This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
Now that the state Board of Education has adopted emergency regulations and a template to help guide school districts in creating plans for spending their money, parents throughout the state should be hearing about community meetings asking for their opinions.
The Mt. Diablo and West Contra Costa districts started holding meetings in January to explain the state's requirements for the plans, which must focus on eight priorities.
Nellie Meyer, superintendent of the Mt. Diablo school district, told parents during a Tuesday meeting at Ygnacio Valley High that the priorities fall into three basic categories: conditions of learning, student outcomes and engagement.
Conditions of learning include: proper teacher assignments and student access to instructional materials; implementation of the state's new Common Core standards; and student access to a variety of courses.
Student outcomes are: pupil achievement and other measures of student success, such as reclassification of English learners as fluent.
Engagement includes: parental involvement, student engagement and school climate indicators such as suspension and expulsion rates.
Based on these priorities, districts must decide how to divide their money in ways that will best serve their students. The money includes base grants that can be spent on districtwide needs, along with supplemental grants intended to help narrow the achievement gap for students who are English learners, low-income or foster youth. Districts with more than 55 percent of students in these categories receive concentration grants for their additional disadvantaged students.
Mt. Diablo does not qualify for a concentration grant because its percentage of disadvantaged students is not high enough, Meyer said. However, she said some schools have a much higher percentage of disadvantaged students.
"In my humble opinion, the formula is flawed," she said. "It should be by school."
Parents at the meeting broke into three groups and offered suggestions for improvement in each of the three basic categories, such as ensuring high-quality staff, providing parents with more information about students' progress and inviting families to fun activities on campus such as potlucks.
Meyer gave a similar presentation about the spending plan Wednesday to the school board. But some public speakers said the presentation included too much hard-to-understand education lingo, while leaving out information about how much money the district is receiving in base and supplemental grants.
Resident Willie Mims said the district needs to ensure that supplemental funding will help the students for whom it is intended.
The Mt. Diablo district will hold more meetings before finalizing its plan in June. Community meetings, all beginning at 6:30 p.m., will take place Tuesday at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, Feb. 20 at Diablo View Middle School in Clayton, Feb. 25 at Northgate High in Walnut Creek, March 18 at Concord High and April 8 at Mt. Diablo High.
The West Contra Costa district held four community meetings in January and plans to establish a special committee comprising parent representatives who will vote on its plan. The district has posted notes from its meetings online, including suggestions for programs or services that could help disadvantaged students.
Suggestions from El Cerrito High meeting participants included: better promotion of district resources, hiring certificated teachers for after-school programs, hiring writer coaches, reintroducing music and art, lowering class sizes at all grade levels, creating newcomer programs at schools, offering full-day kindergarten and early intervention preschool programs, eliminating classes with split grade levels, providing more alternatives to suspensions, offering writing support to English learners and additional reading and writing programs for all students, year-round schools and more counselors.
How do you think districts should spend money earmarked for disadvantaged students?