Livingston teachers' dedication rewarded with cash bonuses

LIVINGSTON -- Teachers in the Livingston Union School District will have a thousand more reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

The district announced Tuesday it will be including an extra $1,000 with each of its teachers' November paychecks, $500 for its classified staff (prorated for part-time employees) and a letter thanking each employee for their contribution to the district's "Success for All" initiative.

"People are speechless," Campus Park School Principal George Solis said of his staff's reaction to the Thanksgiving dividend. "Some have told me the letter of appreciation was enough, but they're really happy and excited about it (the money)."

Success for All is a strategic plan designed and implemented by the district 10 years ago to change the culture of education and educational programs in Livingston.

Since its inception, student achievement scores on standardized tests have soared -- from among the lower in the state to among the higher, even without regard to demographics of the district's student population.

Nearly all students in the district qualify for the free-lunch program, and about 75 percent have limited or no English language skills upon enrollment.

The nearly linear rise of test scores in the district from the lower- and mid-400s in 1999 to the upper-700s (810 at Yamato Colony Elementary School) in 2009 hasn't gone unnoticed at the local, state and national level.

"Just this week, the State Department of Education enlisted researchers from the California Comprehensive Center at West Ed to gather information about the planning and decision-making practices at Livingston Union School District to learn why our students are performing above expected levels when compared to schools in other districts with similar student population," said District Superintendent Henry Escobar.

Districtwide buy-in of Success for All's "Whatever it takes, no excuses" underpinning on the part of administrators, teachers and staff may be the answer that those researchers discover.

"Because of [our employees], our students are performing at levels never before envisioned in our district, and our student achievement scores continue to climb," he said. "Young lives have been changed, and for that we are all truly thankful."

All but one of the district's 347 employees received a Thanksgiving "reward" at a cost to the district's general fund of slightly more than $246,000.

Escobar himself received no bonus, but he said the flood of letters and e-mails of appreciation he's getting from his staff is worth much more than money.