Martinez School Board update

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez Unified School District board agreed to meet in a closed session to hear a staff presentation on the recently reported MUSD student scores on the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress exam).

After the Oct. 14 meeting, Schools Superintendent CJ Cammack said the staff and the board will analyze the results of the test and report a response at a public meeting shortly after that. “This kind of testing does not reflect what students are being taught in the CORE program,” he observed.

Common Core State Standards were adopted by the California Department of Education in 2005. They are for grades K-8, grade-by-grade standards exist in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. For grades 9-12, the standards are grouped into grade bands of 9-10 grade standards and 11-12 grade standards.

With the standards, different methodologies and curriculum were introduced in the classroom. The new approach to education is reportedly more focused on improving the student’s ability to use understanding and reasoning to find an answer, rather than just memorizing or knowing the correct answer.

Based on random comments at board meetings and school events, a small number of parents still question the benefits of the CORE program but seem to accept it.

The overall MUSD scores showed slightly over one-half of students are performing at, or above grade-level standards. That is one issue. The other is the discrepancy among the district’s schools. For example, Morello Park Elementary school students scored comfortably above 65 percent in English and Math, while Las Juntas Elementary students scored in the 33 percent range in both subjects.

There are more Hispanic students at Las Juntas, so it is logical to think that a lack of English fluency is the reason students cannot perform well on a test written in English. However, there is more to it than a simple lack of English language skills, and that is one of the things the board will be discussing. The other is presumably, how to enable all of the students in the district to perform better on these exams.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is working on the language problem. Earlier this year, it announced a $1 million literacy partnership grant awarded to the Offices of Education in Tulare and Riverside counties for a campaign begun in the 2019–2020 school year. State Superintendent of Schools, Tony Thurmond believes it allows the CDE to “implement strong early learning efforts, work with established bi-literacy programs, and provide pathways to increase student access to books in the home language.”

“By the time children of color are three or four, they are already behind their white peers. “We need to fix our literacy rates in California, and we need to start early….” Thurmond said in the emailed press release.

The state also has a new language study program called the 2020 World Languages Framework that is in the public comment period until December 1, 2019. Comments may be submitted using the 2020 World Languages Framework online survey or via email to WorldLanguage@cde.ca.gov.

In other business, the financing planned for Alhambra High School’s Building K is no longer available. Assistant Superintendent Administrative Services Helen Rossi told the board that when MUSD applied for state funding for construction at AHS’s Building K, there was district-wide growth in the number of students, a requirement for the funds the district planned to access at that time.

That aggregation of funding is used up, she said. The state expects to have more funds available, but according to Rossi, MUSD does not have an increasing number of students now, and cannot qualify for that funding. She assured the board that there are other sources available and she will report back to them on the issue when she has more details.

Superintendent Cammack thanked, and publicly acknowledged more recent donations to the district and Martinez schools. There were four more donations to the Martinez Junior High School music program: Terri S. Frohlich donated $550, Rosalie Pierce-Rhodes, $5000, Joseph M. Tully Charitable Corporation, $3000, and an anonymous donor, $1,500. The Las Juntas Elementary School also received a donation from Levi-Strauss & Co. for $450 for school supplies.

Carmack announced that MUSD will open negotiations with the California School Employees Association, the union that represents non-credentialed district employees at the end of October. Hours and overtime, wages and employee travel, and employee benefits will be up for discussion.

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