Superintendent Dave Cash’s top priorities are to improve student achievement and give every student the same educational opportunities, he said Monday at his State of Our Schools presentation for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The district, the largest in Santa Barbara County, has a serious achievement gap between its district-wide scores and those among students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, English learners and Hispanic or Latino students.
“We are a majority minority school district,” Cash said. “Our survival is dependent upon every student’s success.”
Cash and other administrators believe the implementation of Common Core Standards next year will be a “game changer” for this reality, with lessons more focused on how students learn rather than memorizing content.
The district’s overall academic performance index is at 808 out of 1,000, which is calculated from standardized tests. Teachers have their own assessments they can do throughout the year to gauge how well students are learning, too.
There’s a lot that numbers can’t tell you though, Cash said.
District students participate in music programs, vibrant academies and sports, and the high schools have won awards for their student athletes with the highest grades in the state.
More and more students are taking the SATs so they can pursue higher education, and the district’s graduates leave for an impressive list of universities.
There are islands of excellence everywhere, Cash said, but the district needs to connect them to create an entire system of excellence.
Changing the way teachers teach, as the Common Core Standards are sure to do, will prove “revolutionary” for instruction, he said.
Teachers are not the sole proprietors of content anymore, so they need to facilitate using that knowledge to solve problems, he said.
Hundreds of classrooms already have had technology packages installed, so teachers can use flat-screen televisions and iPads instead of the traditional white board and projector.
The district is experimenting with a new restorative-discipline program, too, with students at Santa Barbara Junior High School.
Anecdotal data for the first few months of school show the program to be “phenomenally successful,” Cash said. Instead of looking up what rules were broken and doling out suspensions, teachers and administrators are asking, “what harm was done?” for each issue.
Two students were in a pushing match and then had to eat lunch together for three days, so many other students saw them, Cash said. By the end of it, they weren’t best friends, but were laughing and talking, none of which would have happened with a suspension, he said.
Another student read an apology letter to his entire class after calling someone a derogatory name. Cash hopes to expand the program to a few more schools next spring and then to the entire district.
As for the budget, Cash said the district could lose $6.8 million in state funding if Proposition 30 doesn’t pass this November. The district is also pushing for parcel-tax measures to fund foreign language, science and math, visual and performing arts and music programs at the schools.
Santa Barbara Unified is still considered a revenue-limit district, but is completely surrounded by basic-aid-funded districts, meaning their entire budgets come from property taxes since they exceed the amount California would give them.
California ranks near the bottom in the country on per-pupil spending, class size and number of counselors and nurses per student, but in the top 25 percent academically, Cash said.
Revenue-limit districts, including Santa Barbara, have had to borrow money in recent years because the state defers payments by a few months. The district borrows from the county and pays interest, Cash said.
Business Services Director Meg Jette said the district is only $3.7 million away from becoming a basic-aid district, because the state keeps cutting funding. Before unification, the elementary school district was basic-aid funded because the Santa Barbara area’s property taxes exceeded state funding.
Property-tax dollars per average daily attendance (ADA) varies wildly for South Coast districts.
Montecito Union School District receives more than $20,000 per ADA and Cold Springs School receives more than $15,000 per ADA, while the Goleta Union, Hope Elementary and Santa Barbara Unified districts receive less than $8,000 per ADA.