Showing posts with label #SonomaValleyUnified. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #SonomaValleyUnified. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Questions from the Press, Tuesday, June 20, 2023.

Margaux Kelly, 2022.

I received questions from Dan Johnson of the Sonoma Index-Tribune about the Sonoma Valley Unified LCAP, which is our Local Control and Accountability Plan. The answers, in writing, are below. The photo is of my daughter Margaux, at the start of school this past year, as a contrast to the previous photo. It's amazing how fast they grow up. 


1. The board approved the LCAP, 5-0, correct?


Yes, that is my recollection.


2. Why is the LCAP report important?


The Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) requirement was created during Jerry Brown's governorship as a part of a reform of school finances in 2013–14. Required by law to be approved prior to the school district's budget, and perhaps originally intended as a planning document, the LCAP now resembles more of a compliance instrument. However, with its objective metrics over a three-year window, the LCAP contains valuable information regarding the performance of a district that is often hard to find in one place elsewhere. It is a significant piece of work for our staff, and I commend the SVUSD employees who worked hard to ensure fidelity to the facts in this year's LCAP.


3. Trustees expressed concerns about the LCAP, though. What do you feel were the main concerns expressed?


I hesitate to speak regarding the concerns of other trustees. I feel I need to let their comments speak for themselves.


4. What are your main concerns with the LCAP?


The demographic characteristics of the District drew my attention to begin. The 2021 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau showed 68% of SVUSD's 38,732 residents identify as White, while 25% identify as Hispanic/Latinx, roughly a 3:1 ratio. However, the demographics within our schools presents a contrasting picture. SVUSD schools have 1,156 White students and 2,305 Hispanic/Latinx students, nearly a 1:2 ratio in the opposite direction.  This translates to roughly 22 White residents for every White student, and about 3 Hispanic/Latinx residents for each Hispanic/Latinx student. The significant difference between the composition of our electorate and our student body is an important point to keep in mind to understand SVUSD.


Moving on to measures of performance, our LCAP reveals several key issues that need immediate attention. First, we are faced with significant staffing shortages. The district is managing with only 1.4 full-time equivalent English Learner Support Teachers. This shortfall, in addition to the statewide teacher shortage, particularly impacts our special education department, requiring us to resort to virtual instruction in some cases.


Second, we are witnessing an alarming trend in chronic absenteeism. During the 2021-22 academic year, there has been a notable increase in this concern, especially among our English Learner and Low Income students. In fact, our overall attendance rate has slipped from 94% in 2020-21 to 88% in 2021-22. This trend is evident in our target schools too, with Dunbar experiencing the most significant drop in attendance. 


Third, our student performance in key areas is declining. In the 2021-22 academic year, only 21% of 11th-grade students met or exceeded the math standards, down from 24% in the previous year. We've also noted a drop in our English Learner reclassification rates, from 15% to 12% over the same period.


Fourth, our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) analysis has revealed a significant discrepancy between our local data and state testing data. This gap is particularly pronounced for our English Learner and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students in state tests. Furthermore, a decrease in the percentage of students in grades 3-8 and 11 meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts and Math, as per the 2021 CAASPP data, compounds this concern.


Fifth, we are grappling with legal compliance issues in our special education department, specifically concerning Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for our English Learner special education students. Coupled with this, our students with disabilities are not meeting the proficiency goals in STAR Reading and Math.


Finally, our attempts at professional development have encountered challenges. For instance, our Orton-Gillingham training program had no participants in Fall 2022, indicating a need to reassess our approach and make professional development more accessible and engaging for our staff.


The array of issues identified above illuminates the necessity for a comprehensive, targeted approach to surmount these challenges while keeping in mind the welfare of our diligent staff and students. They bear the real brunt of these issues, and their resilience in the face of such obstacles inspires our persistent efforts to enhance SVUSD's performance. However, the enduring inaccuracies in our budget have unfortunately sown seeds of mistrust in the data reported about educational outcomes. Critics have a valid point in their concerns that if our budget regularly underestimates revenues, could it be possible that our student performance metrics are similarly discounting student performance? This lack of trust only magnifies the complexities of the educational reform work we strive to undertake for our Valley. I think the Board understands the emotional toll this can take on our community, students, and staff, making our mission to restore trust even more urgent. This is especially poignant given a historical pattern of misinformation and distrust which has not only increased polarization but has also undercut accountability and degraded the quality of our public discourse. The impact of this on our students and staff is not lost, and I think reinforces our Board's commitment to transparency and accuracy.


5. Melanie Blake said that it is important to view the LCAP as one part of the district’s strategic plan. Do you agree? What are the other important components of the plan?


I leave Melanie Blake's public comments to her, which I think speak for themselves.


6. When was the district’s last strategic plan created? What is its purpose and how often are they created?


My recollection is that the last two strategic plans were created in 2005 and 2013, and that SVUSD began the creation of a new strategic plan in 2018. The board received updates on the strategic planning process based on listening circles and other information solicited in February of 2019. On April 27, 2019, the Board held a study session on this subject. In the fall of 2019, the process was continuing, when it became clear at the resignation of Nicole Abate Ducarroz, that the trustee areas were out of compliance with California law, and that redistricting had not occurred after the 2010 census. At that time, Sonoma Valley Unified engaged Davis Demographics to complete a demographic study to allow redistricting, which did, in fact, occur in 2020. My recollection is that the board thought an accurate demographic study was also a prerequisite to completing a new strategic plan. 


The onset of the pandemic in February and March of 2020 interfered with the continuation of the strategic planning process, as District resources were shifted to handling the transition to distance learning. The District investigated restarting the process in the fall of 2022. There was disagreement between the then-sitting trustees about the nature and scope of that work. Further, as no facilities master plan had yet been completed, and because SVUSD was again considering realignment in the context of that facilities master plan, the District chose to focus on its facilities plan. 


That facilities master planning process in many respects came to reflect a hard-nosed recognition that waste on so many underutilized sites required attention prior to implementing new programs across a portfolio of campuses constructed for a different student population, residing in different places, in different times. The facilities master plan should be complete this fall and that, along with our demographic data, will likely supply the necessary supporting materials for SVUSD to again conduct listening circles and surveys regarding the strategic plan. 


The strategic plan can be thought of as a process of documenting and establishing the direction of our District by assessing where we are, and envisioning where we want to be. I have compared the process at times to painting the Golden Gate Bridge, a continuing task that is never completed, but which is essential to serving our community. Ten years is a bit long between plans, but given the serious problems with redistricting and facilities, and the changing demographics of the District, coupled with the impact of the pandemic, I think the time frame since the last strategic plan is understandable. 


7. Do you think it is time to create a new strategic plan? Why or why not?


With the completion of the facilities master plan in the fall, yes, I believe we are in a position to undertake this work. 


8. What do you feel were the most encouraging and most disappointing findings in the LCAP report?


The LCAP data paints a sobering picture, a reflection of the challenges our school community is navigating. There are both inspiring and disheartening elements. On a positive note, it is heartening to acknowledge the dedication and professional integrity of our staff in ensuring the accuracy of the information. They have not shied away from presenting unvarnished facts, a testament to their commitment to our students' education and well-being.


However, it is deeply concerning that enduring distrust over budget misinformation and consequent polarization in our community threatens to overshadow these efforts. Such a climate does not just cast doubt on the credibility of our reports, but it also hampers accountability and efforts to create a higher-performing institution. It's distressing to consider that this mistrust could adversely affect the morale of our hardworking staff and the educational experiences of our students.


It's vital that we work to resolve the trust issues stemming from underestimated revenues. We need to create a shared understanding that our commitment to transparency and accuracy extends equally to our financial and student performance metrics. By doing so, we can foster a more supportive and trusting environment for all members of our community, especially our students, who deserve nothing less than our best efforts.


9. Would you like to say anything else?

No, thank-you.  

Friday, April 21, 2023

Questions from the Press, Friday, April 21, 2023.

Siena Kelly.
Per past practice, questions from the Sonoma Index-Tribune I received about last night's Sonoma Valley Unified meeting, and the answers, are below. The questions concerned the school resource officer (SRO), Dunbar Elementary, school consolidation and configuration, and the naming of Midgley Field. The picture is of my daughter Siena, who was recently named the MVP of the JV soccer team at Sonoma Valley High, (well done Siena!). 


1. What was your impression of the discussion about possibly bringing back a school resource officer? Are any additional steps planned?

The School Resource Officer (SRO) program began as a partnership between the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) in 2004. From 2013 to 2020, the City of Sonoma joined the collaboration, forming a financial partnership among the Sheriff's Office, SVUSD, and the City. With an approximate cost of $240,000, the expense was shared by the three agencies. The SRO, a Sheriff's Office employee, served SVUSD with an office at Sonoma Valley High School and devoted their full time to various campuses within the School District.

In 2020, the City's budget saw significant reductions in the Police Services contract, including the elimination of three positions. Although the City's share of SRO program costs was included in the 2020 budget, the program was put on hold at the beginning of the fiscal year due to uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizational budget impacts, and the shift to virtual learning. Despite SVUSD approving a contract to continue the SRO program into 2021, it was discontinued when the Sonoma City Council voted against the proposal on December 14, 2020. At that time, a request was made by SVUSD to maintain the funding, if not for an SRO, then for mental health services. The City cut it anyway.

Now, the City of Sonoma has included school services in its contract with the Sheriff's Department for 2022-23 using one-time funding. However, the City faces the same funding challenges as it did in 2020. The City of Sonoma's budget continues to be under pressure and relies on one-time funds for recurring expenses. The question remains: where is the stable funding mechanism that would allow the City to pursue an SRO contract, and why hasn't the City sought an agreement about that funding with SVUSD? If a future city council decides to reduce funding again, SVUSD would have to cover the shortfall, potentially facing long-term expenses to maintain the program.

In the context of School Resource Officers (SROs), it is helpful to understand the current presence of SROs in various high schools in the region. There is unconfirmed information about a temporary SRO at Montgomery High School, while Petaluma High, Casa Grande High, and the rest of the Santa Rosa High Schools are reported not to have SROs. It appears that Analy High School's SRO position may have lapsed. The Windsor Police Department states that they provide SRO services at Windsor High; however, it remains uncertain whether the high school has a dedicated SRO. Rohnert Park employs SRO Debbie Lamaison, who is believed to be on campus at Rancho Cotate. There is no available information about an SRO at Healdsburg High, but a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) exists between Cloverdale and their high school concerning the provision of an SRO.

It is important for elected officials to address these concerns and offer more information on the current status of SROs in the area. It appears that in many of these cases, cities may bear much of the expense for SROs. If the SRO contract from 2020 had been adopted by the City Council and the SRO program continued through today, the situation would be different. However, the fundamental funding questions remain unresolved, and consequently, no action can be taken at this time. My notes reflect that the direction to staff was to discuss funding with the incoming city manager, continue outreach and assessment with students and staff regarding the provision of mental health services, and otherwise seek to continue to collaborate with the Sheriff’s Department during that work.

2. What are your thoughts regarding the discussion and decision (if one was made) on regular agenda item No. 2, to suspend student enrollment at Dunbar Elementary School beginning in the 2023-24 school year?

The Dunbar students will, by and large, attend El Verano Elementary. That is the school located in the trustee area I serve. I know that the El Verano community will welcome the Dunbar students with open arms. El Verano is our healthiest, most community-oriented school, and with the outstanding new facilities at that location, the Dunbar students will be well served.

The relocation of those students from Dunbar, as difficult as it will be, allows the community to move forward. I strongly doubt the trustees will as a consequence be willing to disturb the new equilibrium that will be established at El Verano. We will not make these students, teachers, and staff move again.

For all practical purposes, the consequence of this decision is that El Verano will be off-limits to further changes. I think that is the right outcome. El Verano is our one walkable community school for our working-class families. Its unique combination of community services and social support is probably the future of our District. I hear from my constituents around El Verano that that is what they want. I am glad that looks like it will be the future they will receive.

Cojoined with that news was the letter from Woodland Star Charter School's board that they are interested in utilizing the Dunbar campus as soon as this August. This will result in an additional approximate savings for the District of $500,000. It further frees up capacity at Altimira Middle School, where Woodland Star had previously been located. Altimira Middle School is our one site that is large enough, as is, with the Woodland Star buildings, to serve all of our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders as a middle school. As a practical matter, the cooperative and collaborative approach of the Woodland Star community is helping the District be in a position to achieve a 3-1-1+1 configuration (three elementary, one middle, one high school, and one continuation high school) in the near future.

3. What are your thoughts regarding the discussion and decision (if one was made) on regular agenda item No. 3, to consider approval of the school configuration and consolidation plan?

The presentation was far different from the materials included in the packet. This was largely due to updated guidance from the California Attorney General to school districts on laws governing school closures and best practices for implementation. This guidance, issued on April 11, 2023, was and is consistent with our current plans outlined in the school reconfiguration presentation. However, and importantly, the guidance highlights steps to address racial equity, which we will ensure is integrated into our school configuration and consolidation process. I am very supportive of implementing the guidelines from the Attorney General with fidelity, as our District has in the past made a series of decisions that impact resources for schools primarily serving students of color. Sonoma Valley Unified must ensure equal educational opportunities for all students, even when resources come from external organizations like PTOs.

Based on the new information, the superintendent amended her recommendation during the meeting to establish a School Consolidation and Configuration ("SCC") Committee. This committee will recommend campuses for consolidation, develop a plan, and prioritize middle school consolidation before elementary school planning. The board agreed that the SCC committee will be charged with reviewing a 3-1-1 proposal, and the composition will include a parent of a special needs student, and a native Spanish speaker. I had wanted specific deadlines for the SCC Committee to present its work, specifically November of 2023 for the middle schools, and April of 2024 for the elementary schools, but the board, after discussion, chose to keep that flexible rather than set specific dates for the delivery of those reports. The committee will collaborate with the staff to create a plan that incorporates equity analyses, addressing past and current district decisions that impact resources for schools primarily serving students of color, and again ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students.

The District aims to link consolidation planning to the "Portrait of a Graduate" work and strategic planning. Ideally, this will establish baseline expectations for elementary, middle, and high school programming as the consolidation process proceeds. 

4. What was your impression of the discussion regarding the naming of the Sonoma Valley High School field, and the decision (if any) that was reached?

The Board decided to name the Sonoma Valley High School Athletic Field the Robert "Bob" Dale Midgley Jr. Field, to be known as "Midgley Field." Bob Midgley taught at Sonoma Valley High for 25 years before passing away on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. Bob passed just weeks after doctors discovered cancer, which had already spread throughout his body. Coach Midgley had attended Prestwood Elementary, Altimira Middle School and was a member of the class of 1984 at Sonoma Valley High School, before attending SRJC (where he played football) and Chico State. He earned his teaching credential at Sonoma State, where he played for the Seawolves (then Cossacks) football team as well. Bob had been a P.E. teacher at Altimira and Sonoma Valley High, as well as the head football coach and athletic director.

There were a number of meritorious individuals who were also suggested to have the field named after them. However, the loss of Coach Midgley so suddenly reminded me of how many families have been touched by cancer in our Valley. For so many years, Relay for Life has taken place at our high school track, and I closely associate (and I think many in our community do as well) the field and track at the high school with our community's efforts to grapple with the terrible impacts of that deadly disease. Naming the field after a coach we lost too soon to cancer somehow seems fitting, and recognizes that we will continue to all mourn the loss of our loved ones taken from us before their time.