Message from Andy Cantwell
Superintendent, Ojai Unified School District
November 14, 2017
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I hope the 2017 - 18 school year has been going well for you and your family. It’s hard to believe we are nearly three months into the school year! In August I sent a Welcome Letter outlining several priorities for the district. I would like to take a moment to update you on progress made in several of those focus areas and highlight a few others.
Successful implementation of key programs and resources: At the start of the new school year, I pledged the district would continue to invest resources that support teacher development and enhance our student’s learning experience. In the nearly 12 weeks our district has been in session, we have successfully implemented:
A new elementary English Language Arts curriculum,
A discrete transitional-kindergarten program at San Antonio School,
After-school access to computer labs, with on-site technical support for students and families, and
New career technical education (CTE) offerings at Nordhoff, Chaparral and Matilija.
These new programs are making a big difference in improving the educational experience for our teachers and students, as well as our families. We continue to look at other ways we can improve the quality of our other district offerings.
Successfully completed “Feed Our Kids, Fund Our Schools” campaign: Our six-week, district wide Back-to-School campaign encouraging families to enroll in our "Free & Reduced Priced Meals" program ended with more than 47% of our students eligible to receive nutritious meals every school day for free or at a reduced price. This is a significant increase in enrollment over last year. Not only are we now serving healthy meals to more children, the District is expected to receive over $125,000 in additional state funding as a result of the number of students enrolled in the program. Thank you to all of the families who registered for the program. We are pleased to be able to provide this invaluable benefit for our students.
All summer construction projects backed by Measure J funds now complete: Two significant construction projects that continued through the summer are now complete - the Nordhoff stage remodel and the upgraded cafeteria kitchen at Topa Topa. These projects are now part of the list of projects that were completed at the start of the school year including roof replacements at Nordhoff and Meiners Oaks, and campus painting at Nordhoff, Matilija, Mira Monte and the Chaparral auditorium. Upcoming projects include a $3 million upgrade for the installation of new energy efficient and automated lighting systems and new HVACs at several schools. This project is expected to be completed next summer and yield an annual savings of at least $175,000.
Ojai Education Foundation (OEF) raised $50,000 during Fall campaign: Many thanks to all of our donors who gave as part of the OEF Fall campaign, which culminated with the Annual Breakfast Fundraiser at Nordhoff High School. The money raised will support both education grants for teachers and major projects across our district. In fact, OEF was the major contributor for the stage upgrade at Nordhoff, and also provided the funds for after-school access to technology at our elementary schools. A grand-opening celebration of the stage is open to the public and scheduled for Tuesday, November 14 at 6:30 p.m.
We are pleased with the progress made on these district achievements and more, and are also focused on other key initiatives as well including:
Evaluating ways to improve student performance on state testing: The California Assessment of Student Performance (CAASPP) is California’s statewide student assessment system which tests student comprehension of "Common Core" math and english standards. This August I reported our student achievement increased last year (2015 - 2016) relative to the prior year as measured by state testing. OUSD has now received the next set of results from the state test that students took in the Spring of this year. The results showed that 54% of 6th graders and 61% of 11th graders either “met” or “exceeded” the standards, a great outcome particularly compared with results from other similarly situated districts in the county and state. However, the results also showed a downward trend with fewer students overall meeting or exceeding the math standard. My leadership team and I are thoroughly evaluating the many factors that could have impacted these results including the time it takes for students and teachers to learn and adapt to new curriculum and tests. We will share our findings and the strategies we will be implementing to improve student outcomes in each of our school’s individual site plans.
Process to lease Chaparral / District Office Property stalled: As a way to generate additional income for the district, we have been evaluating the possibility of leasing our district office property to a qualified developer. Leasing the property could raise enough annual income to fund many critical gaps in the district’s budget. The district has been working collaboratively and transparently with all interested stakeholders on this initiative. However, this process has been delayed by a recommendation made to the City Council, against the objections of the school board, to designate our property as a historical landmark. We have expressed our concerns to the Ojai City Council that the report commissioned to support this designation is flawed, and that the designation will serve as an impediment to potential development partners who would bring critical revenue to the district. During the Ojai City Council meeting on November 28, Council members will vote on whether to accept the Historic Preservation Commission recommendation for our property.
Continuing to evaluate condition of trees on district property: Following the branch failure of an Elm tree at Topa Topa, the district has been working closely with an arborist to develop a full risk assessment and ongoing maintenance plan for all 400+ trees in our district. The arborist is scheduled to complete the full assessment of all trees across the district this month. We are also so happy to report that those injured by the fallen tree have returned to school.
Evaluating a "Later Start Time” for schools: The state legislature recently evaluated adopting a bill that would require secondary schools throughout the state to start school at 8:30 a.m., citing research that found later school start times led to more sleep for students and correlated with fewer tardies and improved academic performance. Opponents of the bill cite the impact a later start time would have on transportation, student extracurricular activities, and working students. OUSD has formed a committee of administrators, teachers, parents, and middle and high school students who will review the research and make a recommendation to the Board. The second committee meeting is scheduled for November 15.
As always, there is a lot of activity going on throughout each school site and across the district! I hope you find these updates helpful, along with the regular communications you receive from your child’s school, in keeping you informed of district activities, programs and initiatives. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. As we approach the end of November, I also want to wish you and your family a happy and safe Thanksgiving!