Commentary: Lessons That Need to Be Learned For Our Schools To Move Forward

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On Thursday night the school district made the formal decision to pull back on the idea of reconfiguration – moving the ninth grade to Davis High School – and instead embarked on a broader concept of a consultant-driven strategic plan that would guide overall academic planning for the next years.

This would go well beyond reconfiguration, a notion that was floated in January that became a lightning rod of panic for many in the school system.

It was an unfortunate sequence of events, but Gina Daleiden seemed to acknowledge this on Thursday night.

“On any given day, I wish I’d used a different word than I used (in January),” Gina Daleiden said at the meeting on Thursday. “But I will say that I believe we said multiple times this is a discussion; it’s an exploration of options given the financial duress we were under and that it included (the possibility of a four-year high school).”

Ms. Daleiden pulled back first on Facebook, noting that the meeting for last week was not intended as a way to move forward with reconfiguration.

She wrote that Superintendent Roberson “will NOT be asking us for a vote on implementation of any particular model. The (meeting) will be a workshop to understand information staff has collected and analyzed thus far, but that information is not complete. Community input would be one of those pieces yet to come.”

Board members Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor proposed a community body, similar to the city of Davis’ Water Advisory Committee, as a way forward.

As Ms. Daleiden and Mr. Taylor write on Sunday, “The Davis Board of Education directed staff to look beyond the status quo to explore multiple options for reconfiguring our school structure to provide academic and programmatic benefits, while generating fiscal efficiencies that could be re-invested in programs for our students across the District.”

They acknowledge that “asking questions about possibilities for large-scale change is sensitive, and our community needs and deserves the clearest communication and best information during the process. We would like to make this discussion community-based, transparent, and easily accessible, so that rumor and anxiety levels are reduced.”

What they ultimately float is the idea of a WAC for the school reconfiguration – “a Board-appointed, community advisory body, one that reports directly to the Board and is bound by the State’s open meeting law, the Brown Act. This schools advisory committee could take the information presented by District staff and others to build and evaluate models of program change and fiscal investment.”

However, while there may have been two votes for that approach, there were not three votes.  As one board member commented to the Vanguard following the meeting, the board is really in five different places on this issue.

Others were more positive and noted that there was real consensus now to move forward on a district-wide planning process.

There is a belief that the district is sorely in need of a comprehensive strategic plan that has significant community input and involvement.

This is, of course, something that most reasonable people can agree with.  There is a very real belief that the district, while in survival mode for the last five or six years, has largely put its efforts into acquiring the funding to maintain the programs.

However, in the long term, the district needs to move forward, evolve, find ways to do things more cheaply, more efficiently.  There has been no planning.

It was heartening to hear newly-elected board member Nancy Peterson acknowledge that, while this is a good school district, it does not work for all students.  She was referring to the achievement gap, and the differences in the educational programs from elementary school to elementary school.

These are the types of programs and planning that have largely not happened during the years of fighting for funding, and working to keep what we have.

This is all a good outcome, though we remain leery of the notion of a consultant-driven process.  We have tremendous community resources in this community.  We saw it with the WAC process and the ability of community members to not only assimilate large amounts of highly technical information, but actually to be a positive part of the planning and development of a highly innovative rate structure that is unique to Davis.

We have a community of highly-educated parents, many of whom are educators in higher education, and we need to tap into those kinds of resources to develop something that is not only good, but innovative, forward-thinking and unique.

At the same time, we have to go through this angst every single time an idea is floated that perhaps is not carefully crafted.  The board members on Thursday acknowledged the angst and anxiety this idea caused many in the community.

The incomplete flow of information and the lack of clarifying information until weeks into the process created a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

Reconfiguration turned out to be a hot-button issue.  It became a third rail and it might not be the best way forward.  Now we can step back, and hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail in the process.

But the key is community involvement.  It must be broad-based, and it must allow for proper vetting and dialogue before an idea reaches the proposal stage.

It is a tough line to toe, in part because the Brown Act so limits discussion between board members.

One alternative to the current plan may have been a board retreat with a professional facilitator to get everyone on the same page.  But it seems the current plan has enough vagueness, and yet substance, to move forward.

Where we end up now will depend upon the leadership and vision of the current board.  One thing I think is clear – we need to move forward and we need some bold and very innovative changes to our schools.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Commentary: Lessons That Need to Be Learned For Our Schools To Move Forward”

  1. Mr.Toad

    “with a professional facilitator”

    Talk about wasting money! Someone told me they hired a professional facilitator for discussions about gate for $1500 a meeting. Meanwhile there isn’t money available for class size reduction in the early grades where you get the biggest bang for the intervention buck. We don’t need no stinking professional facilitators who make more than teachers. Oh wait we have hundreds of them. There is one in every classroom making a lot less.

  2. medwoman

    This is just a question since I have no knowledge of the degree of interaction between the school district and UCD. I am wondering if we are fully utilizing the experience and knowledge of the UCD students and educators to help in all areas of our public school district including direct teaching and tutoring, program design and innovation, building and space utilization on our campuses and probably a host of other issues of which I am unaware. I would be interested in hearing about such programs.

  3. Ryan Kelly

    It is good to hear it acknowledged that our schools are not working for many of our students. Even the woman who committed fraud by signing and submitting comments for over 30 people on an online petition recently describes her child having 5 terrible years of school before finding an educational situation that seemed to work for her child.

  4. wdf1

    Kelly: [i]It is good to hear it acknowledged that our schools are not working for many of our students….[/i]

    I believe that it’s important to recognize that our school system is never going to be perfect. That doesn’t excuse us from looking for improvement. But I would be surprised if every kid found a perfect situation in their schools starting on day one.

    With one of our kids, we spent every year trying to figure out workable arrangements in school for his cognitive and social impairments, but we always had options to work with. Never was a situation perfect on day one. But he did eventually graduate and has a productive life.

    As we seem to be entering the waning days of the reality of the consequences of No Child Left Behind, perhaps now would be an ideal time to find some better balance between cognitive testable outcomes and other non-testable outcomes in education. There is more to education than how well one scores on standardized tests of math and English.

  5. Frankly

    [i]I believe that it’s important to recognize that our school system is never going to be perfect.[/i]

    That is a cop-out and unacceptable. It is also telling of the mindset of those working in education, and those protecting much of the status quo.

    The school system should strive to be perfect for every student. It does not strive to be perfect. It strives to be barely mediocre, always blaming the problems on a lack of funding.

  6. Davis Progressive

    “That is a cop-out and unacceptable”

    it’s also unacceptable that you cherry-picked one sentence without the follow up points wdf makes [u][b]PARTICULARLY [/b][/u]when the very next sentence was: ” That doesn’t excuse us from looking for improvement.”

    so explain again how this is a cop out and i ask the same question, i asked of GI, are you intentionally distorting the comment or did you not read further than the first sentence.

  7. Frankly

    [i]”That doesn’t excuse us from looking for improvement.”[/i]

    Should be changed to:

    “There is no excuse for not always striving for perfection.”

    We have accepted mediocrity in public education for so long, that we have been brainwashed to think it is acceptable.

    The goals should be zero dropouts, 100% graduation, 100% successfully prepared for the next step in their education continuum which then successfully prepares them for successful life outcomes. Anything less is failure and demands improvement.

    The education system reminds me of a poorly run restaurant with bad food and barely acceptable service, demanding we raise prices so that more seasoning can be purchased in the hope that someone can make the food taste good enough so enough people stop complaining about it. This is my relative comparison since I am a food and food service snob, and demand the highest quality for both. My thinking is that we should all be education system snobs demanding the very best quality and service and not settling for anything less.

  8. Don Shor

    [i]We have accepted mediocrity in public education for so long, that we have been brainwashed to think it is acceptable. [/i]

    Davis schools are not mediocre.

  9. wdf1

    Frankly: [i]100% graduation,[/i]

    If a high school kid determines that he wants to do something else besides school and decides to drop out, then what?

    [i]100% successfully prepared for the next step in their education continuum which then successfully prepares them for successful life outcomes.[/i]

    How will this be determined or measured?

    [i]”There is no excuse for not always striving for perfection.”[/i]

    Sure, but if you haven’t made a correct determination for what perfection is in education, then that’s a really dumb and wasteful strategy. Take for example NCLB. The goal there was 100% of the students proficient or above for math and reading by 2014, based on standardized test scores, anything less is a cop out and unacceptable and deemed a failure. It all sounds good for politics but unworkable in reality. And we’re left beating ourselves up for inadequacies when maybe that’s really off the mark.

    [i]My thinking is that we should all be education system snobs demanding the very best quality and service and not settling for anything less.[/i]

    I observe that nearly everyone in Davis has an opinion on how the schools ought to run, including you and me. Should I assume that you appreciate that Davis has a very high quotient of education snobs?

    Shor: [i]Davis schools are not mediocre.[/i]

    I definitely agree.

  10. Mr.Toad

    There is this great scene in the movie Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are standing in line at the movies and some guy is shooting off his mouth about Marshall McLuhan. Woody Allen tells the guy he knows nothing about McLuhan and then pulls McLuhan onto the screen from stage right where McLuhan confirms what Woody Allen is saying.

    This is what I want to do when I read the kind of nasty reactionary platitudes that Frankly writes. He obviously knows little about what goes on in schools and offers no specific critique or any actual solutions. My guess is he hasn’t been in a classroom in years.

    Can we do better absolutely! Teachers strive everyday to do better. School administrators spend all their day and many nights trying to do better. Yet it takes time to turn a system that educates five million students in California alone. Especially a system that has been de-funded due to budget shortfalls and structural deficits.

    You want to fix the schools and improve outcomes? I know how to start. Reduce class sizes especially in the early grades, something that has been reversed in recent years due to budget shortfalls. Offer pre-K and transitional-K to 4 and 5 year olds. This is something that would probably cost a billion dollars or more in California alone but we know early intervention is cheaper in the long run. Require teachers to be from near the top of their classes, instead of from the top half, as my teaching program did. Of course this one will really cost you because your now competing with people who now often go into finance or medicine for much higher pay.

    Finally, not every school is failing, nor is every child. Many millions of children over many generations have prospered because of our system of education. Education is an industry that invests hundreds of billions of dollars a year in the human capital of this country. It does not deserve the kind of off handed disrespect that Frankly so casually throws out as if all we need to do is wave a wand and make it so.

  11. Frankly

    Mr. Toad. I have been a student. I have children that have been students. I volunteered my time to the schools when my kids were young. I have been a teacher (in the corporate world). I have played sports. I have coached sports. I have been a manager since I was 21 and completed a PHD’s worth of real-life behavior and leadership studies.

    My background is IT, strategic planning, project management and marketing.

    I have been routinely faced with business challenges of declining revenue and market share due to competition. I have worked at changing organizational paradigms to reform and reengineer entire enterprises in order that they survive and thrive.

    The system of education as designed is wholly inadequate for the times. I don’t get emotional about employees of the system or enterprise. Work is work. A job is a job. A profession is a profession. Emoting over criticism of the system or enterprise is a waste of energy.

    All I care about is the customer of the system or enterprise. If you are prefect and delivering service to the customer, then you are beyond reproach. Otherwise, take the medicine and improve. Please stop making it personal. I am really sick and tired of this weird emotional cocoon that you and others wrap up public sector employees with… as if they are some protected class. They are no different than any other employee… many that see their company fail because management and labor failed to get the vision of needed change, and/or failed to execute the migration to the new required business model.

    I do not think we can fix education with technology. I think technology is only an important part of the formula for a new business model that we need to adopt.

    [url]http://www.wiredacademic.com/2011/10/is-rupert-murdoch-the-steve-jobs-of-education-reform-hecklers-say-no/[/url]

    May not be able to read the full story without a WSJ account…
    [url]http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203914304576631100415237430.html[/url]

  12. Don Shor

    So Rupert Murdoch thinks we need more technology in the schools. We are getting more technology in the schools.
    And here’s a good line from the article:
    [i]” But the investments the private sector needs to make will not happen until we have a clear answer to a basic question: What is the core body of knowledge our children need to know?[/i]
    So, just in case he isn’t aware of it, states have curriculum content standards. Here are California’s:
    [url]http://www.ca.gov/Education/Teachers/Standards.html[/url]
    In fact, the state education bureaucracy has developed abundant and detailed standards for what “our children need to know” at every grade level. Textbook publishers know this, because they have to meet those standards in order to sell their books and media packages to the schools. And California leads the way in developing those, so any call for standardization of standards would probably start with what we’ve already produced.
    His lack of awareness of how education works suggests that Rupert Murdoch is probably not the guy we want overseeing privatization of education delivery systems.

  13. Frankly

    [i]His lack of awareness of how education works [/i]

    It doesn’t work, so how could he be aware of that? And why would he waste any time trying to understand a system that is inherently flawed and broken?

  14. Davis Progressive

    your evidence for that is what? my children got an excellent education. so i think the notion that it doesn’t work is flawed at best

  15. Don Shor

    Because it isn’t ‘broken’ in regard to setting standards and developing curriculum, and our education system works very well for many students and many schools in many districts. Contrary to what you assert over and over again, educational outcomes for most students are good. There are standards for curriculum and for educational outcomes already. He is apparently unaware of that.
    Our education system serves large numbers of students very well. Your constant refrain that it is ‘crappy’ and that the whole system is flawed, a failure, needs to be completely blown up, is a total disaster — all of that is total crap. You simply parrot the same stuff over and over. And when we prove to you, repeatedly, that your assertions are false, you just move on and then parrot them again later.
    We need to focus on the students who are not being served well, on the schools that aren’t doing well within some districts, and on the districts that have problem overall. But that isn’t the whole or even the majority.

    Mr. Toad made some excellent suggestions which you entirely ignored:
    [quote]Reduce class sizes especially in the early grades, something that has been reversed in recent years due to budget shortfalls. Offer pre-K and transitional-K to 4 and 5 year olds. This is something that would probably cost a billion dollars or more in California alone but we know early intervention is cheaper in the long run. Require teachers to be from near the top of their classes, instead of from the top half, as my teaching program did.[/quote]
    Increasing resources on poorer performing schools and districts is also useful, and that is what the governor is doing. But Davis schools are good, DJUSD is innovative, and a lot is happening in the schools already that you (and apparently Mr. Murdoch) seem to be unaware of.

  16. K.Smith

    [quote]The education system reminds me of a poorly run restaurant with bad food and barely acceptable service, demanding we raise prices so that more seasoning can be purchased in the hope that someone can make the food taste good enough so enough people stop complaining about it. [/quote]

    This analogy, as well as most analogies that describe education in terms of customer service, breaks down because how many restaurants require the customer to arrive with ingredients to contribute to his/her own meal?

    Describing education in terms of customers paying for a service that they then receive doesn’t totally make sense, because students are expected to bring certain inputs to the table. The vast majority of pay-for-service businesses do not require this.

  17. Davis Progressive

    Students not only bring certain inputs, but they are also the output. the collaborative nature of the student to teacher relationship is clearly where these analogy literally explode on impact. add to that the factors external to the school that are strongly determinative of student output, and the analogy really demonstrates how clueless people like frankly are about education especially in challenging communities.

  18. Frankly

    Reduce class size, reduce class size, reduce class size. Talk about parrot.

    What it really means…

    Hire more union employees, hire more union employees, hire more union employees.

    You and Toad are just bottomless pits of money demanders. Education costs have almost tripled over the last 40 years, yet you just ignore the point. The number of non-teaching education employees has also tripled, yet you just ignore this point. What we pay teachers has doubled, yet you just ignore this point.

    I am fine with reducing class size for the younger students. I think it is a good idea. But the funding for that needs to come from a re-engineering of the entire education model to do more with less so money can be redirected.

    The system is crap Don. It works for some kids, but not for many others. I’m sure you will celebrate this following report, yet [b]ONLY 78.5% OF CALIFORNIA STUDENTS GRADUATE.[/b]

    That is crappy performance.
    [quote]California’s high school graduation rate rose sharply last year with Latino and black students showing gains higher than those of white and Asian students, state schools chief Tom Torlakson announced Tuesday.

    Overall, the Department of Education’s annual report said, 78.5 percent of those who started high school in the 2008-09 school year had graduated by 2012, up 1.4 percentage points from the previous year.

    Latinos, who were nearly half of the Class of 2012, saw their graduation rate jump by 1.8 percentage points to 73.2 percent and black students’ graduation rate rose by 2.9 percentage points to 65.7 percent, still the lowest of any major ethnic group.

    The graduation rate among white high-schoolers was 86.4 percent, up 0.7 percent, and that of Asians was 91 percent, also up 0.7 percent.

    Not surprisingly, as the graduation rate rose, the dropout rate declined, Torlakson said, to 13.2 percent, down 1.56 percentage points. Another 8.3 percent “are neither graduates or dropouts” and most are still enrolled in school, the report said.

    Read more here: [url]http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2013/04/californias-high-school-graduation-rate-rises-sharply.html#storylink=cpy[/url]
    [/quote]

    Graduation rates are only part of the evidence that the system is crappy relative to what it should be and needs to be.

    The other two primary measures are testing outcomes compared to other countries, and the number of students that go on to get a job and become economically self-reliant. But both measures of performance demonstrate dismal education results…

    [quote]Washington, DC – (2/1/13) – Generation Opportunity, a national, non-partisan organization advocating for Millennials ages 18-29, is announcing its Millennial Jobs Report for January 2013. The data is non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) and is specific to 18-29 year olds:

    The youth unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds specifically for January 2013 was 13.1 percent (NSA).

    The youth unemployment rate for 18-29 year old African-Americans for January 2013 was 22.1 percent (NSA); the youth unemployment rate for 18-29 year old Hispanics for January 2013 was 13.0 percent (NSA); and the youth unemployment rate for 18–29 year old women for January 2013 was 11.6 percent (NSA).

    The declining labor participation rate has created an additional 1.7 million young adults that are not counted as “unemployed” by the U.S. Department of Labor because they are not in the labor force, meaning that those young people have given up looking for work due to the lack of jobs.
    If the labor force participation rate were factored into the 18-29 youth unemployment calculation, the actual 18-29-unemployment rate would rise to 16.2 percent (NSA).

    Read more: [url]http://generationopportunity.org/press/millennial-jobs-report-youth-unemployment-reaches-13-1-percent-as-u-s-economy-shrinks/#ixzz2RDkMJ69T[/url][/quote]

  19. Davis Progressive

    why don’t you try addressing some of the points people are making rather than cutting and pasting articles relying on flawed research techniques and reaching questionable conclusions.

  20. Don Shor

    [quote]The system is crap Don. It works for some kids, but not for many others. I’m sure you will celebrate this following report, yet ONLY 78.5% OF CALIFORNIA STUDENTS GRADUATE. 

That is crappy performance. [/quote]
    Not for 78.5% of the students. Not for my kids. Not for Davis kids. Not for the overwhelming majority of kids in the majority of schools in the majority of districts in California. It is not crappy performance. We need to focus our efforts on the others, but there is no reason to drastically overhaul the education system for those for whom it is working.

    
[quote]Hire more union employees, hire more union employees, hire more union employees.[/quote]

    You’re the one who is pathologically obsessed with unions. Seriously, it is beyond a rational issue with you. As I’ve said many times, I don’t care if there are teacher unions or not. I don’t support or oppose them.

    The rest is all stuff we’ve discussed before. Others who are interested can go to the Vanguard bulletin board for it.

  21. Davis Progressive

    “It works for some kids, but not for many others.”

    you’re not describing a system that’s crap. what you’re describing is a system that is not able to overcome the other obstacles kids have for learning. that’s not the definition of crap.

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