Incoming school board President Helen Marsh is optimistic about the coming year.
Because the Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s financial footing has improved, for the first time in years the board won’t have to worry about making cuts and can concentrate on programs.
The district can continue its work on its vision which is:
• Preschool for all.
• Reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
• Proficiency in spoken English by the end of fifth grade.
• All students ready to enroll in college prep courses by ninth grade.
• All students be college and career ready by graduation.
“I don’t know what the difference is between a college student or one who is getting a job or going into the military,” Marsh said. “These are skills that employers want – to be proficient in technology, the ability to speak in public and (have) manners.”
One of the challenges the district faces is pulling English-language learners up.
“The biggest issue with English-language learners is poverty,” she said. “Look at the socio-economic disadvantage. That’s where we need to start our early education.”
And she pointed to the AVANCE program that teaches parents how to help their children from an early age. “If you tell moms they should talk to their children, they’ll do it,” she said.
Marsh, who has been on the board since 2004, is a strong proponent of preschool education. She would like to see the district offer a year of high-quality preschool to all children who aren’t enrolled in preschool. Right now, the district has preschool programs at El Verano, Sassarini and Flowery elementary schools.
“That’s 120 students in preschool,” she said.
“If we can have kids kindergarten-ready, the teachers will be ahead,” she added.
But Marsh said the parents need to be involved in their children’s education and the right place to start is in preschool. “When parents are involved, they’ll see it as their school,” she said. “Every parent who wants their child in preschool, will have it.”
Another program that Marsh said will expand is the Summer Reading Program in the elementary grades.
“It will expand into a reading and writing academy,” she said. “We need to have longer hours – 150 hours – for it to work.”
The district’s entire summer school program has been revamped in the past few years. “Summer school used to be more of the same old same old,” she said. “But now with the algebra boot camp and the reading academy, we’ve got summer school that’s exciting.”
“We want kids to come out and think that reading is fun … reading is cool,” she added.
Another change at the district is the Common Core State Standards. In the past, under No Child Left Behind, there was pressure on teachers to teach to the STAR test. But under Common Core, teachers will teach fewer concepts and teach depth rather than breadth. And students will take the Smarter Balanced tests on computers.