In the fourth year of his tenure as head honcho of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Superintendent David Cash told the education community that the district continues to move at a fast pace, but he noted that change is tough.
More than once, Cash made a point to say teachers have had a challenging couple of years, explaining that they’ve had to adapt their lesson plans to adhere to the new Common Core State Standards. “When you see a teacher, give them a hug because they are working their tails off,” he said, mentioning that his wife is a teacher and comes home exhausted every night. In the past two years, the district has hired more than 170 new teachers.
Despite this big change, Cash said the district has been fairly consistent in emphasizing its three goals — implementing Common Core State Standards, increasing technology in classrooms, and improving cultural proficiency. Cultural proficiency, according to Cash, means that a school is a place for all students to be successful, regardless of their socio-economic background.
Socio-economic backgrounds are a component of the new statewide funding formula known as the Local Control Funding Formula, which requires school districts to get input from the community about exactly how to spend its resources. “It requires us to be accountable in a way we’ve never had to do,” Cash said, adding that it’s the most significant reform he’s seen in the three decades he has been in education. Unfortunately, Cash noted, the district’s low-income, English Learner (EL) and foster youth populations are just below the 55 percent threshold needed for the district to receive extra funding from the state, though some schools have more than 90 percent of their students who are classified as EL or economically disadvantaged.
Cash also acknowledged the district has to do a better job of getting it’s 5,000 EL students to English proficiency faster so they can be eligible to enroll in courses required to apply for college. Dozens of Latino parents came forward at public hearings held last year to call for greater resources, and the district hired Raul Ramirez over the summer to be the new English Language Learner director.
Cash also touched on the recent results from the annual California Healthy Kids survey that demonstrated that Santa Barbara students who reported consuming alcohol in the past 30 days has steadily decreased at the 7th, 9th, and 11th grade levels over the past several years. The number of students who reported smoking marijuana is also down across the three surveyed grade levels, but the percentage of students who perceive marijuana as harmful is also decreasing. The survey results also indicated that the percentage of students who tried an e-cigarette in the last month has doubled in all grade levels that were surveyed.
Following a trend across the state, suspensions are down by 18 percent, Cash said, and expulsions have also decreased. Cash warned that the district’s test scores are expected be lower this year as the students will take the new statewide Smarter Balanced test. In closing remarks, Cash left the audience with one word to describe the state of the schools: “good.”