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Story of the Year: LUSD wins big in 2012

Story of the Year: LUSD wins big in 2012

Lindsay Unified School District led local stories which made state and national headlines in 2012.

As 2012 came to a close, LUSD was just beginning a four-year journey to revolutionize education. On Dec. 11, 2012, Superintendent Tom Rooney held a press conference announcing LUSD will receive $10 million in federal funds over the next four years to perfect and expand its performance based system.

“People learn in different ways and at different times,” Rooney said at the press conference. “That is essentially what the performance based system is all about.”

LUSD was the 16th and final applicant to be awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Education’s Race To The Top competitive grant, which means Lindsay beat out 900 schools across the nation for a piece of $400 million.

“The Applicant presented a record of success in advancing student achievement in several, but not all areas. In the subject area of mathematics, a clear record of success was lacking. Graduation rates and college enrollment rates for the last four years were not presented. However, the Applicant did show a record of success in improving English/language arts scores, decreasing achievement gaps, improving low-achieving schools, and in making student performance data available in ways that inform and improve students’ education,” the application review stated.

Rooney said the money would be used to increase staff development and help their teachers become experts in the performance based system, increase access to technology by ensuring every student has 24/7 access to the school’s online network of resources and curriculum materials and to develop a professional video training seminar for other districts to implement the system.

John Caesar, a performance based education specialist with LUSD, said the district is creating a learning ecosystem that allows administration and staff to help learners progress through information.

“We are living in a 150-year-old model of education,” Caesar said at the press conference last month. “We need to start customizing education for the student.”

Under the performance based system, teachers are learning facilitators who personalize learning for each student or learner based on their understanding of the material. The traditional letter grade system was replaced by scale from 0-4, with 3 being proficient and 4 being more than proficient to give parents, students and teachers a clear idea of where the student stands in the subject. Every student is grouped by grade level and content level, which both factor into the learning facilitator’s learning plan. LUSD also did away with its junior high school and converted six school sites to K-8 schools. LUSD also changed its class scheduling so that subjects are taught at the same time regardless of the grade level. This allows elementary learners to slide up or down content levels in any given subject and then return to their grade level for other subjects.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lana Brown described the traditional view of education as “sit and get,” where a teacher reads information or passes out information the students are expected to memorize and repeat in a test. Under the antiquated view of education, Brown said students can get a ‘D’ grade, below proficient, and move on to the next grade. The performance based system require students demonstrate proficiency before being moved to the next grade level, ensuring they graduate high school with the tools to achieve in college, work and life.

“What we are trying to create is an atmosphere of active pursuit, where students seek out knowledge and find different ways to demonstrate that knowledge,” Brown said.

Robert Hurtado believed in the district’s system so much, he stepped down as Lindsay’s head football coach following the 2011 season to take an appointment to the LUSD Board of Trustees in January 2012.

“There is a lot the district is doing well,” Hurtado told the Sun-Gazette in January 2012. “They’re doing a good job and the board has laid the foundation for a lot of good things to happen.”

At the press conference, Hurtado was constantly smiling as he could hardly contain his excitement.

“This was more exciting than when we made it to the Valley Title game,” Hurtado said. “I heard the news early in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep.”


Year-Long Race

But Lindsay’s Race To The Top began was a year long journey where students, staff and administrators built momentum from one success to another. The year started with the news that long-time Superintendent Janet Kliegl would retire.

During her 14 years as head educator, Kliegl transformed Lindsay into one of the most progressive school districts in the nation. She implemented the Dual Immersion program, which was featured twice on CNN, formed Lindsay’s own Migrant Region 24, implemented the performance based system and helped repair a rift between teachers and administrators, rebuild LUSD’s aging school sites and build two new sites, including Lindsay High School, to accommodate a switch to six K-8 schools and a single high school.

In April, LUSD announced Assistant Superintendent Tom Rooney as Kliegl’s successor. Rooney served as the Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction for seven years, has been a key leader in the District’s exemplary implementation of the performance-based system and been a catalyst for the District’s focus on improvement of academic achievement.

In May, news of Lindsay’s performance based system prompted a tour of LHS by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlaksen. Torlakson did not exactly express why he was visiting Lindsay but did say LUSD offered an opportunity to see many unique educational programs in one place. Then Superintendent Janet Kliegl remarked it was the first year Lindsay’s Performance Based System was implemented K-12, the first year Lindsay has converted to ‘elemiddle’ K-8 schools and one high school and was able to accomplish more with less per pupil spending than the state average.

“We should use LHS and LUSD as a role model,” Torlakson said during the brief visit.

In October, LUSD was recently featured EdWeek, a national non-profit publication analyzing education issues and solutions in America’s public education system. Known nationally as competency-based education or CBE, author Katie Ash described LUSD’s performance based system as a way to “give [students] a head start in preparing for the new demands of the [State Standards], experts point out, and in their ability to use technology more effectively to personalize learning.” Just weeks after the EdWeek article, groups made up of administrators, teachers and parents from two school districts in Maine and one in Arkansas toured several LUSD school sites on Oct. 26 to study the performance based system.

“This is not the next big thing, or a trend in education in Lindsay, this is the way we educate students now,” said Lindsay High School Principal Jaime Robles. “We aren’t saying we have all the answers, because no one does, but we believe this system is a step in the right direction.”


Cardinal Rule

Lindsay learners were turning heads at the state level too. The Cardinals boys soccer team finished off their season with a 2-1 win for the Division IV Championship on their home field on Feb. 24, 2012. Head Coach Fode Doumbia’s squad followed up their Valley Title with two more wins at the State level and within a single overtime goal from winning the Southern California Regional Championship against St. Augustine in San Diego on March 2, 2012.

An LHS club brought home a state championship as well. Lindsay’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter took home the Market Share Award for having the largest percentage of student to member ratios at the FBLA State Leadership Conference on April 21-22.While there, LHS’ chapter also won the Golden Seal Chapter Award. Only 5% of the state’s chapters even qualify for the award given for membership, fund management, community service, school service and educational progress.


Cardinals by Sea, Land

In April, a group of 16 Lindsay High School students spent their spring break in Costa Rica. But instead of spending their time is some sort of raucous rite of passage, the teens studied one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems and immersed themselves in the culture and language. The program was part of EF Tours, a WASC accredited program bringing students from all over the U.S., many of which had never been on an airplane or traveled outside of their home state.

LUSD continued to think outside of the box, and outside of the classroom, when teacher Susan Watkins landed a $750 grant to start a school garden at Roosevelt Elementary. Watkins was one of only 36 teachers statewide to receive the grant from the California Table Grape Commission. Watkins said she would use the money for tools and supplies. In her application, Watkins told the commission she wanted to expose elementary students to agriculture and encourage an increased appreciation for the environment.


For Good Measure

Measure L, a $16 million school bond, was passed by 59% of voters in the November 2012 election. That money is in addition to two other school bonds LUSD voters have passed in the last 10 years. In 2002 LUSD voters passed Measure C, a $7.2 million bond, followed by Measure B in 2008, a $20.7 million bond.

The revenues from the bonds will be used to upgrade LUSD’s aging elementary school sites as well as district-wide improvements to Internet access, additional outlets, new data and cabling systems, more energy efficient heating and air conditioning, completely renovated bathrooms, new security cameras and fire alarm control panels.

A little more than half of LUSD’s permanent classrooms are more than 25 years old with just over one third of them being eligible for modernization funding from the State. This means LUSD will be eligible for an estimated $8.8 million in state matching funds and state grants to modernize any facilities more than 25 years old.

The bond will be funded through local property taxes. Property owners living within the district will be charged a $45-$49 property tax per $100,000 of their assessed property valuation per year for the next 20-30 years.The bonds would be issued in four phases. The first phase would sell general obligation bonds in 2013 in the amount of $6.6 million. Phase two would issue $1.7 million in bonds in 2017, followed by $3.1 million in 2021 and $4.6 million in 2025.

The bond, coupled with the Race To The Top funding, will provide a complete overhaul of LUSD’s digital system. Every student will have a netbook, giving learners access to the educational resources and Internet research 24 hours a day and 7 days per week. New wiring and infrastructure will provide teachers with faster upload and download times and wireless interactivity in the classrooms.

Administration will have the hardware in place and the money to create a high-quality orientation and training video to not only educate new teachers districtwide, but also other districts in the performance based system.

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