October 11, 2002

Commentary

Our Children and their Educational Future In Chula Vista

Where should the Election 2002 take them?

By Ramin Moshiri

With the November general elections around the corner, South Bay voters want to know where their school board candidates stand on the Chula Vista’s educational issues.

Education, especially in the middle and high school, is extremely important to our community. First and foremost, it is instrumental in the future success of our children. It is also important to the companies and the people who move to the San Diego county. This has a direct impact on the well being of the Chula Vista and its economy.

How many people that you know have moved to the North County cities because of their school systems? Or, how many times have you read: “Relocating? Moving? We know how important your child’s education is to you.” The widely used educational indicators for relocation are: SAT scores, API rankings, Class sizes, Student/Teacher ratios and the percentage of Graduates going on to college. Despite all the progress that has been made in the Chula Vista middle and high schools, it is extremely urgent to raise our ambition levels and set higher performance targets today!

As an example, Sweetwater District’s 2001-02 SAT scores are 6%, 11% and 32% below those of the State, County and the Poway district, respectively. Also, none of the Sweetwater schools were singled out in the “Tops in science” or “Top performers” lists. We need to work on this as a community so our children can make it to the Universities of their choice; and generally speaking, become successful professionals. Programs such as “Compact for Success” are indeed positive achievements and vital necessities for the short term. However, they are not by themselves a solution to our real problems. In fact they can taint the success of our brightest students, making others to wonder if they are truly high achievers or are simply there due to social promotion and entitlement.

The statistics on Chula Vista, Poway, Carlsbad, San Diego and other cities do not indicate that the race and household income are “the” ONLY factors in determining a school’s performance (CA Dept. of Education, http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest). It may be easy and more convenient to attribute the lower SAT-9 and API scores in Chula Vista to its Hispanic population. But, this logic does not explain why Sweetwater’s Reading, Math and Science scores are 10%-12% lower than those of the County. Or, how come Poway, which has a larger Hispanic population than Carlsbad, still has a 7% higher SAT-9 score.

While the City looks into the future with its Vision 2020, we need our school board candidates to outline their visions for the next 4, 10 and 20 years. As we go into the future as a community, the children shall not be left behind.

With the November school board elections around the corner, the candidates need to communicate their views on a number of issues. How do they feel about Chula Vista’s educational indicators as compared to those of the State, County, and other cities such as Poway and Carlsbad? What do they see as acceptable short-term and long-term targets for the District? What are the key gating factors that need to be fixed? And finally, what is the plan and approach for achieving a new and higher district targets? To date I have heard very little in regards to these issues.

Dr. Brand (the superintendent), Mr. Perondi (the Director of Academic Achievement) and I have met a number of times and have discussed the educational performance issues. My understanding is that the Sweetwater school district is determined to raise the performance levels to those of the State, County and above in a phased approach. As a Site Council member at Tiffany Elementary, I have observed and am quite impressed with its principal. It must have been Dr. Jeffrey Thiel’s goals, objective analysis of the performance indicators, and understanding the underlying factors that has lead to that school’s improvements over the past couple of years. I am sure we have many excellent principals and staff members at all levels that only need to be energized with a common and comprehensive set of goals.

I contacted the school board candidates and asked for their views and positions on educational issues. I called Mr. Provencio and Ms. Staffiero who have not registered an email address (!) with the election committee. The response from one of them was not too revealing about the ambition levels for higher performance.

Mr. Bryan Felber was the 1st candidate to respond with a two page comprehensive and well thought of statement. He discussed “overcrowded schools, social promotion, lack of student motivation, teachers not teaching to standards, lack of proper priorities, and possibly English as a second language instruction”.

Mr. Bob McAlister replied indicating that he “will respond as soon as possible”. However, I can’t make a judgment because I have not heard from him since.

Ms. Arlie Ricasa responded saying: “over the past few years we have made gains in several areas in several schools. However, there is more room for growth”. She was going to contact the Superintendent about this issue. In a later email, she indicated “that our students are making progress, but we are still far from being satisfied”. This is promising, but we need to learn more about her vision and performance targets, and what are her plans.

Archie McAllister responded on September 25th saying: “I see that as a campaign issue”. We all agree with that and want to hear the details

In summary, I am writing this article to encourage a dialogue about the Chula Vista schools’ performance levels. As we get closer to the November elections, they must be addressed as serious school board issues. The 2001-02 Sweetwater SAT scores are 6%, 11% and 32% below those of the State, County and the city of Poway, respectively. Also, none of the Sweetwater schools were singled out as “Tops in Science” or “Top performers”. API rankings and other indicators shall be looked at in the same manner. We should believe in all of our children and not blame a segment of them for the lower performance levels. The school district shall report the key educational indicators objectively to the staff, candidates and elected officials. They must be analyzed, appropriate short-term and long-term targets be set, and action plans be developed to achieve those targets. It only makes sense to adopt a 3-phased approach to raise the district’s performance levels to those of the State, County, and finally (e.g.) 10% above the county levels. There is no reason why Chula Vista could not narrow the gap with other school districts such as Poway further down in the future. The school board and the candidates must arrive at a time frame for these phases.

As the city of Chula Vista moves forward, we have to make sure that “The children are not left behind”.

Moshiri (ramin@mti-sys.com) is a member Chula Vista Ecomonic Development Commission and president of the Association of Iranian American Professionals.

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