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