Looking Back, Looking Forward
This time of the year, we often consider both the year behind us and the year ahead. This is true for school district employees and families alike. As we enjoy two weeks of rest, I can honestly say I am proud of the way our district staff has faced obstacles in recent years and have been able to develop strategies to address and overcome them. Knowing Alameda and the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) as I do, I am confident that we can continue to work at improvement to benefit all whom we serve.
For instance, last year the Board of Education conducted a comprehensive budget analysis in a number of public meetings to identify more than $3 million in cuts to offer a 4.5 percent raise to district employees. We will continue to work at finding ways to pay more to our currently underpaid staff.
Workers in our California State Employees Association (CSEA) 27 and CSEA 860 bargaining units accepted that raise last August. I am happy to report today that the Alameda Education Association, (AEA) which represents teachers, counselors, and other employees, agreed to the same salary increase on Dec. 20. (“Teachers, District Reach Tentative Agreement,” Dec. 27).
AUSD also has worked diligently in recent years on strategies to improve student learning outcomes. Currently AUSD staff are being trained in restorative practices to lessen use of exclusionary discipline so kids stay in school. Preliminary data shows that strategy is working for us as we help students understand the impacts that their decisions make on other students and their school communities.
Meanwhile, AUSD has implemented its strategy of convening coordination of service teams as part of our multi-tiered system of supports efforts. These teams provide academic, behavioral and health and mental health supports and resources where needed to help students achieve to the California Common Core learning standards.
The school board also adopted an updated dress-code policy as a way to help ensure that students (particularly female students) are not excluded from school attendance and disproportionately impacted by the old dress-code policy. While this appeared to be a controversial and newsworthy topic at the beginning of this school year, again we have seen data showing that the new policy is working and generally embraced by students and staff alike.
AUSD continues to work to identify how we can make sure that we are helping students succeed in school so we can achieve our vision of preparing them to be responsible citizens who are both college- and career-ready, and we know keeping students in class and in school is instrumental to that effort.
High School Alternatives
Meanwhile, the AUSD Committee to Consider High School Consolidation and Alternative Scenarios will provide a report to the Board of Education early next year. As you may know, the Board of Education asked staff to convene this committee when teachers and members of the public wanted AUSD to review whether more equitable and more efficient programs might be possible as we prepare for the renovation and return of Historic Alameda High School to student use next year. Whatever final analysis is presented, I am grateful to this committee for its work to assess our potential for improving secondary education in the district.
I am particularly excited by the committee’s focus on ways to provide increased opportunities for students to engage in more challenging, meaningful and rigorous coursework that will prepare them for increased levels of college- and career-readiness.
I am specifically intrigued by the committee’s review of the opportunities that could be made available by increasing students’ ability to enroll in college classes while still in high school. AUSD schools and students already have benefited greatly from dual-enrollment opportunities that have allowed students to succeed in college classes while still in high school.
Since 2004, for instance, students at AUSD’s early college high school Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) have been able to use dual enrollment to provide them competitive advantage when applying for college. Indeed, most ASTI students complete their Associate of Arts degrees as they simultaneously earn high school diplomas or complete what are called education transfer credits.” This makes them better positioned to transfer to the University of California or California State University systems. We have been working at how to provide those same advantages to other students in AUSD.
Many students at Island High School, AUSD’s continuation are also participating in courses offered by the College of Alameda or other Peralta Community College District institutions. These include courses in early childhood education, carpentry and other disciplines.
Encinal High School students have enrolled in college-level genomics coursework over the past two years. They have shown phenomenal results in learning biotechnology skills that set them up for competitive college admissions or immediate employment in that emerging health professions sector.
As such, I see the committee’s interest in dual enrollment as a great opportunity for AUSD to think about how we can do more in partnership with College of Alameda and other Peralta Community College District community colleges. This would benefit our students and also run more efficiently in our high schools. We should explore how more students can also benefit in that way.
Real Estate Strategies
Facilities planning continues to be a big theme for us here. I am proud of work staff has done in recent years on strategizing how to best use AUSD facilities for the most efficient and best possible use for students, staff and community. Over the last several years, for instance, AUSD has negotiated the return of two schools on Singleton Avenue — the former Miller Elementary School site and Woodstock Child Development Center (WCDC) sites — from the Navy.
We are excited at the possibility of adding two sites to our real estate portfolio so we are able to offer school facilities in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible. Restoring these sites will be far less expensive than building two new schools. We hope to return Island High School and WCDC back to these sites as those schools would benefit from those more modern facilities, particularly with these school sites’ proximity to College of Alameda and new home construction in that area.
Meanwhile, we also have planned how we might use the former Longfellow Elementary School site for a maintenance, operations and facilities yard and food services warehouse. This would free up old substandard properties that could bring AUSD potential for cost savings and increased efficiencies. It may also allow us to sell the old maintenance yard and use that money to upgrade facilities elsewhere. You can learn more about these real estate strategies on our Real Estate Strategy web page.
At the same time, we are working on plans to potentially move Alameda Adult School to Alameda High School (once Historic Alameda High School is completed) in case the Board of Education decides that will be the best use of our facilities to achieve our the district’s goals and offer the required space to this important community asset. We know adult education continues to be an important strategy to ensure more Alamedans can continue to aspire to dreams of better lives through ongoing post-secondary education and career preparedness.
Taken together, I see all of this work to date as new possibilities for programmatic and facilities change as we continue to usher in a new era of improved student and staff outcomes in AUSD. Please know we look forward to working in 2019 to engage the board and public in strategic planning efforts so we can keep up our efforts of turning challenges into opportunities to achieve and realize our vision of a district that helps each and every student achieve their potential.
During this holiday break, I hope all our students, families and employees can take time to reflect on how we can work together toward our unified goal of improvement and progress. As we look forward to the new year ahead, please know staff here will continue to strive to achieve our vision of a school district that honors, respects and uplifts the community we serve.