Publication Date: Friday, August 19, 2005
Thoughts on the school year
Thoughts on the school year
(August 19, 2005) Administrators old and new prepare for the coming challenges
By Katie Vaughn
As students buy last-minute school supplies and cram fun activities into their final days of summer vacation, the superintendents of Mountain View's two school districts reflected on the previous year and looked forward to the new one that will begin next week.
Rich Fischer, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union high school district, said the 2004-05 academic year ran relatively smoothly and productively, despite its tragic start when a student was killed in a shooting.
Wynne Satterwhite had a successful first year as principal of Los Altos High School, Fischer said, and he is confident Keith Moody will offer a strong performance this year as interim principal of Mountain View High School while Patricia Hyland recovers from breast cancer surgery.
The district's two alternative programs are underway. Ground was broken last year for Alta Vista High, a small continuation high school for juniors and seniors at risk of not graduating which Fischer said will open in January. Plans are also developing for "Freestyle High," a multimedia academy slated to open next fall that will feature such amenities as a recording studio, video station and graphics programs. Fischer said the school will start by offering electives to upperclassmen, but that the ultimate goal is to create a small high school to be set at NASA Ames.
A challenge for the coming year -- and an area of focus the district identified last year -- is the achievement gap between students in the Algebra 1 program. In the late 1990s, the district made passing the class a requirement for graduation, and the state made the same mandate years later. Although the class is now a relatively low-level math course, it has come to exemplify the difference between high and low achievers who are often split along socioeconomic lines. The district is exploring a range of programs and techniques to combat the problem.
"We identified Algebra 1 as an improvement area for the district, and we're continuing that this year," Fischer said. "One of our core values is to continue improvements. This has become part of our culture."
At the Mountain View-Whisman elementary district, new hires make up a major part of the changes taking place this year. In addition to 40 new teachers scattered across the nine elementary and middle schools, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels will be a new presence in the district.
Ghysels said an ongoing challenge to the district is to determine how best to help students with a limited budget. He must constantly weigh the costs and benefits to children of various programs, but a core goal, he said, is to make sure children are meeting state standards.
"I look forward to taking the leadership challenge and building a team to work toward our goal of all our students meeting or exceeding standards," Ghysels said.
To improve the district's math programs, teachers worked this summer with instructors from the high school district, learning math development techniques and ways to help ensure that kids will be ready for the high school algebra program.
Another significant objective is to better aid children for whom English is not their primary language, Ghysels said. This year, the district will begin using the Rosetta Stone computer program believed to help those students learn English quicker and allow native English speakers to learn a foreign language.
"Literacy is the penultimate step for all learning," Ghysels said. "It's important for all subjects."
The district will also begin evaluating its schools' needs for technological upgrades, and will start allotting funds made available by a joint powers authority agreement with the city to build an infrastructure of servers and networks. Over the next few years, it will add programs and services that branch out to teachers, students and parents.
After a year greatly affected by the controversial decision to close Slater Elementary School, Ghysels said he is anxious to move forward as a community. He says he wants to work with parents to ensure that successful ventures, such as the parent participation program, transition smoothly to alternative school sites.
"Building relationships is more important than where we are," he said. "We'll get through this."
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