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Articles tagged with California

Editorial discusses the importance of school boards

What does your community know about your school board and the work school board members do?

Two members of California’s Fresno Unified School District’s school board recently penned an editorial for the Fresno Bee detailing the importance of their jobs. Cal Johnson and Valerie Davis urged their community members to pay attention to the candidates running for the school board because it has such a crucial role in guiding the community’s education system.

“School boards set direction for the district; we advocate for public education as well as needed improvements; we are currently maintaining the financial stability of our districts under some of the worst economic conditions in modern history; and, most importantly, we keep a laser-like focus on improving student achievement,” the authors write.

Davis and Johnson discussed some of the challenges facing the Fresno Unified School District and others in the area, including extreme concentrations of poverty that impact students’ abilities to attend school and learn.

“Schools cannot solve these problems alone, so they seek the community’s help to alleviate the scars that poverty inflicts on so many of the children and families in our Valley,” they write. “Everything from land-use decisions to policy approaches to public safety, mental health, and recreation impact our challenge.”

Read the column at the Fresno Bee and learn more about ways to communicate with your community from American School Board Journal’s columnist Nora Carr in “Telling Your Story.”



Joetta Sack-Min|July 19th, 2012|Categories: Governance, School Boards, American School Board Journal, School Board News|Tags: , , , , |

In June’s ASBJ: California or Connecticut — when it comes to school leadership, a little humility goes a long way

Something felt different in Southern California, and I’m not just talking about the beaches, the palm trees, or the bird of paradise flowers that don’t generally sprout here in Washington.

I admit it — I love this place. Many years ago, I went to college out here, and I can still remember my freshman roommate muttering in his sleep one predawn morning as our room shook like it was tethered to a roller coaster:

“Go back to sleep; it’s just an earthquake.”

Just an earthquake.  It was — and here’s a California expression I learned that year — “No big.”

So when I visited the Long Beach Unified School District last spring to do a story on why this highly diverse, seaside district is one of the top-performing urban school systems in the nation, I was predisposed to like the place. But it wasn’t just palm trees and nostalgia. After spending hours talking to teachers, administrators, and other school leaders, including the superintendent and a school board member, I concluded: These people are good: They’re engaged. They’re focused. Dedicated. Not in it for themselves, it seems, but for the district’s mission itself.

For lack of a better term, I referred to the atmosphere as one of “relaxed professionalism.”

Kimberly Hough, who has a piece in ASBJ’s June issue, has another word for what produces this kind of working environment: “humility.” It’s something we don’t often talk about, but it’s enormously important to being an effective school leader.

“Humble people are curious people,” writes Hough, an assistant superintendent with West Virginia’s Berkeley County Schools. “They feel comfortable admitting what they don’t know and with finding the answers. They are able to simultaneously recognize their own strengths and see their own weaknesses. They are open to feedback and making adjustments.”

Hough has done research that measures school leaders’ humility and its correlation with student achievement in math and English. She arrived at humility – or the lack thereof – by comparing leaders’ estimation of themselves with the estimations of those around them. Not surprisingly, the in-agreement self-raters (as opposed to the over-estimators and under-estimators) correlated with the highest student achievement.

Pretty interesting stuff – and it pretty much nails the leadership culture I saw at Long Beach Unified, which has been widely recognized for its success.

“One thing I appreciate about this school district – they celebrate,” says Long Beach school board President Felton Williams. “And then they go back to work.”

Or, as my roommate might have put it: “No big.”

Lawrence Hardy|June 8th, 2012|Categories: Governance, School Boards, Urban Schools, Data Driven Decision Making, Board governance, Key Work of School Boards, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , , |

States faced with ‘interesting times’

Listening to five state association leaders talk Sunday about the challenges they face might have reminded you of that purported Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Because public schools in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Georgia are all living through “interesting” times. Not particularly fun times, to be sure, but definitely interesting.

Two common threads (or is that threats?) marked their presentations for the Third General Session of National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Federal Relations Network Conference: The difficulties posed by a severe lack of money, and the challenge coming from various — and often united and well-funded — proponents of vouchers, charter schools, and privatization.

“Even if they feel they can’t get their legislation through, it still gives them a platform to attack public education and school board governance,” said Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Boards Association.

The good news, several of the state executives said, is that the state associations and NSBA are not waiting for their opponents to define public education but are actively telling their own stories – to their constitutions, to parents, to legislators – highlighting successes, and setting the record straight.

Studies show that most citizens give their local public school “As” or “Bs” for quality.

“Then why are we having this discussion” about alternatives to public schools? asked Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

The reason, as Koocher and others explained, is the power and money behind public school critics. In Pennsylvania, for example, three different groups have come together to argue for more school choice: those who sincerely believe charters and other choice options will improve schools: those who are invested in attacking public education; and businesses that see public education as “a cash cow” said Thomas Gentzel, that state’s executive director. He said that, in forming your strategies and talking points, it helps to know which group you’re addressing.

One of the more convoluted – and long running – budget crises is occurring in California, leading Vernon Billy, executive director of the California School Boards Avocation, to close his presentation with this tongue-in-cheek advice: If someone starts a conversation with “’Well, you know, in California’….run.”

Currently, the state is planning to cut the education budget, but it is still asking districts to fund programs as if they had as much money as last fiscal year, Billy said. This has been convenient for the state and unions and other interest groups with which it has been negotiating, but it places all the fiscal responsibility on districts, which must either plow into their reserve funds or borrow money to stay afloat.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a state referendum on increasing taxes, but if it does not pass, Billy said, the state is looking at more cuts of as much as $5 billion. Still, school districts are being told to spend as if they had as much money as last year; and, meanwhile, in an effort to preserve state funds, the state is deferring scheduled payments to schools.
“We still have our electric lights to pay for. We still have our employees to pay,” Billy said. “We still have our health and welfare costs rising. Those things are not changing.”

Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado School Boards Association, gave a more positive report on developments in his state. As a result of hard work and continued dialogue, the legislature was able to pass new teacher evaluation rules that for the first time would provide a mechanism for districts to fire low-performing but tenured teaches without having to spend thousands of dollars in litigation costs.

Lawrence Hardy|February 5th, 2012|Categories: Teachers, Educational Finance, FRN Conference 2012|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

At the more popular charter schools operating within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are lotteries to see who gets to attend and waiting lists that are very long – 500 children long, in the case Larchmont Charter elementary school. But if you’ve got the money and the time, according to a revealing story in LA Weekly, you can go to the front of the line as “founding parents” — even though the school opened in 2004.

“Add something called a ‘founding parent’ to the long list of ways that charter schools are accused of manipulating which children get to enroll and who doesn’t,” writes Alexander Russo, who cites the story in his This Week in Education blog. But “before you go crazy…” he adds later, “remember that district schools also have all sorts of ways of letting students in through the back door …”

True …but, the scale of the Larchmont “program” and the amount of money involved – and how it bridges the increasingly blurry line between public and private schools – is truly amazing. And it backs up what charter skeptics have long said about charters tailoring their admission policies in various ways (for example, not accepting near as  many special needs children) but claiming a universal benefit for an area’s students.

Need something lighter? When I do, I turn to the Principal’s Page and Superintendent Michael Smith’s often amusing view of his job and life. This short piece is on his junior high school daughter’s unusual level of self-esteem, which is uncannily high for someone who has every right to be the brooding teenager.

My favorite line: “Her worst day ever was great.”

It reminds me of those brilliantly funny Dos Equis beer ads – yes, brilliant beer ads – featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by the late Jonathan Goldsmith. (I love these two lines, especially: “When he’s in Rome, they do as he does.” And: “His Mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son.’” – both uttered with mock gravity by a reader who, in real life, does the ultra-authoritative voiceover for PBS’s Frontline.)

Enough fun. There are serious issues to consider. And Jay Mathews has taken on a weighty one in his Class Struggle blog, namely how well schools are addressing the needs of gifted students. Actually, Mathews is commenting on a much longer article by Rick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, who says “not very well at all.” But, like Mathews, I don’t think re-restricting access to Advanced Placement courses, because they’re presumably not as rigorous as in the past, is the way to go.

The final item is not a blog, but a piece Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered about how the recession caused a drop in the U.S. birthrate. (Scroll down to “US  Birthrate Dropped During Recession,” which refers to this Pew Research Center report.)

So what’s so bad about 300,000 or so less babies a year? Well, think of that in terms of the reduced number of parental Babies R Us visits, and you get an idea of the economic impact.

“Then, as we look further down the road, school enrollments will be begin to fall,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau who was interviewed on the radio show. “We would need fewer teachers….   A school board that looks at 15 percent fewer students has some tough decisions to make down the road.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 14th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, Charter Schools, Week in Blogs, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , , |

You get what you pay for, especially in education

stockvault_9810_20080130One of my pet peeves is that people demand that public schools do a better job in educating students—then their elected officials pull the rug out from under any effort to do so.

Case in point: After years of investing in smaller class sizes, state policymakers are giving up on the effort because of severe budget cuts.

Now, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the class-size movement. Although there is research to suggest smaller class sizes are beneficial, my thinking is that some of those benefits are achievable with more careful classroom assignments—basing class size on the needs of each child and the capabilities of individual teachers.

To me, shrinking class sizes to some arbitrary number is no guarantee of student academic gains. If I’m wrong, of course, then today’s policy decisions to raise class sizes are all the more wrong-headed.

 And that, I suppose, is my real point: If you invest millions of dollars and millions of hours in administrative time to improve student learning, what does it say about your commitment to school reform when you give up on that investment because times are tough?

Naomi Dillon|March 17th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Parents now feeling the heat

pointing-fingerA new poll conducted by the Associated Press and Stanford University finds nearly 70 percent of adults feel parents are largely responsible for what’s wrong with public education in America.

And so the Blame Game continues, though, there’s no denying that families play a huge role in student achievement, so much so, that it’s clear when they are not fulfilling that role.

That’s probably what spurred California lawmakers to adopt the Parent Accountability Act, the first state law granting judges the power to send parents of convicted gang members back to school.

Enacted in January, the statute has gotten off to a rocky start thanks to the state’s budget woes and, frankly, low attendance at the court-mandated classes which counsel parents on how to get more involved in their child’s life and how to spot signs of gang affiliation.

“The most difficult thing is to have control of the kids,” Socorro Gonzalez, a housekeeper and mom told the Huffington Post, after her son, a Los Angeles gang member, faced trouble with the law, forcing her to take classes. “When I come home, I don’t know what they have been up to.”

An honest and, no doubt, common problem among many parents. But here’s my question, if families have a hard time controlling their own kids, what makes people think that teachers can be any more successful?

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|December 13th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , |

As budgets decline, classes swell— and few are protesting

general-meeting_w725_h544It doesn’t seem possible these days, but once upon a time, about 12 or so years ago, California and many other states were flush with cash—not only were they able to pay all their bills, they were actually able to expand and create programs. And one of the biggest and most popular, at least in California, was a program to reduce class sizes in the early elementary grades.

It seemed like a great idea, parents and teachers in particular loved it because they felt the students could get more individualized attention and learn more (of course, the teachers unions weren’t complaining about the influx of new members, too).

Naomi Dillon|August 30th, 2010|Categories: Governance, School Climate, Student Achievement, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Parents decide fate of failing schools; pioneering or problematic trend in CA?

Photo courtesy Stockvault

Photo courtesy Stockvault

California, the state that has lived and sometimes died by the proposition system of governance, has unveiled a new experiment in direct democracy:  the so-called “parent trigger” that will allow parents at low-performing schools to have a voice in the way their schools are reorganized.

Designed in part to make the state more competitive for federal Race to the Top money, the legislation was signed last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to the new bill, if at least 50 percent of a school’s parents sign a petition, the district’s school board must chose between several options for change, some of which are: closing the school, converting to a charter, or replacing the principal and other school leaders.

Is this good fix for low-performing schools?

Given that few parents have used the transfer option under No Child Left Behind, it’s unclear whether any group could get 50 percent of parents to sign a petition. And, even if it could, it seems like a draconian way to mandate change.

Naomi Dillon|January 12th, 2010|Categories: Governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

In one Calif. district, veteran organization plays new role

I wrote a piece last year about parental involvement in schools. Naturally, I talked to one of the oldest and largest parent organizations, the PTA, which expounded on the importance of parents and schools partnering to ensure student success.

Who knew (at least I didn’t), that the PTA could be as instrumental in helping to form bonds in a fractured political environment. Such is the case in Capistrano Unified, a large school district I visited in sunny Orange County, Calif.

I’d picked the district because I thought it illustrated the tough times many education systems were having in the Golden State. I certainly didn’t expect to find that there was more to the story, that their recent turmoil had as much to do with politics as it did with finances.

“We are desperate to heal,” Kim Anderson, the legislative chair for the district’s PTA told me. “We’ve had years of distraction from our core mission: educating children.”

I won’t go into details about the community unrest and upheaval the district has endured and become known for in the last several years . You can read it here , here, here, but most importantly here.

What is worth noting is there was almost unilateral agreement in Capistrano that in order to move forward and address some very difficult times ahead, they must come together … and interestingly enough, the local PTA stands to play a huge role in this.

“I can’t think of another group that could act in this [capacity],” Anderson says, whose local chapter not only has been nationally recognized for its advocacy and outreach efforts, but Anderson herself has received commendations from the national PTA office.

Naomi Dillon|March 27th, 2009|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

California educators seeing red amid flurry of pink slips

So much for stopping the bleeding in California, particularly the cuts to be made in education. Despite receiving a sizable chunk of change (about $20 billion of the $787 billion)from the fiscal stimulus bill, the country’s most populous state and the 8th-largest economy in the world continues its downward spiral.  

It isn’t entirely surprising. After all, analysts had warned and lawmakers were wary that monies from the federal package would make a significant dent in the $42 billion budget gap the state faced this fiscal year.

The best that state and education officials could hope for was that the funds would prevent them from having to make the really hard and debilitating cuts to public education and other public agencies. Well, that hope was short-lived.  

Across California, school districts have or intend to issue nearly 18,000 pink slips to teachers to meet the state’s March 13 deadline for termination notification. In Capistrano Unified, officials have identified 356 positions that could receive pink slips next week. Further north, San Francisco Unified is sending pink slips to about 400 teachers and 140 administrators.

The state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, however, is taking a calculated risk by announcing jobs in the system are safe— for now. The decision is a complete reversal and recognition that the district’s earlier strategy to send pink slips to nearly 2,300 instructors would have been so disruptive it would have cost more than it was worth.

But it leaves officials there with the uneviable task of having to cut $500 to $600 million from their budget before classes begin next fall— and positions will most assuredly be eliminated then.

The forced reductions in staff (almost twice last year’s projection of 10,000 employees)  have made the California Teachers Association teeming mad.

“We are pushing back against this attack on public education because our students will feel these cuts for many, many years,” CTA President David Sanchez told the Contra Costa Times. “The potential layoff of so many educators will hurt our communities and California’s future.”

Over the course of next week and leading up to “Pink Friday,” CTA has planned mass demonstrations and protests across the state and has purchased billboards and radio ads.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|March 6th, 2009|Categories: Governance, Teachers, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |
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