SRVUSD set to expand policy on credits for alternative coursework

Saving Neil Armstrong's FOCUS program, Women's History Month, diploma presentations among other meeting topics

The San Ramon Valley school district appears on track to revamp its rules on granting credits to students who satisfy their high school graduation requirements through alternative means such as classes at community colleges, vocational courses and independent study.

The proposal, which received initial support from the school board earlier this month, would reduce the the number of district courses students must take from five to four, add new definitions about the types of alternative coursework that apply, and according to district officials, better aligns with other district policies and state education goals for college and career readiness.

"This is a great opportunity, particularly since we do have the community college expansion program right here within San Ramon. And taking better advantage of that facility by our students, I think this really opens up that door that much wider," board member Ken Mintz said during the Feb. 9 board meeting in Danville.

Recommended by district administration and a stakeholder committee, the proposal calls for the board to update its policy on alternative credits toward graduation as well as create a new administrative regulation on the subject.

The revised board policy would expand upon the existing one-page document, in part by specifying the seven alternative coursework areas covered by the policy.

It is "very clear on what our expectations and requirements are," Jason Reimann, director of instructional services for secondary education, told the school board.

The updated rules would still require students to be enrolled in six classes overall, but as many as two of those course requirements could be fulfilled through alternative educational options.

"We think that creating these new opportunities allows students to find enrichment, begin a head start on college (by) knocking out some of those core requirements while they're still in high school or if they want to explore a new career pathway, begin looking at those pieces if they so choose," Reimann said.

"We also want to give students more control on path, pace, time and space, and reduce student stress," he added.

Local schools will still receive full funding for students who fulfill class requirements through approved alternative means, and with some students taking courses off-site, "we have the opportunity to either reduce class sizes or reduce overcrowding," according to Reimann.

The revised policy would apply to credits earned at accredited post-secondary institutions, courses offered by regional occupational centers or programs, career technical education classes offered in high school, supervised work-based learning, interdisciplinary study and independent study.

It also applies to students who seek to satisfy physical education requirements by participating in interscholastic athletic programs occurring wholly or partially after regular school hours.

To be eligible to receive credits, students or their parents would have to submit a written application in advance to district officials. The superintendent or their designee would have final say on whether the alternative proposal satisfies district graduation requirements and what documentation would be needed to verify the student's successful completion, under the revised policy.

The recommended rule changes were developed over the course of two months by a stakeholder committee of school counselors, teachers, students, parents, teachers union representatives and site administrators, Reimann said.

The school board reviewed the policy revision and new administrative regulation Feb. 9 and advanced both for final approval during its next regular meeting. The documents, if adopted, would take effect next school year.

In other business

* About three dozen students and parents attended the start of the Feb. 9 meeting to express thanks to the board for helping rescue the district's elementary school FOCUS alternative education program from the chopping block.

"We are so grateful to have the opportunity to continue providing the multiple benefits of our program to students for years to come," said Dylan Lee, a Neil Armstrong Elementary fifth-grader and FOCUS program alum, reading a letter of appreciation from the FOCUS executive board.

"We are hopeful that this will be the start of a collaborative effort to provide alternative education to all students and families within our district who seek it," Lee added, with 10 other young students standing next to him at the podium.

The program, hosted at Neil Armstrong and open to all district students in kindergarten through third grade, aims to educate and enrich "the whole child" through strategies such as more parental involvement in the classroom, expanded learning outside of class, studying arts and second languages, and grouping students together for four years in a row, according to the district website.

District officials recently considered closing the program after this year because of concerns about overcrowding at Neil Armstrong and whether all district students had equal access to FOCUS, district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said in a follow-up interview.

Part of the problem at Neil Armstrong, located in central San Ramon on Calais Drive, came from the fact prospective kindergartners who live in the school's attendance boundaries were being diverted to other campuses due to a lack of space in part caused by the FOCUS program, she said.

After learning of the program's potential closure, students and parents attended the Jan. 26 school board meeting, and eight of them spoke to the board that night, urging district officials to continue the FOCUS program.

"The district has now had an opportunity to review the program and we will continue to offer it," Graswich said, adding that officials developed new recruitment and program-acceptance strategies to help solve the access and capacity concerns.

For more information on FOCUS and 2016-17 program registration, visit the district's FOCUS webpage.

* The board approved a joint proposal for what topics to broach during labor negotiations between the district and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, which represents maintenance, operations, transportation and other service workers in the district.

Union negotiators and the district bargaining team agreed to discuss salary and allowances, bus drivers, and the SRVUSD retired employee benefit plan and trust for members of SEIU during contract talks for this school year.

* Board members adopted a resolution declaring March as Women's History Month in the district, with this year's theme as "Working to form a more perfect union: honoring women in public service and government."

They also approved a resolution in support of next month as Arts Education Month throughout the district.

In both resolutions, the board encouraged all local schools to commemorate the recognition months with appropriate instructional activities. District officials said school sites and educators would receive access to informational resources for relevant lesson plans.

* The board approved of awarding diplomas to 14 former students who became eligible based on recent state law allowing students who completed 12th grade any time dating back to 2003-04 and met all applicable graduation requirements, other than passing the California High School Exit Exam, to now receive a high school diploma.

Four of the new graduates received their diplomas in person during the board meeting. Supported by family and friends, the students shook hands with the board members and district upper administration and posed for group pictures during the ceremony.

The exit exam was suspended as a statewide graduation requirement under legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last October.

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4 people like this
Posted by Cherp
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 22, 2016 at 11:52 am

The Neil Armstrong FOCUS program is a great program and I would highly, highly, recommend it to families in the district who have an upcoming kindergardener in the 2016-2017 school year. The program runs from K through 3rd grade, with all four grades interacting with each other. All of our children have gone through the program and were shy as toddlers, but through the FOCUS program and the oral presentations that they participated in, they have all become more confident individuals and have become better public speakers. This was just one of the many wonderful things about the program. There is a link in the article if anyone is interested in the FOCUS program.

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