VOTE and Make Your Voice Heard - Several important School Board Issues On The Ballot That Impact San Diego Unified.
1) Vote for School Board Trustees. 3 out of 5 Board of Education seats are on the ballot so familiarize yourself with the candidates. Ask them what their views are on GATE and how they plan to ensure the viability of the GATE program in years to come.
2) Vote on Measure C: District-Only Elections for School Board Trustees. A YES vote will amend the City Charter and protect voting rights. A YES vote will also bring greater accountability to elected trustees that serve at the will of the people that elect them. It has taken 4 years and a Grand Jury Report to get this on the ballot. Details on Measure C are here. See also "City Council Approved Ballot Measure" story below.
3) Vote on Measure D: Procedures to Remove School Board Members for Cause & to Fill Vacancies.
A YES will amend the City Charter and provide a process for removing school board members for cause and filling vacancies. After several recent high profile scandals involving Board Trustees in SD Unified, this measure proposes to address ways to hold them accountable. Details on Measure D are here.
4) Vote for County Board of Education (1st District ). Incumbent Mark Powell is endorsed by the Republicans vs. challenger Gregg Robinson who is endorsed by the Democrats. The SDCOE provides a variety of services (such as financial oversight, professional education, technology initiatives, review of LCAPs, coordination of services for special populations of students such as foster and homeless youth) for the 42 school districts, 124 charter schools, and five community college districts in the county (including San Diego Unified). More details on Ballotpedia.
The Issue: The San Diego City Council on July 7 decided to place a measure on the November 2020 ballot to change the process for election of San Diego Unified board trustees. This was a recommendation of the 2017 Grand Jury Report .
Background: The SDUSD Board of Education elections process is contained in the San Diego City Charter - so it can only be changed with a ballot measure. Until now, there has been a primary election to select the top-two candidates in a sub-district, who run again in November.
But currently, all voters in SDUSD can vote for any BoE trustees in the final November election. This disenfranchises voters because their trustee is chosen by voters who don't even live in their sub-district. Do you want people who know nothing about your neighborhood schools or your local candidates to help choose your trustee for you?
How Can You Help? Talk with your friends and neighbors and tell them about Measure C. Encourage them to pay attention to the measure, and also to those candidates who are running for school board - and vote wisely.
San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified school districts have announced jointly that they will not have students return to class in person in August. Read the press release here.
Tentative agreement announced between San Diego Unified and its teachers union (July 30). According to the SD Union Tribune, "The school day will involve up to six hours of distance learning to mimic a normal, in-person school day as much as possible", said Andrew Sharp, district spokesman. That means students will have a six-hour school day that includes daily video conferencing with a teacher. Every school day, students will have up to three hours of live online instruction, at least two hours of independent work and at least one hour of students working in small groups or going to virtual office hours. All elementary school students will get instruction in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, physical education and the arts. Unlike in the spring, schools will have to provide direct IEP services live, according to students’ IEP hours and needs, according to the tentative agreement. The draft agreement is posted by the SDEA here.
California school campuses in 32 of the counties hardest hit by Covid-19 aren’t likely to reopen at the beginning of the school year. Gov. Gavin Newsom made this announcement in a press conference July 17th. Read more here.
The campuses that do reopen will have mask requirements for students and teachers, as well as Covid-19 testing and social distancing recommendations for teachers and school staff, according to California Department of Public Health guidelines Newsom released Friday.
Parents must have a say in districts’ distance learning plans under new California law (July 16).
See this new information about legislation mandating parent involvement in the development of school district plans for the upcoming school year. Legislators are now requiring that districts explain how they will implement distance learning in a new report they must write, called the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCAP). In its format and requirements for public participation, the seven-page LCAP “template” resembles the yearly Local Control and Accountability Plan — only shorter. Each district and charter school must hold two public hearings on the plan before adopting it ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline. Districts are also required to reach out to parents to ask, among other issues, what distance learning should look like.
The Issue: In an unusual move, the Board of Education approved the budget on first reading at their 6-30 meeting (agenda and supporting docs here). This raises red flags over the projected deficit and the lack of transparency and public engagement in the process. According to the San Diego Union Tribune; "But the district is projecting a $169 million shortfall next school year in 2021 and a $208 million shortfall the following school year. The aid that helped close the budget gap this year was one-time, money."
Also, the "Covid-19 Operational Report" was approved, although it spins a very rosy narrative about how wonderfully the District responded to the pandemic. Neither the budget nor the Covid Report should simply be accepted at face value by the public, especially given the derailment of the public engagement process. As with the June 16 BoE meeting (see more on that under School Reopening News below), the rules were changed so that only brief public comments could be submitted in the early morning BEFORE the meeting, when we hadn't even heard what was going to be presented (a backward process indeed).
Background: The state is mandating all districts to explain to "its community" what they did after schools closed in response to the pandemic in a "COVID-19 Operations Report." This short 4-pg report is item H.2. of the June 30th Agenda. The Covid-19 Report reveals something we parents of GATE students already know; that our 20,000 GATE-identified students are being totally ignored. The Report mentions no specific actions taken to ensure that the special educational services needed by GATE students were addressed or even considered during the pandemic response (nor any indication that GATE teachers received any PD support). The Report touts successful communication with families yet neither GATE families nor the GATE DAC were contacted about the District’s plans to ensure delivery of the differentiated education and social-emotional support these students require. There is nothing about Covid-19 response on the District's GATE website. Compare that with the LA Unified GATE Covid webpage.
The pandemic school closures reveal the many failures of the District’s de-centralized, site-based GATE model. How will the District guarantee that Principals won’t use the pandemic as an excuse to unilaterally disband their GATE programs as unnecessary, or too onerous a burden? Will the District reopen communication to GATE parents, so they aren’t in the dark? How do we ensure that the District won’t ignore GATE students and assume they’ll “do fine on their own”.
How Can You Help? We didn't get enough lead time for most GATE parents to submit comments on the 6-30 Board meeting (but thanks to those who did). However, you can still email your comments, questions, and concerns about GATE to email@example.com Some obvious questions include the following: What is going to happen to GATE testing & identification next year (see more on that below)?; What is the plan to address the fact that some schools hadn't completed last year's testing before schools closed?; What will be the effect on newly identified GATE students and 3rd grade GATE classes next year and how does the District plan to address that problem?; Is the District going to provide a uniform pandemic response for GATE students, so there isn't a piecemeal, site by site approach that is uneven across schools and Clusters?; How will the District ensure that GATE students in more resource-poor Clusters still get high quality GATE instruction, so that delivery of GATE services is equitable across all socio-economic groups?; Is the GATE program safe from elimination?
The Issue: On June 26, the California legislature passed the state budget for 2020-21 with important implications for school funding. The Legislature approved the final, balanced budget along party lines — 29-11 in the Senate and 57-16 in the Assembly.
This fall, schools are being told to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible” according to AB-77, the education trailer bill accompanying the 2020-21 budget that legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to this week.
Schools can offer distance learning if ordered by a state or local health official, or for students who are medically at-risk or are self-quarantining because of exposure to Covid-19, which has killed more than 5,630 people in California as of June 23, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Per-student funding will be guaranteed at 2019-20 rates before the onset of COVID-19. California schools will continue to provide 180 days of instruction per year (175 days for charter schools). Instructional minutes will be reduced to a minimum 240 minutes per day for grades 4-12 (180 minutes for kindergarten, 230 minutes for grades 1 to 3) in an effort to offer teachers more flexibility during distance learning (see section 43501 of AB-77).
CA Association for the Gifted (CAG) Legislative Efforts: CAG now has 3 clear advocacy goals that it is working on (see more on that here). That involves restoring language in the CA Education Code that defines Gifted & Talented Learners, establishes equity in Gifted identification, and includes GATE students as their own "student group" on the CA School Dashboard.
How Can You Help? Go to EdSource for the latest news on school finance. Go to the CAG website legislation page for information on their advocacy goals. Join advocacy organizations like CAG, NAGC, and SENG to support the important work they do on behalf of gifted families.
The Issue: On June 16th 2020, the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education held a Special Meeting where it unanimously adopted a school Reopening Plan for the next school year. Questions immediately arose about how that Reopening Plan was developed, by who, and whether (or how) parent input was involved.
Background Story: Parents were asked to email comments on the Reopening Plan BEFORE anyone had even seen a draft of the plan yet or knew what was in it. Oddly, the plan was even announced in the San Diego Union Tribune in the morning prior to the Board meeting - BEFORE the meeting was even held, or the parent input was even heard, or the plan was debated, or voted on! (Note that the online version of the SDUT article has now been updated since the Board meeting happened).
To add to the controversy, the District Area Superintendents abruptly called a number of Cluster meetings just prior to June 16 in order to gather parent input, but those meetings were not uniformly advertised and were held when parents were preoccupied with the last week of school. In at least one Cluster, tensions flared because it was discovered that the meeting was restricted to a small, select set of participants rather than being open to all parents, effectively excluding many voices from that Cluster.
In response to criticism, the District said at the June 16 Board meeting that there is an online parent survey that parents can complete BEFORE June 25th; however, it just asks which option you intend to choose (in-person classes, distance learning, or some unspecified hybrid option) and provides one small box to enter other comments. The problem is that the Reopening Plan has already been accepted by the Board, so it feels more like parents are once again being asked - after the fact - to accept a plan they had little say in. This is particularly true for GATE parents, who as a group, were not specifically asked for feedback on how their students needs are being met and who found GATE students missing from both the Reopening Plan and the Distance Learning Plan. Even this editorial in the SD Union Tribune said that SD Unified asking parents which learning options they would prefer is a good start; however, they also had this to say: "But schools will have to get a lot better at communicating with parents in the days ahead."
How Can You Help? Fill out the online survey before June 25 and specifically ask about how GATE is being handled by the Reopening Plan in the comment box. Contact your Area Superintendent and your Board of Education trustee and let them know if you feel like your voice is not being heard. Ask them hard questions, e.g., why is there no mention of GATE in either the Reopening Plan or the Distance Learning Plan? Is GATE being eliminated? If not, ask them exactly how the special needs of gifted students are being addressed by the District's two Plans. (Need more ideas for questions you could ask? Look at the GATE Feedback PDF posted here).
More Information: The State Superintendent of Public Instruction (Tony Thurmond) is posting the most current info about COVID-19 impacts on education on this webpage or you can check the CA Dept of Education COVID webpage here.
The Issue: San Diego Unified has a history of being roundly criticized for a lack of transparency and for failing to take parent engagement on policy seriously. That is despite parent engagement being a state-mandated priority since the LCFF was passed in 2013.
Background: A 2016 report by LA-based "Families in Schools" states the following: "Unfortunately, parent engagement in California has lacked rigor and authenticity for far too long. Few, if any, school districts have developed successful and sustainable ways of bridging the gap between the home and the classroom. This has contributed to sluggish student achievement growth, particularly among high-need student populations." This short, user-friendly report, called Ready or Not: How California School Districts are Reimagining Parent Engagement in the Era of Local Control Funding Formula examines the inner workings of districts across California as they try to meet the parent engagement expectations of LCFF. It makes these 6 key recommendations for districts to follow: 1) Develop statewide standards for parent engagement; 2) Build relationships and partnerships between parents and school staff; 3) Invest funding & resources in parent engagement to meet LCAP goals; 4) Partner with community groups and other external organizations; 5) Tailor programs to the different needs of parents; and 6) Provide professional development on parent engagement.
How Can You Help? Read the "Ready or Not" report (above) and figure out how to apply the lessons to your own school site (and to the District's Clusters and the parent-led District Advisory Committees).
Learn more about the challenges we face locally, by reading these Op-Ed articles in Voice of San Diego. Read one 2020 article here and one 2018 article here. There is a 2017 article here and one more here .
Read this 2019 article "Gifted Education Faces Clear & Present Problems" that highlights a study examining American attitudes towards gifted education.
Get involved and help school administrators do a better job fostering effective parent engagement. Talk with your Principal about school governance, and volunteer at your school. Offer to be the school representative on the GATE DAC or other District committees. Attend your Cluster meetings and talk with your Area Super and Board of Education trustee. Tell them that parent voices matter, because research shows that strong family-school partnerships are important for student success.
The Issue: The universal 2nd grade GATE testing in SD Unified was interrupted due to recent school closures, so some students did not get tested, while others took the test earlier in the year. This creates a very messy issue, as the District grapples with decisions about if (and how) new students will be identified and accepted into GATE next year. On top of that, there is nothing left in the CA Education Code mandating gifted education in the state. So there isn't any formal guidance help for GATE coming down from CDE, which means every District is left on its own to figure this out.
Background Story: On March 18 Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-30-20 that suspended statewide standardized testing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. That includes K-12 CAASPP/SBAC testing for the 2019-2020 academic year, and those test scores are used in our District's GATE identification process. GATE testing and identification has been interrupted across CA school districts, e.g., see LA Unified's GATE COVID info page here. Our District GATE webpage is here.
How is GATE identification and placement going to be handled fairly, if some students got tested but others did not? Clearly, Districts like LA Unified or Sacramento City Unified (and many others across CA with fully staffed GATE departments) have the advantage of having personnel and processes in place to work out plans to address the problem; however, SD Unified closed its GATE department and eliminated the GATE manager and resource teacher positions back in 2017.
This is a complicated issue that needs attention. Since SD Unified adopted the new GATE test (the short screening-level CogAT) in 2015-16 the numbers of gifted students being identified and moving into the GATE program has declined (data not publicly available). According to public District demographic data (source is posted on the Downloads page here), there was a total of 23,873 GATE identified students in K-12 in 2014-15 but only 17,910 in 2019-20.
Layer on top of that, a District policy that tries to keep students in their local neighborhood schools. This means that shrinking numbers of GATE students tend to be spread thinly across many schools. This makes it impossible for most schools to concentrate enough of them into GATE classes with a GATE-certified teacher so they can receive the differentiated educational services they need.
So the testing disruption could present a big problem, if the pipeline of new 3rd grade GATE-identified students dries up, and Principals use that excuse to dismantle their GATE programs. Or if the District claims to be too overwhelmed with other COVID-related issues, and declares that it doesn't have the bandwidth to maintain the GATE program and shuts it down.
How Can You Help? Advocate for GATE. Email comments, questions, and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Speak to your Principals, Area Superintendents, and Board of Education trustees about the importance of GATE. Ask how the District plans to address the disruption to GATE testing, identification, and placement. Ask them to communicate directly with GATE parents to provide updates and support. Ask them how they will ensure that GATE students get the educational services they need, because those students are no less important than any others. Contact the GATE DAC and ask how they are working on this, and other urgent GATE-related issues, with the District.
The Issue: This year should have been a very busy time for SD Unified strategic planning. Their first 3-year LCAP was ending in June 2020 and development of the new LCAP was underway when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. The state has hit the pause button on LCAP and will allow the development of the next 3-yr plan to be delayed until the winter. Read updates here.
This is not the time to throw up our hands and forget about thinking strategically. The pandemic has upended education, providing an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild and reimagine our schools. Now is actually the best time to get involved, speak up, and push for reforms.
Background Story: It is important for parents in SD Unified to be aware of the core ideas that were about to shape the District's next 3-yr LCAP - as well as the underlying vision that will frame the District's next decade (known as Vision 2030 - it is an update to Vision 2020, the District's former 10-year guiding vision that included the 12 Indicators of a Quality Neighborhood School).
Probably not many of you participated in the District's Vision 2030 Cluster presentations where they highlighted Marc Tucker’s 2019 Book “Leading High-Performance School Systems - Lessons from the World's Best” and introduced the "9 Building Blocks" that are common to world-class school systems. In those meetings they compared American schools to top-performing schools in countries that scored well in math and reading on international educational assessments like TIMSS and PISA. Singapore is one example. Others include Canada, Finland, and Hong Kong. In case you missed it, that presentation is posted on our Downloads page here along with other helpful documents explaining LCAP. Perhaps you filled out the Vision 2030 survey that asked for your input on the cognitive, personal and interpersonal competencies that you feel SD Unified students should have when they graduate. All of that hints at where the District's thinking is coming from and where we are headed.
Parent leaders who chair the various District Advisory Committees have been sitting in meetings with the District about this for the past year, and they have a lot to say about it, if you ask them. If you want to have a say in how our schools are run in coming years then you need to be paying close attention to what the District is doing right now and ask a lot of hard questions.
How Can You Help? Get involved in the District Advisory Committees (whether you are interested in GATE, Special Education, Title 1, English Language Learning, or the PTA). For a quick primer, read the Feb 18 GDAC LCAP & Vision Presentation PDF posted here. I strongly encourage you to learn about the 9 Building Blocks common to world-class education systems that were influencing the District's planning, They are even more relevant today, as we look forward and plan for school reopening. Let's choose not to go "back" to the way things were, but instead think boldly and use our voices to imagine how much better our schools can be going forward. Our kid's futures depend on us.
Congratulations are due to Kelly Young, who was named Elementary Teacher of the Year for 2020! While Kelly is GATE-certified and teaches GATE students at her school, there is not any mention of that in the news release. Her training in gifted education and use of GATE teaching strategies in her classroom helps make Kelly the outstanding teacher that she is. It would be nice for the District to acknowledge that gifted education is high quality education, and is good for all students. We thank Kelly for her outstanding work and her support of gifted students.
The Issue: The new Parents As Partners initiative is ignoring GATE.
Background Story: The GATE DAC leaders recently learned of the District's new Parents As Partners initiative, which has a new website here. It presents the District's Distance Learning Plan and also addresses things like motivation, mindfulness, wellness, life skills, and cultural identity. You will notice that there is nothing on there about GATE or the needs of gifted students. Scroll down to the bottom. The Day in The Life videos (featuring teachers, staff, and students) do not include any GATE students or teachers, even though the Elementary Teacher of the Year (Kelly Young) is the grade 4/5 GATE teacher at her school so she could be highlighted here! The Parent Brochure (PDF at bottom right) does not include GATE but it does address Special Education and ELL. The Distance Learning Plan also does not address GATE or the special needs of gifted students. There are no GATE parent representatives on the Task Force either (in fact there are only 2 parents in that group, but it includes 20 District staff).
How Can You Help? It may be beneficial for GATE parents to ask some questions about why gifted students are not considered in any of this content, and inquire when that oversight is going to be corrected.