The first school board meeting of the New Year — with freshly installed trustees Pedro Paz and Gayle Eidelson — offered a full plate. And, when it came to reviewing the district’s intradistrict transfer policy, parents were dishing it out.
Most district schools have a boundary within which their students live, but parents may apply to send their kids to a school outside their boundary, and, space permitting, those transfer requests may be granted. The district prefers that students attend their neighborhood schools, but it maintains a priority list for those seeking transfer. First on the list are the children of parents employed at a school outside their boundary area. Second are kids with siblings who have already been granted transfers.
This year, a larger than usual number of parents of students at Washington Elementary School — a popular destination because of its high test scores and GATE program — sought transfers for younger siblings. Greg and Debra Vance, parents of a Washington 3rd grader and Monroe kindergartener complained about the difficulty of having their children at two different schools. “Leaving kids at the mercy of the ebb and flow of neighborhood population is irresponsible if not cruel,” said Debra.
Trustees expressed sympathy and said there should be an effort to better communicate the transfer policies to parents. They did not make any changes, however, and pointed out that they are largely constrained by California law anyway. A transfer student may not displace a student who lives within the school boundary area. Eidelson, whose children attended Roosevelt save for one whom she transferred to Washington for the GATE program, reassured parents that “it does work out fine to have more than one school in your children’s lives.”
Trustee Ed Heron pointed out that if Washington’s self-contained GATE classroom is supposed to be an option open to students district-wide, then the board and administration will need to address how exactly applicants to that program fit into the overall transfer picture. That issue will be discussed at the next meeting on January 22. Transfer applications are due by February 19, although applications to Peabody Charter School are due at the end of January.
Along with unanimously approving the transfer policy, the board also passed unanimously adopted bylaws for a revived truancy program — curtailed in 2008 — to keep chronic cutters in school and out of the judicial system.
Ed Behrens, the principal of San Marcos High School, offered a reason for teens to stay in school when he proposed a new career pathway initiative called the Entrepreneurship Academy that would allow students to take dual-enrollment business courses with S.B. City College, partner with community enterprises, and graduate with a mature proposal for a new venture. The board was conducive to the three-year academy that 9th graders will be able to apply to next year, but they did impress on Behrens the importance of diversity. Other high school academies tend toward the demographics — and feel — of the country club.
Superintendent David Cash closed the meeting with an overview of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), new guidelines that will substantially alter how California’s (and 44 other states’) schools will teach and test math and English skills. For instance, math courses will focus on real-world problems and English courses will place more emphasis on informational texts rather than literary texts. Over the past two years, teachers in the district have been preparing for the shift to new standards. The hope is that the expense in time and resources it takes to overhaul curricula will result in students who are more college- and career-ready. The next five school board meetings will feature presentations on specific aspects of the CCSS.