August 29, 2008

San Ysidro schools try new, innovative restructuring plan

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

There are times when difficult conditions require drastic change. And some of the schools in San Ysidro were more than ready for positive change.

The San Ysidro School District is considered a Program Improvement (PI) District because five of the seven schools in the district are individually designated as Program Improvement schools. The schools are Program Improvement because of the insufficient numbers of students who have scored at proficient or advanced on the California State Examinations.

The majority of the students in the district are English-learners.

As a way to improve student achievement, district administrators have decided to restructure three of the schools to specific grade level schools. Willow Elementary School closed during the summer to begin construction of a state-of-the-art school in August, 2010.

Ultimately, the Plan that was developed is the following, according to Jennifer Brown de Valle, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Beyer Elementary School is now a Pre-K through 3rd grade school that includes the teachers and students from Beyer and the teachers and students from Willow. 

Smythe School is now a Pre-K through 3rd grade school with the teachers and students from Smythe and La Mirada schools.

La Mirada School is now a 4th through 6th grade school with teachers and students from La Mirada, Smythe, Beyer, and Willow schools.

Since there isn’t enough physical space at La Mirada to house all of the 6th grade classes, the 6th grade classes will be housed at San Ysidro Middle School as a La Mirada Sixth Grade Satellite. By remaining a satellite of La Mirada School, the 6th grade classes will be included in a grant for lower class size.

Brown said that the idea for the restructuring of the schools came from several factors:

1. The State mandates certain steps that must be taken by PI districts and schools.  One of the steps is to change staffs and administrators. The District is expected to take a more active role in the staffing at each school site.

2. Willow School was closing in order to be demolished and rebuilt. The Willow students and staff had to be placed at other school sites.

3. The district has received grants that applied to certain grade levels that would focus on specific needs of those grade levels.

4. We had to deal with the practical consideration of how many students/classrooms could be accommodated at each school site.

“The restructuring of the district is based on the need to improve student achievement,” Brown said. “I have a favorite quote from Albert Einstein that I like to apply here: ‘You cannot solve the problem with the same kind of thinking that caused the problem.’ Every time you have a certain amount of change some people won’t feel comfortable, but we have to do things that are very different from the past here in San Ysidro in order to improve our children’s education.”

But a few teachers that asked to remain anonymous expres-sed discontent with the new plan. They said that there was finally some stability at the district after several superintendent changes in the past six years.

Brown said that in general teachers, parents, and employees, have accepted the plan. She said that District Superintendent Manuel Paul discussed the Plan with the Board of Trustees, staff groups, and parent groups at each affected school site to get their input.

“The large majority of the teachers have expressed excitement being able to work with colleagues on their grade level, focusing on training on their level,” she said.

In summary, the changes above are to accomplish the following goals, Brown said:

-To take bold, but well thought-out action to improve student achievement;

-To comply with State mandates to make changes in staffing at PI schools;

-to accommodate the students and teachers from Willow School upon its closure;

-to gather together students at certain grade levels to focus on their specific academic needs through the academic programs and teacher professional training;

-to take full advantage of grant funding.

“Our goal is to take strategic action with laser-like focus to meet the needs of all of our students,” Brown said.

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