Tag Archives: district

Guest commentary: WUSD answers the mayor



By Dayton Gilleland, Ed.D.
Washington Unified School District

When I arrived in West Sacramento about ten months ago, I expressed to the Washington Unified School District Board of Education that I was enthusiastic about the incredible gains the district had made in the past few years and optimistic that I could manage the next iteration of academic improvement and promise for our 7,300 students.  There is a consistent pattern among school districts that have demonstrated solid academic improvements, and I recognized many factors that affected such gains in Washington Unified.  My message resonated well with the Board, and I am grateful for this opportunity to serve our students and community.  I remain true to my initial enthusiasm and committed to the work before us to sustain the accelerated growth that this school district has demonstrated.  Our kids deserve no less, and our future depends on our success.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Mayor Cabaldon’s Annual State of the City Address with the WUSD Board of Education.  I knew that evening that I would be providing a response to the message that was shared by the mayor. I suspect that he has anticipated my response as well. Reflected in the mayor’s silence on matters of the school district’s excellent financial health, in the midst of such horrendous economic tragedy, and disregard for  students’ significant academic gains achieved in our schools, is evidence of the inconvenience or threat he perceives toward his objective to “save our schools” through the efforts of city government. While my wife suggests that my delay in finalizing this copy is a problem and that the whole issue has lost some luster, I maintain that this delay was needed to assure the degree of objectivity and accuracy in the facts that I have prepared for print.

Dayton Gilleland: Superintendent of the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento

In my various reviews of a certified copy of the mayor’s address, as delivered on April 14, 2011, I have found several areas of concern with a variety of inaccuracies, misrepresentations of truth, and an apparent neglect to mention actual gains that the school district has demonstrated.  I will address my findings specifically but first need to state that much of what the mayor shared that evening, while narrow in scope, was factual, and while some comments he made were simply wrong, I find that I am mostly troubled by the information and data that his presentation lacked and a bias that appears in the picture he portrayed. On April 4, 2011, I sent an e-mail to him offering “any pertinent data and/or talking points” that he felt might fit into his message.  His non-response to this offer suggests that he already had the information he needed and is consistent with numerous invitations Board President Dave Westin and I have extended in an attempt to meet.

The mayor stated in his address that our students’ academic progress has “slowed some” over the past three years.  It is important to note that our students’ academic gains have not slowed but rather accelerated during this period.  During the three years in question (2008, 2009 and 2010) the district’s Academic Performance Index (API) improved a total of 44 points.  Over the course of the three previous years (2005, 2006 and 2007) the district’s growth was 34 points.  The 20 point API gain in 2010 represents the second highest gain of the twenty school districts in the entire Sacramento region.

The Annual Yearly Progress measure (AYP) is the performance indicator reflected in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. This measure identifies the percentage of students performing at proficient and advanced levels in English/Language Arts and Math.  Over the last three years, the district’s AYP has improved in English from 41.3% to 49.1% with consistent gains each year.  In Mathematics, the gains have been more modest but follow a similar path from 44.1% to 49.5%.

I remain confused by the mayor’s statement that for “the last two years the total number of Latino kids in our community who tested proficient in English and Math and were college ready: Zero.”  I had referred to district-wide proficiency levels earlier.  The disaggregate for the Hispanic/Latino student subgroup over the past two years reveals growth in both English and Math with gains from 34.3% in 2009 to 38.4% in 2010 in English and from 35.0% in 2009 to 39.6% in 2010 in Math. Further to the point, 343 seniors graduated from River City High School last year.  Of that group, 34% are Latino (117) and of this group, 19 students entered a four year university, 68 enrolled in a community college, 7 continued their studies in a trade school, and 7 entered the military.  107 of the 117 Latino graduates last year are reflected in these numbers.  While we are by no means satisfied with these percentages, we are encouraged by sustained gains and there is a considerable distinction between the facts and what was stated by the mayor.  His reference to “zero” is incongruent with the actual data and appears to me to be more inflammatory or alarmist than it is a call to action.

Mayor Cabaldon’s claims our improving statistics are due to “changing demographics” and that our community now has “a lot more high achieving kids”.  Any reference to demographics in the context of student performance is risky.  The most important factor to consider is that all students can learn and it is our obligation and intent to meet the needs of all students who enter our classrooms.  The mayor’s opinion that this is the basis of our gains is inaccurate.  The school achieving the highest API gain this past year was Riverbank with an increase of 39 points.  Riverbank is a school in the northern portion of town.  Our schools in the north are situated in the most established communities and those which have been affected the least, if at all, by this change in demographics.  Additionally, free/reduced priced lunch rates are an indicator of socio-economics in communities.  This factor is used by the California Department of Education (CDE) in calculations of comparable districts for API demographics.  In 2007, 55% of our students qualified for free/reduced priced lunches.  In 2010 the number increased to 67%.  In this regard, Washington Unified has demonstrated academic gains that have surpassed those projected from this changing demographic by the CDE.   The gains our schools demonstrate are reflective of how we have become more responsive to students’ specific educational needs.

The mayor stated that “a lot of our overall statistics look pretty decent.”  I would concur.  I also agree fully with his claim that “we can’t accept schools that are good enough.”  We will continue to improve and wish to be collaborative with the community and the city in all efforts to support our students and their success.  It is my sincere hope that the political flavor that accompanied my dinner that night does not represent continued barriers to cooperation and collaboration between the school district and the mayor’s office.

I found the State of the City Address to be disparaging to the nearly 800 employees in the school district that have dedicated themselves to this work.  I will maintain my focus on the educational work our teachers and staff do for students in Washington Unified.  This work occurs daily in our classrooms.  Our teachers are an invaluable asset who have been too frequently and for too long discredited.  I don’t intend to venture any deeper into the political abyss that West Sacramento seems to offer; however, without regret or apology, I will continue to defend what is working and acknowledge those responsible for our success.

My intent is to focus on the work at hand, and to further establish cooperative and collaborative relationships with those who share common interests and commitments to students’ success. We will continue to reach out to the mayor’s office in an attempt to align our efforts and enhance our potential for great gains.  The School Board President’s Initiatives validate our commitment to work within and throughout our surrounding communities.  In title alone, these initiatives demonstrate the collaborative intent:

— The Whole Child Initiative,
— The Parents Bill of Rights Initiative,
— The Better West Sacramento Initiative, and
— The Community Networking/Outreach Initiative

The work that has been underway for the past several months, with substantial participation from local agencies, city employees, and elected officials from throughout this region, will continue.  It is my hope that we can all come to the table to share ideas and reach the enhanced benefits that collaboration will provide and isolation will deter.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2011

EDITORIAL: City & school district turf battles


  Mayor Cabaldon and the local school district aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on this one.

At last week’s “State of the City” address by the mayor, Cabaldon took credit for bringing leadership reform to Washington Unified School District. A decade ago, as Cabaldon reminded his audience, the mayor formed a “blue ribbon commission” that harshly criticized the district and its school board. He then supported candidates for the school board who won and changed the board’s complexion.

Local schools started to improve after this intervention, he said.

Flash forward to the present date. There’s a new and different generation on the school board, led by board president Dave Westin. This board believes it’s on the right track, and believes that a 20-point jump in standardized student test scores last year proves it.

But Cabaldon doesn’t see it that way.

“Over the last three years, that remarkable progress has slowed somewhat,” said Cabaldon, in an oblique criticism of Westin’s regime. The mayor added that the test scores are masking a gap in achievement, particularly among Latino students, and they don’t address the drop-out problem.  He proposed some level of increased involvement by the city and community in this problem – although some of his suggestions were small (give preschoolers a few of their own books) and some were, as yet, still vague. But the real news was that he was again pushing the city government onto school board turf.

Now, the mayor doesn’t run the school district any more than the school district runs the city fire department. Cabaldon and Westin are not close partners. Comments such as those the mayor made last week aren’t likely to be well-received at 930 Westacre Road. Cabaldon is smart enough to know that before he spoke up.

Whether Westin and Cabaldon can get along well is unimportant. More important is whether local education can come out ahead if the local city government starts putting some pressure again upon the Washington Unified School District.

Copyright News-Ledger 2011

Stone Lock property sale: to developer, or to Port?

NEWS-LEDGER ONLINE –  March 28, 2011

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

    At about 5 p.m. on March 28, the City of West Sacramento announced a special closed-door meeting of the city council to take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29.

The topic is the continuing negotiations over the possible sale of the 215-acre, publicly owned “Stone Lock District” acreage to The Cordish Companies, a nationally-known developer.

     The land near the barge canal and Sacramento River is owned by the city’s redevelopment agency. Governor Brown proposes to abolish the agencies to save state revenues, and West Sacramento officials say that the city may have to dispose of the Stone Lock District property and other redevelopment agency properties in some sort of “fire sale” if the governor’s plan goes through.

The effort to sell Cordish an “option to buy” the Stone Lock acreage sometime in the future would protect the land from such a fire sale. But the two parties haven’t yet come to terms.

The agenda for tomorrow’s closed session meeting says, in part, that the city wants the deal to include a requirement that Cordish agree to a development agreement before it could ever exercise its option to buy the land. The development agreement would allow the city to negotiate what ends up getting built on the project.

“If (Cordish’s holding company) accepts this condition, then staff is prepared to recommend approval of the sale of the Stone Lock District Property subject to the conditions of the Option Agreement,” says the agenda description from city staff. But Cordish doesn’t agree the deal will include a development agreement, then “staff is prepared to recommend approval of the sale of the Stone Lock Property to the Port of West Sacramento.”

The port is controlled by the city.

The proposed option agreement on the table last Wednesday called for Cordish to pay $500 initially, and then $75,000 annually, to maintain the right to buy any or all of five parcels making up the acreage. The option will last seven years unless Cordish terminates it or both parties extend it. Actual price of any land sold would be set by future appraisal, but the city staff report for last week’s council meeting said the land is currently appraised at about $2.5 million.

Copyright News-Ledger 2011

City, developer negotiate for 215 acres

The acreage involved in the Stone Lock District project is shown in color at left. This photo is taken from the Sacramento side of the Sacramento River. Jefferson Blvd. is running from left to right near the middle of the picture, crossing the barge canal. To the left of the barge canal is Southport, to the right are central and northern West Sacramento. The project involves property both along the barge canal and the riverfront -- the biggest chunk is near the foreground, southeast of Stone Lock and next to the river. (From the city's project website)

March 9, 2011

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento’s 215-acre waterfront development deal with The Cordish Companies has been sitting on the back burner since the recession. But the deal may get a push this month, indirectly, because of those same financial hard times.

  Plans for the city and The Cordish Companies to form some kind of partnership to develop the property along the Sacramento River and West Sacramento barge canal stalled when the real estate market tanked. But now, Governor Brown has proposed eliminating local redevelopment agencies to help balance a troubled state budget. If that happens before the West Sacramento Redevelopment Agency has a deal in place with Cordish, it may lose a chance to make such a deal. The worst case, fear city officials, is that Brown could succeed in abolishing redevelopment agencies and West Sacramento’s could have to liquidate its assets – like these 215 acres – in a rush.

So staff and officials from Cordish are negotiating a purchase option agreement for the “Stone Lock District” acreage, hoping to put it on the March 23 city council agenda. They also hope that the redevelopment agency won’t have been constricted by the state before then.

“We’ve been in negotiations for several years with the Cordish Company,” said Jon Robinson, a redevelopment services manager for West Sacramento. “We’ve been in exclusive negotiations for at least a couple of years. This is the fruition of that development.”

The proposed agreement is still evolving. But it would basically call for the company to pay some amount of money in advance, for the option of buying the 215 acres at a later time.

The deal would have a time frame far enough out to allow development conditions to improve. And it would be flexible enough, somehow, to allow Cordish to come up with a new plan for developing the acreage.

An earlier development scheme is now viewed as unrealistic for the new economic conditions and no new plan has replaced it. But Robinson said certain things will probably be in the final plan for the Stone Lock District:

“You would see riverfront commercial, riverfront restaurants, lodging, trails, parks, and a whole mix of residential densities,” said Robinson. “We would be looking to Cordish to come up with innovative development ideas – all across the country, they’ve shown a real knack for doing this.”

Other urban Cordish projects include the development of Baltimore’s “Inner Harbor.”

Copyright News-Ledger 2011

School board wants 20-point jump in test scores


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

The school board and superintendent of Washington Unified School District sat around a table for several hours on Friday, deciding on goals for the district for the 2011-2012 year. More specifically, they hashed out a set of benchmarks for the performance of their new superintendent, Dr. Dayton Gilleland, to be judged upon.

  After polite debate, the board decided to set the bar pretty high for Gilleland and WUSD: they asked him for another 20-point increase this year in the students’ standardized test scores. The 2010 test scores in West Sacramento jumped 21 points, from 720 to 741. Last week, led by board president Dave Westin, the board asked Gilleland for another 20-point jump.

Students in the district are set to be tested in about two months, with results released in the fall.

“From my perspective, we should be able to hit a 20-point API increase,” said Westin. “For one thing, we’re starting from a low point. This isn’t Davis.”

Westin said he expected Gilleland to find the right personnel – school principals and others – to see that this happens.

“With personnel, we can go from ‘good’ to ‘great,’ he said. “The state’s objective for our API increase last year was 13 points. We’re only asking for seven points above that. We cannot have administrators or principals who have been inadequately evaluated. Some of them have to be evaluated and improved, and some of them just have to be moved on.”

Westin posited that there might be about 40 “problem” teachers in the district, standing in the way of progress.

“If we pulled the evaluations of those 40 teachers, probably some of (the job evaluations) have not been done, and some had ‘good’ evaluations because there’s no pressure,” Westin commented. “The issue is, at the end of the day, not budget, but personnel. . . We’re not Davis or Granite Bay, we are not starting so high (in test scores) that it’s hard to go up. I want a 20-point increase in API, and every single person in this district has to be evaluated properly, and we audit every single teacher in the district who has negative performance, and if they received a positive performance (evaluation), then we find out who gave it to them.”

Board member Mary Leland questioned the 20-point goal, saying “we need to set realistic goals that are ambitious.”

Speaking of troubled student performance:

“I don’t think that’s all on the schools,” said Leland. “A lot of it is socioeconomic, a lot of it is community norms.”

DR. DAYTON GILLELAND, superintendent of the Washington Unified School District

Superintendent Gilleland thought a gain of 20 points in this spring’s testing might be too much to demand:

“I’m not sure 20 points is reasonable and attainable,” he told the board. “This year’s testing is not going to be affected very much by what is decided here. . . If I had the right people in mind and could bring them in tomorrow, that wouldn’t guarantee (the results).”

But in the end, Westin’s goal prevailed, and the board “set the bar” at a 20-point API improvement this year.

Also on the new list of strategic goals are objectives such as clarifying student discipline policies (and finding ways to suspend or expel fewer students by intervening in problems earlier), enforcing the student dress code at all campuses, improving attendance, raising the passing rate for the high school exit exam, encouraging parent-teacher associations, and getting more families to use the “HomeLink” internet communication system.

The board also expressed a desire to change the expectation for high school graduation requirements in the district – raising the required course level to be in line with University of California admission requirements, unless a student’s family opts for a lower available standard.

Copyright News-Ledger 2011


‘Town hall’ for strategy


Jan. 19, 2011 —

By Steve Marschke,
News-Ledger Editor

Washington Unified School District hosted a “town hall” meeting on January 8 at River City High School’s library. The WUSD was asking for public input on where to focus its efforts this year, under the basic strategic guidelines offered by board president Dave Westin.
“As board president, I have the unique opportunity to set initiatives and have volunteers come forward to support them,” Westin told the Saturday-morning crowd.
Westin had earlier named these four goals:
There’s a “Whole Child Initiative,” a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” initiative, a “Better West Sacramento” initiative and a “Community Networking/Outreach Initiative.”
The Whole Child Initiative will “focus on how to provide a level playing field to all children in the district,” he explained. Westin hopes to rally all available government services to support kids in school.
The “Parents Bill of Rights” initiative will “empower parents to take charge of their children’s education,” said Westin.
The “Better West Sacramento Initiative” involves reaching out to other local agencies “because we really need to have a joint vision with the city and the other agencies around us,” Westin said. He later told the News-Ledger his administration will even extend across the river to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, to see if there are ways the two jurisdictions can partner and prosper.
The “Community Networking/Outreach” initiative is needed “because we live in the age of social networking,” Westin said. That networking can be put to better use, he feels.
Westin told the News-Ledger that he thinks the district can keep improving its student test score results, after this year’s reported 20-point gain within WUSD. He thinks the benchmark 800-point level is obtainable by virtually every school.
“I don’t see why, in the next three to four years, every school in the district, save maybe Yolo High and one other school, can’t be at 800 points,” he commented.
Several dozen people showed up at Saturday’s “town hall meeting.” District employees outnumbered the general public, although some of the employees reported having kids in school within the district. All of the participants, including board members, were divided into groups to “brainstorm” goals for WUSD.
In one group, comments covered a lot of ground.
Resident Liz Bagdazian worried about supporting kids who had problems with their basic needs.
“There are kids coming to school hungry,” she said. “Kids with a lot of baggage attached to them. It’s pretty black out there. . . we have to take care of the full child, not just the kid that’s going to come in and take your test.”
A 71-year old man said he had a grandson now in local schools after initially after being raised in Japan.
“You have kids who don’t have respect for their teacher,” said the grandfather. “(My grandson) complains every day, ‘gee, those kids are noisy.”
Several participants said the school district needs to strike a harder bargain with the city over who will pay for maintenance of jointly-used facilities, like tennis courts or the high school track.
Sue Brothers, a WUSD administrator, pushed for more “tech” training in school.
“I think we have a gap between high school and career,” she said. “I’d really like to see us do something about that.”

In the end, ideas from the first four groups of participants were distilled into seven guiding principles.
They included better communication from WUSD, closer ties to business partners, an improved system for delivering support services to pupils in need, equity among the facilities at different campuses, intervention and support for student achievement, a more organized mentoring program, and other “relationship building” between students and adults.
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Westin offers proposals for future of West Sac schools


By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento’s school board on Thursday re-elected businessman David Westin as board president and chose Teresa Blackmer as vice president for the coming year. In other board changes, former trustee Matt Stegman has finished his school board service after deciding not to run for re-election this year, and new board member Adam Menke has taken his seat as a trustee.

Westin outlined an “activist” agenda for his next one-year tenure as board president. He talked about those plans this week with the News-Ledger.

First, he noted his belief that Washington Unified School District is on the right track, as evidenced by its 2010 student test score results.

“We had a 20-point incremental gain in the API, while the state had a statewide gain of only 13 points,” said Westin. “All socioeconomic groups improved in the district. Southport Elementary School hit 800 points, joining Bridgeway Island.”

WUSD tied for the second highest district API gain in the region, he said, beating 12 regional neighbors.

DAVE WESTIN Re-elected to presidency of Washington Unified School District Board of Trustees

Westin last week announced the creation of school board subcommittees to cover four different initiatives.

“The first is the ‘Whole Child Initiative,’ to look at bringing social services into economically challenged areas as well as to underprivileged children, to level the playing field for them,” said Westin.

Which social services?

“Mental, emotional, physical – the full gamut,” he answered. Westin assigned board members Mary Leland and Teresa Blackmer to that subcommittee.

Next is a “Parent’s Bill of Rights,” assigned to Sandra Vargas and Adam Menke to work on.

“It will cover the rights a parent has as they manage their children’s education,” he said.

Third is his “A Better West Sacramento Initiative.” This effort will focus on getting the district to work better with outside partners to add their resources to WUSD.

“This includes anything from ‘can we leverage grants that other agencies can bring to the table’ to money that other agencies can go apply for, and more joint use agreements,” explained Westin.

He put himself and Vargas on the “Better West Sacramento” initiative.

Finally, he offered a “Community Networking – Social Networking and Community Outreach” subcommittee of Leland and Blackmer.

“It’s a combination of social networks and community outreach,” said Westin.

“My youngest daughter, Annika, who is two, will graduate in 2029,” he said in written comments explaining his proposals. “Facebook did not exist six years ago. The world as we know it has changed and will continue to change. . . the essential question I ask myself every day is, ‘what needs to change in regards to our leadership to prepare students for the 21st century and beyond?’”

Westin said there will be a combination “town hall meeting” and strategic planning session on Saturday, Jan. 8, most likely from 8 a.m. to noon at River City High School. Final details will be confirmed later.

He hopes to bring an outline of the “Parent’s Bill of Rights” in front of the school board on Jan. 13.

Westin also promises the first “State of the District” address at Washington Unified, during the first week in October, 2011. Although the local chamber of commerce has hosted a “State of the City” address by the mayor for a number of years, the school district has not yet had a similar tradition.

  UPDATE from our Dec. 29 calendar section: The school district has scheduled its ‘Town Hall Meeting’ for Sat., Jan. 8, 2011, at 8 a.m. at River City High School, 1 Raider Lane, West Sacramento. On the agenda is discussion of district goals and Westin’s initiatives.

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