By Ted Alejandre, San Beranardino County Superintendent
As we consider the forces that drive our economy both here in San Bernardino County and across California, public education looks to prepare our students for jobs and productivity that will make our communities vibrant. With more than 406,000 students attending public schools in our county’s 33 school districts, the challenge and opportunity that educators face every day in their classrooms and on campuses is to have their students ready to graduate high school prepared for both the rigors of college and the workplace. This is the goal that our schools and districts strive to meet on a daily basis, and in the High Desert, public education is positioned to work with business and civic community partners to help all our students be prepared for post-secondary options and careers that will fuel our economy.
To assess how our schools are going to meet those needs and demands, the state is in the midst of establishing its new accountability model, called the California School Dashboard. Describing the effectiveness of the new measurement system brings to mind an analogy of visiting the doctor’s office. A physician would not just take the temperature of a patient and have a complete set of results to make a diagnosis. It is the same for assessing public schools with the California School Dashboard. Instead of just looking at test scores, the new system checks a variety of 10 indicators to provide a well-rounded and thorough progress report for not only our schools as a whole but also their significant subgroups of students.
The California School Dashboard does examine testing results – both in English Language Arts and Mathematics. It also provides data, including graduation and suspension rates, progress for English learners, a college/career indicator and chronic absenteeism. There are also four local indicators that measure parent involvement/engagement, school climate, implementation of academic standards and basic conditions (such as teacher qualifications, safe/clean buildings and textbooks for all students).
Current trends among High Desert schools and districts show their highest performance in the areas of graduation rates and English-learner progress.
Two schools districts – Silver Valley Unified and Hesperia Unified – scored in the highest percentile (a “blue” designation) on the Dashboard. Silver Valley boasts the county’s highest grad rate at 96.6 percent and Hesperia is close behind at 91 percent. Six other High Desert districts – Apple Valley (87.7 percent), Barstow (79.6 percent), Morongo (88 percent), Needles (83.6 percent) and Snowline (87.8 percent) – also received proficient designations (a “green” designation) for their grad rates. Countywide, the grad rate is 83 percent.
In English-learner progress, three High Desert districts – Apple Valley, Helendale and Morongo – all received “green” designations for the progress they have made.
In December 2017, the California Department of Education (CDE) posted its most recent California School Dashboard results. Those complete results, as well as all others in our county, are available on the County Schools’ Countywide Education Open Data Portal at the following website: http://ed-data.sbcss.k12.ca.us
The Education Open Data Portal, which County Schools launched a year ago, is aligned with California’s move toward greater engagement, transparency and accountability. By displaying multiple measurements, our schools and districts can provide a better understanding of how well they are progressing. School districts, government agencies and community stakeholders will be well-equipped to use the data on the portal for decision-making, reporting and engagement. The portal is an incredible resource for parents, families and educators to support student learning and provide the support that all students need to progress on the continuum of their journey to be lifelong learners.
As students in our county start that journey, they need early literacy tools to gain a foothold as they begin their educations. Last year, County Schools initiated a countywide early literacy effort with the nationally recognized Footsteps2Brilliance program.
In the span of less than a year, more than 38.5 million words have been read using a smartphone or similar tablet that gives students and families access to engaging literacy tools, books and songs. For the 2017-18 academic year, preschool learners have read more than 26 million words as a cohort of students in the county. The free program is available in both English and Spanish to support the nearly 1-in- 5 students in our public schools who are English learners. County Schools has been working with County Preschool Services and First 5 San Bernardino to implement the program, using a regional trainer of trainers model to expand use and increase awareness of the program. Research shows that for students’ long-term academic success, reading proficiency is a critical trait to support their achievement.
Seeing confident students who have achieved in their schools and now have taken on leadership roles on their campuses and their communities is a sterling example of the positive growth all educators like to see as students learn and grow. That was on full display during the third annual Student Advisory Panels that met during the months of January through March this year. Providing opportunities to hear student voices is one of the many positive outcomes from the annual Student Advisory Panels that meet from schools across San Bernardino County.
This year’s class of more than 220 participants countywide made presentations to elected officials in both the High Desert and for the West End/East Valley regions at the beginning of March. The students have a strong understanding of being good citizens.
“It’s important to help in your community,” said Tyrell Frederick, a senior at Silver Valley High School. “You always have to find those opportunities when you can give back. That’s what being a good person is about.”
Among High Desert schools, 16 high schools representing eight school districts had participants. Among those participating by district were:
- Apple Valley Unified: Academy for Academic Excellence, Apple Valley and Granite Hills;
- Bear Valley Unified: Big Bear;
- Helendale: Independence Charter Academy;
- Hesperia Unified: Canyon Ridge, Hesperia, Mojave, Oak Hills and Sultana;
- Oro Grande: Riverside Prep;
- Silver Valley Unified: Silver Valley;
- Snowline Joint Unified: Chaparral and Serrano;
- Victor Valley Union: Excelsior Education Center and Victor Valley.
The students researched four priority areas of San Bernardino County’s Community Vital Signs Transformation Plan that promotes a strong quality of life in our communities: education, the economy, school safety and health/wellness. Students provided key insights about what is taking place on their campuses and worked together with students from different schools to collaborate on trends and issues affecting their schools and neighborhoods. The culminating activity included student groups presenting their recommendations in front of elected officials. While this was a little nerve-wracking for some, the students appreciated the opportunity to share their thoughts in front of decision makers.
“Once I got over the nerves, it was really empowering to know that what I am saying was being heard,” said Layvin Franklin, a sophomore at the Academy of Academic Excellence in Apple Valley. “People are willing to change, and they will listen to us, so changes can be made.”
It was inspiring to witness the students’ commitment to their schools and their strong collaborative nature working with one another. This generation of students in our county truly is making a difference!
In the next couple of months, Gov. Jerry Brown and our state legislature should enact the state budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The proposals for K-12 education include fully funding with an additional $3 billion the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) two years ahead of schedule. That would result in an increase in per-pupil funding of 5.8 percent.
The governor has proposed $73.8 billion for the Proposition 98 guarantee, which would be a record level of funding if enacted. While the increased funding is appreciated, it is not adequate, as California public schools remain woefully underfunded in national comparisons.
Among other highlights for K-12 public education funding proposals:
- $1.8 billion one-time discretionary funding or approximately $295 per average daily attendance.
- $55.2 million for county offices to assist with differentiated assistance for LCFF and Local Control Accountability Plans.
- $4 million for eight county offices statewide to serve as training centers for technical assistance for schools and districts that need to improve under the new California School Dashboard accountability measurements.
- $10 million for Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPA) to work with county offices of education in providing technical assistance to schools and districts.
- $100 million (one-time) for special education teachers.
We want all San Bernardino County students to realize and actualize their unique, boundless potential from Cradle to Career and to be engaged, productive citizens who are a voice for positive change in their communities. I appreciate all the support our schools in San Bernardino County receive from parents and our many education partners in the community. By working together, we can transform lives through education.