Trustees want major revisions to plans
for improving Fairmont, seven other schools
School board members got a look at plans for major reforms at Fairmont
Elementary and seven other district schools, and weren't happy with what
they saw. The campuses are part of a program to give low-performing schools
a chance to improve themselves or face the risk of the state stepping
in and taking over. Trustees said the drafts brought to them just aren't
good enough considering how high the stakes are and the amount of money
being spent on the plans.
The action plans are part of the Public Schools Accountability Act. Under
the act, control of low performing schools could eventually be taken over
by the state if they don't meet goals for improvement. Districts are first
being given a chance to improve selected schools themselves, with the
help of state grants.
West Contra Costa has been given $50,000 planning grants to develop two-year
action plans for each of eight schools -- Fairmont, Helms, Grant, Wilson,
Coronado, King, Tara Hills, and Murphy.
Consultants from a state-approved list have been working with a team
of school staff, parents and community members on the plans.
On March 15 the consultants presented their preliminary findings and
action plans to the board. But the board told them the plans will need
major revision to gain board approval.
Ralph Baker of West Ed, the consultant handling Fairmont, said the school
staff needs to better serve non-white students and work together to plan
and address district standards. He said the drop in scores at the El Cerrito
elementary school dates back to an influx of students from out of the
neighborhood a couple of years ago through the district's open enrollment
policy. Baker said the students' scores are lower than other Fairmont
students and the school needs to find a way to raise those scores.
"The Fairmont staff have worked together, but they have not worked
together on grade level and on aligning the curriculum to the district
staff. They also have not planned or taught or assessed together and that's
a very important part of the school reform change that's important."
He did commend a group of Fairmont teachers who worked during the December
break on developing intervention strategies (additional support for struggling
"The school has very good parent involvement activities but again
the African-American parents are not well represented," said Baker.
One of the challenges, he said, is that many events are held in the evening,
making it more difficult to get children who live outside the immediate
neighborhood to attend.
Issues outlined in the action plan are:
* All teachers at all grades will implement a school-wide literacy
program aligned with the standards. The purpose is to establish a consistent
approach to literacy instruction and a shared philosophy of teaching reading.
* All teachers will implement effective skill building intervention
in reading and mathematics for low-performing students.
* All teachers will participate in the implementation of the local
district assessments to align curriculum and standards.
* All teachers will particate in the development of a culture and
climate which welcomes, respects and integrates the cultures of all students.
* All teachers will participate in the development of effective outreach
strategies for engaging hard-to-reach parents.
"This is an incredibly important project," said school board
president Glen Price, noting that schools that don't meet improvement
targets could be taken over by the state.
The grants for the eight schools total $400,000, he noted. "These
are really incredibly impressive dollars that I think we as a board have
a responsibility to ensure are invested as wisely as possible. The credibility
in Sacramento of this district is under a microscope."
"I'm disappointed in this effort," he said of the plans. "I
don't think it reflects a $400,000 investment."
Price said the plans included factual errors that anyone familiar with
the district would spot easily, typographical errors and, most importantly,
do not show clearly what changes should be made, what results are expected,
and how progress will be measured. He called the analysis superficial.
Price singled out the plan drawn up for Tara Hills as being closest to
what he expected the documents to look like.
Other board members expressed dissatisfaction with the plans as well.
"This is the last chance we have," said Charles Ramsey. "We're
on the bottom, we're on the absolute bottom (of rankings based on standardized
tests). We're worse than every school district in the Bay Area. We can't
"This board is going to challenge the superintendent and the superintendent
is going to challenge the staff, to challenge you (the consultants) to
produce a simple document that's going to turn around educational performance."
Patricia Player said she looked at the plans to see what they would do
to improve reading instruction, and was disappointed with how little she
* State web site
on Immediate Intervention Underperforming Schools Program
The meeting started off on a more positive note, with board members praising
Dr. Gloria Johnston, who has been on the job just over a year, as they
ratified changes to her contract. The board has extended her contract
through 2003-04. With the renewal, Johnston's benefit package has been
augmented by a $1,000 a month housing allowance and a deferred annuity
The board also adopted a mission statement, a set of core values, and
strategic priorities. Johnston said a planning team of 22 people has been
meeting since September to draw up the plan. She pledged there will be
follow up on the plan's promise to provide a high quality education to
all students, driving efforts in the district for the next several years.
Player called the plan a beginning. Price said, "When we brought
Dr. Johnston on board, this is exactly the kind of effort we wanted to
see." He said involving the community in the plan as it progresses
is critical because its success will depend on "the level of buy-in."
Run dates: 2000-03-15 - 2000-03-30