Retiring Denair Leader Warns District Finances Still ‘Fragile,’ Emphasizes Need to ‘Increase and Sustain’ Revenue

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Even as the search for a new superintendent enters its final stage, the current leader of the Denair Unified School District reminded the community Thursday night not to become complacent about the financial progress that has been made in the past four years.

Aaron Rosander, the man hired in 2014 to engineer the district’s turnaround from the brink of fiscal crisis, will retire at the end of this year. His replacement has been chosen, though he or she is not expected to be publicly introduced until the May 10 Board of Trustees meeting.

The new superintendent will inherit a district that has made significant progress to earn back public trust by restoring financial stability and improving classroom results. But crucial work remains, according to Rosander.

Enrollment at the high school and middle school must begin to grow again, innovative new educational programs must be introduced and employee salaries must be fully restored after deep cuts enacted in 2013.

The key, he believes, is a two-pronged strategy unveiled two months ago: creation of a new charter concept to cover “seamless academic progression” from kindergarten through high school coupled with voter approval of a small parcel tax to provide necessary revenue.

Rosander shared with trustees Thursday night a financial review from the Stanislaus County Office of Education that expressed concern “about our enrollment … as it relates to our ongoing financial condition.”

He called Denair’s budget situation “balanced but fragile” and urged the district to “respond to our circumstance by embracing viable initiatives that will increase and sustain … revenue.”

Rosander’s replacement will no doubt play a pivotal role in galvanizing public support for the proposals. Continue reading “Retiring Denair Leader Warns District Finances Still ‘Fragile,’ Emphasizes Need to ‘Increase and Sustain’ Revenue” »

Denair Trustees Whittle Superintendent Choices to Final 4

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

The Denair Unified School District board narrowed the list of applicants to become the next superintendent to four finalists at a special meeting Monday night.

Trustees also announced the names of nine employees and community members who will participate in two days of interviews this weekend that will lead to the selection of the next superintendent.

The board’s search for a replacement for Aaron Rosander has been guided by consultants from McPherson & Jacobson, who helped trustees winnow a list of 21 applicants to the final four. Rosander announced in February he will leave the district at the end of June after 4½ years.

Chief Business Officer Linda Covello, the district’s lead official for the search, said applications were received from educators in Stanislaus County, other parts of California and outside the state.

Two finalists will interview with trustees as well as the stakeholder committee on Saturday and two more will do the same on Sunday. The meetings are not open to the public.

The members of the stakeholder committee are student Adrianna Snyder, community member Dennis Findley, classified employee Gayle Schell, teacher Deborah Voss, Senior Director David Naranjo, Denair High Principal Kara Backman, and parents Gerardo Retana, John Greff, Cheryl Rice and Leticia Christen.

The committee will provide input and insight about the finalists to trustees, who expect to decide on a new superintendent Sunday night. Once that choice is made, McPherson & Jacobson will conduct a final round of background checks before an offer is extended.

That person is expected to be introduced at the May 10 board meeting, with the new superintendent in place by July 1.

New Chromebooks a Big Hit in Denair Classrooms

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Technology permeates every classroom in the Denair Unified School District. It’s not a matter of if teachers and students will incorporate computer-based instruction as part of everyday learning, but how they will do it.

From the earliest grades at Denair Elementary Charter Academy to middle and high school students across the street and across all subject areas, access to technology is an expectation, not a luxury.

Every Denair student at every grade level has a district email account and access to Google Drive that allows them to log in in every class. They also can sign into their account from home to work on projects or complete homework.

“These kids have grown up with technology in their hands, unlike any other generation before them,” said Mark Ranes, a former teacher who is now the district’s technology director. “Most were using mobile devices before they could write. They are wired differently than us adults.

“We’ve reached a point in education where we are no longer teaching ‘technology’ to students; we’re teaching them to use technology to learn.”

The district has invested heavily to get to this point. This year, it used nearly $300,000 in state funding saved over several years to add 18 Chromebook carts to its tech arsenal. The portable carts can be moved from class to class. Each contains up to 30 Dell Chromebook computers with charging stations.

The new computers brought the district’s number of carts to 20, with another five in the pipeline for next year. Eventually, Ranes said, each student is likely to be assigned his or her own computer.

Demand has been tremendous across the four campuses – DECA, Denair Middle School, Denair High School and Denair Charter Academy. The rollout was delayed until the district could upgrade its wireless network last fall. Once that was completed, the computer floodgates opened.

“We were asked on pretty much a weekly basis when they were coming to the sites,” Ranes said. “We didn’t want to let them out in the wild until I was sure the network could handle 450 new devices.” Continue reading “New Chromebooks a Big Hit in Denair Classrooms” »

Denair Trustees Hear Update on Superintendent Search

Denair Unified School District trustees heard an update Wednesday night from the consulting firm leading the search for a new superintendent. The current superintendent, Aaron Rosander, announced in February he will leave the district at the end of June after 4½ years.

In late February, a representative from McPherson & Jacobson held stakeholder meetings with 72 people representing community members, students, teachers, classified staff, administrators and parents. Each participant was asked to respond to four questions:

  • What are the good things about your community?
  • What are the good things about your schools?
  • What issues should the superintendent be aware of as he/she comes into the district?
  • What skills, qualities or characteristics should the new superintendent possess to be successful here?

Respondents to the first two questions frequently mentioned the tight-knit nature of the Denair community and its bond with the school district. Many referred to the relationship as reflecting the closeness of a “family” and believe the bond formed through generations of Denair residents is an important asset.

In terms of key issues the new superintendent should understand, enrollment – particularly at Denair High School and Denair Middle School – was a common theme. Both campuses have seen fewer students in recent years, offsetting consistent growth at Denair Elementary Charter Academy.

Teachers cited complete salary restoration after pay cuts were imposed in 2013 as well as what they view as a high turnover rate among teachers as well as administrators.

Some in the community expressed concern that the new superintendent will be at a disadvantage because he or she is not available now to help guide the Board of Trustees’ decision to write a new charter for the district as well as seek a parcel tax, which would provide money for salary increases. Continue reading “Denair Trustees Hear Update on Superintendent Search” »

‘Buddy Bench’ Dedicated in DECA Teacher’s Memory

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Mark Selee was known for the special bond he formed with students at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. Not only was he a popular fourth-grade teacher, he also was a frequent presence on the playground, often joining basketball games or other activities with youngsters. He promoted inclusion, interaction and respect among students.

All of which makes the memorial bench recently dedicated in Selee’s honor so appropriate. Known as a “buddy bench,” it is a way to promote kindness and foster friendships on the playground.

“If someone is sitting on the bench, they want to be included in whatever is happening,” explained DECA Principal Kelly Beard at Thursday’s monthly Denair Unified Board of Trustees meeting.

Selee’s sudden death from a heart attack during Thanksgiving break in 2015 rocked the DECA campus and the saddened the Denair community. But the memory of his energetic, positive presence remains for his peers as well as some of the students who were first- and second-graders then.

The bench installed Monday provides a tangible way for all to carry out Selee’s legacy. It is on the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade playground. It has Coyote paw prints, but rather that sport a shade of purple like most items on campus, the bench is painted in gold and black – the colors of Selee’s favorite professional sports teams from Pittsburgh (Pirates, Steelers and Penguins).

“As a staff, we decided we wanted it those colors,” Beard said.

A second memorial bench for Selee is on order, she said. In addition, there is a memorial plaque for Selee in the gym. “Some of our teachers touch it every time they walk in,” Beard said.

DECA also has a memorial bench for a former student on its kindergarten playground.

In other action Thursday night, the board:

  • Heard a budget update that estimates the district will end the year with a cash balance of more than $3.5 million, but still is on track to have as many as 44 fewer students than a year ago. Most of the decline has come at Denair High School and Denair Middle School. Chief Business Officer Linda Covello also told trustees that rising pension costs continue to challenge the district. She estimated that contributions to CalSTRS (teachers) and CalPERS (classified staff) will cost the district an additional $151,000 this year.
  • Unanimously approved a contract for $237,102 with Stanislaus County Office of Education for business and human resources services, early childhood education training for teachers, special education and health services, instructional support services, college and career planning, outdoor education, student wellness and school safety, technology and learning services.
  • Voted 5-0 to approve school calendars for the next two years. In 2018-19, school will start Wednesday, Aug. 8 at all campuses. Winter break will be Friday, Dec. 21 through Friday Jan. 4. Spring break will be Friday, April 19 through Friday April 26. And high school graduation will be Friday, May 24.
  • Approved a trip for FFA students later this spring to the 90th annual Leadership Conference on April 22-25 in Anaheim. High school students will be exposed to workshops and seminars on eight ag-related careers, hear from speakers, take tours and meet other future leaders. They also get to go to the nearby Disney California Adventure.