Student Achievement

9/26/07 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

STAR/API/AYP testing report

This was a fascinating presentation. API scores in Fremont have flattened this year. District wide API was 839 in 2006 and is 834 in 2007. The slight decline is probably not statistically significant. From 2002 to 2006, Fremont has gone from 797 to 839. These have been huge jumps. Board President Nina Moore helped explain that many districts have seen these big growth's in scores as they have updated their curriculum to cover the then new California state standards. After the initial growth, many districts see flat growth which may be what Fremont is seeing now. Essentially, teachers and students are using better tools and instruction has been more effective.

How do we continue to improve?

Superintendent of Instruction Milt Werner looked at this. In particular he went to schools that are having success in working with lower performing students. He asked them how are they being so successful. They mentioned there aggressive academic interventions, but more interesting was that all of the schools also highlighted the "culture and climate" work they are doing at their schools. This includes things like celebrating diversity, providing students with engaging activities, and inviting parents of low performing students. Put another way when the students are engaged they do better and schools and communities that work to engage their students succeed.

I will save a discussion for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for another blog post, but suffice to say the bar for student achievement that the Federal government has set will be jumping aggressively every year from now until 2014 and even great district's like ours will not be able to meet it. The mandates are unrealistic and woefully underfunded.

Bottom line: When you look at all California schools, Fremont schools continue to be among the best, and we should all be proud of the work our students, teachers, and parents have done. We have fantastic schools. But we can't stop there, and I am thrilled to see how hard staff is working to find ways to continue to improve our schools.

Sabercat Development Attendance Area Assignment
On the heels of deciding to allow non-contiguous school boundaries on 9/11, the board decided that students generated from the proposed Sabercat development go to Irvington schools even though it is currently in the Mission attendance area. Mission schools are overflowing and just don't have physical space for any more students. In the past 6 years there have been around 300 units added in the Mission area. Sabercat would add 158 more generating an estimated 65 students. This seems to be one of the few options the board has to manage the overcrowding from Mission area developments.

Other Notes
  • Community meetings on facilities and overcrowding are being scheduled.
  • We've seen declining enrollment this year, which can have serious budget impacts. In their Oct 10 meeting this will be discussed more.

9/11/07 School Board Meeting

I will do my best to share my observations and thoughts about the school board meetings I attend in the next year on this blog. Starting tonight here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda).

  • Springboard Partnership Agreement -- This is an exciting program. It is a coordinated district wide consulting partnership. Together with FUSD they developed a "plan that includes coaching and professional development to assist site administrators and teachers in raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps." I think staff development is so important and think this is a worthwhile investment. It is important that the right metrics in place to measure it's success before we make this an ongoing expense, but this first year collaboration is a great proactive step.
  • Discuss Master Facility Plan Goal on Contiguous Boundaries -- The board decided to change the policy to allow non-contiguous boundaries. This means that in impacted areas when a new development comes in the district will have the option to assign just the houses in that development to a school that is different from the schools the surrounding neighborhood is going to. This is a good move that gives the district more flexibility especially given how tight space is in many of our schools.
  • Sale of Site Funds -- This refers to the fund containing all the one-time funds from the sale of sites over the last 5-10 years. Among other things this fund has been used for the MVROP building, leased classrooms, and permanent classrooms.
  • MVROP -- Great news! We have completed the new MVROP facility on budget, and the land we were selling to pay for it has been sold. In this real estate market we are very fortunate no problems happened with this deal. I am president of the district's financing corporation and signed this $18 million bridge loan that allowed us to build the new MVROP building. On top of this the district has applied for about $5 million in matching state funding. A great move to stretch our dollars.
  • Leased classrooms -- The district routinely leases modular classrooms to handle temporary fluctuations in student populations at various schools. Paying for these ongoing costs out of a one-time fund is not a great long term solution, but is the best option at the moment.
  • Permanent classrooms -- On the flip side the district is also using this money to replace the temporary classrooms with permanent construction.
  • Mission San Jose Elementary project -- With this nearly $2 million project the site will get 2 new classrooms, an updated library, an updated computer lab, and a staff room. It's hard to spend this much of the sale of site funds on one school, but this school is particularly small and overloaded, which contributes to the high cost of this project.

The board has also added some of the Mission area developments to the 9/26 board agenda to discuss which attendance area they will be in.

The school board and city council have a joint meeting on Oct 1. The city and school staff's are working on a draft white paper to share at the joint meeting.

5/28/08 School Board Meeting - Budget Reductions Adopted

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

Approve 2008 – 2009 Budget Reductions
Tonight the school board approved almost $9.4 million in budget cuts. These cuts were necessary because proposed cuts in the state budget. The Governor did present a revised budget on May 14th, but it still has over $4 billion in education cuts statewide. See my previous blog post for more background.

There is still a lot of uncertainty as the Legislature and Governor will likely not have a final state budget anytime soon. The final state budget is likely to have less cuts, but it could even have more cuts. The district has chosen to adopt the necessary cuts, but to defer as many cuts as possible until we have a final state budget.

This is the hardest thing a board has to do. These are deep cuts including cuts in counselors, staff development, technology, secondary transportation, updated elementary text books, and increased class size in jr. high schools and high schools.

In my mind there are two priorities you balance as you decide on these cuts.
  1. Keeping the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and minimize the impact on our students.
  2. Avoid laying off personnel. It's important to preserve valuable people and the experience and programs they bring to our students. These are much harder to rebuild than cuts to text books or staff development (although even these programs are costly to rebuild). The heart of the district (like most corporations) are it's people. Saving jobs sends a signal that the board and district values them and their contribution.

As hard as these cuts are they are a necessary step to keep the district solvent, I feel they have largely accomplished a balanced approach to these two priorities.

One thing the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) recommended was for the board to consider dipping into the 1% board reserve, which the board did not agree with. Initially I agreed with FAC, but given the uncertainties in the state budget over the next few years we may need this reserve not for next year but the following year. I think even more important than that is having the reserve to cover any cuts that do not materialize. The complexity of cutting such large amounts from the district budget leads to a lot of uncertainty. Many of the cuts are soft costs and as they are implemented we may not realize the savings we thought. I speak from experience here as this is what happened during the 1992 cuts when I was on the board as a student and also in 2003 cuts.

The board was also in general agreement that all of these priorities would be reviewed and potentially re-prioritized if more money is available.

Health & Sex Education Committee Annual Report
The key issue covered in this presentation was does FUSD meet the requirement for a comprehensive sex education. As of 2004 California law requires comprehensive education including all methods of birth control including abstinence and must be medically accurate. Parents can opt their children out of the sexual education program. One of FUSD's current programs (Await and Find) is an abstinence-only program and is not compliant with state law. The board has asked staff and the committee to get the district back in compliance as quickly as possible.

2007 API Base Scores Presentation
This is not really new news. The 2007 API Base API scores represent a recalculation of the 2007 API Growth report from last August. Each year the state adjusts how the scores are calculated when they issue a base score. This new methodology is used in the 2008 Growth API report coming in August. So you can compare the 2007 base with the 2008 growth knowing they were calculated with the same methodology. Similarly you can compare the 2006 base with the 2007 growth report. Comparing, for example, the 2006 base with the 2008 growth is useful from a trending position, but can be misleading depending on how the score calculations have changed.

Some specific observations:
  • 27 of our 38 tested schools are considered high performing schools (API over 800).
  • Oliveria and Irvington have moved up to the 800 API and are considered a high performing school.
  • Grimmer has increased their similar school ranking to a 5. This is primarily due to the increases in STAR test scores at the school, and the hard work students and teachers have put in to get there.
  • Students with disabilities have the lowest API scores (at 605) however the trend shows an increase from year-to-year.
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