Changes in the Santa Barbara Unified School District are continuing at a fast and furious pace, Superintendent David Cash told media at a back-to-school address on Monday. Among the district’s accomplishments over the past year, he listed the approval of a three-year strategic plan, a streamlined process for community use of school sites, implementation of 50 percent of the recommendations in a report on special education, an overhauled web page, and a bilingual state of the schools address.
Speaking of facilities, construction is underway at campuses across the district. Projects include new play areas at Open Alternative School and an upgraded gymnasium at Santa Barbara High School, where almost everything but the walls have been replaced. Workers were ready to paint lines for basketball and volleyball courts last Thursday. Painting was also about to get underway at new parking and rec areas at Santa Barbara Junior High School; the school was built on a swamp, and the areas needed reinforcement. Maybe most importantly, new restrooms are being installed at Peabody Charter School, Harding University Partnership School, and Adelante Charter School.
The district is also hoping to sell another $55 million worth of bonds within the month to raise funds for further construction. While showing off the $800,000 site work at Adelante, facilities manager David Hetyonk said the new bond money was much needed. “As a facilities person,” he said, “we’re always short of money.” He knows that because this year, the district completed an audit of its facilities via the consulting firm Telacu.
What nobody is quite sure of, however, is how much money the district will receive from the state. This year, Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula will be implemented. In concept, no districts should receive less money than they did during the 2012-2013 year. However, Santa Barbara Unified benefited from a onetime influx of $8 million mostly from the dissolution of redevelopment agencies that the state has not erased but subtracted from its baseline number. Business boss Meg Jetté was in Sacramento last week lobbying for the district. Cash said they are currently planning for a status quo budget.
No matter the money, he is charging ahead with new initiatives. The Restorative Justice pilot program at Santa Barbara Junior High School will be expanded to the other three junior high schools and Santa Barbara High School. Cash announced that a one-to-one iPad pilot program will be instituted at four campuses this year, but administration has not yet settled on which four.
On top of all that, teachers will continue to learn the Common Core State Standards, which will introduce the most significant changes to classroom instruction since 1998. The purpose of the new standards is to emphasize connections between and continuity within subject areas. They also focus on depth over breadth. California schools have two years to implement the new standards, during which Cash said his teachers will divide that task into four quarters: Learning the standards, assessing instructional materials, improving instruction, and adding technology to “learning environments.”
Meanwhile, Cash and his lieutenants are continuing to focus on issues of equity throughout the district. There is still a pervasive achievement gap between “underprivileged Hispanic students” and “privileged white students,” said Cash, a significant portion of which can be blamed on “systemic barriers.” That includes disproportionate suspension rates. So far the district has tried to include more texts that reflect the demographics of its students, made an effort to reclassify more English learners as English proficient, and begun the discussion about how to increase the participation of English learners in Gifted and Talented courses. “We’ve nibbled around the edges,” said Cash, but some hard scrutiny is in order, he suggested.
While doing all of this, teachers also face a major shakeup in their internal organization, a detail Cash did not include in his address. The new union contract does away with department chairs. In their stead, each department will have multiple Professional Learning Community (PLC) leaders, who will facilitate weekly sessions during which teachers of the same courses share data and set goals. The purpose of PLCs is to help teachers collaborate and make the level of their instruction more uniform. Leaders will be paid a stipend.