Students prepare to return to school; officials from local schools discuss strategies for 2014-2015
Thursday, August 7th, 2014
Issue 32, Volume 18.
Vallecitos, Fallbrook Union Elementary (FUESD), Bonsall Unified (BUSD) and Fallbrook Union High School (FUHSD) districts have provided information regarding their focuses for this school year.
Vallecitos: School-wide intervention
Academic achievement through intervention has been a big focus for Vallecitos School District (VSD), and superintendent David Jones stated Vallecitos will continue to use intervention strategies to help students master core subjects. Historically, 50 percent of VSD students scored proficient or better on tests, but within three years, 75 percent of students were scoring as proficient or better.
"Last year, we won a Title I academic achievement award from the State of California," said Jones. "The state identifies the Top 100 Title I K-12 schools, and because of our huge gain in student achievement, we were recognized. My main focus would be to improve student learning in English Language Arts. There will be a very strong focus on that with core curriculum. All our time and energy will go to improve student learning. We received that award, and can continue to do better."
"We will be using an intervention model called the Response-To-Intervention (RTI) model throughout the school that will allow for students to have extra time and support [on core subjects]," he said. "Students at all levels will have a block of time several times a week for small group-intensive intervention. Initially, we are focusing on reading and language arts relating to the Common Core Standards, which is a big undertaking for myself and another special education teacher."
Information will then be presented to school staff, which will train on the RTI model. In addition to the RTI model, VSD will receive additional funding from the state budget, which will allow students who are English Language Learners or are receiving free or reduced lunch to receive supplemental services.
"As part of that assistance, VSD will purchase Chromebooks and will expand its wireless capacity," said Jones. "We will have one to one Chromebooks for the upper grades, which are fifth to eighth grade, and with our special education students."
Jones said students will use the Chromebooks and computer software for reading, taking state and district tests online, using Google apps for education, and sharing documents.
"The county office of education will provide all professional development for teachers and students on the Chromebooks," said Jones. "Teachers are just thrilled about it."
FUESD: Class size reductions, new PE programs, curriculum development
Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD) is also taking strides to enhance students’ experience in its schools.
According to Superintendent Candy Singh, class sizes in grades K-3 will be reduced as part of the District’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). In addition, students will get to experience a new physical education (PE) class.
"FUESD will be implementing a district-wide K-6 [PE program] taught by credentialed PE teachers," said Singh. "The new PE program will further enhance students’ fitness and well being, while providing planning and preparing time for classroom teachers."
FUESD students will receive 200 minutes of standards-based PE, whereas before PE had been taught by the classroom teacher.
"The district is also providing two experienced PE assistants to work with students under the direction of the credentialed PE teacher at each school site," said Bill Billingsley, the district’s director of student services and communication. "As far as what the actual PE instructional day will look like, the PE curriculum is called SPARK. It is research-based. All of our PE teachers and instructional assistants are participating in a two-day training." (Information on SPARK can be found at www.sparkpe.org.)
To enhance and support its instructional program in mathematics, FUESD has partnered with the University of California Irvine Math Project to provide professional training and curriculum development for all classroom teachers.
"In addition, FUESD will continue its efforts to develop student and adult leadership through the second year implementation of The Leader in Me." said Singh. "The Leader in Me is based on the work of Dr. Stephen Covey and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
BUSD: Success in CGI and project-based learning
According to Bonsall Unified School District (BUSD) superintendent Justin Cunningham, one of the district’s biggest changes is not in curriculum, but in assessment, which drives instruction.
"In order for students to develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills called for in the assessments of the Common Core State Standards, students will need to talk much more about their learning than they have in the past," he said. "Neuroscience has shown us that talking about your learning will process many more connections than simply listening, it’s the basis of the success of study groups."
In order to transition from more traditional teaching styles, which do not involve this type of learning, BUSD will be training teachers in Cognitive Guided Instruction (CGI), which helps students to learn how to think instead of only memorizing.
"CGI is best suited for primary math, and goes through a type of questioning that aligns with the way the brain develops," said Cunningham. "The actions and decisions that a child makes when solving a problem are determined by the problem posed to the child and the child’s level of development. When children begin to solve problems intuitively, they concretely represent the relationships in the problem."
"Over time, concrete strategies are abstracted to counting strategies, and eventually, as number facts are learned, children apply this knowledge to solve problems," continued Cunningham. "This developmental approach differs from the practice of rote drill for memorization of facts. Children in traditional classrooms often are able to recite facts but lack understanding that a fact represents a relationship between quantities; they lack number sense. Children who have been allowed to progress through the stages described in this section come to understand these relationships."
In addition to CGI, more bilingual paraprofessionals will be hired to draw the English learners into the learning conversations while "building a culture where bilingual students will also elicit contributions to these conversations from English learners."
Finally, as a way to ensure every student will have high levels of writing skills, the district is implementing a writing program with a coach, in addition to use of project based learning.
"It’s a shame that writing has not been a strength in schools in the past with far too many students taking remedial writing courses when they get to college," said Cunningham. "Project-based learning at the middle and high school grades will also be driven by changes in instructional practice. Having teams of students identify a problem they’re interested in, doing the research to address the issue and presenting it to the community will create deeper learning opportunities for academic excellence and support for all students to be highly competitive in their chosen career path and/or college."
FUHS: Building on an already established foundation
According to Fallbrook Union High School (FUHS) principal Rod King, there has been plenty of professional development surrounding Common Core, as well as a new math book adoption.
"Each core department has specific training that will be provided during the coming year," said King. "For example, social science receives training in ‘Reading Like a Historian,’ a Stanford University researched based method of teaching students to approach history."
The "Reading Like a Historian" training ties into one of the goals of Common Core; specifically, academic literacy. The training will assist non-English teachers with critical reading within their subject area – the focus being on informational text and identifying most important questions and themes of material. This skill will then be shared with students and practiced in and outside of class.
As the second oldest school in San Diego County, FUHS emphasizes its various programs and courses fit any student’s needs.
Some of the programs available to students include the award-winning after school program that offers help with courses and lets students explore new things; the career center which focuses on helping students get into college and plan their careers, in addition to helping students receive over $1,900,000 in scholarships; 24 different career technical education courses that prepare students for college and the real world; 26 different sports programs with a training room with a qualified athletic trainer and student trainers; 31 different visual and performing arts courses where students can express themselves; a memorandum of understanding that guarantees admission to Cal State San Marcos if students meet specified academic requirements; and 18 different AP courses that have the highest pass rate within a 20-mile radius, outscoring Vista, Escondido, Valley Center, Oceanside and Temecula school districts.
Oasis High School & Ivy High School: Infusing technology and College Prep courses
Oasis High School will begin to offer more courses that have been approved for the University of California’s "A-G" list in the new school year.
"All schools offering a college preparatory program must have their courses certified and approved as fulfilling the "A-G" subject requirements for freshman admission to the University of California," said principal Melissa Marovich. "We are awaiting approval on a few other classes before the start of the school year, including Physics and Honors English 10."
Newly-approved courses include: Honors World History, Art History, Photography, AP Calculus, Psychology (both regular and Advanced Placement), Expository Reading & Writing for seniors, and Earth Science.
To supplement classes, Marovich stated Oasis staff will continue to infuse technology, project based learning, and performance assessments into everyday assignments.
"Oasis students are using these opportunities to demonstrate mastery of curriculum and thinking skills," she said. "In June, the Oasis staff submitted to the State of California their intent to apply for the Exemplary Independent Study Recognition Award (EISRA) for the coming school year. The application and subsequent visit to verify programs and status will take place in the fall."
Ivy High School’s newly-modernized campus will be ready for the start of the school year, said Marovich. In addition, Ivy has been awarded a renewal of their WASC accreditation, beginning this year, receiving the maximum six-year accreditation.
"The 2014-15 school year is our third year as a Model Continuation High School and we plan to reapply for model school status in the summer of 2015," said Marovich.
At both Ivy and Oasis, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry classes will use a new math textbook and curriculum for the 2014-2015 school year.
"The new adoption is aligned to the Common Core Standards for mathematics and the books include an online version of the text as well as a wealth of digital resources," said Marovich. "Students will be able to make math concepts come alive using the many tools to show math in everyday, real life situations. Math teachers are receiving training to support these new materials and curriculum."
Along with other teachers in the district, Ivy and Oasis staff will participate in several types of curriculum specific professional development in the upcoming year, designed to align with the Common Core State Standards.
Social studies teachers will work with professors from Stanford University’s "Reading Like an Historian" project, along with Fallbrook High’s teachers, and science teachers will participate in a series of workshops designed to teach disciplinary literacy in science classes, said Marovich.
"Teachers will focus on the reading and writing skills needed to ‘think like a scientist’ and infuse these lessons into classes along with the newly adopted Next Generation Science standards," explained Marovich. "English teachers are participating in the California State University’s Expository Reading and Writing training offered throughout the year."
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