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Richmond Schools start the new year with a new budget and the controversial Common Core standards

on September 26, 2014

As students, teachers, and administrators in Richmond return to school this fall, they face one of the biggest changes to hit education in a decade: the Common Core.

“His math is more hard. It’s more like for 6th and 7th graders,” said Sylvia Rivero, parent of a 4th grader at Grant Elementary School. “It’s more like Algebra type and it’s hard for him to understand it. And I am looking at the homework like “why are you doing this, it’s not your level.”

In its own words, the 2010 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative, “define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.”

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and adopted by 44 states, the CCSS do not dictate content, but rather specify skills students should master by each grade. The days of rote memorization are over and replaced with skills that demonstrate analysis and understanding.

“We are excited about the implementation of the CCSS,” said Grant Elementary School Assistant Superintendent, Nia Rashidchi. “Our teachers and administrators are working hard to ensure that kids get what they need in order to meet our ultimate goal. We want our students to be college and career-ready, able to make life choices with productive and positive outcomes.”

But just as facing Common Core is a challenge for students, so has prepping parents, teachers and administrators for it. West Contra Cost Unified School District (WCCUSD) has been aggressive in providing briefings and trainings. Last year, WCCUSD organized and led district wide meetings. Letters were sent home to parents informing them of changes to expect for the coming school year. Some parents, however, admitted to not reading the letters due to time constraints and language barriers.

The district also created workshops and training sessions to better prepare teachers, helping them find ways to integrate CCSS into everyday teaching practices. Lincoln Elementary School teacher Elora Henderson says the trainings were good, but adds that there has not been a lot of clarity on how to work with CCSS as a Special Education teacher.

At John F. Kennedy High School the stakes are particularly high. Kennedy has been in Program Improvement status since 1998 after missing the criteria for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP requires that 90% of students graduate and at least 88% are proficient in both English-Language Arts and Mathematics.

Kennedy principal Philip Johnson says his 9th graders are now taking computer technology classes to better prepare them for CCSS and its computer-based testing, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). He also hired a new Assistant Principal, Dr. Allison Huie, who has her doctorate in curriculum and instruction.

“I was looking at the SBAC test, and solving a math problem using narrative was very hard for our students to do” Johnson said. “I am a dinosaur so I have learned that two plus two equals four, but you have to solve that problem in two different ways (with CCSS). It’s teaching our teachers that it’s more than one option, more than one way to solve a problem.”

Johnson says that Kennedy remains in “training mode.” Department leads and principals meet bi-monthly for training activities.

Under California’s new education funding plan, schools such as Kennedy that educate high numbers of low income, English language learner, and foster youth, receive additional funds. School districts can determine how that money is best spent.

Johnson says that despite all the work, signs of success with Common Core will not appear right away.

“Education is a lot like a river and it keeps flowing,” said Randall Enos, WCCUSD Education Board Member. “What happens is, as it flows we see new things. And we need to be able to master understanding these things, not necessarily controlling them. “

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