Steve Gomes said his presentation on the state of education in Merced County is not just a report, but a celebration of the area’s educational achievements.
Gomes, county superintendent of schools, addressed about 375 business people, educational administrators, elected officials and residents at Merced’s Yosemite Church during a Thursday luncheon. It will be repeated today in Los Banos.
Gomes’ third annual report pinpointed major changes going on in area schools — particularly Common Core State Standards, the new state funding formula and accountability plans that all 20 school districts must complete this year. There are about 56,000 students in kindergarten through high school and another 14,000 youngsters in preschool programs.
“It’s a big number and a big responsibility every day,” Gomes said. “What drives me is we work hard to provide opportunities for kids.”
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Area school districts spend $440 million a year on education, which generates $660 million for the local economy, Gomes said.
“I have heard a lot of negativity about Common Core,” Gomes said. “It is not a curriculum. It’s a set of standards for teachers so students develop higher-level thinking skills. Teachers are no longer the bearers of information. They facilitate learning. Common Core is not a dumbing down; we will be teaching higher-level thinking skills.”
Under Common Core, students will be doing more inquiry and investigation than in years past. The days of students just answering questions on state tests have passed. New assessment tests to be given to students online this spring will probe their mastery of concepts and problem-solving.
“Common Core State Standards allow teachers to use questioning strategies to challenge students,” Gomes said.
Gomes said he was pleased to report that 98 percent of the $63 million provided through voter passage of Proposition 30 nearly two years ago is being spent directly on education. Without passage of the proposition, consequences for area education would have been dire.
Vinton Thengvall of Merced, who works in finance at Label Technology Inc., said he is a believer in local schools. All three of his children went through Merced schools and on to college.
Thengvall termed Gomes’ address an inspiring report and a great reminder of the importance of educating local children.
Gomes said Local Control Accountability Plans are brand-new, and school districts have considerable flexibility in completing these documents, which require community input. The Merced County Office of Education must approve each of these plans, a requirement of the new state funding formula which will provide more money for area schools.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, Gomes said local school districts will do quite well, because this area has a significant number of English-learners, students lower socio-economic status and foster youth – all key elements in boosting funding under the new formula.
Adam Saxon of Merced, in account sales at Image Masters of Merced, lauded the presentation. He said it’s always good to get an update on how area schools are doing. He had been unfamiliar with Common Core State Standards, which must be adopted in the next school year.
Gomes said computers and tablets are seeing increasing use in schools. He called them the digital plumbing for the world of information, observing that new smartphones features illustrate how fast technology is changing.
Kathy Pon, assistant superintendent of instructional services at MCOE, said Common Core is replacing outdated ways of learning while keeping strategies that still work. It’s a shift from teachers lecturing to facilitating learning.
“What parent doesn’t want their children to think critically, solve problems and communicate effectively?” Pon asked. “Education is changing and students will experience powerful learning.”
Nathan Quevedo, MCOE information officer, said there is no cost to taxpayers in staging the luncheons. Sponsors paid for publication of the annual report and staging of the event. Proceeds from table sponsorships and ticket donations will go to the Merced County Education Foundation for its philanthropic programs.
The presentation will be repeated from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Los Banos Community Center, 645 Seventh St., Los Banos.