A Message from our Superintendent
August 18, 2021
WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL
A year ago, at this time my message tragically was not a “Welcome Back”, and was instead a “Welcome to Distance Learning”. How incredibly happy we are this year to be welcoming all new and returning students to a school year much more like a normal year, albeit with mandatory masks indoors. A year ago, we were also facing the very real possibility of massive cuts to our budget. Thankfully the opposite has happened and we have an impressive array of new staff and programs now in place to assist ALL of our students as they return to school starting this Thursday, August 19.
Masks are required indoors at school for all staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. We will also be notifying you of exposure to positive cases and ask your cooperation in complying with masks and, if needed, isolation. We know full well there is a lot of controversy over these mandates. Know that your Board and administration explored every prudent legal avenue open to us and have agreed upon the best possible opening plan available. Please reserve any frustration for those making the regulations with which you may disagree, rather than those of us responsible legally for carrying them out.
Virtually every school district and every commercial carrier is experiencing a severe shortage of bus drivers. This has been the case for a long time, and well before the pandemic. We've negotiated a significant pay increase for bus drivers both to retain our current drivers and to aid in the recruitment of new ones. Unfortunately, that has not proven very promising so we have shifted to posting for van drivers, which is a much easier training and licensing process, and we purchased with COVID dollars a fleet of vans. The logic behind this is that virtually all of our bus drivers are used currently solely for Home to School transportation for kids with special needs, which is mandated by law. Home to School transportation of general education students is not mandated and a growing list of school districts, both locally and elsewhere, are simply ending home to school bussing.
We have a need. We have money, buses including one brand new electric model and maintenance facilities. We do not want to give up and instead are hoping to be able to hire a crew of van drivers who can cover most special ed and many athletics and other trips using vans, not buses. This in turn will free us up for our remaining bus drivers to drive the traditional Home to School routes. The first route we are so reinstating is our largest ridership from San Miguel. We hope to be able to fairly quickly phase in more routes as van drivers are hired and trained. We do realize this creates a hardship for families and addressing the problem is a high priority. Your patience and understanding are appreciated, and if you know anyone who wants to drive a bus or van, please send them our way.
It was really exciting at the end of the year in May to have so many teams do so well and have so many teams at the high school make the playoffs and advance. Again, there were lots of complications with overlapping sports, shortened seasons, and the like, but at least the athletes got a good part of a season in. This year begins with Varsity Football at Lompoc and we hope our student-athletes will build on the momentum of last year’s success while building character and representing our schools with pride. We also welcome back a full array of middle school and elementary sports opportunities. Thank you to Kelli Burbank and the Foundation 4 Paso Schools (formerly 4A Foundation) for sponsoring Flag Football earlier this summer.
With all of the turmoil, cost of housing, new alternative schools, and COVID-related issues we were really worried about our enrollment dropping further, but we are cautiously optimistic, depending on seeing actual counts Thursday, that we are above our projections (meaning less loss, not new net growth) and are particularly encouraged to see Kindergarten enrollment GROWING. This is great news for our community, our ability to provide programs for kids, and our overall financial stability.
FACILITIES MASTER PLAN UPDATE
We have spent the last year collecting data and seeking opinions from staff and parents about the future facility needs of the district. Initially, the Krum Report identified projects within Measure M that were deemed unnecessary as well as some needs not adequately budgeted to complete. Faced with severe budget projections, primarily as a function of losing enrollment over the long term, the district formed a 7/11 Committee to identify any possible excess properties. Two properties so identified included vacant land on Montebello and in Whitley Gardens. These were not controversial. The third recommendation was to consider the closing of an elementary site, which is always controversial, and Georgia Brown was identified as a possible excess site due to a variety of factors.
As a follow-up, two additional studies will be completed. The first was an investigation of the possible reconfiguration of middle school grades to a two-year model with 6th-grade returning to the elementary sites. On that matter, the research on educational benefit was mixed and parents were about equally divided. A majority of staff favored maintaining the status quo and that ultimately was the committee’s recommendation to the Board. The next committee, which is forming soon, is to draw elementary attendance boundaries and will be tasked with looking at attendance areas for 1) the current configuration of six elementary schools with Georgia Brown rebuilt to accommodate 700 students (please know there are currently inadequate funds to complete that full project); 2) a reduction to five elementary schools; and 3) keeping six elementary schools but at the Georgia Brown site build a smaller new campus to accommodate about 350 students (which can be built with existing funding). In no scenario is the Dual Immersion Program eliminated: In the first, it moves to a temporary campus during construction then back to its current site while in the second two scenarios it moves much sooner to a new larger site. No final decisions have been made and any changes will be recommended this coming winter.
COVID LEARNING LOSS MITIGATION AND OTHER NEW PROGRAMS
In responding to the immense impact of COVID 19 on student achievement, we have bolstered academic supports and social-emotional supports across the district. Given the detrimental impact of distance learning on student connection to peers and their schools, we have a first goal to engage and reconnect all students to school this year. At the elementary and middle school levels, one of the actions we are excited to bring back in reinforcing this connection is afterschool athletics. We offered kindergarten, 6th-grade, and 9th-grade orientations to all students as well as any student who was distance learning last year and new to their school site. We will continue to provide afterschool tutoring in grades 6-12 and have also continued our contract with Paper Education Company to provide 24/7 online tutoring in both English and Spanish. We have vastly increased intervention support in our elementary schools in both English Language Arts and math to provide real-time intervention to students beginning at the start of the year and added behavioral support staff to each school as we anticipate an increased need for behavioral interventions and support.
GOALS FOR THE COMING YEAR
As we continue to focus on both reconnecting and engaging all students back on campus full-time in person, we will reinforce our efforts to make certain all PRJUSD graduates leave us college or career ready. In addition to those two primary goals, our focus is “Back to the Basics”. We will prioritize first and foremost literacy which is the foundation of virtually all learning. Almost all students who are reading at or above grade level by the end of Grade 3 as the curriculum transitions from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” will graduate from high school on time. Additionally, we will emphasize the development of advanced math skills TK-8 so more students are ready to take and pass Algebra I, which is both required for graduation and a “gateway” class to take advanced career/technology and college prep courses. Last, but certainly not least, we have a goal for more of our English-language learners to achieve fluency in English sooner so they may benefit fully from all of the basic curriculum and electives we offer.
Thursday we again start a new school year. Despite all the challenges we have a wealth of opportunities available to our students and a dedicated professional staff committed to helping all students succeed. Please partner with us in this difficult time to stay focused on our kids and their education; there is no more important priority for us as a local district and a nation. Please contact me at 805-769-1000 ext. 30101 with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.
Curt Dubost, Superintendent