Heidi's Education Newsletter - January 2014

We began 2014 with a mid-year evaluation of our Annual Focused Goals, in order to assess progress, re-align priorities, and refocus our efforts for the rest of the year.  One of the most comprehensive goals is to integrate the new Common Core State Standards across our curriculum.  This national effort towards alignment of educational goals has provided a valuable opportunity for our teachers and administrators to look deeply at what we teach (content mastery), how we teach (delivery of content), and which skills are critical for post-secondary success (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication).

TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: The addition of a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) for Professional Development (PD) has been a resounding success so far this year.  Teachers have provided positive feedback that the PD opportunities have been valuable learning opportunities to improve practice in the classroom.  Efforts are ongoing, embedded in the classroom, and there has been an increase in co-teaching, to ensure that all students benefit from the educational curriculum.

EDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT: With the new Common Core State Standards, there is a new assessment being developed called "Smarter Balanced."  This will replace the CST or STAR testing we've done each year. (note that CST tests in Science in 5th, 8th, and 10th grade will still be given).  Because this is a pilot test year, we will not get any information to assess student progress.  District staff presented alternative formative and summative assessments that will be in place for this transitional year, including the DRA (reading) and PAUSD Math Assessment (both given three times a year to K-5), the CELDT scores for Dual Language Learners (K-12), CAHSEE (10th-12th), and ERB (writing, 4th-8th, 10th).

HIGH SCHOOL SPSA (Single Plan for Student Achievement): Both Paly and Gunn presented their annual SPSA report to the Board this month.  Both schools are focusing on similar goals: Common Core readiness, school climate, and continuation of WASC (Western Association of Schools & Colleges) accreditation goals, including curriculum alignment, support for all students, and a focus on career and college readiness.  Principals Diorio (Paly) and Villalobos (Gunn) shared a common vision for alignment in instructional practice, teacher professional development, finding innovative ways to motivate and engage students in learning, and promotion of strong student/adult relationships on campus.  To read the completed SPSA reports, click on January 28, 2014 Special Meeting Board Packet.  

NEW COURSES: The district presented several new courses for Board approval including an increase in blended learning options (formerly known as "hybrid" courses because they include an online component).  Student survey results showed positive feedback for blended learning courses, which will expand from seven to eighteen options in the coming year.  Proposed middle school courses for JLS included "Human Geography," "Money Matters," and "Exploratory Language."  Proposed high school courses included "Early Childhood Development," (Paly) "Getting in the Game," (Paly) "Marine Biology," (Gunn) and "Nanotechnology." (Both Gunn and Paly, in partnership with Foothill College).  Paly also proposed adding two "Pathways" to the curriculum: "Sports Career Pathway" and "Social Justice Pathway."  Also, some content and name changes were proposed for Biology, Chemistry, Physics.  And a new Math Secondary Flow Chart was presented to encourage alignment across all secondary schools.  Finally, a pilot proposal to direct all Paly students into English 9A in 9th grade was heard by the Board.  To read more, click on January 28, 2014 Regular Meeting Packet.  

BUDGET: The Governor's proposed state budget has estimated Prop 98 spending at $61.6 billion in 2014-2015, $6.3 billion above the 2013-2014 budgeted level.  Highlights include: fully retire remaining K-12 education deferrals ($6.1 billion), establish a rainy day fund, introduce a 2014 facilities bond, and an additional $4.5 billion to LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula). Community funded (or Basic Aid) districts like ours, which rely on property taxes to fund education, will not be receiving any additional funding from the state.  There is a "hold harmless" provision so community-funded districts don't lose additional funding. There will be a slight increase in funding to Special Education and Child Nutrition from a 0.86% COLA adjustment for categorical programs outside the LCFF.  

CalSTRS: The Governor's budget noted that the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) faces a growing unfunded liability of $80.4 billion and may exhaust its assets within 30 years.  Stabilizing the system could cost more than $4.5 billion.  Gov. Brown is looking at a "plan of shared responsibility" to achieve a fully funded system within 30 years, which will be included in the 2015-2016 budget proposal.  Here's a quote that warns local school boards of what's to come: "A new funding strategy should phase-in contribution increases for employees, employers, and the state to allow parties to prepare for cost increases.  Because retirement benefits are part of total compensation costs, school districts and community colleges should anticipate absorbing much of any new CalSTRS funding requirement.  The state's long-term role as a direct contributor to the plan should be evaluated."

TRANSITIONAL KINDERGARTEN: There is a proposed Senate Bill (SB 837) to expand Transitional Kindergarten (TK) to all 4-year olds (not just those children with Fall birthdates).  This program would be voluntary (like Kindergarten) and would phase in over five years, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.  It could cost $1 billion annually when fully implemented, adding an estimated 350,000 children to public schools throughout the state. For more info: California Legislative Information.

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