UPDATE, January 4, 2012: West Contra Costa Unified School District was one of 20 organizations chosen by the state Department of Education to participate in a pilot program that links academics with career readiness.
According to an announcement sent this morning from the office of state superintendent of public instruction Tom Torlakson, these "Linked Learning" programs will "use coursework, technical training, work-based learning "and related support mechanisms" to "forge real connec tions between high school and college and career."
The WCCUSD "will be building on its 19 career academies that serve 35% of the district's high school students....seek to grow its programs internally while also serving as a mentor to districts around the state."
January 3, 2012: A thoughtful, precise letter, written by Bruce Harter, at left, Superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District, in a new year letter to his constitutents (and published on the WCCUSD website) offers a clear glimpse into the challenges, the progress, and the opportunities of a diverse, urban district. (WCCUSD is located in Richmond.) Noting that "2012 will be remembered as the time the distgrict paid off the state loans from 1991 and emerged from state receivership," Harter notes:
The good news
...2012 had other significant milestones. Student learning [API]...increased for the 10th consecutive year. Student attendance reached a ten-year high at 94.8%. More English language learners became fully English proficient -- 1,143 more than any other year for which we have data... expulsions from school decreased by 64%.
...voters also approved the next phase of school construction by passing Measure E, a $360 million bond measure with 64.4% approval. A renewal of the parcel tax originally passed in 2004 and re-approved in 2008 received more than the 2/3 required with 75% of the voters saying “yes.”
.. first and most important is the racially identifiable achievement gap between Asian, Filipino and White students when compared with our Latino and African American students. Although the gap has narrowed by 9% over the last six years, it remains far too large, nearly 150 points on the API scale.
Class sizes have increased substantially ... Courses that used to average 25 students now have 35 or 40 students in them. At the K-3 level where state funding supported classes of 20 or fewer, teachers now have 28 students –- a 40% increase...
"... ...With the price and accessibility of hand-held devices like smart-phones and tablet computers, will textbooks become a thing of the past? Can we use the concepts and practices in the emerging blended learning field where students use technology outside of school to replace some time they’d otherwise spend at school? In light of the research on summer learning loss, how could the school year and school day be restructured to better address the needs of our students?
"Another set of questions has to do with how we can better coordinate and merge our current priorities to improve our organizational effectiveness and increase student learning. The move to the California Common Core State Standards is already underway and our students must be prepared for the new assessments in 2014-15..."
Not mentioned in his year-end round-up was a letter he received last summer from Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin, urging Harter to meet with United Teachers of Richmond, a union, to discuss its concerns about the employment of Teach for America teachers in the classrooms (100 out of 1,400 teachers in the WCCUSD). The proposal to take the union's case to Harter was presented to the Richmond City council by the mayor.
..Andre Taylor, graduated from Richmond High last month, agreed with Vera about the quality of TFA teachers. “I just graduated, one of the only African Americans to graduate with honors, and I had a majority of TFA teachers,” he said. “They’ve helped mentor me and get me where I am today. It’s not about how long a teacher is there, it’s about what they bring. As long as you can bring education to someone, that’s the power you need to bring.”
Some of the TFA members said they were being unfairly criticized regarding their lack of credentialing and long-
“Are the teachers who come through the program bad teachers?” Councilmember Tom Butt [credited with being a leader to keep Richmond schools open during the bankruptcy 20 years ago] asked Mary Flanagan, a Richmond teacher and United Teachers of Richmond union member...
“They’re disengaged with the union...” Flanagan answered.