New year brings changes for younger students | August 17, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 17, 2012

New year brings changes for younger students

Higher student-teacher ratio, staggered reading, transitional kindergarten added

by Glenn Wohltmann

The new school year beginning Aug. 28 in the Pleasanton district will bring some changes, especially for younger children and their parents.

Among those changes: larger class sizes for grades 1 through 3.

Class sizes are moving to 30-1 for the first time in years, said Jane Golden, director of curriculum and special projects

"We had 20-1 for 12 years. Last year we had 25-1, this year we have 30-1. I really think its part of doing business in school in California right now," Golden said. "With funding being cut for all districts, teachers have had to adapt."

The district has had to adapt, too.

"We're moving instructional materials around, we're moving furniture, because teachers need more desks. In some classrooms we actually have to move computers out of classrooms because teachers need more desks," Golden said.

The district handed out pink slips to 23 teachers as it moved to the higher student-teacher ratio.

Grades 1-3 will also see staggered reading schedules for the first time in years, with half going early and half staying late to give teachers smaller class sizes to emphasize reading. That caused an uproar among parents when it was announced in June.

"As far as I know, things have settled down," Golden said. "Kids Club (the district's own after-school program) sent out a survey to all elementary school parents in the district asking about their needs."

In addition, she said, "We met with all the childcare providers.

"Two meetings were held with childcare providers in our community to help them figure out the logistics of implementing the new schedule on their end. For example, van trips -- that seemed to be one of their main concerns."

The district is also adding transitional kindergarten for the first time, bringing in those who are not quite old enough for regular kindergarten.

Golden said three classes were added, for a total of 90 new young learners.

"We're required by state ed code to provide the program for children born in November. Those children have all been registered and are ready to go. We have three classes and they're absolutely full -- each has 30 kids," she said. "We've been able to let in all of the October-born children. Our waiting list is for September-born children, and we have about 17 of them."

Golden said the exact number may change as some of those scheduled for transitional kindergarten drop out at the last minute, or if it's decided that some kindergartners need an extra year to develop skills.

The district, acting on the mission statement it adopted last year that its students "will make a better world," is also getting a jump on Common Core State Standards, which are set to take effect in the 2013-14 school year.

"These standards are rigorous, globally focused, and based upon the increasing demands of the 21st century workforce needs," said Odie Douglas, the district's new assistant superintendent of educational services. "We will work collaboratively with our instructional staff to make sure our core curriculum in the areas of English, mathematics, science and social science is fully aligned with the Common Core State Standards and assessments by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year."

The new standards are to help American students compete on the world stage and have been adopted by 47 states. Golden said the new approach will be put into action gradually.

"We're taking this year and next year for training and reviewing our curriculum," Golden said. "Our model is to train teacher leaders at every school in the district, and then the principals and these teacher leaders will train the rest of the staff."

She said the standards will be less answer-based and more understandin- based. For example, a student could get the answer to a math question wrong but still get some credit for knowing the theory. Golden said Common Core will also mean more collaboration among students and less talking by teachers.

Even as the district moves toward those more rigorous standards, two of its schools are in "program improvement," which means federally mandated requirements to bring up test scores. Pleasanton Middle School has to raise scores for special education students and English learners, and Valley View Elementary has to boost scores language scores for English learners and Hispanic students.

PMS has begun scheduling extra learning time before and after school, and some of its students will have block scheduling, giving up an elective for extra instructional time. Valley View teachers will be getting three days of intensive instruction on a new program about to be implemented there.

Meanwhile, elementary and middle schools are still raising money to add hours that were cut for tech positions, said Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources.

He said schools will continue to raise funds during walk-through registration.

"At this point, no one has added any additional hours over the base for the library media assistants or site technology specialist positions," he said.

No one is challenging the three incumbent school board members whose terms are up this year, so the district will save the $42,000 budgeted to participate in the November election.

But state funding is still up in the air for the upcoming year, according to Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services.

"November is going to be the next major data point for us," Cazares said. That's when two state measures designed to increase funding for schools will be on the ballot.

"We planned for taxes not passing," Cazares said. "November feels like a long way away, but we're ready for it when it comes."

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