School board members are elected to do three main things: hire and/or dismiss a superintendent, set the overarching goals of a school district, and approve a fiscal plan to enact actions to meet these goals. The trustees are five voices with one vote to approve the school district’s best course with the information they are given by the superintendent and the administrative team. School boards should not dictate how the staff and students work together to achieve district goals, but they must understand the programs, methods, and outcomes in order to take yearly action ensuring the resources are being used in the most effective and fiscally responsible way.
The budget, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) reports inform the board members about the fiscal effectiveness of the district actions and outcomes. These yearly reports observe federal and state education codes and mandates while addressing local concerns and unique student accommodations districtwide and at individual school sites. Each school site’s annual SPSA gives stakeholders a picture of how schools use funds to address unique student needs to achieve overall district goals. It includes an analysis of programs, goods, and services along with data to show successful expenditures and remove services that did not lead to student academic success.
Normally, the principals present their SPSA while distilling districtwide goals, highlighting academic successes, and showing how social and emotional support will be offered this upcoming year. Some principals frankly point out programs that will be removed because of limited success, including how the time and money will be redirected. The trustees ask questions to clarify programs and actions while keeping the focus on continually improving the district’s opportunities for all students to achieve excellence in academic success, civic responsibility, and strong moral character. (https://www.fjuhsd.org/domain/528)
This year’s SPSA plans were tucked in the consent calendar and approved without one board member question or comment on any of the eight reports. That was unfortunate due to some confusing conclusions in some of the reports, and the allocation of a $196 million budget utilizing both one-time and on-going money this year which allowed schools to introduce many new programs and services. With no presentations, the principals were unable to share programs being offered supporting student education and emotional wellbeing during this transitional year back from distance learning.
This year’s public-school money allows districts to fill vacant staffing positions, insert new programs, and purchase updated equipment and furniture. SHHS purchased solar canopies and collaborative furniture for greater student interaction facilitating an expansion of their Algebra peer lab. New student-friendly furniture is expensive, and since schools have purchased this type of furniture for the last five years, how is it holding up?
“Student Safe Areas” expansion was also mentioned in TRHS plan, but how do the schools define student safe areas? These plans may all allocate funds effectively, but without the proper baseline data and definitions, these choices will be difficult for next year’s site councils to make responsible ongoing funding decisions.
FUHS Principal Laura Rubio was not asked about the student at-risk criteria for the Jumpstart summer school program. The phrase at-risk can apply in many ways including by grades, socio-economic status, or to students with special needs. The program sounds like the old in-person health course, which is now an on-line course.
BPHS Principal Sonje Berg could have expanded on the new grading philosophy that BPHS teachers are exploring. New grading philosophies often focus less on statistical bell curves and more on students’ ability to master concepts and communicate ideas, but this was not clarified. What classes are Principal Marvin Atkins at SOHS focusing on for dual enrollment? Where are the LHHS data that show that School Resource Officers are actually impacting lower suspension rates when the data provided reflects that although suspension rates overall were lower, most special population students actually had increased suspension rates, particularly students with disabilities, specific racial populations, and English language learners (EL).
EL students’ reclassification progress features heavily throughout the plans. The differing comments and data shown on the various reports indicate a complexity that lower reclassification rates are due to more than distance learning. Although trustees are not responsible to solve reclassification issues, they are accountable to the community to make sure that this growing student population is getting their needs met in the best possible way. With low reclassification rates at some schools, the new test rules, an increasing EL student population entering the district, and last meeting’s parent comments on this issue, the trustees could have had the principals clarify reclassification plans since it was on the agenda during this meeting. Board members may be communicating individually by email through the superintendent who then sends out the information to all the board members. If there were memos or additional information, then the trustees should have made a public comment since the trustees approved these plans without any other notations presented.
Each year the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) reports detail each school site’s alignment with the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to gauge how effective funding is being utilized to achieve the District’s goals for student academic success. The superintendent and the trustees are accountable for making sure that the reports contain clear, well-defined data and analysis of how effective the programs, training, and equipment were in accomplishing the overarching District goals. Even in the disruptive environment of the pandemic, trustees should approve student achievement reports with a clear districtwide vision and note any clarifications on areas of confusion to help future school site councils determine the best funding uses for their school community.
The next regular meeting is February 8.