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State Superintendent of Public Schools outlines some plans for 2014

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 2:56 pm in Bay Point, California, Education, Pittsburg, Tom Torlakson.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, speaks at his inauguration at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord.

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is already gearing up for his re-election run next year.

“It’s the toughest work I’ve ever done, but the most rewarding work,” said the Pittsburg resident, who is a former Mt. Diablo school district science teacher and cross country coach. “I love working with students. I’m a teacher and a coach and this gives me a chance to work on a large scale to help students across the state — not only help them, but be inspired by them. I am just amazed at what students are doing and what a great future they have and what potential we could have helping them get their education.”

During an end-of-the-year interview, we discussed several issues, including the new Common Core standards and the state’s school funding formula, which will appear in a story in this newspaper. In this blog, I am excerpting another portion of the interview related to Torlakson’s emphasis on student absenteeism and career technical education.

“Q. What can be done to cut down on student absenteeism and why is that important?

A. On the big focus points for next year, including absenteeism, we have to have parent involvement. We recently had a chronic absenteeism symposium in Orange County. We called it ‘Keep kids in school and out of court.’ It’s the whole idea of turning off the faucet on the school-to-prison pipeline with intervention — more counselors and on-campus suspensions, instead of sending them off to their neighborhood. We’re looking at disproportionate suspensions of African Americans and Latinos. How can we help diffuse situations, help with problems in their lives, implement more effective restorative justice programs and provide more counselors to help these students?

In some areas like Oakland, Richmond and Los Angeles, 20 percent of kindergartners are chronically absent. Once that starts, students get farther behind. We already know low-income an English learners come into kindergarten with one-fifth the vocabulary of students who come from homes where parents read to them. You can’t learn if you’re not there, even if you have the best teachers and best facilities. We need services and interventions to help parents, get kids to school and knock down absenteeism. That’s a moneymaker for the districts as well as the right thing to do with kids. Once the kids are in their seats, the school gets funding for them.

Q. What kinds of interventions do you have in mind?

A. I did some of this when I was a teacher in Pacifica High School in the community of West Pittsburg — everything from calling parents to sending someone out. I used to go out to neighborhoods in Bay Point, which was then called West Pittsburg. I would go out and sometimes I interrupted the family’s dinner and I said, ‘I’m your son’s teacher and we have some issues we want to work out.’

Some students are being left at home because they have an elderly grandparent in a wheelchair and no one to watch them. Or, mom says, ‘I don’t have money to pay for day care for 3-year-old sister Sally, you take are of her.’ We sent social workers out and helped find where they could get elderly care or child care.

Some parents need a wake up call from the district. Attorney General Kamala Harris has worked on this — to inform parents not only of their moral, but legal responsibilities.

We also have a model SARB (School Attendance Review Boards) program that deals with kids who are truant and missing school, sharing best practices. So, those are things we’re already doing and could expand on, along with involving parents.

Q. What’s another priority for you?

A. Career Technical Education is a new emphasis. There are nearly 500 Partnership Academies in the state. They link learning in all curriculum areas at high schools to career pathways, to the real world. My department will be issuing requests for grant proposals in January for the new $250 million Career Pathways Trust fund.

I created a Career Readiness Initiative three years ago. It ties into the goals of the new Common Core standards, with relevancy, workplace readiness and 21st Century skills, which employers want. They want team work. They want communication skills. They want critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

What do you think the state should do to cut down on absenteeism and prepare students for the workforce?

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  • Doctor J

    Is MDUSD providing the kinds of interventions Coach Torlakson recommends? “more counselors and on-campus suspensions” ? NO. “services and interventions to help parents, get kids to school ” ? NO. “interventions — everything from calling parents to sending someone out” ? NO. ” I [Torlakson] used to go out to neighborhoods in Bay Point, . . . and sometimes I interrupted the family’s dinner and I said, ‘I’m your son’s teacher and we have some issues we want to work out.’” ? NO. ” We sent social workers out “? NO. So I ask, if Tom could do it, why can’t MDUSD administrators and teachers do it ?

  • Vindex

    Theresa… Merry Christmas. I am hoping that we start to think outside the box here. These ideas are not new nor are they effective in most cases. I’m hoping you could do some stories on Top-notch private schools in the area like NorthCreek Academy or Seven Hills School. I am a long time public School teacher, but I must say these schools in particular have opened my eyes that the public schools are falling behind. Maybe studying them can help the public schools stop staring in the mirror and get different takes on how to handle complex problems.

  • tmharrington

    Thanks for bringing up private schools. Here’s another that could threaten MDUSD: De La Salle HS in Concord is requesting a permit to create a new 5th-8th grade academy. The city is accepting comments through Jan. 21 on the proposal to allow elementary, middle and secondary schools in the West Concord Mixed Use Development Area.

  • tmharrington

    Here’s a CC Times story with more excerpts from my interview with Torlakson: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_24791490/things-are-looking-up-california-schools-state-superintendent

  • Doctor J

    Can MDUSD meet the new January proposed LCFF regulations AND give MDEA the increases they propose ? I don’t think so, but would love to see how MDEA says the district can justify it ? See SBE Agenda items 20-21 and attachments. http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr14/agenda201401.asp

  • g. de la verdad

    Great Question Dr. J. Who’s at the bargaining table, and what’s in it for them? The mushrooms are the students/parents/taxpayers. Who’s telling the (real) truth about the real cost of the “bargains.”

    http://www.mdusd.org/NewsRoom/Pages/SummaryofDistrict%27sSalaryandBenefitsProposal.aspx

    “They” (Me-Too folks) want us to look at MDEA “average” pay from the standpoint of Class 2/Step 4, avarage 2012 pay at $49,606. and project the 3% plus a 2% ‘Gift’ and say “Well, gee, that’s not so bad.”

    But what was the true “average” pay for MDEA as of Dec. 2012? Forget about the spoon-fed BS of Class 2/Step 4. Chew on what the State says the true ‘average’ was and work your own 3% + 2% gift. Is the district asking us to ride along on their addition of a tall stack of student teachers and let their stipend pay sway the ‘averages’ and skew the totals? Who knows?

    http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/26/995141/see-how-well-your-school-district.html?appSession=403429948081788&RecordID=703&PageID=3&PrevPageID=2&cpipage=1&CPIsortType=&CPIorderBy=&cbCurrentRecordPosition=1

    Now subtract the difference from what will actually go to the kids’ education. Don’t forget the “Gift” that goes in every pocket in the district. Don’t forget the projected “Qualified” budget in 2015-16.

  • g. de la verdad

    Tidbit of info or core problem indicator — for one of the worst performing districts in the state?

    California totals:
    Central office administrators: 2,991
    Students: 6,116,143
    Adminstrators per 10,000 students: 4.9

    This was in Jan. 2010 and only looks at district-level administration, so it doesn’t include school-level administrators — principals, for instance.

    Where does MDUSD Central Office fit?

  • Doctor J

    DLS’s 5-8th proposal, just shows how poorly the public perception of MDUSD’s delivery of education is — this is actually worse than a charter application since it is not subject to MDUSD review.

  • tmharrington

    The DLS proposal is NOT subject to MDUSD review, but — unlike MDUSD projects — it IS subject to review by the city of Concord. MDUSD is always free to comment along with the public.

  • Doctor J

    Top 12 Education Issues for 2014: Great article ! MDUSD is in the thick of each of these issues. http://edsource.org/today/2014/edwatch-2014-top-12-education-issues-in-the-new-year/55534#.Usw9ok2A3IW

  • Doctor J

    Watch out MDUSD !! Gov. Brown says you need parent and public input in how to spend the new money ! “The new funding formula also promises increased transparency in school funding — empowering parents and local communities to access information in a more user‑friendly manner and enhancing their ability to engage with their local governing board regarding school financial matters.” Gov. Brown also provides money for Class Size Reduction in K-3: Where is the CSR in MDUSD ? “A base grant for each local education agency equivalent to $7,829 per unit of average daily attendance (ADA), inclusive of the application of 2013‑14 and 2014‑15 cost‑of‑living adjustments. This amount also includes an adjustment of 10.4 percent to the base grant to support lowering class sizes in grades K‑3, and an adjustment of 2.6 percent to reflect the cost of operating career technical education programs in high schools.” http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2014-15/pdf/BudgetSummary/Kthru12Education.pdf

  • Doctor J

    BEWARE teachers ! You are going to be funding additional increases out of your pocket to make STRS solvent. The governor warned yesterday that the state should not be looked at to bailout STRS insolvency: “Because retirement costs are part of total compensation costs, school districts and community colleges should anticipate absorbing much of any new CalSTRS funding requirement. The state’s long-term role as a direct contributor to the plan should be evaluated.” Because of Prop 98, the state will not be able to require districts to absorb the additional costs as Prop 98 would require the state to reimburse the districts — in essence a direct contribution. The only alternative to state contributions, would be to increase the teacher’s contributions to STRS to restore its solvency. And if you want to know more about the STRS insolvency, read this from the Legislative Analyst’s Office: http://edsource.org/today/wp-content/uploads/CalSTRS-Funding-032013.pdf

  • tmharrington

    WCCUSD appears to be far ahead of MDUSD in terms of soliciting input for its Local Control Accountability Plan (as well as settling its teachers’ union contract). WCCUSD is holding six community meetings to solicit input for its Local Control Accountability Plan starting next week: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2014/01/10/local-school-districts-look-forward-to-more-money-in-2014-15/