As the old Gershwin jazz standard goes “it’s summertime and the living is easy.” Well summer is almost gone and fall is coming on. While I look forward to this fall, we begin yet another school year in challenging times. Although improving, the California economy continues to struggle. The funding our state can provide to its public schools is still lower than the level provided for the 2008-09 school year and among the lowest funding levels in the country.
In these times, I think it is important to look at our Sunnyvale schools to gauge how we are meeting these challenges. To do so, I want to share with you my thoughts on the factors that define the kind of high performing schools ours have always been. Maintaining them calls on all of us as these factors require our constant attention to collaboration, a climate of high expectations, a clear and focused mission, and support from all community stakeholders.
The first of these is student achievement. Our district uses a number of state and local tests to evaluate our students. On each, the students in the Sunnyvale School District continue to demonstrate high levels of academic achievement. What’s also important is that student test scores in our district have shown steady improvement over time. In fact, over the past two years we have seen double digit growth in the Academic Performance Index in all schools and all students groups.
Curriculum, Instruction and Programs that Support Student Learning
Our schools also offer our students a rich curriculum that allows them to grow and learn. From their first day in kindergarten through promotion from 8th grade, our students benefit from quality instruction they receive from our dedicated and creative teachers, current textbook and curricular adoptions, and a range of programs and services we are able to offer that support the whole child. These include visual and performing arts through Starting Arts, counseling services through Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) and blended learning opportunities through our investments in instructional technology and computer based learning programs.
Quality and Mission of the Staff that Serve Students
Sunnyvale School District has assembled a highly talented staff of teachers and staff that support students. The talent of our teachers was recently recognized by the Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year the Chamber presented Elizabeth Hernandez, a 5th grade teacher at San Miguel Elementary School, with its 2012 Educator of the Year Award. Likewise, Sunnyvale School District has selected Meredith Rietdorf as its Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013. Meredith is a kindergarten teacher at Cumberland Elementary School. These teachers represent very well the professional, talented, hard-working teachers in all of the classrooms in our district.
Learning and Recreational Environment
Thanks to the voters of our school district, our teachers and students work and learn in well maintained classrooms and buildings. Our schools have been or are in the process of being modernized and expanded thanks to the strong support the community and voters gave to Measure P, a local school bond, in 2004. Since that time, Measure P has funded nearly $100 million in school facility improvements for the students of Sunnyvale School District.
Fiscal and Financial Health of the School District
Conservative financial management over the long term, partnerships, the support of employee groups and the strong support of local voters have all contributed to the fiscal and financial health of the district in these challenging times. The parcel tax approved in 2011 (Measure B) provides the district with approximately $1 million each year. Although these funds represent less than 2% of the district’s annual budget, they provide the teachers and students of our district with a vital fiscal buffer that provides our classroom programs with some protection from the shifts and changes in the state budget. As a result of all these efforts the district remains financially strong heading into the 2012-2013 school year.
Support of Community
Finally, one thought about the future. As noted, our local schools have benefitted greatly from the strong support offered by our community and the voters of our district over many years. This November holds the most profound election in decades for public education. I hope that all of the voters in California will demonstrate the same kind of support for all of California’s public schools as our local community has done by approving the governor’s tax proposals. A failure to do so will greatly increase the fiscal challenge faced by all of California public schools – including ours.
My best wishes for a highly successful 2012-2013 school year.
Benjamin H. Picard, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools