Vision for Parcel Tax, New Charter School Concept Gains Support from Denair Unified Trustees

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

A parcel tax to pay for complete salary restoration for all Denair Unified School District employees will not be on the November ballot. The earliest community members could vote on the idea would be next March, school trustees were told Thursday night.

A parcel tax would add less than $100 per year to each property owner’s tax bill. The concept has been floated as a way to restore pay for teachers, classified employees and administrators, all of whom took steep pay cuts in 2013 when the district teetered on the edge of state takeover.

Though the district’s finances have since stabilized and overall enrollment – especially at the elementary level – has shown growth, longtime employees still are paid today about what they were 11 years ago.

Trustees steadfastly have pledged to close that gap, but only when assured that higher wages could be sustained without impacting the budget.

Thursday, the board gave the go-ahead for new Superintendent Terry Metzger and Chief Business Officer Linda Covello to continue investigating how to bring a parcel tax to a special election as soon as March. To pass, it would need two-thirds approval from voters.

A public hearing to flesh out more details and solicit community reaction is likely to take place at the board’s next meeting Sept. 13. A special election could cost the district as much as $50,000.

The parcel tax might only be in place for three or four years, trustees were told. All the money would be used to restore salaries, which has been a major issue not just for employees but for community members concerned about turnover among teachers.

“The parcel tax contributes to education in Denair because it allows us to restore salaries, hire and retain staff, and advance the quality of education,” Metzger explained.

Coupled with a discussion about a potential parcel tax was a presentation by Metzger and Covello about transforming DUSD into a charter district, which would allow greater flexibility in programming and teacher assignments.

Denair Elementary Charter Academy and Denair Charter Academy (for home-school and independent study students) already operate in such a manner. A new charter would extend to Denair Middle School and Denair High School.

Key to the charter concept, the leaders explained, is the creation of fully integrated “pathways” that begin in kindergarten and extend through high school. Parents and students could choose from career and technical education pathways that include not only core academics but music, Spanish and world languages, young farmers, special education and possibly law enforcement.

Exposure to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) concepts would be emphasized in each pathway, as would leadership activities.

The idea is to prepare students not just for college, but to move from school into productive careers.

“This vision is far ahead of what other California districts are doing,” said Metzger. “This is cutting edge stuff.”

At least half of Denair’s teachers must sign off on the charter idea, but Metzger said “we want a bigger consensus than that.” Community input must be solicited and a committee formed to write the new charter, which ultimately needs approval from the state Board of Education. Like the parcel tax, that also could come early next year.

There is much to do before either vision can be implemented, though.

“We need to make sure this is the right decision for Denair Unified,” Metzger said.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard a presentation from the district’s bond agent that shows the decision in June to refinance long-term construction bonds sold in 2007 will save taxpayers an estimated $895,000 over the next 14 years. In addition, a separate refinancing of certificates of deposit issued in 2004 to build the middle school will save another $452,000 over 24 years.
  • Listened as each campus principal reported on the first day of class, which began Wednesday. DECA Principal Kelly Beard said three grades are completely full, with waiting lists for two of them. High school Principal Kara Backman said there were 30 more students on campus than on the first day of school last year.
  • Swore in Logan Pierce and Scott Badal as this year’s student board members.

Watched a 15-minute documentary profiling three Denair students. The video, called “Unified,” already has been viewed more than 19,000 times since it was released Aug. 2.

New Superintendent Dr. Terry Metzger Welcomes Denair Unified Staff Back to Work

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Terry Metzger has been superintendent of the Denair Unified School District since July 1, but Monday was her first chance to introduce herself to most of her non-administrative staff. Those who haven’t met her before were treated to a fun, inspiring and illuminating presentation about their new boss.

For instance, while sitting in the Coyote Center, they watched as Metzger narrated a series of coyote photos – a pup (acknowledgement that she’s the newest employee), a playful young coyote (she likes to laugh and encourages professional humor to relieve stress), a serious adult coyote (to underscore her long-term  commitment to the district) and cartoon character Wile E. Coyote (she described her “hidden agenda” as providing every student with the best possible education, including a willingness to employ “rockets, anvils, and dynamite” to get kids to learn).

Metzger also offered personal anecdotes about her family and career, which brought her to Denair from the Rincon Valley Union School District in Santa Rosa, where she was assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2012.

At one point, she flashed a photo taken on the same day a year ago. In it, she has casts on each arm, the result of a fall that broke her both elbows and led to two surgeries, including a titanium elbow replacement on her right arm. She was in the hospital for eight days and told employees Monday about “some of the lessons learned through trauma.”

One of them, Metzger said, was not to give up on your dreams even in the face of such a serious situation.

“The first thing I asked the orthopedic surgeon was, ‘I have an overseas trip planned in nine weeks. Do you think I’ll be able to go?’ ” Metzger recalled. “He told me he doubted it; a stand he took until about two weeks before my trip when he said it would be difficult but possible.

“It was the trip of a lifetime! We dialed back our expectations and I had to promise my husband I would not even ask to ride a bike while there, but it was a wonderful adventure. I still had compression sleeves, but no casts or braces.”

The day after they returned from Europe, Metzger and her family faced another harrowing situation. Sonoma County was on fire. Twice, they had to evacuate their home in Santa Rosa, each time not knowing if their neighborhood would be standing when they were allowed back in.

She showed Denair employees a photo of the Tubbs Fire, in which 24 people died and nearly 5,000 homes were destroyed last fall.

Metzger’s home in eastern Santa Rosa was saved, but she knew many people who lost everything. She said the experience taught her the value of community, about friends and neighbors being there for each other in the worst circumstances many will ever face. She said that community spirit – which she already has seen in Denair – is an important component of quality schools.

Metzger also shared some of her learning philosophies, gleaned from more than 30 years as a teacher and administrator. She talked about the ways students learn in and out of the classroom, and encouraged her staff to strive for “cognitive conflict,” which she defines as a collegial culture that promotes professional growth.

The new superintendent can’t wait for classes to begin Wednesday. Asked her plans, she said: “I will choose joy by visiting each school and joining in the first-day excitement. I can’t wait to start meeting students and their families!”

Denair School Schedules

  • DECA: 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
  • DMS: 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
  • DHS: 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
  • Bus questions: (209) 632-9917

Documentary Released about 3 Denair Students

Submitted by Denair High School

A 15-minute documentary profiling three Denair students has been released and is available for the public to see. It was posted this week on the Denair High School Facebook page.

In May, a team of documentarians from Ohio spent a week following the students from their homes through their days at school and back again. The goal was to capture teen life in a typical rural American town.

The idea was the brainchild of Denair High Principal Kara Backman, whose objective was to shine a positive light on the community as well as her campus. Her voice can be heard on the video along with former Superintendent Aaron Rosander, teachers, and students.

“I was thrilled to see it,” Backman said. “I think it paints a true picture of our students and staff. I was emotional.”

Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, she said, from community members to people on the other side of the country who have never been to Denair.“It’s all over social media,” Backman said. “I’m getting calls left and right. I got   one from friend in Pennsylvania who was sobbing.”

The students were selected with the blessings of their families. They are Connor Prock (an incoming freshman at the high school), soon-to-be senior Adrianna Snyder and recent graduate Alex Flores. They were chosen as authentic representatives of the broader student body and community.

Prock comes from a prominent farming family with generational roots in Denair. His parents, Joe and Danielle, are both Denair High graduates. His grandfather and uncle both have served on the school board. They operate a dairy with thousands of cows. Connor raises beef cattle, which affords a glimpse into agricultural life.

Snyder lives with her aunt and uncle, who adopted her, and their 11-year-old autistic son. She learned to sign at a young age to communicate with her grandmother, who is deaf.

Flores is the second-oldest of five children among an immigrant family from Mexico. His older brother was the first family member to attend college; Alex will be the second when he starts this fall at UC Davis.

Each segment of the documentary opens at the student’s home with them literally getting out of bed, brushing their teeth, doing chores, caring for relatives and having breakfast before heading off to class.

Poignant interviews with their families, friends and teachers are interspersed by information about the community. Background footage and drone videos offer different perspectives of Denair.

Backman intends to show the video on the district’s social media sites, at student events or Back to School Nights, at large conferences … anywhere there’s an audience willing to learn more about the many good things happening in Denair.

She also said it’s been submitted for a film festival in Ohio. She expects to learn next week if it was accepted.

Free Breakfast, Lunch, & Snack Available to all Denair Students

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Every student enrolled in the Denair Unified School District qualifies for three free meals each day starting this school year.

Nearly half the roughly 1,300 students at the district’s four campuses meet the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), allowing the district to offer free breakfast, lunch and an after-school snack to every student. A district qualifies for the program if more than 40% of families in its attendance area are enrolled in Medi-Cal. Students also qualify if they are certified as homeless, runaway, migrant, foster or enrolled in a federally funded Head Start program.

Denair’s participation and the federal and state reimbursements will save the district an estimated $5,000 this school year in food subsidies, said Chief Business Officer Linda Covello.

There are many benefits to the program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides funding and oversight:

  • Students: Access to free nutritious meals for all students, less time spent in cashier lines and more time to eat nutritious meals
  • Parents: No household application means less paperwork and no worries about lunch accounts
  • School staff: Streamlined meal service operation and more time for students to eat their food
  • Administrators: Reduced paperwork and administrative costs, no need to track unpaid meal charges, improved program integrity, and more nourished students ready to learn and grow

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Hard Work and Long Hours Pay Off for Denair High FFA Students at Stanislaus County Fair

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

TURLOCK – There are no shortcuts to success for FFA students at the Stanislaus County Fair. Just ask Brielle Prock and Yasmin Mendoza.

The two Denair High sophomores-to-be spent more than 50 hours – including three consecutive 12-hour days – preparing their joint entry in the outdoor garden exhibit. Together, they transformed a barren 10-foot by 10-foot plot into a colorful July 4th backyard barbecue motif, highlighted by flowers planted in the shape of an American flag.

Their hard work impressed the judges, who awarded them first place in their category and defeating larger teams from Turlock High and Enochs in Modesto.

“We started planning it in May before school ended, but most of the work happened later,” Prock said of the garden. “We knocked it out in 10 days.”

She credited many in the Denair community for their help, including monetary support from the Denair FFA Ag Boosters that allowed them to purchase the flowers.

Long days are a common theme for the 41 Denair students who entered livestock or projects into this year’s fair, which wraps up its 10-day run on Sunday.

“The fair is kind of an addiction,” admitted Blain Cole, a junior this fall who is the incoming president of the Denair FFA. He’s often on site by 6 a.m. with other students to tend to their animals. He sometimes goes home or leaves to for lunch in the afternoon, but returns later to watch over his Hampshire lamb and mingle with friends. It’s the same fair schedule he’s been on for six years.

“It’s fun,” he said, “but the rush of showing (animals) can wear you out.”

Courtney Prock, a recent Denair High graduate (and Brielle’s cousin), also is a fair veteran. Her entry this year was an unnamed 97-pound Boer goat she’s had since April. It’s her fourth time showing goats or pigs. She enjoys the competition and doesn’t mind the long days.

“My sophomore year was probably the best year,” she said. “All the people showing goats were nice. And a bunch of us played cards and board games” on folding tables near the stalls.

Continue reading “Hard Work and Long Hours Pay Off for Denair High FFA Students at Stanislaus County Fair” »