Providing students with equal access to education was a theme to which the Santa Clara school board devoted much attention at its last meeting.
The topic came up in during four discussion items at the board’s meeting last week.
Brian Darby, secretary for the American Federation Teachers union, told the board that the budget for adult education is down about one third, and salaries for adult education teachers are down about 30 percent. Many basically “work for free,” he said.
“I think everybody deserves an education,” he said. “The state doesn’t think that. Honestly, the state thinks these people should watch TV.”
Next, Laurie Stapleton, director of secondary education, laid out new curriculum guidelines for the middle and high schools. The new guidelines will bring the district up to speed on the Next Generation Science Standards. These standards aim to cause a paradigm shift by overhauling the way students learn science.
However, some board members worried that these guidelines could leave some students falling through the cracks, since the standards go into effect before the state approves the materials to accompany them.
“We have a lot of change already in the system,” said trustee Andrew Ratermann. “Are we going to get up to speed on everything and they are going to change everything?”
Stapleton said the new guidelines align with the latest common core standards and that they “are not making the same mistakes.” A lack of materials, while challenging, can actually open new avenues to integrate new concepts into lessons plans in innovative ways, she added.
Marginalized students came up again during a presentation about a Western Association of Schools and Colleges report on the New Valley High School. Principal Gilbert Montiel elucidated the strengths of the school as well as areas for improvement during its two-year probationary accreditation.
One of the biggest challenges, Montiel said, is mending breakdowns in communication between teachers, administrators and students and keeping the school’s goal to return the students to a traditional school in mind.
Following Montiel’s presentation, trustee Christopher Stampolis asked what the school, whose 157 students have either academic or behavioral problems, needed most. Montiel told board members that the school is understaffed, needing additional math and science teachers.
Trustee Jim Canova said education should not be thought of like manufacturing, adding that whatever path students choose they should be given an equal opportunity to succeed. Stampolis echoed this sentiment, saying the board needed to act with “fierce urgency.”
“We are a rich district,” Stampolis said. “I suggest we pour money into this school. These kids don’t deserve to feel that they are second-class.”
Students falling by the wayside because of administrative changes again became an issue during a discussion following a presentation by Daniel Peck, Mission College president. Mission College is asking the school board to approve making the Middle College program — a partnership between the two where students earn college credit while still in high school – an Early College High School, separate from the two schools from which it draws students: Santa Clara and Adrian C. Wilcox High Schools.
The school offers classes to nine sophomores, 34 juniors and 38 seniors. Peck said the college is looking to increase that number to 40 in each class and identify potential students as early as seventh grade.
Canova said he hoped “identifying students” as good candidates for the college was not a way to filter out at-risk students; added that attending the Early College can be “life-changing event.”
Board member Michele Ryan said she worried about identifying kids so early when the academic support to prime them to attend the Early College is not in place until high school.
“It is like trying to run a half marathon without any training,” she said. “You can finish, but it is going to be painful.”
In response to observations that Early College students tend to be “highly motivated,” Joseph Kalb, a 17-year-old Early College student, said those students are self-motivated because they want to be there. He agreed that middle school is too early to start identifying kids for the program.
“The program doesn’t work if kids didn’t motivate themselves with a dissatisfaction with high school and a desire to get more out of life that life has to offer,” he said. “Students don’t know they are dissatisfied with high school until they start high school.”
John Caravalho, of Santa Clara, said he took issue with designating the Early College as its own school, saying it forces kids to make unfair decisions about whether to play sports at their current schools or take an opportunity to take college courses. They are sacrificing one benefit for another, he added.