The Davis school board largely backpedaled Thursday from the idea of putting ninth-graders on high school campuses, assuaging a growing concern in the community over imminent reconfiguration.
Instead, the board unanimously directed Superintendent Winfred Roberson to compile a list of consultants who could help the board map out a “district action plan” that would guide the overall academic program of the Davis Joint Unified School District for years to come.
That plan, as trustees and Roberson explained Thursday, would not simply look at reconfiguration, but at all avenues the district could take to improve Davis’ schools.
“The question I’m asking is: ‘Are we where we want to be?’ ” Roberson offered the board rhetorically. “In some areas we are. In some areas we aren’t.
“There are people that do this work,” Roberson added about the consultant. “That is what they do and we would like to bring that person (or) those people in to get us through this process and design what (a strategic plan) looks like.”
The move to hire a consultant is a bit of a departure from the community-based committee that trustees Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor had proposed in an opinion piece published Sunday in The Davis Enterprise. In their eyes, that committee would “evaluate models of program change and fiscal investment.”
However, concurrent with the motion to look into consultants, the board made sure to express that the broad community would be intimately involved in these efforts. It also appeared there is still a strong interest in appointing an advisory body.
Trustees had broached the idea of reconfiguration, and specifically a four-year high school, in January while contemplating various ways to deal with an ongoing structural budget deficit.
However, with no concrete arguments for the change offered by district leaders — and a largely excellent record of student academic performance built on the district’s long-standing K-6, 7-9, 10-12 configuration — teachers and parents alike had serious questions about the need for such a drastic move.
So, before taking public comment Thursday, trustees — who admitted to being contacted regularly about reconfiguration over the past few months — got out in front of the issue and made an effort to explain the reasoning behind the original idea.
“On any given day, I wish I’d used a different word than I used (in January),” Daleiden said. “But I will say that I believe we said multiple times this is a discussion; it’s an exploration of options given the financial duress we were under and that it included (the possibility of a four-year high school).”
Beyond explaining the impetus of the 9-12 issue, trustee Nancy Peterson said she would like to see a top-to-bottom district assessment, focusing on all aspects of the system, rather than a narrow study of reconfiguration.
“Really, the look is K-12,” Peterson said. “One of the things that I’m most interested in is improving what service and programs we have for our children. … Where do we want to see them at the end of high school and how do we match our facilities and our budget to reach that goal?”
By the time board president Sheila Allen opened up the floor for public comment, the trustees had clearly stated their intentions of pulling back from reconfiguration, at least for now.
Several members of the public approached the podium to voice their appreciation of that fact.
“I do want to commend the board for taking on new big issues and being able to look at the global picture,” said Joy Wallace. “(The agenda item) was not posed as ‘let us look at how we can better our schools, what goals can we achieve to make the schools better, what problems do we have that we can solve.’ (But) that’s what we want, and it sounds like from the discussion today that is what the board wants.”
Added resident Phil Bachand: “… looking at it through the lens of a 9 through 12 configuration, we’re seeing what that has done: It’s skewed the process, it has caused a lot of upheaval and so I’m really happy to see we’re moving toward a more broad-based approach.”
Roberson will return to the board’s next meeting on May 2 with information on consultants who could be responsible for facilitating the district’s master plan and ideas on the first steps in creating that plan.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash