Heroes, test scores, literacy take turns at school board podium
Heroes, tests scores, literacy and the upcoming Great California Shakeout were among topics taking a turn at the podium at a recent Ramona Unified School District Board meeting.
A newspaper article about World War II Medal of Honor recipient and Pearl Harbor survivor John Finn, who celebrated his 100th birthday this summer, prompted three retired teachers to encourage the board to add the article to required supplemental reading in U.S. history classes.
“In this age of bogus heroes and heroines—rock stars, professional athletes and movie stars—it’s essential to this country’s well-being never to allow our children to forget what men like John Finn did for their generation, and I can’t say enough about this article,” said World War II veteran John Bowman, a retired Ramona High School English and U.S. history teacher.
“I think our young people need real heroes, and I think it’s an educator’s job to find people like Mr. Finn and bring those people to the front so the kids know about these people in our history,” said longtime Ramona resident and retired Hanson Lane Elementary School teacher Dotty Cronin, a former RUSD school trustee. “I would use that essay…It’s well-written, it’s short, it’s concise, it’s interesting, and I hope that you will use is as part of your curriculum.”
“There were a lot of John Finns,” said retired auto and English teacher Dr. Andrew Smith, also a longtime Ramona resident and former RUSD trustee.
Smith stressed the importance of what he called “the pivotal, historical moment of five or six years that changed everything” as he encouraged the board to also include portions of Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” in history classes.
“Nothing was the same after World War II,” he said.
Another longtime Ramona resident, Harold Schachter, wrote the article about John Finn that was published in the Ramona Sentinel on July 23 and that, as of this week, had 10,832 “hits” on the Ramona Sentinel Web site.
His voice breaking with emotion, Schachter quoted President Harry S. Truman: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Because the subject was discussed during the Open Discussion portion of the school board meeting and the topic was not on the agenda, the state’s open meeting law prohibits the trustees from discussing it or taking an action at the meeting. Board President Rodger Dohm thanked the speakers and said he appreciates the patriotism they showed.
RUSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Graeff, whose father was a Pearl Harbor survivor, said he would garner board comments at a later time and perhaps have the high school staff review their request. Graeff said his father died about 18 years ago.
“If he were here, he’d give you all a standing ovation,” said Graeff. “So thank you very much for your interest in our country and our education and for the service you all gave America many, many years ago and still give us in leadership and how to live our lives.”
A week after the Sept. 17 meeting, Graeff sent a memorandum about the school board presentation with a copy of Schachter’s article to the district’s secondary social science teachers “as a potential classroom resource.”
“As always, teachers have the responsibility to determine if supplementary materials are appropriate for their respective classes, based on the approved course outlines and state standards for each course,” Graeff wrote.
Also during the meeting, Assistant Superintendent/Education Services Dr. Cathy Pierce relayed 2009 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Academic Performance Index (API) results, saying the district has much to celebrate: the district’s API increased 9 points, eight schools increased or maintained their API, five schools have APIs of more than 800, James Dukes Elementary is nearing 900, Olive Peirce Middle School crossed the 800 threshold at 813, Future Bound increased 91 points, Mount Woodson increased 32 points, and the district met all AYP components.
The state initially reported that Hanson Elementary did not make its AYP target and thus was in the first year of Program Improvement, but Pierce said after the meeting that the state later said it would not know for sure until November.
AYP, according to the state Department of Education, is a measure of progress for all districts and schools in the state and API measures the academic performance and growth of schools. API is one measure of AYP, with student participation rate in standardized testing, percent proficient and graduation rate also used to determine AYP.
In other business at the meeting:
• Four Ramona High School educators presented a report on the school’s “Literacy: More Than Just Reading” plan for the year.
“We believe that reading’s more than just books,” said RHS Assistant Principal Kathryn Gunderson.
The district’s literacy coach is expected to help with the schoolwide program to approach literacy from two main perspectives: English/language arts, “where we are focusing on reading and understanding, how a textbook works, how they’re put together, what clues it gives you so that you can better use that textbook to write and then present your information in a coherent, focused way,” said teacher Robin Brainard, and 21st century literacy, “to help them to learn to access, to evaluate for validity and then to use the information that’s out there that’s beyond the textbooks, everything from TV, radio, Internet, then you go to blogs and podcasts and tweets and things that we haven’t even thought of yet that they’re going to be dealing with in their lives.”
In grades 9 and 10, teachers will focus on preparing students to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) and in grades 11 and 12 the focus will shift to preparing the students for college and the work world, said Gunderson.
Teacher Ed Bacorn and Brainard discussed Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) classes, Students Transitions at Ramona (STAR), the Odyssey program, the E2020 credit recovery after-school program and advanced placement (AP) classes.
Carolyn Owens, school librarian, focused on 21st century students and learning.
“The U.S. Department of Labor tells us that by the age of 38, they’re going to actually have 10 to 14 careers, not jobs” and one of four will be working at a company for less than a year, said Owens. “They have to be mass consumers of data, because data is exploding exponentially.”
Today’s students are technology users, continued Owens.
“They e-mail, they blog, they instant message,” she said. “…When they have a question, they don’t think to go to a dictionary or an encyclopedia as maybe we would. They immediately Google.”
Students also create information, said Owens. “With things like MySpace, FaceBook, Flicker, Twitter, they actually are part of that four exabytes that are going to be out there.”
• Trustees unanimously approved a policy change regarding science instruction. Added to the policy is: “Classroom teachers may provide information to students that supports or questions scientific theories (such as the theory of evolution), but such information must be based in scientific fact, scientific hypothesis or scientific theory. Accordingly, all middle school science teachers and high school science teachers will receive professional development annually designed to assist them in teachiing scientific fact, hypothesis and theory in their respective content areas.”
Board members Bob Stoody and Luan Burman Rivera were part of a committee with members of the public and school district who presented the proposed change after Laurence C. Baldaug Jr. of Ramona presented his concerns that the theory of evolution is being taught as a fact and not a theory.
“This was detrimental to the well-being of my 13-year-old daughter who was being told, in effect, by her science textbook, that her Christian beliefs were superstitious nonsense,” Baldauf said in an Aug. 24 letter to the board.
Baldauf attended the June board meeting, when he expressed his concerns about theory being taught as fact.
• Trustees approved 2009-10 contracts for the district’s nonteaching employees and administrative leadership team. The contracts, as with the 2009-10 contract for teachers, includes no salary increase, but does include pay boosts for what school districts call step and column for additional training and years with the district. The district will continue to provide employees with health benefits at no cost to the employees.
• Two of the board’s three student representatives gave reports on the initial weeks of the school year. RHS representative Angelina Uriostegui, a junior, reported about the school’s new tardy policy and traffic in front of the school, saying “we hope there could be maybe a way to improve our traffic at Ramona High School in front of the schools there.”
Montecito High School representative Graciela Gomez, a senior, talked about the improved API scores for Montecito High and Future Bound, the district’s high school independent study program.
Montecito High is offering a new optional sixth-period class that allows students to earn or make up credits, she said.
• In a lively report that included a video of his family reacting to a mock earthquake, Assistant Superintendent/Administrative Services David Ostermann talked about the district’s participation in the Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill planned for 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15.
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