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BOE forum prompts reexamination of district plans

The Central Valley Board of Education and district administrators are reexamining district initiatives following community comments presented at the board’s public forum on Monday, May 2.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, a meeting the board scheduled in response to public concerns voiced at its regular meeting held on Apr. 11.

The evening opened with a history of the district’s mission statement and the recently adopted strategic plan. Following the presentation, BOE President Stephen Coupe opened the floor to questions and comments.

The majority of speakers expressed opposition to a proposal that would group students by academic performance. District officials introduced the idea as a way to target resources to students who need them. Opponents cited concerns over student self-esteem and the risk that students could be closed out of career opportunities by decisions made early in a student’s education. By evening’s end, Superintendent of School Rich Hughes stated that ability grouping was “off the table.”

“It was clear that this is an especially difficult topic, one that could undo all of the district’s good work,” he said after the meeting.

“The conversation cannot get bogged down by debates that distract us from the real problem—regardless of the measure, state assessments, our local iReady, college readiness, etc.—too many of our students are not on grade level for reading or math and too many are not prepared for college. It is now up to our building administrators, staff, and community to come up with a plan that quickly changes that.”

Many speakers also expressed concern over the district’s adopted plan to realign the two Prek-4 elementary schools into one grades Prek-1 building (Fisher) and one grades 2-4 building (Barringer Road). Attendees raised questions about transportation, child care, and the loss of community elementary schools. Mr. Coupe told the audience that the board would reexamine the plan at its next board meeting on May 25.

Rescinding that plan would be more complicated than simply voting. The district’s capital project plans reflect the realigned elementary schools.

“The realignment made our buildings more efficient and freed up money for other areas of the project and student resources,” Dr. Hughes later said.

“At Barringer Road, we were able to redirect that money into expanding Barringer’s gymnasium. We can redesign, but everyone should be aware it won’t be as simple as go backing to a former plan. It will mean additional design fees, project delays, inflationary costs, etc. We will likely have to scale back what we hoped to get for the money.”

He is currently working with the architects to get an estimate on cost increases. He plans to present that information at the May 25 board meeting.

The other major concern was teachers’ feeling they had not been consulted in the planning process. As a consequence, they felt decisions were made without their valuable input.

“We clearly need to do a better job communicating with parents and our community,” Dr. Hughes said.

“We generally ask for committee volunteers, but we have had trouble finding people who want to participate. Sometimes people miss the request. Sometimes they don’t have the time to commit. Sometimes they don’t understand the full impact of a committee’s charge. That happened with the strategic planning and scheduling committees. We need to work harder when seeking participants and to keep those who can’t participate better informed during the process.”

Immediate plans include reintroducing paper district newsletters, ongoing reporting of plans and progress on the district website, and meeting reminders via social media.