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Santa Clara Unified Board Aims for Smaller Class Sizes

The Santa Clara Unified Board of Trustees dove into finding solutions for the school sites that have larger class sizes. At a study session on Thursday, May 27, the Board thought about ways to ensure that students wouldn’t be in large classes after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Class Sizes

At a previous meeting, the Board had asked staff to present options for lowering class sizes and possibly hiring more teachers. Mark Schiel, Chief Business Official, presented four scenarios.


Each of the scenarios detailed how many teachers each site would have to hire to reach targeted class sizes. And depending on the methods, Schiel shared the costs associated with reaching those class sizes. Schiel said they talked to school principals who shed light on challenges sites would face with an influx of more teachers and staff. Challenges include having to repurpose facilities to accommodate more classrooms or possibly get portables, and also the costs for upgrading facilities to be a classroom.

The Board wanted to start having smaller class sizes next school year and staff warned that they’re starting to lose time to implement this.

The presented options didn’t satisfy the Board or the community. Some on the Board worried that the plans were presented as if they couldn’t be done. Some Board Members disliked the blanket approach. Staff acknowledged that their average class size is exactly what they want, but there are outliers with abnormally large classes.

“I think the Board, in general, has a consensus as far as having smaller classes to deal with some of the learning loss we’ve seen in the past year and how do we do that across the board,” said Board Member Albert Gonzalez. “I think having a universal size class is not gonna be conducive to equity across the Board.” Going on to say that each site will have specific challenges.

Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman said they should have more site-specific data to see where they can make the biggest impact and ask sites what they need.

“I think that, in order to do this, we really need to drill down to the site and understand where our needs are and what we can do to fix it,” said Lieberman.

Vice President Vickie Fairchild made a motion: Class sizes for TK through third grade cannot exceed 24 students to one teacher, for fourth and fifth grade, no more than 30 — except Millikan to accommodate the current students. And, if TK through third grade classes reach 23+ or 27+ for fourth and fifth, then the school sites must create a staffing plan for those overloaded classes. This passed unanimously.

Similarly, President Jodi Muirhead made a motion to have staff come back with a report regarding class sizes for preschool special ed and special ed. This also passed unanimously.

Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said staff will create a budget for these plans, but needed the Board to approve equity staff increases, including early literacy intervention teachers, K-5 math /literacy/ELD intervention/instructional support coaches, 6-12 math/literacy/ELD intervention/instructional support coaches, and social worker and social worker interns. This also passed unanimously.


Election System Changes

The Board authorized the submission of a General Waiver Request for the District’s transition to a By-Trustee Area election system — the waiver will head to the State Board of Education for approval. Meaning that after much discussion, the Board will be finally taking steps towards complying with the California Voting Rights Act and avoid a costly lawsuit due to their current from-district and multi-member trustee area system.

By approving the waiver, the Board is now ensuring the new election system is in place for November 2022 Board elections, keeping them safe from legal action.

The Board also gave direction to have as much outreach as possible when it comes to creating the maps for the trustee areas once the census data is available. They decided not to do a costly advisory vote as discussed at previous Board meetings.

“The timelines just don’t allow for doing an advisory vote,” Board Member Jim Canova admitted. Saying that the closest route to a vote would be to do as much outreach as possible. Canova and Fairchild also want the District to hire a professional outside company to do the outreach.

Board Member Andy Ratermann abstained from the vote because he said he didn’t get the information he requested.


Long-term Independent Study K – 12 Program

The Board heard a presentation from edmentum, the District’s chosen virtual curriculum provider. In previous meetings, the Board pledged to have a virtual alternative for families who aren’t ready for their students to return to in-person school. The edmentum contract will come back to the next meeting for Board approval.

The K-8 part of the Independent Study program is new, but the high school program has existed at Wilson High School. But now, high schoolers will also have edmentum.

According to Pamela Galano, Principal of Wilson, if 300 K-8 students enrolled in Independent Study, the cost would be at least $200,000 for staffing, $110,00 for the circular courseware provider and professional development, and then a $50,000 budget for activities and materials.

The District’s family interest survey regarding Independent Study finishes on Tuesday. If the edmentum contract is approved, the District would move quickly to get commitments from families in mid-June to be ready by the next school year.


Human Resources

In connection with school reopening responsibilities, the Board approved a one-time stipend for employees, about $2,000 each.

Dr. Jose Gonzalez was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. Michael Stieren will be Vice-Principal of Wilcox High School, Rosiella Defensor will be Bond Senior Project Manager and Sherry Munday will be Bond Contracts Manager.

The new job description for Classified Data, Assessment and Accountability Manager was approved, 5-1, with Board Member Jim Canova absent and Fairchild voting ‘no.’


Other Business

The Board approved the Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant Plan of $9,722,940.

The Board thanked and sent well wishes to this year’s Student Board Representatives: Miguel Aguilar from New Valley High School, Giselle Alvarez from Mission Early College High School, Sydney Silva from Santa Clara High School and Palak Parikh from Wilcox High School.

The Board also approved a $9,050 consulting contract with CPS HR Consulting to assist with Superintendent Performance Evaluation.

The Board approved nominating of Board Member Albert Gonzalez for CSBA Vice President.

The meeting was closed in memory of Suzanne Kitchens and the VTA shooting victims.

The Board meets next on Thursday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m. There is also a special meeting for a Work Study Session on equity scheduled for Saturday, June 12 at 9:00 a.m.


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