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School district holds town hall meeting to discuss funding, school services and Common Core

on March 2, 2015

Peres Elementary School’s auditorium was filled with low murmurs of conversation Saturday morning as West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) held its second community town hall meeting of the year. Armed with questions, parents trickled in around 9 am, dropping off their children at the daycare service the district provided. Coffee and pastries were munched as community members, teachers, staff, parents and Spanish translators split off into four groups for light discussions. Each group discussed changes in the district including the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), the implantation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and school funding.

The LCAP is the district’s three-year plan for how it will use state funding. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is California’s new formula for determining the level of funding provided to school districts. The funding is dedicated to improving learning outcomes for three groups of students: English learners, low-income students and foster youth. These three groups get supplemental funding for each student enrolled. These students can only count for one category and are called “unduplicated students.”

CCSS, better known as Common Core, is the new national standard put in place to get students across the nation on the same level academically. With the standard in place, funding has been changed to align the district with these changes and improve WCCUSD schools.

The meeting’s four groups focused on these changes and how the community, parents, students and the district are each stakeholders in the process of making the district better. “I think if we can give a little bit of knowledge every time we have one these meetings, I think the more people understand it,” school district Assistant Superintendent Nia Rashidchi said, acknowledging how complex the material is. “You hear it once, you hear it twice, you hear it a third time, and then you go ‘Oh, OK, I am really starting to understand what’s inside this.’ Because, you know, this is a lot of information.”

Rashidchi led a group in discussing the implementation of Common Core and professional development for teachers. The district allocated $6 million from the state for the implementation of Common Core. The funds are being put toward three categories: professional development for teachers, supplemental materials and technology. With a two-year budget for each category, the majority of the funding is going towards professional development, amounting to $4,862,800. According to Rashidchi, compared to other districts, WCCCUSD has put more money into professional development than into the other two categories; the district’s bond program funds technology.

The district has purchased supplemental Common Core materials as the state works on how to transition to the standard. Though this is the lowest-funded category of the three, its $310,000 will go toward creating supplemental materials for teachers and the development of ways to access those materials.

This is the first year the district is diving into helping parents with understanding Common Core. Every school is having a CCSS family night that works on explaining the new standards to parents and includes a 24-minute video on Common Core. A few schools, including Bay View Elementary, have implemented their own classes to help parents with the transition. The district is currently working with students to create a student video about Common Core so they can explain it to their peers and parents.

Technology has been a huge factor in transitioning to the new standards, according to district staffers. Many teachers are now able to get immediate feedback on lesson plans through the new computer program called Illuminate the district is using. The program allows students to get their assignments scanned after a lesson. Teachers can then pinpoint what the majority of the class is having trouble with, and re-teach that part of the lesson during the remainder of class. In addition, classes have started to use Google to share work in the classroom, as well as a program called Ed Motto that enables students to do computer-based research.

The group also discussed a pilot initiative: Grad Tutors, which works with students performing two or more grade levels behind on English, math and science.

Executive director for K-12 schools Adam Taylor led a group on how to provide, expand, and improve college and career programs, expand innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (otherwise known as STEM programs), and offered an update on staffing and adding extracurricular activities to middle and high schools. According to Taylor, this year 287 students will work with UC Berkeley on college and career development. The district plans to work on a black male achievement partnership with the university, focusing on the lowest-performing students.

On the STEM front, the district plans on opening a fabrication lab at Kennedy High School by summer. Funded by MIT, Chevron, LCAP and bond funding, the “fab lab” will be a small-scale workshop offering personal digital fabrication. It will include a 3-D printer, laser cuter, router, milling machines and a vinyl cutter. In addition, the district is creating a mobile fabrication lab that the community can use.

Another group discussed the implementation of full-day kindergarten, support for full service community schools, technology coaches at target schools and school site funding. So far, full-day kindergarten has been implemented in the 11 elementary schools with the highest number of unduplicated students. Results suggest that students in full-day kindergarten are two times more advanced than the students from last year who only received half day, according to the district. The next schools at which the district plans to place full-day kindergartens will be decided based on the number of unduplicated students.

Parents were told that the district is working on a two-year deadline for getting computer tablets for every teacher in each school. Currently, at least one teacher in every school has a set of tablets. Two tech coaches have been providing teachers coaching on technology use.

Led by special education division head Steve Collins, the final group’s biggest topic of discussion was the “whole child community school interventional model,” which specializes in academics, as well as social and emotional facets of student life.

Collins started out by talking about the learning center that is up and running at Stege Elementary School. Collins says the school is helping its most emotionally, psychologically and educationally needy students by hiring a psychologist and providing extra help for teachers. The district hopes to make the same changes at all schools in the district, Collins said.

Collins said that since the beginning of the school year, full-time psychologists have been added to the two high and middle schools. The two middle schools also received clinical social workers. Gompers and North Campus continuation schools received an additional day of staffing for psychological services. For elementary schools, the district provided psychologists for students and extra teacher help to the eight schools with the greatest need.

Collins then explained the psychologist-to-student ratio used to determine a school’s need. The number of psychologists on-site is based on the number of students and whether the school has special day care facilities with trained teachers who work with students with behavioral problems or special education needs. Other factors, including the amount of unduplicated need-based students the school has and site-based funding, contribute to the number of psychologists at a site. For example, a school with 400 students and no special education classes has at least one psychologist per week.

Though parents took home a lot of information and paperwork, several of them agreed that they can now follow up on the district’s progress. “I didn’t know about the spending plans before then,” said Lee Gorton, parent of a first grader at Olinda Elementary School. “But now that I see the areas of focus I can follow up with—the ones that mean more or are more interesting to me, and the ones that I think may or may not be more beneficial, and those don’t always line up. There are some projects that I would love to see happen and it would be amazing, but then I think there are other projects that definitely have more priority and would be better implemented for a wider group of students to benefit from.”

The next community town hall meeting will be on March 7 in multipurpose room of King Elementary School.

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