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Initial report in on student achievement

on November 5, 2015

West Contra Costa school trustees grappled with new evidence Wednesday suggesting the district failed to meet some student-achievement goals for the 2014-15 school year.

Trustees and district employees spent half of a roughly three-hour board of education meeting discussing academic goals laid out as part of a state education funding program.

For the 2014-15 school year, West Contra Costa received about $212 million total in grants from the state program. The district had to develop a “Local Control and Accountability Plan” to detail how these funds will be leveraged to achieve specific goals.

On Wednesday night, the West Contra Costa Unified School District board looked at how educators are using the funds for “Goal 1,” improving student achievement. There are five goals for the 2015-16 school year. The board took no specific action before moving on to other business, including a vote to change the bidding process for a Pinole Valley High School construction project.

Much of the meeting was devoted to student achievement and the state program. Trustee Elizabeth Block questioned if the district was leveraging the funds effectively because the district didn’t reach several of the goals, such as increasing by 2 percent the number of students who pass the AP exam.

“We’re all working hard but are we working the right way?” Block asked.

Superintendent Bruce Harter said the accountability program goals are updated annually, calling it a “continuous improvement model.”

The district plans to spend about $11 million for “Goal 1” this school year. Some of the money is being used to add full-day kindergarten programs to district schools.

Tara Hills Elementary School was able to switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten. Linda Wilkerson, the principal, said almost all of the kindergarten students now have the “basics” down, including letter recognition and numbers.

“The teachers are feeling now that they don’t have to rush, and they can go into more depth,” Wilkerson said.

Block also asked why the state funds couldn’t be put toward teachers’ salaries, alluding to public comments from the beginning of the meeting. United Teachers of Richmond and the district are still bargaining after teachers rejected a tentative settlement on September 14.

Dayle Ross, a second grade teacher at Madera Elementary, said her salary has been decreasing for five years because of increasing insurance costs. She told the board that teachers are consistently overworked.

“All we are asking for is a fair pay for all of the work you are requiring us to do, and we feel that we must do for our students,” Ross said.

Trustees also took action to lengthen the construction timeline on a project at Pinole Valley High School. Originally approved as a 30-month project, Associate Superintendent for Operations Lisa LeBlanc recommended the district also get a bid for a 36-month construction period. LeBlanc said state approval of the construction plans took longer than expected, and it delayed Pinole’s overall timeline and occupancy date from August to October in 2018.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the recommendation. Trustee Madeline Kronenberg voted against it, saying the board promised a 30-month construction period and she didn’t want to deviate from that commitment.

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