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Monrovia School Link ~ Number 65 ~ Sept. 10, 2003

Well, Santa Fe Middle School has its work cut out for it. Associate Superintendent Joel Shawn refuses to whine, and welcome to the new student representative to the board, Tiffany Ross, a junior from the Monrovia High School Associated Student Body.
~ Brad Haugaard (brad@sacklunch.net)

WORSE ~ The AYP score for the district was worse than I thought. In the last issue I mentioned that Santa Fe Middle School didn't make its minimum Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), but I didn't notice that the district as a *whole* didn't make the goal either. Neither did Canyon Oaks Continuation High School or Mountain Park Alternative School. In his report Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Joel Shawn wrote that the district didn't make it "because of the participation rate of special education students." Also, Shawn wrote that the Standards test shows "flat growth" for Monrovia High from 2002 to 2003. What the heck, you may ask, is "flat growth?" How is it growth if it's flat? Well I looked at the graph and now I understand what it means. It means you need a micrometer to measure it.

CAVEATS ~ That said, we really need to add a few qualifiers. Shawn reminded everybody that the scores weren't for all the students. The scores were only for those in grades 4, 8 and 10. Also, Santa Fe, which is on the edge of falling in hot water, actually improved a bit overall, but two subgroups did not, which caused it not to make its goal. The subgroups were the English Language Learners subgroup and the Socioeconomically Disadvantaged subgroup (i.e. the students who get free or reduced-cost lunches).

DISHEARTENING ~ Board President Francis Cash said some of the people at Santa Fe school are "very disheartened." She said she saw on the marquee, "We all need to work harder." I can imagine it would be disheartening, but I think that marquee is giving the right message. Also, Shawn said he's been working with the staff at the school to get the scores up.

WHINEVITATIONS ~ Board members Betty Sandford and Bruce Carter both (I feel) invited Joel Shawn to whine about the state standards, but he wouldn't do it! I was delighted! Sandford asked if he was pleased with the grade standards the state has been setting. Shawn said that while a lot of people believe the standards are too high, "I think people should reach high." He added that even if it isn't possible to reach the goals, this is "better than watered down standards that anybody can meet but where we don't have to look at our practices." Preach it, brother! Then Bruce Carter said that he "would seriously doubt" that 30 percent of the students in his class when he was growing up were proficient. "Are these realistic goals?" he asked. Shawn replied that whether they are realistic or not, they will increase the proficiency of all the students. He said, for example, that he has asked teachers to seek out kids with problems and look out for them. "I don't know if we'd be looking for these kids without these data." And if the goals turn out not to be realistic, he said, he suspects the state will adjust them as it did for the high school exit exams.

YIKES! ~ Does it bother you as much as it does me that Carter seems to feel that having a mere 30 percent of students be proficient in math and English is unrealistic?

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? ~ Board Member Monina Diaz asked why the difference in score growth among the schools and what it will take to get the necessary growth in the classrooms. Shawn said teachers used to be more autonomous and now curriculum is set by the state. Plus, the population is different, with a lot of English language learners. He said the district needs to both work with the community and help the teachers in this new environment without stifling creativity.

NOT COUNTED ~ Diaz noted that the African American subgroup was not counted because the number of African American students taking the test was not high enough to be counted. She asked if it would be possible nevertheless to get data for that group. Yes, Shawn said, he has that information and is looking at it.

CYRUS ~ Monrovian Cyrus Kemp told the board the students taking these tests will have to compete for jobs against students from other districts who have done better. "Right now," he said, "it doesn't look like they'll be on a very level playing field." Also, he asked why the board is planning to spend $7,400 to send eight people to a CSBA (California School Boards Association) conference in San Diego. He said he doesn't like everything the CSBA stands for and doesn't think the board should spend taxpayer money for CSBA advocacy, especially in a time of tight budgets.

CONFERENCE ~ Board Member Bruce Carter responded that advocacy on behalf of children is a good thing. "People elected me to advocate," he said. Several board members said the conferences were crucial to understanding their roles as board members. But they decided to put the issue on the agenda for the next meeting. Good move! A five-day conference for eight people for $7,400 comes to $185 per person per day. I suppose that's reasonable if it's a good conference. The only thing I find a bit doubtful is that the non-voting student representative to the board gets to go too. I'm sure it's a great learning experience, and all, but if something has to be cut, maybe that's it.

INSTITUTE ~ Well, the board has decided what to do with the money it hopes to raise from the community as part of it's Community Campaign. It will hold a Parent Institute at the two middle schools. Parent Institute is apparently an organization that works with students' parents to show them what their rights are, and stuff. Frances Cash said the first class should begin at the end of this month. Hmmm. If the board wants people to cough up money for this Parent Institute, I think it had better outline a lot more precisely what it does and why it makes a difference. I didn't understand just from the brief discussion.

BELL ~ Board member Bruce Carter said that Monrovia has two finalists in the California School Board Association's Golden Bell award program, which recognizes exemplary school programs around the state. Carter said the district has had one or two Golden Bells in the past, but this time, of 180 submissions. two of the 50 finalist proposals are from Monrovia, the AVID program and a tutoring program at middle school, the name of which nobody seemed to remember at the moment.

ENROLLMENT ~ According to a report by Associate Superintendent of Human Resources, Debby Collins, initial enrollment is down compared to last year, but not by as much as the district feared, and it is up more than expected compared to the first day of school, and might keep going up. Bruce Carter said he hoped enrollment might even exceed last year's number, which would be good for next year's finances.

UNSOLVED ~ Monrovian Rosemary Harrahill told the board that she had spoken to Joel Shawn, as suggested to her at the last meeting, but had no assurance that the problem her daughter encountered will not happen again (Her daughter had papers that were examined by a teacher but none of the many errors it had were corrected). She said she hoped more could be done, but understands that legally there's not much that can be done. She did add, however, that she learned that she had the option to move her daughter to another class. "I wish the principal had told me that," she said.

TO THE TEST ~ Okay, let's do some letters. One correspondent, who, incidentally, says she is very happy with the education her children are getting at Santa Fe Middle School, writes, "Yes, I believe there does need to be change, but is teaching to the test the answer? How about some reform with the teachers? There are teachers out there who come in and are in the classroom but the students don't learn anything. There are those that aren't really sure if teaching is what they want to do; they are just trying it out till they figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Why is it that teachers cannot be let go if they are not doing their job satisfactorily? In the real world you do a bad job you're given a couple of chances to improve and if you don't you are let go. Why is it we allow these teachers to continue to stay at our schools?"

MEASURING ~ I understand the concern about teaching to the test - sort of. As an employee I am evaluated ("tested," in a sense) every year, and I don't like it one little bit. There are aspects to what I do that don't fit neatly into the system. But on the other hand, for our company's executives to be effective, they need some measure of how we employees are doing, even if their measuring stick isn't perfect. Bringing this back to the schools, the tests are the measuring stick. If students do well on the tests, *at least* we know they can answer the questions and solve the problems on the test. And that is no small accomplishment.

CONFRONTATION ~ Regarding the question of why some teachers are allowed to stay in school: My concern is more with administrators, but what I'm about to say applies to all school employees. I suspect part of the problem is tenure, but my impression (and I can't claim it is more than that) is that within the district leadership there is also a quite understandable desire for people to get along. I've heard this emphasis on many occasions. But it is wrong for the district to avoid confrontation if the cost is children getting an inferior education. If an administrator, principal, teacher or other employee is not doing the job, the district needs to confront - promptly. My sense, though, is that a common response is to sigh deeply and hope that the person will retire or take up sheep ranching in Montana. Confrontation is hard and I'm not sure I could do it, but I'm not on the board. They took the job and they should do it.

EXPECTED MORE ~ Another correspondent writes, "I have a child at Monroe and was very disturbed to see the scores they attained. As parents, we often choose our home by 1) Affordablity 2) School District 3) Location. We chose to make Monrovia our home because we felt MUSD had the standards we were searching for, unlike many of our friends who seek out private schools. The scores that Monrovia achieved are not acceptable in a community such as this. Though I am not a fan of comparison studies, I noted Hillcrest Elementary in Monterey Park (Serving Rosemead and South San Gabriel) did better. From my personal standpoint I expected more from Monrovia. If scores continue to not be on the mark, I can foresee many families that could squeak by with private school make that choice or sell and move to an area where they hope their children will achieve at least the state set guidelines upon graduation."

VICIOUS CIRCLE ~ I think your logic is on target. If schools do poorly then more parents who can afford to send their children to private schools will do so. Since those parents care about their children's education, those children were probably some of the better students, which means the district will lose some of its higher scoring students and its test scores will fall even more, persuading even more parents to send their children elsewhere. Fortunately, I don't think it's quite that grim. It's slow, but from what I've seen the Monrovia schools are improving, though obviously there is a long way to go.

OH MY! ~ Look at the time! Almost midnight. Well, I think I've written enough. I'm going to bed. See you next time.

NEXT BOARD MEETING ~ The next regular Monrovia school board meeting is on September 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the administration office at 325 E. Huntington Drive.

Copyright (c) 2003, Brad Haugaard. Also on the Web, when I get around to putting it there, at: http://www.sacklunch.net/MonroviaSchoolLink