Start of school year brings high hopes

DOWNEY - For 22,265 Downey Unified K-12 kids, it's back to school Sept. 3 amid high hopes they'll get at least the rudiments they'll need in their individual educational odysseys.Rooting for them to succeed are their parents/families and teachers, of course, as well as school officials and, indeed, every involved stakeholder in the whole vast, vital educational enterprise. Board goals There's no higher priority on the Board of Education's list of goals year after year. In fact, at its next regular meeting this Tuesday, it's set to adopt the following as its number one goal for 2009-10: "Schools will continue to improve student achievement by developing and implementing an action plan to meet their State Academic Performance Index (API) growth targets and their Federal Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets for numerically significant subgroups." To realize this goal, the Board, for one, is expected to continue its commitment to teacher training with emphasis this year on such areas as the so-called Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) designed specifically for English Learners, as well as guided reading methods to Title I (assistance in reading and math for qualified students) and English Development (ELD) programs in grades 6-8, as well as mathematics courses where they are most needed. Information system The district is big on online data analysis and reporting: the board's endorsement of the district's proposed newfangled student data/management system is anticipated as this will assist in the generation of "school benchmark assessments and data disaggregation" for instructional planning purposes. The creation and implementation of an on-line work order requisition system for MOT (department of Maintenance, Operations, Transportation) and Technology is likewise on the list. Another major objective is to get Columbus High School accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, with both CTE and credit recovery courses scheduled to be integrated into the curriculum. Meanwhile, it's not about to lose sight of its commitment to monitor and adjust budget priorities as the year progresses, as a consequence of "severe" state education funding cuts. New culinary arts facility Another top goal is the completion of the final modernization phase at Warren High School, even as it unveils its touted just-completed cutting-edge Culinary Arts facility; it will continue the modernization phase at DHS as well, including the renovations of Buildings J, K, N, and its cafeteria, and replacing Bldgs. A, I, M, O, and Q. Prepping up for opening day In any case, in these few days before opening bell, furious preparations are being made in many areas: the district staff, back en masse from its summer break, has resumed a round of review and orientation briefings to get principals and other administrators updated on last year's significant developments as well as this coming year's priorities and expectations. With the installation of the new Student Information System called Spangle, which replaces an aged system along with its outmoded infrastructure, teachers get to use a system speedier and deeper in capability-it is now said to be "fully configured with staff members already using it for concurrent enrollment of students and master scheduling"; MTO personnel, according to Kevin Condon, asst. superintendent for business services, are doing campus cleaning to get the campuses ready for classes. At the 'Leadership Team Advance' session Tuesday, Superintendent Wendy Doty gave a rundown of the 2008-09 goal priorities vs. results. In her report, she cited the excitement the new Student Information System has generated. She also reported generally improved CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) results, with pass rates among grade 10 students in English-Language Arts, say, of 81 percent, and 79 percent in mathematics-both commendable. (API and AYP scores are due out at the end of the month). She also mentioned the implementation of online standards-aligned report cards in grades K, 1, and 2, yielding, among other things, "curriculum, instructional, and assessment improvements." CTE making waves Dynamic progress is being achieved, she said, in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, with notable advances especially in CAD (Computer Assisted Drafting), Construction Technology, and Graphics and Animation Pathways leading the way. This program is run by Support Programs director Phil Davis who also coordinated the just-completed summer school program limited, due to budget constraints, to remedial and make-up middle school and high school students. A most encouraging project, she said, was the implementation of the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Intervention program as an expulsion alternative throughout the district, especially after determining that approximately 70 percent of district expulsion referrals were related to alcohol or other drugs, and that nearly all of these students were first-time drug or alcohol offenders. The protocol provides the student and parent with a "means of correction and…steers students with school and drug-related problems away from any dealings with the juvenile system in the future." Budget cuts have consequences With the stinging budget cuts have come reminders to conserve resources whenever possible. Thus this summer, classes held at Sussman Middle School, for instance, were confined to one area of the campus using six classrooms, to cut electricity costs. Test scores Indicative of the difficulties faced by parties closely involved in the educational process were the published reports Wednesday of the 2009 California Standards Tests (CST) as released by the California Department of Education in which Downey Unified as a whole scored 47.2 percent in English proficiency and 41.8 percent in math, against the state's averages of 50 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Director of secondary education Sara Cairns said the CST assessment figures should be "taken with a grain of salt," as they don't take into account such factors as socio-economic status, ethnicity, selectivity, etc. "There's more than meets the eye in these reports," she said.

********** Published: August 21, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 18