Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Safety at AE and New Haven Schools

On Monday, Dec 17, 2012, New Haven spokesperson, Rick LaPlante, released a statement regarding student safety at all their schools. An online brochure on Helping your Child to Cope was revealed to help parents talk to their children after a school emergency. This is a response to a deadly incident in Connecticut during which 26 children and teachers were killed by an intruder in an elementary school.

Every parent as they watch their child leave for school in morning assumes they will be safe. New Haven has various drills in place for fire, earthquake, and intruders. Fire laws actually state how many fire drills a school must have during the school year. In California fire drills are to be conducted and recorded at least once a month for elementary and intermediate and twice a year for, secondary. All students, staff, and volunteer parents are required to leave the facility during the drill. Each class has an assigned spot where they are required to stand with their teacher until the emergency is over.

Different states have different natural disaster drills depending on the types of natural disasters occurring in the state. Kansas and Texas have tornado drills. California has Drop or Duck and Cover drills for earthquakes with reminders not to be by a window. Students are taught to cover their neck and close their eyes. After the shaking subsides then everyone goes outside in an orderly fashion. In California these are twice a year. In some schools there is an earthquake emergency supply of water in each room. 

A Code Red is initiated over the PA system when there is a possibility of violence on the campus. This is a Lock Down. Teachers lock the doors. No one is allowed in or out until given the all clear signal. In a dangerous situation sometimes students are locked down for a very long time. Teachers keep students away from windows and sometimes cover the windows. Specific staff members are assigned to check the bathrooms and bring everyone inside. I can remember a student who had to urinate, but there was no bathroom available. So the teacher found a private space and the child went in the waste paper basket. None of the other students even noticed.

During a non emergency situation, students sometimes need to go to the bathroom. This can also be a safety hazard as during class time, bathrooms are sometimes unsupervised. As a precaution teachers usually send young children two at a time to use the bathroom. The safety hazard can actually be an older student not necessarily an adult.

For all these situations, teachers have an emergency back pack with first aide supplies and Emergency cards for each child. Only parents, guardians, or adults listed on the emergency card are allowed to pick up their students. Parents should always be sure their emergency card is up to date.

Principals and staff are looking at ways to improve school safety. Some schools have safety gates on the fences surrounding the school. New Haven is in the process of adding more safety gates as soon as possible. Some schools have volunteer or visitor badges which indicate the individual checked in at the front office. Alvarado has a visitor sign in sheet, but I believe not badges. Some schools require the door to each classroom is locked after students are inside except during passing time. This seems like prison to me but maybe in some neighborhoods a necessity. At elementary schools there are so many resource personnel, parent volunteers, and even school board members visiting classrooms, this may affect the ability of schools to function well. Doors should be able to be locked from the inside with a key or code. At this time this is not possible for Alvarado. If a Code Red signal is given, the teacher has to go outside to lock the door. Parents should attend the school site council meetings to voice their concerns.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

RACE to the TOP Grant

New Haven’s School District will receive a federal Race to the Top grant of more than $29 million over the next four-and-a-half years, to personalize student learning, improve student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare all students to succeed in college and careers.

According to Rick LaPlante, Director of Parent and Community Relations, New Haven plans to hire literacy, assessment and math coaches for all schools to provide in-classroom coaching in personalized learning for literacy, math and use of assessments. Summer teacher institutes will be expanded for reading, literacy and mathematics. Smaller class sizes for high school English Learners will be created. The district will purchase more K-8 library books and classroom libraries of non-fiction books and is thinking about expanding the positions of library media teachers. A full time librarian in every school is important to improving student achievement.

New Haven also plans to purchase mini-computer tablets for every 6-12 grade student and for every two K-5 students, as well as tablets, laptops and document cameras for all teachers. Additional IT technicians, a data specialist and technology trainers will be hired. All of the new technology will be phased in with strong teacher professional development to ensure usage.

The New Haven Unified School District was 2nd in the nation of 16 finalists for this grant. The focus of this grant is to take full advantage of 21st century tools to prepare students for college and careers. It is interesting to note that the American Association of School Librarians entitled their standards as 21st Century Learning Standards.

This grant lasts for 4 and 1/2 years. The real question is sustainability. Once the grant is gone can New Haven sustain the personnel, equipment, print resources, and drive to keep this effort moving forward. Now that New Haven has the Grant, the education sharks (businesses), such as the Wireless Generation, will move in and try to sell the district testing and resources they may not need. Whoever is watching the $$$ is going to have to fight to maintain the district's integrity. However, I am not going to say give the money back. New Haven and all schools are in dire need of financial support. Districts have to do what they need to do and worry about sustainability later. Certainly when the money is gone, New Haven may need to get other grants to keep afloat unless the state of California is more forthcoming with money.

There is no question fulfilling the goals of this grant is going to be similar to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The  superintendent down to the principals, teachers, and resource staff are going to have to hang on for their life. Hopefully it will be fun and rewarding for the staff and especially the students.

School Librarians in Common Core Standards

Thrilled to see school libraries in the California Common Core Standards. However, as I looked at them for each grade level they seemed to be very watered down, especially those for grades 3, 4, and 5. CCCS generally states that school library standards are aligned with content standards of each grade. A school librarian often works with the classroom teacher on gathering materials suitable for the class. However, in the California standards there is no mention of having a qualified credentialed teacher and credentialed librarian or MLIS librarian in the library. MLIS is Master of Library and Information Science. In California librarians who work in schools should have both a teaching credential and a librarian credential. A credentialed librarian is prepared to engage students in higher level thinking skills by teaching students to find, interpret, and organize information. Don't you want someone with these qualifications for your child?

There are standards for for school libraries. The American Association of School Librarians has Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. New Haven School District's own last plan for school libraries went through 2010.

According to the national Common Core Standards starting in 4th grade students will have to have to read the same amount of non fiction text as literary text or fiction.  All 5th grade students will begin to be trained to read to learn by gathering information. Realistically this should begin much before 5th grade. This means reading non fiction.  Readers have to be trained to find and synthesize useful information. By the time students are in the 12th grade 70% of their text reading will have to be informational. A credentialed librarian is most suited by training and skill to provide this service. Just like fiction, all non fiction is not created equal. Plus building up to the 4th and 5th grade a credentialed librarian will identify excellent non fiction for students to read; can give non fiction books talks to all grades even kindergarten; identify non fiction features, such as bold fonts, bullets, and captions; text cues; and graphics (diagrams, cross sections, charts, graphs); Text organizers, index, table of contents, glossary; and teach students about online hoaxes, by using sites such as These should be done long before students reach the 4th and 5th grades.

At this time Alvarado has an excellent duel credentialed librarian, Alisha Valine.  However, she is only at AE 2 days a week and all students do not go to the library. With the requirements of the Common Core Standards it is important to have her full time, 5 days a week.

Changes at the Top

It's time to look at some of the changes of personnel in the administration of New Haven Union school district. In May of 2012 Chief Academic Officer, Wendy Gudalewicz, notified the school board she was leaving New Haven. She was leaving to become the Superintendent of the Cupertino Union School district. She came to New Haven in June of 2009.
Wendy Gudalewicz

On June 6th, 2012, Dr. Arlando Smith was appointed by the New Haven School Board to be the new Chief Academic Officer. Dr. Smith was previously an assistant professor of educational leadership at San Jose State University. Dr. Smith was familiar with New Haven as in the past he provided professional development for New Haven teachers and had coached the district principals. He is married to Wendy Gudalewicz.

Dr Arlando Smith

In April of 2006, Chris Hobbs joined the New Haven School District as excutive director of technology. He has faced overwhelming cuts to the techology department while keeping up with the challenges of ever changing technologies. On November 27, 2012 the Pleasanton school board appointed Chris Hobbs as Director of Technology. Mr. Hobbs will leave New Haven on Jan 12, 2012.

Chris Hobbs

The District Communications Director, Rick La Plant will be officially retiring from full time work in the district.  He will still be working on an on call bases for the district.