Heidi's Education Newsletter - October 2013

October was a productive month!  We celebrated the new two-story classroom building at Fairmeadow Elementary School, honored bullying prevention efforts across the district on Unity Day, got out of our cars and opted to "walk and roll" to school, and learned more about Common Core State Standards implementation at two district-wide parent information nights.

COMMON CORE/SMARTER BALANCED: Over the next two years, PAUSD will receive $2.4 million from the state to support Common Core implementation, including funds for Professional Development, Technology (the new assessments will be given online only), and Instructional Materials.  The district is now fully immersed in preparing for the new federal standards and Smarter Balanced assessments.

In our last Board meeting, several questions emerged.  Although US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan required all states to continue standardized testing this Spring as the new computer-based testing is developed (or risk losing all federal funding), Governor Jerry Brown, with support from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, signed legislation this month eliminating CST (or STAR) testing.  That means there will be no summative assessment given this year.  Instead, all students will be given sample questions for the new Smarter Balanced assessments in either math or English/language arts, with the full test implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.  The Board inquired how teachers, parents, and district leadership will assess student achievement and our intervention and teaching efforts during this transition year?  The district is doing some research and will report back to the Board.

CALENDAR UPDATE: The Board discussed adoption of the next cycle of school calendars.  The Calendar Advisory Committee (teachers, parents, and students) presented their report to the Board highlighting the extensive work done last year, including analyzing stakeholder input from surveys given to parents, teachers, and high school students.  A majority of parents prefer a later August start date.  Students, teachers, and parents overwhelmingly support finals before winter break.  High school seniors are most affected by this change, as they struggle to finish finals and complete college application essays.  Teachers want equal instructional time for both semesters; no more than 8 days of difference.  The Board discussed values around the calendar, including a work-free winter break and the desire to spread out high-stakes stressors for students.  District staff proposed multiple calendars and the Board discussed the merits and challenges of each, including an innovative option to begin later in August, complete finals before winter break, and do a stand-alone unit in January, with the fall semester ending mid-Jan.  These discussions now move to the Calendar Committee (district and union representatives), who will consider the input and propose a set of calendars for approval by the Board.  To learn more, click here: Oct. 22nd Board Packet.       

LIAISON SCHOOL VISITS: It was my goal to attend PTA/Principal's Coffees at each of my liaison schools this month and I very much enjoyed meeting and talking with parents and teachers at Ohlone, Addison, Terman, Palo Verde, and Young Five's.  Parents are very curious about the new Common Core State Standards, a federal initiative that has currently been adopted by 45 states, including California (holdouts are Texas, Alaska, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska).  Other questions included our plans for enrollment growth and the transition from CST (or STAR) testing to the new Smarter Balanced assessments.  I also enjoyed a brown bag lunch with the teachers at each of these schools to hear about their experiences this year and share copies of our district's comprehensive Strategic Plan.  Teachers appreciated the outreach and are very busy analyzing Common Core and its effect on their classrooms.  Teachers also reported great improvements in professional development opportunities this year, including the breadth and depth of workshops offered at this month's "Powerful Practices" Staff Development Day on Oct. 18th.  The Board set aside $5 million last year to support professional development for the next three years.

SPECIAL EDUCATION UPDATE: This month, the Board heard an update on our 3-year progress towards improved services for our special education students, who make up 9% of our student population (1,117 students).  Three focus areas include: Coordination of services, Communication that is transparent and effective across all constituents, and Collaboration among teachers and professionals.  Efforts include fully-supported inclusion practices in our preschool classrooms that enables students to transition directly into neighborhood school kindergarten classrooms.  At the elementary level, new Inclusion TOSAs (Teachers on Special Assignment) work to build positive, inclusive environments in all classrooms and in the larger school communities.  Also, four professional development trainings are scheduled this year for instructional aides who support classroom teachers with differentiated instruction.  In our secondary schools, there are now 51 classes that include a co-teaching component with a specialist.  A main goal of this co-teaching model is to deliver a universally-designed curriculum that provides an entry point for every student.

And if this month wasn't busy enough, we also held a special meeting to hear the middle schools' individual site plans for student achievement (fOct. 22 Special Meeting packet).  Coming up: Board study session on enrollment growth planning (Nov. 5th - Election Day!), elementary schools' site plans for student achievement (Nov. 19), and more. 

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