Music, videos, and excitement filled the air during the very first State of the District Address on Monday, February 27 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
As attendees took their seats, they were entertained by the Rincon Middle School band. Under the direction of Mr. Roger Anderson, these talented student musicians exemplified the excellence in arts education offered in EUSD’s schools.
Deputy superintendent Leila Sackfield then welcomed attendees, and school board president Zesty Harper introduced EUSD’s superintendent, Dr. Luis Ibarra. With sincere appreciation, Dr. Ibarra presented the Community Champion Award to the Escondido Education Foundation (EEF). Led by board president Carolyn Royer, this all-volunteer organization has been in existence since 2004, and they work tirelessly to support EUSD’s students and teachers. This past year alone, EEF raised and donated over $70,000 to support innovative teaching in our classrooms.
Dr. Ibarra then began his presentation by offering a vision:
“To actualize the unlimited human potential of every learner. Before you can move an organization, you have to understand who you are, who you serve and, most importantly, imagine what is truly possible.”
In order to understand who you are, you have to be willing to honestly acknowledge challenges and shortcomings. Dr. Ibarra proceeded to do exactly that:
“As we move forward, the road ahead has many challenges that we, as an organization, will need to overcome. We have aging facilities and infrastructure. Our achievement results are not reflective of our students’ unlimited potential. And we have declining enrollment. So what is our response to these challenges? Rather than ignore the challenges or, worse, accept or resign ourselves to the challenges, we have reached out and turned those challenges into opportunities for change.”
Dr. Ibarra then outlined the many ways in which EUSD is working hard and making progress in these key areas.
In 2014, the Escondido community approved Proposition E, a $182.1 million dollar bond measure for EUSD’s schools. The objectives of the bond were simple and concise:
- Improve school campus safety and security
- Improve the District’s network infrastructure
- Modernize aged facilities
Those bond dollars are already hard at work throughout EUSD. The District has completed the first phase of its security projects, and all schools are now protected by secure perimeter fencing. In addition, major construction is well underway at three of EUSD’s oldest schools: Central, Orange Glen, and Mission.
All of this is being accomplished while remaining fiscally solvent and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Dr. Ibarra revealed that the bond projects are currently on schedule and under budget. In addition, older bonds have been refinanced to take advantage of historically-low interest rates — an action that will save taxpayers approximately $5.3 million through 2026.
EUSD has a very diverse student population with 77 percent of students coming from homes with low socio-economic status, and 44 percent of students designated as English Learners. Our District’s diversity is certainly a strength, but it also poses a serious challenge — namely, how do we better ensure that all students realize their unlimited potential?
Dr. Ibarra shared that the District has made major strides in this area. The process of improvement began with the commissioning of a team of researchers from West Ed’s Quality Teaching for English Learners. The results of their report were not flattering, but they provided a clear understanding of the steps EUSD needs to take to increase instructional rigor for English Learners. Working with WestEd, the District has since provided intense training to over 200 teachers and all principals.
In addition, EUSD has put structures in place that support the diverse social and emotional needs of all students. Every one of our schools now has a full-time parent liaison, a full-time social worker, intervention teachers, academic coaches, and a full-time resource teacher.
While there is more work to be done, data suggests that EUSD is moving in the right direction. For example, 2016 standardized test results showed a 7-point District-wide increase in Language Arts, and a 4-point increase in Math compared to 2015.
Innovation and Choice
Over the last 12 years, EUSD has lost over 3,000 students. This decline in enrollment can be partially attributed to statewide trends, such as a decline in birthrates. However, parents also have more educational choices than ever, and some are choosing other options for their children.
In response, EUSD formed a task force on declining enrollment. According to Dr. Ibarra:
“The purpose of the task force was very clear: First, to identify the possible root causes of declining enrollment. Second, to assist in the development of possible solutions or recommendations in order to mitigate declining enrollment.”
Ultimately, the task force determined that fears about school size and safety, negative or incorrect perceptions about programs, perceptions about school culture, and matters of race and poverty were the root causes for the District’s decline in enrollment.
EUSD is responding by innovating and offering unique choices to parents and students.
One example is Quantum Academy, which was designed from the ground up by two outstanding EUSD teachers. Quantum provides a 21st century, project-based learning opportunity for our community — but it’s only the beginning. Here are just a few of the other innovative highlights that can be found throughout EUSD:
- Conway Elementary is engaged with a transformative initiative known as Expeditionary Learning that utilizes rigorous, hands-on, real-world curriculum.
- Del Dios Middle School has been transformed into the Del Dios Academy of Arts and Sciences where students are exposed to the STEAM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
- Mission Middle School is providing more relevant hands-on experiences through project-based learning.
- Our Bilingual programs have been redesigned into Dual Language programs where students in grades K–5 can become proficient in both English and Spanish. This program is currently being offered at Lincoln, Farr, Pioneer, and Glen View, and preliminary data suggests that participating students are outperforming their single language counterparts.
Ultimately, the message at the State of the District was clear: You want the best for your child — and so do we. EUSD isn’t perfect, but the state of our District is strong because of the many wonderful people and programs that are moving EUSD forward.