Last week, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees hit the brakes on collapsing four elementary school classes and called for a special meeting to sort it out. On Monday, Aug. 30, staff changed course and will not close the classes.
Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp, who said she has lost sleep over this, shed more light on the challenges. Due to SB130, Santa Clara Unified must provide an Independent Study program — the District’s Independent Study program is run by Edmentum. That program has more students than expected and enrollment for in-person schools is less than expected. The program needs four more teachers. Dr. Kemp also said there is a teacher shortage across California and in the Bay Area, making finding teachers that meet their standards another challenge.
The District had overstaffed schools so they could move teachers to the Independent Study program if needed, said Dr. Kemp. But they heard from the community and decided not to close the classes and move the teachers.
Dr. Jose Gonzalez, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, said they worked with unions and decided that the District will “use Edmentum staff to address additional short-term and long-term Independent Study program staffing needs with TOSA (Teachers On Special Assignment) temporarily assigned for check-ins with students until permanent teachers are hired.” Meaning non-SCUSD teachers will fill in the gaps and SCUSD TOSAs will do daily check-ins with students, but this is temporary until they can hire SCUSD teachers. The jobs are posted, and they’ve been interviewing, according to Dr. Kemp, and current teachers can also volunteer. Dr. Gonzalez said they’ve had one teacher volunteer, and possibly a second.
Dr. Kemp said they just came to this solution that afternoon and the exact role TOSAs will play is still being discussed with the unions.
The Board was glad about the solution. No vote was needed from them. However, they were concerned about how the class collapses were handled with the community.
Board Member Jim Canova said that he felt blindsided at their last meeting and was concerned about the effect on teachers and staff.
“We should take this experience and really gain a lot of knowledge from this, so we don’t let this happen again,” said Canova. “Our process needs to be very transparent, very deliberate in terms of the teachers’ union, the staff, and the board. It needs to be a process where we’re on the same page and we all understand where we’re going. It shouldn’t just drop on us like a ton of bricks in an afternoon”
Similarly, most families and teachers were relieved that the classes wouldn’t close but many said they now distrust the District. They’re worried change wouldn’t have happened without public outcry.
“I don’t think it’s right that we have to have the mobs come out with pitchforks when we want change,” said a public commenter who was concerned about transparency.
Though most seemed happy with this solution, Dr. Kemp said it doesn’t solve everything. The District still lacks long-term subs with credentials. She is also concerned about being able to provide extra help to struggling students.
Additionally, not everyone was happy with the solution to have Edmentum teachers take over some Independent Study students. Families were concerned about the quality of the education. When the Board first approved the Edmentum contract, it was decided that they would use SCUSD teachers since it is their program, but Monday’s decision changes things.
“Independent Study students have just as much right as a student in an in-person classroom,” said Dr. Kemp. “Every student in our school district has the right to have a highly qualified Santa Clara Unified School District teacher.”
Parents of Independent Study students shared concerns about the Edmentum program and their teachers.
“The solution you proposed is to outsource my child’s education to a teacher with no connection to our District or neighborhood,” said Erik Woodbury, whose child is in Independent Study. “I’m disheartened and dismayed that this is the solution everyone is now cheering. And if you’re a parent saying, ‘I’m really happy that my child is not going to have to move,’ you’re cheering that my child is going to potentially be taught by someone who is overseeing a large number of students…” Woodbury went on to say he heard that Edmentum teachers oversee over 100 students — Dr. Kemp said she would look into the numbers.
Board Member Andy Ratermann said he wanted the Edmentum teachers to be a band-aid solution while they hire teachers. He also said he wants a review of how Edmentum is doing. Many on the Board agreed and had questions about the Edmentum program and curriculum. Dr. Kemp said they will present a report to the Board about the Independent Study program and Edmentum.
Lastly, Dr. Kemp mentioned that SB130 is under revision and could change. This could present new challenges to the District’s Independent Study program.
The District’s usual report on enrollment will also come in September, according to Dr. Kemp, and will address questions and concerns.
The Board meets next on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m.