The Santa Barbara Unified School District will focus on changing its culture and teaching style in the coming year, as teachers, staff and administrators prepare for the Common Core State Standards.
Superintendent Dave Cash on Tuesday briefed reporters on plans for the 2013-14 year, and emphasized that the district will be going through a transition for the next two years, with big expansions in technology use in the classroom, teacher-to-teacher collaboration, restorative-discipline programs and closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged Latino students and advantaged white students in the K-12 schools.
All of that fits into the nationwide move to new academic standards, which will embrace learning across all subjects, and have students practice critical thinking, curiosity and creativity instead of merely memorizing content, Cash said.
It will be the third year with the district for Cash, who worked as a principal at Dos Pueblos High School and Goleta Valley Junior High, left to work for other districts, then returned in mid-2011 after being appointed as superintendent.
The first day of school is Monday, Aug. 26.
District leaders hope to fully implement the Common Core State Standards in two years, but the “four-quarter plan” includes assessing the books and other materials teachers use, creating technological learning environments and improving instruction with teacher collaboration.
Instead of department heads at each school, Santa Barbara Unified negotiated with the teachers union to have Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, which will meet weekly, Cash said.
Secondary schools will have late starts on Thursdays, and elementary schools will get out early on Wednesdays for these meetings.
“It’s a very different, changing world for teachers,” he said. “We were in a system that basically was a race from page 1 to page 450 (in a textbook).”
Four schools will be piloting a program with iPads for every single student this coming year, and this kind of technology is expected to be a “game changer” for English learners, Cash said.
The achievement gap in Santa Barbara Unified schools isn’t going away, and Cash said the new standards and instructional materials have to be viewed through a culturally sensitive lens.
Every student needs equal opportunities, and schools need to be deliberate about how they place students in classrooms, he said.
Another systemic inequality is in the district’s discipline, with a disproportionate number of Latino boys and girls being expelled compared to their white classmates, and the successful restorative discipline program at Santa Barbara Junior High School will spread to all four junior highs and Santa Barbara High School next year.
The program used intervention policies instead of referrals for punishments, and the school ended up having three times as many contacts between students and teachers and far fewer referrals, Cash said.
Santa Barbara Junior High AVID teacher Aaron Harkey, who was instrumental in the program over the past year, will be working with the district to help run the programs at all five schools.
With the loss of El Puente Community School after the County Education Office closed it in June, the district has been looking for alternatives for its students who aren’t comfortable in a traditional school setting.
La Cuesta Continuation High School will be expanding so the district can provide more services for students who choose to attend or have to, due to being expelled from other district schools, Cash said.
The Board of Education will get a full report next week, but so far Cash has said the program will partner with Santa Barbara City College, and the district already has signed agreements with the City of Santa Barbara to use the Westside Neighborhood Center and Community Action Commission’s facility at 5638 Hollister Ave. for classes during normal school hours.
As part of the adopted Strategic Plan, consultants have just finished a comprehensive assessment of school facilities, which hasn’t been done in decades, if ever.
The district is also preparing for the sale of voter-approved bonds — the $55 million from the second batch of Measure Q and R money for capital projects.
Special-education department leaders have been working on the many deficiencies cited in a highly critical FCMAT report that recommended a complete overhaul as well, and more than half of the recommendations have been implemented, Cash said.
In a report to the board in June, Director Helen Rodriguez said the department’s efforts are focused on improving all forms of education and developing training for staff, teachers, administrators and parents.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.