Every student on our campuses should feel safe, both physically and mentally. Parents need to know that the people who work on our campuses are there to care for their children. Shortening response times for security threats and ensuring that responses to those threats match existing protocols is paramount. Hiring and effectively training additional campus aides who not only respond to physical altercations, but who build relationships with our students so that students feel safe reporting possible threats to them is key. Making sure our campuses are secure both physically and in terms of security systems, like cameras and digitized visitor systems, and that the “internal 911” at each school site is utilized effectively will go a long way in improving safety. Addressing students’ mental health by focusing on social-emotional learning and improving mental health services will create a more positive school climate overall.
Current class sizes in our district are 34 to 1 for General Education classes, 45 to 1 for Physical Education classes and some of our Electives, and 28 to 1 for Special Education classes. These are far too high and must not only be reduced but must be protected through contract language. In addition, as our communities grow and our school populations increase, caseloads for counselors do so as well, and yet there is no contract language in place to cap counselor caseloads. The issue of large caseloads is not limited to counselors, but it impacts Special Education teachers as well, who are currently overburdened with lengthier Individualized Education Program (IEP) writing. These teachers need smaller caseloads as well as release time to write IEPs. When teachers are overwhelmed by class sizes and special education teachers and counselors are overwhelmed by their caseloads, it minimizes the time they can devote to building the types of relationships that are critical to helping our students succeed.
Currently, a significant amount of monies are being spent to fund purchases at the District Office, the location whose employees have the least contact with students. We must ensure that funding is spent first and foremost in the classroom and on academics and only used for purchases by and for district staff whenever necessary. Funding must be evaluated to find room in the budget to provide wraparound services that will benefit students. Opportunities such as after-school programs and health and nutrition services should be made available to students. Services that address students’ mental health and well-being should also be provided. When the general fund cannot bear the costs of these programs, we should look to finding and applying for grants and supporting bond measures that will cover expenses that the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) does not. We can also look to building partnerships with community agencies by setting up Community Engagement Committees where parents and community members can not only air their grievances, but can work together with students and staff to address and solve the issues that create the greatest obstacles to student achievement.
Our shifting demographic has created campuses where the school staff does not reflect the diversity of the current student population. We can easily address this issue by coordinating with the education programs at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) and University of California, Riverside (UCR) and actively recruit teachers who are not only academically proficient, but that reflect the diversity of our students. We can also offer bonuses for these first-year teachers that will help them with moving costs. Additionally, we can increase salaries for all our teachers to retain those already here and our new recruits. Finally, we can let teachers and community members have a say in the professional development offered to teachers so that all our teachers are well-versed in the latest educational models – like social-emotional learning and restorative justice practices.