After years with co-superintendents, the Montebello Unified School District has returned to its previous administrative structure with just one superintendent at the helm.
The school board voted June 25 to promote Susanna Contreras-Smith to the top post of Superintendent of Schools effective July 1. Contreras-Smith has served as superintendent of education since 2013; Co-Superintendent Cleve Pell will now serve as the District’s new chief financial and operations officer.
MUSD created the dual superintendent positions in 2011 both as a cost saving measure and to give the school board more time to conduct a national search when Edward Velazquez left to become superintendent of the Lynwood School District. Long-time district administrators Cleve Pell and Robert Henke were made official co-superintendents for a term that was to run through August 2012. Each was given a $25,000 pay boost, the combined amount substantially less than what a new superintendent would have cost MUSD.
“Our District is under great leadership and in qualified hands with both Cleve Pell and Robert Henke. Between these two; they have nearly 80 years of experience working within the Montebello Unified School District,” said then-MUSD Board President, David Vela. He added the District would save “about $15,000 a month by tapping into the talent we already have” while the nationwide search for a permanent superintendent is underway.
But the position was not filled until now.
Contreras-Smith started her career in education more than 40 years ago at MUSD as an instructional aid, going on to become a teacher, principal and take on other leadership roles. She returned to MUSD in 2012 as associate superintendent of accountability and compliance, later replacing Henke as co-superintendent when he retired.
“With more than 40 years of experience – both in the classroom and as an administrator – I cannot think of anyone more capable and well suited for this position,” Pell said.
With the changes to district budgets with the LCAP (Local Control Funding and Accountability Plan) and LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), Pell’s new position was created to shift his focus on the district’s long term fiscal planning, according to district officials.
Born and raised in Boyle Heights Contreras-Smith previously told EGP that despite having opportunities elsewhere she decided to return to MUSD to give back to the community where she grew up.
“I will continue to work collaboratively with parents, teachers, staff and our community partners to ensure all students have access to a stellar 21st century education,” Contreras-Smith said.
Social workers at all four high schools in the Montebello Unified School District will conduct interactive activities next week to teach students techniques aimed at releasing tension, coping with stress and providing information about the various peer-support groups on campus.
The programs have been scheduled to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.
Christine Mariano, a social worker at Vail Continuation High School in Montebello, says the district wants to reduce the negative stigma tied to accessing mental health services.
“Mental health comes in all shapes and forms” and not everyone readily recognizes the signs, Mariano said Tuesday.
Students often believe they only need to speak to a social worker or counselor if they are “crazy,” Mariano explained, adding she’s seen it all.
“Yes there’s schizophrenia, yes there’s bipolar or suicide,” but these illnesses start with other feelings before that, she said. That’s “why we’re here,” to be proactive, she said.
The National Institution of Mental Health reports that about 8 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, however, only 18 percent of the teens received mental health care.
According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, “Early and effective mental health treatment can prevent a significant proportion of delinquent and violent youth from future violence and crime.”
“It also enables children and adolescents to succeed in school, to develop socially and to fully experience the developmental opportunities of childhood,” the report states.
Many students experience low self-esteem, depression, aggression or anxiety, but don’t understand how those feelings relate to mental health, says Mariano, who has also helped students deal with the loss of a loved one.
These problems are especially prevalent at Vail High, a continuation school whose 400 or so students were referred by their home school because they were at-risk of not graduating on time.
“We want them not to be ashamed… everyone deals with anxiety,” said Mariano. For students, feelings of anxiety can be triggered by a romantic breakup, speaking in public, a traumatic experience, school workload, troubles at home or with social situations.
For 17-year old Jorge Leal, who learned earlier this year he would soon be a teen father, the support he has received from Mariano has helped him adjust to the big changes coming in his life. He told EGP he thought he was handling his emotions well, but soon realized the benefit of having someone to talk to about his situation.
“I like to deal with my problems on my own, but I know she is there if I need her,” Leal said about Mariano.
He admits he was at first confused when his guidance counselor recommended he speak to the school’s social worker, not having any idea what that meant or what would be involved.
“I thought it was psychological, with testing involved,” the teen said. “I wondered if they thought something was wrong” with me.
But that wasn’t the case, he said.
According to Leal, he’s never been in trouble for fighting at school, but he decided to join a peer-group focused on dealing with aggression as a way to help him prepare for his new role as a father.
“They taught me techniques I can apply to my life, ways to manage anger,” he explained.
It took time, but Leal says he eventually came to see the peer-group and Mariano as resources to help him deal with the anxiety and stress he would have otherwise tried to deal with on his own, but perhaps not as successfully.
According to Mariano, the school and her goal is to help students deal with their issues, large and small, “so they don’t resort to something negative,” like drugs, drinking, getting into fights, or hurting themselves, she said.
Next week, as part of MUSD’s focus on Mental Health Awareness Month, some district students will be given a stress ball and taught breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help them cope with the stress in their lives.
Having an outlet to vent and taking the time to relieve tension allows students to acknowledge and address their emotions, according to Mariano.
“It’s okay to have feelings,” she explained. “We just want to teach them the skills to cope with them.”
When the third period bell rings at the Applied Technology Center in Montebello, students like Jeeb Gonzalez get to work chopping vegetables, measuring ingredients, plating appetizers and cooking everything from breakfast burritos to fried chicken in the school’s state-of-the-art kitchen.
The pleasing aromas from their culinary creations fill the air, sparking pangs of hunger in anyone nearby.
But food is not the only thing students in ATC’s Culinary, Hospitality, and Educational Foundations (CHEF) pathway have been cooking up.
For the last couple of months, the students have been busily planning for the grand opening of their very own, on campus student-run bistro.
Bistro XV, named for the year of the school’s first graduating class, formally opened Wednesday with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony at the café where school staff and visitors can now buy breakfast and lunch meals prepared entirely by students.
“These students are doing everything you would be doing in a bonafide restaurant,” said ATC Principal Sterling Schubert.
Not only do they do the cooking, they also take care of all the details that go into running a restaurant, according to Schubert.
We never dreamed we would one day be serving the food we cook to paying customers, Senior Kimberly Moran, the bistro’s business manager told EGP
Students said they had been pushing school administrators to let them open a restaurant on campus since 2011, when the program first started.
“Now, we finally get to open and serve people,” Moran said excitedly.
“Now you get to see how passionate we are: You get to see how much effort and love we put into every order,” she said.
Moran may only be 17-years-old but she has all the same responsibilities an adult restaurant manager would have, including overseeing the not-for-profit student-led enterprise’s finances.
Similarly, Executive Chef Jose Cruz and Gonzalez, who serves as sous chef, oversee work in the kitchen, making sure all food orders are up to their standard before they go out to the customer.
As a group, the class discusses the restaurant’s budget, taking into consideration the cost of ingredients before placing orders and developing the Bistro’s menu.
This is nothing like what a typical high school student does, explained Cruz. “I don’t think you can describe the experience,” he said.
Students in ATC’s CHEF pathway attend class in a multi-million dollar kitchen referred to as the “teaching lab.” The equipment they use is of the same quality and caliber found in some top commercial kitchens, says Debbie B. Silveira, an instructor in the culinary arts program.
The goal is for the bistro to eventually be self-sustaining so that it does not have to rely on what it can get from the school’s budget, Schubert said.
The bistro — which currently serves chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and even nopales — has its own separate entrance that allows visitors to enter from the street rather than having to go through the school.
The CHEF pathway is one of four comprehensive, pathways offered at the small school that closely mirrors college and careers. About 160 of the school’s 650 students are in the program. ATC’s instructional approach is project-based learning that requires critical thinking, communication and working as a team. The classes are taught by instructors who have experience in their respective fields.
Students working at Bistro XV “are licensed to prepare and serve food to the public,” said Silveira, explaining the students passed the tests required to receive a California Food Handler Card.
The students have also catered events throughout the District as well as a teacher’s wedding.
Gonzalez told EGP that one of his best times in the program came two years ago when the students were given the opportunity to cater a UCLA event at the Rose Bowl. That’s when he decided to pursue a career in culinary arts, Gonzalez said.
“How many high school students do you know have been to the Rose Bowl and catered an event there,” chimed in Cruz, his face beaming with pride.
“We’re high school students, but we have the [same] real world experience of someone in college.”
Bistro XV is open 9:50-10:10am and 12:10-12:45p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays. ATC is located at 1200 W. Mines Ave.
A Montebello high school student has joined an elite group of poets from across the country, wining national recognition in a contest that drew over 300,000 entries.
Roberto Miranda may only be a junior at Schurr High School, but the young poet has the heart of an old soul, according to the announcement from the Montebello Unified School District.
Miranda’s poem “Gatherings” demonstrates a perspective beyond his years, earning him a Silver Medal in the prestigious 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Out of the 300,000 submissions, only the top one percent is honored for exceptional achievement, according the District.
“Every student at Montebello is encouraged to think critically and creatively – both within the classroom and about their future,” Montebello Unified Board President Edgar Cisneros said. “We are so proud of Robert for this impressive accomplishment and for being a stellar example of how greatly we value the arts and its capacity to pave the way for bright futures for our students.”
The selection by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers in New York puts the 16-year-old Miranda in an esteemed group of past award winners such as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham and author Sylvia Plath.
An “avid reader” since the eighth grade, Miranda draws upon an eclectic range of scholarly influences from British playwright Oscar Wilde to American surgeon and essayist Dr. Richard Selzer.
“What I like about Selzer is the lyrical quality of the language,” Miranda said. “It’s poetry in prose and beautiful writing.”
Under the tutelage of English instructor Betty Harbison, a 27-year teacher at the school and founder and sponsor for the campus writer’s group, Spartans of the Plume, Miranda’s writing flourished. “I’m the one dashing off to the post office moments before the deadline,” Harbison said. “It is well worth it. We have so many talented writers.”
In 2014, Miranda’s entry for the National PTA Reflections Arts Program advanced to the state level, he also garnered plaudits in the annual Creative Communications Poetry Contest. Previously, “Gatherings” won a Gold Key for poetry in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards regional level, while his short story “A Requiem” – a harrowing piece about a man with terminal cancer more concerned with his ailing mother – took a Silver Key.
“I’m only starting to realize the implications of winning this award,” Miranda said. “I feel humbled because I didn’t expect my poem to go this far.”
Miranda is the opinion editor for his school newspaper Spartan Scroll and his latest piece advocates the return of teaching cursive writing.
San Gabriel Valley area education leaders say they are frustrated by the lack of control they have over spending decisions in their school districts on everything from textbooks to curriculum to Local Control Funding, and the state’s penchant for handing down unfunded mandates.
School districts are mandated to implement all kinds of state curriculum changes, whether the funding is there or not, said Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) Board President Edgar Cisneros. Yet when advocates requested approval of a statewide ethnic studies requirement, legislators quickly shot them down because funding is suddenly an issue, Cisneros told EGP.
Sen. Tony Mendoza’s “State of Education” address was held last week in Montebello at MUSD’s Applied Technology Center high school and attended by dozens of superintendents, district board members and teachers from Mendoza’s 32nd Senate District – which includes Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Whittier, attended. The program also included a Q & A with an analyst from the State Legislative Analyst’s Office.
While participants generally seemed relieved that the proposed 2015-16 State Budget includes a $7.6 billion bump for k-12 education, several school officials lamented that much of the new revenue will go to pay off debt and unfunded curriculum mandates such as Common Core.
The added money is “barely making us positive,” said MUSD Board Member David Vela, referring to the district’s budget.
The state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which allocates more money to schools with higher percentage of “high needs” students – low-income, English Learners and youth in foster care – has given schools more control over how to use those funds to tackle the achievement gap in those groups, but according to Vela, it’s not enough.
“How can you expect us to play around with that money when all we’ve been doing [for some time] is cutting our debt,” caused by years of state cuts to education funding, Vela said.
He described the difficulty of introducing new technology into the classroom and offering new curriculum, such as dual language immersion and ethnic studies when funding is not available, drawing approving nods from other attendees.
When it comes to what school districts want, like the ethnic studies requirement, there’s never enough money, said a frustrated Cisneros. “It’s just an excuse they use to derail bills,” he said, claiming state officials “are really uptight” about mandating the curriculum because “they would be required to fund it.”
There’s a huge disconnect between the governor’s office and school districts when it comes to the so-called local control over funding, said MUSD Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith.
With the comfort of being on home turf, MUSD officials led most of the discussion and questions directed at Cabral.
Cisneros cited MUSD’s years-long inability to order updated versions of already approved textbooks because state officials wanting to save money suspended California’s Department of Education’s ability to approve new textbooks, a prerequisite to district purchases.
“I think they need to get it done or give us the power” to select and buy textbooks, Cisneros complained.
Money issues continued to be the hot topic as Edgar Cabral, a fiscal and policy analyst with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, answered questions from the audience.
Cabral was asked if there are plans to extend Proposition 30, a temporary increase in the sales tax and on incomes over $250,000 a year approved by voters in 2012 to fund K-12 education and community colleges. The tax is expected to have raised $7.9 billion by the end of the 2014-2015 Fiscal Year, however revenues will decline when some provisions sunset later this year.
Superintendent Steve Pell pointed out that funds for programs like special education have already been cut and additional cuts will hit MUSD hard. “We want to have an outstanding program, we’re trying really hard, but there’s not enough money,” he said.
As for the state backing new bonds to pay for needed capital improvements to equipment and facilities, Cabral said Gov. Brown is concerned about state debt and believes bonds should be passed at the local level.
Then “the state should make it easier for local cities to implement their own bonds,” responded someone from the audience.
State officials are not realistic when it comes to the cost of fixing aging infrastructure, countered Vela. He said school districts like MUSD do not have the same ability as the state to raise large sums of money. A million dollars will not go very far in L.A. County’s third largest school district, he noted.
“The state needs to get out of Sacramento, come out and tour Montebello,” he said. “We know we have a senator that will fight for us, but he can’t be the only voice.”
Sen. Mendoza agreed. He said Gov. Brown’s expectations about what school districts could do with LCFF revenue were unrealistic. He supports passage of a facilities bond, but cautioned that residents should think of the bond as adding another credit card in the state’s wallet.
But “Our public schools need it; it’s long overdue,” Mendoza said.
Ultimately, the question of extending a facilities bond will most likely go to the voters if successfully placed on the ballot by the governor or legislature, explained Cabral.
Mendoza – a former teacher who taught students in East Los Angeles – said if passed, the three bills in his education packet would protect children by enhancing consequences for drug trafficking and manufacturing near schools; creating greater oversight of charter schools, and requiring day care center workers to be immunized.
Cisneros told EGP the district needs to advocate for issues it believes in and get involved the way it did last week when 35 Bell Gardens Intermediate students traveled to Sacramento to push for a bill they co-authored with Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia that would encourage the inclusion of the Mexican Repatriation in history textbooks.
“We don’t do enough to lobby” state lawmakers Cisneros told EGP. “We need to voice our political support for the things we believe in.”
Montebello Unified School District took the first steps in implementing an ethnic studies graduation requirement, following in the footsteps of nearby districts and becoming the third largest district in the county to approve such a resolution.
MUSD’s board of education unanimously approved the resolution last week during its board meeting.
Board President Edgar Cisneros called it “long-overdue historic moment for our community.”
“Many people will look to us” to see how we implement it, he said, adding that many other districts have already used MUSD as a model in other programs.
The resolution calls for the expansion of ethnic-specified courses such as African American studies, Asian American studies, Latino/Chicano studies, Armenian studies and Native American studies. More importantly the study of race, class, gender and sexuality will be established as a high school graduation requirement.
The purpose is to produce “more well-rounded MUSD students who respect and appreciate one another and people from diverse backgrounds, communities, cultures and nationalities,” Cisneros said.
The ethnic courses will begin to roll out within the next four years. And beginning next year, students will be given the opportunity to enroll in Chicano studies at local community colleges.
“The board wanted to take action sooner rather than later,” said Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas, referring to the fact that the item was not originally on board meeting agenda for last Thursday.
The district intends to form a 15-member ethnic studies advisory committee to figure out the specifics of the requirement, such as when the requirement will be enforced and whether the course will replace an existing high school graduation requirement or increase the number of credits required to graduate.
The committee will be made up of two high school students, two parents, four certificated employees, two classified employees, two administrators, two district office personnel and one professor with an ethnic studies background.
They will also meet periodically with the dual language immersion program advisory committee.
Revueltas told EGP the majority of MUSD students are Latino and the District has been encouraging teachers to include some diversity in their curriculum.
“It’s not just about a course, it has to be infused in everything we teach,” Revueltas said. For example, “if we teach about art let’s teach about Diego Rivera,” he elaborated.
The District has in the past offered elective courses in Mexican-American studies, minority cultures in America, multicultural studies and supports a strong dual language immersion program.
Since 2007, Latin American literature has been taught at Schurr High School.
“Many teachers already do this, this is just formalizing it,” he said.
According to MUSD, 32 languages other than English are spoken in the school district that encompasses Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello, Monterey Park and parts of East Los Angeles, with Spanish, Cantonese and Armenian being the primary languages.
“It’s about diversity, not just Latinos,” said Revueltas “What does the rest of the world look like?”
Last year, El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera became the first district in the state to require their students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. Los Angeles Unified followed shortly after in December, however the curriculum has yet to be implemented district-wide.
Critics worry that such requirements will cause scheduling problems for students, especially those taking advanced placement courses and English Learners who are already limited on how many electives they can take.
One of the last high school requirements added in the District was economics, said Revueltas. Currently MUSD requires students to take three years of physical education, one more year than most districts.
Cisneros told EGP there is room for ethnic studies to take up some of the elective units required to graduate. He suggests freshman can take the course as part of freshman studies as one possible way to implement the requirement.
There is substantial research and evidence that well designed and well taught ethnic studies curricula produces positive academic and social outcomes in students, according to the resolution.
In 2010, the National Education Association affirmed that ethnic studies has a “positive impact on students of color”
“The learner has to connect to the learning,” echoed Revueltas
“Students want to learn more about themselves,” said Cisneros. “They want to learn that different is not really different compared to the rest of the world.”
A principios de este año, el gobernador Brown aprobó una nueva fórmula de financiación de control local que da más dinero para apoyar a las escuelas con un gran número de estudiantes que son de bajos ingresos y a estudiantes de aprendizaje de inglés o en hogares de crianza para dar servicios de apoyo para los grupos con “alta necesidad”. Un requisito importante para la financiación es la participación de los padres y estudiantes en el proceso.
Después de meses de trabajo se determinó cómo se deberían utilizar estos nuevos fondos estatales para mejorar los servicios para los estudiantes de “necesidad alta” en el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello (MUSD). La semana pasada los administradores pidieron a los padres y otros interesados a mirar el borrador del plan y proporcionar retroalimentación antes de que se vaya a la directiva para su aprobación definida a finales del mes.
Sin embargo, en una audiencia pública reciente, un padre señaló que tal tarea sería difícil teniendo en cuenta que el documento de 34 páginas aun no había sido traducido al español, el idioma de muchos de los padres con hijos en las escuelas de MUSD.
“Eso se debía haber hecho” ya, el Miembro de la Junta Edgar Cisneros dijo en estado de shock después de oír que el Control Local de Fondos y Plan de Responsabilidad (LCAP por sus siglas en inglés) no estará disponible hasta este viernes, pocos días antes de la reunión de 18 de junio de la junta donde se presentará para su aprobación. “Esto es nuevo para mí”, dijo en respuesta a la preocupación de los padres.
El Presidente de la Junta David Vela dijo a EGP que él “no estaba muy contento” de que la traducción se retrasó, las traducciones al español deberían haber sido incorporadas a lo largo del proceso de planificación. La junta previamente “mencionó” la necesidad de que se haga, dijo, pero el personal no siguió indicaciones.
Aunque entiende que el retraso se debe probablemente a las numerosas revisiones hechas, casi 10, antes de que se presentó ante el consejo escolar la semana pasada, Vela le dijo a EGP, “Esto es algo que pagamos a la gente para hacer”. Este nivel de rendimiento se puede factorizar en el futuro a la hora de tomar decisiones sobre el personal”, dijo. “Estamos tratando de presentar el proyecto a la comunidad … en estos momentos estamos tomando las acciones correctivas”, dijo.
De acuerdo a Sonia Valencia, madre de familia, lo más importante, es que el LCAP del distrito no era fácil de entender.
“El público en general no ha recibido una explicación de los documentos en los términos del laico” se quejó la madre de familia ante la junta. “No creo que todos los padres lo entenderán”, dijo, en referencia a la jerga educativa que dijo llena las páginas del documento.
Aunque un número de grupos de padres y maestros, testificó en la audiencia pública que la LCAP fue explicada minuciosamente por el personal, cuando se compararon los planes desarrollados en algunos distritos vecinos, el LCAP de MUSD carece de muchos de los detalles de las acciones o los cambios específicos que se llevarán a cabo el próximo año, como resultado del cambio de financiación específica.
El Distrito Escolar Unificado de Alhambra, por ejemplo, ha preparado un LCAP de 86 páginas que presenta los datos de rendimiento de los estudiantes, incluyendo números separados para estudiantes de aprendizaje de inglés. El documento se recalca en una forma fácil de leer, incluso incluye una sección titulada “¿Qué puede ser diferente/mejorado para los estudiantes?” después de que se obtenga cada meta por el distrito cuyo objetivo es el cumplimiento de una de las ocho prioridades ordenadas por el estado: el acceso a los servicios básicos, el rendimiento estudiantil, el compromiso del estudiante, participación de los padres, el clima escolar, la aplicación de las normas comunes básicas del Estado, el acceso al curso, suspensiones y expulsiones.
El LCAP de Montebello, por otro lado, muestra el tipo de datos que se utilizan, pero no incluye la realidad de los números en el documento. Estos datos pueden ser útiles para definir claramente las áreas de mayor necesidad y para medidas futuras.
El distrito de tamaño mediano tiene escuelas en las ciudades de Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello, Monterey Park y partes del este de Los Ángeles, Pico Rivera y Rosemead. Según el Departamento de Educación de California, cerca de 30.000 estudiantes asisten al distrito en una de las 16 escuelas primarias, 6 escuelas medias, 5 escuelas secundarias, la escuela comunitaria diurna y una escuela pequeña con grados del Kinder al octavo.
La Asistente del Superintendente de Servicios de Negocios de MUSD, Cheryl Plotkin le dijo a EGP que las escuelas individuales podrán decidir muchos de los específicos en función de sus necesidades.
En el pasado MUSD ha dicho que su marco actual de aprendizaje integral ya cumple las ocho prioridades estatales destinadas a que estudiantes estén listos para sus carreras y preparados para la universidad.
Vela le dijo a EGP que el distrito se ha preparado para estas metas académicas en los últimos dos años y por lo menos ha establecido una “línea de base para cumplir con lo básico”.
En la reunión del consejo del 8 de junio, varias de las personas que hablaron en la audiencia utilizaron su tiempo para decirle a los miembros de la junta directiva y el personal del distrito lo que esperan ver incluidos en el plan final.
El padre de tres hijos, Roberto Hernández, dijo que espera que el distrito considere utilizar más libros de texto digitales. También hizo un llamado para más opciones de idiomas extranjeros en el Centro de Tecnología Aplicada o ATC y añadió que hay una necesidad de mayor supervisión en el patio de la escuela.
La Miembro de la Junta Lani Cupchoy dijo que proveer materiales didácticos adecuados, tales como libros electrónicos y el aprendizaje digital es una de las áreas más importantes y definidas de la LCAP, el otro es el desarrollo de un currículo riguroso por los profesores.
Cupchoy le dijo a EGP que ella personalmente abogó por programas especializados, como STEM (Ciencia, Tecnología, Ingeniería y Matemáticas), Dual [Idioma] Inmersión, las artes visuales y escénicas, jardines comunitarios y GATE (Educación para Dotados y Talentosos); todos los cuales se reflejan en el proyecto propuesto.
Cupchoy dice el LCAP se dirigirá a la baja tasa de graduación entre los estudiantes aprendices de inglés, que de acuerdo con el distrito en la actualidad se sitúa en el 63%.
Vela dijo que los obstáculos más grandes al crear el LCAP fue asegurarse que había inclusividad actual, pero le aseguró a EGP que los esfuerzos fueron para incluir cada asociación y los padres fueron invitados a las más o menos 10 reuniones que se llevaron por todo el distrito.
Cupchoy asistió a varias de las reuniones de extensión LCAP como el enlace de la junta escolar, pero de acuerdo a Vela, en respuesta a las quejas de la comunidad sobre la falta de asistencia de los miembros de la junta en las reuniones de planificación LCAP, él está comprometido a asistir a más reuniones a como vaya progresando el proceso.
El presidente de la junta escolar también dijo que la gente tiene que entender que esta es la primera vez que MUSD está pasando por este proceso y que el distrito no recibió fondos adicionales para contratar a más personal para ayudar a preparar a el LCAP o mantener todas las reuniones adicionales. “Esta es la primera vez, la gente asume que el distrito tenía los recursos para este gran cambio”, dijo. “Estamos haciendo limonada con muy pocos limones”.
Vela dijo a EGP que él quiere que LCAP sea más “accesible” para los padres y está tomando los comentarios de este primer borrador muy enserio.
“Esta es una curva de aprendizaje, hay mucho espacio para mejorar”, dijo. “Quiero asegurarme de que se trata de lo más cercano a la perfección” posible, dijo. “Y si eso significa que tengo que contratar más personal, lo haré”.
Los distritos escolares tienen hasta principios de julio para presentar sus LCAP del estado para su aprobación.
El LCAP se encuentra disponible en el sitio Web MUSD y copias en papel están disponibles en la sede del distrito y en las escuelas.
Deseosos de obtener más información para ir a la universidad, estudiantes del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello recorrieron el campus de Cal State LA, con la esperanza de hacer más fácil el proceso de admisión a la universidad.
Decenas de estudiantes de los grados 10 y 11 del programa Today CollegeBound en el Centro de Tecnología Aplicada en Montebello (ATC por sus siglas en inglés) y sus padres, recientemente pasaron una mañana de sábado para aprender más acerca de un proceso que, en cierta forma a muchos les parece muy extraño.
El programa Today CollegeBound empata a mentores con estudiantes del segundo semestre del décimo grado. El grupo de mentores, compuesto por recién graduados de la universidad y profesionales, se unen con un grupo de estudiantes hasta que se gradúen de la escuela secundaria.
El programa tiene como objetivo ayudar a los estudiantes, la mayoría de los cuales serían los primeros en sus familias en asistir a la universidad, con el largo y complicado proceso de elaboración, aplicación y encontrar maneras de pagar la universidad.
Para Julie Flores, estudiante de segundo año en el ATC, el recorrido por el campus de Cal State LA, la hizo pensar en todo lo que se involucra para llegar a la universidad, tales como tomar el SAT (examen de admisión de la universidad), las clases de requeridas de preparatoria A-G para la admisión y cómo llenar correctamente todos los formularios que son parte del proceso de solicitud.
“Están tratando de que tengamos la mentalidad de ir a la universidad”, dijo Flores sobre el programa y el recorrido.
Como la primera de la familia que planea solicitar para la universidad, Flores dijo que quiere estar asegura que esta lista para su último año, cuando las solicitudes universitarias se entregan.
“Mis padres no saben nada acerca de [las solicitudes]”, dijo. “Quiero aprender sobre esto para poder explicarle a mis padres”.
Su padre, Zeno Flores, dijo a EGP que Julie está motivada para aprender más sobre el proceso de la universidad.
“Yo podría ayudarla, pero sería más complicado” para mi tratar de entenderlo, dijo. “Este programa está creado para ayudarla a solicitar [a la universidad]”.
Pero Zeno Flores no es el único. Guadalupe González dijo a EGP que ella aprecia el Programa CollegeBound porque llena la falta de información que su hijo necesita para aplicar para la universidad y que ella como madre tendría un momento difícil para ayudarlo.
“No estaba informada anteriormente”, dijo, refiriéndose a algunos de los plazos que ella aprendió durante el tour de la universidad. “Estoy aprendiendo … si no fuera por el programa tendría que ver en el Internet y obtener más información de los consejeros” para tratar de resolverlo, dijo.
Y mientras algunos estudiantes están preocupados con tener un buen puntaje en sus exámenes SAT, tener buenos grados y escribir ensayos personales, Juan Cruz, el hijo de González le dijo a EGP que el esta más preocupado de como va a pagar la universidad.
“Creo que estoy mentalmente preparado para el colegio, pero no creo estar listo financieramente”, dijo. Su mamá comparte la misma preocupación.
“Lo que se me hace más difícil es la parte monetaria”, dijo González. “ ¿De dónde vamos a sacar el dinero para pagar las clases?”
Aunque el tour no incluyó información detallada sobre la colegiatura, José Flores y su hija Mel se dieron cuenta que si hay una diferencia entre los costos de universidades.
“Estamos aprendiendo, no sabemos mucho”, dijo.
Y pese a tener un hijo mayor que asistirá a una universidad en el norte de California en el otoño, José dice que el Programa CollegeBound le ayudará a su hija.
“Va a ser más fácil ya que todavía estamos en el proceso”, dijo.
Por ahora, estudiantes como Roberto Viramontes, del décimo grado en ATC esperará para pensar como pagará la universidad y mientras quiere enfocarse en asegurarse de tener buenos grados y asegurarse de que sus clases lo harán elegible para la admisión.
“Tenemos que aprender más sobre universidades de lo que hemos aprendido”, dijo Viramontes refiriéndose al paseo de Cal State LA. “Ellos hablaron sobre las cosas que ellos buscan en las solicitudes… y eso es muy importante”.
Cruz dijo que ahora el comprende que solicitar para la universidad no solo se trata del estudiante pero de la escuela también.
“Aprendí que una de las cosas mas importantes sobre la universidad es que tu te debes sentir cómodo, yo personalmente nunca había pensado en eso”, dijo. Para el, eso significa que su búsqueda de universidades será más de lo que solo escucha o lee.
“Eso me motiva a ir y visitar mas universidades”, dijo.
Scores showing the progress of elementary, intermediate and high school students across the state were released Monday, providing some reasons for cheer among schools and districts within Eastern Group Publication’s coverage area where many schools do not meet, and sometimes fall well below, the state’s target Academic Performance Index, API, score.
Several low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that have been the subject of reform efforts saw increased API scores, while officials of the Montebello Unified School District were heartened to see continued double-digit increases to their schools’ API scores.
The API score increases bring local schools closer to the target of 800 set by the state ten years ago. This year forty-six percent of California’s schools achieved the statewide API target of 800, which is set on a scale of scores ranging between 200 and 1000.
California’s API scores are calculated based on how students performed on the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting Program) and the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Examination) tests.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell called the state’s target an “ambitious” goal that “challenged most California schools that had never been held accountable for improving academic achievement.”
The scores also provide a glimpse at how well schools are serving a state made up of 60 percent African-American and Latino children. Local schools covered by EGP are made up of a pre-dominantly Latino population.
In the MUSD, for example, 94 percent of the students are Latino or Hispanic. Also, 89 percent of students in the district are categorized as socio-economically disadvantaged, which means the students’ parents do not have high school diplomas or the students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, while 9 percent of students in the district have disabilities.
Officials at MUSD were glad to see their students’ test scores improved again in the 2009-2010 school year, raising the district’s overall state Academic Performance Index by double digits from 696 to 710.
“MUSD has experienced double-digit growth as a district every year since 2003, when districts statewide were provided with an API score for the first time,” said MUSD Board President David Vela. “Our students are continuing to achieve academically and there is no better feeling than seeing their hard work and dedication reflected in these scores.”
Individual schools in Montebello Unified have already surpassed the state target. Montebello Gardens Elementary achieved a score of 868, and Portrero Heights Elementary achieved a score of 842.
Schools in the district that do not meet the state target are expected to increase their scores by a set amount each year according to a district target that is lower than the state’s. In this area, MUSD has performed well over the years.
A majority of schools at MUSD, including all of the high schools, have significantly surpassed the targets set at the district level. The district highlighted in particular the gains in its middle schools, which together have had an average growth of 82.6 API points in the last five years, double the average growth targets set by the state during the same period.
But while some MUSD schools, such as Fremont Elementary, which gained 40 points this year, performed beyond expectations, some individual schools lagged or actually lost points.
Washington Elementary, Winter Gardens, and Laguna Nueva increased their API scores, but did not meet the district’s target, while scores at Joseph A. Gascon Elementary, Greenwood Elementary, Montebello Park Elementary, Rosewood Park Elementary, and Macy Intermediate went down.
Meanwhile the scores of some subgroups at the high school level experienced decreases, even though overall scores not only went up, but also exceeded the district target. These subgroups are defined based on race, as well as according to socio-economically disadvantaged, English learner, and students with disabilities statuses.
MUSD’s high school students’ scores lagged in the categories not defined by race. Schurr High School, which achieved a 757 API score, was expected to achieve a 5-point growth among its socio-economically disadvantaged students this year, but went down by 2 points instead.
Montebello High School achieved a 670 API score this year, but instead of gaining 21 points among students with disabilities, the school’s score went down by 9 points.
Bell Gardens High achieved a 664 API score, but among students with disabilities, the school lost 8 points, instead of meeting a 22-point growth target.
LAUSD schools in EGP’s coverage area have fallen under much scrutiny in recent years. API scores are used by LAUSD to single out schools in need of reform. Any school that falls below a 600 API score and fails to reach targets for improvement for a number of years, can be designated as a “focus school” and is eligible for takeover by outside educational agencies such as charter schools, groups of teachers and administrators, and nonprofit organizations, in the hope that they can bring new ideas to the table to raise student achievement.
Charters and nonprofits are not bound by the LAUSD’s union contracts and could potentially replace all the teachers in any campus they take over. Five schools, not in the local area, raised their scores above 600 this year, allowing them to stay under the control of the district.
“I congratulate these schools for their growth in student achievement and hope it will become a trend with the help of extra support of the district,” LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said Monday.
LAUSD turned over 18 new schools and 12 troubled ones to outside operators during the first round of the Public School Choice Initiative in February. Teacher-administrator groups backed by United Teachers Los Angeles claimed the vast majority, while four were awarded to charter operators.
One of those focus schools was awarded to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. “We are seeing growth at the vast majority of our schools and, in some cases, we are seeing transformational growth,” he said, referring to all LAUSD schools. “While this shows we are moving in the right direction, we cannot content ourselves with anything short of transformational progress for every struggling school.”
Villaraigosa’s own nonprofit saw growth as well. Roosevelt High School made a record 57-point increase in the last two years to achieve a score of 607 this year, while Hollenbeck Middle School increased by 42 points in the same period to achieve a score of 625. Stevenson Middle School came back from a 7-point setback last year with a 16-point increase to its API score this year to achieve a 627 score.
The 21 Partnership schools, which consist of LAUSD schools that had been among the lowest performing in the district, have an overall score of 606, as compared to the LAUSD’s overall score of 709.
Charter-run schools in LAUSD did well this year, with three high schools run by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools ranked among the top ten in the district. College-Ready Academy High School #4, to be renamed Dr. Olga Mohan High School later this month, scored 883 and ranked fourth in the district. Environmental Science and Technology High School scored 859, ranking seventh in the district. Gertz-Ressler High School scored 853, putting them ninth in the district.
“We are proud that our charter schools ranked among the best schools in all of LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district,” said Alliance President and CEO Judy Burton. “These strong results only deepen our belief that all students can excel in the classroom and graduate from college. We look forward to continued academic improvement during the new school year.”
Reform efforts and steady progress in local schools also reflect a need for continued attention to schools with high concentrations of minority groups. A report by the Education Trust-West indicates that while African-American students together increased their API scores by 15 points, from 670 to 685, they continue to trail their white peers by 153 points. Latino students increased their scores by 17 points overall to achieve 715, which still leaves a gap of 123 points when compared to white students.
The report’s authors urge policymakers to go beyond “convening taskforces that highlight problems everyone knows exists,” and instead implement “high-impact solutions that have long been avoided or ignored.”
“It is extremely important that California address the specific needs of Latino and African American youth. Education reform efforts must address the crisis presented in these reports,” said Assemblymember Tony Mendoza (D-Norwalk), Vice Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “We are at a critic point. If we do not make a shared pledge to close opportunity and achievement gaps for Latino and African American students, we are putting California’s future at risk.”
City News Service was used in this story.