CUSD board meeting marked by awards, high praise

The November 2 meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education was marked by accolades.

Among other feel-good acknowledgements, the November 2 gathering included the announcement of the winner of the Spotlight on Excellence award, a discussion of the recent academic successes of Chaparral and Vista del Valle elementary schools, and the presentation of a district-wide Energy Star recognition for significant gains in the area of energy efficiency.

The Spotlight award went to Sumner librarian Marleene Bazela, whose impact “extends way beyond test scores and data fields,” said Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources. Tributes from coworkers honored her tireless nurturing of students’ love of reading and the cozy and imagination-capturing environment she has fostered in her library.

Ms. Bazela, who has been with the district some 20 years, was feted with a certificate, 2 bouquets and hugs and kisses from her family, including her daughter who lives in San Francisco and made a surprise trip to Claremont just for the occasion.

“I can’t believe this!” the librarian said.

In her acceptance speech, Ms. Bazela made sure all in attendance knew that the admiration is mutual.

“I have to say, I love my job so much,” she gushed. “I love kids. I love the beautiful room where I work. I love to read stories and to be involved with reading. Sumner’s such a wonderful school!”

Ms. Bazela shared that when her children once asked how long she plans to stay at Sumner, she answered, “I’ll keep going until I start feeling grouchy.”

“I don’t feel grouchy yet, so I’m not going anywhere,” she joked.

Hard-won gains

Praise also went to the teams representing Chaparral and Vista during the schools’ respective presentations on their Single Plans for Student Achievement (SPSA). The SPSA is a federally-mandated report on the progress a school has made toward goals set the previous year and a presentation of the school’s latest priorities.

First up was the Chaparral delegation, led by Principal Julie Olesniewicz. She was able to report that the school met, or partially met, each of its 2011-2012 goals. These included raising the proficiency level of Latino/Hispanic students in English Language Arts (ELA) and math. Chaparral had aimed to bring the number of students in this subgroup who are proficient or advanced in ELA up from 75.2 percent to 80 percent. In math, they shot for 77 percent proficiency, up from 72 percent the previous year. Latino/Hispanic students exceeded both targets, reaching 81.03 percent proficiency in ELA and 79.3 percent in math.

Chaparral didn’t just settle for proficiency, Ms. Olesniewicz emphasized.

Administrators and staffers also strived to raise the number of students scoring at the advanced proficiency level in ELA from 52 percent to 55 percent, a goal they hit right on the head. In math, Chaparral had hoped to see 50 percent of students demonstrating advanced proficiency during state standards testing, up from 46 percent. Students surpassed this goal, with an impressive 54 percent scoring at the advanced level.

Board president Jeff Stark said he was happy to hear that the school was setting goals for higher-achieving students as well as for those who are struggling.

“I worry sometimes about our advanced students,” he said. “We don’t want any students to get lost in the shuffle.”

Chaparral’s API score, a composite number representing its testing scores, now rests at a healthy 930 points out of a possible 1000.

Principal Dave Stewart and his team from Vista del Valle Elementary School were up next.

Last year, he shared, Vista aimed to increase ELA scores among students as a whole from 62 percent. That goal was met and exceeded, with 69.81 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in the English portion of state testing. That number is an improvement from the previous year, which was 57.3 percent.

Vista also met its goals of increasing ELA proficiency in 2 significant subgroups: Hispanic students (68.79 ) and those who are severely economically disadvantaged (67.07). The school had less success, Mr. Stewart said, with its English learner population. Vista had aspired to increase ELA proficiency levels among English learners from 59.2 percent to 64.2 percent. In actuality, at 59.62 percent, gains among English learners were minimal. 

The trend only worsened in the area of math. Again, both Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students made nice gains with 75 percent and 72.1 percent proficiency levels, respectively. However, English learners’ math proficiency levels fell to 71.15 percent from a previous 73.5 percent.

While Principal Stewart didn’t make excuses for the failure to make academic gains among English learners,  he did explain that due to high mobility, the graduation of students and the transfer of others into regular classes, the students tested were almost a completely different group than those represented in the previous year’s goals.

Board member Sam Mowbray brought a bit of historical perspective to the strides Vista has made. He remembers sitting in the boardroom 10 years ago, when No Child Left Behind mandates were in their infancy and CUSD’s first API scores were released. Vista scored in the mid-400s, he recalled, spurring community-wide concern. Thanks to the efforts begun by former Vista principal Ley Yeager and continued by Mr. Stewart, that score has risen to 877.

“This is an extremely rewarding meeting. I’m absolutely astounded at the results,” he marveled. “They’ve taken 10 years, but it’s just a success story.”

Board member Mary Caenepeel said she was particularly impressed with Vista’s progress toward its third primary goal of the 2011-2012 school year, which was to bring the number of student suspensions from 38 down to 19. Vista actually upped that ante, bringing the number of suspensions down to 13.

“Making such a big improvement in suspension rates is to your credit. You can’t learn if you’re not in school,” she said.

Green savings

It was a big honor and a small audience as the board meeting began to draw to a close at 8:30 p.m. Only 3 community members were there for the presentation of Energy Star certificates, which were awarded to every school site in CUSD.

Four years ago, the district partnered with the Energy Education organization, now called Synergy, to learn how to implement every possible type of energy savings. The district’s energy use was scrutinized by energy education specialist Ralph Patterson, who made suggestions on how to cut back on cost savings. Since then, Synergy representative Jim Hicks announced, the district has cut back energy use by 20 percent.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a national recognition of the district’s effort to save energy,” Mr. Hicks said.

To put that percentage into perspective, Mr. Patterson said the reduction in power is equivalent to removing 216 cars off the road for one year, planting 30,832 tree seedlings and removing 1205 metric tons of CO2 from the air combined.    

After the award presentation, board member Steven Llanusa asked Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services, if she had a dollar amount corresponding to the district’s energy savings. Ms. Shoemaker answered that savings have totaled a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. She noted that as a thank-you, the district has been putting money saved straight into the employee benefits pool.

“I think we should be shouting this news from the rooftops,” board member Hillary LaConte said of the district’s moves toward sustainability and savings. 

The next meeting of the CUSD board will be held Thursday, November 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kirkendall Center. 

—Sarah Torribio



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