http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/09/20/money-less-of-a-worry-but-pusd-still-has-challenges


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - September 20, 2013

Money less of a worry, but PUSD still has challenges

New teaching method, technology and safety still issues

by Glenn Wohltmann

While Pleasanton School District officials are optimistic they've turned the corner on their biggest worry, school funding, there are a number of issues that present challenges for the current school year and beyond.

Among those are gearing up for the Common Core State Standards, meeting the need for new technology across the district and school safety.

"I think we've had a wonderful start of school. We already started work on Common Core last year, and this year, we're in the thick of it," Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said.

Funding

The state has changed its funding model for school districts, allowing them more choice in deciding where to spend their money.

The new model, known as the Local Control Funding Formula, will also send about $2.4 million in additional cash here, according to Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares.

LCFF comes with some strings attached, but Cazares said what those strings are remains an unknown.

"The rules for LCFF are still being written," she said. "Sometime this year they'll tell us how to spend the money they're giving us this year."

The state is also allocating additional money to reduce class sizes in grades one through five, although it won't fully fund those reductions until the 2020-21 school year. This year, thanks to $213,000 donated by Pleasanton Partnerships in Education and $112,000 from the district, class sizes for first-graders were reduced from 30 students per classroom to 25.

Pleasanton can also anticipate some additional cash thanks to a 15% increase in lottery ticket sales. The district also is expecting an extra $3 million in state funding for Common Core.

"There are essentially three possible ways to spend it -- instructional materials, technology and professional development," Cazares said.

Ahmadi said teachers are working on decisions on how to spend the money.

"We should be going to the board with a plan to discuss in November and approve in December," she said. Most districts statewide are using the majority of this Common Core money for professional development.

The district is also unlikely to have any mid-year financial surprises, thanks to healthier state revenues.

"We can feel a little more secure that we're not going to be cut in the middle of the year," Cazares said.

Common Core

Common Core is probably the single toughest item the school district will address this year, although it's already done much to get teachers ready for the new methodology.

The standards were designed to get students on a clear pathway to college. Graduating seniors will have all the skills they need for college courses, 11th graders will learn what they need to know to enter their senior year, all the way down to kindergarten. Because Common Core is nationwide (or nearly so: forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted them), a student in ninth grade from Georgia or Wisconsin should be able to transfer to the same grade in California having acquired the same level of knowledge as her or his new peers.

Students will be expected to think more deeply and less broadly about problems. For example, they might be asked to read a passage and interpolate answers to several questions. There will be fewer multiple choice and true or false questions on tests in general, and intuitive programs will be used in testing to tell teachers if a student is falling behind in an area.

Implementing Common Core will take money, equipment, training and time.

Odie Douglas, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services, said teachers and administrators got a jump on Common Core over the summer in two training sessions.

"We want to make sure that all of our teachers know what the Common Core standards are," Douglas said. "It's going well. We have teacher leaders involved in the work. We have our instructional coaches taking leads in various areas and helping with them as well as our department chairs and other leaders at the sites."

He said the district is currently working to make sure that what teachers are teaching meets the levels of learning that will be required under Common Core.

"We're looking at our existing curricula and seeing what areas need to be aligned more closely to that subject area or grade level," he said.

But, as is the case with school districts across California, Pleasanton is awaiting word from the state about whether it will have to use computer-based testing required by Common Core or, for this year at least, can still use the pencil-and-paper STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program that's been in place for years.

There also may be new SAT tests in the not-too-distant future.

David Coleman is the architect of Common Core and president of the national nonprofit College Board, which represents 6,000 colleges and universities. Coleman is reportedly working with other board members to rewrite the SATs.

Technology

For the last several years, the Pleasanton school district has been allocating most of its money to maintaining programs. It's put off large purchases of new textbooks, for example.

It's also spent little on technology upgrades, but that's changing now, according to Technology Services Director Chris Hobbs, thanks in part to Common Core.

"The new exams are going to be online, and to do that we're going to need new computers than we have in our computer labs," he said. "We began this summer with replacing three of those labs."

Hobbs said more upgrades will be done next summer. The district will also add mobile computer labs.

"When we go to test, we're going to be taking those physical labs out of circulation and back fill them with mobile labs," Hobbs said. "Ultimately, they're going to be carts with laptops on them. They'll be rolled into a classroom on an as-needed basis, so instead of (students) going to the computer lab, the lab will go to them."

Safety

Given the school shootings across the country, it's a fair assumption that every district has reviewed its intruder alert procedures.

That's true in Pleasanton as well, although for obvious reasons district officials don't want to discuss the specifics.

Without going into details, Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, said the district has been working with the Pleasanton Police Department to make the protocols the same for every school.

"We've come up with specific intruder emergency response procedures," Johnson said. "This is a systemic approach that will apply at all schools. Police shared the instructions and procedures with site leaders last year."

There are specific instructions for teachers, and for lunchtime, physical education and office staff members that tell exactly what to do in an intruder alert.

Schools will still have their own emergency plans for fires, earthquakes and other dangers, but, Johnson noted, "the intruder emergency response and lock down procedure will be the same" at every school.

One new method for intruder emergencies that's gained popularity is known as HRF -- hide, run, fight.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security put out a video and instructions for situations like an office shooting: hide if you can, run if you can't hide, fight if you can't run.

Some schools in California, such as south Orange County, have adopted HRF as a standard for teachers and students alike. Other California schools call for HRF to be used by teachers and not by students.

In other safety-related matters, the district is continuing its push to curb bullying. Johnson said data has been shared with administrators at every school about the four types of bullying -- verbal, psychological, physical and cyberbullying -- as well as the effects each can have.

Schools have been asked to come up with goals for handling bullying and the district is providing them with examples to consider.

Drugs and alcohol also continue to be a focus, but Johnson said the recent use of drug sniffing dogs has been effective.

While alcohol and drug use are an issue, he said, "what happens outside of school and on the weekends is an even bigger issue."

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