Visit to Walnut Elementary School

Principal Aileen Wall has given presentations to the District Advisory Council (DAC) and the School Board about how she and her teachers have narrowed the achievement gap at Walnut Elementary School. They use a data-driven approach using test scores and trimester evaluations to identify students who need help on specific concepts. Mrs. Wall gave me a tour of Walnut on a recent Friday.

My first question to Mrs. Wall was how teachers responded to using an in-depth look at their students’ data to drive instruction. Something can be a great idea in principle, but if teachers aren’t eager for whatever reason to implement it, it won’t succeed.

Mrs. Wall described to me how teachers work with her in grade-level teams once a trimester to group (and regroup) students by skill level and decide which skills and concepts to focus on during small group instruction called target time. They research and identify proven curriculum to use during target time. Mrs. Wall is able to hire additional credentialed teachers for target time through Title I funds that are available because of the number of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. For students who are a little behind in their skills, target time gives them a chance to catch up. For kids who are bit ahead, it allows for enrichment and diving deeper into the grade-level concepts.

Mrs. Wall said that this new approach has really helped teachers develop a sense of teamwork and trust since they are all sharing common tools and can see that their approach is working. In addition to the trimester working sessions, they have time on Wednesdays to meet and touch base.

Mrs. Wall said that teachers were willing to try the new intervention model, and teacher-leaders helped design the implementation process.  Any preliminary fears were calmed once everyone saw the great results. She is able to have a staff person enter all the data from the trimester reports into a database they can all share. This relieves the teachers of having to do this and makes teachers more enthusiastic about using a data driven approach.

In addition to being able to hire more credentialed teachers, Mrs. Wall was able to use Title I funds to purchase a software program called Achieve3000. Like many educational software programs, it is able to gear its language and lessons to a child’s reading level. Unlike other programs, however, all the students in a class have the same lesson.  For instance, a lesson might be about ocean life. Teachers can teach the subject matter and talk to the students about the concepts while the material is tailored to each student. I was so excited to see that all students can participate in the same lesson at an individualized reading level.

I don’t mean to steal Mrs. Wall’s thunder. She can speak much more in depth about how, at Walnut Elementary, they are pulling together all these different educational practices to make significant improvements in students’ education. It is very exciting to see how she and her team are using a data-driven approach to provide each student with the instruction that they need when they need it!

Great News!

Great news! The California Department of Education (CDE) has removed language from its Recommended Reading List book annotations which was at the core of the CVUSD new opt-out policy for high school literature. The policy that Sandee Everett wrote and that was supported by Mike Dunn and John Andersen -- against the recommendation of the faculty committee assembled to address the issue -- requires that teachers mark books with an asterisk when the CDE annotation mentioned that a book contains “mature content.” That language no longer occurs in any annotation for any book on the Recommended Reading List.

As explained in my public comments to the board and in a note I published about my conversations with the CDE (link here), this is a list of books that students are encouraged to read. The CDE was appalled that our school board would use language within their annotations to dissuade parents from letting their students read these books. This was always a subversion by our school board of the Recommended Reading List's original purpose. The CDE has reacted to this use of its list by removing the language referred to in our new literature opt-out policy.

I have always signed my kids’ syllabi and reviewed their reading lists. We have had numerous meaningful conversations around the dinner table about what they were reading. I think it is feasible and quite reasonable to include the CDE annotation on any syllabus that goes home. But I think it is very important for the Board to remove its seal of disapproval from books on our approved curriculum lists.

Online Candidate Question and Answer April 8th

I will be taking part in a live online question and answer session hosted by Conejo Valley blogger, Anonymous Mommy, on April 8th, from noon - 1:00 pm. 

Anonymous Mommy's Blog

In the days leading up to this, she will post information about me on her blog site. She will also post in advance my answers to ten questions from her and questions submitted to her by community members by March 10th. If you have a question, please go to the website above to submit it.  

I hope you'll join in this conversation.

Mike Dunn Censure Vote scheduled for February 6th Board Meeting

Agenda Item 6.1 from the CVUSD Board Meeting Agenda scheduled for February 6th is a motion to censure board member Mike Dunn, including an apology from the board to Mrs. Weihe and Mr. Harris. Note that the letter of apology will come from Board President Andersen and NOT from Mike Dunn. I don't know how satisfactory that will be to Anonymous Mommy (Mrs. Weihe) or Scott Harris.

Also note that because such a large crowd is expected, tickets will be issued for admittance to the board meeting at 3:45 pm with doors opening at 4:30 pm.

I may not be there in time to get a ticket, but I will be there nonetheless. Agenda Item 10 (hopefully before midnight) is a very important discussion of how the 2018-19 Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and Budget process is changing. District leadership will provide an overview of budget nomenclature and discuss proposed changes to better align LCAP goals with the Budget.

It is so painful to watch this board spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars trying to mitigate the unethical behavior of one board member when there is very important business that requires their full attention.

Text of Censure Resolution as submitted by board member Dr. Betsy Connolly.