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OPINION: Hollister School District sowing seeds for 'Extraordinary Learning Environment'

District creates plan to reorganize and reallocate resources

Spring has sprung in the Hollister School District. Just as spring flowers move from seed to full bloom, the Hollister School District is planting and sowing seeds with the optimism of a beautiful garden of achieving students and highly trained staff. With the vision of creating an “extraordinary learning environment for students and staff,” the district has created a Reorganization and Reallocation of Resources Plan​ based on staff and community input, research, past experiences, and the strengths of our families. 

Step 1: Reach Out & Listen

Before embarking on the creation of a new plan, new superintendent Dr. Lisa Andrew spent six months immersed in learning about the district, staff, and the community. She conducted a Listening and Learning Tour which included a community meet-and-greet in September, meeting with each school staff, conversations with the teachers’ union and classified staff union, discussions with parent groups, and chats with city council members, county Board of Supervisors and law enforcement officials. Overwhelmingly, Dr. Andrew was impressed and humbled by the warmth and engagement of each person she encountered and the desire by all to contribute to the success of the district. 

Trends revealed during the Listening and Learning Tour and a review of pertinent district documents and data reports included that students and staff like coming to school and feel safe at school, parents feel that staff care about their children, staff value the support they get from each other, teachers value time they have to collaborate with each other, staff enjoy living in the community where they work, and parents enjoy having staff that live in the community. Trends indicating opportunities for improvement included that some students are not achieving academically as compared to their peers, parents would like the district to broaden offerings for students to include STEM and the arts, all staff would like more opportunities to learn new skills and strategies specific to their role, and the need for the district to address its current deficit spending. 

Because People Support What They Help Create

Based on these trends, the district convened different stakeholder groups that included staff, parents, and community members to design a Reorganization and Reallocation of Resources Plan that builds on strengths and addresses opportunities for improvement. Groups investigated best practices as described in research and implemented in other districts like Hollister School District. They also analyzed staffing ratios as specified in Education Code, the California Association of School Business Officials (CABSO), and the Comparative Analysis of District Income and Expenditures (CADIE). After months of discussion and visits to other districts, recommendations from the groups were compiled to create a plan that is designed to create an extraordinary learning environment for students and staff by; 1) building the capacity of all staff members to increase the social, emotional and academic achievement of all our students, 2) increasing school and program options for families, 3) increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and fiscal solvency, and 4) ensuring facilities are modern and maintained. 

In recent months, the Board of Trustees has approved staffing allocations and reductions needed to implement the plan. An example is hiring a principal dedicated to all the special education classrooms, a mental health coordinator, mental health interns, and two additional special education program specialists to support all teachers in working with students with mental health and behavioral needs. These new staff members will also assist special education teachers in designing specialized lessons based on the Common Core State Standards, indicators of independence, and the developmental needs of our special education students. This change also included eliminating the least trained classroom assistants and staffing Special Education classrooms with fewer, but more highly trained assistants. 

Becoming a “Learning Organization” for all HSD Staff 

Another aspect of the plan is reallocating resources to create an extraordinary learning environment for staff. An example of this is the creation of a comprehensive, ongoing training and coaching model that ensures teachers are equipped with the skills and strategies needed to address a variety of student learning styles and the every changing technology demands of our society. Teachers will attend training sessions during their workday, on non-student days, or Saturdays and will then receive in classroom coaching on implementing what they have learned in a workshop. This provides teachers with the support they need with their students, in their classroom, at their school. This change also included eliminating some administrative positions so that some of those funds could be used for teacher training and the balance used to partially address $2.7 million in deficit spending. 

Integrating Education Technology into Teaching & Learning 

Other changes include investigating the creation of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focused school sites and visual and performing arts school sites. A team will also create an Early Childhood Education Plan that includes transitional kindergarten at each school site and ensuring students successfully transition into kindergarten and first grade. Hollister School District will continue on its journey to become a Google Level 1 Certified School District by participating in Google’s Project Culture Shift, where processes from the Stanford Design School will be used to plan for student mastery of Google apps such as Google docs, slides, and spreadsheets. To support this effort, the District will hire its first Educational Technology Teacher to support teachers in integrating technology into their lessons. Next year, all students will have new reading and writing materials as the district will be adopting a new English language arts and English language development curriculum, costing the district approximately $1 million. 

These are just a few examples of the new plan. In coming months, staff from each school site will be reaching out to families for input and partnership in implementing improvements specific to each school. Each school site will build a Key Communicators Network, design a yearly signature event, and construct “their story,” the information about what makes their school an extraordinary learning environment. 
While difficult decisions had to be made and system changes throughout the district and at school sites still need to be implemented, the district and the community have a tremendous opportunity to create a school district where students thrive socially, emotionally, and academically and deficit spending is eliminated.

The desire to be an extraordinary learning environment for students and staff will take everyone pulling together and in the same direction. If you would like to be involved in this effort, please contact the Hollister School District at (831) 630-6300. 
 

Comments

I wish you well, but I have seen every possible variety of silver bullet one can imagine for decades and as the old joke goes "The voice said 'cheer up things could be worse,' so I cheered up and sure enough things got worse." Program after program have been hailed as panaceas only to be quietly abandoned after a time, the heap of discard silver bullets that turned out to be unprimed duds is enormous.  

There is another saying - "Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground."  With that in mind:

When can we expect to see the district design or designate key measurable data items the district intends to use to see if this program makes a difference? You need to do that up front.

When, realistically, can we expect to see a statistically significant shift in that data; 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, ever, never?

If I ever go on a diet, I will set a goal and weigh myself once a week, that's for sure.  Until then no one is going to believe that I'm on a diet and I don't blame them.

Marty Richman

 

thepracticalconservative's picture

Marty,

Let me preface my comments with this: the state education bureaucracy has made it pretty much impossible to compare school performance over multiple periods.  The measurement I prefer is how confident the public is in our schools as gauged by enrollment along with assessments administered and reported by the teachers.  I have confidence in the reports.

I have one other measurement that is more difficult to quantifiably measure: Does the San Benito High School feel that our students arriving there are adequately prepared for high school learning.  For that I have to rely on conversations with the folks there.

That said, the Hollister School District actually has a good recent track record of creating programs that the community wants for its students.  It developed the Hollister Dual Language Academy with over 600 students voluntarily enrolled.  We created the Accelerated Achievement Academy with over 130 voluntarily enrolled.  We chartered the Hollister Prep School with over 360 students enrolled.  This all suggests that as we respond to other programs the community desires, we will be successful.

Our superintendent is well aware of the tasks at hand and the challenges we are facing.  The school board is seemingly behind her (I don't want to speak for the entire board, thus the qualifier).

So Marty, for once I am asking you not to throw rocks but perhaps look for the good. If you have suggestions, please let us hear about them.  They will be taken seriously.  If you could talk to the state about giving us good measuring tools that can be used for year-to-year, school-to-school, district-to-district comparisons, that would be great.

 

Rob, there were no rocks, it's just that too many of these programs have turned into mere cheerleading and stayed that way. 

Ok, preparation to do High School level work is a fair measure of one end of the spectrum, but why do we have to rely in cocktail party conversations to get someone's opinion on that?  Let's get a periodic report signed by the SBHS Super.  He should interview his staff and report on what estimated percent of students entering from the various sources are "well prepared", "prepared", "marginally prepared" or "unprepared."

The exact same process can be used by the middle schools in relation to their needs and reflecting on the incoming classes.  That is a lot better than nothing or casual opinion.

I'm tired of all this "you can't measure our accomplishments" form the education establishment, that is all.  In the real world almost everyone has their performance rated.  So, how about an official version of what you are saying unofficially.  I'll back anything that works, but I won't take anyone's word for it because, historically, too many of them lie or rig the system to cover poor performance.

Marty Richman

 

thepracticalconservative's picture

Marty,

While I was having cocktails with a great deal of administrators last week, when I want official information, like "Are our kids prepared...?", I meet with people in a more formal setting.  I do take this role I am in seriously.  That said, I like your idea.

Please re-read my original comments.  The state keeps changing the testing, evaluation, and reporting methodologies, and quite frankly, much of it is gobbledygook.  We are relying on the teachers to give us benchmark assessments, and they are very telling of where we need to be spending more resources.

So far, the programs that I mentioned have survived, and grown, over multiple year periods.

I think most of what you are critiquing is sadly at the state level...beyond our control.  Now if you want to elect me to the state senate and help me get on the education committee, I might be able to help there.  In the meantime, today I sent a letter to the CEO of the Association of California School Administrators and I have met with the president of the California Teachers Association, begging for their help.

Sounds like a lot of changes for the schools I attended, but the town has changed and our school district needs to reflect that. Shame about the eliminated special education employees. Some of them may have had great relationships with teachers and families that new staff are going to have to build up again. I'd be curious to know why the district could not provide more training for these staff members, but the press release overall is pretty positive.

Submitted by (Chinga chavin) on

Dr Andrew, like Dr. Crates, will bring innovation to the district and not just status quo. The district is fortunate to have strong leadership, make sure to value and support that.

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