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Education Desk: Apr. 16, 2014

Elementary Music and Expanded Library Services To Be Restored

The good news at the April 10 Santa Clara Unified board meeting was that the district is financially able to restore elementary music education, additional library support, and possibly fund the district Science Fair – programs that have been eliminated over the last decade in the face of severe budget cuts. The proposal includes $300,000 for teachers and instruments for elementary music programs, and $160,000 for additional library staffing. The Science Fair, however, was not in the proposed budget.

Elementary school music was something everyone agreed needed to be restored.

“Music students have over a B+ average overall,” Buchser music teacher David Ladd Anderson told the board. Anderson directs the Déjà vu Jazz Band, as well as the Magic Makers band for students with developmental disabilities. A high school and middle school music program without elementary school music was, he said, “like having a major league team without a minor league team. After a while you won’t have any team.”

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The impact of music on students’ development cannot be underestimated, school board candidate and San Jose Jazz Business Development Manager Noelani Sallings told the board. Studies from the Journal of Neurology “showed that young children who received a year of musical training showed brain changes and superior memory compared with children who did not receive the instruction.”Sallings also cited studies showing that children who had music instruction worked more cooperatively, and had better communication and problem-solving skills. “We must focus on STEAM learning: Science, Technology, Engineer, Arts and Math,” she continued. “I truly hope the school board understands what music education means to our students, our community and our society as a whole.”

The board unanimously voted for an action item at the April 24 meeting to appropriate the funding for these programs. “I want to make sure we have that program up by the next school year,” said Trustee Andy Ratermann.

Choral Project and First Republic Bank Make Concerts Free for Kids

Speaking of music, The Choral Project (www.sjcp.org) offers free passes to all of its concerts to middle and high school students, with children under 10 always free. First Republic Bank sponsors the program (www.firstrepublic.com).

For a free pass, fill out the form at www.sjcp.org/page/students4free at least 24 hours before the concert. You’ll receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to check in when you arrive. For more information, visit students4free@sjcp.org.

The choir, which performs throughout the Bay Area, has two upcoming concerts at the Santa Clara Mission Church. On May 18, at 2 p.m. TCP will perform the Art of Sound, featuring unaccompanied works by 20th and 21st century composers. On June 28, at 8 p.m. TCP will conclude its season with Earthsongs, featuring music from across the Americas.

Reading Intervention Specialist Program: At the End of the Day, No Change

The first hour of last week’s board meeting featured yet another round of angry accusations by teachers that the new district administration was disrespectful of teachers’ expertise and bypassing them in policy-making. The trigger wasn’t something new and unexpected. It was a routine letter informing Reading Intervention Specialists (RIS) that they may be reassigned for the next school year.

The reassignment notice is routine for any position paid for by what used to be called categorical funding, explains SCUSD Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Brad Syth. It was done because there was always the possibility that funding may not be renewed. Teachers would then typically receive a renewed assignment to their jobs.

But this year the routine notice coincided with a perfect storm of funding changes, and created the impression on the part of the teachers that their jobs had been eliminated.

The restructuring of California’s education funding, the Local Control Funding Formula, (LCFF), eliminated the multiplicity of “categorically” funded programs, replacing them with a base grant and additional funding to serve special populations. The LCFF specifies that the additional funding must go directly to the school sites with the designated students.

Further, a federal audit finding that the district had failed to meet achievement targets for English Learners (Title III of No Child Left behind) mandated that the federal money be redirected from the district to the school sites.

The bottom line was that this earmarked money is being pushed down to the school level, to pay for services that the schools request from the district. The teachers’ concern was that school site councils and/or principals wouldn’t support the needed RIS services.

A district-driven reading intervention structure was critical for effectiveness and accountability, reading teacher Susan Stryker told the board at last week’s meeting. “If schools are given permission to piece-meal reading interventions, students will fall through the cracks.”

However, these fears turned out to be unfounded, according to Syth. “We requested principals to tell us how much RIS services they needed,” he says. “It turned out they need as much as they’re getting, or more.”

In response to all the discussion, however, the board will schedule a study session on reading intervention programs before the next board meeting on April 24.

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