Monthly Messages From Dr. Dowd

November 2017 Principal's Message

posted Nov 15, 2017, 10:11 AM by Vice President Communications

Happy November, Walnut Acres Parents:

During this season of holidays, we focus on the life skill of kindness. In November, we discuss the value of giving thanks to support a positive, appreciative and healthy approach to living.  While December, no surprise, is all about giving to others. Time will fly over these busy holiday months and we are making the most of our learning time to support student cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth. To that end, we are industriously analyzing student products and assessments, enthusiastically implementing our instructional lessons, and collaboratively (often with our dedicated parents) preparing unique learning experiences for the beautiful children in our care.  

Here’s what’s happening at Walnut Acres, with a request associated with each item…

Parent Survey Time

Each year Mt. Diablo seeks input from parents in order to evaluate relationships among students, parents, and school staff. The data is used at the district level to assess needs, so your input matters! Results will also be reviewed by Walnut Acres staff, School Site Council, and our Safety Committee as we analyze our successes and challenges leading to next year’s goals.

Between 11/1/17 and 12/31/17 you are invited to go to the Walnut Acres website homepage hereand scroll to ‘Current News’ to complete the anonymous 15-minute survey. The link is also on the school website. You are welcome to request a pencil-paper copy of the survey from the office if you prefer. We will have the Colab (B-6) open during parent conferences so that if you do not have the opportunity to complete the survey prior to your conference, you may complete the survey before or after your parent conference. 

REQUEST: However you choose to participate, we encourage you to complete the survey so that the data we collect will include YOUR PERSPECTIVE!

New to WA: Math Kangaroo Competition

This year, Walnut Acres is participating in the 23rd Annual International Math Kangaroo Competition for students in 1st-12th grades. You will soon be able to register online for a $20 fee. Registration will remain open until 12/15. Participants will be invited to practice their math problem-solving skills with parent volunteer leaders over a few Saturdays to be announced in preparation for a written, strategy-based math contest held each spring.

On 3/15/18, students will take an individual math test after school in competition with other students at their grade level from around the world. All participants will earn prizes, enjoy some math fun, and enhance their math skills. For more information, go to or contact Walnut Acres parent Chao Yang is coordinating the contest at Walnut Acres.

Mr. Yang will host a Math Kangaroo information session on Wednesday evening, 11/29, at 7:00 p.m. You are welcome to join us to learn more about this fun math learning experience.  Sign up here for the Math Kangaroo Info Meeting so we can track the number of participants and place the meeting in a room to hold the group.     

REQUEST: Check out the Math Kangaroo website and register on Konstella to learn more about the competition at our informational meeting.

Intradistrict Transfer Process is Closing Soon!

11/17/17 is the last day to apply for an intradistrict transfer for the 2018-19 school year. If you have a student currently enrolled in 1st-12th grade and you are seeking an intradistrict transfer, apply online by going to Select ‘Parent and Community’ and you will find the Intradistrict application link in ‘General News.’ No applications will be accepted by MDUSD after 11/17.

Incoming parents of 2018-19 kindergartners interested in an intradistrict transfer must complete enrollment at their home school and then complete an online application for an intradistrict transfer between 2/9/18–3/9/18.

REQUEST: Follow these deadlines if you seek an intradistrict transfer for 2018-19.

Growing Digital Citizens Together

Ms. Galindo and the classroom teachers are consistently promoting digital citizenship with specific lessons and classroom reminders. Teaching students to THINK (Is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind?) before they do anything on an electronic device is an ongoing effort. Please corroborate with your child that these questions are crucial at school and at home. Reinforce digital citizenship through your own modeling and by monitoring your child's electronic activities just as you supervise their TV and book selections. Some steps you can take at home include: allowing access to devices only in public spaces, limiting time on devices, monitoring email communications. A great resource to parents regarding digital citizenship can be found on the Common Sense Media website ( 

Also remember that on 3/20/18 at Northgate High, there will be a parent workshop entitled Cyber Safety and Above the Fray. I recommend it to all parents who have children on devices.

REQUEST: We ask you to supervise electronic conversations and check your child’s communication histories to ensure that your child is safe and routinely practicing responsible citizenship online

Hour of Code

Speaking of all things digital, our annual Hour of Code is coming up 12/4/17-12/8/17. If you are legally approved to volunteer and you would like to assist with Hour of Code activities at a particular grade level, contact Ms. Galindo at The schedule for coding is as follows:

M 12/4 @8:15-9:15 1st grade

M 12/4 @ 9:45-10:45 Kindergarten

W 12/6 @ 8:05 -9:05 5th grade

W 12/6 @ 9:15 – 10:15 4th grade

Th 12/7 @ 8:15 - 9:15 3rd grade

F 12/8 @ 8:15 – 9:15 2nd Grade

F 12/8 @ 10:15 - 11:15 Transitional Kindergarten

REQUEST: Ask your child about their coding experiences so far this year and consider joining us for our grade-level Hour of Code experience.

Innovation Team meeting

Since I am sharing so many technology-related activities with you, I want to alert you that our Innovation Team will meet on 1/16/18 at 4:00 p.m. in the Colab. This team has been pivotal over the last 8 years to our development of design thinking, engineering, and all things technology-related. If you would like to join us, please do so, we love passionate, out-of-the-box folks at our innovation meetings!

REQUEST: Contact me at 939-1333 if you want to learn more about the role of our Innovation Team at Walnut Acres.


Ready, Set, Read! Our 2017-2018 Read-A-Thon begins today and runs for 18 days, ending on 11/30. This year’s theme is “American Ninja Reader: A Workout for your Brain!” Like past years, all students are encouraged to participate through daily reading and personal financial sponsors. The Read-A-Thon will launch at lunch today in the MUR, and later this week there will be a fun obstacle course on the playground to get kids excited about the fundraiser and the theme: American Ninja Reader.

You will receive 2 key pieces of information for the fundraiser today, your child’s donation/reading log envelope and an email from Your child’s donation envelope will include their reading log, information sheet, and keepsake bookmark. Your email from will contain a link to your child’s personal fundraising page. Donations can also be collected in person and submitted via the Read-A-Thon envelope. All donations are due on Friday, 12/1.

REQUEST: Gather further information about Read-A-Thon, including prizes, at Read-A-Thon - Walnut Acres PFC.

School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA)

The School Site Council approved the 2017-18 SPSA last week. Our plan is focused on developing our math instruction to enhance rigor, support differentiation, renew articulation across grade levels, and increase performance-based learning opportunities. We will also practice our Reading and Writing Workshop strategies to deepen our instructional practices, develop a more integrated phonics program, and grow our technology/engineering program. We will hone our intervention activities to support our special needs populations and students who need extra support and we will maintain our positive climate efforts through our Climate Team. Our school funding will support all these efforts.

The plan now goes to the MDUSD Board of Education for approval, after which it will be posted on the district website.

REQUEST: Take a look at the SPSA when it becomes available on the MDUSD website, and remember that our SSC meetings are open to the public if you would like to be part of our discussion.

Thank you once again

I realize that I am a broken record in thanking you on these messages, but the truth is that you make Walnut Acres what it is through your level of volunteerism, your donations, and your leadership practices. We can develop vision plans and apply school funds to support our work, but a cursory review of the SPSA budget clearly indicates that without ongoing sustenance from our PFC, our students would not enjoy the levels and varieties of support currently available to them and our visions could remain forever, just that.

There is a Japanese proverb that states, “Vision without action is a daydream.” Accolades to community members who routinely and passionately act to help us more closely implement our vision of student-owned learning at Walnut Acres. While our vision will remain just out of reach as we continually raise expectations, thanks to you, we are making great progress!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

October Principal's Message

posted Oct 16, 2017, 10:55 AM by Vice President Communications   [ updated Nov 15, 2017, 10:10 AM ]

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

I relish this time of year, when routines and procedures are established and we are implementing thoughtful plans informed by data while children and adults alike anticipate the approach of the holiday season. This year, however, we must also address the reality of natural and manmade calamities that are difficult to explain to our children.

Talking to Children about Disasters

Although I do not know of any children who have admitted anxiety at school about the recent hurricane disasters, the local fires, or the horrific Las Vegas shooting, a number of parents have expressed their concern about how to talk to children regarding these events.

A valuable family response to natural disasters is to mitigate the negative impact of a tragedy through community service activities. A service response supports fellow citizens, models positive life skills for our children, and helps provide some sense of empowerment (for adults and children) in situations that often lead to a sense of helplessness.

Manmade tragedies may be even more difficult to discuss with children. Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) has collected online resources for use in support of children and families. These resources include approaches to initiating tough conversations with children about current events and what they view in the media as well as ways to confront tragedies in a community. ACSA does not have any specific partnership with the providers of this content, but offers these resources in the hope they will be of some value. I provide them to you with the reminder that active listening is always a foundational practice in communicating with children.  
Mass Shooting in Las Vegas: How to talk to students
How to talk to kids about tragedy in Las Vegas 
In the aftermath of a shooting, help your children manage distress

From our Counselor

Our counselorJoanne Finn, is on site on Mondays and Tuesdays as well as alternate Wednesdays. She would be happy to have a conversation with you about communicating with your child regarding recent national tragedies or any other parenting challenges you confront. Meanwhile, here is the latest input from our counselor:

In September, Walnut Acres students have been moving and grooving at the Chill Out Zone! On Mondays during all lunch recesses, students have the opportunity to connect with me while playing with toys and games. When students have a closer connection to a caring adult, they are more likely to seek and allow support when they need it. For example, some students will check in with me when they are having difficulty with peers or are feeling left out. Others may have an exciting change or a new activity in their lives and want to share. Having their experiences acknowledged helps students process their feelings, which in turn leads to a more relaxed school day.

This year the Chill Out Zone activity tables are located out on the recess yard between the ball sheds and snack area. We’ve added some music and scarves for creative movement, and a bubble station. And we have the old standbys, which include games, Legos, and toy figures for doll-house play.  

DONATIONS WELCOME! Cleaning out the closets? Chill Out Zone would make good use of gently used board games, Legos or other building type toys, and art, art, art materials. We go through these materials very quickly! The students would love popsicle sticks, yarn, pipe cleaners, new markers, stickers, and drawing paper, paper, paper! We are also seeking gluten-free playdough (available at Lakeshore Learning). A Chill Out Zone donation box will be available in the front office.  If you have questions feel free to email me at

Upcoming School Activities

Our School Site Council (SSC) is reviewing data and analyzing it to develop our 2017-18 School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA). The SPSA is our blueprint for our growth as a learning community and the guideline for school expenditures. While information about our updated SPSA is shared at PFC meetings, you may also speak to our SSC parent representatives to gather more input or share your input. Our SSC parent representatives are Shakeya St Julien, Chad Bounds, Catherine Canillas, Melanie Mitsch, and Dara Buzzard. We will continue our conversation about our 2017-18 SPSA at our next SSC meeting on Thursday, 11/9/17. Please note that SSC meetings are public sessions and all are welcome.

Red Ribbon Week is 10/23-10/27. Red Ribbon Week, sponsored by NFP (National Family Foundation), serves as a catalyst to mobilize communities to educate youth and encourage participation in drug prevention activities. Each day during the week, we will share an anti-drug message in a developmentally appropriate manner. For example, our youngest children will talk about keeping their bodies healthy and being careful about what they put in them. For more information about NFP, click here.

Picture retakes will take place on Monday, 10/30. IClickSmiles has emailed information to every parent. If you have questions or concerns please email iClickSmiles personnel at

Our 10/31 Sing-Out is incorporated into our Halloween celebration. Our schedule will be:

8:00 a.m. Sing-Out for 3rd-5th graders

8:30 a.m. Halloween parade on the black top

9:00 a.m. Sing-Out for TK-2nd graders

Students are invited to wear a costume, but no masks and no weapons, please. Your child’s teacher will send home further details of what is happening in your child’s classroom.

Upcoming MDUSD News

MDUSD is going online for Intradistrict Transfer Requests for the 2018-19 school year. Intradistrict transfers are transfers within schools in MDUSD.

  • Beginning October 17, 2017, the Online application can be found at; select Parent and Community and you will find the Intradistrict application link on the Transfer Information page listed in General News.
  • For students currently enrolled in grades K-11 Online applications must be submitted between 10/17/17and 11/17/17 for the 2018-19 school year. No applications will be accepted after the 11/17/17 deadline.

Incoming Kindergartners for the 2018-19 school year parents/guardians must complete enrollment in their home schoolOnline applications will be accepted 2/19/18 through 3/9/18. Students MUST be enrolled at their school of residence prior to submitting a transfer request.

If you have a 5th grade or 8th grade student on a current Intradistrict Transfer and you would like to attend a Middle or High School outside your school of residence, you must apply for an Intradistrict Transfer.

The second annual MDUSD COMMUNITY SPEAKER SERIES schedule is now available. The series serves both the goal of learning together but also provides an informal setting to discuss your school needs and to interact with district staff. This series was developed based on input from parents and other stakeholders at our Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Planning Committee. As part of the key goal for Parent/Family & Community Engagement, parents, families and community members will be informed, engaged, and empowered as partners with MDUSD to support student learning. See the LCAP at a Glance report to learn more.

This year’s schedule (all meetings from 6-8 p.m.) includes the following:

October 17, 2017 - Mt. Diablo High School - What Every Parent Needs to Know About Technology and Their Student
January 30, 2018 - College Park High School - Marijuana and Beyond
March 20, 2018 - Northgate High School - Cyber Safety and Above the Fray
April 18, 2017 - Riverview Middle School - School Readiness with First 5
May 29, 2018 - Concord High School - LCAP Budget Workshop

Supporting Our Children

Thank you for all you do to support Walnut Acres as we work to support your children! From our recent Walk & Roll to School event to our first Drop-off Recycling Week (which raised almost $150 towards recycle club funds), we are able to teach our children life skills because you provide such wonderful modeling!

I leave you with a quotation whose author I can’t determine, but which reminds me of many Walnut Acres parent/child interactions I observe: “I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won’t face them alone.” Whether you’re coping with tragedy or participating in wonderful community-building events, I salute you for doing your best to help children understand and negotiate their world!     


Colleen Dowd

Walnut Acres Principal

September 2017 Message from the Principal

posted Sep 19, 2017, 10:59 AM by Vice President Communications

Dear Parents,

With our community-building Ice Cream Social behind us, we have completed our initial school-opening events and we are happily settling into the new school year. In classrooms, teachers have set the foundation for a continually developing learning family, established routines, and organized procedures. They have also completed baseline testing using Running Records, i-Ready, ESGI, a CO Math Screener, authentic work products, and observation. Data from these multiple measures will be used as pretests to help us establish growth over the first 10 weeks of school.

Expectation-setting and relationship-building will support our students as the teachers now focus on curriculum implementation using instructional strategies that will promote student choice, deepened thinking, and ownership of learning. Our newly collected data will help us to differentiate learning for groups and individual students.

As a staff we have also reviewed the results of the Spring 2017 CAASPP state tests as another measure of student progress. Here is the link to the CAASPP website for you to review the latest Walnut Acres assessment data:

In appreciation

Thank you for joining us at our Back to School Nights and for your support of all our educational efforts! We appreciate those of you who have signed up to volunteer, those who are donating to the PFC Jaguar Fund, and those who are making our fieldtrips possible. Our school is most effective when school personnel and parents work in concert.

Likewise, I thank those of you who are establishing a routine to read at home with your children, ask them consistently about their school day, and encourage their persistence. Our children will be most successful when every parent works in tandem with a child’s teacher to promote student success.

School Site Council

A vital Walnut Acres collaborative working group is our School Site Council (SSC), which is composed of 5 parents and 5 school personnel. The group meets monthly to develop, approve, monitor, and evaluate the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), which is our blueprint to support school goals and improvements. The SSC also establishes the budgets to support plan implementation. Members are responsible to collaborate with Advisory Groups such as ELAC (English Language Advisory Committee) and PAC (Parent Advisory Committee), while encouraging parent, family, and community involvement. All SSC meetings and minutes are posted on the board on the south end of A wing and on the school website. Community members are welcome to join us, as all SSC meetings are public. We meet on the first Thursday of each month from 3:00-4:00 p.m.

This year our parent members are Chad Bounds, Catherine Canillas, Melanie Mitsch, Shakeya. St. Julian Garcia, and Dara Buzzard. Thank you for voting our new members to the council. If you have a concern, a question, a celebration, or a suggestion, you are welcome to share your input with one of our members, who will bring your feedback to SSC.


Our first Sing-out is on Wednesday, 9/27, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. Parents are welcome to join in the fun, but please remember that our Sing-outs are designed to be an engaging, life skill celebratory experience for students, rather than a performance for parents.  Our first Sing-out will focus on the life skill of Respect.

A Recycling Experiment

WA parent William Jahnke has offered to expand the recycling routine he established with our kindergarten families. Last year he organized the collection of CRV-labeled materials and successfully earned money for kindergarten classroom libraries.

This year he will lead the collection of CRV-labeled materials (largely plastic bottles and aluminum cans) across our site. Here’s the plan: Every first week of the month parents are invited to drop off bags of recycling when you drop off your children in the morning. The recycling will be exchanged for cash at a recycling center. If successful, funds will be used for recycling club materials and activities as well as recess supplies.

We will begin our recycling collection during the week of October 2-6 at drop-off.  

Walk & Roll to School Day

Our first walk/bike to school day on Wednesday, 10/4will also be an opportunity to recognize our community spirit! Students can join together to safely ride or walk to school and collect prizes for participating in these fun, healthy, and environmentally sound practices.  City council members and our mayor are invited to help hand out prizes at Walnut Acres between 7:40-7:55 a.m. to Walk & Roll Day participants.  At 8:20 a.m. there will be a brief ceremony in front of Foothill to commemorate the new road safety measures in place around Walnut Acres and Foothill. All interested parents and community members are invited.

District Communication

Please enjoy reading the new issue of MDUSD Connections, Mt. Diablo Unified School District's newsletter containing news, events, and informational items from the district, as well as items that might be of interest to you in areas that touch education and family. Feel free to forward stories, events, pictures, or feedback to to be included in future newsletters. 

MDUSD would like to inform 5th grade parents that Family Life Education instruction is included in the 5th grade Spring curriculum. Materials being used for instruction are available for inspection and preview at the Instructional Media Center, C-2, Willow Creek Center, 1026 Mohr Lane, Concord, Monday–Friday, 10/2–10/6 from 8:00 a.m. –4:30 p.m. and 6:00–8:00 p.m., and Monday–Friday, 1/22–1/26 from 8:00 a.m. –4:30 p.m. and 6:00–8:00 p.m. (Education Code 51937, 51938, 51939).

Dr. Nellie Meyer wrote a compelling message to the community following the recent CAPS vote at the County. You may view her letter here. Whether you were for or against the new district plan, I hope we can all appreciate and participate in Dr. Meyer’s invitation to “…accelerate (the momentum in the district) by continuing to engage and include ideas and input from the community. What’s working? What’s not working so well? How can we do things better for kids? We will listen, and ask questions, and ask that you hear us too.”

Feeder Pattern Community Meeting

You have an opportunity to hear about MDUSD updates and share your thoughts about the needs and celebrations of the Northgate community with Dr. Meyer at her first community meeting of the year on Wednesday, 9/27, at 6:00 p.m. in the Walnut Acres MUR.

Pleasant Hill Tinkers & Thinkers Faire
I don’t usually comment on broader community events, but I do want to invite you to check out the new Tinkers & Thinkers Innovation Faire. The fair is designed for “inquisitive minds with curiosity about all things STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.) It is a free family event on Saturday, 9/16, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. at Pleasant Hill Park. Click to the website here for further information. 
Collaborative Believers

We will continue to work diligently to support your child’s learning at Walnut Acres and we are fortified that we have your support as we proceed. We realize that your generous volunteerism, your participation in our school community, and your collaboration with us are grounded in your belief in the potential of our children. As Matthew L. Jacobson aptly noted, “Behind every young child who believes in himself [or herself] is a parent who believed first.”  As educators we are believers too, and we are honored to collaborate with you as we help our children become the best they can be!


Colleen Dowd

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal 

August 2017 Back to School Message from Dr. Dowd

posted Sep 13, 2017, 6:06 PM by Vice President Communications

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year, Walnut Acres Parents!

I hope your summer has provided some memorable family time and that your child is learning from your adventures while regularly getting lost in reading a book, a magazine, a graphic novel, a comic book or some other sort of text - online or bound - everyday.

Although summer is still officially in session for teachers, many of us are here preparing to offer a warm and welcoming return to our prized students. As you join us in our preparations, here are some highlights for the new school year:


In order to maintain accurate demographic data, including emergency contact information, we need your input. This is crucial for safety reasons, because if your child is involved in an emergency, such as illness or accident at school, we want to be able to contact you or your selected representative immediately.

Please go to HomeLink (click here) to verify and update your address, personal phone numbers, and emergency contacts.

On Jaguar Day, August 17, 2017, we will have a list of those who have completed this task on HomeLink, so that you can immediately receive your child’s class assignment. If you have not completed the task, you will be asked to update your demographic and emergency data when you arrive at Jaguar Day.

Family and Parent Activities to Open the School Year

Parents new to Walnut Acres are invited to join the New Parent Orientation on Tuesday, 8/15, at 6:00 p.m. to hear more about our community and our culture. We hope that you will also stay for the first PFC meeting of the year immediately following the Orientation at 7:00 p.m. to learn how our dedicated and proactive parents support our learning programs.

We have a New Student Welcome Picnic planned, as well. On Friday, 8/18, at 11am, 1st-5th grade Walnut Acres newcomers are invited to bring a bag lunch to enjoy a meal and a tour with returning students. If you are new to the school, you should have already received an invitation from the PFC New Families team to the picnic.

Jaguar Day is Thursday, 8/17, and we look forward to seeing you there between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. to confirm your demographic information, get your child’s class assignment, and sign up for the myriad of opportunities available to support our school. These include options to volunteer in classrooms, the library, and in our Learning Center, and to donate to our crucial Jaguar Fund, which is pivotal to maintaining many of our personnel as well as programs for students. (Click here for the financial pages of the PFC website to see how PFC money is allocated this year.)

Please arrive to Jaguar Day at the time designated for you (based on the first letter of your last name) to avoid long lines.

O-Z                  3:00 - 4:00 p.m.

H-N                 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.

A-G                 5:00 - 6:00 p.m.

All (A-Z)           6:00 - 6:30 pm.

To learn all you need to know about Jaguar Day, go to the PFC website.  To find the  “All-In-One Form", go to All-in-One Form.

Walnut Acres staff are enthusiastically preparing for the arrival of our students on ourFirst Day of the School Year on Tuesday, 8/22 beginning at 7:55 a.m. Both early and late kindergarten friends will arrive at 7:55 am and leave at 11:17 am for Tuesday only. We invite you to stay for coffee and pastries, and an opportunity to chat with other parents after the morning bell rings.

While we won’t offer breakfast every day, we do advise you to get your child to school every day on time so your student doesn’t feel confused, out-of-step, and behind the learning curve! Check out my letter on the crucial role of daily, timely attendance on our website home page under Current News or click here.

Our teachers invite you to a series of grade level evenings to learn about their curriculum and instruction plans during our Back to School Night events. I offer a 15 minute State-of-our-School overview for interested parents at 5:45 and then the parents move to individual classrooms at 6:00 pm.  Note: SDC and 5th Grade BTS nights do not include the 15 minute State-of-the-School segment.

Back to School Night Schedule:

8/23     4th grade        5:45-7:00 p.m.

8/24     5th grade        6:00-8:00 p.m. (BTS Night followed by Outdoor Ed Orientation)

8/29     SDC (TK-5th)   5:00-6:00 p.m.

8/30     1st grade         5:45-7:00 p.m.

8/31     2nd grade        5:45-7:00 p.m.

9/6       3rd grade        5:45-7:00 p.m.

9/7       TK/K grades    5:45-7:00 p.m.

A Volunteer Opportunity

We need 1 more parent volunteer to serve as School Site Council representative for 2017-19. I will send out a ballot the first week of school if 1 more volunteer can be placed on the docket. Please e-mail me if you would be willing to make a commitment for each first Thursday of the month from 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. In case you are wondering, the ballot cannot be online according to regulations, which is why the ballot is sent home for your vote.

Parent Learning Opportunity

On 8/19 (Saturday), MDUSD will host a Back-to-School Parent Conference at Loma Vista Adult Center (1266 San Carlos Drive, Concord). The conference is from 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. and is designed to equip and empower parents to support children at school. Call 925-685-7340 ext. 6720 or click here to reserve childcare space or ask questions regarding the conference. The key note speaker is Dr. Ronald Mah, Licensed MFT. His topic is “Parenting: Philosophy, Principles, Practice, and Practicalities.”


I previously shared with you that Mariteresa Arenson, who has been teaching at Woodside, will be joining us in 2nd grade this year. Rediet Kifle will be our speech and language therapist while 2 occupational therapists, Bonnie Sherek and Shiela Stosick, will join our special education team. Our intervention team has 2 new members, with Catherine Foster, math specialist, providing math intervention support for the first time at Walnut Acres, and a 14-year veteran teacher, Jean Condon, providing ELD (English Language Development) classes.

Noon Supervisors Needed

If you would like to earn money supervising students while they eat and play at lunch between 11:20-1:00 p.m. please contact the office at 925 939-1333. We need supervisors every day, but supervisors collaborate for flexible scheduling.

Facility Updates

Along with our personnel changes, we have shifted a few rooms to allow for kindergarten reduction, 1st grade growth, and music room space. Check out the 2017-18 Walnut Acres school map on our website (click here) for details.

M&O as well as Measure C personnel have been working on our campus this summer. You will notice new ADA accessible bathrooms in C wing, updated Wing A bathrooms, as well as a new rubberized surface for the kindergarten playground with new play structureequipment. You may also notice our newly painted library, a few new classroom doors, andmore even pavement around our campus.

Insurance Option

Mt. Diablo Unified School District does not carry medical insurance for students injured on school premises so the district has approved an optional medical and dental accident insurance plan for parents. The District does not act as agent for any insurance provider. If purchased, it is a separate contract between the buyer and the insurance company. To view the letter regarding the plan and get directions to access an application for insurance go to the “Student Services” section of the MDUSD website, scroll down the list of options, then click on “Parent Information Packet” or click here to see the letter on our school website.

Here’s to Working Together!

A fundamental key to your student’s success at school is the relationship you and your child’s new teacher forge together. Don’t underestimate the value of this collaboration and remember that talking to your child’s teacher is always the first step to overcoming inevitable challenges that arise. Click here to read a worthwhile article about parents and educators working together.

Also remember that I intend to be helpful, so my door is always open. As the minister, H.E. Lubbock wisely commented, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”  Here’s to staff/parent collaboration as we create a symphony of learning for our children in 2017-18!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd


June 2017 Message

posted Sep 13, 2017, 6:02 PM by Vice President Communications

Hello, Walnut Acres Parents:

As we say goodbye for the summer, I want to wish you and your family happy vacationing! To those of you with students graduating from Walnut Acres, thank you for your years of support and collaboration. On behalf of our school staff, we hope that middle school adventures will be joyfully memorable. 

For those of you with students continuing at Walnut Acres, here are our plans thus far for the 2017-18 school year:



Mr. John Paradiso, dedicated 3rd grade teacher, is leaving us to return to school. He will earn his school counseling credential over the next two years. We wish him all success in his endeavors.

Mrs. Cynthia Young, beloved 4th-5th grade vocal music teacher, will retire in June. We wish her happy days as she begins this new phase of life.

As previously shared with you, Mrs. Jackie Pine, respected Instructional Assistant (IA), will be moving this June and is resigning her post as reading intervention IA.

Shifting roles

Current kindergarten teache Ms. Mia Carella will move to B-4 to teach 3rd grade. She will not be replaced in kindergarten at this point because we currently need only 3 kindergarten classes.

Our large kindergarten class now moves to 1st grade, so we need five 1st grade classes rather than our current 4 classes. Ms. Rachel Proctor will join the 1st grade team to create that additional 1st grade class.  

Mrs. Sally Anderson will rejoin us full time as vocal music teacher, while Mrs. Judy Ryken will continue as choral music teacher on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings.  

New people and positions

Mrs. Mariteresa Arenson will join us as a 2nd grade teacher. She comes to us from Woodside, but she knows Walnut Acres well since her children attended school at our site. We welcome Mrs. Arenson to our school!

Thanks to our devoted PFC, we will replace our outgoing part-time reading intervention instructional assistant, Mrs. Pine, with a part-time certificated teacher to support English Language Learning and reading intervention. We are talking to candidates for that position currently.

Our supportive PFC is also sponsoring a part-time math intervention teacher position as a 2017-18 pilot program using Strategic Planning funds. We are talking to candidates for that position as well.

Summer Activities on Campus

Summer play

Weekly Camp Galileo summer sessions are offered from 6/19 through 8/7. Ms. Maria de Vera will be onsite camp director. The Galileo office will be in C-4 with classrooms in the D wing.

The Walnut Acres Children’s Center (WACC) will be in session from 6/12 through 8/11. Jaime Gonce, WACC Director, will work through the summer. WACC will use kindergarten classrooms for their summer program.  

Mrs. Judy Ryken’s Curtains Up! theatrical program will offer two afternoon summer sessions, from 6/12 through 6/30 and again from 7/11 through 8/4. Play practice will be in the MUR.                  

Summer work

M&O (Maintenance & Operations) will be working on our site this summer. The workers will renovate bathrooms in Wings A and C, complete some door repairs, and do miscellaneousconcrete flooring maintenance around campus.

Big news, hot off the press: M&O has also committed to removing the tanbark from the kindergarten playground and replacing it with rubberized flooring!

Our library will be painted this summer by M&O and we will use the remainder of 2015-16 Fund-A-Need monies to purchase more ‘comfy’ furniture now that we have finagled a small home for vocal music classes outside of the library.

Kindergarten Schedule for 2017-18

The Walnut Acres faculty voted to approve the request by kindergarten teachers to lengthen the instructional time for kindergarten students. The new schedule will remain intact for the first 4 months of school, with a noon dismissal on Wednesdays, then shift to a longer day for both early and late friends.

TK (transitional kindergarten) will not be impacted by the change in the kindergarten minutes. Their schedule will remain intact, with early friends in class from 7:55 through 11:17 a.m. and late friends arriving at 9:36 and leaving at 12:58 p.m. 

The new schedule allows our young students to get acclimated to school with a 3-hour-and-20-minute day session until January, at which time students will attend school for about 4 hours per day. With the extended time, children will be able to practice fine and gross motor skills as well as developmentally appropriate social skills through imaginative play and developing interactive abilities. The teachers look forward to extended time for these experiences interspersed with continued Workshop and Math Talk academic sessions. 

The new kindergarten schedule is as follows:

August-December (Winter Break) Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday

7:55-9:36 Early Friends

9:36-10:30 ALL (Late Friends arrive)

10:30-10:50 Snack recess

10:50-11:17 ALL

11:17 Early Friend dismissal

11:17-12:58 Late Friends

January-June Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 

7:55-10:00 Early Friends

10:00-11:10 ALL (Late Friends arrive)

11:10-11:50 Lunch

11:50-12:00 ALL

12:00 Early Friend dismissal

12:00-2:05 Late Friends

Wednesday schedule (ALL school year)

ALL kids come at 7:55-12:00

Two Departing Comments

Please encourage your child to read every day. Whether they read books or ebooks or comic books doesn’t matter, just inspire them to read—perhaps by reading aloud to them or cuddling up with your own book and relaxing with a good read together! Yummy!

As you plan your summer please consider this short but sagacious poem by SARK:

How To Really Love A Child

Be there. Say yes as often as possible. Let them bang on pots and pans. If they’re crabby, put them in water. If they’re unlovable, look more closely. Realize how important it is to be a child. Go to a movie theater in your pajamas. Read books out loud with joy. Invent pleasures together. Remember how really small they are. Giggle a lot. Surprise them. Say no when necessary. Teach feelings. Heal your own ‘inner child.” Learn about parenting. Hug trees together. Make loving safe. Bake a cake and eat it with no hands. Go find elephants and kiss them. Plan to build a rocketship. Imagine yourself magic. Make lots of forts with blankets. Let your angel fly. Reveal your own dreams. Search out the positive. Keep the gleam in your eye. Encourage silly. Plant licorice in your garden. Open up. Stop yelling. Express your love. A lot. Speak kindly. Paint their tennis shoes. Handle with caring. Know that children are miraculous. Every single one.

May you enjoy a lovely summer of yesses and giggling and dreaming and hugging!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

May 2017 Message

posted Sep 13, 2017, 6:01 PM by Vice President Communications

Happy May, Walnut Acres Parents!

Upcoming Events

We are closing out the year in high gear with each grade level planning end-of-year activities, all teachers assessing student mastery of California standards for report cards, 3rd-5th grade teachers completing state testing, and everyone preparing for our upcoming Open House Festival!

Here are a few highlights of upcoming events… 

Bike or Walk to School Day

Enjoy the fresh air with Bike or Walk to School Day on Wednesday, 5/10. Last week we had an assembly about bike safety, and the bike day experience will be a format to practice new or reviewed skills discussed at the assembly. We hope the assembly, brought to us by Street Smarts, will also serve as a valuable reminder to summer bike riders!

New Parent Meeting

New parents are invited to attend an informative 6:00 p.m. New Parent Meeting prior to the 7:00 p.m. Parent Faculty Club (PFC) meeting on 5/16. Parents new to Walnut Acres are welcome to attend to learn more about PFC’s role and have their questions addressed. Of course, you are most welcome to stay for the 7:00 p.m. PFC meeting immediately following the New Parent Meeting.

Open House Festival

We hope you will join us for this lovely community experience on Thursday, 5/25 from 5:00-7:15 p.m. It is an opportunity to enjoy a picnic meal with family and entertainment, thanks to our PFC volunteers. It is also a chance to have your child tour you through our specialty rooms, including the Colab, the Science Lab, and the library, before visiting your child’s classroom and perhaps popping in to check out the classrooms in the next grade level!

Student Council Fundraiser

Our student leaders will host a student participation fundraiser from 5/10-6/1 designed to raise money for supplies to support work at our site during the 10/14 Walnut Creek Community Service Day. For every 25 cents donated, students will add a sticky note to their class wall in the MUR. The class with the longest list of sticky notes will earn Otter Pop treats. 

Recycle Club Challenge

On Friday, 5/26, our recycle leaders will lead the student body to meet the challenge of a Zero Waste Lunch Day! The Challenge will demonstrate how students can reduce the amount of waste they produce. Students will be encouraged to bring their lunches in reusable containers, and create as little waste as possible. Recycle Club members will weigh and compare landfill bags generated on challenge and non-challenge days with the goal of improving our diversion rates. Recycle Club members have been playing a game with students in each class to reinforce our compost/waste/recycle knowledge in preparation for the Zero Waste Challenge. 

Grade Level Rotation Event

While you have an opportunity to visit various classrooms during our Open House event, students will have more formal visits to the next grade level the week of 6/5. Our goal is to enhance student knowledge of what is to come and thereby reduce stress. As we did last year, students will spend a little time with a teacher at the next grade level, but this year students will spend about 15 minutes with each of the next grade level teachers. They will also have an opportunity to return to last year’s grade level to enjoy a visit, remind themselves of all they have learned, and leave a note of advice for a new student.  

Summer Activities at our Site

We will remain busy during the summer months. We will have three programs at our site.

  1. Camp Galileo will return to provide innovative, hands-on design thinking experiences for our children. Weekly camp sessions will be held from 6/19-8/7.
  2. Curtains Up! led by our beloved Mrs. Ryken will have two shows this summer. Sessions will be in the afternoons from 6/12-6/30 and 7/11-8/4.
  3. Walnut Acres Children’s Center will offer their always engaging, active summer program from 6/12-8/11.

Along with these programs, Measure C funds will be used by MDUSD Maintenance & Operations to complete a variety of valuable facility projects this summer:

* Full remodel of Wing C restrooms

* Renovations to Wing A restrooms

* Door repair

* Hardscape repair (About 1000 square ft. of miscellaneous concrete repairs) 

* Playground and play structure repair

And as we plan for next school year…

Graphic artist skills requested 

We would like to add some personality to our school jaguar around campus. If you have some artistic skills and would be willing to share them with us, please let me know! For example, perhaps our jaguar could be wearing a “Save Our Earth” shirt and winking as he recycles next to our ‘Be Responsible’ sign in the MUR. The Climate Team is looking for a volunteer who can give our jaguar some pizzazz throughout our campus. Call 925 939-1333 or email dowdc@mdusd.orgif you are interested in helping with this project.

Site Council members needed for 2017-19

Three new School Site Council (SSC) parent members are needed to serve for the next two years! Would you like to help shape our School Site Plan and our Safety Plan, discuss our school vision as well as our successes, then brainstorm ideas to enhance our growth? We meet every first Thursday of the month from 3:00-4:00 p.m. Please email me at dowdc@mdusd or call 925 939-1333 if you would like to commit for a two-year stint as a SSC parent representative.  

Parent Survey results to help chart our course

The first order of business for SSC when we return in the fall will be to look at our parent and student survey results and discuss our strengths, needs, and goals. The survey results are now available for you to peruse under Current News on the front page of our website. Thanks to Mr. Khaund for creating a 2013-2017 longitudinal comparative chart of each parent response!


Mrs. Young, our 4th and 5th grade music teacher, is going to retire at the end of the year. We thank her for her passionate teaching and for sharing her love of music with our children. We will miss Mrs. Young and we wish her happy adventures in retirement!

I am asking PFC to consider funding a new position as a pilot for the next school year. I would like to hire a part-time specialist to provide Tier 3 math intervention for our students. If fully funded, the specialist would provide service to students four mornings a week. The Strategic Planning Committee has recommended the plan, and the PFC will vote on the position at their next meeting (Tuesday, 5/16, at 7:00 p.m.)

Closing thoughts

With Mother’s Day around the corner I want to weigh in to wish a very happy day to all of you who lovingly support children old and young. One of my favorite psychologist mentors, Erich Fromm, wrote, “Mother’s love is bliss, is peace, it need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. If it is there, it is like a blessing; if it is not there it is as if all the beauty had gone out of life.”

And for those of you who take the all-important role of mother without having given birth, remember these wise words from Robert A. Heinlein: “Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.”

To all of you who unconditionally love a child, I salute you! Enjoy your special day!


Colleen Dowd

April 2017 Message

posted Sep 13, 2017, 6:00 PM by Vice President Communications

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

After a rejuvenating Spring break, we are ready to collaborate with you to create a strong and happy finish to the 2016-17 school year. We have a busy 9 weeks ahead, starting with an important event in April that we designed for YOU!

Volunteer Appreciation Event

Each year we take the opportunity to thank all our volunteers for your dedication, tenacity, and diligence in supporting Walnut Acres Elementary School. Typically, this event occurs immediately following our April Sing-out, but this year our celebration will be part of our Trustworthiness Sing-out on Wednesday, 4/26, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. Every parent who ever volunteered in a classroom, on a field trip, or from home, who worked in some capacity to raise money for school programs or personnel, or who opened car doors at drop-off or student thermoses at lunch: You are invited to be recognized and officially thanked by the staff, teachers, and students of Walnut Acres. We hope you will join us as our community celebrates your spirit of volunteerism, and we also invite you to remain after the Sing-out to enjoy a few tasty treats

Welcoming Our 2017-18 Transitional Kindergarten Parents

There will be a Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Parent Orientation at Highlands Elementary on 4/26 at 6:30 p.m. The hour-long meeting will provide incoming TK parents with an overview of the district TK program. Five TK teachers will share the presentation, including our own Mrs. Garcia-Roy, Walnut Acres TK teacher. Click here for a map to Highlands Elementary.

Personnel and Planning

We have a new school nurse who will continue her predecessor’s schedule of working at our school on Fridays. She is RN Cristina Padil, and her contact email is Kathy Gabe will continue to work with her through the month of April to teach her procedures at our school. You are invited to contact Cristina for support with all health-related concerns.

We are losing our wonderful part-time Reading Lab instructional assistant. Jackie Pine will move out of the area at the end of the school year. We thank Jackie for years of excellent service to our students and wish her and her family many happy adventures! I hope that we may be able to provide a part-time reading specialist in lieu of an instructional assistant in the Reading Labduring the 2017–18 school year, but that will cost more money even if we shorten work hours per week, so we will consider our options as we review the budget.

Our Kindergarten registration numbers are not repeating the spike we experienced this time last year. That means that while we will need a fifth 1st grade classroom in 2017–18 to facilitate our large number of current kindergarten students, we will probably not need four kindergarten classrooms next year. If our numbers continue to hover around 75 incoming kindergarteners over time, we will ask one of the kindergarten teachers to take on a 1st grade class rather than hire a new teacher. If we have room flexibility, we are also considering lengthening the kindergarten day in order to enhance creative play and social interaction opportunities as a counterpoint to our more academically-focused activities of Reading and Writing Workshop, Math Talks, Read-Alouds, and calendar activities.

You can help us make appropriate kindergarten decisions for 2017-18 by encouraging anyone  in your neighborhood with a kindergarten-age student to register at Walnut Acres now, so that we have an accurate sense of our incoming population. Thank you for your support with this crucial task!  

State Assessments

April is the month that our students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades begin the CAASPP(California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) English Language Arts and Math exams. You may recall that last month I wrote and shared at our PFC meeting about the new CA Dashboard now available to the public, which presents the 2015-16 CAASPP Walnut Acres test results, among other school data. We will now repeat the testing process, and in late summer you will be able to view the 2016-17 Walnut Acres CAASPP results on the CA Dashboard. You will also receive your child’s individual score results in the mail.

Our CAASPP testing window is 4/24/17-6/9/17. Each grade level team will share with you its specific test dates.

This year there is a new CAASPP Science Assessment being piloted. All Walnut Acres 5th graders will take the exam. For further information about CAST (California Science Test), check out the front page of the district website (or click here). The informative letter on the website—written by Shannon Ortland, who is MDUSD's director of assessment, research, & evaluation—provides some details about the purpose of the Science Assessment and shares the CDE website that provides you with sample science test questions (or click here). Once on the site, click on the Green “Student Interface Practice and Training Tests” rectangle, click the “Sign-In” button—no need to provide log-in or password information—then select grade “5” before clicking on the “Yes” button. Once you are on the site, scroll down because the Science sample questions are the last on the list of sample options. Click the orange box labeled “Start CAST Grades 5, 8 and HS Training Test,” then click the “Select” button.   

While we do not want the state testing process to be anxiety-provoking for students, we do ask that you encourage students to give their best effort to the state assessments. That means our students will need a good night’s rest, a healthy breakfast, and an encouraging hug before arriving at school on test days—but of course, that’s the morning routine we hope for every day. So, please don’t put any pressure on students at home and we will use the mantra, “Do your best, and forget the rest” at school. That’s a very apt motto for the state assessment process, in particular!

With a common-sense approach to state testing, we will likely get a valuable measure of what children know and how they can apply their learning. As a staff, we will also get further data to analyze what we are teaching well and what we still need to do to support our learners. We realize that CAASPP test data is only one measure of student achievement, so we compile the CAASPP results with Running Records information, iReady data, teacher exams, and daily student oral and written work to get a picture of each child as a learner.

The Value of Play

I recently read an article about parents working to bring recess back to Florida elementary schools (Tampa Bay Times, 2/13/2017). Can you imagine not providing recess for our children? Open-ended, child-led, unstructured-free play has been gradually declining in our society over the last 60 years, according to Dr. Peter Gray, Boston psychologist and researcher. You may be interested in watching his recent TED Talk here. The medical world appears to agree, and some specialists suggest that the erosion of free play may account for increased rates of psychosocial disorders. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg wrote in Pediatrics that “a variety of factors have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.” We will continue to provide child-led recess opportunities at school to promote student health, social skills, problem-solving abilities, creativity, confidence, and resilience. We ask you to provide the same at home, even if that means reduced enrichment classes or strictly limited homework time!  

As one of my very favorite teacher mentors, Leo F. Buscaglia, wrote many years ago, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

Here’s to providing balance for all our beautiful children,

Colleen Dowd, Principal

March 2017 Message

posted Sep 13, 2017, 5:57 PM by Vice President Communications

Happy March, Walnut Acres Parents!

This newsletter is unusual in that it largely offers you information from our district, our state, and our City of Walnut Creek. So you won’t hear much of my voice in this message, but everything below relates to Walnut Acres in a way that will matter to you!

So here’s the scoop from our larger communities that directly impacts Walnut Acres…

From Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD)

MDUSD is requesting information from you to improve programs. They want to know what parents think of their home school (that’s Walnut Acres) by 3/30/17.

Your participation is voluntary but very important.  The information will help guide district efforts to promote safety, enhance learning, and improve student achievement.  Results will also help inform MDUSD’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP.)  This is an anonymous survey designed so that no one can be identified from the data.  The questions apply to this school only.  The results will be used for school site and MDUSD program planning. 

Instructions for accessing the survey are below. Please fill out just one survey about the school using your oldest child as a reference.

Access the login page for the survey using the following URL:

Use the following school code and click the Take Survey button:

School Code (case sensitive):  HD47NF

If you have questions about this survey, please contact Jennifer Sachs, Executive Director of Instructional Support, at (925) 682-8000 x 4016.

From the California Dept. of Education

California is field-testing a new website designed to help communities across the state access important information about K–12 districts and schools. Called the California School Dashboard, the site features easy-to-read reports on multiple measures of school success, including test scores, graduation rates, English learner progress and suspension rates. The Dashboard is part of California's new school accountability system based on 2013's Local Control Funding Formula. It is the next step in a series of major shifts in public education that have raised the bar for student learning, transformed testing, and placed the focus on equity for all students. To learn more about California's accountability and continuous improvement efforts, visit the CDE Dashboard Web page after 3/15/17.

Why a new system and new tool?

The Dashboard will be a key part of California's commitment to transparency and continuous improvement. California's future success depends on tapping into the potential of all students,  ensuring that they graduate ready for college, careers and life. For schools to reach this goal, teachers, parents and the community need clear and useful measures of progress. As an accountability tool, the Dashboard will help the state identify schools (including charter schools) and districts needing targeted assistance.

What’s different?

In the past, accountability systems for districts and schools relied solely on test scores. But one test taken on one particular day doesn't provide a complete picture of all the ways schools are helping students succeed.

Think of it this way: You can’t drive a car by only watching the speedometer. You also keep your eye on the road, check the mirrors, monitor the gas tank and pay attention if the engine light comes on. Similarly, the Dashboard provides information on different aspects of student performance, which will give a more complete picture of a school’s progress. The Dashboard also reports on growth to show a school’s trajectory over time.

What’s next?

The Dashboard is deliberately designed to be a work in progress: Metrics and reports will be added over time. During the field testing phase, the state will gather feedback to make additional modifications. The Dashboard is part of an ongoing conversation with our community on both how we're doing and how we can do better. Send your questions to the  Academic Accountability Team at or call 916-319-0863. 

From the City of Walnut Creek…

Alex Wong, associate civil engineer for Walnut Creek, informs us that the City’s contractor, Vanguard Construction, has started the 2017 Concrete Project.  The project includes upgrades to over 120 curb ramps in eastern Walnut Creek, including the work in front of Foothill Middle School and Walnut Acres Elementary School.  The City’s webpage will soon have a link with additional information on the project:

The concrete work in front of Foothill Middle School is scheduled for Spring Break, 3/31 to 4/7, weather permitting.  The restriping work to remark the street and add a buffered bike lane will be performed as part of the 2017 Slurry Seal project scheduled for summer 2017.

The concrete bulb-out and street work on Wiget Lane at the Blackstone Dr. and Cedro Ln.intersections affecting Walnut Acres is scheduled to start on 6/12/17.

If you have questions, contact Alex Wong at (phone) 925/943-5899x2239, (fax) 925/256-3550 or

From me…

Just a few comments from me as I close out this message. If you are wondering why the district doesn’t use our just-completed survey results, it’s because they want to be able to compare responses from across elementary schools on the same survey. And if the dashboard information was confusing, you are welcome at the next PFC meeting on 3/21 at 7:00 p.m. I will share what I know about the new CA Dashboard at the meeting.   

I leave you with three more heartfelt notes of appreciation. I want to thank all of you who took the time to complete our Walnut Acres survey! After we complete the student surveys, we will analyze the student, parent, and teacher results and use the data to plan the next steps of our development as a rigorous, engaging 21st century learning community. You’ll see the results of the survey on our website as well. I’ll let you know when those results are available online.

To all community members who participated in the recent on-line auction: Thank you for your support! Your generosity helps us to develop and maintain valuable programs and procedures that promote deeper educational personalization and more rigorous student engagement, through the personnel that you sponsor and the materials you purchase.

And to the Walnut Acres Children’s Center Board of Directors: We are grateful for your generous donation to our teachers! With the grade level funds you provided we have purchased a variety of items. These include 400 books and phonic games in kindergarten; wobble chairs and shelving/workspace furniture in 1st grade; rockers, yoga balls, wobble stools and math games in 2nd grade; and 64 books along with a new Reading Workshop Fantasy Unit in 5th grade. At this time 3rd and 4th grade teachers along with SDC teachers are still deciding how to expend funds. As one teacher shared when grade levels were comparing purchases, “We’ve had so much fun!” The staff is grateful for the donations offered directly to each grade level.   

Thanks to all stakeholders for being active members of our learning community! As religious leader Russell Ballard succinctly concluded, “Great things are brought about and burdens are lightened through the efforts of many hands anxiously engaged in a good cause.” I can think of no greater cause than that of helping to prepare children for their future!

Hope you get to enjoy a little more family time during these longer days.


Colleen Dowd, Principal

February 13, 2017

posted Feb 21, 2017, 3:42 PM by Vice President Communications

Happy February, Walnut Acres Parents:

Your voice is requested!

IT’S TIME TO COLLECT YOUR INPUT about how well Walnut Acres is activating the 6 Cs (collaboration, communication,  critical and creative thinking, global citizenship and content mastery; implementing the instructional practices we have been learning; and creating a safe, nurturing, and challenging learning environment!

Please take a few minutes to complete the survey by clicking here or going to the front page of our school website under Current News. If you don’t see the survey, do a search for ‘survey’ on the search icon. (We have been having compatibility issues, but the survey is there!) Your opinion matters, so give us your input by 3/3/17. We will also collect opinions from our students and teachers.

The data results will inform our progress analysis. Grade level teams, the School Site Council, the Safety Committee, and the Innovation Team will analyze the results of the parent, student, and teacher surveys and use the insights to inform their next steps. This year, for example, the first grade team modified their newsletters to include more information about curriculum activities. Meanwhile, the Safety Committee decided to focus on enhancing our emotional/ social support system for 2016 based partially on results indicating teasing/bullying at school.

As we do each year, the survey results will be shared graphically on our website this spring for stakeholders to view.

Your student may get an extra recess if you take a few minutes to complete the survey! Here’s the way it will work… sign the leaf or leaves your child(ren) brings home after you complete the parent survey. Send the leaves back to school and we will place them on our survey tree. The grade level that returns the most leaves with parent signatures will earn an extra recess!

Your survey input will be valuable data as we analyze our achievement, define our needs, and target next steps toward our 21st century transformation to become a dynamic, student-owned, challenging, nurturing, 6-C learning community.

The superintendent wants to hear from you, too!

The State Department of Education is requiring all districts to identify a local indicator for assessing school climate and parent engagement. So MDUSD has developed a district survey to gather information from all parts of the community. At this point you should have received an email from the district inviting you to go online to complete the parent survey. The survey link will close on 4/1/17. Hard copies of the survey are available in the office in both English and Spanish for those without internet access.

Safety matters...

The most basic aspect to our successful learning community is to establish safety at school. To that end, an updated safety plan has been approved by the School Site Council and is now being reviewed by district officials. Once approved it will become a public document. Within the plan, there are two categories of goals, those related to The Social Climate, People, and Programs and those that fall under the heading of the Physical Environment. We have written three goals within each category. In the area of Social Climate, goals focus on enhancing student emotional safety, creating a welcoming environment to parents and other visitors, and maximizing student choice and ownership. Physical Environment goals center on AED (automated external defibrillator) upkeep, classroom safety checks, and safety plan sharing.  


Our 2017 Safety Plan is designed to set the foundation for a physically safe and emotionally nurturing environment for all community members. Our character focus enhances that groundwork, and events such as our upcoming Sing-out on Wednesday, 2/22/17 help us promote the traits of respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, trustworthiness, citizenship and diversity celebration. We work to infuse these traits every day, and though we are definitely not perfect, our safety plan goals and our character trait activities provide guidance and direction.


Embracing inclusiveness…

As we live our character traits, we welcome and include every student.  We prize diversity and believe that all students benefit from the rich cultural perspectives we can share with one another. Conversely, we denounce bullying behavior, setting consequences for it and assessing cause(s) for such conduct, so that underlying needs can be addressed and bullying behavior can be extinguished.


We realize that federal and state laws mandate that state and local educational agencies provide all children with access to public education. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits states and school districts from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Nor can a student be denied equal access to free public education based on the student’s or parent’s citizenship or immigration status, as ruled in Plyler vs. Doe (1982) 457 U.S. 202.  We abide by these laws and intend to move beyond simple access to treasure all of our unique and beautiful children as we promote tolerance, kindness, and inclusiveness at Walnut Acres.We will continue to seek your input to gauge our successes and challenges, in this and all areas of school activity.

I’ll close with a recent message from our State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Torlakson, confirming California’s concern with safety and inclusion:

I want to let all of California’s 6.2 million public school students know that keeping them safe from discrimination and bullying at our great state’s 11,000 public schools is a top priority.

In California, diversity is strength. Our students come from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, languages, and religions, and they all come together to learn on their way to success in 21st century careers and college. California already has, and will always maintain, strong legal and state constitutional protections against any and all kinds of discrimination, regardless of a student’s race, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, or gender identity. And I want to tell young women and girls that they will always be safe, be respected, and be protected at school. As the proud father of two daughters, I know that girls can achieve anything, succeed at anything they choose, and earn the respect that they deserve every day at school, in the workplace, and in our communities.

Yours in making Walnut Acres the best school it can be to serve all our students,

Colleen Dowd, Principal

January 9, 2017

posted Jan 30, 2017, 6:15 PM by Vice President Communications

Happy New Year, Walnut Acres Families!

We welcome students back to school with enthusiasm and renewed energy after our holiday! The upcoming cold months are crucial focused learning times and we will make the most of them.  To support our efforts, I would like to introduce new personnel, request your support in filling a few positions, share good facility news, update our school climate work, and remind us all about basic school safety habits

Staff updates

There is some great personnel news as we start our 2017 routine. We have a new music teacher, Sally Anderson, who will provide weekly music classes to our 1st-3rd graders on Thursdays and Fridays. Mrs. Anderson is a member of the Northgate community, her children attended Walnut Acres, and she currently provides support to the band and orchestras at Northgate High. Until we have space for a music room, Mrs. Anderson will be teaching in our Colab. (This is feasible because Mrs. Galindo, our site tech who works in the Colab, will student teach one day a week and she will push into classrooms the other day.) 

Meanwhile, our friend Sandy Villers, who served as science lab assistant for 1st, 4th, and 5th grade students, will be student teaching at Westwood, and Faye Mettler has taken on those science lab assistant responsibilities. Mrs. Mettler was the Walnut Acres PFC president when I first came to Walnut Acres, and we feel lucky to have her back with us. 

We have a new nurse, Cathy Kora, who will be with us once a week. I’ve been asked recently what a school nurse does. It is the responsibility of our nurse to ensure that we are up-to-date with all immunizations, that vision and hearing screenings are completed, that emergency medications are maintained for individual students, and that particular students are monitored as needed, which includes participation in specific 504, attendance, or special education meetings. 

We also need to fill a few positions at our site. We are seeking another Noon Supervisor to work a 2-3 days a week and we are looking for 2 special education assistants to serve in our SDC classes. If you would like to know more about either of the jobs, just check in at the office or give me a call.

Facility Updates

Over the holiday, the MDUSD Maintenance & Operations employees worked on our library renovation. The old desk and half-walls are gone, and there is a new carpet in the library that cost almost $17,000 (including prep work on the floor). The district paid for the labor and the new carpet (actually carpet tiles so that if there is a spill or other problem, a portion of the carpet can be replaced to bring the carpet back to its current unblemished status.) The MDUSD workers also built new double-sided, mobile bookcases which we purchased with 2015-16 Fund-A-Need money. Now our librarian, Mrs. Ritthaler, will work with parent volunteers to redecorate and reorganize the library. She will also cull books from the fiction section and set some books in themed tubs as prescribed within the workshop approach.

Climate Work

We are continuing our efforts to maximize a strengths-based approach to serving our students. Towards this goal, our 3rd-5th grade selected students are currently receiving peacemaker training, while our noon supervision staff, including lunch patrol volunteers, are invited to receive an adult version of the training led by Soul Shoppe personnel.  

Meanwhile, our teaching staff will participate in Restorative Justice training over the next 2 months during staff meeting times. Restorative Justice is the process of helping our children to take responsibility for their poor behavior choices and make amends with the input of the people they offended. It is an extension of the class meetings (or circles) that we are implementing this year. Our goal is to build our children’s ability to communicate, problem-solve, and collaborate regarding their interpersonal challenges just as we are teaching them to do so with academic challenges.

Safety Plan

This is the time of year when we are asked to review and update our Safety and Emergency Plan. If you are interested in joining a committee that will analyze our current plan and develop a 2016-17 plan, let me know this week via email or with a call to the office (939-1333.)

As we focus on safety, it’s an appropriate time to remind our community about basic safety in our community!

  1. Drop your children off at 7:45 a.m., when we have adult supervision for children. Remember that we do not have supervision on the playground after school. If you want your child to play on the playground, you need to provide supervision.
  2. Sign in at the office when you visit during school hours and wear your name tag so children know that you are a safe person on campus.
  3. Follow all drop-off and pick-up rules as detailed in the Walnut Acres Handbook you received and acknowledged reading with your signature at the beginning of the year.

To reduce drive-thru traffic, save gas money, and take positive action for our environment while adding fun and exercise to your student’s routine, consider a New Year’s resolution of walking or biking to school. Whether walking, biking or driving, let’s keep our students safe!

As we hit 2017 running, our staff will work collaboratively to refine our safe environment, enhance our strength-based approach, and guide our students to rigorous, engaging learning experiences. We look forward to sharing the joys and struggle of our valuable work with you in 2017 because we appreciate your input on this learning journey! As President Woodrow Wilson once commented, “We should not only use the brains we have but all that we can borrow.”

Here’s to a successfully collaborative learning year for the entire Walnut Acres community!


Colleen Dowd

Walnut Acres Principal

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