East Side Union listens, rethinks, revises draft accountability plan

By shifting money to pay for more academic counselors and librarians next year at the lowest-performing schools, administrators of East Side Union High School District in San Jose have revised the district’s draft three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan, incorporating key recommendations of parents and teachers. The revised plan specifically addresses the needs of African-American students, a small group that has struggled academically, by offering them individualized education plans.
East Side Union’s response highlights the value of a key provision of California’s new school funding law, requiring district officials to seek parent and community reactions to their draft accountability plan and to take suggestions seriously enough to amend it.
The 24,000 student district in East San Jose held the first of two hearings on its LCAP on Thursday, with a second hearing planned for early June before the school board votes on it and the 2014-15 district budget later in the month. Nearly two dozen parents, students and teachers spoke at the hearing, raising issues that ranged from the narrow – a demand for more clerical help at Independence, the largest high school  – to the broad, such as a call to offer Hispanic students, who comprise about 40 percent of the district’s students, the same individualized education plans the district is committing to for African-American students next year.
Supported by other members of the student group Californians For Justice, Karla Rodriguez, a junior at James Lick High, calls on the school board to formally reach out to students under the LCAP process. “Allow us to be champions of our needs,” she said. Credit: John FensterwaldThere was more praise overall of the LCAP – especially from Vietnamese parents, speaking through interpreters, and African-American parents – than criticism. And there was a strong contingent from Californians for Justice, a statewide nonprofit promoting student activism with an East Side Union chapter. As they did last week at the State Board of Education meeting in Sacramento, the students called for a more formal role in the LCAP than current state regulations require. “As one of only two student members on the district budget advisory committee, there is no way for me to represent values and voices of students in the district,” said Tony Bui, a sophomore at James Lick High.
(Update: The East Side Teachers Association has sent board members a 5-page critique of the LCAP, in which it criticized district administrators for not collaborating more with teachers. The letter, from unnamed members of the union’s Organizing Committee, lists alternative ideas for additional spending.)
East Side Union was one of the first districts to draft its LCAP. Confident that a year-long district strategic planning process a year ago and an extensive survey of students, teachers and parents last fall captured community priorities, Superintendent Chris Funk floated a draft LCAP in March – to verify that he was on the right track, he said this week.
The feedback he got, primarily in the form of minutes from school site councils from its 11 comprehensive high schools, serving all students, and two alternative schools, was “Yes, but …”
The Local Control Funding Formula, the new primary source of funding from the state, awards money for “high-needs” students: low-income students, foster youth and English learners. For East Side Union, which enrolls some of San Jose’s poorest students, that is expected to produce an extra $5 million on top of the $8 million in base funding under the formula in 2014-15. About 55 percent of the 23,600 students qualify as high-needs under the formula; about one out of five is an English learner.  (*see note below)
Funk proposed to use the bulk of the supplemental money to hire a social worker, a parent liaison and an instructional coach, who would help guide teachers’ implementation of the Common Core state standards, at each high school. A 12th social worker would coordinate services for foster youths from the district office.
Supplemental dollars under the Local Control Funding Formula, intended to serve high-needs students, will pay for social workers, parent engagement liaisons, half the cost of instructional coaches, and additional counselors in low-performing schools. Source: East Side Union High School DistrictUnder newly adopted regulations, supplemental dollars are supposed to be used to expand or improve services for the high-needs students who generate the extra money. The revised draft would more closely follow that intent. Half of the salaries of instructional coaches next year would be funded from one-time state money for implementing the Common Core state standards, freeing up money to add a third academic counselor in the six lowest-performing high schools, which also have the largest percentages of low-income students and English learners, and to slightly increase librarians’ time.
Site councils repeatedly requested additional counselors and librarians. “All groups (the Site Council, Latino Parent Coalition/English Language Advisory Council, department heads) consistently stated that counselors should be the priority,” said the notes from the site council at Evergreen Valley High School.
Because of state funding cuts during the recession, the district lost half of its academic counselors. Next year it will regain 17, plus the social workers. The base dollars from the LCFF will cover two counselors at each school; supplemental funding will cover a third counselor at half of the schools; and schools plan to use discretionary federal Title I dollars, given to low-income students, to add either a third or fourth counselor. If there is sufficient money, the district will fund three counselors in every school out of base funding in 2015-16 and four by 2016-17.
“We’re moving in the right direction with counselors, but we are still not back to the level we were at,” Marisa Hanson, president of the East Side Teachers Union, reminded the school board.
Vivian Gamez, an academic counselor at James Lick High, said to serve students not headed to a four-year university, the district should follow the example of San Jose Unified and hire a career counselor for the 600 East Side Union students who spend half of each day at the Silicon Valley Career Technical Education Center, a regional career technical education center. Board member Frank Biehl encouraged Funk to look into this suggestion.
With $4.8 million in supplemental dollars under the Local Control Funding Formula, the district would hire 44 additional social workers, counselors, parent engagement coordinators and others next year. The district projects supplemental dollars to grow to $6.3 million in 2016-17. Source: East Side Union High School District.The operating hours of school libraries have been sharply reduced, with a quarter-time librarian in each school, as a result of state funding cuts. Next year, with the addition of two librarians, schools serving the largest proportion of high-needs students will have a half-time librarian; other schools will have a third of a librarian’s time. Funk said he is looking into other ways to expand library hours.
Action plans for African-Americans
African-American students make up less than 3 percent of enrollment, and some community leaders have argued for years that those children have fallen through the cracks.
The LCAP includes the following actions:
Creating an annual individual learning plan for every African-American student by Sept. 30, updated twice each year;
Establishing African-American student unions at schools to provide community services, such as tutoring and health care, for students;
Enrolling 90 percent of African-American students in the summer bridge program between middle school and freshman year, during which they would take high school electives or Common Core math.
The goal would be to raise the percentage of African-American students graduating with the minimum courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University from 27 to 35 percent in three years. The district target for 2016-17 would be 47 percent.
“Through effort and resources, we can make a major change in the next two or three years to close the African-American achievement gap,” Funk said in an interview.
African-American leaders who had criticized the lack of action in the first draft of the LCAP responded positively.
“Once again we would like to say thanks to you, your team and the entire district leadership for making a bold and aggressive decision to tackle the achievement gap of all children in general and African Americans in particular,” Mulugeta Habtegabriel, co-chair of African American Student Advocates, wrote in an email to Funk this week. (Update: Other groups representing African-Americans in Santa Clara County had made more extensive, different recommendations to Funk. Go here to read their suggestions.)
The new draft LCAP was released last week, but still had not been posted on the district’s website by the time of the first public hearing. It grew from a dozen to 18 pages and more closely conforms to what the new regulations require, including specific goals for improving graduation rates (to 88 percent in 2016-17), reducing the suspension rates and expulsion rates (by 20 percent next year and 10 percent the following two years), reducing dropout rates (to 8 percent in three years) and expanding parent participation (by 10 percent in three years), as measured by involvement in school site councils and other groups.
Programs and services that will be started or expanded include:
Counselors will actively recruit students who don’t have enough credits to graduate after four years for a fifth year in high school;
English classes will be offered to parents of English learners so that they can become more involved in their children’s education;
Professional learning communities, fostering collaboration among teachers, will be active in each school within three years, with training of teacher leaders starting next year.
 
(*Note:  In their critique of the LCAP, East Side Union Teachers Association members wrote that the district underestimated how much the district must spend next year in supplemental and concentration dollars by $2 million. Associate Superintendent of Business Services Marcus Battle insists that the district’s numbers are correct.)
This report is part of EdSource’s Following the School Funding Formula project, tracking the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in selected school districts around the state.
John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.
 

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