Terry Metzger is an optimist. But the new Denair Unified School District superintendent also is a realist. It will take a clear, credible, honest message to gain enough community support to pass a parcel tax next spring – the linchpin in the district’s two-part vision to restore salaries and recruit teachers to propel education forward.
The second piece of that vision involves transforming DUSD into a charter district, which would allow greater flexibility in programming and teacher assignments.
Earlier this month, Metzger held town hall meetings with community members and staff to explain how the concepts support the long-term goals of the district and to listen to questions and comments.
Thursday night, she reported on the meetings to the district’s Board of Trustees.
Part of the conversation, Metzger explained, was asking those in attendance to participate in “vision casting.” She asked her audiences to finish two open-ended sentences:
- “When my child graduates …”
- “A great school …”
Respondents used words and phrases like “competence,” “employable,” “prepared for a global world,” “community leaders,” “internally motivated,” and “passionate and compassionate” to complete the first sentence.
For the second, they said characteristics of a great school include “high expectations,” “accountability for everyone,” “are inviting and inclusive,” “prepare students for college and life,” “are safe and stable,” “have excellent staff,” “are innovative,” “support parents and families” and “have a sense of community voice.”
Potentially passing a parcel tax and adopting a districtwide charter are two ways to boost the quality of education in Denair.
Metzger describes the parcel tax as a way “launch the vision” by restoring salaries that were slashed in 2013. Though the district’s finances have since stabilized and overall enrollment has grown, longtime employees still are paid today about what they were 11 years ago.
“It would be a short-term community investment in DUSD that will bring long-term community benefits,” she explained at the Sept. 4 meeting.
A parcel tax would add between $85 to $96 per year to each property owner’s tax bill for no more than five years. The earliest community members could vote on the idea would be next March. Before that happens, trustees must hold a public hearing and then vote to move ahead with a special election, which could cost up to $50,000. Two-thirds of those voting would have to approve for it to pass.
Trustee Crystal Sousa, who attended one of the community meetings, said a parcel tax would be a challenge.
“There still seems to be some mistrust and fear (from the community),” she said. “We have to be extremely clear and extremely transparent. Our messaging has to be right on. We are committed to full salary restoration. We know how hard the staff works and we want to accomplish that.”
Writing a districtwide charter also is a key part of the district’s long-term vision. Thursday, trustees directed Metzger to begin drafting it.
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, agriculture, and possibly law enforcement.
Exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, 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.
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.
In other action Thursday, trustees:
- Heard a presentation by high school Principal Kara Backman and Chief Budget Officer Linda Covello about the district’s application for a state Career Technical Education facilities grant to build a farm and technology center. The goal is to boost student skills, especially with agribusiness dominant in this region. The project is estimated to cost $3.9 million; the grant would cover half, with the district using bonds to pay its share. The project would be built on the basketball courts behind the middle school. The farm would have an amphitheater/outdoor classroom, room for livestock and land to grow plants. It could be the site for a farmers market on the weekend. The technology center would have six temperature controlled classrooms and a lab in the middle, providing many opportunities to use the most current technology in the Agriculture and Natural Resources industry sector.
- Listened as Metzger explained the significance of and how to interpret the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP). The tests in English and math are taken online over seven hours each spring by students in grades 3 through 8 as well as high school juniors. The results are reported statewide. Denair students in 2016-18 performed under state averages. “They are high profile and high stakes, but they are not what we are about,” Metzger cautioned. “They are often misinterpreted. They represent the cumulative effects of instruction.” The superintendent pledged to work with teachers to evaluate the results and identify what is working and what isn’t. “This is a starting point for us,” Metzger said.
Approved an update of their governance handbook that lays out shared goals and objectives in hopes of “working toward the future while learning from the past.” The document includes a revised mission statement: “Denair Unified School District empowers tomorrow’s leaders through exemplary instruction and powerful innovative programs. Our exceptional school environments are the best education choice for all students.”