The primary responsibility of the Education Committee is to monitor the activities of the Sacramento County school districts, as well as the Los Rios Community College District. The committee investigated all citizen complaints alleging school district irregularities and worked proactively on various educational issues. During this past year the committee toured educational facilities and studied the provision and coordination of educational services to the young people of our community. The committee visited individual schools, school districts, the Sacramento County Office of Education, public libraries, and educational programs.
There are 16 school districts in Sacramento County. They are extremely diverse -rural, urban, and suburban. Some are as small as 400 students, while others have as many as 50,000 students. Several districts consist of only elementary schools, others only of high schools, while still others offer kindergarten through 12th grade instruction. Each district has its own management style. The Boards of Education, together with the superintendents and principals, have a tremendous job in overseeing the day-to-day events necessary for efficiently managed districts.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury sent a questionnaire to all superintendents, which resulted in remarkably candid responses. As a result, the Grand Jury decided to visit every school district that had elementary schools. The Grand Jury was particularly interested in observing reading instruction in kindergarten through third grades.
The Grand Jury found all districts were dedicated to making early intervention in the reading programs work. In each district, there are remarkable teachers and attentive, happy students. If energy and enthusiasm are a prediction of success, reading scores should improve for Sacramento County's children!
On September 10, 1997, the Sacramento County Grand Jury toured the Sacramento Public Library's Central Library at Ninth and I Streets. Library staff discussed the services and functions provided.
Background & Observations
The Sacramento Library Authority was created in 1993 as a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) between the City of Sacramento and Sacramento County. Since the passage of Proposition 13, operations at the libraries have been severely restricted. With a yearly operating budget of $18 million to maintain 24 branch libraries and two bookmobiles to serve the citizens of Sacramento County, the Library Authority relies on the private sector to raise funds to supplement its operations. It raises approximately $800,000 to help keep libraries open, staffed, and stocked with up-to-date books. Even with the help of volunteers, the Library Authority is unable to provide staffing necessary to remain open at the hours available prior to Proposition 13. Despite limited funding, the Library Authority is trying to automate as much as possible using the latest computer technologies.
Under the JPA agreement, the maintenance and upkeep of the library buildings are the responsibility of the respective city or county government where the library is located. To generate additional revenue for library programs and services, the Library Authority rents the Tsakopoulos Galleria at the Central Library for private and public occasions to host meetings, wedding receptions and other social functions. The Galleria also serves as a venue for cultural and educational programs presented by the library.
In addition to the traditional books and publications available to the public, the library also provides the following services:
· Information and reading services to all ages in several languages, as well as literacy instruction.
Of significant note, the Sacramento Room contains more than 21,000 carefully chosen items. Located on the second floor of the Central Library, this collection consists of rare books, maps, historical photographs, books by local authors, California profiles, fine prints and art books which enhance and maintain the history of Sacramento and California.
The 1997/98 Sacramento County Grand Jury met with representatives from the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) on July 30, 1997 and September 24, 1997. The Grand Jury requested program information and discussed SCOE's role in the community. The Grand Jury also took this opportunity to begin its research into the California Reading Initiative.
As the intermediate educational agency between the California Department of Education and local school districts, SCOE provides fiscal oversight of $1.2 billion which is appropriated to the 16 school districts in Sacramento County.
Information from the 1998 Sacramento County Public School Directory prepared by SCOE
In addition, SCOE provides leadership and support to the districts. Other customers served by SCOE through special grants and contracts include: the California Department of Education, other school districts in California, several federal agencies, county and city government (including the Juvenile Court schools), and community-based organizations. SCOE also provides district services to students, including special education classes for the severely disabled, and a variety of alternative educational programs for over 30,000 students.
Some of the major issues challenging both the county and school districts are:
· Improve reading skills at all levels.
Using a multi-district approach to addressing educational needs, SCOE reduces duplication of effort, and assists with coordination of local school districts' endeavors to meet regional and state needs. This system maximizes the return on pooled money investment funds.
With the passage of the California Reading Initiative legislation, SCOE is assisting school districts to provide staff development and obtaining grants. SCOE also offers consultant services to assure that districts will be able to achieve the literacy objectives of the Reading Initiative. The goal of the Reading Initiative is to see that children will be able to read at grade level in kindergarten through third grades and facilitate districts' meeting their class size reduction objectives.
SCOE is known for its commitment to the principles of total quality service, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement. Both SCOE and its superintendent have been recognized for the quality of the services provided. The Sacramento County Grand Jury found SCOE's staff knowledgeable, courteous, and timely with all responses.
Results attained by fourth graders in the 1994 National Assessment of Education Progress Exam prompted development of the California Reading Initiative. Sixty percent of California's fourth graders were unable to demonstrate a basic understanding of what they read. [Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP 1994)]. Considering these results, in May 1996 state legislators, educators, and other public officials declared that improved reading achievement must become the State's top priority.
Throughout the spring of 1996, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Board of Education, Governor's Office, California Department of Education and Commission on Teacher Credentialing collaborated to develop a program advisory on early instruction. It was entitled, "Teaching Reading: A balanced comprehensive approach to teaching reading in pre-kindergarten through grade 3."
The Reading Initiative has six components:
· Reduction of class size.
Assembly Bill (AB) 3482 helped fund the components of the Comprehensive Reading Leadership Program, which include: phonemic awareness, systematic explicit phonics instruction, spelling, diagnosis, research, structure of the English language, relationships among reading, writing and spelling, and improving reading comprehension.
To facilitate learning, Senate Bills 1414, 1777 and 1789 were passed to reduce class sizes to no more than 20 pupils per certified teacher in kindergarten through third grades.
The State Department of Education's research on how children learn to read shows that intelligence quotient (IQ), mental age, race and parent's education are all weak predictors of reading success. The factors that do contribute directly to reading ability are:
· Letter knowledge.
By increasing the emphasis on reading as dictated by AB 3482, students in kindergarten through third grades should spend a great deal of their class days engaged in the fundamentals of reading.
The goal is to have all students reading independently and comprehend what they read by the end of third grade. Ongoing assessments must be made to see how well students are progressing. During these tests, the focus should be on individual diagnosis rather than on group standardized achievement tests. By administering these tests, teachers can detect which children are falling behind in classroom instruction and are hence candidates for early intervention.
As this is the first year of a multi-year plan, the results on success or failure of the California Reading Initiative will not be completely known for several years. However, some preliminary data should be available by the end of the 1998 school year.
While no meaningful test scores are available, the Sacramento County Grand Jury consistently found administrators, teachers, and students in Sacramento County focused on improvement of reading skills. Although many teachers were initially reluctant to change, most are now pleased with the results. There appear to be fewer absences and the learning environment has improved. Thus far, much of the success can be attributed to the emphasis on teacher training, staff development, availability of relevant instructional materials, support from the Board of Trustees and administrators, and class size reduction. Colleges and universities are addressing this need by including "how to teach reading" in the curriculum.
The Grand Jury observed elements in the reading program in Sacramento County that address both the fast learners and those that need additional instruction. Educators predict dramatic improvement in the literacy of our children in five or six years. The Grand Jury believes that the low achievement and drop-out rate of students can be attributed, in part, to the students' lack of reading ability. This observation, in part, is based on mandated tours conducted by the Grand Jury of the public prisons in Sacramento County. These tours included a look at the facilities' educational programs. The Grand Jury noted a high percentage of wards and inmates who read below grade level.
In the past, reading programs selected (or used) were commonly known as "whole language." While the whole language program contains components of phonics, phonemic awareness, and decoding skills, its emphasis is learning to read in a literature-based environment. Typically, teachers used their best judgment in determining which components to use in lesson plans. As a result, many students did not acquire the basic skills of phonics, phonemic awareness, decoding, letter name recognition, spelling, vocabulary, etc. This lack of uniformity may contribute to why many students could not read at grade level. By comparison, phonics-based reading programs explicitly cover these elements as a required component in the reading program. In some districts, variations in reading programs may include components of both whole language and phonics-based curriculum.
The Grand Jury visited the 14 elementary school districts in Sacramento County and interviewed the superintendents and their staff regarding the reading programs. Classroom tours were also made to observe the reading classes. All districts devote at least 90 minutes per day to reading classes. The following is a summary of reading programs in each district. No attempt was made by the Grand Jury to assess the merits of one reading program versus another. Rather, the focus was to provide a view of each school district's approach to address the California Reading Initiative.
Material on the Reading Initiative and individual school districts was obtained from state, county, and local school officials.
In its December 12, 1996 report, the California State Board of Education identified those reading / language arts programs adopted for statewide use. The Sacramento County Grand Jury elected to review kindergarten through third grade curriculum; hence, only those adoptions will be cited.
The publisher and program name, as identified in the State Board of Education, Reading / Language Arts and English as a Second Language, Adoption Report, is as follows:
Harcourt Brace - Signatures
Signatures is a well-balanced, rich program that offers many opportunities for challenging all students while providing early intervention strategies for the acceleration of at-risk students. A strong phonics and spelling program provides the necessary skills that allow students to progress developmentally and gain a high level of fluency and literacy. The program consists of a wide range of themes related across the curriculum and integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills that enhance literacy. An ongoing assessment program fosters the development of students responsible for their own learning. There are numerous translations of core works in each of California's five most common languages other than English. Cielo Abierto provides a Spanish language arts strand for kindergarten through grade six.
Houghton Mifflin - Invitations to Literacy
Invitations to Literacy, with its components in English and Spanish, is a well-balanced language arts program that enables teachers to guide students to mastery of language arts processes. The program builds on a foundation of high-quality literature representing contemporary and classical pieces from various genres, which helps students acquire reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills and higher-order thinking skills. Core materials are provided in the four other most common languages of California. The program contains teacher support materials, including assessment tools for meeting the needs of the diverse student populations.
Macmillan/McGraw-Hill - Spotlight on Literacy
Spotlight on Literacy is a comprehensive, systematically organized program for students at varied developmental levels. It integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. The program contains appropriate and easily accessible components. It provides quality literature across a variety of genres that reflect California's cultural diversity. Students are guided through a program of explicit skills through adjusted instruction and flexible groupings to meet individual needs. Assessment is integrated at regular intervals with a variety of approaches. A wide variety of technological resources enhance the program.
Open Court (SRA/McGraw-Hill) - Collections for Young Scholars
Collections for Young Scholars develops independent and self-motivated critical thinkers who reflect on, discuss, and write about their reactions to rich literature. The program is integrated, sequentially developed, and increasingly complex and demanding. Students regularly are asked to confer with peers, develop questions, respond in a variety of ways, and make connections across selections and other curricular areas. Support is provided across all grade levels for skill development, including development of phonemic awareness and phonetic skills at the early grades. Little evidence was noted of the availability of literature in the five most common languages in California other than English. A strength of this program lies in the activities, materials, and strategies that treat students as capable learners and in those integrated assessment activities that are closely related to classroom instruction.
Scholastic - Literacy Places
Literacy Places is an integrated language arts program that provides a comprehensive, integrated approach to the development of the language arts. The literature in this series contains a balance of literary genres that reflect the best in human characters. It exemplifies the best use of language and places importance on content and meaning. A variety of student support materials, including technology-based resources coordinated with all aspects of the program, reinforce, extend, and expand student learning. The teacher support materials are consistent with the philosophy of an integrated, literature-based, student- and meaning-centered program. Assessment offers formal, informal, and alternative strategies for evaluating the full range of students' language competencies and performance levels.
Scott Foresman·Addison Wesley - Celebrate Reading!
Celebrate Reading! is a fully integrated and balanced English language arts program that generally meets the needs of students from emergent to independent readers and writers. The program provides authentic literature, arranged thematically, that successfully integrates the processes of reading, writing, speaking, and listening throughout the grades. The program provides for explicit skills instruction in the context of the literature. Skills are developed in a systematic and organized way with meaningful connections to other curricular areas. The wide variety of student and teacher support materials encourages active student involvement. Assessment options offer formal and informal approaches and are closely aligned with instruction.
Silver, Burdett, Ginn - Literature Works
Literature Works provides high-quality literature, meaningful student and teacher materials, and technology - all of which work together to engage students and inspire them to read and write. Resources provide versatility and flexibility in meeting the development needs and learning styles of all students and include some considerations for English language learners. The literature is organized around broad universal themes consistent through each grade level. Lessons build on instructional strategies that spiral upward throughout the grades. In this well-balanced program, students develop metacognitive strategies and concepts through the teaching of skills in context and explicit instruction.
** Major obstacles in class size reduction efforts include the availability of classroom space and a need for a significant number of qualified teachers. State funding for class size reduction does not fully meet the cost of implementing this program. The balance is funded for the district's general fund.
On February 4, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury visited the Arcohe School District, located in Herald, south of Sacramento. The District has one school and enjoys its autonomy. The District's name was formed by the combination of three smaller school operations: Arno School, Colonial School, and the Herald School. The first two letters from the old schools form the name of this school district.
The District's superintendent conducted a tour of several classrooms and related that some major concerns were declining enrollment and the need to modernize the physical plant. The plans include repair of the three school wings by upgrading the wiring and heating, installing a new lighting system, and air conditioning.
According to the District, 70 percent of the students starting kindergarten will complete elementary school at Arcohe. This year, class size reductions were completed in first through third grades. The reading initiative is augmented by having adult volunteers join the children each morning before regular classes. Along with books available in the classrooms, there is an extensive children's library. Classes were visited and an enthusiastic student reading program was observed.
The District hopes that by improving remedial education with tutors and summer school programs, holding a child back will not be necessary. The superintendent expressed concerns regarding testing bias and indicated that taking a test is a different skill than learning to read. The District uses various standardized tests, but also considers student portfolios and observation techniques to measure student achievement. The Grand Jury felt that the Arcohe District, although just one school, is progressing with academic programs and meeting the same challenges of the larger districts.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury visited Center Unified School District in March 1998. Center is one of Sacramento County's northern-most school districts with territory in both Placer and Sacramento counties. There are approximately 5,580 students in the District.
According to district staff, Center is a vibrant, growing school district educating students from kindergarten through high school. The District provides direction and oversight for a $15 million construction project at Center High School. This project was approved during the summer of 1997 and construction has been underway since that time. The new construction includes a library, performing arts theater, science and technical center, band room, and over 20 new classrooms.
The District adopted goals ten years ago which are very much a part of today's program. These goals include: provide an opportunity for both general and vocational education students, recognize that all students can and want to learn, have a safe, orderly and disciplined environment, and involve the community.
Class size reduction has been implemented in all first and second grades. It is expected that kindergarten and third grades will be completed in the next school year.
Fluctuating student enrollment poses serious problems. There could be declining enrollment with the closure of McClellan Air Force Base in that portion of the District. On the other hand, projected development in Placer County's portion of the District should result in substantial growth in student population. This population uncertainty in different geographical portions of the District will create challenges for existing schools in some places and create a demand for new schools in others.
One of the District's instructors stated that a computer-assisted, basic skills program has been implemented in fourth through eighth grades and in the continuation high schools. According to staff, this program is successful because it assists students who are having academic difficulty, as well as gifted students. Staff shared that a grant from the Packard Foundation for $200,000, along with $500,000 from general funds, helped to finance this program.
The Grand Jury observed the reading program in the classrooms. Center has adopted the Open Court reading program. School officials reported that the second assessment report conducted in February 1998 showed the first grades exceeding their targeted goals. According to district staff, the scores demonstrate the potential for great improvement in reading skills in first and second grades.
The Grand Jury was informed that a volunteer at one school takes care of garden sites dedicated to growing only native plants. Each April, students hold a sale of garden plants which they have grown in a greenhouse atmosphere. The community shows great support for this project.
While on tour, the Grand Jury observed an enthusiastic, energetic and supportive environment.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury visited the Del Paso Heights School District (DPHSD) on February 18, 1998. The main goal of the District is to improve the literacy achievement of all the students with special focus on reading skills. Literacy includes reading, writing, and oral language development. In response to the California Reading Initiative, the District's program has a "Balanced Literacy Effort," based on a combination of whole language and phonics. According to the District's superintendent, reading and writing must be taught so that students learn to teach themselves by keeping personal and literary journals and reading every day. The goal is to have 85 percent of the students reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.
DPHSD is unique in that it has the largest single-site early childhood development center in Sacramento County. The Center assists in developing a solid literacy readiness level for three-four- and five-year-old children. This also gives DPHSD the basis to implement a very strong developmental strategy to improve literacy achievement throughout primary grades. According to staff, the entire early childhood educational environment is a powerful experience for the child, parents, and family.
According to district staff, by using a practical approach to learning over a four-to-five-year period, all teachers will be trained in the best classroom procedures. The District's literacy achievement approach uses two important principles - creating a literate community and building a community of learners.
The superintendent discussed the following issues challenging the District:
· New school construction (date undetermined).
As expressed by the Board of Trustees, DPHSD's long term goals include embarking on a complete "self evaluation" process beginning with the Board itself. Thus far, the process has identified four areas of focus:
· Renewing and revising the District's vision.
On January 14, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with officials from the Elk Grove Unified School District (Elk Grove USD), located in the southern portion of Sacramento County. Although the District currently serves nearly 40,000 pupils, that number is expected to double by the year 2010. Elk Grove USD indicated its goals are to:
· Increase parental involvement.
Additional issues include concerns for adequate financing, school facility modernization, and new construction.
According to the District, its top priority is to merge academic and workplace skills. Materials provided to the Grand Jury highlighted the following programs: parental involvement, community service, teaching ethical behavior, teacher education, and building maintenance, with an emphasis on safety. To enhance safety, the District reported it has a policy of zero tolerance for major offenses, operates closed campuses, and has a small security force.
District officials presented the Elk Grove USD teacher credentialing program, which has several unique qualities. The Teacher Education Institute is administered in cooperation with San Francisco State University. Within that institute are Teacher Intern, Administrator Training, and Reading Specialist programs. One advantage of such an institute is that the District has the opportunity to ensure new teachers are familiar with the curriculum, standards, and educational values of the District. The District is also less likely to face a shortage of qualified teachers.
According to the District, both teachers and administrators are aware of the value of continuing education or staff development. State law provides that districts may use up to eight days, normally used for instruction, for "staff development days." This year, additional funds were provided in the state budget to encourage districts to increase instructional days by adding staff development days on top of basic instructional days. Rather than the minimum 175 instructional days required by state law, Elk Grove USD already has 180 instructional days, which qualifies it for this additional funding. Staff development days will be in addition to the 180 days of instruction. The Grand Jury commends the District for providing continuing education and staff development without compromising student instruction days.
To provide special attention for reading instruction, the District uses funding from the Miller-Unruh program to supplement the basic program. The reading program emphasizes phonemics, fluency, diagnosis, and assessment. While some districts may pilot new textbooks for only 10 to 12 weeks, Elk Grove USD has a policy of piloting new textbooks for six months. The District provides special incentives to teachers to improve how they teach. The District requires that teachers obtain 45 hours of professional development in reading instruction before advancing on the salary schedule.
Despite being the third largest district in Sacramento County in terms of numbers of students, class size reduction has been accomplished in all first and second grades. Eleven third grades have been reduced, with the remainder to be reduced in 1998/99.
The Grand Jury visited schools within the Elk Grove USD and was pleased to discover excellent libraries and computer labs. It was also evident that both new and older school facilities were well-maintained. The learning environments were equally appealing in all areas of the District. In classrooms visited, the Grand Jury observed the children to be enthusiastic learners. District officials stated they were proud of their programs, from vocational courses to high school "honors" programs.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury visited the Elverta Joint School District on March 17, 1998. The District is rural in composition, covers 24 square miles, and is located in portions of Placer, Sacramento and Sutter counties. The District began as a one-room school in 1855 - known as Lincoln School. Presently, pupils in kindergarten through fifth grades attend Elverta School, and sixth through eighth grades attend Alpha School. The District has an enrollment of approximately 400 students.
The community of Elverta is growing slowly. However, there is available real estate in Elverta and potential for rapid growth as Sacramento County seeks areas for housing expansion. Still, Elverta is faced with problems similar to other school districts. The District lacks adequate financing for good language arts programs, class-size reduction, recognition of employees' efforts, programs for severe conduct disorders, and parental involvement.
According to district staff, financing of construction and improvements is a concern. A 1997 bond measure did not pass. Although school buildings are 40 years old, they still have a pleasing appearance. Utilities need to be upgraded, and air conditioning and heating need modernization. Buildings need insulation and great expanses of windows need to be upgraded to add to energy efficiency.
The administration was able to achieve class size reduction for primary grades. The District adopted the Open Court reading program. The Grand Jury observed that teachers appear enthusiastic and hopeful that by the end of third grade a great majority of students would be reading well. There is a special phonics program being taught to fourth and fifth graders. The Grand Jurors were especially impressed by the attentiveness of these students during this class session.
The Folsom Cordova Unified School District (Folsom Cordova USD) is comprised of 16 elementary schools, four middle schools, and six high schools. Additionally, the District has one adult education center. Folsom Cordova USD is situated in the eastern part of Sacramento County. Encompassing the City of Folsom as well as the Rancho Cordova area, this District has an enrollment of nearly 14,000 students. On March 10, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with district representatives and visited several classrooms.
District staff stated issues center on the modernization of school facilities in the established Rancho Cordova area and the requirement for new construction in the emerging Folsom area. While the District's goal is to provide consistent educational opportunities for all students, each environment presents different sets of challenges. To better address these, the District is attempting to form and expand partnerships with the business community.
According to staff, it is important to increase the amount and effectiveness of communication among the administration, school personnel, parents, and students. To that end, a number of publications and after-hour school site programs have been implemented to increase the flow of information. Additional goals include increased use of technology and greater student proficiency in mathematics.
The District has completed its class size reduction program in the first and second grades. One-half of the third grade classrooms have been reduced with the remainder scheduled by next year. Kindergarten classrooms will be the next focus for class reduction.
The District indicated it is piloting several reading programs and will adopt a curriculum for the fall. In the meantime, the primary grades are utilizing a staggered reading schedule (some children arrive early and others stay late) to maximize the teacher involvement with individual readers.
Located in the City of Galt, the Galt Joint Union School District (Galt Joint USD) has an enrollment of over 3,500 students. In February 1998, the fourth elementary school was opened. The only middle school serves as a feeder school to the high schools in the Galt Joint Union High School District.
On February 4, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with the District's superintendent to discuss a variety of educational issues challenging the District. According to Galt Joint USD, strategic planning process was initiated during the 1994/95 school year, with a three-to-five-year timeline. The four main goals are:
· Set standards and expectations, and establish a system for accountability.
The major goals for 1997/98 include: aligning district standards with those adopted by the State Board of Education, integrating new language arts and mathematics adoptions, and implementing state initiatives and standards.
According to district staff, another goal involves parent and community participation. Discussion centered on communication problems with parents. Expanding the District's parents' newsletter should help with that concern. The issue of school uniforms is a concern to both parents and students. The District has ongoing meetings and focus groups to discuss issues.
The District is addressing class size reduction. It has achieved reduction in first through third grades. During the 1998/99 school year, kindergarten will be analyzed for class size reduction. The District feels it is necessary to improve connectivity to the Internet, telephone access, hardware and software upgrades, and to use up-to-date technology for each classroom.
In an era of rapid community growth, another major issue facing Galt Joint USD is financing new construction. Since 1990, the District has grown 133 percent. Planning is underway for a fifth elementary school as well as a new middle school. Two schools will be needed in addition to those already planned. The lack of classroom space is exacerbated by increased enrollment. Expansion possibilities include placing a bond measure before the voters or implementing a year-round school schedule. No decisions have been made.
Another issue challenging educators is the concept of social promotion. The District reported it is making an effort to prevent social promotion. To the extent possible, early intervention programs, summer school, hold-back in first and second grade, and consultation with parents are effective strategies to deal with under-achieving students.
The Grand Jury was impressed with the superintendent's depth and knowledge of the challenges facing the District.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury visited the Natomas Unified School District on March 6, 1998. This District is responsible for seven schools, three of which are elementary schools. According to the District's superintendent, with the removal of a building moratorium in the Natomas area construction is expected to commence at a rapid pace. It is projected a new school will need to be constructed each year for the next ten years.
District staff stated class size reduction was hindered by the lack of space. First and second grade reduction is finished, with kindergarten and third grade to be completed later. The District will decide by next school year which reading program to adopt. Three different programs have been extensively piloted. The District's reading committee is leaning toward the Open Court program. Regardless of the program chosen, teacher training will start before the end of summer.
District staff indicated a belief in an end to social promotion, emphasizing results over process and improvement of student performance. Students are considered at-risk if they have two or more failing grades. Grant money is available to work with at-risk students. This program will include after-school tutors and teachers. Natomas has given its commitment to teacher training and looks forward to expanding school enrollment with emphasis on improving academics.
The Grand Jury spoke with school principals and toured classes at district schools, focusing on the reading program. Schools reported reduced class size in the first and second grades. The Grand Jury was informed that only one-fourth of the students entering school have sufficient language skills to begin the reading programs. Three-fourth of the students must be given additional preparation. Because of ethnic diversity, many languages are spoken. The students are taught in their native languages in separate classes for one year. This is augmented by having adult evening classes for parents in English as a Second Language (ESL).
The classrooms visited included the piloted Open Court program, a first grade reading class, a kindergarten class, a third grade reading class with a class size of 30, and a sixth grade math class. The Grand Jury observed that the students appeared enthusiastic about the reading program.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury visited with staff from the North Sacramento School District on February 4, 1998. Staff shared their goals and expectations, along with some special programs offered by the District.
North Sacramento reported they are working to promote student achievement at all grade levels. To ensure that this goal is achieved, all staff are involved in decision-making for the best possible educational services at the schools. North Sacramento offers the following special programs:
· Computer lab.
According to staff, the District's goals include: continuing the public relation efforts between schools and community groups / businesses, fostering involvement and providing training opportunities for parents, recognizing and appreciating the diverse cultures in district schools, providing safe facilities, and hiring quality educators.
The District acknowledged that one school has developed a unique partnership with a local business. In September 1997, a formal kick-off began when a company donated backpacks filled with school supplies to every student in the school. According to district personnel, North Sacramento is dedicated to ensuring a safe, secure, and peaceful environment for learning. The District has a school-wide assertive discipline policy in order to reinforce good behavior and build self-esteem.
The District expressed satisfaction with the completion of class size reduction in kindergarten through third grades. North Sacramento has developed a program for reducing the drop-out rate of students by implementing various early-intervention curricula. Perfect attendance awards, attendance monitoring, a school attendance review board, and early contact with at-risk students are part of this program.
As part of literacy week, the Grand Jury had the opportunity to observe an assembly on reading readiness. The older children read to the younger children and vice versa. Throughout the week, business and community volunteers came to the school to read to the students. The Grand Jury was impressed with the community's involvement.
On February 24, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with the Rio Linda Union School District's (RLUSD) superintendent, deputy superintendent, reading specialists and school principals.
According to RLUSD, since 1913 it has provided quality education to elementary age children. RLUSD serves the communities of Rio Linda, North Highlands and Foothill Farms. In recent years, the area has grown significantly in population and diversity.
The District, in cooperation with California State University, Sacramento, has a teacher training center at Aero Haven School. There are 75 to 90 teachers in the program, which lasts one and one-half years. District officials stated this program affords the District the opportunity to hire the best teachers available.
The District has acquired two buildings made available with the closure of McClellan Air Force Base. One building will be used for a school; the other will be administrative offices.
RLUSD claims to be one of the first districts in the State to implement class size reduction in kindergarten through third grades. It is one of only a few districts in California which operate a seventh / eighth grade charter school. The District has 21 elementary schools, with each school having its own computer lab. This affords students access to the latest computer technology. The school celebrates "Author Day," a program featuring a visit from a published author. Children are encouraged to read and appreciate the creative talents required to produce a book.
RLUSD's administration does not believe in social promotion. One way to put an end to this is to incorporate a plan that works with at-risk students by implementing an after-school tutorial program and encouraging summer school attendance.
The District piloted three different reading programs before selecting the Scholastic series. Teacher training will begin before the end of summer. Reading Recovery is an early intervention program for first grade students who are at risk of failing. Students have 30 minutes of intensive one-on-one instruction daily. The Project Success reading program uses interactive computer technology to promote learning. The Grand Jury was impressed with the enthusiasm observed in the reading classes.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury met with members of the River Delta Unified School District (River Delta USD) in early February 1998. River Delta USD has an enrollment of approximately 2,500 students in seven elementary schools located across a large geographic area, including portions of both Sacramento and Solano counties. This population has remained constant for the last few years. The District Offices are located in the town of Rio Vista.
The District's superintendent and staff indicated the District's mission involves ongoing goal setting, identifying problem areas, setting policies in specific areas of concern, and improving the reading program. River Delta USD's goals for the 1997/98 school year include: establish and revamp grade level and graduation standards, articulate and revise curriculum, modernize facilities, implement district-level technology plan, and improve reading instruction. The District's long-term goals are to develop, adopt, and implement high performance standards in all academic areas, along with implementing multiple assessment measures. The requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act are incorporated into the District's Master Plan and its modernization efforts.
River Delta USD stated it has an excellent school safety record because of parental cooperation. Through the use of the District Discipline Plan and the Student Discipline Guide, infractions and penalties are outlined to eliminate confusion. Each parent is asked to read and sign the plan, ensuring an understanding of what is expected of their children.
The superintendent stated social promotion is avoided whenever possible. Although admitting this is a tough issue, district officials encourage parents to have students attend summer school if students are below grade level.
River Delta USD has piloted several reading programs to determine which program will be used in September 1998. It is the District's intent to adopt a balanced approach between whole language and phonics. All district teachers will be given training in these areas.
According to the superintendent, River Delta USD has implemented a 20 to 1 reduction in all kindergarten through third grade classes. The District also stressed the importance of hiring well qualified teachers. By instituting these two processes, River Delta USD has progressed toward its long-term goal of high performance standards in all academic areas. The common theme in all the areas needing improvement should be what is in the best interest of the child, and how to achieve that with the resources available.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury met with the superintendent of the Robla School District on February 17, 1998. Educational issues challenging the District were discussed and visits were made to several classrooms.
Robla is an older school district located between Rio Linda and North Sacramento - west of McClellan Air Force Base. The District has six elementary schools, with a total enrollment of 2,100 students. Robla serves as a feeder school to high schools in the Grant Joint Union High School District.
Robla's staff provided the following information about their goals:
· Continue to stress team building and improve self-esteem for students.
The District's superintendent indicated there are many issues facing Robla. One challenge is measuring performance standards against a diverse student population. Another concern is funding teacher training which is required for a new reading program. However, Robla does have a mentor program in place for new and beginning teachers.
Meeting class size reductions with limited space is another challenge. The District has instituted an early / late schedule to help mitigate the space problem. According to district staff, all schools have achieved class size reduction in the first through third grades, with other class reductions planned for the 1998/99 school year. The Grand Jury noted that the library facilities had been expanded.
The Grand Jury observed the primary grades' reading program. The school used the Open Court reading program. Teachers appeared to be pleased with the results though no test scores were available at the time of the visit. The Grand Jury noticed the students were focused and attentive.
The Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) has over 51,000 students, making it the largest school district in Sacramento County. In January 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with the District's superintendent and district reading specialist to discuss key issues and gain insight into the District's approach to the California Reading Initiative. In addition, the Grand Jury observed the reading programs in primary grades and monitored the progress of facility maintenance and repair in several schools.
According to the District, their goals include: literacy standards, staff development, and accountability of administrators, staff, and teachers. SCUSD is making a concerted effort to reverse literacy test scores, which are presently among the lowest in the State. Approximately two years ago, SCUSD was successful in obtaining a $4.5 million grant from the Packard Foundation to implement the Open Court reading program. This grant is significant because it supports staff development to teach reading and stresses regular testing of students' reading skills.
According to the District's superintendent, within three years SCUSD's goal is to have 85 to 95 percent of the primary grades at or above the national average. To increase accountability, SCUSD intends to publicize the reading test scores from all grade levels within each school to inform administrators, teachers, and parents.
During visits to various elementary schools, the Grand Jury observed enthusiasm and a sense of purpose among teachers and students. All students were focused on lessons, whether working alone or in groups. Teachers were quick to note the benefits of class size reduction and use of reading materials with equal attention to language, literature, and phonics.
Facility maintenance and repair is ongoing. Roof repair and replacement have been a major focus. While some schools have benefited from the roof work as evidenced by reports of no leaks from the winter rains, other schools were still waiting for roof work to begin or be completed.
On January 14, 1998, the Sacramento County Grand Jury met with San Juan Unified School District's (SJUSD) superintendent and staff. The District's 88 schools are located within 75-square miles in the northeast part of Sacramento County. Named last year by Money magazine as one of the top school districts in the nation, SJUSD has a student enrollment in excess of 47,000, making it the second largest district in the area.
With many schools in need of maintenance and upgrading, SJUSD has initiated a seven-year cycle of "repaint / repair" to all facilities. According to district representatives, this will create a significant requirement for funding and SJUSD is contemplating a bond proposal.
SJUSD's major goals include the desire to promote improved communications with the community, to develop a student accountability program, and to strengthen the existing programs. The District operates under an "open-enrollment" policy allowing parents to register students in any school within the District if space is available.
With approximately 50 percent of students continuing education beyond high school, the emphasis is to prepare everyone for career-centered life skills. According to information provided by the District, a number of vocational education and Regional Occupation Programs (ROP) are in place to provide alternatives for the students. Several learning centers in the high school system provide focused areas of classroom instruction. Health science, culinary arts, and banking are just three of the specialized programs offered.
The District has reduced class size for nearly all of its primary classes. This, coupled with a focused reading program, has allowed a greater emphasis on the improvement of language arts skills for the younger students. All kindergarten through third grade classrooms are currently using the Open Court phonics kits.
Of Special Note ...
The Sacramento County Grand Jury asked all district superintendents for suggestions for improving the education system, such as changes in regulations or policy decisions which might prove helpful. Many responses were received. Some were very direct in pinpointing problems. The Grand Jury believes it is important to identify some of these problems so residents of Sacramento County can be aware of serious restrictions on district officials' abilities to provide the best possible programs to public schools.
Following are major issues identified by superintendents:
· Funding for programs and facilities is inadequate.
The 1997/98 Sacramento County Grand Jury realizes the magnitude to effect any changes to these statewide issues and encourages state, county, and local district officials to work jointly to pursue the necessary legislative reforms.
The following is a list of complaints received and investigated by the Education Committee.
A complaint was received concerning the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) and procedures for handling cash. In particular, a teacher at a middle school had possession of approximately $6,000 in cash and checks from a school fund-raiser. The teacher took the funds home for safekeeping until they could be deposited the next day. On the way home, the teacher stopped at a local store to purchase snacks and supplies for the school's refreshment stand. The school funds were lost, but were later found by an honest person who returned the funds to the school the next day.
Finding & Recommendation
Finding: SCUSD has policies and procedures that address cash handling by school staff and volunteers. However, these policies failed to address this specific situation. During school hours, there are provisions to safely store cash and checks. Funds handled after school hours can also be substantial, but provisions are not available to safeguard those funds.
Recommendation: SCUSD's superintendent must review and revise district cash handling policies and internal control procedures. The superintendent should require administrators, principals and staff to adhere to established policies. The District's chief financial officer should regularly audit and monitor cash collections, and establish accountability to ensure compliance.
Each school principal should ensure all staff and volunteers comply with the District's cash handling policies and procedures, and be able to account for funds collected from school activities.
Did You Know ... The Sacramento County Office of Education has an Internet web page (www.sacco.k12ca.us) which may be contacted for information regarding its services and programs.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury received a complaint alleging violations of the Brown Act by members of the Center Unified School District's Board of Trustees. The Grand Jury reviewed the provisions of the Brown Act and interviewed members of the Board of Trustees. The focus of the investigation was to determine if members of the Board were aware of the provisions of the Brown Act and willfully violated its requirements.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, Section 54950 of the Government Code, governs meetings of local government bodies including city councils, boards of supervisors, and district boards. According to the Act, private meetings of a board quorum or serial meetings are prohibited. A serial meeting is defined as a chain of communications involving, separately, less than a board quorum but when combined together would involve a quorum. Penalties for violation of the Act may range from admonishment to criminal action.
Finding & Recommendation
Finding: The Grand Jury discovered that a serial meeting was conducted by a majority of the Center Unified School District's Board of Trustees. However, some members stated they did not understand the effect of their actions. Additionally, it was determined that the result of these serial meetings did not significantly alter the actions taken at subsequent public board meetings.
Recommendation: The Center Unified School District's Board of Trustees should sponsor an annual workshop for board members and interested members of the public to explain the provisions of the Brown Act.
Special Recommendation to the Residents of Sacramento County
The California Attorney General's Office publishes, The Brown Act - Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies. This publication provides information related to the Brown Act and provisions that govern open meetings and public access. Any resident interested in learning about the Brown Act may obtain this publication by contacting the Attorney General's Office.