A state-mandated plan that aims to help underperforming Palo Alto students but could benefit all students was praised by the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday morning. But board members asked for clarity on how the plan's impact will be measured.
Under the new funding formula, for the first time in 40 years the district can prioritize its funds to meet specific student-population needs instead of being directed to spend the state allocations on specified programs.
The school district will receive $1.4 million in "supplemental" LCFF funds beginning 2014-15. The amount will increase to approximately $2 million for 2015-16 and $2.3 million for 2016-17, based on the number of students who fit specialized categories described in the plan. Those students include English learners, low-income students, foster and homeless youth, and students with disabilities.
The funding amount is not an increase from prior years. The state is allowing school districts that are funded by local property taxes, such as Palo Alto, to retain the past state funding amounts. That so-called "supplemental funding" pays for programs that benefit underserved student populations. About 16 percent of school district students fall in the targeted categories.
Board members lauded the plan for its emphasis on developing 21st-century learning skills -- such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity -- and efforts toward greater inclusiveness and equality in learning for all student groups.
"This is a responsive, living document," said board member Heidi Emerling, who praised the plan for its attentiveness to current district issues, especially bullying.
The plan sets as two of its goals a full adoption at all school sites of the district's new bullying regulations and development of a baseline to measure and document reported bullying by 2015.
In 2013, 65 percent of respondents to a district survey said they were satisfied with the district's response to bullying; by 2017, the district hopes to increase that number to 79 percent, with targeted improvements for each year.
Total LCAP program expenditures for 2014-15 are estimated at $2.9 million, to be funded by a combination of sources. Staff said that many programs and policies are already in effect and will help all students, not just the underserved populations.
Goals that could benefit all students include: that 100 percent of teachers are credentialed to teach in their subject areas; standardizing instructional materials; raising the number of students who take and pass Advanced Placement courses; using technology for expanded learning; continuing professional education for teachers; developing more options that reflect students' talents and interests; improving a sense of safety and connectedness; and enhancing college and career counseling.
But much of the plan focuses on getting underserved students up to speed. A 2014 survey of parents, teachers, students and district staff by consultants Hanover Research found that 21 percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with school support for under-performing students; 46 percent were "somewhat satisfied."
Parents and students were also less likely to agree that students with special needs have access to necessary support for learning. The survey found that 33 percent of all respondents said they were very satisfied and 51 percent were somewhat satisfied.
Administrators hope to remedy these problems through more focused learning in smaller groups, additional tutoring and after-school programs, providing additional attention to English-language learners and aide support for special-education students so they can be better integrated in the general classroom setting.
The plan would add teachers and staff who reflect student diversity. Newly hired teachers would complete school district accreditation that focuses on teaching low-performing, special-education and English-language-learners and at-risk youth who are in foster care or homeless. Teachers would have additional, required professional-growth instruction every two years. Staff would have instruction on cultural literacy to help identify cultural customs and perspectives that have negatively affected attendance and learning.
The plan seeks to quantify improvement. The LCAP would aim to reduce truancy to 35 percent by 2017. Truancy is defined in the California Education Code as an unexcused absence of three full days within a school year and/or unexcused tardiness for more than 30 minutes, three times a year. Current district-wide truancy rates are 50 percent, staff noted.
The district would try to increase the percentage of students who take and pass Advanced Placement classes. In 2013, that figure was the lowest in six years. A district study showed that 69.6 percent of students took and passed at least one Advanced Placement class. The highest number was 75.5 percent in 2011.
The plan invests heavily in English-language-related programs, with an eye toward increasing college preparedness and counseling among the underserved groups. An estimated $1.4 million would be spent in 2014-15 for English-language-learner teachers, a language coordinator and teaching coaches to instruct educators.
Early literacy and other prevention strategies, particularly for pre-kindergarten to grade 3, would improve math and language skills for low-income students at an estimated cost of $245,000. After-school English-language intervention at Walter Hays, Escondido and Fairmeadow elementary schools would cost $15,750 as part of that package. About $65,000 would enhance the College Bound program at Barron Park Elementary School for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.
While a large portion of the document identifies programs for English-language learners, board members Tuesday said they wanted a better delineation of how programs will benefit special-education students.
Board Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell asked staff to identify which programs are currently funded and which are new. The plan identifies programs and policies that are mostly in effect, with a few new additions, staff said. Caswell also wanted to see metrics added to the plan to identify when goals are achieved.
Board members asked for greater clarity and communication when bringing the plan, which is not to be confused with the district's Strategic Plan, to the public. An advisory group that includes special education, parent, student, PTA and educators' groups developed the plan.
A public hearing and discussion takes place on June 3 before the board, with a vote on June 17. The Santa Clara County Office of Education will receive the finalized plan by June 30.
The 50-page plan can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/PAUSDLCAP.
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