Monthly Messages From Dr. Dowd

January 2019 Principal's Message

posted Jan 15, 2019, 5:26 PM by Vice President Communications   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:28 PM ]

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

I was happy to welcome all your children and our wonderful staff back to school last week. Thank you to all parents who remembered me over the holiday! I lost my list of gift providers and only those who sent gifts with affixed labels received a gratitude note from me. My thanks to those who did not get a personalized appreciation card – the gingerbread, pumpkin bread, and other tasty treats, along with candles and cups and ornaments, added to my delightful holiday, despite my broken ankle!

As we all resume our collaboration to make the most of this great learning season, I have a variety of updates for you.

Personnel Updates

We have a new head custodian, Robert Queen, who started earlier this month. Robert is replacing our substitute custodian, Nathan Williams, who was reassigned to Westwood Elementary. Please introduce yourself to Robert if you see him, and let’s make him feel welcome as he learns our routines and our community.

Doug Grebe will be returning to work as of 1/15. He will still be using a cane, but he is ready to continue teaching and eager to reconnect with students and colleagues!

Our part-time speech and language therapist, Rediet Kifle, is being reassigned to another school, and our full-time speech and language therapist, Mollie Strain, will be continuing service for all Walnut Acres students who receive speech or language support.

STEAM Day - A New WA Event

Not to be confused with our annual Science/STEM Fair that culminates in the district STEM Fair, Walnut Acres is introducing a new STEAM Day (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) on Friday, 1/18, for students in grades TK-5! Each grade will have an opportunity to collaboratively investigate and learn together during the day. Specifically, grade level teams will be invited to explore various stations to engage in STEAM activities such as Leonardo’s Bridge, Spheros, BeeBots, Keva Planks, Origami, Paper Airplanes, and more!

Thanks to Amanda Graves, who teaches in 4th grade, we are experimenting with this new Walnut Acres event that should be fun for kids and families. Parents are invited to volunteer in the MUR to support students as they learn. Check Konstella to see the day’s schedule and sign up to volunteer as you choose.

The school-day activities will be followed by an evening event.  Families are invited to return to school with your child on 1/18 between 6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. to explore STEAM activities together. Come and enjoy our first-ever evening STEAM Night!

Facility Updates

I am excited to announce that our kiln room is updated and our kiln is now repaired and ready to be used to bake the work of Walnut Acres creative artists! We thank Maintenance & Operations (M&O) for their labor and financing on this project. 

I am also happy to report that we are getting a filtered water fountain with cold (refrigerated) water in our MUR courtesy of M&O. I’ll let you know when that project is complete. You should also know that our 5th grade girl scout troop instigated the district’s largesse!

How did that happen? The girls asked me about raising funds for a filtered water fountain, and when I contacted M&O about the project, I learned that all elementary schools are receiving one installed filtered fountain, paid-for by the district. While talking to the M&O representative, our school was moved up on the list to get our fountain. So, the scouts have already supported our school in advance of beginning their own project!

District Plan for Future Facility Updates

With the passage of Measure J, the district has begun the process of planning for site improvements across MDUSDRenovations will include security enhancements and other facility improvements.

To prioritize facility needs across the district, MDUSD will collect input from community stakeholders including students in 5th, 7th, and 11th grades, teachers and staff, as well as parents and community members through a survey. MDUSD leaders are eager to gather your input and perspective about ways that our Walnut Acres facility needs to be upgraded! This includes security-related needs. Please take 5-10 minutes to share your perspective with district leadership by filling out the online survey by 1/25:



Following the analysis of survey input from each school, there will also be a series of Town Hall meetings for community members to review drafts of site facility needs and ask questions about plans being formulated for each physical location. The meetings will be grouped by feeder pattern. The date for the Town Hall that includes Walnut Acres is Tuesday, 2/19, from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at Northgate High School.

School Site Council (SSC) members will officially represent Walnut Acres teachers, staff and parents at the Town Hall event, but all community members are invited to participate in the process.  Let me be the first to invite you to join SSC members to share your input about Walnut Acres facility needs at Northgate on 2/19 from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. You should also get a formal invitation from the district.  

Basic Safety

While our district will help each site maximize Measure J funds to upgrade their facilities, we need to remember basic safety rules to keep our children safe. Children’s lives are in your hands as you drive and walk on our campus! For just the few minutes you are here, make their safety paramount over the meeting you must rush to or the many chores you must complete. Life is busy, and we are all over-burdened, but imagine how you would feel if your distraction caused an injury to a child!

  1. Drop your children off at 7:45 a.m. when we have adult supervision for children…not before!
  2. Drop children off where they will have a safe route into school. Do not drop children off at a spot where they must illegally cross the street or run past moving cars in the parking lot or drop-off zone. Last week I had to remind 4 parents waiting in the staff parking lot for dismissed students that their children would have to walk across 3 car lanes in order to get to their waiting parents. That is terribly dangerous!
  3. Walk in the crosswalks during traffic times. Children are watching. If you follow the rules, they will know the rules matter!
  4. 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 school year.
  5. Remember that we do not have supervision on the playground after school. All children are expected to head home directly after school unless they are participating in an adult-led enrichment class. If you want your child to play on the playground, you are responsible to provide supervision.
  6. Sign-in at the office when you visit during school hours and wear the volunteer name tag you will receive there, so children and adults know that you are a “safe person” on campus.

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 family New Year’s resolution of walking or biking to school.

PFC Meeting Tuesday, 1/15

Reminder that all parents are welcome at our monthly PFC meetings to learn more about what is happening on campus and to share your input. The next meeting is tonight, Tuesday, 1/15 from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. in the library at Walnut Acres, and we will be discussing PFC leadership and the PFC budget for next year. I hope to see you there!

Here’s to a Great New Year

There is no more awesome or challenging job than parenting, and at Walnut Acres we look forward to working with you in 2019 to encourage our unique and beautiful children to dream big and begin the journey of growing into those dreams. Or as the great dreamer, Walt Disney wrote, “First, think.  Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.”

Here’s to a year of thinking, dreaming, believing, and daring!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

December 2018 Principal's Message

posted Dec 19, 2018, 7:09 AM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:27 PM by Vice President Communications ]

Hello Walnut Acres Parents,

As always, life is busy at school with holiday energy abounding. Teachers are enjoying the opportunity to create a holiday experience with their classroom families before relaxing with their own families during winter vacation. Our students are collaborating to create gingerbread houses, singing about the season in a multi-cultural performance, and creating holiday surprises for you across our school! Life is eventful and generally joyous, but I begin this newsletter with information that is bittersweet.    


Personnel Updates

Our beloved Ramah David is retiring as of 12/21/18. Mrs. David has taught elementary students for 35 years and she has decided the time has come to step aside given her recent health issues.

Mrs. David has been an inspiration and a mentor to the students, parents, and colleagues with whom she has worked at Walnut Acres for the last 23 years. She will be greatly missed for the sincere heart and skill she brings to her work with children, her astute diagnostic prowess, her patient, encouraging spirit, and her creative, multi-sensory approach to learning. Mrs. David actually began her career working as a bilingual teacher and after 12 years she arrived at our school to take a job share position with a second grade class. In 1996, she began teaching first grade at Walnut Acres and she has been a pivotal member of the first grade team ever since. Mrs. David shared with me that first grade has been her favorite teaching experience because she loves to teach kids how to read. She has done that incredibly well at Walnut Acres for many years while also building confidence and hope in young hearts. I will miss Mrs. David both personally and professionally. I know I speak for all of us when I say that Walnut Acres is a better place because Ramah David has been among us.

Those of you who know Mrs. David will not be surprised to learn that she wants no “hoopla” as she departs. However, if your children were taught by Mrs. David (or if you had her as a teacher), I invite you to write your thoughts about how she touched your child’s life, pass them to me in a sealed envelope, and I will give your private messages to Mrs. David on Friday, 12/21/18. I hope this quiet opportunity to say good-bye will provide personal notes to Mrs. David that she will cherish.

We are very lucky that as we searched for a teacher to join the first grade team, Jean Condon, our current math intervention teacher, stepped up. Mrs. Condon has 16 years of teaching experience and 12 of those years were spent teaching in 1st grade classrooms. She is a practiced Reading/Writing Workshop teacher and she is eager to continue implementation of our Fundations program. Mrs. Condon has a strong sense of first grade math skills and as our math intervention teacher, she knows all about math games and hands-on activities that develop number sense and make learning fun! Mrs. Condon is also passionate about the positive climate work in which we are engaged as a whole school and she is very comfortable with the differentiation we promote at Walnut Acres. We are grateful she is joining the first grade team!

With Mrs. Condon’s move to first grade, we are left with an open positon in our Math Lab.

Mrs. Ellen Bellendir, who retired last June, has agreed to take on our Tier 3, small group math classes, and we welcome her home to continue supporting our wonderful learners! Mrs. Bellendir has taught at Walnut Acres for 28 years and her focus during her last 5 years has been mathematics. Mrs. Bellendir loves teaching math above all else, and we are lucky to have her back to share that passion with our children.   

In an unrelated personnel situation, you will be happy to know that Doug Grebe is recuperating well from his hip surgery following his biking accident. With approval still pending from his doctor, he hopes to return to us the week of 1/14/19. We’ll keep you posted on that plan. Meanwhile, Mr. Grebe thanks the parents who have kindly remembered him and he wants his students to know he is learning all sorts of new jokes and riddles to share with them upon his return.


Homework Reminders

Homework can be a conundrum and is often a topic of conversation during parent conferences. The topic is also among the comments on our recent parent survey, with some folks in the same grade level wanting more homework and some people wanting less. I will share with you a bit of the educational research status on homework which led to the development of our current homework policy known as the Walnut Acres Homework Plan. I refer you to that plan on our school website under the Information tab.

I’d like to highlight 3 components of the homework plan: our focus on reading, our use of research findings to provide developmentally appropriate experiences, and the role of parents in homework completion.   

Focus on Reading:

Studies strongly indicate that reading daily is crucial to improve reading.  Logical, right? As shared in Edudemic in a 2015 article entitled, “The Long Term Effects of Skipping your Reading Homework, if a student reads 20 minutes each day, that’s 36,000 minutes of reading in a school year and about 1,800,000 words. If a child reads 5 minutes a day, that’s 900 minutes in a school year and approximately 282,000 words a year. If a student only reads 1 minute a day, that child has only completed 180 minutes of reading in a school year and will have read only 8000 words. Which student will be more successful? (Check out the graphic in the article which is more compelling than my restatement.) We also know that reading not only improves reading, it also enhances math skills, boosts self-esteem, and increases communication abilities, while reading literature tends to build empathy skills.

All students will benefit from reading in any form every day! Via any delivery system (such as being read to while cuddling, or listening to books on tape, or reading to the family pet) and across reading formats (such as graphic novels, informational text, magazines, and more), reading is key to learning. For that reason, daily reading is a requirement at Walnut Acres at each grade level.  We also often ask students to be “active readers,” noting comments and insights as they read and tracking their own reading experiences; this enables them to share their thinking with one another and practice the metacognitive skill of routinely analyzing who they are as readers.

Use of Research Findings to Provide Developmentally Appropriate Experiences:

The research is much more ambivalent when it comes to any other form of homework! The Center for Public Education (CPE) notes in “Key Lessons: What Research Says About the Value of Homework” that, The link between homework and student achievement is far from clear. There is no conclusive evidence that homework increases student achievement across the board. Some studies show positive effects of homework under certain conditions and for certain students, some show no effects, and some suggest negative effects” (Kohn 2006; Trautwein and Koller 2003).

The same article also indicates that homework appears to have more impact on certain groups. For example, findings are consistent that older students – those in high school and middle school – benefit more from homework than elementary students (Cooper 1989; Hoover-Dempsey et al. 2001; Leone and Richards 1989; Muhlenbruck et al. 2000). It also appears that too much homework can diminish its effectiveness (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006).

On the other hand, studies also suggest that there are nonacademic benefits of homework, especially for younger students. These benefits include learning the importance of responsibility, managing time, developing study habits, and staying with a task until it is completed (Cooper, Robinson and Patall 2006; Corno and Xu 2004; Johnson and Pontius 1989; Warton 2001).

So, in addition to our consistent focus on reading, we try to provide homework within the parameters of research findings. One aspect of that effort is that we support developmentally appropriate time-on-task for homework. Our homework plan includes incremental increases in homework time at each grade level. We aim for a balanced approach to homework as recommended by the National Education Association (NEA) in their article “Research Spotlight on Homework”. 

You know that we promote student ownership of learning at Walnut Acres, and this core value is integral to our homework planning as well. Student choice, interest, and motivation are components of homework planning across grade levels, as we seek to make homework relevant and meaningful to each learner.

Our homework goals are to support good study habit formation, provide practice with concepts and skills learned, and create an opportunity for parents to interact with their children about what students are learning in school. We do this knowing the educational research about the value and pitfalls of homework generally, and the need to support individual students.

Parents Are Our Partners:

We encourage parents to ask their children about assigned homework, to create an effective environment for homework completion, and to encourage children to do their best to complete assigned tasks. For some children that will mean a little positive reinforcement, while for others it may mean work-checking and/or hand-holding.

We expect that you will be our collaborative partner regarding homework, as with any other learning related to your child. If homework activities interfere with family events or peace at home, please let us know and we will make modifications to assignments. If your child needs more skill practice, communicate that too, so we can help assess the situation and provide appropriate practice. For example, did you know that Reflex is great for math automaticity practice? Do you realize we have a typing tutor program on our school website? If your child needs concept extension, that’s another conversation to have with your child’s teacher, so we can work collaboratively to provide challenge. The challenge process does not necessarily mean more homework, but different homework based on a student’s skills and needs.   

One size does not fit all, so we have a homework plan that is developmentally appropriate, based on research, and open-ended enough to flexibly support individual needs. The art is to apply the plan appropriately to maximize each student’s learning, and your input is valued as part of that process.    


Caring in all Seasons

I hope that you discern caring in all we do for students at Walnut Acres. Our homework planning is typical of our general educational approach to consider research-based practice, apply those insights developmentally at our school, and reach out to you to collaborate with us in appropriate application of our plan for each student.

Speaking of Caring, our last Sing-Out of 2018 is this coming Wednesday, 12/19/18 at 8 a.m. with our 3rd - 5th graders and 8:30 a.m. with our younger students. You are welcome to celebrate our message of Caring at either assembly. Please remember that chairs along the side of the MUR are for teachers only, so they can monitor our cherubs.  

This season offers many authentic caring opportunities. If you are looking for a local donation site, please consider HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program for Education.) The program is designed to provide needed supplies to homeless and foster youth within our district. At this time of year, the HOPE team focuses on gathering holiday treats for local MDUSD children and teens. Check out the information on the district website or under the “Current News” section of our homepage on our school website. I realize the district website deadline indicates that 12/17/18 is the last day to give, but there is never a last day to show you care!

One last shout-out to all the caring parents who help us make Walnut Acres a great place to learn and grow! To name a few recent examples: Read-A-Thon was great fun and organizers hit their target goals; the recycle folks are strategizing on many fronts to bring the message of sustainability to our children; the morning drive-thru volunteers are doing a great job; we received generous donations to our annual holiday toy and clothing drive to benefit families at our sister school Shore Acres; and my special thanks to all of you who trooped down to school to help us cover classrooms during our pre-Thanksgiving smoke days. Your active involvement in our school is a powerful message of community service and a great boon to our daily work with our kids.

Together we are a great team, and because of our collaboration and perseverance to keep growing our school as a safe, comfortable, and enticing place to learn, we keep improving. As I am fond of saying, our children deserve no less! Or as more eloquently stated by the famous chemist, Louis Pasteur, “When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.”

Here’s to creating happy family time memories during this winter holiday season as you enjoy your little miracles and guide them to become all they can be!

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

November Principal's Message 2018

posted Dec 19, 2018, 7:07 AM by PFC Secretary


October 2018 Principal's Message

posted Oct 16, 2018, 2:11 PM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:28 PM by Vice President Communications ]

Happy Halloween month, Walnut Acres parents!

As I wrote this month’s update, our children were repainting our US map and checkerboard, cleaning library books, sweeping, raking, pulling weeds, and picking up trash as part of Walnut Creek Community Service Day. Thanks to Caroline Clerempuy with help from Courtney Wasserman for leading this community service opportunity for our families and for giving us a bit of a facelift! I feel so proud to be connected to you all; you know what service learning is and you model that work-of-the-heart for our children routinely.

The Walnut Acres staff is also working devotedly to dig deeply into learning now that routines and procedures are in place and we have established our learning communities. Our work includes implementation of new instructional practices, such as our articulated phonics support in TK-3rd grades and our 4th grade math pilot. We are also enhancing rigor with established curriculum such as Reading and Writing Workshop, Math Talks, hands-on science lab experiences, design thinking activities, and project-based learning opportunities at all grade levels. We continue to deepen our technology curriculum with coding, digital citizenship, and engineering exploration. As we promote social and emotional growth, we are implementing strategies across grade levels that include class circles, peace path skills of I-messaging and active listening, and character life skill-focused activities.

Halloween Sing-out

Speaking of the life skills, our monthly Sing-out is a culminating activity for each life skill focus, and we will celebrate Responsibility on Wednesday, 10/31. It’s also Halloween, so we will extend the event with our annual parade. The Sing-out begins as usual at 8:00 a.m. with our 3rd-5th grade students in the MUR. As the older grades Sing-out ends, we will call all students to the playground for the parade. After the parade, the TK-2nd grade students will head to the MUR for their Sing-out. You are welcome to attend any of these events!

Please keep in mind that our Sing-outs and parade are fun, community-building learning experiences for our children, rather than polished performances for an audience. That means I don’t know when the second Sing-out begins because it will depend on how much time 620 children need for the parade that particular day. It also means that teachers need the chairs along the sides of the MUR to monitor student needs during Sing-out. We ask parents to please stand or sit in the back, so all children can see and focus on the activity at hand.

Collecting Parent Input!

As we continue work to enhance student ownership of learning through our growth mindset approach, our curriculum and instructional choices, and our focus on the whole child, we need your help! Please take about 10 minutes to complete the Walnut Acres Parent Survey on our website (scroll down to Current News or click here). The survey will close on 10/31/18.

Teachers and students are completing the survey now and your input is crucial, so that we have data from across our community as we assess our progress. To encourage parent participation, we will provide extra recess time to every class that earns a response rate of 75% or higher and a treat from me for any class that has a response rate of at least 90%. So, share your insights, support our growth, and make your child happy!

The results of the teacher, student, and parent surveys will be analyzed and shared
at a future staff meeting and with various school/community teams to inform our work. Results will also be posted on the school website for you to review.

State Test Scores

Our school survey process is one method of analyzing our successes and our current needs. Another tool used across the state is the CAASPP (CA Assessment for Student Performance and Progress). If you have a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader, your individual student scores were sent home to you. The link to more fully understand the results is on the MDUSD website: The third line down from the heading “California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) Results” contains a “Click here” button for schoolwide test result data.

Along with the CAASPP, we use a variety of routine assessments, including: running records; Boulder CO Math Screening; pre and post-Reading and Writing Workshop unit assessments; student self-evaluation rubrics; the online, adaptive iReady diagnostic assessments; student work products; and observations of each student in class and around school.

2019 Math Kangaroo Learning Opportunity

Assessment doesn’t have to be a chore for children. Here’s a fun opportunity to enhance math skills…

We are participating again in the International Math Kangaroo Contest thanks to the leadership of parent, Chao Yang. The competition will be held on Thursday 3/21/19. Children can participate in a 3 p.m. or 7 p.m. test session. Registration is open now and will close on 12/15/18. The invitation codes for Walnut Acres are CAWALNU0003518@19MK (for the 3 pm session) and CAWAKNU0003528@19MK (for the 7 p.m. session). You will need one of these codes to register your child. Here is the link for more details:

There will also be an information meeting for all interested parents on Wednesday evening, 10/24/18, at 7:00 p.m. in our library. Come hear about the engaging, collaborative Saturday math practice sessions that will be held to prepare students for the 3/21 Math Kangaroo Contest.

Activities Sponsored at the District Level

District Office leaders do their best to support families and children with learning. From parent workshops to MDUSD Education Foundation efforts to opportunities to attend alternative schools, the district seeks to support students.

MDUSD will be continuing the LCAP Speaker Series throughout the 2018/19 school year. The next topic, Fostering Adolescent Resilience, will be presented on Wednesday, 11/14/18, at Concord High School beginning at 6:00 p.m. Please see the flyer to learn more!

The MDUSD Education Foundation is raising money to support a new project: the Largest Illustrated Story - Chalk Drawing by Mark Wagner! So far, they have raised enough money to provide the hands-on program to 8 schools and they are working to bring the activity to schools on the waiting list (Walnut Acres is 4th on that list.) Stay tuned for further information.  

MDUSD intra-district transfers for the 2018-19 school year are online for grades 1-12 and must be submitted between 10/15/18 and 11/15/18; no applications will be accepted after the deadline. Intra-district requests for Kindergarten will be accepted from 2/18/19 ​through ​3/18/19​. Students MUST be enrolled at their school of residence prior to submitting a transfer request.

CCCOE Parent Event

MDUSD is part of the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) consortium. CCCOE generally offers indirect support to our learning community, but they are currently providing a direct service invitation in the form of a Parent Coffee on Wednesday, 10/24 from 7:30-8:30 a.m. sponsored by the 32nd PTA and CCCOE for all school parents at Pleasant Hill Community Center at 320 Civic Drive, Pleasant Hill.

The speaker is Nicole Hockley, founding member of Sandy Hook Promise. She will share the Sandy Hook Promise ‘Know the Signs’ programs as CCCOE introduces these programs to middle and high schools throughout our county. More information and RSVP at:

Collaborating to Support our Children

As we promote the 6 Cs (Content mastery, Collaboration, Communication, global Citizenship, Critical thinking, Creativity) through our instructional strategies that support cognitive and social/emotional growth, we know that we are not perfect. Please remember that you are our partner in teaching your child. If there is a challenge we need to tackle, please tell your child’s teacher and get me involved as needed so we can develop a solution that supports student learning.

Our goal is three-fold: to provide each of our children with a foundation of academic and social confidence in their basic skills and their ability to tackle new learning; endow them with a sense of ownership for their own learning; and encourage them to celebrate their uniqueness while appreciating the differences of others who share their community in our neighborhood and across the globe.

It’s a big goal, and we have 6 years together to work towards our desired outcome for every student, but working together we will succeed. Our children deserve no less.

As educator leader Rita Pierson so eloquently stated, Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” I relish our collaboration to champion our kids!

Your lucky principal,
Colleen Dowd

September 2018 Principal's Message

posted Sep 18, 2018, 1:39 PM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:29 PM by Vice President Communications ]

Happy September, Walnut Acres Parents!

During our first month of school, our dedicated teachers have concentrated on building a strong learning family in preparation for the academic challenges ahead. They have established a safe, happy classroom community through the development of a positive tone, routines and procedures, team building, and clear, rigorous behavioral and academic expectations. They have completed baseline assessments and they have begun forging relationships with each child in their care. These efforts are foundational as the school year begins. While these activities will continue throughout the year, now we will turn our focus to implementation of our academic program. 

As we engage students more deeply in the academic curriculum, please note these crucial ways that you can support your child’s learning at Walnut Acres:  

1.     Have your child at school every day on time.

  • Most of our students are on time every day because you know that coming late to school puts your learner at a real disadvantage. Late students are often afraid to ask questions, because they assume what they don’t understand has already been covered in class. If your child has unnecessary tardies or absences, please reassess your schedule and let your teacher or me know if we can support your efforts.  
  • If your child is ill, please call (925) 682-8000 ext. 7242 or report the absence online at Please do NOT report absences or give attendance notes to busy teachers.
  • Independent Study contracts are available if your student will be out of school for 5 consecutive days or more. Please allow teachers 2 weeks to create the work required.  See Amanda in the office for further information.

2.     Be an active member of our school community. There are many opportunities to interact and have a voice at Walnut Acres.

  • Most crucially, as I shared with you at your Back-To-School Night event, the more you collaborate with your child’s teacher, the more successful your student will be. Regularly scheduled parent conferences are one way to connect and collaborate. You and your child’s teacher may also set a parent conference at any time. I encourage you to email or call your child’s teacher with questions, concerns, or challenges you have. You and your child’s teacher are a team, and I am here to support your team as needed.
  • Our School Site Council (SSC) meets every first Thursday of the month in the Faculty Room at 3:00 p.m. and meetings are open to the public. The SSC develops and approves the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) which includes Walnut Acres’ goals and establishes the budget to support our SPSA. The SSC then reviews, monitors, and evaluates plan implementation and effectiveness. Agendas and minutes are posted at the front of the school and on the school website. Parent representatives to our School Site Council are Dara Buzzard, Catherine Canillas, Victoria Devincenzi, Shakeya St. Julian Garcia, and Sarah Waters. They will happily bring your voice to our meetings if you want to share your input with them.
  • Our Innovation Team will meet on 10/3, 11/7, 1/1, and 3/6 in B-6 from 3-4:00 p.m. This group helps to lead our transformative efforts to enhance student voice and ownership of learning, including our technology development and design thinking rigor. If you would like to join the Innovation Team, please contact me at (925) 939-1333 and I will be happy to provide more details about the group.
  • And don’t forget the PFC meetings that are held monthly! If you want to be one of the dedicated folks who help make decisions about how PFC supports our school, join tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, Sept 18) at 7 pm in the Library or the next meeting on Tuesday, October 16, at 8:15 a.m. in the Faculty Room. These meetings are open to all parents, so take advantage of the opportunity if the time suits your schedule.

3.     Check out the school website, the district website, and the PFC website to keep current about activities and news. For example:

  • From MDUSD Nutrition Services - New meal applications must be submitted for the 2018-2019 school year to receive lunch and breakfast for free or at a reduced price. The meals being served are healthy, nutritious, and support your student’s academic achievement. If you have any questions or need help, please call Food & Nutrition Services at (925) 682-8000 ext. 4124. You may also submit meal applications online at the MDUSD Food & Nutrition Services webpage at  
  • From the Office of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson – check out the letter under ‘Current News’ on the school website about digital inclusion, earned income tax credits, and student mental health.

4.     Contribute time, talent, resources – no contribution is too small.

  • When you volunteer you send a message to your child that education is a priority in your life. Your child will note the message loud and clear!
  • The PFC is now spending approximately $650 per student to support current programs, personnel, and materials at our site. Your donations (including employer matching funds) go directly to funding staff positions, including classroom assistants, science aides, choral music personnel, and technology assistants, as well as materials to support learning. Please support Jaguar Fund at whatever level is appropriate for your family. The PFC hopes to achieve 100% participation, with the understanding that all contributions make a difference and no contribution is too small.
  • In addition to the Jaguar Fund, additional fundraising through school-wide activities and events such as the Read-a-thon, the Walk-a-thon, and our annual Auction is integral for maintaining our current programs and personnel. Participation in fundraisers is community-building, lots of fun, and raises crucial funds to support student learning. We encourage everyone to join in whichever activity or activities suit your family to help us continue to fund the quality education Walnut Acres has become known for. Thank you for all your efforts!

5.     Practice safety at school by following rules and procedures.

  • Drop-off and pick-up rules are crucial to keep all children safe. This week a grandmother came into the office in tears because she almost ran over a child whose parent had directed her to walk through the pick-up line to the staff parking lot and her waiting car. Please follow procedures at all times!
  • Visitors to our school must check in at the office and get a Visitor’s Badge. Reminder that parents are considered visitors if you are on campus after 8:15am or before 2:15pm.
  • Younger siblings are welcome to use the playground after school is dismissed if supervised by parents. Please note that on Wednesdays our older students are on the playground as part of their school day until 12:40 p.m. They have (as the children would say) ‘dibs’ on the playground until dismissal.  
  • I enjoyed this article about the stress of drop-off routines courtesy of a parent. Read it and channel the moral…a good sense of humor is very effective when patience is required

Learning together

Thank you for sharing your precious children with us. Together we will provide them with an opportunity to develop their confidence, enhance their skills, and realize their own unique potential!  Meanwhile, of course, we will no doubt learn from them everyday. I’ll close with an anonymous quote that is true, but often forgotten… “While we try to teach our children about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

Here’s to 2018-19 and to our beautiful children who have so much to teach us all!   

Your lucky principal,

Colleen Dowd

August 2018 Principal's Message

posted Aug 21, 2018, 2:08 PM by PFC Secretary   [ updated Jan 15, 2019, 5:29 PM by Vice President Communications ]

Welcome Back Walnut Acres Parents!

It’s the earnest voices and the exuberance of the children that call educators from lazy summer days to the flurry of school opening preparations. Early last week, a 5th grader came by to sneak a peek at school activities and offered to help because we looked like “we needed it”; a new 1st grader told me with charming indignation that we should have started last Monday rather than last Thursday so we could have an extra full week of school; a student returning to us after some time out of state shared that she is relieved to be back. The enthusiastic trust the children place in us is a calling we take very seriously, and we are honored to serve our students. 

Staff and teachers have been working hard to prepare for the return of the unique and awesome children that we share.  We had a successful first few days and we welcome back Walnut Acres students, and all of you, to a great 2018-19 learning year!

Here are some basics as our school routine begins…


You already know that we said goodbye to Ellen Bellinder and Rohnda Datzman as they retired, but you may not know that Bob Cadloni also retired, Lauren Lux left us to focus on the burgeoning theater company she and her husband founded, and our SDC teachers have moved on to other programs. With their departures, we welcome Autumn Ayllon and Kelly Rose Jensen to kindergarten; Rachel Proctor and Rebecca Cowles to 2nd grade; Lynette Myers, Lynn Buckingham, and Amanda Graves to 4th grade; and Jaclynn Uhalde and Carla Stewart to our SDC program.  We have returning teachers shifting positions and new colleagues leading classrooms, but you will find that our vision remains intact, our collaboration is rigorous, and our transformation as a student-focused learning community continues.

Curriculum and Instruction

We are systematically deepening student ownership of learning through choice, engagement, differentiation, and rigor. For the 2018-19 school year, our effort translates academically to a thoughtful honing of Workshop instructional skill, implementation of the Fundations phonics program in K-3rd grade, continued schoolwide Math Talk and Problem of the Month activities, as well as exploration of YouCubed math and a small pilot of the Bridges Math Program. We will provide design thinking, coding, and robotics experiences in every classroom, along with project based learning and experimental learning opportunities for students at all grade levels.

Because we want to support every child’s social and emotional development, we will maintain our climate development work and promote daily life skills practice to be discussed routinely as Jaguar Way choices and celebrated at Sing-outs. Our class circles will provide opportunities for students to salute one another and problem-solve as well, while our peace path and ally practices will strengthen student affective skills. We hope to provide more opportunities this year to invite parents to apply these strategies at home using the same language and procedures we use at school.

Fund-A-Need Spending

Parents were incredibly generous during last Spring’s Auction Fund-A-Need and we are putting those funds to great use this fall. With the arrival of new Chromebooks and iPads, we are close to creating a full class of devices within each grade level. This powerful upgrade means that we need to depend less on sharing devices across grades. Charging stations to store and charge devices within classrooms will support ease of use and accommodate within-grade-level sharing. Meanwhile, our 4 new interactive TVs and 1 TV in the library are propelling us toward our goal of interactive TVs in every room.

Keeping Our Kids Safe and Focused on Learning

Safety is foundational to all we do at school. Please do your part to keep our children safe! Follow basic driving laws - avoid speeding, talking on your cell while driving, and making U-turns in the middle of Wiget and Cerezo Drives. Read your Student Climate & Parent Safety Procedures Handbook for drive-thru procedures and use the drive-thru for drop-offs only, not parking. Know that handicapped parking spots and blue zones, such as the one in front of our school, are for folks with disabling conditions and our special education buses - please honor these accommodations.

Sign in at the office and get a visitor’s badge if you stay at school after 8:05 a.m. or arrive before 2:15 p.m. Our students are taught to tell a staff member if they see an adult on campus without identification! On our open campus it is important to consistently remain alert to potential strangers on campus and track adults on our site.

Please sit at the tables in the courtyard until dismissal if you have parked off campus and are waiting to pick up your child after school. This routine allows classrooms to have quiet space until class has ended for the day, and it means any strangers on our campus will be highly visible if they wander through the school.

Supervise your child if you allow your student to stay after school to play. To keep all students safe, they must be supervised! If you see unsupervised children after school, please send them to the office for safe-keeping, and we will contact parents.

Working Together

Back to School Nights are wonderful opportunities to familiarize yourself with the learning experience your child has in store this year. If you also want to have a conversation with your child’s teacher about your student, please make an appointment to do that in a separate meeting.

I invite you to attend my 15-minute welcome in the MUR prior to each event, excluding our SDC and 5th grade Back-to-School Nights. I use the forum to talk about our goals for the year and how you can support your child’s learning at home. The event dates are:

8/22     6:00-8:00 p.m.    5th grade

8/28     5:45-7:00 pm.     3rd grade

8/29     5:45-7:00 p.m.    1st grade

8/30     5:00-6:00 p.m.    SDC classes

8/30     5:45-7:00 p.m.    2nd grade

9/5       5:45-7:00 p.m.    4th grade

9/6       5:45-7:00 p.m.    TK/K classes

I close with a poem titled “Partners” that I routinely share as the school year begins. The anonymous author makes a potent statement about the power of collaboration between teachers and parents…

I dreamed I stood in a studio,
And watched two sculptors there.
The clay they used was a child's mind,
And they fashioned it with care. 

One was a teacher; the tools used,
Were books and music and art.
One, a parent with guiding hands,
A gentle and loving heart. 

Day after day the teacher toiled,
With a touch both deft and skilled.
The parent labored side by side,
And all the values filled. 

And when at last their task was done,
They looked at what they'd wrought.
The beautiful shape of the precious child,
Could neither be sold nor bought. 

And each agreed it would have failed,
If one had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school,
And behind the teacher, home.


Happy collaborating Parents! We are eager to work with you to create a happy, safe, and successful 2018-19 school year – our children deserve nothing less!


Colleen Dowd
Lucky Walnut Acres Principal  

May 2018 Principal's Message

posted May 18, 2018, 5:04 PM by Vice President Communications

Dear Walnut Acres Parents,

A belated Happy Mother’s Day to you and thank you for the many ways you worked to make the Walnut Acres faculty feel very appreciated last week! The flowers, the lovely meals, the door decorations, and the cards were all beautiful ways to make staff feel spoiled. Accolades as well to the parents who helped to provide the staff with a unique surprise last Monday…a faculty lounge make-over! Take a peek in the faculty room to see the remarkable improvement created by a few furniture shifts, along with some elbow grease and caring collaboration. 


Three teachers have officially announced their retirements. Ellen Bellendir, 4th grade teacher; Rohnda Datzman, K teacher; and Robin Louchis, SDC teacher, will be leaving us this year. We are saddened by their departure but enriched by the many children and adult community members they have touched, and we wish them all happy adventures as they start new chapters in their own lives. Our retirees have written good-bye notes to the Walnut Acres community which you can enjoy under the Current News section of our website.   

Longtime Instructional Assistant for 1st and 3rd grade Patty Kim is also retiring, and Jennifer Davis, Instructional Assistant in kindergarten, is resigning as her family leaves the community.

Upcoming Events

You are invited to take advantage of a community service opportunity this week (5/14–18) in the form of our annual Darcie Jones Book Drive. (Darcie Jones was the parent who started the drive in 1994. The event was renamed in her honor when she passed away in 1996.)  Model for your children how to select a new or gently used book and encourage them to do the same. As always, collected treasures will go to children at Meadow Homes.

On 5/19, Northgate education foundation PEAK (Partners for Educational Achievement K-12) and the Walnut Creek Education Foundation are co-sponsoring a Walnut Creek celebration of schools at Macy’s in downtown Walnut Creek from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Events will include a teacher/student fashion show, student musicians, student art, and Macy’s promotions throughout the day. For further information, check out the PEAK website here.

Our annual Open House Festival will be held on Thursday, 5/24, from 5:00-7:15 p.m. Bring the family to enjoy a pizza dinner, entertainment, specialty rooms, and your child’s classroom. Visit next year’s grade levels, as well, to get a taste of life in 2018-19!  Do remember that this is a time to visit with this year’s teacher. At Back-to-School Night in the fall, you will have an opportunity to hear from your child’s 2018-19 teacher. During the Open House, our neighbors, Walnut Acres Children’s Center, invite you to stop in to their Open House from 6:00pm-7:30pm. 

Ordinarily our Open House Festival is our last event of the year, but there is a new treat in store for us! On 6/1, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Walnut Acres will host our first-ever International Celebration Event! Bring your children to enjoy trips to 30 different countries. As children get their passport stamped at each country they will be able to learn about a new culture, enjoy a tasty treat, and play a game or complete a small craft or art project. Come have some fun celebrating diversity with us!

Winding down and prepping for 2018-19

School Site Council volunteers: We need 2 parent volunteers to serve as School Site Council (SSC) representatives for 2018-19. The SSC is comprised of parents and staff members who work with me to develop, review and evaluate school improvement programs and school budgets. I send out a ballot as the school year ends if I can get 2 or more volunteers now. 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. and call if you have questions as you consider serving. In case you are wondering, the ballot cannot be online according to regulations, which is why the ballot is sent home for your vote.

Last day of school: Note that our last day of school is Thursday, 6/7, with dismissal at 12:30 p.m.Only bag lunches will be served on that day. If you would like your child to have a bag lunch on the last day of school, you have until 5/31 to place your order by phone 925-682-8000 ext. 86210 or email

Reminder to pay fees: And speaking of lunch, please pay negative lunch balances by the end of the year. In that same vein, turn in any overdue library books if you have any outstanding at this point.

Heading Into Summer

I offer you one last thank you for all you do to work as a team with staff guiding every one of our children to begin realizing their potential! I wish you a safe and happy summer.

Speaking of safety, the link below is provided by our County Office of Education. The link is to a toolkit with information on topics like e-cigarettes & vape pens, nicotine & drug addiction, and positive youth development:

I will look forward to seeing you and our children back at Walnut Acres for Jaguar Day on Tuesday, 8/14, and for the first day of school on Thursday, 8/16. Meanwhile, enjoy lovely family time this summer, remember to READ at home for FUN with your children EVERY DAY and review learning in entertaining ways, through board games, journal writing, family field trips etc. Remember that your child’s user name and password are valid all summer to access our online programs.

I wish you happy memory-making, parents. Here’s a little poem by Mrs. Roy L. Peifer that I tweaked to start your summer adventures:

My dishes went unwashed today, I didn’t make the bed.

I took their hands and followed where their eager footsteps led.

Oh, yes we went adventuring my beautiful children and I,

Exploring all the great outdoors beneath the summer sky.

We waded in a crystal stream, we wandered through the wood,

Work from the office wasn’t completed today, but life was very good.

We watched a robin feed her young, we climbed a sunlit hill,

Saw cloud-shaped sheep scamper through the sky, and plucked a daffodil.

That my housework was neglected, that my ‘work completed’ box was bare,

In twenty years, no one on Earth will know, or even care.

But that I’ve helped my children to successful adulthood grow,

In twenty years, the whole wide world may look and see and know.


Best wishes for a lovely summer,

Colleen Dowd

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal

April 2018 Principal's Message

posted Apr 17, 2018, 11:17 AM by Vice President Communications

Happy April, Walnut Acres Parents:

After a rejuvenating Spring break, we are ready to collaborate with you to create a strong and happy finish to the 2017–18 school year. We have a busy eight 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. Our celebration will be part of our Trustworthiness Sing-out on Wednesday, 4/25, at 8:00 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. (Our second event may start a tad later since we are adding to our usual 30 minute assembly.) Every parent who ever volunteered in a classroom, on a fieldtrip, or from home, who worked in some capacity to raise money for school programs or personnel, 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!

4/25–Parent Workshop

A lovely parent shared a great story with me recently. She got home in a harried state one day and saw that the new family puppy had piddled on the carpet. She put the new puppy in the corner and told him, “No” repeatedly as she knelt and scrubbed the rug with frustration for the interruption to her busy schedule… until she felt the small, gentle hand of her six-year-old on her back and a little voice whispered, “Mommy, your balloon is very full. Your balloon is so full I can’t see your heart.” 

Our students are learning to identify their own feelings and those of others using Soul Shoppe strategies. They are also learning how to identify problems and solve them with others. We’d like share that process and vocabulary with you so that you can use these strategies at home too. 

Following our 4/25 Sing-out and Volunteer Appreciation Event, you are invited to the library to learn about the self-awareness and problem-solving language and practices we use at school. Our own Joanne Finn, Walnut Acres counselor, will lead an informal presentation and conversation so you can apply the same strategies at home as you choose.

Welcoming Our 2018-19 Transitional Kindergarten Parents

There will be a Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Parent Orientation in A-6 on Wednesday, 4/18, from 6:00–6:45 p.m. The meeting will provide incoming TK parents with an overview of our TK program and an opportunity to ask questions.

Scheduling for 2018-19

Currently it appears that we will continue to have 23 general education classrooms in 2018-19; however, our lower grades will shift to four kindergarten classes, three 1st-grade classes, and five 2nd-grade classes, while we will maintain the same number of upper-grade classes.

Our lengthened school kindergarten day pilot has been a great success, so we plan to continue the same timeframe in 2018-19. We will start the year with a 3–½ hour day, which will allow our young students to acclimate to school. Then we will lengthen their day with the start of 2019 when they have a little more maturity. This shift provides more time 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, Problem of the Month  and calendar activities. It also prepares our young students for the longer 1st grade day. 

State Assessments

April is the month that our students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade begin the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) English Language Arts and Math exams5th graders will also take the CAST (CA Science Test). You may wish to check out the CDE website that provides you with sample science test questions (or click here.) In late summer you will be able to view the 2017-18 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 4/23/18–6/7/18. Each teacher will share with you the specific dates they will be testing.

While we do not want the CAASPP 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.

Continuing Our Safety Reflections

At the last PFC meeting we spent time discussing safety practices. I shared that we practice our emergency drills routinely and have safety procedures in place. Our visiting security specialist, Jeff Smith, provided valuable input. The group decided to pursue a “threat assessment review” facilitated by some parent (and grandparent) volunteers experienced with the process. The safety committee formed that evening will meet to review that assessment when it is ready.

Meanwhile, a Walnut Creek Police Department representative recently led our staff in a discussion of safety, and we decided to strengthen some of our safety practices. We appreciate your support as we implement these new safety-based procedures designed to ensure that all adults on campus are visually identified for our children. Here is the plan:   

  1. Bring a lunch or forgotten homework to the office rather than place it in your child’s backpack. It is unnerving to a child or adult to see a person going into a backpack.
  2. Check in to the office if you remain on campus after 8:05 a.m. or before 2:00 p.m. This allows adults who are dropping off or picking up students to leave quickly and creates a specific timeframe to identify adults who need to check in.
  3. Wait for your child at the end of the day at the tables in our courtyard. We don’t want to ask parents to sign in and get volunteer badges at dismissal, and this procedure will also ensure that classes are not distracted at the end of day by outside conversation and faces peering in windows.

Our Walnut Creek Police Dept. School Resource Officer, Shane Blatz, has agreed to occasionally visit our site and monitor how long he or his representative roams campus before they are asked by an adult to check in at the office. (If children see an unidentified adult, they are asked to report that sighting to the nearest safe adult. They are never asked to approach an unidentified person.) Our goal is to enlist our community to understand and support the practice of requiring ALL adult community members to wear visual identification.Thank you for your support!

MDUSD Community Speaker Event

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District Community Speakers Series will present School Readiness with First 5 Contra Costa on 4/18/18 at 6:00 p.m. at Riverview Middle School. Families are invited to attend and learn how to prepare for that first day of kindergarten, and how they can make the day as smooth and enjoyable as possible for little ones new to school.  Parents and guardians will get expert advice on how to establish positive pre-school activities and routines at home to support their child’s success in school. Experts will also have tips for that important first-day “goodbye.”

Input for 2018-19

‘Green sheets’ will be available on our website under Current News on the homepage and in the office starting 4/23/18. These forms are available to parents to share the strengths and educational needs of your child with school staff as we place children in 2018-19 classes. We do not accept specific teacher requests, but we try to honor insights that parents offer regarding a child’s learning style or emotional needs.  ‘Green sheets’ will be accepted through 5/11/18.

We are also sending home “non-return” forms on 4/16/18. If you will not be rejoining us at Walnut Acres for the 2018-19 school year, please let us know by completing and returning the form as soon as possible. Your courtesy will allow us to better predict and accurately plan for the new school year.  

Thank you

Accolades to all of you for being vibrant partners as we work in tandem to support our unique and beautiful children! The cheerleading that you provided to our students at last Friday’s awesome Walk-A-Thon is a superb analogy to the sustenance you provide daily to our children…and our staff.  Your dedication to your children is admirable, and it is clear to me that you know, as author Orlando Battista wrote, "The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of time each day." 

Your lucky, but rather wordy, principal,

Colleen Dowd

March 2018 Principal's Message

posted Mar 18, 2018, 1:22 PM by Vice President Communications

Happy March, Walnut Acres Parents!

We are all engrossed in learning as we begin the last trimester of the 2017-18 school year. Students are being assessed to measure their progress on California Standards and the results of that work will be shared with you when progress reports are sent home on Friday, 3/16. Meanwhile, teachers are using the assessment results to inform their instruction in the classroom.

While we constantly hone our academic curriculum implementation strategies based on the data we collect, we also maintain our effort to promote social emotional learning for our students. We recently had our Fairness Sing-out to support that work. We also had a wonderful Soul Shoppe assembly that every child attended.

Soul Shoppe Work

Soul Shoppe is an educational organization based in Oakland.  Their mission is to “create safe learning environments that bring forth a culture of compassion, connection and curiosity—eliminating bullying at the roots.”  Their programs aim to not just address problem behaviors, but to help transform the ways we see and interact with each other. At our recent “Bystanders to Upstanders” assembly, a Soul Shoppe presenter talked to us about being a SuperAlly, someone who steps up to help when there is a conflict.  SuperAllies activate their “Balloon Vision” to see if someone may have a “full balloon,” which is an analogy used to describe storing or stuffing negative emotions without dealing effectively with them.  You can see Soul Shoppe founder Joseph Savage explain the full balloon analogy to K-1st graders here:

And watch Joseph explain the balloon to 2nd-6th graders here:

If students witness a conflict or someone being harassed, they can Power Up, and Calm Down by taking a deep breath, then Use their Ally Words: “1.) Please stop; 2). Do you need help?; and 3) Do you need a friend?” 

In March and April, there will be parent opportunities for you to learn more about the Soul Shoppe concepts in a supportive atmosphere here at school. Joanne Finn, our school counselor, will provide a parent workshop called “What’s in your balloon? Reinforcing Soul Shoppe lessons at home” on Monday 3/26 from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m. and she will repeat the workshop on Wednesday 4/25after our Trustworthiness Sing-out (9:30 to 10:15 a.m.)

Other Upcoming Activities

At school

You may have heard the national conversation about a Wednesday, 3/14, walk-out to make a statement about the recent Florida shootings. We will participate in the day in our own Walnut Acres way. We will avoid a political statement and we will not introduce topics that will be unknown to many students. Instead, teachers will talk to children about our Citizenship life skill at each grade level and students will place a ribbon on the back fence of our playground to spell out LOVE ONE ANOTHER!  

This year we registered to participate in the Kangaroo Math Contestthanks to the leadership of Walnut Acres parent Chao Yang. He coordinated a series of collaborative practice events to prepare participants in 1st-5th grades for the culminating exam. That 75-minute test will be held on 3/15 at 3:00 p.m. and again at 7:00 p.m. at school. For more information about the Math Kangaroo Contest, check out their website at

On 3/19 children will not attend school so that teachers may participate in professional development classes. In the morning we will attend district trainings and in the afternoon we will be on site to discuss emergency safety with a local Walnut Acres Police Department representative then focus on math curriculum development.

On 3/21 we will welcome a presenter from the Contra Costa Water District to teach us about water conservation in the guise of a juggling assembly. Every student will attend an age-appropriate version of the assembly on that Wednesday morning. You can learn more about the educational program by at

On 3/28 at 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. we will have our March Sing-out, which focuses on the life skill of Citizenship.

On Friday, 3/30, we will begin our Spring vacation, so do not bring your child to school on that day! We will see you back at school onMonday, 4/9.

Within district

The MDUSD Community Speaker Series is sponsoring “Cyber Safety with Above the Fray” from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Northgate High School. Above the Fray is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering responsible and safe social media users. The event is open to all MDUSD parents, guardians, and caregivers to look at what’s happening in the digital lives of young people, which may be a surprise for many parents. They will proactively address topics like cyberbullying, social media, internet safety, sexting and gaming. The objective is to give parents tangible tools to start meaningful conversations at home before issues arise. Learn more at

The district would like you to know about the schools of choice that are available within MDUSD. Learn more about Schools of Choice in MDUSD by going to

Although we still have a good 2 ½ months of learning before us, I know that you are beginning to think about summer plans, so I want to share with you the programs that will be offered at Walnut Acres over the long holiday.

Summer plans at Walnut Acres

Camp Galileo

Pre-K-5th graders unleash their inner innovators by exploring art, science and the brave outdoors at Camp Galileo. Campers develop the courage to create, celebrate mistakes, and boldly innovate. As they grow, so does their curriculum—to include more advanced concepts, projects and creative freedom. They make their own mini stop-motion movies, construct the coolest catapults, make anything from marbleized paper to pneumatic machines. There are four weekly themes: The Makers—Materials Challenge, Space Explorers, The Incredible Human Body, and Road Trip Adventure. Sessions will be held 6/18 – 8/3, from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Extended care and financial assistance are available. Visit for further information.

Curtains Up! Youth Theater

CUYT presents “Summer Magic,” a musical story that connects three great scenes from three great musicals. The production is open to students who have completed 2nd-5th grades at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Camp runs from 6/18-7/21 on Monday-Friday afternoons. (No camp 6/29-7/6.) Performances will be 7:00 p.m. on 7/18-21. Auditions will be held on 6/11 and 6/12. For further information go to the PFC website or click here.

Walnut Acres Children’s Center

Walnut Acres Children's Center (WACC) is a place where children know their choices will be respected. From planned activities to spontaneous interests, WACC provides tools to foster each child's independence and growth. With adventurous weekly trips and special guest appearances they strive to keep your children entertained and wanting more.  WACC has been serving the community for over 35 years. See more at

Other local summer plans

MDUSD Summer program

The summer program this year is offering extended learning classes that will focus on literacy through science (STEM) and mathematics for the elementary schools. The program dates are 6/18/18–7/13/18 from 8:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Teacher-selected 1st and 3rd grade Walnut Acres students will attend the program at Woodside. This is a limited, invitation-only program that will focus on the core curriculum. More information will be coming in April.

Cal State East Bay program

Summer reading skills classes will be offered in Concord and Pleasant Hill for students based on the grade they will be entering for the 2018-19 school year. Skills in the area of phonics, fluency, comprehension, textbook reading, and speed reading will be taught, and a love of reading will be an underlying goal. For further information or to register call 1-800-903-0162 or visit the website at Flyers are also located in the Walnut Acres front office.

Thank you

You may be aware that our school budget will be decreased for 2018-19. At Walnut Acres, we pay our expenses from a general fund and a supplemental fund that is targeted to at-risk students. Our general fund was $47,640 in 2017-18 and is targeted to decrease by $10,356 for the next school year, while our supplemental budget was $25,920 this year and is scheduled to be $17,280 for 2018-19.

How does this information lead to a thank you? Our school thrives on the generosity and hard work of our dedicated parents and other volunteers. So I thank you for your dedication to our school and the children we serve! With the success of our just completed auction, I offer specific accolades to Shakeya St. Julien Garcia and Catalina Franklin for coordinating this complicated fundraiser, I salute the many volunteers who made it happen, and I offer my appreciation to all those who participated in the event!

Thanks to all of you who work to support our school through our Auction, our Jaguar Fund, or other events such as our upcoming Walk-A-Thon. I know that Walnut Acres will not only survive a budget reduction, we will thrive. H.E. Luccock wrote, “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” On behalf of all our children, thanks for collaborating to make beautiful music!


Colleen Dowd,

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal

January 2018 Principal's Message

posted Jan 16, 2018, 11:43 AM by Vice President Communications

Happy New Year, Walnut Acres Families!

May 2018 bring peace and joy to your families and many exciting and memorable learning moments to your children! It was a true pleasure to welcome the students back to school after our break. As a group, they seemed a bit tired last Monday, but their energy soon returned and we are back on track for the long learning stretch ahead.

While our current and proposed instruction/curriculum practices are crucial to our educational commitments, the emotional and physical safety of all our students is foundational to anything else we attempt at school. So it is pertinent that the first message of each new year focuses on safety: the physical safety of our children while they are at our facility, as well as the emotional safety of each child attending Walnut Acres.

Safety Plan

This is the time of year when we are asked to review and update our Safety and Emergency Plan. California law (AR0450) requires us to develop goals in the areas of “Social Climate” and “Physical Setting.” Our Safety Committee met with our School Site Council (SSC) last week and reviewed the goals set last year. We also discussed new goals for 2018.

For 2017, we had 3 goals related to “Social Climate, People, and Programs” and 3 goals related to “Physical Environment.” To summarize our “Social Climate” work, we wanted students to feel safe, comfortable and empowered at school, while making adults feel welcome and informed. Our goals related to our “Physical Setting” included Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training, safety procedure practices, and Emergency Plan details. We concluded that we had accomplished most of the activities related to our 6 goals, and that we need to continue proactive efforts to achieve the vision established by the goals.

While our 3 “Social Climate, People and Programs” goals remain intact, our 2018 draft activities focus on improved understanding and acceptance of student differences, particularly in relation to our autism population; emphasis on our digital citizenship program; and enhanced understanding of different cultures and perspectives from around the world.

Though our “Physical Setting” goals of AED training and Emergency Plan updating were met, our draft plan continues the goals with new activities focused on AED training for parents, and specific emergency detail training for teachers. We also created a goal to consider an attractive fence around the grassy area at the front of the school so that the relaxed outdoor setting could become part of the learning environment for second grade students in particular. Input from community members about this fence will be collected and assessed this year.   

I will continue to share our proposed Safety Plan with various community groups and collect input from stakeholders through January. On 2/1/18, at 3:00 p.m. in B-7, the School Site Council will meet and vote on the draft 2018 Safety Plan. Once it is site approved, it will be sent to the district office for final approval by the Board. Please note that SSC is an open meeting and all are welcome. 

Parent Safety Practices

Children’s lives are in your hands as you drive and walk on our campus! For just the few minutes you are here, make their safety paramount over the meeting you must rush to or the many chores you must complete. Life is busy, we are all overburdened, but imagine how you would feel if your distraction caused an injury to a child!

  1. Drop your children off at 7:45 a.m., when we have adult supervision for children.
  2. Drop children off where they will have a safe route into school. Do not drop children off at a spot where they must illegally cross the street or run past moving cars in the parking lot or drop-off zone.
  3. Walk in the crosswalks during traffic times. Children are watching. If you follow the rules, they will know the rules matter!
  4. 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.
  5. Remember that we do not have supervision on the playground after school. All children are expected to head home directly after school unless they are participating an adult-led enrichment class. If you want your child to play on the playground, you need to provide supervision.
  6. Sign in at the office when you visit during school hours and wear the volunteer name tag you will receive there so children and adults know that you are a safe person on campus.

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!

Positive Climate Work

We are continuing our efforts to maximize a strengths-based approach to serving our students. You may have noticed our 4 Basic Rules posted in every room of our facility, so that we are abundantly clear about expectations. You may have heard about the PAWS collections for Thursday after-school PAWSicles or seen our ROAR board for students noted by their teachers to practice life skills.

These rewards are extrinsic motivators for making good choices, but much of our effort involves intrinsic motivators to help our children internalize basic social-emotional learning competencies. The competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. We support skill development through our daily teaching, through our Sing-outs, and through our problem-solving guidance. Class meetings/class circles are part of that ongoing work as are the push-in visits of our counselor to support class needs.  

Beyond these routine activities, selected 3rd-5th grade students have received peacemaker training so they can support peer problem-solving, while our noon supervision staff and teachers will receive an updated training from Soul Shoppe next month to support students competency enhancement. Meanwhile, Soul Shoppe will also provide an assembly for each grade next month entitled “I’ve Got Your Back: From Bystanders to Upstanders.” It will focus on appropriate assertiveness skills in social situations and is designed to enhance social awareness while encouraging responsible decision-making.

Event Updates

The 2018-19 school calendar is available on the district website.

On 1/24/18 at 7:00 p.m., St. Matthew will offer a free showing of Angst, a documentary to raise awareness about anxiety in children and adolescents.

On 2/6/18 at 6:00 p.m., we will welcome 2018-19 kindergarten parents to our Kindergarten Orientation in the MUR. Please let neighbors know about this important meeting, especially if they do not yet have children in school.

On 1/30/18 at 6:00 p.m., the district will host a “Marijuana and Beyond” parent workshop at College Park High School.

Collaborating to Enhance Safety

As we hit 2018 running, our dedicated staff will work collaboratively to refine our safe environment, enhance our strength-based approach, and guide our students to meaningful, engaging learning experiences. We are grateful that you are our trusted partner on this journey. The devotion of Walnut Acres parents is inspiring and because of our shared sense of purpose and caring we will continue to evolve as an inclusive, nurturing learning environment. As the great philosopher Winnie-the-Pooh once commented, “Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”    

Here’s to a physically and emotionally safe learning year for the entire Walnut Acres community!


Colleen Dowd

Lucky Walnut Acres Principal

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