Comments To West Contra Costa Board of Education in Support of Adult School Principal

Concerned that the principal of adult education for West Contra Costa Adult Education had received a reassignment letter, supporters of adult education spoke at the West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting on March 21.  Some of their comments follow:

Comments by Janet Johnson, ESL Teacher, West Contra Costa Adult Education:

School Board members, Dr. Harter, administrators: Good evening. My name is Janet Johnson. I’m a 30-year resident of Richmond, and I teach beginning ESL in the adult school. I’m here to address the elimination of the adult school principal position.

This afternoon I received an email from Martin Herzfeld, a solar energy contractor who teaches the adult school’s solar basic classes. Since he can’t be here tonight, he asked that I deliver his message.

Here are the main points of his email:

“Not only oil companies in the area may wish to bring on employees, but also specifically solar renewable energy companies. The solar trades courses have been growing in particular.

“Led by our principal, West Contra Costa Adult Education has been very successful. Class fees are relatively low and provide students an opportunity to transcend their condition and enter a renewable energy career. What is working about adult education is the flexibility to train the general public in addition to those with highly technical skills. Based on the success of the course in solar essentials, other classes may be added.”

Enrollment in Mr. Herzfeld’s class has increased threefold since its inception, reflecting the rapid growth of the solar energy industry even during these tough economic times. The district itself is in the forefront of solar adoption: In  2009, it was one of three local school districts that received half-million-dollar DOE technical assistance grants to develop a Solar Master Plan for schools that will be scaled statewide and nationally. Mr. Herzfeld is concerned that without a full-time administrator, our adult school will not be able to coordinate with local employers to tailor its curriculum to employers’ needs.

The adult school has suffered many cuts, yet it continues to provide a highly cost-effective means for our district’s adults to better themselves and help their children. It serves between 8- and 10,000 students every year. To continue this important work, it requires a full-time principal.

Comments by Kristen Pursley, ESL Teacher, West Contra Costa Adult Education:

My name is Kristen Pursley. I work for West Contra Costa Adult Education, and I am a member of Communities Organized to Support Adult School, or COSAS.  The adult education community in West County is shocked at the news that our principal of adult education, who has only been with us eight months, has been reassigned and that her position is being eliminated.  Some of us found this out only because we attended a professional conference where people from other adult schools knew about the change.

We are already coping with the loss of two vice principals, but the elimination of the principal of adult education position is particularly significant because it is the last administrative position devoted entirely to adult education. With the loss of our principal, we come under the director of adult and alternative education. The current director is very talented and hard working, but she has many other responsibilities. Without an administrator dedicated to our programs, we begin to lose our separate identity as an adult school.

Within the short time our current principal has been with us, she has found ways to significantly increase both our  CalWORKS and federal Carl Perkins funding.  CalWORKS has even agreed to pay for a teacher to teach an additional adult school class for CalWORKS students.  These are not just funds coming to the adult school; these are resources being brought in to an underserved community that will be spent on services for that community.  Adult education needs a leader who can bring these kinds of resources to adults.

We have to ask why this is happening now.  Our funding has been cut by 50%, but the Executive Summary of the Interim Budget Report, which the board will probably certify later in this meeting, states, on page 6, that the multi-year projection assumes that adult education is funded at our present 2011-12 level through 2014.  If our funding is to stay essentially the same, why are we losing a position that might well pay for itself with increased revenue to the adult school?  If the considerable talents of our current principal are needed elsewhere, we can understand that, but why is she not to be replaced?



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