Everything will be very different next year, Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash told parents Monday night.
He’s been saying that since he came back to lead the district in 2011, but this talk wasn’t about the many changes he’s implemented, such as the cabinet of new assistant superintendents, new hiring procedures and a more outgoing attitude than his predecessor.
At Monday’s State of Our Schools presentation, it was all about the statewide plans being implemented and how the district’s preparing for the new educational paradigm.
California decided to change content standards, the way students are tested and the way schools are funded all at once, he said. The Common Core State Standards focus on critical thinking and communication instead of memorization and recitation, which represents a “major shift” in learning and teaching, Cash said.
The goals are, of course, to prepare students for college and careers. Testing will use adaptive computer assessments that tailor the questions to each student instead of bubble-in choices. As Cash pointed out, people aren’t often confronted with multiple-choice questions in the real world.
Since testing is moving to computers, the new standards encourage more technology-based learning. Cash sees technology as a social justice issue and helped orchestrate the district’s iPad pilot program, which will start very soon. The district’s board approved the program for four schools last month along with the purchase of 1,200 devices, at a cost of more than $700,000.
The Local Control Funding Formula gives out money based on enrollment, but with fewer restrictions on how it’s spent. If everything goes according to plan, funding will be equal across all districts by 2021, but the district isn’t holding its breath.
For this year, at least, the district is “not a winner” with the new formula, Cash said. California K-12 districts are getting on average a 10.9 percent increase in funding, with a range of 0 to about 28 percent, but Santa Barbara Unified is getting less than the 10 percent.
Funding is based on the total number of students and specific groups of students: English learners, economically disadvantaged students and foster youth. The district would definitely benefit if every family applied for the Free-and-Reduced-Price Meal program, since that’s how economically disadvantaged students are counted, Cash said. It’s hugely underreported — maybe by as much as 25 percent, according to him — and the district gets more funding for every student who is enrolled in the program.
This new funding formula comes with more reporting requirements: the intensive Local Control Accountability Plan. It calls for a lot of community input, and the district has already scheduled public hearings for the April 8 and May 13 Board of Education meetings.
Like the California Environmental Quality Act process, Cash will be required to respond in writing to every comment and suggestion made to him, he noted.
To end his presentation, Cash brought up some of the themes in his August presentation and October State of Our Schools talk, such as changing the culture of the district, hiring more bilingual staff members to match school demographics, and increasing the number of Latino students in academies, honors and Advanced Placement classes.
The restorative justice program, which focuses on prevention and intervention instead of punishment, has helped the district reduce suspensions and expulsions by more than 25 percent, he said.
For the past three years, the district tried to better identify GATE English Learners and reclassify English Learner students once they become proficiently fluent. Even though hundreds of students are eligible every year, only a few dozen were reclassified.
The numbers have gone up over the past three years, but only 5 percent of eligible elementary students and 24 percent of secondary students were reclassified in the 2012-13 year, according to district data.