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School Data Study Session

On Tuesday, September 13, 2022, Saugus Union School District (SUSD) leadership participated in a governing board study session at Bridgeport Elementary School to share its most current school data. District-level data was shared with the governing board and the public at its regular meeting on September 6, but the study session allowed each of the 15 elementary schools to share their individual data related to attendance, student and parent engagement, English learner proficiency, English language arts achievement, and mathematics achievement. Each school team consisted of site administrators, lead teachers, classified employee leads, and parent leadership organization presidents. The teams presented the data in three sections and then collaborated on questions regarding successes, challenges, and next steps. “This meeting shows the commitment our teachers and staff have in improving education for our kids,” said David Barlavi, a SUSD board member. Representatives from various district office divisions and union leadership were also present to support this event.

“I liked the consistency across schools, and yet they managed to have their own personalities,” shared Katherine Cooper, the SUSD governing board clerk. The data for each school can be viewed via the presentation slides attached to the study session agenda on the district’s website.

School districts have struggled during the pandemic to ensure that quality grade-appropriate learning experiences were provided to all students and that all students benefited from those experiences. The nation has been preparing for the data that would quantify learning loss experienced by students during the pandemic. California is only providing preliminary state assessment data until the first part of December, 2022 as part of its cautious reviewing of the new data. Schools, however, must use the data they have available to drive programs and practices that will assist students in closing gaps and achieving at higher levels during the 2022–2023 school year. They cannot wait to fully examine or discuss their results. With a prediction of losses in CAASPP test scores of 5–15% across the state, SUSD is seeing that its efforts with short-term independent study, intervention teachers, strong curriculum alignment, and TOSA support have helped its students to have a different experience. “We are so proud of our teachers and staff for the amazing work they did during the pandemic,” stated Chris Trunkey, the SUSD governing board president.

The preliminary results for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) and the English Language Proficiency Assessment for California (ELPAC) show that the English language arts (ELA) achievement for SUSD students in third through sixth grade is 64.69% for spring of 2022. This was a loss of 2.09% from the last time students took the CAASPP in 2019 (the 2019 ELA achievement was 66.78%). “It was extremely powerful to sit with school teams and take such a deep dive into data. I am over-the-moon impressed with how third graders performed in ELA given the fact that they learned to read while not going to school,” shared Matthew Waston, a SUSD governing board member.

The preliminary CAASPP mathematics achievement for SUSD students in third through sixth grade is 57.28% which is a 1.22% gain from the 2019 scores (the 2019 math achievement was 56.05%). On the ELPAC assessment to measure progress of students learning English, the district saw 47% of students move one or more proficiency levels in 2022. This was a 35% increase from the proficiency changes seen in the 2021 year. The district also saw 26% of students able to reclassify their English learner status. The increase in reclassification rate was 16% from the 2021 year. “We put several systems in place during the 21–22 school year to help our EL students make these gains. We knew our teachers could ensure that students thrived if they had the tools and support. Congratulations to everyone involved in our teaching and learning process,” stated Superintendent Dr. Colleen Hawkins.

The governing board and the district leadership celebrated the data, but they are not satisfied with it. All those present at the study session and at the district presentation agree that there is much more work to be done. Staff are excited about the journey, and they look forward to using all of the resources they have gained during the pandemic to ensure that our students achieve at higher levels in the future. “Our educators, administrators, and classified staff are so dedicated to students and their success. This is the most impressive group of people. Our community should be very proud to send their students to Saugus schools,” stated Laura Arrowsmith, a governing board member.

Setting the Record Straight on School Bonds and Fiscal Accountability

By Dr. Colleen Hawkins, Superintendent of Schools, Saugus Union School District

*Open letter distributed to Santa Clarita Valley Signal for publication on September 1, 2022.

A recent letter to the editor of The Signal (“Gloomy Future for School Bonds” by Mr. Stephen C. Petzold) made several assertions regarding Saugus Union School District (SUSD) school facilities bonds that were misleading. Our community deserves accuracy and transparency when it comes to how educational leaders are prudently managing their tax dollars. We take this opportunity to respectfully set the record straight in relation to school bonds in SUSD. 

How we finance our schools in California can be confusing and complicated, especially as it relates to school building construction and modernization. Tax money provided to schools from state, federal, and local sources are allocated for specific purposes and must be spent according to specific criteria. The district’s general fund is used for operating expenses like textbooks, technology, maintenance, student support services, and employee compensation. It is difficult for school districts to save enough money to support the high cost of school facilities improvements, repairs, or replacements, when typically over 85% of the general fund is allocated for the salaries and benefits of employees needed to provide educational services for students each day. State and local district school facilities bonds are the only means for school districts to build and/or improve classrooms and building infrastructure on a large scale. 

According to Ed Data, about two-thirds of California public schools are at least 25 years old. All school districts must ask their communities to support facilities bonds to keep schools safe, with up-to-date technology to support new programs required by our rapidly evolving society. Simply saving money annually can only provide enough funding for basic maintenance of existing buildings. School districts need bonds to make up the difference.

SUSD Facilities Bonds Can Only Be Used for Designated Projects

Mr. Petzold’s letter asserts that the district is “used to having a lot of bond money available.” SUSD has been blessed to have community support for its facilities’ needs, but those funds must be expended on the projects listed in the bond language approved by the voters and cannot be used at the whim of the district as the author implies with that statement. 

The 15 schools in SUSD are extremely well maintained through strong fiscal management and a commitment to ensuring students and staff attend quality schools. Most recently, school bonds Measure E (2002) and Measure EE (2014) have allowed the district to address its aging buildings and improve them to be leaders in air quality, lighting, indoor classroom space use, outdoor space use, and safety. The bond language approved by Santa Clarita voters outlines the implementation of projects approved by the voters. This is not open to interpretation by the board of education or district staff, as the letter to the editor implies. 

It has been eight years since voters approved Measure EE. Since then, SUSD has been required to provide Universal TK classrooms (additional classrooms with restrooms for pre-K students), increased safety features to deal with the threat of violence in our country, and seismic improvements to ensure that 50-year-old block/concrete buildings meet current building codes to help them withstand a larger magnitude earthquake (over 5.0). The language in Measure E and Measure EE bonds did not address these new demands since these bonds were passed prior to these demands developing. Responsible fiscal management and oversight of taxpayer dollars means the district should not divert funds from the bond to these new needs and the district’s Citizens’ Oversight Committee (COC) provides appropriate monitoring to ensure that this does not occur. 

Bond expenditures are monitored by a Citizens Oversight Committee (COC)

It is the responsibility of the governing board and district staff to ensure that they maximize the dollars approved within the bond to implement as many, if not all, of the projects listed within the bond documents. A Citizens’ Oversight Committee (COC) of volunteer community leaders monitors the district’s efforts to spend the bond funds wisely. They meet regularly to provide oversight for the projects and to review progress reports to ensure that SUSD meets specific criteria outlined by law and the requirements of the bond language. Their advisory role is to make sure we are spending the money responsibly and efficiently despite escalating costs, so the bond dollars are maximized over the shortest period of time. 

Mr. Petzold’s letter claims that bond funds were used for “vanity projects” rather than to meet the requirements of the listed Measure EE projects. Specifically, he asserts that the district inappropriately used bond funds on capital projects (i.e., modernization, repair, etc.) for Bouquet Canyon Elementary School. That is not the case.

Maintaining Quality of Education Was the Key Criterion the COC Used to Restore Bouquet Canyon While Updating Rosedell Elementary

Most of the Measure EE Bond was earmarked for removal of aging portables and replacing them with permanent classroom structures. In most school districts this process requires maintaining classroom space for the students attending the school during construction. This would mean temporary portable housing, loss of school play area space, additional fencing to ensure safety of students while construction is occurring, and generally poor learning conditions for the two to three years that is necessary to fully execute the building process. Once the building process is concluded, the temporary buildings are removed and the damage to the school grounds must be repaired before the project is finished. The funds expended for temporary housing do not provide lasting improvements for the school facility. In SUSD, we chose a different process. 

In early 2020, SUSD adopted a set of guiding principles for temporary housing that require fiscal responsibility while maintaining quality learning environments for students during construction. An example of implementation of these guiding principles is Rosedell Elementary School.

Rosedell is getting a new classroom building (eight rooms) and science lab that requires temporary housing (total estimated building costs budgeted to be $13 million from the Measure EE bond). A portion of this money would have been spent on temporary housing with no ongoing benefit to the students and no sustaining improvement to the district (i.e., spend temporarily and remove permanently). Instead, the district decided to rehabilitate one of its existing school campuses (Bouquet Canyon Elementary) to ensure students had a quality learning environment during the construction process by creating Rosedell North at the Bouquet campus. 

Originally, the district proposed use of the Measure EE dollars slated for temporary housing for the improvements to Bouquet to create temporary housing (a legally allowable expenditure). The COC, however, asked the district to consider other funding for the project in order to ensure there was no confusion over expending bond dollars on this site. A small amount ($112,817.00) of Measure EE was expended, but roughly $1.3 million was used from other district facilities funds (Fund 40) for the projects that have been completed since 2020 to open this site last year as temporary housing. 

An Excellent Example of How Strong Community Oversight Works and Why the COC Is Such an Important Part of Any Community Bond Project

The COC is where members of our community have a strong voice in the implementation and management of a school facilities bond. SUSD must regularly seek members for this volunteer committee and regularly requests Mr. Petzold to become a member of the COC because of his passion for effective community bond implementation and management. Unfortunately, he declines each time. We will continue to ask and hopefully he will join us to ensure our bond management meets some of the elements he desires. 

Seismic Safety Is a Crucial Priority for the School District

Mr. Petzold’s letter also implies that serious decisions are not being made by the district regarding whether seismic needs at Santa Clarita Elementary School should be addressed by demolishing the school before rebuilding it to meet seismic safety standards. This is completely inaccurate. The SUSD Governing Board and district leadership are responsibly examining Santa Clarita Elementary School’s seismic needs and the seismic needs of the other five district schools that are included in the AB 300 seismic list (Skyblue Mesa, Cedarcreek, Rosedell, Rio Vista, and Emblem Academy).

On March 3, 2022, the governing board held a study session to discuss the specific needs of Santa Clarita Elementary. Further the district is currently working with architects and structural engineers on the specific needs of the other five school sites. All of these school structures are safe for use. Bringing them to current seismic codes will only make these 50-plus year old buildings better for the community. However, Measure EE funds were not approved to specifically address the level of seismic needs that are necessary for these six schools. It would be fiscally irresponsible for the district to redirect funds in that manner now. 

SUSD Is Maximizing the Impact of Bond Funds

Finally, Mr. Petzold’s letter asserts, “Let us hope that they spend remaining bond funds to benefit the students and the stakeholders in the district.” To imply that the district is not being fiscally responsible is false and misleading. 

The governing board, district leadership, and the members of the COC take responsibility of the funds provided from Measure E and Measure EE seriously. We are all committed to meeting the expectations of the voters by implementing the projects they approved when approving the two measures. Measure E will be paid for in April of 2024, fulfilling that responsibility by SCV taxpayers. SUSD has spent all of the funds within Measure E and Measure EE to benefit the students. You can see this by visiting any of the 16 school campuses that have had improvements funded by these measures. 

Since the 2018–2019 school years, SUSD has committed approximately $110 million of the Measure EE funds to improve all of its campuses. The myriad of projects can be seen on our Measure EE website. The district has also leveraged Community Facilities District funding (CFD) and general maintenance funding to ensure that the Measure EE bond dollars are stretched to get the most impact for each taxpayer dollar approved. 

For example, Plum Canyon Elementary not only received a new eight classroom and science lab building, but safety renovations, painting, new play structures, new lighting, new AC and ventilation units, and new flooring to make the school a vibrant and well-maintained learning space for the next 30 years. The remaining funds are planned to provide new classroom buildings at Helmers and Foster Elementary Schools, a new science lab at Cedarcreek, a new science lab and interior classroom walls added at Highlands, remodeled science lab classrooms at the remainder of the schools, refined single point of entry spaces for all school office buildings, and improved outdoor learning spaces including walking tracks, environmental learning spaces, shade structures, etc. 

Current commitments for the remaining Measure EE funds are in line with the language of the bond, are fully planned, and on track for completion in the next five years allowing current students and future students to benefit from the long-term bond commitment made by the community. 

Keeping Faith with the Trust the Saugus Community Granted to Us

The Governing Board of the Saugus Union School District, the members of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee for Measure EE, and the district leadership, including the superintendent and cabinet members, appreciate that our community trusts us to spend funds responsibly and in compliance with priorities of the voters. 

As part of the superintendent’s goals for 2022 to 2025, we will continue to examine the facilities needs of the district and fully include the community in discussing the solutions and funding options to meet those needs.

We all share a mutual interest in keeping Saugus a dynamic community. In closing, I want to thank the staff at The Signal for its coverage of our facilities issues and for revising its original article written about the Saugus Union School District’s bond survey to reflect our district’s intentions and plans more accurately and completely for the future.

We must continue to address the emerging needs of our community as partners in progress, because together we achieve more.

Superintendent's Message #4 (22–23) - Safety Poll Data

On August 16, 2022, we presented the results of the safety poll we administered last week to the governing board. Of the 13,000 parents included in the poll, we received responses from approximately 30% or 3,864 people. The data for individual schools is visible in Parent Square for each individual site. Of the approximately 30% responses, we saw that 28.41% or 3,694 people desire locked office doors and closed campuses. Only 1.31% or 170 people desired open office doors and open campus access. While this was never a "vote" where majority wins, the data we gathered allowed us to have a better picture of the desires of our parent community. Even though approximately 70% of parents did not respond, we see those that did want the more secured campus environment. The governing board and I thank everyone for their time and attention to this issue. I want to personally thank all of the parents that contacted me and who I spoke with regarding safety and the poll. Your insight and support were greatly appreciated. If we were unable to connect via phone, please do not hesitate to contact me in the future, but thank you for your direct input, too.

Staff in our Maintenance and Operations Department are working to install the "airphone" and buzzer systems on all front office doors at all school site locations. These will allow office staff to speak with individuals desiring entry to the building and to buzz them into the building for additional security check-in procedures (i.e., Raptor sign-in). Until the installations are completed, sites will have individual means for ensuring that doors are locked and families or community members are allowed appropriate entry. Because the facilities at each site vary, your site administration will notify each school community of the process that will be used for school entry. Please be patient with them as they work to ensure appropriate access without the ease of a buzzer system. School business, however, should be done inside the building (i.e., office area, lobby, etc.) and not outside of the building.

Additional modifications to the office entries are planned for the future. Because these are so unique to each site, they will take more time than this initial lock/buzz system. We appreciate your patience during the transitions and hope you understand that we are fully committed to safety and to ensuring that those safety elements are done well.

We all enjoyed the first day of school opening and the excitement that having everyone on campus created, but now we must return to the more secure environments. Each school will establish the arrival and dismissal procedures to ensure that only students and staff are allowed open access to the campus. Because of the various enrollment sizes at each school and the number of gates or supervision, it is necessary for each campus to determine this process. To ensure that gates are not accidently left unlocked, we are not using "chain link" gate entrances whenever possible. We prefer that we use the "crash-bar" gates that have been recently installed, have automatic closure systems, and locks to the outside. This may create some changes to entry patterns, but this ensures that all perimeter gates remain closed and locked throughout the day.

Parents, caregivers, community members, etc. will be allowed access to the campus based on district policy and using our security check-in tools (i.e., Raptor sign-in). We welcome parents and volunteers to campus, and we appreciate their ongoing support, but we will do this by following our volunteer approval process and our campus check-in/out procedures. Please notify your site administrator or office manager if you would like to volunteer at your child(ren)'s school site.

Again, we thank everyone for their participation in the poll and in the discussion of safety that occurred in SUSD, on social media, and in the community over the last few weeks. The more we all discuss safety, the safer we make our schools. When safety is truly "top-of-mind", we notice things that are not usual and that ensures we are all doing our part to implement the tools and protocols we have agreed are best. The 2022–2023 school year includes our SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING campaign. Please encourage your children to inform school employees of strangers or other unsafe things they may see on campus, but also be sure that as parents you notify school staff of any strange or unsafe things you may see near the school. Staff will also be working with students and parents to promote this campaign as it doesn't only address weapons and strangers, it can address bullying, discrimination, etc. We want everyone to feel safe and secure on a Saugus Union School District campus. We know that together we can achieve this goal.

Take care and thank you again!