the end of this summer. Bryan wants to accelerate his studies during the summers so they can graduate and "walk the stage together."


Erica is excited by this prospect. "We're going to hold hands and be so cute," she said.


Click on the tweets below to see how Erica started her fellowship and read kudos from the UCB History-Social Science Project.


Erica starts MA program

UCB History-Social Science Project tweet

Posted 5/22/23

MDUSD Grad Dates flyer

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District looks forward to celebrating the Class of 2023 at this year's High School and Alternative Education Graduation ceremonies!


High Schools

College Park High: 7 pm Thursday, May 25, Concord Pavilion

Concord High7 pm Friday, May 26, Concord Pavilion

Mt. Diablo High: 7 pm Wednesday, May 31, Concord Pavilion

Northgate High: 7 pm Tuesday, May 30, Concord Pavilion

Ygnacio Valley High: 7 pm Friday, June 2, Concord Pavilion


Alternative Education

Alliance: 6 pm Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion

Bridge: 6:30 pm Thursday, June 1, Loma Vista

College Now: 6 pm Tuesday, May 23, DVC 

Crossroads: 11 am Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion

Glenbrook Academy: 11 am Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion

Horizons Independent: 11 am Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion

Mt. Diablo Adult Ed.: 10:30 am Saturday, June 3, Loma Vista

Olympic High: 6:30 pm Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion 

Prospect High: 11 am Saturday, June 3, Concord Pavilion

Posted 5/22/23

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is proud to announce our 1st Annual Black Excellence Awards. The Black Excellence Awards is a districtwide ceremony designed to celebrate African American student achievement.


African Americans students will be recognized for their high Grade Point Averages, attendance and outstanding grades in English Language Arts and Mathematics. More than 130 students in grades Kindergarten through 12 will be recognized in the ceremony. Schools that engage in culturally responsive practices while reducing suspensions of African American students will also be recognized.


Our objective is to increase African American family engagement through building trust and inclusive partnerships between students, families and staff.   


When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 16th, 2023

Who: Open to all

Where: Concord High School, 4200 Concord Blvd., Concord

Posted 5/15/23

Dr. Adam Clark and Dana TarantinoMDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark (left) stands with Northgate HS math teacher Dana Tarantino at the Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust Awards dinner May 4.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

MDUSD Public Information Officer


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Northgate High School teacher Dana Tarantino has been awarded the Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust Award in recognition of her outstanding teaching. She received the award, which includes $10,000 for each recipient, along with Ellerhorst Elementary teacher Kris Berry and Stanley MS teacher Claire Scott, at an awards banquet on May 4th.


The Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust was created “to foster excellence in education by providing annual monetary awards to exceptional Contra Costa County K-12 classroom teachers," according to its website.


"Ms. Tarantino is an exemplary educator,” said MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark, who attended the gala awards event. “I enjoyed hearing her story and spending time with her family. She is a worthy recipient of this prestigious award."


Tarantino was nominated for the award by her former student Sabrina Woo, the school’s ASB President who graduated last year and is now attending UC Berkeley. For her award application, Tarantino created a video with clips of six current and former Algebra II students talking about what makes her special. Majed Al Hejazin said he appreciates the fact that she doesn’t just teach from the book and instead creates her own lessons that are so fun that he actually looks forward to coming to her early morning class each day. Katie Ringot said Tarantino’s “entertaining and engaging teaching style makes students want to pay attention and be involved,” along with the fact that they know “she cares so much.” Owen Hansel said the way she treats students makes them want to do better “so her effort isn’t wasted on you.” 


Marina Johnson said Tarantino offers students “mutual respect and friendship” which helps her to bond with them. “The continued kindness and understanding that radiates from her is unparalleled by any other teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Marina said. Ashley Chan said Tarantino is “passionate about her work,” she loves kids and “that joy on her face" really makes people want to be in her classroom. Adrianna Castro said Tarantino often reached out to her after class last year when she “went through a really hard time” and made her aware of opportunities such as joining the school’s site council, which she did. “She was an advocate for me,” Adrianna said. “If you are a student, she loves you and no matter if you have an A, B, F, or D, she will advocate for you inside and outside the classroom.”


Tarantino, who has taught for 36 years and is in her sixth year at Northgate, said Adrianna’s comments about her advocacy for students “made my heart just swell. That’s exactly what I would dream my students feel like.” Tarantino says she “goes out of the box” to explain math to students in ways they can understand it. For example, instead of asking students to remember how to multiply equations using the acronym FOIL (first, outside, inside, last), she draws arrows from each part of the equation to the part that should be multiplied, which ends up looking like a claw. She calls this the “claw” strategy, which she said sticks with students more easily than FOIL.


She has also created mini white boards on each student's desk so they can work together in groups and  she can show them how to do problems easily and quickly. She uses an interactive smart board that allows her to annotate problems while she is explaining them and to incorporate games such as one that features fish who cheer when students answer questions correctly, adding “a little more playfulness” to math.


And as her students said, Tarantino builds strong relationships with students. “I spend nine months building a family,” she said, “because if you feel comfortable in class, you’re going to do better.”


Dana Tarantino's "claw" drawing

Posted 5/15/23

Keisha NzewiMDUSD Board President Keisha NzewiDr. Adam Clark

MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark


Mt. Diablo Unified School District School Board President Keisha Nzewi and Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark and invite District parents, guardians, staff and community members to participate in a virtual Town Hall listening session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 16th.


The topics expected to be addressed include:

  • safety
  • academic achievement
  • celebrations
  • support services
  • the 2023-24 school year
  • class assignments
  • and other issues.

The Zoom link is here:

Posted 5/11/23

Tori Umaña Almaraz

Mt. Diablo HS senior Tori Umaña Almaraz stands proudly by the school sign holding a University of Southern California banner and wearing a USC sweatshirt on "signing day" May 4th, after committing to their dream school when they learned they were awarded a prestigious Gates Scholarship. 


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

Public Information Officer


Mt. Diablo High School and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District are proud to announce that senior Tori Umaña Almaraz has received a prestigious Gates Scholarship, which will enable them to attend their dream school - the University of Southern California (USC) in the fall. Tori (who uses the pronouns "they" and "them") plans to major in math and minor in education for their undergraduate studies, then pursue a master's degree with the goal of becoming a high school or community college math teacher.


"Whenever I tell people I want to be a math teacher, they're like, 'Ew, why?'" Tori said. "People hate math because they think it's really difficult. I like math and the reason I’ve been able to do well is because of the teachers I've had." But, in middle school, Tori said they had one math teacher who really wasn't very good at explaining the concepts, so they struggled a lot. "That's part of the reason I want to teach math," Tori said, "because if I can make a difficult subject like math easier for many students, that’s something I think is enjoyable, and that's my contribution to the world and society." Like some of their favorite teachers, Tori plans to be available to future students by inviting them to ask questions during regular office hours, and being available via email. "I understand students learn differently, such as by hands-on learning," Tori said. "I want to incorporate that and make my teaching more accessible for my students."


The "highly selective" Gates Scholarship is awarded to "outstanding, minority, high school seniors from low-income households" who are "exceptional student leaders, with the intent of helping them realize their maximum potential," according to the website. This year, Tori said 750 students were selected out of 51,000 applicants, based on the application, essays, letters of recommendation and a personal interview.


Tori, who is Latinx, has a weighted GPA of about 4.4 and has also been selected as Mt. Diablo High School's valedictorian for the Class of 2023. They are taking five classes at MDHS this semester - public speaking, physics, AP English literature, AP government and statistics. In addition, they are taking AP Calculus BC through the UC Scout program, with oversight from MDHS math teacher Kyle Kondo, who wrote a letter of recommendation for the Gates Scholarship.  "I recommended Tori for the scholarship because of their confidence and the growth that they demonstrated taking AP Calculus AB last year," Kondo said. "It's very rare for me to encounter juniors in AP Calculus AB at our school. Tori demonstrated a lot of resilience through the class and in the end was very successful in both the class and on the AP test. Tori has continued forward and has been self studying AP Calculus BC this year. I feel very honored that Tori is interested in becoming a math teacher. I honestly really want them to explore the other options too though. I hope that when they are at USC that they will get to see how many different choices and options that there are to explore."


Tori was busy last week taking AP exams, while also juggling softball practice and games, and planning an upcoming field for the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club. At age 17, Tori has figured out the importance of maintaining a balance in their life both inside and outside of school. But this has not always been the case. As a child, Tori said they "failed" at fully enjoying their childhood, including fun activities outside of school. "When I was younger, I let other people's expectations of me decide my life," Tori said. "But I'm doing my own thing now. I'm choosing my own pathway. I was good at school at a young age, and I feel like in elementary and middle school, I wasn't focusing on myself. I was trying to do more than I could and that was really stressing me out. Now, even though I'm still working hard, I can hang out with friends or take a walk to take some time to myself. I can organize my time. If I get a B on a test, I'm fine with it. If I need to raise my grade, I will talk to the teacher. There are other things I want to do, too. I'm trying to learn how to roller blade."


At graduation, Tori wants Mt. Diablo High students to stand tall and proud, even though some have been discouraged at times by a negative perception of the school by some in the community, which Tori believes is unfounded. "In 9th grade, I told someone I went to Mt. Diablo High and they said, 'I'm sorry,'" Tori recalled, voicing a desire to show that the school doesn't deserve such a reputation. Tori plans to tell their classmates that they are proving the doubters wrong. "You're going to do great things," Tori will say, stressing options such as college, trade schools or starting work. "You have all these opportunities in front of you. You are here now and you know what you are capable of." Just as Tori has learned to chart their own path, Tori wants their classmates to know that they too, can overcome misperceptions that others may have about them or the school and realize their dreams. 


Tweet of congratulations

Posted 5/8/23


Libby McDonagh

Prospect HS teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh received the 2023 CCEA Plus Region 4 Teacher of the Year and the CCEA Plus State Teacher of the Year awards at the group's annual conference on April 29th.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

MDUSD Public Information Officer


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Prospect High School teacher Elizabeth "Libby"  McDonagh has been recognized as both a regional and state 2023 California Continuing Education Association Plus Teacher of the Year! She received both awards on April 29th at the CCEA Plus annual conference in San Diego, where Prospect HS was also recognized as a 2023 California Model Continuation High School.


"These awards are given annually to individuals who have gone above and beyond in their leadership with staff, their dedication to student success, and involvement in their community," said Prospect HS Principal Melissa Brennan. "The CCEA Plus Teacher of the Year is the most prestigious award. We are incredibly lucky to have Libby on our Prospect team." 


McDonagh has been teaching for eight years and this is her third year at Prospect. In her first year there, she was recognized as a District Teacher of the Year. "I love this school," she said. "I love working in continuing education. I think it’s great that we have smaller classes because we can build much deeper relationships. I never want to go back to a traditional school environment."


Her goals, she said, align with the school's vision, which is "serving kids equitably and making sure they get a good education and taking care of the whole child." This includes keeping up with students' grades, credits, and what's going on in their lives. One of the ways she checks in on students each day is to show them a variety of animated pictures depicting different emotions and asking them to tell her which one they identify with as she takes roll. If a student picks a character who looks sad, she knows the student is "in a vulnerable state."


She teaches English, leadership, psychology and sociology to the mostly 11th and 12th-graders, who came to Prospect after experiencing difficulties at traditional high schools. A lot of them missed class time during the pandemic, including one student who didn't have Internet access, she said. "A lot are here because they didn’t find a good fit at one of the traditional schools," she said. "It’s very telling that a lot of our students are Latino and English learners. I think that shows where we as a District might be struggling. We have an over-representation of students of color, those with IEPs (special education Individualized Education Program), and those learning English as a second language."


McDonagh, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said traditional lessons that require teens to memorize Shakespeare or facts that are not relevant to them don't resonate with her students. "It's our job to show them how this is meaningful to their lives," she said, explaining that she invites her students to come up with "self-guided projects" focused on "something they are passionate about - something they want to do or create." As they are working on these projects, she is also teaching them time management skills, which will help them throughout their lives.


Students said she cares about them and makes lessons interesting by incorporating things that appeal to them, such as pop culture TV shows that deal with topics such as race, gender, capitalism and philosophy. "Her class is a safe environment for most people," said Gabby Cramer, an 18-year-old senior. "I'd say she's the best teacher here. She connects very well with everyone individually and as a group. She gets us." Marissa Schatz, a 17-year-old junior said McDonagh "can make us laugh when it's needed" and "she's not just talking at us. If she's telling us something and she thinks we're not understanding, she'll put it in ways the whole class can get it." 

McDonagh said she stumbled into her career as a teacher and "it's become my greatest passion in life." She said she loves to learn and believes "the most important thing we can do is inspire a love of learning - even if it’s an alternative means of learning for our kids." Ultimately, she said, "I would hope there would be no need for schools like ours because every school would be as welcoming." 


McDonagh with awards

Prospect HS teacher Elizabeth "Libby" McDonagh holds the the 2023 CCEA Plus Region 4 Teacher of the Year and the 2023 CCEA Plus State Teacher of the Year awards at the group's annual conference on April 29, 2023.

Posted 5/8/23

Free MDUSD STEM Summer Camps for Middle School students are filling up fast, but there are still openings available. The camps will be offered again this summer the weeks of June 5th-9th (GIRL Camp) and June 12-16th (BOY Camp) at Valley Valley Middle School in Pleasant Hill.


There are 60 spaces available in the Girls Camp and 45 spaces available in the Boys Camp. As of May 6th, 45 girls had signed up and 38 boys had signed up. Interested students are encouraged to apply now to take advantage of this great opportunity! In addition, three experienced (paid) coaches will be returning this summer, along with one new coach who was a president of Falcon X Robotics (the College Park team) and who is a PhD student now.  


The MDUSD STEM Summer Camps started with the GIRL Camp, based on the UC Davis curriculum for STEM and robotics, at Valley View in 2015. The one-week program served 23 girls from various MDUSD middle schools and students in surrounding areas. Since then, the GIRL Camp program has become known as the Marathon GIRL Camp Summit, where up to 60 girls from around the area come together to learn about robotics, leadership, problem-solving, and camaraderie across campuses and grade levels. While MDUSD teachers monitor students' progress, the instruction and support are provided by college students in STEM majors and by high school students with experience in STEM areas. 


To meet the interest and need shared by students, MDUSD started the STEM Camp for Boys several years ago for the week following GIRL Camp. The curriculum is slightly different, but the opportunities are the same; where boys from MDUSD and other schools participate as campers supported by assistant coaches and many high school students who participated as campers previously.  


Marathon, our community partner at the Martinez Renewable Fuels Facility, has provided funding for the camps since 2016, and continues to be a strong advocate for bringing STEM/robotics opportunities to middle and high school students around the district. 


If you are interested in participating, application links can be found in the attached flyers or here for girls and here for boys. Applications will be accepted as long as space is available.


Questions can be directed to Mrs. Shauna Hawes, retired Valley View teacher, at

Posted 5/6/23

Carrie Buchek with mural and studentsOlympic HS Behavioral Health Specialist Carrie Buchek (center) stands with two students at the school in front of a mural of a phoenix rising with butterflies that she helped to coordinate based on students' ideas.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

MDUSD Public Information Officer


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is very proud of the wonderful work being done by Olympic Continuation High School Behavioral Specialist Carrie Buchek, which was recognized by the California Continuation Education Association last week! Carrie has been named a 2023 Counselor/Support Person of the Year by the organization and received her award on Saturday, April 29th at an annual conference in San Diego.


"It is specifically given to those who go above and beyond in their leadership with staff and dedication to student success while being heavily involved within their community," said Principal Courtney Lyon. "Carrie is all of those things and so much more. Olympic, and our students, are so fortunate to have her as a part of our team."


Carrie Buchek in her office


Buchek (above) started her career in the District in 2005 as a School Psychologist at Olympic and transitioned to working with students in the adjacent Alliance Social Emotional Educational Collaborative (SEEC) program. She took on the role of a Behavioral Health Specialist in 2009 when the District created these positions to directly serve students with mental health needs. She is now in her second year as a Behavioral Health Specialist at Olympic. "This is my dream job," she said. "I love it so much. It blends everything I love to do." This includes building close relationships with general education students who have experienced trauma through intensive therapy as a licensed clinical therapist and helping them to "believe in themselves and what they are capable of achieving after they leave us." Calling this "transformational work," Buchek said "it's always really exciting" to see students succeed. "Graduation is my favorite day of the year." (Olympic's graduation is June 3.)


Unlike an office therapist who works in isolation from the rest of the school, Buchek said she is very involved in the campus community and in supporting students and advocating for them when needed. She helps students understand why they are struggling and teaches them skills such as mindfulness and self-awareness to help regulate their emotions and get through moments when they are agitated without acting on them. Without these skills, some students may resort to self-destructive or self-harm impulses, such as drug use or fighting, she said. Her role includes helping students to figure out what's triggering these emotions and to pause before acting so they can make healthier coping choices such as self-soothing instead of self-numbing through controlled substances. Ultimately, she works to motivate them to reduce and change these risky behaviors. 


Students said she understands them. "She's cool," said a 17-year-old senior boy. "She cares about what you've got going on." A 17-year-old junior girl added: "She keeps it real. She talks to you straight up and doesn't lie to you, even if you don't want to hear it. When I first met her, I could see in her face that she was going to be someone I wanted to talk to." Calling her "a great person," a 17-year-old junior boy said: "She makes me feel comfortable. You could open up to her about anything. She wants to be there for everybody. If she sees you have a problem, she tries to help you fix it." 


Carrie Buchek receiving award

Carrie Buckek receives her 2023 Counselor/Support Person of the Year Award at the California Continuation Education Association Plus Conference on April 29, 2023 in San Diego.

Posted 5/1/23

Early this afternoon, there was a stabbing at Northgate High School. One student is in police custody and the victim has been taken to a local hospital. Both students involved were in the 9th grade and were acquaintances. 

Walnut Creek police are on the scene. No other students were involved. Counselors are on site and will remain on site tomorrow. Students are back in class.

If you have any information, please contact Walnut Creek Police Department Dispatch at 925-935-6400, or you can call the anonymous tip line at 925-943-5865.

Dr. Adam Clark
Mt. Diablo Unified School District


April 26 update: The victim is in stable condition and is resting at home. The student who assaulted the victim has been arrested by Walnut Creek police. 

Posted 4/25/23

Sunvalley ribbon cutting

MDUSD Art and Digital media students (above) cut a ribbon to unveil the 2nd Annual MDUSD Art & Digital Media Exhibition at Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord on April 17th, surrounded by cheering family members, District teachers and staff, and community members.


More than three dozen MDUSD students, staff, business and community members turned out to kick off the MDUSD Art & Digital Media exhibition at Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord on April 17th, featuring Art & Digital Media Pathways student work from College Park, Concord, Mt. Diablo and Northgate high schools. The artwork with be on display through April 30th in the mall's food court, through a partnership with the shopping center and the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.


"It's partnerships like this that allow us to do projects like this and to bring our students' work to the public," said Dr. Heather Fontanilla, MDUSD's Career Pathways Administrator. "Thank you to our teachers and students." 


The exhibition includes four large screen monitors that display digital photos of art created at each of the high schools represented, including photography, animation and digital media. Mt. Diablo High School Digital Safari Academy junior Esdras Barradas Roan, 16, said it was "cool" to see his artwork on display, along with the work of other District students in the show. In his Multimedia II class, he created a self-portrait illustration using Adobe Illustrator based on a photo of himself as a child wearing sunglasses and a bandana. He also manipulated the colors in a digital photograph looking up at a tree in a "perspectives" display, lightening the brown branches to yellow to provide a more interesting contrast with the blue sky. He said he enjoys art because it allows him to express his creativity and "to show what you have in your mind." His family accompanied him to the exhibit, proudly taking photos of him and his work. 


MDHS Digital Safari teacher Katalina Gallo said the exhibit gives art students an opportunity to present their work to an authentic audience. "It feels that much more meaningful when you make art and have an audience," she said. "This gives you a chance to see real reactions." 


Luther Daniel, General Manager of Sunvalley Shopping Center, said the exhibit helps strengthen the center's ties to the community. "This is some great work," he said, referring to the students' art. "We will continue to support this project forever, because Sunvallley is not going anywhere.


Art exhibit

Concord Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer looks at the Concord HS display (above left), MDHS junior Esdras Barradas Roan stands by a self portrait (above center), exhibit flyer (above right).   

Posted 4/21/23

Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that it recently completed the refinancing of $42.1 million in general obligation bonds, saving taxpayers nearly $5.9 million over the next eight years. The District took advantage of still low interest rates due to economic uncertainty and the federal government’s inflation-fighting rate policies to refinance bonds originally sold in 2013 when interest rates were higher. The District Board of Trustees unanimously approved the refinancing of the bonds on March 22, 2023.


District voters approved the original bonds in 2002 and subsequently refinanced them in 2013; this is the second time the District has been able to lower rates on those original bonds. The funds from the 2002 election bonds were used to build new school facilities and provide for renovations and classroom improvements to existing schools. Interest rates on the refinanced bonds ranged from 4.0% to 5.0%, while the borrowing cost for the new bonds ranges from 2.0% to 2.57%. This difference in rates will save property owners $5,881,937.


“Once again the District has been able to refinance bonds to save taxpayers’ money,” said Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark. “In fact, in just the past two years we’ve been able to save property owners more than $54.8 million without extending the final payment on the bonds.”


Last year, the District refinanced $198 million in bonds, saving taxpayers $49 million through 2038.


Chief Business Officer Dr. Lisa Gonzales said she keeps an eye on the District’s debt obligations and looks for opportunities to save money for our community. She added, “We were happy to have yet another opportunity to lower our bond payments.”

Posted 4/20/23

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that both of its 2023-24 District Teachers of the Year have been named as finalists in the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year competition!


During surprise visits on Monday, April 17th, County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey congratulated Ygnacio Valley HS teacher Joseph Alvarico and Olympic HS teacher Danya Townsend on their selection as two of four finalists, who will compete to be named as County Teachers of the Year in September, when two winners will be announced.


Alvarico and Townsend were named as finalists along with Annalouisa Gonzalez-Ortega, who teaches at Freedom HS in the Liberty Union High School District, and Patricia Ogura, who teaches at Hercules Middle School and Hercules HS in West Contra Costa Unified. 


The four teacher finalists were selected from 21 candidates nominated by their school districts, the Contra Costa County Office of Education and the Contra Costa Community College District. Joining in on the surprise visits were school principals, district administrators, School Board members and parent leaders. Students enjoyed cheering their teachers on and posing for photos with them after they learned the exciting news. 


“Congratulations to the four 2023-24 Teacher of the Year finalists,” Mackey said. “These four teachers are a testament to the teaching profession, and all certainly deserve recognition for the impact they are making in the classroom and in their school communities. Thank you for choosing to be a public-school teacher and making a continued effort to do the best you can for the children in Contra Costa County’s public schools.” 


Joseph Alvarico

Joseph Alvarico (center) stands with (l-r) a 32nd PTA representative, MDUSD Board Member Linda Mayo, YVHS Principal Jonathan Pike, County Superintendent Lynn Mackey, MDUSD Board Member Cherise Khaund and MDUSD Chief of Educational Services Jennifer Sachs at Diablo Valley College on April 17, 2023, where he was leading a field trip for his students to visit the community college campus in preparation for studies there next year.


Joseph Alvarico was born into a family of educators but did not set out on a path to become a teacher until a full-ride college scholarship in his native country, the Philippines, was awarded to him. The scholarship required him to work as a teacher for at least one year. With a short-term commitment in mind, he became a teacher intern in the 1990s and has been “hooked” on teaching ever since.


After immigrating to the United States, Alvarico has spent multiple years instructing middle school and high school students in MDUSD. With his on-the-job experience in the tech industry, he weaves real world experiences into his lessons. Teaching teenagers, being a lifelong learner, and building a community with his students is the secret sauce that has turned his robotics and yearbook students into design and engineering professionals. While helping underserved students for the past 23 years, Alvarico strives to show them their potential and the possibilities available when they leave high school.  


Danya Townsend

Danya Townsend (holding flowers) stands with (l-r) MDUSD Chief of Educational Services Jennifer Sachs, MDUSD Board Member Cherise Khaund, Olympic HS Principal Courtney Lyon, County Superintendent Lynn Mackey and MDUSD Board Member Linda Mayo at Olympic HS, where she was surprised while teaching her Leadership Class on April 17, 2023.


As a physical education (PE) and leadership teacher, Danya Townsend uses PE and the weight room as a safe space for her students and staff members. Teaching at Olympic High School means that traditional schools were not a good fit for her students, but she has found they all need to be engaged and a feeling of success. She uses this knowledge to find new ways to re-engage them through weightlifting, exercise, and multimedia projects that are transferable to the workforce. In her leadership class, she incorporates philanthropy and giving-back into activities they plan. Townsend’s passion to connect with students has led to projects outside of the classroom too.


She developed a partnership with the Contra Costa Food Bank to support a school pantry and coordinates with the Red Cross to host blood drives. She interacts with her leadership team, colleagues, and students with the same philosophy, to empower and be empowered. From research to reflection, Townsend is “all-in” when it comes to showing her students that they matter. 


You can read more about Alvarico and Townsend here


Notes regarding eligible participants: 

• 18 of the 19 Contra Costa County school districts and CCCOE are participating in this year’s TOY program. 

• Each year, one instructor from Contra Costa Community College District is submitted to the TOY program for their outstanding body of work with their designated college. The representative rotates each year between Diablo Valley College, Los Medanos College, and Contra Costa College. These instructors do not compete in the State Teacher of the Year competition but will be recognized at the Contra Costa County Teacher or the Year Celebration. 

• Due to the larger number of students and teachers in their districts, the Mt. Diablo, San Ramon Valley, and West Contra Costa unified school districts are allowed to submit two TOY candidates. 


For more information on the Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year program, visit

Posted 4/17/23

Rebecca Dell and Lucy Goetz

Concord HS English teacher Rebecca Dell, left, stands in her classroom with senior Lucy Goetz below posters stressing the importance of integrity and character.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt, MDUSD Public Information Officer


ChatGPT has been making headlines lately as educators worry that the powerful AI-writing technology could be opening doors to widespread student cheating that is difficult to prove. A recent Washington Post article about this featured Concord HS senior Lucy Goetz, who was one of five high school students asked to help test a ChatGPT-detector by submitting original writing, work that was generated by ChatGPT, and work that included a mixture of original and ChatGPT writing.


To Lucy’s surprise, the educational software called Turnitin flagged flagged the second half of her original essay about socialism “as likely being generated by ChatGPT,” according to Washington Post reporter Geoffrey A. Fowler. In his article, both Lucy and her AP English Lit teacher Rebecca Dell raised concerns about the fallibility of AI-writing detectors. 


In a classroom interview earlier this week, they stressed the importance of students doing original writing, research and analysis for the sake of learning, instead of just to get a good grade or to pass an AP test. The value to students investing time in their own education is also emphasized in Concord High School’s theme this year: “We are here to learn.”


Lucy and Dell believe ChatGPT is something that should be discussed in classrooms, along with the reasons that may lead some students to use it. “It’s a tool that provides opportunities for kids to cheat,” Dell said. “But they had those opportunities already. If you communicate to them that, ‘I want you to learn and grow and it’s OK to make mistakes,’ you take away a lot of the reasons for cheating.”


Dell created a lesson on the new technology in December, before Lucy was approached by the Washington Post. For that lesson, Dell gave a prompt to ChatGPT, then asked her class to write essays using the same prompt. The AI version didn’t include the same level of original thinking that her students’ work reflected, she said. “The ChatGPT was well-written as far as structure, but there was no analysis,” Dell said. “It was a summary, which is what I teach students not to do. I tell them, ‘I want to see your critical thinking.’”


Concord HS Principal Julene MacKinnon, who was previously an administrator at a school in another district, said she got a lot of referrals there for plagiarism in part because students felt pressure to get good grades on the competitive campus. “I would tell them, ‘But you’re not demonstrating what you know - and down the line, that’s going to hurt you,’” MacKinnon recalled. 


At Concord HS, most teachers in the English Department have embraced a concept called “Point-Less” grading, which means grading is not based on points accumulated during the semester in comparison to other students. Instead, grades are based on students’ individual progress, meeting instructional standards, and conversations with teachers honestly evaluating their work. Giving them more time to complete work or revise it if they don’t get it right the first time relieves pressure and allows students to get to the point where they can show they’ve mastered the standards and the learning objectives, but “it can be a little bit more on their time frame,” MacKinnon said.


As a member of a teacher Facebook group, Dell is keenly aware of the shakeup ChatGPT is making in the education world. “Some teachers are losing their minds – like this is going to change education and English classes as we know it,” she said. 


Some teachers, she said, focus on the end product. But Dell works with students as they brainstorm, create outlines and discuss their ideas and perspectives with each other and with her, while honing their thoughts in class in their own handwriting. “I know what your essay is going to look like because of this process in class,” she said, adding that teachers notice when students who have done no work in class suddenly turn in a stellar essay. 


Posters on Dell’s walls stress personal integrity and character, encouraging students to think about how their actions reflect who they are. 


Plagiarism, she said, is difficult to prove if there is no source material to point to. And even students who use language that can be found on a website can claim that they thought of the same language independently. That’s more believable if they use a phrase such as “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in a mental institution,” instead of copying an entire paragraph from the internet, she added.


With AI-detectors, Dell said students may feel like they have to defend themselves and that teachers won’t believe them, which seems unfair. Lucy agreed. “It is kind of scary to think you could do all your own work and a teacher who doesn’t know you or trust you could say, ‘You didn’t write this.’”


With only 11 students in her AP Literature class, Dell said she gets to know each student and is able to check in with them weekly on their assignments, as well as how everything is going in their lives. “Lucy takes pride in her work,” Dell said. “I know she’s not going to cheat on something.”


Some students are open about the fact that they may cheat in other classes, Dell said. Most often she said this happens when the content is not meaningful to them, it’s too hard or they don’t have the support they need. Dell tries to take away the obstacles that lead students to cheat by giving them more time if they need it and using “Point-Less” grading.


She also gives students a couple of “passes” that can be used to turn in a minor assignment late, if something comes up and they don’t have time to finish it by the due date. This can prevent them from thinking, “I guess I’m going to have to use ChatGPT because I don’t have time to write it,” she said.


The grading system works for Lucy because it gives her an opportunity to have discussions with her teachers about her work and the grade she believes she deserves. Dell said she asks students how they think they are doing and what grade they believe they have earned. “Sometimes, kids tend to be harder on themselves,” she said. “They tend to focus on where they want to improve rather than on things they’ve done really well.” These conversations give her the chance to show them where they shine.


And for students like Lucy, who often check their points in other classes, the Point-Less system allows her to spend less time stressing over what her percentages are and more time on the actual learning. 


Lucy, who is headed to UC Berkeley in the fall, said the rigor in Dell’s class has prepared her well for college. She would never consider leaning on ChatGPT to write her essays because she knows how to research and analyze texts, to discuss her ideas with classmates and with teachers, and to express herself in well in writing. And, she knows that if she cheated on assignments, she would end up cheating herself out of the meaningful learning experiences and academic growth she craves.

We are here to learn

Posted 4/14/23

MDUSD parents are invited to "Coffee with the Counselors" from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 22nd at Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point to learn about finishing the year off strong, summer enrichment opportunities, summer school, and more!


RSVP by clicking on flyers below or here.


Coffee with counselors English flyer

Cafecito con las Consejaras Spanish flyer

Posted 4/11/23

MDUSD is in need of Advanced Placement (AP) Test Proctors. We are reaching out to our community for assistance in filling these positions for the AP test season. This is a paid part-time temporary position. The rate of pay is $23.35 per hour and the work location is the Willow Creek Center in Concord. Applicants can sign up for as many or few test sessions as desired. Any help in filling these positions would be greatly appreciated. The application deadline is April 25, 2023.  


Please see below for the job posting link to apply and for additional information about the position.

AP Test Proctor Job Posting/Application Link

  • Part-time temporary position during the first three weeks of May, with the greatest need May 1-5; May 8-12; and May 17-19. There may be additional opportunities to proctor exams during the make-up testing windows in late May.
  • Scheduled hours/days will vary. Proctors need to be available for the morning exam (6:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.) and/or the afternoon exam (11:15 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.). Hours may be longer, if administering to students with accommodations.
  • Proctors do not need to be available for all testing dates and times and may not be scheduled for every day of testing. Schedule will be made once we have everyone’s availability. Applicants will be notified of their hires as soon as their applications have been reviewed. 
  • Proctors may be assigned to a large or small group standard exam, a small group accommodated exam, or a 1-to-1 exam. Large groups may be assigned 2 proctors on some days.
  • Mandatory paid AP proctor training: Wed, April 26, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. at Willow Creek Center, 1026 Mohr Lane, Concord, CA 94519. Proctors will be notified of their schedules on the day of the training.

If you have any questions or need more information, please do not hesitate to contact Raymond Tjen-A-Looi, PhD, Director of Assessment, Research & Evaluation, at or 925-682-8000 ext. 4132.

Posted 4/4/23

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights: 

  • Music in our Schools Month features Elementary Honor Choir and Middle School Choir performance, along with many other school concerts.
  • District news including MDUSD and Pleasant Hill Task Force met to discuss traffic safety, school infrastructure, and campus climates
  • Community news regarding the Norman Mineta Bay Area Summer Academy 4-week paid internship for Bay Area HS students
  • School news spotlights Bancroft and Mt. Diablo elementary and Diablo View MS Odyssey of the Mind teams head to World Tournament, and Riverview MS students create portraits of refugees and orphans in Ukraine, Syria and Cameroon
  • Important dates, and more!

You can read it here


Note: There will be no Friday Letter next week, on April 7, due to Spring Break. The Friday Letter will resume on April 14.

Posted 3/31/23

Sofie Patrick demonstrates CPRCPHS junior Sofie Patrick demonstrates CPR during MDUSD Adult Education's Allied Health Fair on Thursday.


By Theresa Harrington Brandt

MDUSD Public Information Officer


When College Park High School junior Sofie Patrick earned her CPR certification during her Honors Human Body Systems class last November, she had no idea she would soon use her new skills to save a man’s life.


Less than two months later, while Sofie and her family were on a beach in Hawaii during Winter Break, they saw a woman pull a man’s lifeless body out of the ocean. As a crowd gathered around him, some people began asking frantically: “Is anybody CPR certified?”

Sofie told her Dad, “I’m CPR certified!” He encouraged her to speak up, so she launched into action, stepping up to begin CPR.

“He drowned,” Sofie said, as she stoically recalled the incident recently. “He was dead. He did not have a heart beat or a pulse. So, I started doing compressions, pushing on the chest.”

In her head, she was thinking of the tune, “Baby Shark,” pushing down rhythmically with each beat of the song. Soon, the 61-year-old man began coughing up water that he had aspirated, but he was still not breathing. He regained a weak pulse by the time paramedics arrived, but no air was coming out of his nose or mouth. They and the man's wife thanked Sofie, then paramedics began using an AED to shock the his heart and transported him to the nearest hospital.


“It was a really traumatic experience for everybody involved – especially his wife, who was watching. She was the one who first pulled him out of the water,” Sofie said quietly. “Everybody was pretty scared that witnessed it.”

Sofie gave a statement to the police and left the beach with her family, not knowing the man’s fate.  


Two days later, her Dad saw a Facebook post with an update about the “Possible Drowning,” which lauded Sofie’s role in the man’s rescue. “A young girl worked on him a long time and others helped until the first response team arrived. So traumatic,” said a post by Trish Dewit. “So proud of her and praying for the man’s recovery,” wrote another. “Thanks to the young lady and those who helped her,” said one more post. “She did an awesome job,” Dewit added.


Sofie’s Dad posted that his daughter had just gotten CPR certified through her high school and he was glad she was willing and able to step in. This prompted a friend of the man she had saved to ask for her contact information. so the man's wife could update her on his progress. 

The man and his wife, who do not wish to be identified to protect their privacy, are now back in their Southern California home, but the man’s recovery has been slow. He had gone for a swim and suffered cardiac arrest, which had caused him to black out, slip into the water and drown, his wife said.


She was on the beach and saw a man face down in the water, but at first wasn't sure it was her husband. After looking for him and not seeing him, she swam out to the man and realized it was, in fact, her husband. She swam him to the shore and recalled Sofie stepping forward when others asked if anyone knew CPR. A man asked her if she felt confident. "She said 'yes,'" the man's wife recalled. "It was very brave of her to stand up and do that. She started immediately. She was strong. She was very capable and obviously had confidence in her training because she did an exceptional job. It was very dramatic."


The paramedics administered three shots from the AED along with epinephrine, which got him stabilized, she said. After an hour drive to the hospital, he was in critical care and intubated for 48 hours to help him breathe. They extubated him too early and his lungs weren’t quite ready, so complications developed, she said.


The recovery has been intense because he suffered injuries both from cardiac arrest and from drowning. He had to learn to swallow, to eat, to walk and to dress himself. He has some memory loss and doesn’t remember the trip to Hawaii. His voice is still just a whisper. He is continuing speech, occupational and physical therapy, she added.


“The injuries were extensive due to the drowning, which led to impaired function that’s still being rehabilitated,” she said. “He has to learn to write again. He could not hold any utensils or pens or anything. He still has tremors in his hands.”


But the silver lining, she said, is that he’s alive. “That is just a miracle in and of itself,” she said. And she thanks Sofie for that, calling her a “hero.”


She called Sofie after her friend got in touch with Sofie’s Dad on Facebook. “I wanted her to know that what she did was extremely important,” she said. “She really did save his life…how quickly he got CPR. I wanted her to know that she did a brave thing and I understand it would have been traumatic. I told her I felt the need to thank her and offered to give her updates, since my husband cannot speak right now.”


Despite the long road to recovery ahead, she says her husband is doing “fantastic, considering.”


“Full recovery looks promising, I would say,” she said, adding that he may have some limitations that he didn’t have before the incident.


Sofie says she's glad she received the CPR training, which her teacher Marcus Thomas was able to pay for with Career Technical Education funding. He said the District is fortunate to receive training through the Mt. Diablo Adult Education program, which he hopes to continue to offer his 11th-grade students each year. 


He is also very proud of Sofie for overcoming whatever fear she may have felt in order to save another person. "The hardest part is making the decision to help," he said. "The worst thing that can happen is that nothing changes. The best thing that happens is that you've helped them."


Sofie's ability to immediately put her training to use when another person needed it demonstrates just how valuable the CPR education was, he said. "It certainly is a justification for us doing this and spending the money," he said. 


Troy Hess, the adult education instructor who trained Sofie and about 100 of her classmates last fall along with EMT Program Director Gary Giusti, said Thomas notified him after hearing that Sofie had saved a man's life thanks to the training. 


"That was so great to hear," said Hess, who is a paramedic, retired firefighter and College Park HS alumnus. "It was wonderful. That's why we do it."


He urged everyone to get CPR training, saying, "it buys our first responders time."


"It's proven that if nothing is done, we know the outcome," he said. "But if we can get someone to do compressions, it's the same as if we were there."


He also encouraged students to take advantage of the MDUSD career pathways and Mt. Diablo Adult Education programs, saying there is a shortage of first responders right now. "We need a lot of those younger people to get in and take over as EMTs, paramedics and firefighters retire," he said. "It's an excellent job. It gives back to the community. And if you're that kind of person, it's perfect for you."


Sofie says she's not sure yet what she plans to study in college, but she has decided one thing: "I definitely want a career in the health field."


Information about MDUSD Adult Education CPR classes is here


Sofie with AEDSofie holds one of College Park High School's AED kits, which she learned how to use during her CPR training (above). A screenshot of the Facebook post regarding the "Possible Drowning" in Hawaii is below.


Screenshot of Facebook post 



Posted 3/31/23

Allied Health Fair photos

About 150 students in health career pathways at three District high schools got hands-on experience exploring a variety of health-related occupations during Mt. Diablo Unified’s Second Annual “Allied Health Fair” on Thursday at the Loma Vista Adult Education Center in Concord. 


Students from College Park High School’s Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences Pathway, Mt. Diablo High School’s Medical and Biotechology Academy (MBTA), and Ygnacio Valley High School’s Health Academy visited five health-career programs offered at the Adult Education Center and also visited with local healthcare employers in the Multi-Use room to learn about careers including Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Dental Assistants, Surgical Technologists, Medical Assistants and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).


Students and teachers were excited about the opportunity to learn about so many different career options in one place and were especially interested in trying out the medical equipment, as well as seeing how Dental Assistants make impressions of teeth and practice on life-sized mannequin heads in dental chairs and getting to turn on the lights and sirens in an ambulance.


Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark welcomed students and challenged them to reach outside their comfort zones to ask questions and glean as much information as they could during the fair. "Our job is to really prepare you for college and careers," he said. "We want you to be able to do whatever you want to do." Mt. Diablo HS biotech teacher Hayley Davis said the fair offered her students a great opportunity to interact with Adult Education students and healthcare professionals in a variety of fields they may not have known about. "It's a really interesting experience for them," she said, adding that students last year loved the interactive event. "I'm really excited to be here again."


Mt. Diablo HS students Taylor Adams, Kianna Fano and Kaniya Jeanjacques said the fair was an eye-opening experience that gave them a chance to find out what different careers are like from people who are currently doing externships or working in these fields. Surgical technologist Kelly Tardiff said graduates of the 1-year program can earn $40-$49 per hour full time, or $59 per hour on a per diem basis. 


College Park HS BioMed teacher Marcus Thomas said the Adult Education programs give students the opportunity to learn skills that will land them jobs in the community, along with the ability to continue advancing their education in the future to pursue other related fields such as nursing or becoming doctors. More information about Mt. Diablo Adult Education's Career Technical Education programs is here


Dental Assistant photo

An MDUSD high school student (right) gets a chance to see what it's like to be a dental assistant during the Allied Health Fair on the Mt. Diablo Adult Education Loma Vista campus.



Posted 3/27/23

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights: 

  • College Park HS student saved a man's life after earning her CPR certification through MDUSD health pathways program in partnership with Adult Education
  • District news including MDUSD's "Allied Health Fair" shows High School students career options and training available through Adult Education
  • Community news featuring March is Nutrition Month and "Smile Alert" dental information for families
  • School news spotlights an Alternative Education Graduation Fair for students at Prospect HS and the Horizons program
  • Important dates, and more

You can read it here.


NOTE: Next week's Friday Letter will be sent out on Thursday, March 30 since Friday, March 31 is the Cesar Chavez Day holiday.

Posted 3/24/23

Dr. Adam ClarkMDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark


MDUSD is pleased to announce that Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark has received the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) 2023 Charles Mae Knight and Rex Fortune Superintendent of the Year Award for Excellence in Education. Dr. Clark received the award on Wednesday, March 15th, during CAAASA's Professional Development conference.


"Throughout his career, Dr. Clark has advocated for all student groups," the awards program said. "He believes that educational systems need to address the gifts and talents of all student groups regardless of backgrounds or personal resources. Currently, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District is modeling how to establish and implement instructional priorities, system coherence, equity, accountability and autonomy."


Dr. Clark joined MDUSD as Superintendent in July 2020. Previously, he was the Superintendent of the Vallejo City Unified School District. He has also served as an Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and has held principalships at all three levels.   


"I dedicate the Superintendent of the Year award to the adults who support our precious students of Mt. Diablo Unified School District," Dr. Clark said in a tweet


Dr. Clark, who is President-elect of CAAASA, also presented on "Leading for Student Success" at the conference, and moderated a panel discussion with LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho on that district's Black Student Achievement Plan aimed at "Prioritizing Students with the Greatest Needs."


In December, Dr. Clark was named a “2022 Superintendent to Watch” by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). Dr. Clark was one of just 24 other superintendents nationwide who were selected for the honor in recognition of their dynamic leadership and strong communications skills.

Posted 3/20/23

Women's History Display

As a way to help educate the MDUSD community about women of color who have made important contributions to society, Mt. Diablo High School counselors Leidi Arias and Yaretzie Amaya teamed up senior Valeria Diaz and the school’s Ethnic Studies class to create a BIPOC Women’s History display that families can see at the Willow Creek Center through the end of the month in recognition of Women’s History Month. Titled "Learn about HerStory," it includes a tri-fold display board decorated with colorful paper flowers that highlight the accomplishments of 14 women written on the tops of the flowers, with their names and photos revealed underneath. "HERStory" is a play on words that moves away from the male-focused word, "HIStory." 

A large pink paper flower in front of the display says: “1st to be proud of their accomplishments.” Underneath this is a mirror, which is meant to prompt those who gaze into it to reflect on their own accomplishments. Above the display board is a mural created by Ms. Valdez' Ethnic Studies students featuring photos and short descriptions of 21 women who inspire them. It includes well-known women such as Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman and Rosa Parks, as well as some of the students' mothers or grandmothers. "That's huge that they have somebody in their lives that they look up to," Arias said. "I hope their parents read the newsletter and are touched to read that their students think highly of them."

Valeria, a 17-year-old Concord resident who is Latina, said she enjoyed working on the display and learned about some women she had never heard of before. "I think it is pretty cool," she said, adding that besides admiring the women in the display, she also views counselors Arias and Amaya as role models. "I feel like they always try to be there for us," she said. "I feel very comfortable talking to them about all sorts of problems, so they're definitely people I look up to. They take time to really build a relationship with the students."


Arias and Amaya said they view the display as a way to amplify students' voices and help them to learn more about role models who they may aspire to be like. "Basically, we're like the vessels to have these students present their work," Arias said. Previously, the counselors created displays highlighting Dia de los Muertos and Afro Latinos during Black History Month. They also hosted a "Coffee with the Counselors" event for parents and are planning another one on April 22 at Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point explaining how parents can support their students academically, as well as socially and emotionally. 

Posted 3/20/23

This week's Friday Letter highlights: 

  • MDUSD's Professional Development Day includes professional job shadowing by teachers, fun science activities, and crafts for CARES kids

  • District news including MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark receives "Superintendent of the Year" award 

  • Community news highlighting organizations seeking donations for scholarships to alternative high school and YVHS seniors

  • School news featuring community-building at Pine Hollow MS, Bancroft Elementary Odyssey of the Mind team competes at state level, schools celebrate Pi Day and St. Patrick's Day, and YVHS families get free eye exams 
  • Important dates, and more

You can read it here

Posted 3/17/23

We are pleased to report that the utilities have been renewed at Cambridge and Westwood elementary schools  We look forward to a full day of instruction tomorrow at these sites.

PG&E crews worked hard to repair the damage caused to the electrical grid as a result of the recent storm. We look forward to seeing staff and students at these schools tomorrow, Friday, March 17th. 

Thank you.

Posted 3/16/23

Utilities have been renewed at Bancroft Elementary, Fair Oaks Elementary, Gregory Gardens Elementary, the Robert R. Shearer Preschool, Valle Verde Elementary, Woodside Elementary, Oak Grove Middle School, Horizons, Pleasant Hill Middle School, Prospect High School, Olympic High School, Crossroads High School, and Ygnacio Valley High School.  We look forward to a full day of instruction today at these sites.  

As of this moment, the power has not yet returned to the Cambridge Elementary or Westwood Elementary, so those two campuses will remain closed to instruction today. However, staff is asked to initially report to those sites to assist with supervision of students who did not receive the District's notification and then work with principals on work and work locations for the day.


We are working to obtain round the clock updates from PG&E and will keep families and staff at these sites updated as the situation progresses.

Posted 3/16/23

The next MDUSD Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting is from 5:30-7p.m. Tuesday, March 21st in-person at our Willow Creek Professional Development Center at 1026 Mohr Lane Concord, CA 94518.  The agenda can be found HERE.


The meeting will include District updates, review and approval of the PAC Bylaws, and a presentation on the new Ethnic Studies requirement for future high school graduates. Translation support will be available. 


On behalf of Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark, we look forward to seeing you on March 21st!

Posted 3/15/23

The following schools do not have power at this point in time due to the storm that swept through the region yesterday.  PG&E has been working hard through the night to restore the services, but at this time the lights, heat and phones are not working on these sites. 

In order to maintain a safe facility for our students, we have made the difficult decision to close only the affected schools listed below for today, Wednesday, March 15. However, staff should report to your sites to assist with supervision of students who may not have received the District's notification to parents this morning, and then work with principals on work location arrangements for the day, once students are accounted for safely. 


Closed schools:


Adult Education programs at the Pleasant Hill Education Center
Bancroft Elementary
Cambridge Elementary

Crossroad High School
Fair Oaks Elementary
Gregory Gardens Elementary

Oak Grove Middle School
Olympic High School
Preschool Assessment Center
Pleasant Hill Middle School

Prospect High School
Robert Shearer Preschool
Valle Verde Elementary
Westwood Elementary
Woodside Elementary
Ygnacio Valley High School


The following schools were initially slated to be closed, but will now be open since power has been restored:


Highlands Elementary

Pine Hollow Middle School

Walnut Acres Elementary

We sincerely apologize for the disruption in the schedule and look forward to seeing students as soon as power is restored so schools can resume regular operations.

Posted 3/15/23

Board with Teachers of Year

MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark (back) stands with (l-r) Board Member Erin McFerrin, Teacher of the Year Finalist Veronica Leno Garcia, Teacher of the Year Danya Townsend, Board Member Debra Mason, Teacher of the Year Joseph Alvarico, Board President Keisha Nzewi, Teacher of the Year Finalist Lisa Dippo, Board Member Cherise Khaund, Teacher of the Year Finalist Miran Chung and Board Member Linda Mayo at the March 9, 2023 Board Meeting.


Two District Teachers of the Year will advance to the Contra Costa County competition


During its March 8th meeting, the Mt. Diablo Unified School Board recognized the 2023-24 District Teachers of the Year Joseph Alvarico and Danya Townsend and finalists Miran Chung, Lisa Dippo and Veronica Leno Garcia. Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark commended them for their strong focus on building connections with students, while also providing rigorous coursework.  

The finalists were chosen from 50 outstanding educators teaching Transitional Kindergarten through grade 12 who were nominated and offered the opportunity to submit a brief questionnaire. The Teachers of the Year received wooden plaques, while the three additional finalists received engraved glass mementos.


Alvarico and Townsend will advance to the County Teacher of the Year competition, which will announce four county finalists next month. Profiles of Alvarico and Townsend are here. Below is a closer look at the three other finalists: Shore Acres Elementary teacher Miran Chung, Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo and Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia. 


Classroom Close-Ups with three District

Teacher of the Year Finalists

3 Finalists

Chung, Dippo and Leno Garcia all said they were honored to be chosen as finalists. Like Alvarico and Townsend, they all place a high priority on building relationships with students, emphasizing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as rigorous academics.



Miran Chung

Miran Chung and students

Shore Acres Elementary Education Specialist Miran Chung teaches her TK-2 Special Day Class students a breathing exercise.


Chung teaches a TK-2nd grade Special Day Class at Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point, and has 22 years of experience working in education settings, including 15 years of teaching. She has previously taught general education and special education in grades 4-5, but wanted to teach younger children so that she could reach every single student in her class as they begin their educational journeys. She also works to build strong relationships with parents and to educate them about their students' needs and available resources, so they can all work together as a team to support the students.


"Everyone needs to be on the same page," she said. "So from the ground up, we have a solid foundation so the parents can continually work with the child at home. I communicate with each one of the parents on a daily basis."


Using the Class Dojo app, she keeps the parents updated about small things as well as big things, such as goals she is working on with her 15 students related to both behavior and academics. She is also embracing the school-wide social justice theme, teaching students about kindness, fairness and equity as she helps them to build their social and emotional skills. 

"I make sure my kids know they are Number One at our school," she said. "They are so bright and capable, but they face a lot of challenges. I want parents to have that mindset. I want them to question things and know their students' worth. As the kids get older, I want them to be able to stand up for themselves. I want to be an advocate for students and parents. I want to empower them. My students are very happy. They know what they are good at. I want them to think about what they want to aspire to be."

Students said they like Chung. "She gives me a high five," said 6-year-old 1st grader Kai Ngo, after he received a congratulatory high five and a "Shark Bite" reward from Chung when he completed an assignment. Skye Chiffoleag, another 6-year-old 1st grader, said: "She teaches us good stuff." Both students enjoyed learning breathing exercises that Chung taught to help them stay calm if they are feeling anxious, from the book, "Breathing is our Superpower," by Alicia Ortego.

Principal Miguel Rodriguez praised Chung for the caring relationships she builds with her students, parents and colleagues, as well as the academic rigor and high expectations she communicates to them. "She's very loving and supporting," he said. "She's what we call a 'warm demander.' She's part of the glue that makes this special community go."



Lisa Dippo

Lisa Dippo and students

Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo (dressed for Pajama Day during Spirit Week) helps student Jeffran Nava Rios on a math assignment.


Dippo has spent the last three years teaching 5th grade at Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg, and has 17 years of teaching experience. Her first teaching position in MDUSD was as a resource specialist at Fair Oaks Elementary, where she worked for seven years. She then worked as a resource specialist for four years in the Walnut Creek School District. After working in Special Education for 11 years, Dippo spent three years teaching 3rd grade at Delta View before moving up to 5th grade. She enjoys building relationships with students.


"I feel it's a privilege to work with the next generation," she said, adding that she likes the level of independence that she sees in her 5th-graders, and feels challenged to teach them everything they need to know to prepare them for middle school next year. "My number one priority aside from all the subjects is teaching them responsibility," Dippo said. "It's a foundation. There's no way they can be successful if they don't have that primary foundation - if they don't have their act together."

Like Chung, Dippo also believes it's important to keep the lines of communication open with parents so they can work as a team to help students. "I say, 'I can't do this job without you. Thank you for the honor of spending most of the day with your child,'" she said. "I try to communicate about not only the negative, but the positive."

Students said Dippo is patient and helps them to understand difficult concepts. "She's kind and makes learning fun sometimes," said Bella Solis, explaining that she enjoyed using colorful discs to learn about fractions. Teagan Nguyen said Dippo answers his questions and helps students prepare well for tests. "My teacher makes me confident about what I do," he said. Jeffren Nava Rios added: "She explains things really well. She doesn't really rush you."

Dippo said her special education background helps her understand the need to slow things down sometimes to ensure students understand concepts, while still keeping the rigor high. "It's valuable because Special Education requires you to see the whole child and meet them where they are in their learning - to meet their immediate needs and try to fill their educational gaps," she said. 

Principal Cheryl Champion said Dippo is a fabulous teacher, who worked with her at Fair Oaks before both of them came to Delta View. "She has a lot of care and goes above and beyond," Champion said.



Veronica Leno Garcia

Leno Garcia and students

Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia helps students learn addition by counting the dots on colorful dice.


Leno Garcia teaches Bilingual Kindergarten at Cambridge Elementary in Concord and has been teaching for 11 years, including nine years at Cambridge. She teaches her Spanish-fluent students 50% in English and 50% in Spanish, using a variety of strategies including singing, movement, art, counting with a pointer or by passing around an inflatable ball or using colorful dice, and adding and subtracting bananas that are "eaten" by a monkey. She also stresses the school's three character traits: be safe, be respectful and be responsible.

"Every year I am learning new ways to involve students and teach in Spanish," she said, explaining that she supplements the curriculum materials to make the lessons more fun. "We want the kids to have fun everyday and to learn from their mistakes. I tell them, 'If you make a mistake, it's OK. Try again.'"

As I bilingual person who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 6, Leno Garcia remembers how hard it was to learn English in Kindergarten, in a school that did not have a bilingual program. "I like to motivate and encourage students who are bilingual," she said. "I tell them, 'You can learn two languages at the same time and learn to read and write in them both!" She is dedicated to following the 3 Pillars of Dual Language Education: bilingualism and biliteracy, high academic achievement, and sociocultural competence.

She uses Spanish to build a bridge for students to learn English. For example, she teaches them words that start with a specific letter in Spanish, then teaches them the same words in English and compares the two words. Dual language consultant Jose Medina, who recently visited her classroom during a professional development day for teachers, praised her use of "cross-lingual" strategies on display in front of her classroom to help students connect Spanish and English words. Student Cristopher Barahona said Leno Garcia is "nice" and student Arianna Luna added: "She teaches a lot!" 


Mónica Navarro-Kirby, the District's English Learner and Dual Language Elementary Programs District Coach, nominated Leno Garcia for Teacher of the Year. "She’s been teaching kindergarten for about 10 years in the dual language program and throughout that time, I’ve seen her grow and develop a wide array of strategies for biliteracy as well as really making sure her students feel safe, healthy, and engaged in learning - as well as developing a strong rapport with the families that she works with to make sure that parents feel included and welcome to come into the classroom and know how to support their child at home. She is a committed, dedicated professional who cares very much about her community, her colleagues, and her students. And she's someone who is very highly regarded at the school as well as throughout the District with other colleagues. She’s such a hard worker!"

Posted 3/14/23

This week's MDUSD Friday Letter highlights:

  • MDUSD School Board Recognizes District Teachers of the Year and Finalists!

  • District news including MDUSD parents to be recognized as Parents of the Year at CA Bilingual Education Conference

  • School news featuring YVHS Robotics Club unveils new Robot 
  • Important dates, and more!

You can read it here

Posted 3/10/23

Two MDHS District Teachers of the Year will advance to the county competition

Joseph AlvaricoYgnacio Valley HS teacher Joseph Alvarico


Danya Townsend

Olympic High School teacher Danya Townsend


The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is pleased to announce that Ygnacio Valley High School teacher Joseph Alvarico and OIympic Continuation High School teacher Danya Townsend have been selected as the District's two Teachers of the Year for 2023-24 out of five finalists that also included Shore Acres Elementary teacher Miran Chung, Delta View Elementary teacher Lisa Dippo and Cambridge Elementary teacher Veronica Leno Garcia. The finalists were selected from the 50 outstanding educators from Transitional Kindergarten through grade 12 who were nominated and offered the opportunity to submit a brief questionnaire.


The questionnaires were scored by members of the MDUSD Teacher of the Year Selection Committee and the top scoring individuals were interviewed. The School Board recognized the nominees and finalists at its Wednesday, March 8th meeting.


Both Alvarico and Townsend said they were honored to be chosen to represent the District and their schools. They are both described by colleagues and students as visionary educators with high expectations who help transform students' lives by making learning relevant and meaningful and building strong relationships with them. Students say they feel comfortable speaking to both of them about personal issues, as well as academics.


Alvarico teaches engineering and advises Robotics Project 212 and Femineer clubs at YVHS, which he created to give students opportunities to explore STEM after school. Townsend teaches Leadership, Weights (which she started at the school) and the APEX Learning class, which allows students to complete courses at their own pace using an online program, with guidance and oversight from Townsend. 


Joseph Alvarico

Alvarico and students

MDUSD Teacher of the Year Joseph Alvarico chats with students in the after-school Femineer Club he advises to help interest girls in STEM.


Alvarico has taught for 23 years, including eight years at Oak Grove Middle School, 11 years at Ygnacio Valley High and four years in the Phillipines, from which he immigrated. He teaches engineering courses for students in grades 9-12, including dual enrollment College and Career Access Pathway (CCAP) courses in partnership with Diablo Valley College (DVC) that allow students to earn college credits while in high school. He also teaches a Fusion 360 Computer Aided Design (CAD) course at DVC. Alvarico works tirelessly with students during school – as well as before and after school and during breaks  –  to ensure they are challenging themselves and learning new skills that can help them pursue educational goals and careers that many of them never thought possible before taking his classes. He fosters a supportive community of curious, innovative critical thinkers who collaborate with each other and mentor each other in an academically rigorous, yet empathetic family environment. His work garnered him recognition last year as  a "Teacher of the Game" by the San Francisco 49ers Foundation and Chevron, which funds some of his STEM programs. His dream is to make Ygnacio Valley High a magnet school for robotics.


YVHS Principal Jonathan Pike and Vice Principal Mandy Loushin nominated Alvarico for Teacher of the Year. “He inspires his students to become more than just part of his Engineering program,” Loushin said. “They are leaders, hard workers, problem solvers and students of good character. I am inspired by Mr. Alvarico’s hard work and dedication to his students, his Engineering Program and the community surrounding him.”


To help students to be successful in high school, college and in life, Alvarico said he is passionate about building their leadership skills as well as their engineering skills. “I’m just one person in a room in a sea of 27-30 students,” he said. “It’s impossible for me to help out every single one of them, so I develop leaders.” For example, five students in his freshman engineering class are also in the after-school robotics club, so they have already learned to use a laser cutter and 3D printer. He enlists their help to train other students, which builds their confidence and leadership skills and fosters a spirit of mentoring both in his classes and in the clubs he oversees. Leaders in the Robotics and Femineer clubs attract more students to participate, he added. 


Alvarico has also built strong partnerships with engineering industry professionals, who help mentor his students and provide funding for school programs. April Treece, founder and chief executive officer of the Bay Area LEEDS organization that works to strengthen the STEM career pipeline, said student success begins and ends with good teaching and that’s what she sees in Alvarico. “In addition to inspiring students, he’s innovative and he thinks about ways in which to engage students in real world learning and high-quality education as well, so our employers are thrilled to work with him and his students,” she said. “I’ve never met a more caring and dedicated teacher to the students that are in his care.”


Students said Alvarico is a wonderful teacher who helps them to see their own potential. "He has helped me to figure myself out and given me opportunities I wouldn't have gotten otherwise," said Manirat Kaur, a 15-year-old sophomore in Alvarico's Engineering Essentials class, who is also in the Robotics club and is co-president of the Femineer Club. "He sees things in students that other people wouldn't see and helps build on them on them. He finds that spark. He's helped me gain confidence and he's helped me to be a leader."


Danya Townsend

Danya Townsend and students

MDUSD Teacher of the Year Danya Townsend chats with seniors Tia Bradford and Ernesto Mat as they complete coursework during lunch in her class.


Townsend has taught for 14 years, including eight years at Riverview Middle School and two years in Oakley. This is her fourth year at Olympic High, which she says she loves. “I do like a challenge,” she said. "I wanted to have an opportunity to bring my experience and passion and drive here. I don’t feel like I’d teach in any other setting ever again. I just feel like there are so many options here that are endless and it’s a place where students who haven’t really felt like they belong in school or have been successful can experience something different - and that changes that for them - and I love being a part of that experience for them. I feel like this is definitely where I belong.” Her work garnered her the California Continuation Education Association's Teacher of the Year Award last year, when then-Principal Lynsie Castellano called her "a culture game-changer for any school."


Olympic’s current Principal Courtney Lyon nominated Townsend for District Teacher of the Year. “She is just so passionate about alternative education,” Lyon said. “She really has a heart for the kids and wants them to feel like they are seen, they are valued and they can be successful in their academics, even if they have not previously experienced success. She’s really intent on building community here. She does a great job of supporting the whole student and making learning relevant and meaningful. A lot of our kids are deciding if they want to stick it out and get a diploma and she really does a good job of connecting it to their lives.”


For example, in a recent leadership class after students were divided into teams and required to build towers using materials they received in an envelope, she pointed out that they could have all shared materials and worked together to build one giant tower. This led to a discussion about teamwork and collaboration, and why some people are reluctant to ask others for help. Townsend stressed the importance of being able to find those who are willing to support you and advocate for you after you graduate so that you have a network you can count on.


Most students come to Olympic from other schools where they were not on track to graduate and are at risk of dropping out, Townsend said. “They might not have a plan or direction,” she said. “Helping them find a purpose or direction or something that matters to them, that’s what’s so rewarding - just investing in them, creating relationships, and creating opportunities for them to care about coming here.”


Students said Townsend is a caring teacher who is passionate about teaching and is honest with them about what they need to do to get on track to graduate. “She keeps it real,” said Eva Carranza, 17. “And sometimes we need to hear that. She motivates me. She pushes you to do more than you thought you could actually do.” Ernesto Mat, 18, who spends lunchtime in Townsend’s classroom, said, “She’s great. That’s the reason I’m in here at lunch and not outside, because I love the way she makes you feel – the vibe – she makes everything fun.”

Posted 3/9/23

This week's Friday Letter highlights:

  • Classroom close-ups with MDUSD's two 2023-24 District Teachers of the Year

  • District news including MDUSD Superintendent speaks on Dismantling Barriers and Inequities for ALL
  • Community news including the Martinez Chamber of Commerce seeks Teacher/Educator of the Year award nominations
  • School news featuring MDUSD Adult Education’s EMT program partnership in the news
  • Student Social Media Shout-outs to Sequoia Elementary 3rd-graders, Pine Hollow MS TUPE peer educators and Olympic HS credit crushers
  • Staff Social Media Shout-outs to principals at Monte Gardens and Sequoia elementary schools and to dual language school principals 
  • Important dates, and more!

You can read it here.

Posted 3/3/23

This week's Friday Letter highlights: 

  • MDUSD selects its two District Teachers of the Year

  • District news including Black History Month Celebration includes student presentations, African drumming and more
  • Community news including the Martinez Chamber of Commerce seeks Teacher/Educator of the Year award nominations
  • School news featuring Black History Month activities, Concord High School hosts annual Leadership Exchange, and other high school highlights
  • Student news including YVHS student Kai Khaund is a National Merit Scholarship Finalist!
  • Social Media Spotlights on Mt. Diablo HS alumni who are encouraging current students to follow their dreams
  • Business Services staff "Stay Interviews" in the news
  • Important dates, and more!

You can read it here.

Posted 2/24/23

Dr. Adam Clark, Superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, invites District parents, families or community members to a Town Hall Meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 21 at Pine Hollow Middle School to share experiences or provide input to the District Governance team regarding recent incidents on some campuses that do not align with District values and are in conflict with the District's goals. 

"As the District Superintendent, it is my responsibility to ensure that we work to reach the goals outlined in MDUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which is a state-required plan describing our overall vision for students, as well as our priorities," Dr. Clark said in a recent message to District parents and staff.


"The first goal of our LCAP states, 'All students will receive a high quality education in a safe and welcoming environment with equitable high expectations, access to technology, and instruction in the California State Standards that prepare them for college and career.' In order to reach this goal, we as an educational community need to work together to celebrate our successes and address our deficiencies."

He cited racial slurs, hate graffiti and the passing out of cotton balls to mock Black History Month as examples of bullying, and said that fights have also occurred on some campuses. "Bullying and fighting have no place in any MDUSD schools," Dr. Clark said.

The Town Hall will take place in the Pine Hollow Middle School Multi-use Room at 5522 Pine Hollow Road in Concord

Posted 2/21/23

This week's Friday letter highlights:

  • Mt. Diablo HS students complete Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training

  • District news including Prospect HS is named a CA Model Continuation High School 

  • School news featuring YVHS athletes attract the attention of KTVU's Sports Focus

  • Important dates, and more!

You can read it here.

Posted 2/17/23

CDE Model School seal

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District is proud that Prospect High School in Pleasant Hill has been named one of 37 Model Continuation High Schools in the state for 2023 by the California Department of Education (CDE)!


Model Continuation High Schools provide compre