Schools closer to new grad rules
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District board took the next step in changing the graduation requirements at Sonoma Valley High School to the "A-to-G" curriculum Tuesday night, with a first reading and comments on a new board policy.
The policy will be brought back to the board next month for approval.
The "A-to-G" curriculum includes the minimum requirements for admission into either the 10-campus University of California system or the 23-campus California State University system. "A-to-G" refers to a group of 15 classes in seven areas in which students need to achieve at least a "C" grade.
The classes include:
A - Two years of history.
B - Four years of English.
C - Three years of math, four years recommended.
D - Two years of laboratory science, with three years recommended.
E - Two years of a foreign language, with three recommended.
F - One year of visual and performing arts.
G - One year of college preparatory elective.
Currently, in order to graduate, SVHS students need four years of English, two years of math, two years of science, two years of PE, three years of social studies and one year of fine arts or a foreign language.
Incoming freshmen this fall will be the first students who would be required to take the "A-to-G" sequence.
But even after more than an hour-and-a-half of comments from person after person praising the move, school board member Helen Marsh still had one big question. "How?"
"I'm 100 percent behind the vision," Marsh said. "What I have not heard is how we're going to do it. That's what I want answered."
Marsh said she is "all over the vision," and is willing to take a leap of faith. "But I don't understand the how," she said. "who's going to make sure 'A-to-G' isn't just something we put on the website but it isn't achieved? I don't want the freshman class to be guinea pigs."
High school Principal Dino Battaglini told Marsh and the rest of the board, "We've got it covered."
Battaglini said the school has a cornerstone established with various programs including "Freshman team," which is where ninth graders will be broken up into three teams of about 120 students and each of team will have the same English, math, science and physical education teachers.
"We've developed a program to encourage success," he said.
Betzy Chavez, a counselor at the high school, reiterated what Battaglini said. "We've been having these discussions," she said. "We're already doing some of those things."
But Marsh wasn't the only board member with those thoughts. Dan Gustafson said the board has spent the last several years discussing big ideas. "I'm on board for the vision," he said. "But do we know this will work?"
Gustafson wondered about the metrics. But School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno pointed out the success that San Jose has had in the 10 years since it implemented "A-to-G." And she said that the students who don't graduate in the "A-to-G" track will still have to complete what is expected now for graduation.
Boardmember Gary DeSmet didn't have any qualms about "A-to-G." "There will be troubles and challenges," he said, "but we have them now. I've been in the district since 1989 and this is the most profoundly positive feeling I've had."
Board member Cam Hawing agreed. "This is a great thing," he said. "We need to make a difference. This is the foundation. And I'm willing to take the risk."
Hawing said that parents are supportive of the change and the school administration is on the same page.
"I'm ready for this change," he said. "It's our responsibility to provide the best education for the students."
Board President Nicole Ducarroz was short with her comments - "I would vote 'yes' tonight."
Prior to the board discussion, 15 community members urged the board to approve the policy. They ranged from educators to nonprofit representatives to the people from the private sector, and all agreed the move is necessary.
Kathy Witkowicki, executive director of the Stand by Me Mentoring Alliance, said "The kids we work with are struggling academically and socially. Raising the bar is the best gift we can give them."
Attorney Jean Barnier, who was a teacher before becoming an attorney, agreed.
"Give the kids the opportunity to succeed," she said. "Do not hesitate. Adopt it. Make this district stand out."
The graduation policy the board will consider next month has three parts - the "College and Career Ready Plan," which is "A-to-G" all four years of high school; a "Late Entry Foreign Born Students Plan," for foreign-born students who transfer into the high school after age 15 with no accessible records; and the "Individualized Learning Plan," for special education students or those whose parents decide to opt out of "A-to-G."
But Carlomagno told the board that "A-to-G" will be the default plan for every student in the ninth and 10th grades. And that even with opting out of "A-to-G" after the 10th grade, graduation requirements are, "Nothing less than what students are doing now."
The policy comes back to the board for a vote at its June meeting.