All segments of community involved in Merced school district’s accountability plan

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comMarch 10, 2014 

As part of a new process for obtaining state funding, Merced high school district officials have been meeting with different groups to determine future needs and priorities.

The feedback received by the district shows the community wants to see improvements in counseling services, additional elective classes, healthier food choices and increased accessibility to technology.

More meetings are scheduled throughout the county as the Merced Union High School District prepares its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). It must be approved by trustees in mid-June and then forwarded to the Merced County Office of Education for approval before being sent to the state Department of Education.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Tammie Calzadillas, assistant superintendent for educational services. “It’s giving local school districts a voice on how to spend our money, according to who we are and what we are about. It’s a big leap in education.”

Calzadillas characterized the new state Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and its accompanying accountability plan as a different way of doing business and a huge shift in the funding model used for local schools.

The accountability plan must address priorities such as student achievement, school climate, basic services, student engagement, implementation of Common Core State Standards, parent involvement and course access.

Crissy Gallardo of the Merced Organizing Project said the school district has been open in involving young people in the process.

“This youth-friendly way is the right thing for school administrators to do,” Gallardo said. “Asking students what they need is a move in the right direction by the high school district. We’re excited the school is open to working with us and ensuring our voice is heard.”

Scott Scambray, district superintendent, said that when anything new is rolled out, communication is essential. “You’ve got to get out and talk to people who have input into what’s going on,” he said.

Suggestions from students and parents that the district may not be using its counselors wisely needs to be taken seriously and be examined, he said, adding that the need for more college counseling and increased crisis intervention services have also been identified.

“Our students are very perceptive,” Calzadillas said, “and know their needs. I concur on the need for crisis intervention counseling, that’s a service that’s needed. We have to take a look at what is doable.”

Surprisingly, Calzadillas said, students are requesting healthier food choices. She said physical, not just academic health, must be looked at.

Torrin Johnson, Yosemite High School principal, said he holds monthly parent meetings, which generate many good ideas. Topics of discussion include the new funding formula and course offerings, particularly those in career and technical education.

Johnson said he also holds monthly meetings with about 25 students to get their thoughts on what would make school better. “It’s been a great process,” he said. “We have gotten such good stuff.”

Many of the accountability plan goals must have data to measure results, Calzadillas said. The district monitors its attendance rates, graduation figures and an increasing number of advanced placement courses.

The next meeting of the 48-member LCFF/LCAP Stakeholder committee will be 5:30-8 p.m. March 19 at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater. An April 16 session will be held during the same hours at Livingston High School. The committee includes administrators, students, parents and representatives from the two major employee unions.

Calzadillas said the district has held a number of meetings with community groups dating back to October 2013 on the new Common Core State Standards, which go into effect next fall. The groups are starting to pinpoint what additional support services are needed in district schools.

She said the MUHSD believes the committee and the accountability plan provide stakeholders with equity and transparency as the process moves forward. “We are engaging communities to develop our plans and budget priorities to improve outcomes for our students,” Calzadillas said.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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