San Diego Unified has spent the last six months listening.

It listened at five community forums, 23 information sessions, 16 workshops and countless advisory groups meetings held across the district.

The goal of all that listening was to gather input for a new accountability plan the district must give the state, in exchange for more control over how money is distributed to local schools.

Christie Ritter on Schools

But even after the Great Listening Tour of 2013-14, many parents and other stakeholders believe the resulting accountability plan the district drafted looks awfully familiar. They say the 51-page Local Control Accountability Plan is really just a rehash of the district’s Vision 2020, a strategic plan that has been around since 2009.

They’ve shoe-horned the old plan into the LCAP, said Tamara Hurley, a Marshall Middle School parent.

Indeed, areas of discussion during the community forums even followed the Vision 2020 plan and included feedback on the district’s 12 “quality indicators” – one of the centerpieces of Vision 2020.

San Diego Unified produced a document listing many ideas collected at the forums. Among them:

• Provide more nurses and counselors

• Make sure every student has a year’s worth of growth

• Keep school libraries open longer hours

• Provide more tutoring

• Provide more career pathways at all high schools

• Maintain curriculum continuity across clusters

• Give principals more choice in hiring decisions

• Make sure there is a quality school in every neighborhood

Hundreds of specific suggestions were offered by community members, but few made it into the draft accountability plan.

Most of the goals are broad and vague, with no specific way to measure if they were effective. For example, the first goal listed is closing the achievement gap, which will be done by “all levels of the organization” working to “improve student achievement and close the achievement gap for all underperforming student groups.” The district says this will be measured by “demonstrated growth” but doesn’t say how that will be determined or what the baseline is.

Gregg Robinson, a trustee on the San Diego County Board of Education, urged the district to go back to the drawing board.

“You folks have produced a very good document, but we desperately need you to produce a great one. You can help produce the guiding light for what is acceptable criteria,” he said at a recent board meeting. “We trust you, but we desperately need you to show other schools, who are not quite as trustworthy … that monies go to the children they’re supposed to.”

And if the accountability draft plan is a replica of Vision 2020, it also shares one of that plan’s biggest faults: It’s too vague.

Rather than stating exactly how much progress it will make, San Diego’s LCAP repeatedly states that it will show “demonstrated growth.”

Amy Redding, chair of the District Advisory Council for Compensatory Education Programs who is running for a seat on the school board, said she would like to see San Diego create an accountability plan more like Los Angeles Unified’s, which gives specifics on goals like increasing the number of students categorized as proficient in English. (Full disclosure: I’m a parent rep to the DAC.)

“They can include metrics for implementation and goals of Common Core. Measuring progress might mean different things for different students, and that’s OK. At some point, the district is going to have to spell it out,” said Redding.

The state of California asked school districts to focus their accountability plans on eight priorities, which include student achievement, parental involvement, course access, implementation of Common Core State Standards, student engagement and school climate.

“I was not impressed that they really made an effort to really address a lot of those things, or at least it doesn’t show,” said Penny Adler, chair of the League of Women Voters education committee.

Adler said the accountability plan produced by the tiny Lemon Grove School District is full of specific data and goals.

“They have more work to do. They need to have a few more meetings and sit down and get some of these things more specific. That’s our concern – it’s a very vague plan. I realize it’s a lot of work, but that’s the purpose. If they’re gonna get big bucks, they ought to show us how they’re going to use them, that’s the whole concept.”

San Diego Unified’s accountability plan is under review and open to comments until Friday, May 30. School districts must adopt the final draft by July 1. The accountability plan covers three years, but will be updated annually.

The County Office of Education has until Oct. 8 to approve the district’s LCAP.

There are three criteria for that approval, said Music Watson, a spokesperson for the San Diego County Office of Education:

1) Adherence to the State Board of Education template

2) Sufficient expenditures in a district’s budget to implement their LCAP

3) Adherence to the State Board of Education expenditure regulations, meaning that districts must focus on increasing or improving services to students with supplemental needs

Watson said there will be some time after school districts adopt their final draft when changes can still be made, based on recommendations from the county superintendent of schools.

Christie Ritter

Christie Ritter is a freelance writer for Voice of San Diego, author of four books and a former newspaper reporter. She is a graduate of Clairemont High,...

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