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Santa Clara Education Desk: Nov. 20, 2013

The Nov. 14 Santa Clara Unified School Board meeting included nearly half a dozen items concerning the radical changes taking place in California education, each of which had significant staff presentations and merited substantial attention – Common Core transition, new state reporting requirements as a result of structural changes in education funding, a proposed Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program, and a new format for school report cards. This was in addition to a lengthy discussion on district open enrollment policy.

The result was a meeting that ran until midnight, with many (including two Santa Clara University journalism students on assignment to cover a local governing body) leaving about halfway through the meeting. “This is unacceptable to keep staff up this late,” commented Trustee Jim Canova. “This agenda is unbelievable.”

Common Core Transition Will Take $3 Million Worth of Training, Materials, and Technology

Since she came on board last summer, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services Tanya Fisher has been actively promoting awareness of the magnitude of effort that will be required by the transition to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These must be in place by 2014-2015. With CCSS probably “the greatest single change in education in the last 50 years,” Fisher said, “How we do business is going to change as we change how we deliver instruction.”

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Under former Assistant Superintendent of Ed Services Mary Kay Going, SCUSD began getting acquainted with CCSS as early as 2010, and began incorporating the new curriculum during the 2012-2013 school year. So the district has some experience under its belt. However, there’s still much to be done.

The state provides money for CCSS implementation, and the core of Fisher’s presentation Thursday night was how the district will spend the $3 million it will receive. The money must be used for professional development, instructional materials and integrated technology to support instruction and assessments – includes teaching teachers and students how to use it.

The district will spend $500,000 on professional development (training), $1 million on new instructional materials, and $1.5 million on technology (including infrastructure upgrades) to implement the new standards. How technology-intensive is CCSS? There are 102 Common Core standards that explicitly include using technology, according to Educational Media and Learning Resources Director Kathie Kanavel.

New School Report Card

SCUSD is ahead of the curve on at least one part of the Common Core: K-5 school report cards. That’s because the district began its own K-5 school report card about 10 years ago, and has evolved its reporting as the state has adopted new educational standards. During the 2012-2013 school year, the district began aligning the reports to the CCSS. The new report card, which parents will start seeing next month, is more comprehensive and spells out the specific skills that students are evaluated on for each grade level.

Open Enrollment Definition Gets More Opaque

Open enrollment is one of those ideas that seems straightforward in principle but reveals innumerable complexities in its execution. In this case the complexity results from a familiar concept in economics: elasticity. Classroom space is an inelastic resource, while student populations and education fads are highly elastic. So in practice, establishing a system for allocating those spaces becomes anything but simple.

Last Thursday the board intended to approve a new open enrollment policy, following a presentation and lengthy discussion last month. However, Thursday’s discussion ran aground on the question of children who attend school in their attendance area and then move.

Should they automatically be allowed to stay or have to apply for open enrollment? Trustees Ina Bendis, Andy Ratermann and, less strongly, Christopher Stampolis thought that once students are in a school they should automatically get to stay. Board President Christine Koltermann and Trustee Michele Ryan thought they should have to go through the open enrollment application – current district policy.

Koltermann pointed out that it wasn’t impossible to have a situation where there were so many out-of-attendance-area students in a neighborhood school as to defeat the whole notion of a neighborhood school. And one former SCUSD teacher, Vickie Fairchild, noted that for children whose families moved a lot, attending a school a distance from home created its own academic difficulty because they can’t get to school at all sometimes.

Each question led to another question. Should students get to stay in even if there are not enough spaces for children in the attendance area? And what about students who have to attend schools outside their attendance area? Do they get priority to come back if spaces open up?

“This was not ready for prime time and we’re wasting a lot of time,” said Canova. “I suggest you bring it forward as a study session and that way stakeholders will have an opportunity to speak in a more open format. We’re getting absolutely nowhere here.” The board voted to return the question to the policy committee for clarification. However, time is running short because open enrollment for 2014-2015 starts in January.

Student Board Rep Catches ESPN Spotlight

ESPN was on hand Thursday night to get video of SCUSD Student Board Rep and Wilcox High School senior Marisa Kwiatkowski, one of 12 national finalists in the Wendy’s High School Heisman Memorial Trophy award. Kwiatkowski has set school, league and meet records for both the triple and long jump. She was also recently voted Wilcox Homecoming Queen.

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