http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/03/15/teachers-ask-for-return-of-reading-specialists-smaller-class-sizes


Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 15, 2013

Teachers ask for return of reading specialists, smaller class sizes

'We need to be part of the decision process'

by Glenn Wohltmann

About 30 teachers showed up at the Pleasanton school board meeting Tuesday night to call for changes to district plans to shift away from specialists who deal directly with children to coaches who train teachers, and to ask for smaller class sizes for young students.

Elementary school teacher Iris Belenson said morale is "on a downward spiral," with expectations that teachers can do the same job with larger classes.

Belenson asked that reading specialists be returned to working directly with students.

"How are these specialists supposed to be more effective if they're not working with students?" she asked. "Where is the data that supports this?"

She said decisions are being made that aren't being explained and that don't seem to be done in a thoughtful manner.

"We need to be part of the decision process," Belenson said.

Teacher Mary Jo Carreon said "the top-down management style" is hurting teachers.

"Decisions are being made without teacher input," Carreon said. "Board members, we respectfully ask you to look into who is making these decisions."

Two kindergarten teachers, Erin Salcido and Cindy Vance, told the board that young students are being shortchanged because classes are too large.

"Having 30 students in a class is just too many," Vance said. "Please support lower class sizes."

Susan Snyder-Johnson, a retiring teacher, said she and her colleagues aren't getting the respect they deserve.

"Why are teachers being told what to do and how to teach by people who have never been in the classroom?" Snyder-Johnson said.

The teachers spoke during the open comment portion of the meeting, so board members could not respond. However, Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi referred to the comments in her report.

"I completely agree with our teachers about when we have new (policy) adoptions, we need to have teachers involved," she said. Ahmadi also said people need to focus on the positives.

"This district has magical students supported by magical staff," she said.

Students in kindergarten through third grade will be moving to a 20 to 1 ratio in the 2014-15 school year under current district plans that call for spending $2.9 million for class size reductions. At least part of the shift from specialists to coaches is due to legal requirements for schools that fall into program improvement status for failing to keep up with the increasingly tough standards created under the No Child Left Behind act.

Also at the board meeting Tuesday night, members heard some positive news about state funding.

"There are no spending reductions for next year," said Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares, smiling as she repeated the sentence.

Cazares also said the state could send the district as much as $5.4 million split over the next two years if it fully funds cost of living adjustments.

Meanwhile, the district is planning to pay down some outstanding debt, and is getting $300,000 more from the state than it's spending on special education students.

The district is allocating more than $161,000 for technology upgrades as part of a plan to get newer computers. Those computers will be required as the district moves to electronic testing as part of the nationwide push for higher standards of learning called Common Core State Standards.

"It's starting to feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Cazares told the board.

The district also received more than expected from the state for average daily attendance because there have been fewer absences.

Cazares said she isn't especially worried about direct cuts as a result of sequestration, since the district receives little in direct federal funding. She said, however, that she is worried that sequestration cuts could slow down the country's economic recovery and slow down building in Pleasanton, which would cut developer fees.

Board Member Jamie Hintzke asked if the $2.9 million geared toward reducing class sizes in the lower grades could be spread out to fourth and fifth grades so that some class sizes for all elementary students could be reduced.

The board also heard about opportunities for students to become apprentices in the building trades or as firefighters. An information session on apprenticeships was held Thursday.

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