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Santa Clara Education Desk: Oct. 30, 2013

South of Pruneridge Neighborhood Parcel Tax Revolt?

A “netroots” effort is taking shape in Santa Clara’s South of Pruneridge neighborhood, opposing an $85 parcel tax for the Campbell Union High School District ( Campbell districts have repeatedly denied residents’ requests to transfer into Santa Clara USD – a change that would only move 80 students, but delivers $1.6 million to the combined Campbell coffers.

Residents say that CUHSD officials and trustees repeatedly dismissed neighborhood concerns about student safety traveling to school as well as students’ sense of community. The Campbell districts closed all schools serving the neighborhood, forcing neighborhood students to cross San Tomas Expressway, Stevens Creek Boulevard, I-880 and I-280 on their way to school.

Neighborhood residents point to the fact that some Campbell school board members are unaware that part of the district is in Santa Clara. Others note that Campbell trustee candidates almost never campaign in the neighborhood.


“Campbell has totally refused to support every request that …our neighbors have made,” says one resident in an email that has been widely distributed. “For ten years now they have given us the cold shoulder. How else can we get their attention?”

Campbell Districts Administration Tail Wagging the School Board Dog?

The boards of trustees of the Campbell school districts have become the increasing focus of criticisms of cronyism, the Weekly has learned. First, suggestions have been made that, by private agreement, the same people run unchallenged for the seats election after election. Second, some allege that the boards are effectively controlled by the district administration rather than district policy being set by the elected officials.

Support for this assertion might be found in Campbell Union High School District Superintendent Patrick Gaffney’s unilateral decision to refuse to accept credits from high schoolers that attended a district charter school that closed.

Biggest SCUSD Growth to Come in Next Five Years

Santa Clara Unified School District enrollment will reach between 16,000 and 17,000 by 2018, according to a draft report presented at the Oct. 24 school board meeting by Tom Williams of the Arizona-based Williams school enrollment planning consulting firm. The full report will be published at the end of the month.

The majority of that growth will come on Santa Clara’s Northside, which includes part of North San Jose. However, that number is likely to remain stable for the next five year period, Williams explained, for one simple reason: San Jose has nearly reached the limits of residential building permits planned for the area for the next 10 years.

This school year, the district enrolled an additional 1,300 students, bringing the total K-12 student population to roughly 15,400. Williams’ report contained some other interesting details. From almost 900 new apartments built in the North Santa Clara/San Jose part of the district, only 20 students entered SCUSD schools. From about 500 condominiums and townhouses, 111 students entered SCUSD schools.

Williams noted that there is a disconnect between Santa Clara’s population numbers and the number of students enrolled in district schools – presumably these students attend private schools. However, unlike other cities, in Santa Clara public school enrollment doesn’t increase in bad times.*

Another anomaly in Santa Clara is a 31 percent registration drop-off of registration on the Northside of the city from elementary to middle school. In other grades, about 90 percent of students stay in the SCUSD, and more students register in Santa Clara high schools than attend SCUSD middle schools.

While some board members suggested that students are leaving SCUSD for Magnolia Science Academy, Trustee Andy Ratermann disagreed, saying “I think it’s extremely difficult to make causal relationships from the data we have.” Trustee Michele Ryan was recently hired as Magnolia’s Dean of Academics.

After about an hour of discussion about the missing students, Ratermann tried to bring the discussion to a conclusion. “I think we should focus on the students who are here, not the ones who aren’t,” he said. The final version of this report will return to the board in November.

*One factor could be that the city has three Catholic elementary schools (St. Clare, St. Justin, and St. Lawrence) within its limits and two more on its borders (St. Martin and Queen of Apostles). Plus, Santa Clara is home to one of the county’s seven Catholic high schools (St. Lawrence), and has two others (Bellarmine and Mitty) on its border. Catholic schools enjoy a loyalty from Catholics – especially those from the Northeast and Midwest – that transcends purely educational considerations. However, no one has apparently ever investigated this, so it remains purely my conjecture.

New Academic Performance Sheriff in Town

The second big discussion at last Thursday’s three-plus hour meeting was about academic performance. The numbers were presented – as they were last summer – by Linda Gonzalez, Principal of New Directions for Academic Achievement, a Carlsbad, Calif. consulting firm that specializes in getting schools out of “program improvement.”**

The bottom line of Gonzalez’s report is that SCUSD students aren’t attaining Adequate Yearly Performance (AYP) targets. If you average things out, the district’s API score is steadily increasing. But if you look at the numbers by racial groupings – and it seems like there’s nothing less color-blind in public policy than primary and secondary education – some groups (Asians) show outstanding achievement, while others (Hispanics) seem to be falling further and further behind.

“We have to be honest,” said Superintendent of Educational Services Tanya Fisher. “If what we’re doing is not giving us the gains we want, what do we need to look at what we’re doing honestly. We’re seeing incremental…growth with our fragile students that need more. We have to do acceleration of student growth.

“I’m proud of what I’ve seen working with Santa Clara teachers,” she continued, “and we need to work together. We have to bring instruction into alignment in terms of what the district plans are.” The two focuses Fisher outlined were increased English Language Arts and Mathematics proficiency, and eliminating academic achievement inequities for “identified subgroups.”

“We have to have ongoing assessment to determine if all of our students are learning,” Fisher said. “If we see that students need support, we need to provide intervention during the school day.”

Fisher’s program includes constant monitoring of classroom teachers and curriculum, with principals expected to be in classrooms daily. “I expect principals to know if teachers are working with students that have been identified as needing extra support,” she continued. “I expect principals to know who those students are.”

In addition, “We have to evaluate our district structure,” she said. “I’m surprised we don’t have a targeted district-level structure for this. We have to look at how we’re holding ourselves accountable.” The district needs to define “what effective instruction looks like as we transition to the Common Core. And we have to make sure our teachers have instruction.”

There is one piece of good news, however. High school graduation rates substantially improved for most students, with the district achieving an overall graduation rate of 84 percent. Socio-economically disadvantaged students had a 79 percent graduation rate.

Thursday night, Gonzalez also expressed what amounted to shock at the “backwardness” of district technology, which led to a discussion as to whether the first order of business should be computers for every classroom.

“We’ve invested heavily in network infrastructure,” said Ratermann. “I’d like to see us invest in the right technology” such as “thin clients, which are cheaper and way simpler to manage.”

One question all of this raises, said Trustee Jim Canova, is that if teachers are assessing student learning constantly, when do they have time to teach?

“When we place too great a burden [of assessing students] on our teachers, we take them away from the students,” he said. “So I really support your effort to take a look at all the assessments we’re doing, but let’s make sure we don’t detract from that precious time our teachers have with our students. “

**”Program Improvement” is the state-mandated purgatory for schools where not enough students make enough year-over-year progress.

Contract Negotiations Continue Rocky

Contract negotiations between the district and its employee unions isn’t going well, with United Teachers of Santa Clara President Michael Hickey reporting that his membership regarded the district’s offer of a one percent increase as “insulting.”

“The involvement of our association and our teachers is pivotal in implementing any of these programs,” said Hickey. “If you can’t allocate the resources we can’t get there.” Other teachers at last week’s board meeting noted that increasing class sizes, and a lack of budget for teachers’ professional development weren’t going to help the district make the advances that Fisher was aiming for.


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