By Ted Alejandre, San Bernardino County Superintendent
At San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, we work collectively with our school districts, inter-agency partners and community to see that all students meet the demands of the 21st century workforce and become productive citizens who contribute to the quality of life in our communities. As educators we know that work extends far beyond the classroom, which is why we have committed the Countywide Vision goal of partnering with all sectors of the community to support the success of every child from cradle to career. That means reaching out to our business and labor leaders, to government, to faith-based organizations and community groups, to post-secondary institutions, and of course to our families to give the more than 408,000 students who attend public schools in our county the academic and social skills and tools they need to be able to compete in a global economy.
As we review recent data and achievements that impact our county and High Desert region, we take note of important firsts for public education here; we recognize the progress of our students with support from staff, families and community; and we renew our deep commitment to transform lives through education.
With a focus on literacy, we are advocating for a community of readers as part of the Countywide Vision2Read Initiative. This spring we are launching a countywide literacy project through the nationally recognized Footsteps2Brilliance program. Using any electronic communication device, young students will be able to access thousands of books, games and programs that will develop literacy in both English and Spanish. The initial pilot for the program targets 1,500 preschool children, but the program will be expanded in 2017 to include all county children. The program is free and is available on all mobile devices. We see this as a game-changer for increasing early literacy in our county.
Snowline Joint Unified School District has implemented Footsteps2Brilliance in the classroom already this school year, and the results they have seen have been tremendous. First-graders using the program reported a 5%gain in benchmark scoring for reading from the beginning of the year until December. One student reported reading more than 94,000 words after just 40 hours using the program.
Research shows that the ability to read by third grade is one of the greatest indicators of a child’s future academic performance and success in life. If our students are able to be proficient readers, we know that will make them more likely to be high school graduates and prepare them for either entering the workforce or meeting the requirements to attend college. These are fundamentals to meeting our Countywide Vision to have an educated populace that will sustain economic vitality for the region and quality of life for our residents.
We know reading proficiency is critical to the long-term success of our students in the classroom and their ability to be college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school. For the first time, our county graduation rate reached an all-time high and exceeded 80 %, according to the most recent data released by the California Department of Education. Among High Desert communities, Silver Valley Unified saw the county’s highest graduation rate for the Class of ‘15 at 97.5%. With a grad rate of 72.6% in 2010-11, the district moved from 21st among the 24 districts in the county with high school grads to No. 1 in five years! The district attributes the results to site strategic planning, a more positive school culture, professional development in English language arts and math, and a “Triple-A” focus on academics, activities and athletics.
Among graduates countywide, the percentage of students meeting A-G requirements has increased 9.5% points over the past five years, growing to 34%. While we celebrate the growth we have seen, we know we must accelerate this upward course. The demands of the labor markets now seek a more highly skilled and educated workforce.
One key program that is addressing those demands is Advancement Via Individual Determination–or AVID. It has done a phenomenal job to create a pipeline of college-bound students. Last school year a record number of 2,300 students in our county were recognized at the AVID Senior Recognition event. In the High Desert, Victor Valley High School had the largest senior class of AVID graduates with 99 seniors. There are amazing statistics about our AVID graduates, but the two that stand out are that 99% of our AVID students graduated high school, and 96% met A-G requirements for acceptance into the UC and CSU systems. It is worth noting that our region has the largest concentration of AVID programs anywhere in the world. Because of the success of AVID at the high school level, it is now growing at the middle and elementary school levels, providing students with early development in the skills and tools they need to be successful for colleges and careers.
Another effort to boost the college-going rate in our county is a new partnership with the American Council on Education. Along with the AVID Center in San Diego, University of California, California State University, and 23 of our county’s high schools, they are working in concert to create a schoolwide college application day this academic year as part of the American College Application and Success Campaign. The campaign is focused on increasing college and financial aid applications and enrollment to post-secondary institutions by all seniors at the participating schools. Another partnership aimed at seeing that more of our students are prepared for post-secondary options is a pilot program with County Schools, the College Board, Apple Valley, Chaffey, Hesperia, Morongo, Upland and the College Board to support administration of pre-college testing to the entire 10th grade class.
We are seeing more investment coming to our region for college and career readiness–with more than $2 million in grants supporting our efforts. One comes to our Linked Learning Regional Hub of Excellence–one of four statewide models selected by the James Irvine Foundation. Participating districts are expanding career pathways that offer rigorous academics coupled with relevant career-technical education in the region’s most in-demand industry sectors. School districts and ROPs across our county have benefited from California’s Career Technical Education Incentive Grant program, the largest of its kind in the nation. San Bernardino County ROP received $1.5 million, which will support emerging labor market needs in the field of information and communications technology, primarily in the emerging cybersecurity field.
The newly formed Mountain Desert Regional Career and Occupational Pathways JPA is working regionally with business and industry to prepare students for college, careers and post-secondary training. Formed on the notion of collective impact and working together to create better economic and education opportunities for the region, the JPA’s nine desert/mountain school districts have established career pathways and academies, proving to equip students with the credentials needed to enter the workforce.
Also, the Desert Mountain Economic Partnership, which involves education, city and county government, and private industry in the High Desert, has taken a collective impact approach to propel education and the economy in the region.
I am encouraged by the growing support and commitment from partners such as Job Corps, Linked Learning, the College Board, our school districts, higher education, city and county governments, and community stakeholders in these many collaborative efforts.
In the fall of 2016, we launched the first countywide Open Data Platform, primarily focused on improving student success outcomes from cradle to career. San Bernardino County is the first county office of education across the state to pursue using the data platform to provide transparency of and access to education data with the goal of engaging our publics, informing decision-making and providing a continuum of services to improve conditions for our youth.
On the statewide level, the transition to a new accountability system is in the process of rolling out in the next several months. This winter the State Board of Education finalized adoption of a landmark accountability system for California public schools. The accountability system is among the most rigorous and ambitious in the nation, with the goal of ensuring our state’s public schools are preparing students for success in college and 21st century careers. In March the state is scheduled to unveil its California School Dashboard concept to the public that will provide a wealth of new information to help parents, educators and the public assess the performance and progress of their schools.
Rather than using just one number to measure school progress, as was the case with the former Academic Performance Index, the new system is driven by a rubric of performance indicators such as student test scores, graduation rates, attendance, and college and career readiness. Multiple measures will give parents, teachers and community members a better idea of what is happening at their schools and how well schools are meeting statewide educational priorities, as well as goals defined in district Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP).
Among county offices of education statewide, ours was the first to develop a model that provides a multi-faceted team of experts to support districts in the cross-development of their budgets and LCAP and to work collaboratively with districts in continuous improvement. Of course, the most crucial and important changes are what is happening in classrooms where teachers are teaching to new rigorous state standards, and students are gaining mastery on higher-level thinking skills. It is because of their hard work that we saw improvements across the board in both math and English language arts when the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress results were released in 2016.
State testing is one measurement of the progress that’s taking place in our classrooms, but another key priority is the social and emotional development of our students. One initiative that is addressing those needs comes from our countywide Student Advisory Panels.
More than 150 students representing over 40 high schools are participating and meet four times annually to engage with their peers and develop presentations in the areas of economy, education, safety, and health and wellness – areas identified as priorities in the Community Vital Signs Transformation Plan. The culmination of student efforts is realized in final presentations to a panel of elected officials and policy makers who listen intently to student proposals and opinions. When students see that their voices are being heard and influencing decisions, and they are invited to act as leaders in the process, a collaborative community of learners is formed.
Creating strong and healthy school and community environments for students, staff and families is the goal of County Schools’ first countywide Wellness Strategic Planning Initiative. A growing body of research shows that supporting students and families with emotional wellness early on can help students be successful in school and into their adult lives. Research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness shows that behavioral health issues during adolescence contribute to more than half of all instances of students dropping out at the high school level.
The research-proven program, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports—or PBIS—is making major strides in creating a more positive culture at our schools and supporting student wellness. PBIS is a proactive approach to establishing the behavioral supports and social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success. Countywide, we are approaching more than 250 schools in 28 school districts and County Schools alternative education settings. With more than 100 schools implementing PBIS in the High Desert, the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Coalition awarded over 40 schools in 2016 with bronze, silver and gold awards for improving campus culture.
In Silver Valley Unified, Newberry Springs Elementary was the only school to receive a gold award. Newberry reduced the number of suspensions from 15 in 2012-13 to 1 in 2015-16. All total, 11 High Desert school districts had at least one school awarded, with Adelanto Elementary and Snowline Joint Unified school districts each having nine total schools to receive bronze and silver awards. The positive outcomes of such programs have made inroads in reducing discipline referrals, plus helping achieve declines in suspension and expulsion rates. The number of suspensions has dropped 30% from 2011-12 to the most recent released data for the 2014-15 academic year. The expulsion rate has dropped 23% over the past three reporting years.
We have real opportunity to change the trajectory of our county and launch our schools and communities into a future that provides all of our students with opportunities to fulfill their boundless potential. At County Schools, we will continue our work of collaborating with our school districts, inter-agency partners and communities to bring about the skills our students need to be college- and career-ready. Their preparation for the demands of the workforce will impact the economic vitality of the High Desert, our county and the state.