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School district implements first phase of four-year program to enhance every student’s education

POSTED February 26, 2010 8:27 p.m.
First graders in Mrs. Montejano’s class at Wakefield Elementary School are not only learning reading, writing and mathematics. They are also learning the meaning of words like responsibility and respect as part of the Turlock Unified School District’s Strategic Plan to reinforce “the character traits necessary to become self-motivated, responsible citizens in our community.”
Character traits are just one way the district is looking at improving the overall education of local students through their five-year, 31-point Strategic Plan.
About nine out of the 31 specific plan implementations, which are encompassed in six strategies, have been completed throughout the district since its June 2009 debut.
“When it first started, I was thinking ‘how the heck are we going to implement this?’” said Turlock Unified School District Trustee Tami Muniz at the Feb. 16 board meeting. “This is a new way of life for our district. I am excited to see where we will be five years from now.”
The six strategies the district is focusing on for the current school year have been broken down into specific results that the district would like to accomplish for the betterment of their students. They chose to focus on nine of those specific results, leaving 22 results for the next four years when the district is expected to accomplish all of the goals in the Strategic Plan.
“The strategy is what we want to do and the specific results are what we are going to accomplish,” said Ed Felt, deputy superintendent for the district.
Although over 200 community members, teachers, district staff and students worked together for eight months to complete the Strategic Plan, many at the school sites haven’t really noticed a big change.
Some of the specific results that second grade teacher Angelica Grishaw has noticed at Walnut Elementary School are the expansion of the “Just Say Go” program, more district administrators performing walk-throughs to check on objective-aligned curriculum, and a requirement to associate a strategy with purchasing material for the classroom.
While Grishaw supports the Strategic Plan, she finds some of the actions implemented under Strategy One time consuming, such as the “clearly communicated” objectives for each lesson.
“I need to be sure that my students know the objective of every lesson I am teaching and that they have met the objective. Not that I did not do this before, but now I have to point to a very specific objective in my grade level. All this takes more time from me and takes away time from other interactions I might have been able to have with my students,” she said.
Under Strategy One, the district has evaluated current curriculum needs and their associated textbook adoptions, said Lacrisha Ferriera, TUSD assistant superintendent for educational services. With this, the district performs more walk-throughs at the school sites to make sure the correct books are being used with the right support to help students get a “quality education every day.”
Although the Strategic Plan is new to the district, some of the specific results under each strategy are not new to the district.
“Some are expansions but most are brand new,” said Sonny Da Marto, TUSD superintendent. “This plan is to put everyone on the same train. Before, everyone was on a different train, hopefully going to the same stop, but now everyone is on the same train.”
Even Grishaw noticed an expansion of the “Just Say Go” campaign for students, but this program was implemented the end of August 2009.
The expansions for this program are targeted under Strategy Three by implementing a student incentive recognition program to improve academics, behavior and attendance.
Since the “Just Say Go” program launched, attendance increased in four of the six months, said Gil Ogden, TUSD director of student services. The other two months saw a decrease in attendance, which the district attributes to the H1N1 virus scare.
The attendance program is expanding all the way to the movies at the Regal Cinemas Turlock Stadium 14 from March 12 to April 29, Ogden said. Before every movie there will be a 30 second commercial that students from most schools in the district participated in to promote going to school so students won’t “miss one day, fall three behind.”
While old programs are being expanded through the Strategic Plan, some new programs are becoming quite popular and effective.
Since new program E2020 kicked off in January, over 150 students have signed up, Ogden said. The program allows students to take classes online to make up credits for graduation.
Under Strategy Two, the E2020 program offers the same variety of classes that students take when attending high school, and currently all four high schools are using this program.
“If they fail a class at school, they can take the class online,” Ogden said.
District staff plan to continue the implementation of the nine specific results and add the other 22 specific results gradually within the next four years.
“When our kids go to school at a time like this, they won’t know we are in a recession because we continue to provide a quality education,” Felt said.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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