The only Board meeting of November was one of the longest Santa Clara Unified has held in a long time. Understandably so as they covered a lot of ground, including construction plans, test scores, and facility rental fees.
Elementary Schools Master Plans
Bracher Elementary, Briarwood Elementary, and Westwood Elementary schools finally have Master Plans to bring long-awaited upgrades to these schools. The Master Plans were made in collaboration with the sites and communities and included all the changes they aim to make (i.e. removing portables). Not everything in these plans currently has funding, but they do have funding for Phase 1-B construction – the rest will get done as funding comes along.
The Westwood community came to speak at the Board meeting regarding the lack of shade after trees were removed from campus, as well as the drop-off chaos. Many were especially concerned about the 200 yards special education classes had to walk across campus to reach the next playground after theirs was removed. Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman agreed with these concerns. She was also disturbed by the loss of intervention minutes trying to get the students to and from the playground. Mark A. Schiel, Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Chief Business Official, said he has been responding to emails with the very same concerns and gave the Board his commitment that staff will work to address these worries. Westwood’s $30 million of Phase 1-B projects, including a new multipurpose building and a metal PE shade structure, were approved.
Bracher, which is expected to grow as a school, has $66 million in projects that were approved by the Board. They will be getting a new multipurpose building, cooking kitchen, and shaded lunch court, as well as a metal PE shade structure and more. Briarwood, which is focusing on modernization, has $30 million in projects. Their plans include a new kindergarten play area, a preschool shade structure, a metal PE structure, and more.
Larry Adams, Director of Bond Projects, said they hope to complete Phase 1-B in Fall 2026 but have a long way to go. They will get a better idea of a completion date. However, he emphasized that they will try to get new shade solutions up as soon as possible. Schiel pointed out that the elementary schools will remain open during construction, so they want to be cautious not to disrupt learning.
To fund these projects, the District will have to dip a bit into reserves. Phase 1-B is estimated to cost $141 million, but Santa Clara Unified only has $75 million in the Measure BB budget. So, they’re taking about $29 million from the Measure BB reserves, but trying to be cautious to leave $45 million for projects for other schools. Additionally, they are using developer fees for Bracher.
The Board and community seemed to agree that they wanted to address Westwood’s concerns but not delay this process. The Master Plans and Phase 1-B projects passed unanimously.
Test scores are always a hot topic, but the District is desperately trying to change the tides and have ambitious goals for their California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) scores.
Brad Stam, Chief Academic and Innovation Officer, shared data on the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC), which is given to newly enrolled students whose primary language is a language other than English. Stam highlighted that Summative ELPAC middle and high school results have improved after schools put focused efforts behind the assessment.
As they discussed at a recent meeting, math CAASPP scores are a huge worry for the District. They are seeing very low scores from their Hispanic/Latino/a/x population – especially in middle school. The District is committed to helping Latino students through its Latino Achievement Project and will have more details in the new year, said Stam.
Stam also covered Science and English Language Arts (ELA). The summary? Santa Clara Unified is in the middle compared to other Districts. However, like the math concerns, Latino students in middle school are also lagging in ELA and have been for a decade.
“There’s some modest good news in our data and much to be concerned about, demanding our resolve to do better by our Latino students and to improve the alignment of our instructional content and local assessments with the key standards and the CAASPP blueprint,” said Stam. “This alone will yield improvement in our results. As we can feel more confident, and students can feel more confident that they are being tested on what they have been taught.”
The Board was frustrated. They all spoke about how being “in the middle” wasn’t good enough, especially with the money and resources they poured into their programs. They agreed that bumping these test scores is an urgent matter.
English Language Arts Improvement Strategies
Santa Clara Unified’s Academics and Innovation team presented their efforts to improve English Language Arts/English Language Development (ELA/ELD) outcomes for this school year and years to come. They already started a Literacy Workgroup, said Kathie Kanavel, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.
“We can’t wait to reach and teach every child,” said Superintendent Dr. Gary Waddell.
For the 2022-2023 school year overall, they had 59% “meet or exceed standards” and the three-year goal is to get that to 75%. The 2022-2023 baseline for Latino students is 35%, but their three-year goal is to have 60% “meet or exceed standards.”
Similar to their efforts behind the math scores, there was a sense of urgency from the Board to up the ELA scores. They focused discussion on professional learning for teachers, especially in elementary school which is such a critical time for reading. However, teachers did say there is “initiative fatigue” from all the different initiatives they’ve tried and phased out over the years. Teachers said the changes the Board is hoping to make take time.
Michal Healy, Director of Facility Development and Planning, teased the fee changes for facility rentals at the last meeting. These rental rates haven’t had an overhaul since the 90s and since then, operating costs have obviously increased. However, even with the new fees, renters aren’t covering the costs fully.
What renters are charged depends on their “User Group,” which is charged a percentage of the cost to maintain the space. Healy has been talking to the renters to get them ready for the fee changes; especially Group 1.5, which includes youth organizations approved by the Board, and will go from free rentals to 10%. Meanwhile, Group 4 is actually seeing a decrease in fees from 100% to 80%.
This will come back in December for Board vote. The updated fees will start with new reservations on June 1, 2024. For Group 1.5, they will phase in the pay schedule, so they only pay 5% at first and then the full 10% in June 2025.
Board Member Andy Ratermann said they are making a mistake and said he is worried about their programs, especially for adults who pay the most for rentals. Healy emphasized that they aren’t trying to gouge their renters and want the fees to be as fair as possible.
The Board approved hiring Erika Marcuccillo as the new Vice Principal at Santa Clara High School.