Downey school board hears update on facility upgrades

DOWNEY - Tuesday's DUSD meeting covered a lot of ground but none more significant than two items that were singled out for their long-range impacts.Board member Don LaPlante warned against underestimating the detailed work that must still be done if DUSD is going to meet this year's deadline set by the state for submission of the plans and justifications for DUSD's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for the coming school year. It should be noted that the state has adopted LCFF in place of the old revenue limits, and in effect eliminated most state categorical programs as far as disadvantaged children (low-income students, English learners, etc.) children are concerned, granting districts more flexibility and control in how and where their state-budgeted money henceforth will be spent/allocated. LaPlante said, "We've got a lot of work to do between now and the end of this school year." Regarding the Master Facilities Plan, which was begun last September by the contracted Irvine-based LPA Architects, Inc., Superintendent Dr. John Garcia said the schools upgrade and improvement planning have proceeded practically without a hitch, and that town-hall meetings with parents, teachers and staff have been scheduled - with the end in view of involving the entire Downey USD community - "so people can look and see where we are right now, and at the same time gauge what their opinions are, where we stand with the community, and so on." One meeting is set for Feb. 27 at Warren High School, another at Downey High on March 3, from 4- 6 p.m. at both sites. As Garcia said in a DUSD press release, "It's important to hear from everybody concerned, because our high-achieving schools and students are a matter of pride to our entire community, and their future affects us all." LPA's initial school assessments, according to Garcia, show needed "critical repair needs including aging, deteriorated or inadequate plumbing, restrooms, heating and air conditioning systems." Other areas of attention, he stated, include school safety, security and improving access for students with disabilities. He added: "We need the tools to support programs like robotics and engineering. Students in all grades need the skills to complete for college and career opportunities. We must improve instructional technology to get ahead of the curve to teach today's math and science skills in a hands-on environment." DUSD will also start polling a random sample of 500 residents, Garcia said, both to inform them of what's going on and get to know what they think of DUSD's efforts. In the same press release, Dr. Nancy Nien, assistant superintendent of business services, said: "Transparency is very important to us. [Now] there's plenty of time for community members to let us know what they think. We'll complete the Facilities Mater Plan in the next couple of months and present it publicly." (It's up for board approval in June). Meanwhile, Arc of Los Angeles and Orange Counties was presented with the DUSD Superintendent's Vision Award for Parent, Family and Community Relations. Accepting for Arc was its director, Kevin MacDonald. In presenting MacDonald, Ruth Valadez, DUSD director of special education, said "I began my career working for this national organization when I was in college in Washington, DC., and I'm extremely familiar with their mission and their vision...Arc provides services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in all aspects of our community. Arc promotes the principles of self-determination, dignity and quality of life for all individuals with disabilities." She reiterated Arc's value to some 400 consumers: "Arc allows our community members to remain in the Downey area as they learn vital vocational and functional life skills that help them move toward independence. This enables them to positively contribute to our city and to live productive and meaningful lives." In accepting the award, MacDonald said he was accepting it in honor of Virginia Robbins who with her husband Robbie actually started Arc in a Lynwood trailer park in 1956. He pointed out also that Special Education as a subject was first used in a workshop, also in Lynwood, in 1963. In other action, in a Consent Agenda item, the Board approved the updated and revised Single Plans for Student Achievement at each school site, in which all schools wrote goals, objectives and activities to improve student achievement. As presented to the Board, preparer Janice Hobson, DUSD director of instructional support programs, wrote: "The goals were based on analysis of verifiable state data (California Standards Test) and other local measures. They are focused toward schoolwide and student subgroups meeting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. The plans contain proposed expenditures, a description of how funds will be used to improve academic performance of all students and numerically significant sub-groups, and the means of evaluating the progress towards accomplishing the goals." In this connection, she stated, four elementary schools-Gauldin, Price, Unsworth, Ward-were identified as Program Improvement (PI) Year 1. In addition to their SPSA's, they were required to write a 2-year plan addendum that included strategies to exit the PI status of ESEA. Likewise, four elementary schools-Lewis, Old River, Rio Hondo, Williams-were identified as PI Year 3 Corrective Action Schools and selected Option 6, "Restructure the Internal Organizational Structure of the School, including Balanced Literacy and CGI instructional strategies and Professional Learning Communities." Also, five schools-Imperial, Doty, Griffiths, Sussman, and West-were identified as PI year 4-5 Alternative Governance Schools and selected Option 5, "Implementing Major Restructuring Activities: Professional Learning Communities and improved data analysis." These PI plans are included in each school's SPSA. In addition, Hobson said, schools that receive Title I funds were required to develop a School Parental Involvement Policy that must be approved by the Board of Education. Each policy was jointly developed with and distributed to parents. The policy ensures the involvement of parents in the Title I program which includes: information about and participation in the ongoing planning, review, and improvement of the Title I program, the development of the Home-School Compact; the building of capacity for participation in the education and achievement of their children; accessibility and opportunities for parents with limited English proficiency, parents with disabilities, and parents of migratory students; and the implementation of the school's parental involvement policy. The plans and policies have been reviewed and approved by the School Site Council at each school, she said.

********** Published: Feb. 20, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 45