There is an adage about being careful what you wish for. The supporters of Clayton Valley High's conversion to charter school status know it well.

On Jan. 11, they were granted their wish by the Contra Costa County Board of Education. On Jan. 12, they realized the challenge they had bitten off.

"The first week," said Pat Middendorf, "we had to do so many things, we looked around and said, 'Where are the people who are supposed to help us with this?' There were no administrators involved in our effort, so teachers had to do everything."

Middendorf is a Clayton Valley teacher and athletic director but more notably a lead petitioner in the school's effort to gain its independence from the Mt. Diablo School District. She no sooner was chosen president of the charter's governing board than she confronted the mountain of decision-making ahead.

Which teachers would give up the job security of the district to work at the charter school? How many students would stay at Clayton Valley in its restructured format? How would decisions about class schedules, school calendar, dress code and operating procedures be decided?

"It was like setting up a brand-new facility with a lot of people who never had experience running a school," said fellow board member Dick Ellis.

The results so far have been gratifying to those who fought for this change.

Underclassmen were not only given the option but also were urged by the district to transfer to other district schools for 2012-13 -- "I strongly encourage you to consider your option of having your children attend one of our high schools," district Superintendent Steven Lawrence said in a letter to parents -- but only three of the 1,200-plus Clayton Valley students have indicated they will do so.

Of the 78 teachers on staff, 64 have decided to return, five are retiring and nine will take other district jobs.

When the call went out for volunteers for the school's new steering committees -- Curriculum and Instruction, Student Services, Human Resources and Operations -- there were more respondents than positions.

"I am absolutely amazed at the enthusiasm of the faculty and the community," Ellis said, noting that each committee is meeting twice a month.

Clayton Valley will set itself apart from district counterparts with a school calendar that begins Aug. 15, ends its first semester at Christmas break and concludes May 31. Mt. Diablo schools start and end two weeks later, with the holiday break interrupting the first semester.

"We'll take our final exams before Christmas break instead of two weeks after," Middendorf said, "which makes sense to the entire world except for our school district. Now students won't have to study over Christmas."

Clayton Valley also will have a dress code, with the considerable input from students. Some support uniforms; others want more relaxed standards.

"Whatever's decided, we'll end up with a higher level of dress," Middendorf said, "and a school culture that looks like it's serious about education, not about what people wear."

Clayton Valley also will introduce a transition program for incoming freshmen to smooth the adjustment from middle school.

"If there's one thing we've found," Middendorf said, "it's that our new students come in unprepared. Many are not ready to be accountable for their grades. They've failed in middle school and been passed along."

Ellis, a retired teacher who worked at Clayton Valley for 30 years, oozes enthusiasm at seeing his old school re-energized.

"When you work for the district, you have to stay within a framework," he said. "If you teach algebra at one school, you have to be on the same page in the same book and giving the same test as the other six schools. With the charter, if you have new ideas, you can put them into your program."

Plenty of work remains -- the school still needs to hire an executive director and administrators -- but it's starting to look like the adage is all wet.

Sometimes when a wish comes true, you get exactly what you want.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.