Excess potpourri

By Marsha Sutton

Excess education potpourri just keeps piling up.

Grading transparency

A report issued Feb. 24 by the First Amendment rights group Californians Aware audited the responsiveness of school districts that were asked for records of their most recent out-of-court settlement agreements. The point was not necessarily to review the material but to examine how transparent and responsive each public agency is.

CalAware graded the agencies by beginning with 100 points and subtracting 10 points for each infraction. If the agency blocked the request entirely, it lost the entire 100 points.

The San Dieguito Union High School District received an A+, the highest of all local districts, with no offenses.

The Del Mar Union School District received an A, losing 10 points for the following offense: “Failed to provide Tort Claim that resulted in the Settlement Agreement within 60 days (or satisfactorily demonstrate that none exist) – Poway Unified School District v. Superior Court, 62 Cal.App.4th 1496 (1998).”

The Solana Beach School District received an F, for failing in seven separate areas and losing 10 points for each. The Rancho Santa Fe School District received a D, for failing in four separate areas, costing 10 points each.

Offenses for both Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe included, among other violations, not responding within the required 10 days and not assisting in identifying and/or providing responsive records.

Solana Beach also failed for the same tort claim offense as Del Mar’s. And Rancho Santa Fe also failed for the following: “Replied that the request should be submitted on an agency form or by letter to the agency prior to complying with the request – OR – Requested information such as the purpose of request, what the records would be used for, or the requester’s address, phone, or affiliation prior to complying to the request.”

For nearby districts, Poway Unified received an A+, Encinitas received a B, and Carlsbad Unified and San Diego Unified both received an F.

This was the third and final phase of a California Public Records Act audit by CalAware, which contacted more than 250 California agencies, including nearly 200 K-12 school districts. CalAware reported that over half the districts failed decisively.

Some districts disagreed with the labeled offenses and criticized the exercise for its narrow definitions of acceptable responsiveness. The full list can be viewed at: www.calaware.org.

Area elections for trustees

Last month, the San Diego County Office of Education agreed to consider resolutions to initiate studies of school districts’ election systems. The aim is to collaborate with districts to ensure compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. The Del Mar Union School District is one district that passed this resolution.

Clauses in the DMUSD resolution, passed 5-0 last November, state: that the district “finds it necessary to review its current trustee election system in light of the California Voting Rights Act,” that changes to bring the district into compliance may include “adopting a by-trustee area election system,” and that any changes be made in time for the November 2012 elections. This would allow “for trustee area boundaries to be accurate and current based on the 2010 census data if the district ultimately determines that adoption of a trustee area electoral system is appropriate.”

The resolution allows the Del Mar superintendent to expend up to $1,000 to explore possible changes and implement those changes if warranted.

American History grant

The San Diego County Office of Education is hoping to apply for a ‘Teaching American History” grant through the U.S. Department of Education which would provide up to $2 million over five years to “increase content knowledge and understanding of American history among teachers in grades 3, 4 and 5.”

Eligibility includes collaboration with a museum, in this case the San Diego Maritime Museum. This partnership, states the March 9 SDCOE board report, would “complement the study of land exploration and settlement with experiential immersion-based learning, focusing on the chronological history associated with maritime exploration and settlement – a perspective highly relevant to U.S. history but often overlooked in traditional textbooks and educational resources.”

Targeted teachers in third through fifth grades will be solicited, according to SDCOE, “in districts located in more remote areas of the county and with student populations traditionally under-represented in history-social science.”

Outdoor education

Today, March 17, marks the 65th anniversary of the opening of Camp Cuyamaca by the San Diego County Office of Education. This was the first outdoor education school program in the state.

Commonly known as sixth-grade camp, the outdoor education program, begun in 1946, continues to offer students experiences in the mountains that include hiking, star-gazing, campfire talks, wilderness lessons, nature appreciation, hands-on science, and a chance to gain independence by living away from home for five days.

The valuable program, however, is threatened by budget cutbacks, SDCOE said, which makes sixth-grade camp for future students uncertain.

Del Mar GATE money

The Del Mar Union School District recently approved diverting Gifted and Talented Education state money to other district needs.

Due to the severity of the state’s education funding crisis, the money the state offers school districts for programs classified as Tier III, such as GATE, can now be used for other purposes.

“The flexibility at the state allows for expenses [to be] allocated as wisely as possible,” said Holly McClurg, DMUSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instructional services.

The GATE money, which McClurg estimated to be no more than several thousand dollars a year, was used exclusively to test students beginning in third grade for GATE eligibility, using the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test. High-scoring students were then identified as GATE in sixth grade, originally to help the San Dieguito Union High School District qualify them for placement purposes for middle school honors programs.

But McClurg said San Dieguito no longer uses that information from the test, and hasn’t for years.

“They’ve completely changed their practice and do not use the GATE results any more,” she said. “Therefore, there’s no reason for us to continue administering it.”

McClurg said the money will now be used for other purposes such as teacher professional development.

Although district has a high percentage of students classified as GATE, “there’s not a separate curriculum for GATE and there never has been,” she said.

“We truly believe that the way to best meet the needs of our kids is to look at all of our kids as needing a rigorous, challenging curriculum – not just the few that would score a certain percentage on a GATE test,” MClurg said.

For academically high-achieving students, the core curriculum is used. “But then we extend it and enrich it,” she said. “So it’s through differentiation and the extension activities.”

Solana Beach designates schools of attendance

Until School #7 is constructed, the Solana Beach School District is designating Carmel Creek School and Solana Pacific School as the schools of attendance for K-6 students residing in the new Pacific Highlands Ranch neighborhoods known as 21-A and 21-B. Carmel Creek serves students in kindergarten through fourth grades, and Solana Pacific serves fifth- and sixth-grade students.

The agenda item, brought to the school board on the consent calendar at the March 10 board meeting, indicated that construction for these two areas would be completed from 2011 to 2015 and would consist of a total of 219 single-family homes. This is estimated to produce 92 students for the district by 2015.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at: SuttComm@san.rr.com.



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