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School board reviews progress in implementing Common Core

High school graduating dates also announced

The Pleasanton school board reviewed new Common Core state standards last week and also technology for instruction that will be closely intertwined in local classrooms.

Funding facility and technology needs also was a focus at the meeting.

This is the second of a three-year "revolution" in how students are taught and assessed, not only in Pleasanton and California, but throughout the nation as Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are implemented.

During the 2012-13 academic year, the emphasis was on "building infrastructure, skill development for teacher leaders, and awareness for all teachers."

The board of trustees was informed of the process and content, and parent forums were offered. An audit of each school site was conducted by the technology department to determine readiness for the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment that is taken on computers at all schools.

During the current school year, the focus became "instructional strategies, curriculum mapping, formative Common Core State Standards tasks and benchmarks."

The school board budgeted for instructional coaches in the areas of English language development, mathematics, technology, and AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination). The coaches are teachers freed from classroom assignments to assist their colleagues throughout the district in a non-evaluative way.

Those coaches, plus additional staff development days, were the key elements to bringing staff members on board the new train of thought in how to educate students for the 21st century.

Using technology for problem-solving and collaboration is the new direction to engage students in greater depth of knowledge. This month, students at several grade levels "tested the test," trying out for the first time the new computerized assessment.

"Change is hard," said Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi. "It's a lot of work, and it takes time. What has worked well is the instructional coach model. We have exemplary coaches, and also parent liaisons."

Ahmadi said other districts have inquired about how Pleasanton has gotten beyond "gadgets" to successfully integrating technology into all aspects of student learning.

"Other districts are looking at us because of our professional development model," she said.

One program that was launched in January is Sound Partners, a phonics-based literacy intervention program involving K-2 students working 3-4 times a week with trained volunteers in sessions of 20-45minutes, depending upon grade level.

Heidi Burton, K-5 literacy instructional coach, reported that currently more than 125 students are being served by over 170 volunteers, though more are welcome. Scripted lessons lead directly to application in reading. English learners and special needs students are benefiting from this program, as well as those in general education, she said.

In the coming school year, the CCSS focus will be "full implementation of formative assessments and/or benchmarks" to prepare for the first Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments that "count," in spring 2015. Those will be the first of the new assessments that will provide scores for individuals, schools, and the school district. Staff development will continue in depth of knowledge, instructional strategies and data analysis.

In order to switch effectively from paper-and-pencil testing to computer testing, the technological infrastructure must be in place.

Chris Hobbs, director of technology, presented the school board an updated version of the district's technology plan through 2017. The plan is based on the board's strategic plan, which says the schools will "optimize student learning by utilizing innovative technologies."

The plan incorporates six technology standards for students outlined by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE):

Creativity and innovation

Communication and collaboration

Research and information fluency

Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making

Digital citizenship

Lisa Highfill, instructional coach for technology, said technology can "transform learning from being teacher-centered, to being student-centered," adding that it allows a teacher to ask," What are you curious about?"

Students can connect not only with classmates, but with peers from around the globe, Highfill explained as she described book clubs stretching beyond state borders that allow students to share online their views of specific books.

"Famous authors noticed and answered back," she said. "This opened up a whole world of authentic learning that would not be possible without students' use of technology."

One of the less obvious categories cited by ISTE is "digital citizenship."

Eric Scherer, Amador Valley High School's librarian, described the workshops he conducts to make students aware of their "digital footprint," the lasting effects of what they post online.

"Our students are active participants in a shared digital landscape," said Scherer. "I tell them, 'Just because you can do something with technology doesn't mean that you should do it.' We have to help students navigate the digital landscape where they are."

This goal says students should "advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology."

Board members expressed particular interest and concern over the goal stating that "all students will have access to appropriate technology devices , Internet access, and instruction regardless of their socioeconomic status."

Trustees and staff members are aware of the so-called "digital divide" that separates those who have computer access at home from those who do not. Some loaner laptop computers are available to students, and the district has been working to get Internet access to students' homes that lack it.

The plan also addresses parent/family training opportunities "to help with trouble-shooting, creative and proper usage." The goal is that "100% of students identified as being in need are provided with a technology device and access to the Internet both in and out of school."

The updated technology plan calls for one computer lab per each of the nine elementary schools and the two alternative secondary schools; two computer labs at each of the three middle schools; and five computer labs at each of the two comprehensive high schools. These physical labs are to be augmented with mobile device labs, using notebook, laptop, or tablet devices.

Teachers and administrators are to each get a laptop computer. The district has established a five-year "refresh cycle," with the budget showing replacement of 60% of the devices in schools.

According to the technology plan, each classroom also should be equipped with a mounted LCD projector (or equivalent) for display of teacher and student devices; an audio reinforcement system to support English learners, students with disabilities, and classroom management; and a networked laser printer. Some schools are closer to these goals than others, and their equipment has been largely due to generous parent club donations.

Despite the generosity of parents, there still are identified needs within the school district for which funding must be found. The Facilities Master Plan has been divided into four categories, beginning with $14 million needed for "maintenance, safety, and shell integrity," what Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares termed the "squeaky-leaky" items that should not be delayed.

The second phase includes technology upgrades and four new Career Technical Education projects for the high schools, among other things, for a $99 million total. (There is a time limit for the CTE project.) The third phase would include building a new elementary school and other projects ($204 million), and the fourth phase would include new classrooms, buildings for electives at the secondary level, and playing field improvements, among other needs ($188 million).

Trustees reviewed with Chet Wang, managing director of Keygent Advisors, possible funding for facilities and technology, including bond re-financing and elections, but no decisions were made.

Two trustees, Valerie Arkin and Jamie Hintzke, said they needed more information before considering a bond election.

"We've got to be realistic," the superintendent responded. "We've got things falling apart. We need technology infrastructure. We've talked about a vision, [but how are we going to pay for it?"

Also on the board agenda, trustees:

Recognized four students who demonstrated the Community of Character trait of "Respect." Honored were Eljay Schellenberger (Walnut Grove, kindergarten); Joshua Freeman (Vintage Hills, 5thgrade); Nishaad Trivedi (Harvest Park, 8th grade); and Azelia Cordova (Village HS, 11th grade).

Recognized four students from Pleasanton Middle School who were recipients of the 10th annual Alameda County African-American Student Achievement and Excellence Award. Those honored were Madison Perez, Jovan Perez, Gary Pride, and Mikyale Combs.

Proclaimed May 5-9 as Teacher Appreciation Week and May 6 as Day of the Teacher, encouraging people to thank a former or current teacher who had a positive influence on their lives.

Heard concerns from three elementary PE teachers (including Paul Stewart, Vintage Hills, and Larry Cohen, Fairlands) and two music teachers (Abbie Rockwell, Lydiksen/Valley View, and Jason Borris, Fairlands/Harvest Park)about their class sizes compared to teachers of other subjects. The district has received grant funds formerly specified for the purpose of reducing PE class sizes, according to Terry Drain, Vintage Hills PE teacher, who wrote the grant applications.

Agreed to issue layoff notices to eight classified employees whose hours this year were paid for by parent donations (campus monitor, library assistants, site technology specialists, and special needs assistants).

Listed graduation dates as follows: Horizon and Village high schools on Wednesday, June 11 at Amador Valley High School Theater, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively; Amador Valley and Foothill high schools on Friday, June 13, on their own campuses, at 7 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively. The three middle school graduations all will be held on their campuses on Thursday, June 12, at 5 p.m. for Hart and Pleasanton, 6 p.m. for Harvest Park.

"We have accomplished many great things in the last few years," Ahmadi said. "We have focused on ongoing professional development emphasizing best instructional practices that are good for students. We are fortunate to have a group of stellar administrators who are supporting these efforts at their schools, working hand in hand with their staff to do what is best for kids."

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