After 28 years as a classroom teacher, an undimmed sparkle and childlike wonder continue to glow in the eyes and lyrical words of Christine Deane.
"The world keeps changing, but it always needs problem-solving," the newly appointed Contra Costa County Board of Education trustee said recently. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if all schools within an area could have round-table (discussions) where the best practices could be shared?"
The county ed board's five trustees provide leadership, service and support to Contra Costa school districts and students. Selected from a pool of five applicants to fill the vacancy left by the death of board President Ellen Elster, Deane has a bachelor of science in family relations and child development from Syracuse University, a master's of science in correctional counseling from Chapman University, a long list of professional credentials and enthusiastic, spirited recommendations.
Former Hidden Hills Elementary School (San Ramon) Principal Donna Yokomizo praises Deane as a learner with an "amazing work ethic" and someone whose "sharp mind" probes for truth while having "a deep respect for other people's opinions and thoughts." Pediatric dentist Robert Harmon writes in a letter of support: "(Deane) looks at all sides of an issue and makes her judgments fairly."
The knowledge base Deane brings to the trustee position comes not just from the classroom, she insists, but from raising her children and grandchildren, serving on Mom's Councils, counseling people in crisis, organizing community service activities and more.
"Helping children discover their talents and interest, teaching them that every opinion counts, appreciating what freedom means, respecting history -- especially the people who came before and their dreams," she said. "I had myriad opportunities to learn while teaching."
In her new position, Deane says listening well and coming to the job with the same attitude she took into the classroom ("Children want to be good: when you respond to them that way, you have a wonderful time," she says) will lead to good results. Commenting on "how to keep the best things in our (educational) world," she identified four areas of particular importance.
Deane says Common Core's shared curriculum will make it easier for students to find continuity in today's fluid world, where families often relocate, and give them strategies and steps for problem solving. "Children can learn from each other," she said. "We used to have more curriculum like that and it went away. Now, I think it's coming back."
Early language development, she says, is critical. She supports public education for 4-year-olds and says double-earner families need the resource.
About charter schools, she says discernment is key. "Some are well-thought-out, carefully planned and ready to implement. But it's also easy to dream without structure: it's the job of the district, county and state to recognize a charter is not ready," she says.
Deane values standardized testing, and its clear goals for teachers and students, but cautions that teachers must be afforded flexibility in how they help each child gain a specific skill or concept.
Teacher accountability is equally important and she says, "Most teachers have tremendous character. We can encourage one another, if we are accountable to each other. It will be up to the principal to make sure grade level or department teachers work closely together. Above that, we need to teach our children -- our future teachers -- good, ethical behavior."
In the classroom, Deane had an average of 30 students. Now, she has approximately 168,000 students to consider. She promises to remember the special joy of teaching individual students while supporting programs and policies that translate from a trustee's broad perspective into meaningful, one-on-one interactions between a teacher and a student.
"Every person has worth and needs to be made to feel important," said Deane, who said she will run for re-election on her seat in November.