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December 04, 2020 Friday Letter Volume 2, No. 26
Posted 12/4/20

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MDUSD's Friday Letter—updates and stories prepared weekly for the school district community.

'All About the Students,' Joanne Durkee Reflects on Public Service


     Bittersweet, is how it feels to be coming to the end of my term as an MDUSD School Board Member. First and foremost, I am grateful for the unique opportunity to serve —to give back to an organization and community that has been part of my life for over 40 years. I also appreciate how my knowledge, understanding and perspectives were broadened and deepened, enabling me to go forward as a more informed and engaged citizen. There were so many experiences —simple and complex— that I will continue to draw upon when considering how people can come together for a common purpose. Being part of a Governance Team for MDUSD is a humbling responsibility and I am grateful for those who took the time to engage with us, speaking up and listening in. 

     We all know and agree that it is all about the students. This experience has shown me how the success of our students is directly impacted by how effectively all those with a vested interest work together. Students, parents, guardians, teachers, all other certificated staff, all classified staff, community partners, volunteers, etc. have a perspective that is important and of value. I appreciate and admire everyone who dedicates time and energy, in whatever capacity, to support students’ learning and well-being. I have also witnessed people stepping outside of their direct experience to better understand the points of view of others. This type of mutual respect is critical to our collective work for the betterment of our students. I hope this happens more and more.

     It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of what will likely be known as the most challenging and stressful time ever for MDUSD. However, I know that our experienced Members of the Board —Ms. Linda Mayo, Ms. Debra Mason, Ms. Cherise Khaund— and our incoming Members of the Board —Ms. Erin McFerrin, Ms. Keisha Nzewi— are people with integrity and commitment. Their abilities to come together, along with Dr. Adam Clark, to address the many challenges will serve MDUSD well. I wish them and you all the best!

With respect and gratitude,
Joanne Durkee

Reopening Goals Shaped by Negotiations and Pandemic Restrictions

     Let us be clear about where we are with our reopening goals, as January remains our target to bring a hybrid model option. Serving students safely is our priority. We believe we can safely introduce a hybrid model option. We also believe we can maintain a 100% distance learning option. Of course, more than a belief, we have been busy working out details, diligently planning for a January hybrid model option. Our consistent planning efforts have put a January hybrid model option within reach.

     As of now, there are two remaining factors shaping the services we are able to offer: 1) local pandemic restrictions and 2) negotiations with our union partners.

  1. The effects of local pandemic restrictions are static, meaning that we have already defined what services we intend to offer within various county pandemic tiers. The Yellow, Orange, and Red Tier restrictions would allow us to introduce a hybrid model option. The Purple Tier (worst tier) would not allow us to introduce a hybrid model option, but limited campus services could still take place. See our county's current status (Purple Tier). 
  2. The effects of negotiations with our unions are dynamic, meaning we must come to an agreement with our union partners about how service to students will be characterized. 

Negotiations Update:
from the weekly Organizational Update to the Board

The District and MDEA (Mt. Diabo Education Association) (Teacher's Union) met on December 2, 2020 for 4.5 hours to continue negotiations. The District responded to questions regarding the Reasonable Accommodations Process and presented the District’s most recent counter-proposals on metrics and protocols to allow students to return to campus. The District also presented a counter proposal on Daily Live Interaction Minutes. The District answered questions from the Bargaining Teams (both parties) on a Small Group Support counter proposal and then presented an additional Hybrid Model counter proposal to MDEA. The Bargaining Teams have plans to meet again for full days of negotiations on Tuesday, December 8 and Wednesday, December 9.

The District and Teamsters met on November 19, 2020 for 6 hours to start successor contract negotiations.  The teams reached tentative agreements on 8 articles and each team made additional proposals on various articles.  The Bargaining Teams have plans to meet again for a full day of negotiations on Monday, December 7.

The District and CSEA met on November 30, 2020 for 3 hours to continue successor contract negotiations.  Each team made proposals on various articles.  The Bargaining Teams have plans to meet again for a full day of negotiations on Thursday, December 10.

Meet Keisha Nzewi, New Trustee for Area 3

Keisha Nzewi

     Keisha Nzewi (kay-isha en-zay-wee) (she/her) was born and raised in Hanford, CA, but has spent her adult life in the East Bay. She attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Welfare, and San Francisco State, where she earned a Master's Degree Public Health. Keisha has spent her career as a community organizer and policy advocate. She has worked on issues such as tobacco control, health care access, anti-hunger hunger policies, and currently, child care policy. 

     Keisha is emerging as a leading voice for racial equity and justice in the child care system in California and nationally. An unapologetic advocate for unbuilding systems with racist foundations, Keisha will bring her inquisitive and thoughtful nature to collaboratively solve the many challenges facing our district now and in the future. 

     Keisha is also a third generation Girl Scout leader and parent of a 7th grader. She is set to be sworn in to public office at the December 14 MDUSD Governing Board Meeting as the first trustee elected to represent Area 3. 

Organizational Update to the Board - Inbox72?

    We know our messaging is not the only to reach your inbox, so we archive each Organizational Update and each Friday Letter for your reference as needed. Within each Organizational Update, you can read concise updates on our activities written by department leaders. While each report is written "to the Board," we publish it here publicly to encourage our staff and community to read about our activities. Here is this week’s Organizational Update to the Board:

Organizational Update

     This is now the Superintendent's 18th Organizational Update and my 26th Friday Letter. We hope we have been effective communicators and we want you to know that your feedback about our district communications is welcome and encouraged. Find a feedback survey linked through the link below this newsletter; I will make this same survey available at the bottom of every Friday Letter going forward. 

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Mindfulness
Mindful Life Project Sponsors Uplifting Sessions

Zoom Session

     When Superman is not around, focusing on our health and wellness is one of the most heroic things we can do for ourselves, and our partners at Mindful Life Project are here to help—they are sponsoring valuable "mindfulness sessions" to support your mental and emotional wellness. Sessions are easy to join and are open to MDUSD parents, caregivers, and staff. Participants benefit from attending and also take away valuable skills to apply in everyday life. Sessions are held through Zoom every Tuesday evening in English and in Spanish from 5:00PM-5:30PM. Try a mindfulness session and reap the many benefits —see these flyers for Zoom information: English | Spanish.

This Week In Our Community

MDUSD December 1

     The MDUSD Education Foundation received an incredible surge of student sponsorships from our community, with Earn & Learn pledging to match up to $2,000 of donations, Mt. Diablo Resource Recovery pledging $2,500, and C&H Sugar giving $1,000. MDUSD's Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE) has started to receive gift card donations for its ongoing holiday drive. Thank you so much to our generous community for these donations, and a special thanks to John Muir Medical Group, who surprised us today with a donation of 25 brand new Chromebooks. Our programs tremendously benefit from community donations like these. 

     Congratulations are in order for Principal Lisa Sullivan for winning the Administrator of the Year Award from the East Bay CUE, and congratulations as well to Teacher Shauna Hawes for winning their Affiliate Leader of the Year Award!

     Our compliments and congratulations to Melanie Koslow, Assistant Director of Maintenance and Operations, and Mika Arbelbide, Director of Fiscal Services, who both are being awarded the Magnificent Seven Outstanding School Employee Award from the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO) Northern Section next week. 

     The Junior League of Oakland-East Bay poured in some kindness, delivering more than 60 handwritten thank-you notes for teachers at one of our high schools.

     Wren Avenue 4th graders' artistic self-portraits were deservedly announced to be the face of 2020 Holiday Cards for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (top left).

     MDUSD's CARES program and Garden Academy continue in their good works, and have been distributing fun, festive craft kits for students (top right). 

     Bright, colorful, seasonal decorations at the district and school offices are bringing in the holiday cheer.

     "Soup Kits" from Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation have been distributed to a growing number of elementary school students, who seem to really enjoy them. The parent of the Sequoia Elementary first grader described, “[Our son] had so much fun making the soup! He was very proud of himself and ate it for multiple meals. Thanks so much!"

Turn of the Year Notes

     The MDUSD Governing Board will have its final regular meeting of the 2020 calendar year on Monday, December 14. At that meeting, new trustees will be sworn in and new meeting dates for the 2021 calendar year will be determined. As the year turns, we have many observances and recognitions in store. Here they are for December and January, in order: 

  • National Special Education Day (12/2/2020) - December 2 was recognized as National Special Education Day.
  • National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (12/7/2020) - December 7 is recognized as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
  • Winter Recess (12/21/2020 - 1/4/2020) - There will be no school for two weeks for our winter recess. 
  • December 25 (12/25/2020) - December 25 is recognized as a public holiday.
  • New Year's Day (1/1/2021) - January 1 is recognized as a public holiday.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (1/18/2021) - January 18 is recognized as a public holiday.
  • Inauguration Day (1/20/2021) - President-Elect Joseph R. Biden will be sworn into office.
  • International Holocaust Remembrance Day (1/27/2021) - January 27 is recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 
  • National Blood Donor Month, Braille Literacy Month, Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and Staying Healthy Month - January is assigned these titles to recognize these worthy causes. 
  • The Great Kindness Challenge Week - January 25–29 is recognized as The Great Kindness Challenge Week.

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Each week, the MDUSD Friday Letter is written and compiled by the district's Communications Specialist and sent to a staff and community audience totaling around 32,000. To sign up for the distribution list, send an email to To view an archive of district communications, visit the Superintendent's Office page. Do you have a story or event to share with our community? Contact me ( with your ideas or suggestions.


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