Long-term plan should be our goal

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What: Davis Board of Education workshop on possible grade reconfiguration

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Community Chambers, City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

Watch it: Live on cable Channel 17 and as streaming video at www.djusd.tv

By Philip Bachand, Darcie Houck, Joy Wallace and Sandra Bachand

In January, the Davis school board directed district staff members to begin considering a process to reconfigure the high school from a 10th- through 12th-grade model to a ninth- through 12th-grade model. This request was the first step taken to develop a long-term strategic plan for the school district. No alternative models for reducing costs were suggested.

Since that step, a number of individuals and Parent Teacher Associations have raised serious concerns about the focus of this request and a need to consider the overall academic and social well-being of all Davis students within the fiscal limitations we all face. Some of the concerns raised are set forth below.

First, our current school 10-12 model at Davis has been very successful with regard to educating our children, ranking in the top 10 to 20 percent of California’s schools from year to year. If the board is to consider a 9-12 model it cannot ignore the potential social implications and structural hurdles that go with such a model.

Ninth grade is a difficult time, with student hormonal changes promoting risk-taking and hampering judgment, with pressure peaking in early adolescence; being the grade most at risk for lowered performance, behavioral problems and increased absences; and with students doing best in environments that promote autonomy and leadership in supportive communities.

Further, student demographics and limited basic school facilities would require significant investment in the high school to accommodate the larger student population. Moreover, anonymity, academic pressures and an administration that is difficult for high school students to navigate further support the current configuration, with ninth-graders remaining in a smaller, more supportive environment.

Second, we have been concerned about the initial approach. The strategic plan was first raised through the lens of 9-12 reconfiguration, an approach that could skew the outcomes, whatever the outcomes may be. And communication and conversations with the community prior to this directive were extremely limited.

We understand that circumstances and perhaps miscommunications or missteps may have led to misunderstanding and rumor. However, the need to examine this issue on a districtwide level that includes all grades, K-12, is necessary to come to the best possible conclusions for what, if any, changes are needed to the current configuration of our schools, and an assessment of how to best meet the academic and social needs of all of our children.

Tim Taylor and Gina Daleiden have acknowledged this reaction in their op-ed, writing that our community needs to courageously consider what change would look like through boldly exploring existing and current models in a transparent community process.

We support this suggestion. We welcome an open and rational development of a long-term strategic plan of our K-12 school system with the goals of addressing our long-term structural deficit, maintaining or improving Davis schools’ integrity and programs, and positioning our students for a more effective and more fulfilling high school experience.

In meeting these goals, we suggest that the board approach this process in the following manner:

* Form a community committee and define the scope of the committee’s responsibility and independence. We hope that the committee will represent our community broadly, include parent and teacher/school administrator stakeholder groups and solicit input from students and student organizations.

* Develop a scope of work for the committee. This scope of work should include 1) identifying short- and long-term financial challenges facing the district; 2) identifying a community vision through community outreach efforts; 3) outreach to students, teachers and school administrations; 4) identifying potential models; and 5) the development of recommendations for a districtwide long-term strategic plan based on information gathered and assessed by the committee.

Certainly, our schools have been under extreme financial pressures, resulting in larger class sizes and more limited resources and opportunities for our students. With the current local and state funding decisions that have eased this financial pressure for the short term, we have been given some time to address these problems.

So while we can agree that our schools can be better, that we should think and dream big, and that sometimes bold moves are required, we also need to understand that bold decisions without strong community support and careful analyses do not ensure that things will get better, only that they will be different.

Responsible leadership by the board requires they move forward in a stepwise, rational, transparent, community-based process. Such a process can provide the proper due diligence, community input and vision that we need to continue to successfully meet the challenges ahead.

It is reassuring to see that the board has responded to community input and appears to be directing its efforts at the development of a community-based long-term strategic plan that includes all grades and examines all options for promotion of a fiscally sound plan that promotes the academic and social well-being of our children.

Please attend Thursday’s school board meeting to join us and provide comment and support a transparent, community-based approach for development of a long-term strategic plan for the Davis school district.

— Philip Bachand, Darcie Houck, Joy Wallace and Sandra Bachand are Davis residents and parents.

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