Friday, June 29, 2012

From Superintendent Kowba: Reflections on the 2011-12 school year

Superintendent Bill KowbaTo The San Diego Unified School District Community:
It has been a year of great swings on various levels – academically, financially, emotionally, and the like. As such, we have reached a point where the year’s closure comes with a mixed sense of accomplishment, relief, and uncertainty. Let us focus on the element of accomplishment. There is much to be proud of in the realm of student and staff achievement and district/community engagement. Despite the deepest and most prolonged budget crisis in the district’s history, our singularly committed staff, focused students and supportive parents all contributed to some remarkable milestones. Here are just a few items that should make us all proud.

  • California Standards Tests (CSTs). The school year started off in great fashion with the release of the CST results that revealed that San Diego Unified students achieved the highest scores in English Arts of any large urban district in California. Across-the-board increases were recorded in the four tested subjects - English language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social sciences.

  • Best Graduation Rate. The year also concluded on a high note. Just this week, we learned that San Diego Unified has the lowest dropout rate of any of the large urban school districts in California. At 5.9 percent, our rate is far below the next lowest, San Francisco Unified. We are also well under the San Diego County dropout average of 10.9 percent. Further, our graduation rate of 83.7 percent is above the county average of 77.5 percent and the second highest among California’s big city school systems.

  • "Nation's Report Card" Successes. Students in grades 4 and 8 sustained improved national test scores in English and Mathematics, placing the district ahead of California city schools as a whole and in the top ranks of comparable large urban districts across the nation.

  • Record-breaking Attendance. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson acknowledged our remarkable increases in attendance and corresponding decreases in absenteeism. Torlakson named San Diego Unified as one of 11 statewide Model Attendance Improvement Programs. We are the first California large urban district to achieve this distinction. In doing so, we reached five-year highs in attendance.

  • Unprecedented Community Collaboration. We continued the successful development and maturation of cluster governance councils throughout the district. We convened the first joint meeting between our Board of Education and the Community College Board in well over a decade to focus on an education partnership vital to the greater San Diego. Recently, Board President John Evans and I met with the San Diego City Council's Rules Committee, establishing a renewed spirit of collaboration and committing to a joint School Board and City Council meeting in the fall.

  • Strategic Process Refinement. The strategic process, our five-year vision to create a quality school in every neighborhood is moving forward. We have completed the planning year and developed a quality school framework based on 12 key attributes. We are implementing the framework in 2012/13. Our Local Education Agency (LEA) plan for student achievement has been reconfigured such that the strategic process is now the centerpiece of our work.

  • Construction Bond Prop S Headway. Prop S repair, renovation, and construction continued despite the uneven funding environment. Many significant projects were completed including the installation of numerous i21 interactive classrooms throughout the district; new CCTE venues such as state-of-the-art automotive, culinary arts, broadcast journalism, and multimedia production facilities; high school stadium and other athletic facility upgrades; and safety and other improvements.

Among our schools, we had numerous CIF champions in athletics, three coaches named CIF Coach of the Year; award-winning videos at several sites; the Classroom of the Future award; 45 schools named "Bright Spots of Excellence" from California Business for Education Excellence; schools on "Best Of" lists from the US News and World Report, Newsweek and the Washington Post; five Academic Achievement schools; and I could go on and on.

Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishment has been our employees and students who have stayed the course in spite of the tumultuous budget crisis. Their efforts are the reason we continue to see progress. Many employees have once again stepped up and made personal sacrifices for our kids and our schools. My sincere, heartfelt thanks goes out to members of the San Diego Schools Police Officers and the San Diego Education Association for making very difficult trade-offs. Let me note that all of our stakeholder staff teams are committed to a viable, robust San Diego Unified.

Last night, the Board of Education approved a budget that supports our district being fully staffed with educators and police officers when school resumes on Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Class sizes will be restored to 2011-12 levels. Teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians will be restored to current levels. Music, arts, IB, and other programs will continue. Schools and students will be safe. Valuable employees will be where they belong, at schools supporting the success of our students. I cannot imagine a more positive way to end the school year.

Of course, we still face critical budget shortfalls as the state Legislature struggles with economic woes that translate into reduced funding for education. We will must advocate for proper funding for K-12 schools throughout our state. Please make your voice be heard on behalf of public education. Over the summer, I urge you to talk with your friends and family about what's right with education in our district. Let them know about the great accomplishments of our students, their teachers, and schools.

Have a restful and relaxing summer. See you in September!

With deepest appreciation,
Bill Kowba