OUSD 7-11 Committee Holds Public Hearing

On March 17th, the OUSD 7-11 Committee will hold a public hearing to present and discuss their tentative recommendations regarding elementary school property to the OUSD School Board.  This is a very important meeting. 

Here’s the agenda: 3-17-16 Agenda

You may recall the 7-11 Committee was formed to provide advice and recommendations to the Board regarding surplus elementary school property. (There was already a 7-11 Committee held in the past to discuss the District office property where Chaparral High is located.)

It’s no secret that enrollment is down about 35-40% and may go lower still before stabilizing.  The falling numbers suggest that the District may have property or facilities that we do not need, and that we should not spend precious dollars on.  Especially now that the District has bond funds to spend on facilities improvement, due diligence requires that the Board investigate all possibilities of maximizing the benefits of the bond money.

The committee, comprised of volunteers from throughout the District, has been meeting for months and has reviewed voluminous data and reports.  You can find all the documents they’ve seen, as well as agenda, meeting minutes, and meeting videos here.

So, discussion has boiled down to these very important questions.

  1. Given ultimate enrollment at around 60% of the District’s peak, is there surplus elementary school property?
  2. If there is surplus property, what is it and what should be done with it?

The challenge for OUSD is the possibility that we actually are using more property than we can properly take care of.  The committee has concluded that there is surplus property.  There are options including:  sale, lease, repurpose within the District, or do nothing at all.

The Committee has been discussing a possible recommendation to close Meiner’s Oaks Elementary School.  But it wasn’t the only school mentioned for closing and it may not be the final recommendation.  This discussion has real implications affecting all students and families in the District.  Many questions have been raised about how this conclusion was reached, and what considerations led to it.  Many people feel that no schools should be closed, no matter that the consequences.

The meeting on the 17th is the first opportunity for the community and the committee to dialog about the committee’s potential recommendation.  Following the public hearing, the committee will continue its discussion, considering the feedback from the community.

As usual, the meeting will be recorded for later viewing, and I am told that Spanish translation services will be available as well.

Whether your children attend Meiner’s Oaks or another school in the District, this meeting involves you.  Please attend and share your thoughts, or watch the meeting and share by email.  Thank you!


7-11 Committee Deliberations Near Completion

The 7-11 Citizens’ Advisory Committee is nearing the completion of its deliberations.

You may recall that the School Board expressed a desire to maximize the benefits of the Measure J funds entrusted to us by the taxpayers to improve our schools.  With reduced enrollment in the future of the District, that means looking at all options before finalizing a plan on how to spend the money.

According to a recent enrollment study, the OUSD can soon expect to be about half the size it was during its peak enrollment, or about 2400-2500 students.  We have facilities for our former enrollment of over 4000 students.  What, if anything, should we do with excess property?

Prioritizing spending is an important step.  Spend the limited improvement money on all properties equally, even properties we may not need in the future?  Spend money only on the facilities definitely needed for the future?  How will any choice effect students and families?

A 7-11 Advisory Committee is one step in the Board’s information gathering.  Created back in September (see my earlier post about seeking volunteers) and comprised of volunteers from the community, it is a body formed by law to make recommendations to the School Board regarding options for surplus school property.  In this case, the Committee is reviewing elementary schools.

The Committee is scheduling it’s own public hearing on March 17th at the Chaparral Auditorium to present to the community what its likely recommendations to the Board will be, and to listen to public reaction.  It’s a very important meeting.

Despite any information to the contrary, as of this date the Committee has not completed its deliberations, and nothing has been presented to the School Board.  When their recommendations are complete, the Committee will present them to the Board in a public meeting.  I invite and strongly urge concerned Valley residents to attend the meeting or watch it on the internet.

You can find everything related to the Committee including agenda, minutes, documents reviewed, and videos of its meetings at OUSD 7-11 Citizens Advisory Committee.


Charter Schools in the News

There’s a lot of talk about charter schools these days.

Anaheim Union High School District Calls for Moratorium

In Orange County, the Anaheim Union High School District has called for a temporary moratorium on approval of new charter schools statewide until legislators correct what they call “overly permissive law that enables charters to operate on a business model whose main goal is to make money.”

“Although there is nothing wrong with making money, when it comes to public education, our children should be our first priority,” Superintendent Matsuda said. “While charter school proponents may say they care about kids, many charters operate in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.”

“All Californians should demand an immediate halt to approval of charter schools until the laws are fixed and accountability is restored” says the Board’s public statement.

Much of this reaction reflects the deep philosophical divide between the Anaheim Union board and the Orange County Board of Education (OCBOE) and specifically the OCBOE’s response to two controversial charter school applications in the Anaheim Union district.  The OCBOE has authority to grant charters without local consent.  According to the Anaheim Union Board, the OCBOE board president “believes in handing over control of our public schools to private organizations, and is moving forward approving just about all charters…”

Are Charter Schools the New Subprime Bubble?

In a recent interview, a professor of urban education at the University of Connecticut shares his concerns that the proliferation of charter schools could presage a bubble much like the subprime lending market, and could have the same disastrous effects, but this time on education not the financial market.

Preston Greene discusses his study saying that the the federal government is encouraging the expansion of charter schools with little oversight, and the result could be a charter school bubble that blows up in urban communities.  The concern stems from calls to increase the number of entities who can authorize a charter school.  Similar to the concerns expressed by Anaheim Union, Greene fears that the multiple authorizers with little or no “skin in the game” will ultimately increase the number of charters approved while degrading the overall quality of charters.

Greene sees signs that the bubble may already be bursting in some parts of the country where “charters have been sued for failing to provide students with disabilities with an education.”  Greene, like Anaheim, calls for more standards of accountability and transparency for all charters.

Valley Oak Charter in Ojai

Differing from the concerns of the Anaheim Union school board, Valley Oak Charter School in Ojai was not inserted into the community by suspect outsiders operating in secret.  And as a hybrid support school for home-based independent study, it doesn’t directly compete with OUSD schools.  We are fortunate that the school staff includes many individuals with a long and distinguished teaching history in Ojai.  Valley Oak makes its LCAP and other documents available on its website.


More Evidence that Art Matters!

Here’s an article from a few months ago about Peralta Elementary School District and how revitalizing art instruction has brought new achievement across the board.  Time for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art!, math).

An adoption we should seek!

Just learned about Turnaround Arts.  Turnaround Arts is a public-private partnership led by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with the White House, U.S. Department of Education, and several private foundations. It is managed by Americans for the Arts.  Through the program, celebrities in the creative arts individually adopt schools and work directly with students and faculty.

Josh-GrobanFor instance, Josh Groban, having grown up with an arts upbringing, is passionate about arts education and exposing students to the arts. His adopted school is Chalmers School of Excellence in Chicago, IL. His most recent visit to the school included classroom visits, talking with students and working with them on arts integrated projects and performances.

Alfre-WoodardAlfre Woodard is also a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Involved with Turnaround Arts since the program’s pilot phase, she has visited, talked and read to, and worked with students on utilizing acting and the arts in their education at a number of schools, including ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans, LA, Noel Community Arts School in Denver, CO. With the expansion of Turnaround Arts beyond its pilot phase, Ms. Woodard has adopted St. Helena Elementary School in Greensburg, LA. In the latest expansion of Turnaround Arts, Ms. Woodard will be working with Kamaile Academy Public Charter School and Waianae Elementary School in Waianae, HI.

Jake Shimabukuro_ThumbnailThis is virtuoso ukulele artist Jake Simabukuro’s first year serving as a Turnaround Artist, and he will be working with Kalihi Kai in Honolulu, HI.

Adoptions are closed for now, but next round….!

The Cloud in the Silver Lining

They say that “every silver lining has its cloud” and that was certainly true last week.

After an amazingly successful string of appearances at local schools, including two in our own District, talking about exceeding limits and overcoming bullying, Nicholas James Vujicic staged an appearance at the Nordhoff Community Stadium at Nordhoff High, and for many people, blew all that good will.  What’s upsetting people?

12006075_10206012070155546_5803932214247255500_nNick’s public school appearances were inspiring, thought provoking, and most of all, non-religious.  Many parents heard amazing stories about him from their kids in school, and decided to attend the Saturday evening event.  Other folks attended in response to an invitation in a column in the Ojai Valley News.  Still others saw this advertisement.

Apparently, the event was actually more of a Christian religious function than many in the audience were prepared for.  Calls on Facebook immediately issued for separation of Church and State, and “bait and switch.”  There may be a little bit of validity to some of the complaints.

But first, you should know the District did not pay for, host, or sponsor Mr. Vujicic or his Saturday evening event.  The event promoters rented the facility from the District for the event.  Almost anyone can do it.  It’s the law.

You should also know that the District office is getting many emails and notes talking about how significant Nick’s in-school appearances were.  We are hearing stories from parents of kids opening up for the first time talking about their feelings of isolation and fear of bullying.  There is no doubt in my mind that more of this kind of conversation will save kids’ lives.  Mr. Vujicic’s inspiring appearances and speeches are a signpost toward more effective ways of reaching our kids, and showing them we mean it (most kids don’t think telling an adult will make any difference at all) when we say we are against bullying.

Unfortunately, many attendees to the Saturday evening event expected a secular inspirational, anti-bullying speech, not a Christian evangelical revival.  But apparently that’s what they felt it was.  It was a free event, and no one was held there by force.  Yet many felt duped or lured in under false pretences.  When you look at the promo material, you can see what they’re talking about.

To further confuse matters, the high school principal MC’d the event as a private citizen, which is his personal right.

So, while I don’t think the District is responsible for the misunderstandings, I don’t think we can ignore them.  We will continue to rent our facilities to the community, but we have a responsibility to prevent our facilities from being abused or misused.

More serious is the allegation that there was inviting or recruiting in our classrooms for the Saturday evening event.  Access to our students is a privilege, and may never be used as a marketing opportunity.  No matter who the renter, there can never be overlap between any in-school speech or activity and outside private event.  I am informed that students were told about the Saturday event, and warned that it would be different from the in-school presentations and more religious.  I am satisfied that no students were “recruited” or “encouraged” to attend the Saturday event.  Nevertheless, even this little bit of overlap is concerning, and will require discussion.

OUSD leadership and Superintendent Bangser understand the issues in play here.  As Board President Thayne Whipple has published elsewhere,  we will be reviewing what occurred and learning from our experience.

Here’s what we can’t lose sight of.  Despite the misunderstandings, and other questions, good things happened for our students. Let’s not forget that the in-class speeches seem to have had a strong positive impact.  That’s a real success.  Any time you have a success, you look to see what worked, and how to repeat it.  We should learn from any mistakes, but most importantly, we need to focus on how to replicate that good effect for our students.

7/11 Committee Forming; New OUSD Website

Two new and exciting developments:

The District has unveiled its new and improved web site Of course it looks great, but I think you’ll also notice that it’s easier to find the important information you’re looking for.  My congratulations to staff for a successful launch.

The District is forming a 7-11 Committee.  What’s that, you say?  Here’s the scoop.  According to a recent enrollment study, the OUSD can soon expect to be about half the size it was during its peak enrollment, or about 2400-2500 students.  We have facilities for our former enrollment of over 4000 students.  What, if anything, should we do with excess property? This is a very important committee, and your chance to participate in the conversation about the future of our elementary schools here in the valley.  We’re seeking between seven and eleven stalwart members who will focus on a study of options for the number and sites of our elementary schools in the future.

Interested?  Find the brief application on the OUSD home page, or go here.  Appointments to the Committee will occur at either the September 15 or October 6 Board Meeting. It is anticipated that the Committee’s work will span from October, 2015 through February, 2016 with at least two meetings per month except in December.