Monday, November 23, 2015

School board OKs plan for student progress

(Originally published in the 11/22/15 edition)

   The Governing Board of the Benicia Unified School District voted to approve Benicia Middle School’s and Benicia High School’s Single Plan for Student Achievement at Thursday night’s meeting.
   As Assistant Superintendent Marie Morgan noted, the SPSA is developed by school site councils to develop goals that would support the academic performance of all students. The councils look over student data and then use that information to develop objectives that work best for each school.
   The first person to speak was Stephen Brady, the principal of Benicia Middle School. For the plan’s first two goals, Brady wanted to establish career readiness for students by having them increase their literacy and mathematical proficiency by 10 percent on the English Language Arts and math portions of the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance. Specifically, the plan aims to reduce the achievement gap by at least 10 percent for students with disabilities, students with economic disadvantages and students in numerically significant ethnic groups. 
   Brady noted that of the students who took the ELA assessment last year, 55 percent met or exceeded the standards and did better than the state average in all categories. Likewise, 44 percent of 6th graders passed, as did 60 percent of seventh graders and 61 percent of eighth graders. On the other hand, only 46 percent of students passed the math assessment.
   The third goal aims to use innovative technology and instructional materials to support safety and success for students. This includes implementing a new fire alarm system and increasing the number of students in technology-related courses. In 2013, 333 students were enrolled in technology classes, but that number jumped to 418 students for 2015. 
   The final goal concerns student connectedness and making students feel safe and engaged with the school. For this, a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support program was established to enhance high behavioral expectations and social skills for all students. Brady noted that the number of student referrals had dropped from 167 in 2014 to 60 in 2015 so far. In 2014, 41 students were suspended, while only 12 to date have been suspended this year. No students have been expelled in the last 3 years.
   Trustee Peter Morgan said he really liked the specificity of the first two goals.
   “That’s a model for every goal-setting exercise we put into these types of plans,” he said. “I know when you achieve it. You can report back to me next year and say ‘In what areas did we not exceed 10 percent?’” 
   However, he felt the third and fourth goals seemed more like mission statements and were less concrete in denoting how the goals have been reached. 
   “A goal of putting a percentage of technology in student’s hands is a goal we can say we achieved,” he said. “Next year, when we look back, I can know if we’ve met goals 1 or 2, I won’t know if we met goal 3 or 4.”
   Next to present was Brianna Kleinschmidt, one of the vice principals at Benicia High School. The school is currently gathering data for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, who will visit in March and determine if the school is still worthy of being accredited. 
   “We’re looking at alignment to our WASC goals,” she said. “We’ve continued some goals from the previous year as well as adding some new goals as well based on our data analysis.”
   Kleinschmidt outlined five goals: developing a rigorous data system, providing a work environment that supports staff and recognizes excellence, increasing graduation requirements for all students, promoting appropriate technology and ensuring timely and transparent communication with students, staff and parents.
   Kleinschmidt noted that 69 percent of students who took the Advanced Placement exam in 2015 passed compared to 77 percent in 2014, but she also noted that more students are taking AP classes, and the number of advanced courses increased by two. For the second goal, BHS is continuing its Teacher of the Month program to recognize teachers doing innovative things, and the school recently implemented an Employee of the Month program for classified employees.
   For the third goal, BHS is aiming to increase its graduation requirements from its current 220 credits and increasing the number of career technical education pathways. 
   Kleinschmidt also noted that the number of district-owned student technological devices like computers on campus has jumped from 150 in 2013 to 567. In January, this number will increase again to 885. Additionally, as of this week, all teachers have received laptops and docking stations. 
   “They can learn right along with students in some cases,” Kleinschmidt said. 
   For the final goal, BHS has created its own Twitter account to post events and provide information. Additionally, PowerSchool reports let parents know they can sign up for alerts to remind them to check on their child’s grades.
   The board unanimously approved both plans. In other business, Chief Business Official Tim Rahill provided an update on the replacement of Benicia High’s “outdated and unreliable” fire alarm and communication systems, and the board voted to approve a mental health clinician for all district schools. 


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