After years of budget cuts for college preparation and arts programs, Alhambra Unified School District is eligible to receive thousands of new dollars per student. In order to qualify for the new funding, the district must collaborate with community members to determine how the money is spent.
The first of two public meetings hosted by the district was held on Thursday at San Gabriel High School. Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Dr. Gary Gonzales explained to a crowd of about 60 parents, students, and school administrators how the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) will allocate more funding to schools with high-needs students, such as low-income, English learners, and foster youth. The next informational meeting will be at Alhambra High School on Thursday, Feb. 27.
Governor Jerry Brown’s LCFF will allocate $7,341 per student to the Alhambra Unified School District in the 2013-2014 school year. These grants include additional funding for serving high-needs students, who are 77% of the district’s 18,024 students, according to the Association of California School Administrators. These funds will continue to grow, eventually reaching $11,602 per student by the 2020-2021 school year.
In order to receive full funding from the LCFF, school districts must meet accountability requirements from the state, which include prioritizing education goals and programs. This Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) requires districts to list, in order of importance, eight priorities set by the state: student achievement, engagement, outside test scores, parental involvement, course access, school climate, use of technology, and the implementation of the new Common Core standards. Districts must also seek out feedback from teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members.
“In the LCAP will be included our goals, our actions, our expenditures. But in order to devote those goals and services, we need your input,” Gonzales said on Thursday.
Gonzales also addressed upcoming changes in curriculum and testing and the implementation of a new set of state standards called Common Core. Replacing the California Standards Test, Common Core establishes a consistent curriculum in English and mathematics throughout the country, including new standards assessments.
Gonzales likened the curriculum and standards overhaul, the first since 1997, to remodeling a house. “This is redecorating versus remodeling. When you redecorate a house, you move a couch here, you put the curtains on, you say, ‘Oh la la, this is beautiful,'” Gonzales said. “But when you remodel, you knock the wall down, you move the door someplace else, and you make the window larger. You completely change what the house looks like.”
Before AUSD can receive money from the LCFF, it must fully implement the new Common Core standards in every classroom by the next school year. Teachers will be trained in Common Core teaching practices and strategies in the next five years, Gonzales said.
Gonzales expects that California High School Exit Examination and Advanced Placement test scores will drop between 30 to 40 percent in the next few years due to students and educators transitioning to the new academic standards and assessments. However, he is optimistic that students and teachers will catch up with the new standards.
Some parents at Thursday's meeting expressed concerns about the changing curriculum. An immigrant mother of an eighth grade student at Martha Baldwin Elementary School said she was worried her son would struggle if the system changed on him midway through his education. Another parent asked what would happen if the curriculum changes do not increase achievement.
Gonzales responded by saying schools have no choice but to make them work. “There is an expectation by the state of California, and I’m sure, there is an expectation from the federal government, to say, ‘We will be successful and we will do whatever it takes to meet those goals,’” Gonzales said. “Failure is not an option.”
To gather more community involvement in the LCAP process, AUSD created a survey that allows community members to rank education goals and provide feedback on existing programs they think most impact students and ones they believe are least effective.
The survey is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese on the AUSD website and closes on March 14.
While Gonzales expects a minimum of 18,000 completed surveys and stressed the importance of community participation, he also emphasized that the Alhambra Board of Education will ultimately decide how to allocate the money.
“Our promise to you is that we are going to do the best we can to ensure that the plan reflects your concerns and your suggestions, but it’s not guaranteed. What I mean by that is because we only have a certain pot of money and we have 18,000 students, there is only so much we can build with regards to that money,” Gonzales said. “But I bet, when we talk about student achievement, there are lot of similarities with what many of you parents will write.”
AUSD will host a second informational meeting Thursday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Alhambra High School auditorium.