South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent
Joel Shapiro e-mailed parents Wednesday to communicate the following report
from SPUSD Board of Education President David Adelstein about the “State of the
Schools” in the city:
“A new school year begins, and as School Board President I'm pleased to report that the state of our School District remains remarkably strong, despite years of financial and program challenges.
“We are an unusually high-performing school district, part of a small town less than ten miles from downtown Los Angeles. We have no true majority race/ethnicity: 35 percent of our students are Asian American, 31 percent of our students are Caucasian, 24 percent of our students are Latino and 2.4 percent of our students are African American. We are also economically diverse: 16 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and more than half of our students live in rental housing. This diversity is an essential part of our strength. Our students will be prepared to live and learn in an increasingly connected world.
“All five of our schools have been named California Distinguished Schools, a remarkable honor for the students, staff and parent-volunteers. Extremely few school districts have all of their schools qualify as California Distinguished Schools at the same time.
“Our schools receive exceptional parent and community support. Last year voters renewed the District's parcel tax by a 73 percent margin, despite an increase in the amount of the tax ($288 to $386) and a longer term (4 to 5 years). We recently completed a major construction project at the middle school, based on voter approved bond measures. We have vibrant booster clubs and PTAs, and an exceptional educational foundation (SPEF).
“Our strengths are recognized throughout Southern California and beyond. Despite statewide declining enrollment, our student population has increased an average of 2 percent each of the last four years. The District runs a robust after-school program and operates a widely praised summer school program with the assistance of our Educational Foundation. We are examining introduction of a foreign language immersion program at the elementary school level.
“Our students continue to perform well on California standardized tests. Our 2012-2013 District API is 920 (1,000 top score), a 23-point increase since 2008-2009. Our API ranks 13th among all California unified school districts, in the top 5 percent of all California districts. We were one of very few local districts to gain API points last year.
“We continue to make gains in preparing our high school graduates for college and career. Last year 74 percent of our seniors completed the A-G course requirements, qualifying them to attend a University of California or California State University campus, an increase from 55.5 percent in 2008-09. Over 90 percent of our 2012-13 graduates reported attending college, 65 percent at a four-year institution. Our 2012-13 high school graduation rate was 98 percent.
“Our District continues to emphasize the importance of arts education. The District has three elementary arts specialists, one each in visual arts, music and theater arts. We have also expanded our arts offerings at the secondary level, adding visual arts courses at the middle school and high school, and a middle school choir program. Our bands at both middle school and high school have recently won a number of awards at competitions.
“Finally, our students continue to perform extremely well in state and national competitions. Our eighth-grade team won first place in the Los Angeles County Math Field Day competition last year. Middle school math and science students won first place in regional competitions. Teams from South Pasadena Middle School and Arroyo Vista Elementary took first place in California and ranked high nationwide in the Knowledge Master Open competition. A team from Marengo Elementary participated in the Destination ImagiNation Global Championship event. Our High School Virtual Business teams have won honors at the national championship event for several years. Last year South Pasadena High School sponsored an Academic Decathlon team for the first time, and won seventeen of eighteen gold medals in its division. Congratulations to these students and the teachers who guided them.
“Notwithstanding these strengths, the Board and Administration continue to focus on a few areas where even greater improvement is needed. Our Latino students still experience an achievement gap. We have narrowed that gap recently, from a 116 point API gap in 2008-09 to a 71 point API gap in 2012-13 (our Latino students scored 849). But even more effort is required. We also continue to focus on improving mathematics achievement at the secondary school level. Progress has been slow, despite our efforts. Additional resources, money and instructional time will be needed to address these concerns.
“Looking ahead, the District will be challenged by unprecedented financial and program changes. The transition to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics represents a major transformation of curriculum and instructional methods. The Common Core standards offer significant advantages. Rather than cover a wide range of topics at a surface level, students will be required to use higher-level thinking skills as they apply their knowledge to solve complex problems. Multiple-choice tests will be replaced with assessments requiring analytical thinking. We are involved in a program of extensive professional development to prepare our teachers for these changes.
“Another transformational challenge is California’s new formula for funding public education. Under the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), each school district receives a different amount of per-pupil funding, depending on the number of students who are English learners, low-income, and foster youth. South Pasadena has relatively few of these students, so our state funds will lag behind those of most districts. We hope to receive an increase in this funding over an eight-year period, but our funding growth depends on sustained economic growth to increase California’s general fund. We will be challenged in future years to match the teacher, administrator and staff salaries of districts receiving much larger portions of the new LCFF revenue. Our District and community will have to improvise to meet this challenge.
“Despite these challenges, we remain confident in the future success of our students and our District. “