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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 19th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 15

Education conversation

Parents who want change at Santa Maria High School recently released a platform outlining what they think will help move students along


Change is coming.

Ultimately, that’s the goal for parents and community members who voiced their desire for change by creating an education platform. The platform was produced by the recently formed Parents/Community Involvement Committee.

Some of the group’s members are the same parents who wanted, among other things, an equal share of votes on Santa Maria High School’s policy-making committee. Unfortunately, the very public discussion among parents, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, and the district’s faculty association caused a mix-up over whether or not parents wanted to turn the school into a charter school.

Some Santa Maria High School parents are concerned that their children won’t be ready for college or to step into a career after they graduate.

And they didn’t. In fact, they still don’t want a charter school, but the group is anxious to make sure students receive a better education in the next school year than they got during this last one.

“Some people think of it as demanding change, we’re just sick of how [current policies] are affecting our kids,” said Helen Galván, a retired teacher and the mother of two Santa Maria High graduates.

Parents are concerned that not enough students are prepared to step into a career or continue on to higher education when they graduate. They are also worried that the school is stuck in Program Improvement status with the state because test scores don’t meet the goals laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act.

The education platform offered up by the Parent/Community Involvement Committee asks for a new class schedule and more Advanced Placement classes; for teachers to have the correct certifications and to be culturally sensitive when they interact with students; and for improvement in how the school gets teens prepped for college. Some of what’s outlined in the platform is already in the works, but for those who are concerned, it’s not happening fast enough.

“People keep saying we’re heading that way, it’s going to get done,” Galván said. “Start on it and get it done.”

But there’s a process to these types of things; they don’t happen overnight, and can often be out of the hands of the district and the school. A good example is the Shared Decision Making committee mess, which started in January and requested changes are still waiting for the green light.

For two months, parents and students asked for an equal say on the Shared Decision Making committee—a school site committee made up of teachers, administrators, and two parents that makes decisions on things like tardiness and dress code policies.

At a school board meeting in March, the committee at each school site—Ernest Righetti, Delta, Santa Maria, and Pioneer Valley high schools—was asked to make changes to their governing bylaws by June. The school board has not received those changes yet, and the matter is currently in limbo because the faculty association filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the school board’s decision with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

“There are laws and rules that govern certain negotiating terms with parties,” said Mark Goodman, president of the faculty association. “And we feel that they went outside those bounds.”

Superintendent Mark Richardson said the district has filed a response to the complaint and is waiting to hear back from PERB.

Richardson also said that as far as some elements of the education platform is concerned, the district’s hands are tied. The district can work with schools on professional development and cultural proficiency, but class schedules are up to the faculty at each school site, and the classes offered are tailored to what students at the school need.

The schedule is probably one of the biggest issues on the platform. Santa Maria High currently operates a block schedule where students take three classes each semester—think math, science, and English in the fall, and then switch gears to drama, history, and Spanish in the spring. Students essentially get a full year’s worth of a class like English in one semester, but it could be two semesters before that student is exposed to English again.

“[Parents] have legitimate concerns,” Richardson said. “There’s an instructional gap in there that’s created by the schedule.”

That gap can be a problem for students, especially English learners, who make up about 35 percent of the students at the school. State and federally mandated testing is in the spring, so the schedule could leave students with a three-month break from some subjects before they take the tests. It could also be an issue for students who take an Advanced Placement class in the fall.

The high school submitted a request to change the schedule back in January, but per the agreement with the faculty association, a new schedule won’t go into effect until August 2014. And that’s only if teachers vote to change the schedule.

Parents and community members are asking for the change to happen by this August, but faculty association president Mark Goodman said November is when teachers will make the final decision on whether to keep the current schedule, go to a default schedule of six classes a day, or to a rotating block schedule with six classes per semester.

“It’s a lengthy process to give people time to really think about it and give it some clear thought, because there’s really no one schedule that works for every student,” Goodman said. “These community advocates that think the schedule is going to be the silver bullet don’t realize that they’re being used by the district.”

Rafaela Moreno, a parent of a soon-to-be Santa Maria High sophomore, said she isn’t sure what it’s going to take to see the changes the Parents/Community Involvement Committee wants put in place, but that she’s going to be loud about it until it happens. She added that the group is looking for ways to respond if teachers decide against a schedule change.

“There’s a lot of learning for us, too,” Moreno said. “Just because you take your child to school doesn’t mean you know how the system works.”


Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.


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