SAN BERNARDINO – Solidarity. Collaboration. Hope. That’s how some attending the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s public forum this week responded when asked for one word to sum up their conversations about the schools system’s funding priorities.
Parents, teachers and staff alike seemingly held little back during the last public forum conducted before the district prepares a draft of its Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) – an educational and financial roadmap that is mandated under the state’s new funding law.
All California school districts are required to seek community input into their accountability plans, which must be adopted by July 1. San Bernardino City Unified, which is one of seven school districts EdSource is tracking as the state implements the new Local Control Funding Formula, expects to have a plan in place for its board members to consider by June 18.
On Wednesday, more than 100 parents, staff and community members sat at tables covered in black tablecloths in the multipurpose room of Indian Springs High School. Punctuated with assurances that the discussion was not about playing the “blame game,” they rattled off calls for unity and shared a strong desire to transform the struggling district and its bankrupt city.
“The bottom is over in San Bernardino city,” Superintendent Dale Marsden told the group after listening to requests for more parent responsibility and improved teacher-student relations. “We don’t want to point fingers. We want to join hands.”
But determining which challenges to tackle first and identifying the most effective strategies to improve student achievement may be this 50,000-student district’s greatest obstacle. With so many pressing concerns – low high school graduation rates, double-digit student suspension rates, and dismal student test scores, to name a few – the range of possibilities is seemingly endless.
Since the accountability process began, Barbara Richardson, the district’s assistant director of assessment, accountability and educational technology, said parents have come to her office asking for additional student data. A self-described “data geek,” Richardson said she values parents’ requests to learn more about their children’s schools and help inform their opinions.
During Wednesday night’s meeting, for example, Richardson was asked for more detailed information to explain the gap between student enrollment in Advanced Placement Courses and the number of students taking AP exams. Richardson said later that sharing data publicly helps the district build a relationship of trust with the community.
Ofelia Lopez, the mother of a Middle College High School student, admitted that looking at the student data and learning about the problems plaguing San Bernardino’s schools was “really sad.” But she said she’s encouraged that parents, teachers and staff alike are trying to find the best way to move forward.
Erika Delgado, a mother of three San Bernardino students, said it’s been reassuring to see the same faces of committed parents, community activists and faith-based leaders at the accountability plan forums. But she said more of the meetings should have been held at individual school sites to attract those parents who may be reluctant to share their opinions.
For its part, San Bernardino City Unified broadcast all of its public forums live on its website and Spanish-speaking parents attending the meetings were able to hear the discussions translated over headphones. On Wednesday, meeting participants received a complex color-coded matrix identifying the hundreds of comments and ideas culled from more than a dozen accountability plan meetings. The 13-page matrix was developed, in part, to provide the community a transparent account of their input.
Terry J. Comnick, the district’s director of categorical programs, led the effort to capture the nearly 3,000 comments on paper. Whether it was the district’s African-American Advisory Council or the English-Language Learners Advisory Council, Comnick said he found some common themes among the feedback: extra academic help for students; increased parent engagement efforts; heightened safety and security measures; and more professional development training for teachers.
Regardless of the number of comments, Marsden told the group that the district will have failed if the community does not believe that its input is represented within the accountability plan’s priorities. The daunting task of crafting the accountability plan will fall to a writing team assembled from the members of the district’s LCAP subcommittee. They will start working on the plan in the next few weeks.
Despite San Bernardino City Unified’s long road ahead, Susana Cortés, a third-grade teacher at Ramona-Alessandro Elementary School, said, “At the end, we can’t lose our faith, because then we lose faith in our children.”
Karla Scoon Reid covers Southern California for EdSource.
This report is part of EdSource’s Following the School Funding Formula project, tracking the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in selected school districts around the state.