While the beginning of the Strategic Plan discussion came from the wrong impetus – the examination of reconfiguration – it nevertheless presents this community with an amazing opportunity. The reconfiguration discussion was destined to fail from the start – too many in this community felt it was something being forced upon them rather than coming from a place of need.
But, from the ashes of reconfiguration – and let us call it now, reconfiguration is dead for at least a generation – comes the promise of strategic planning. The challenge that I put forth to the school district is to use this opportunity not to tweak the district around the edges, but to think big.
DJUSD is a district of privilege. It is a district that can get the community to unfailingly back it in terms of funding obligations. It is a district that excels in producing high-achieving students that are as competitive as any in terms of going into good colleges and putting themselves onto good career paths.
But we must acknowledge that DJUSD does not work for everyone. The depth and persistence of the district’s achievement gap is troubling. The fact that Davis’ achievement gap is larger than in other districts is troubling.
One person fairly familiar with the situation suggested to me that the way that under-achieving students are treated, obligated to take support classes which perhaps keep them from participating in electives and other activities, is part of the problem, as they end up feeling disconnected from the school and developing self-esteem and other problems.
In the crunch to keep the district overall program funding in place, the district has failed to appropriately deal with the achievement gap issue.
Beyond that, we have some interesting data emerging. The similar schools data are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
By that score, five schools were ranked at 1: Birch Lane, Cesar Chavez, Korematsu, Pioneer and DaVinci.
Willet and North Davis were a 2, Harper, Holmes and Davis High were a 3. Patwin was a 4. Montgomery was a 5. Emerson was a 6.
Some interesting patterns emerge here, but the most critical point is that, while taking into account income, demographics and education, the schools in Davis do not fare nearly as well when we compare ourselves to other schools in affluent school districts.
This data joins with the achievement gap data to suggest that the district’s strong academic numbers reflect more of its population base than necessarily the quality of the schools.
If these are problems facing our district, we have opportunity. While I do not subscribe to the overall criticism of public schools – I tend to believe that the problem schools are less reflective of the school system and are more a function of where they reside – I note that the classroom of today is not very different from the classroom of my youth more than 30 years ago, and probably a teacher from the 1950s, while perplexed by some of the new technology, would not feel altogether out of place in the classroom of today.
Compare school changes over the last few decades to changes in technology fields, advances in science, the changes in personal computers and the advent of smart phone technology, and you will see a field that is lagging.
Twenty years ago came the movement to standardize test our way to educational proficiency. Two decades later, teachers and districts find themselves stifled by test score demands on top of dwindling resources.
Davis represents a unique opportunity to change the way we do education while still adhering to the overly-onerous state and federal education requirements.
The unique opportunity presents itself in numerous ways.
First, the community has been willing to fund the district. That is not true in many other communities. But in Davis, not only have the voters approved five parcel tax measures since 2007, but individual donors have stepped up on multiple occasions to help backfill programs that otherwise would have to be cut.
Second, just as Davis finds itself well-positioned to take advantage of economic development efforts, the same resources exist within this community for our students. Whether we are looking at tapping into technology companies for supplies or resources, or human capital for their expertise, we are simply not taking advantage of the wealth of resources that we have already.
I truly believe that researchers and companies would love to give back to the community and help.
So I say, instead of thinking small – reconfiguration, funding of programs – let us think big. Let us take the time now to plan what the educational system of tomorrow will look like.
And if it ends up that we come up with a plan for the future that cannot exist under current laws, then we have the resources and the time to press our leaders in the state legislature and even Congress to change the law and allow Davis to become the pilot program for the future of education.
Let us put all of that great academic and research talent that exists in this community to work and help create the educational system of the future.
Let Davis become the center for innovation, the model that the rest of the state, the nation and even the world aspires to become.
We have that chance now, but only if we think big, bold and outside of the box.
—David M. Greenwald reporting