Andy Cantwell's headshot

Message from Andy Cantwell

Superintendent, Ojai Unified School District

November 13, 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!

Your Superintendent,

Andy Cantwell

August 23, 2017

Dear Parents and Guardians,

It is with great pride I welcome you to the 2017-18 school year! It is my hope that you and your family enjoyed a summer that was both fun and relaxing. I am honored to be your new superintendent of schools, and excited to begin the new school year with you and your children.

With Great Thanks and Gratitude: As we start the new year, I first want to thank Dr. Hank Bangser for his leadership as Superintendent for the past eight years, His steadfast management in leading the district from unprecedented declines in enrollment and financial uncertainty, to successfully stabilizing our fiscal condition, and guiding the district through many efforts, including the passage of Measure J and the adoption of new national education standards (“Common Core”) is appreciated beyond measure by me and so many others. I am grateful to have been advised and mentored by him, while also given the latitude to grow into my role and make my own decisions. I consider Hank both a colleague and friend, and I look forward to seeing him enjoy the next part of his life journey with his wonderful family.

I also want to thank our extraordinary team of nearly 300 principals, teachers, administrators, and staff members across our district, most of whom worked diligently over the summer to prepare for all of the 2,400+ student arrivals taking place across our campuses today. This includes several members of our Leadership team who are excited to start their new role as I announced in the Spring. A summary of our new and continuing organizational appointments are included on the next page.

2017-18 and Beyond: In the twenty-seven months I have served as your assistant superintendent, I am proud to have been part of a great team of individuals who are committed day-in-and-day-out to ensuring your child receives the highest quality education that inspires and empowers them to become the “best version of themselves”. As we start the new year, we will continue that commitment, while also looking ahead to shaping public education in the Ojai Valley for future generations by thoughtfully and strategically focusing our resources so that we are not just another “district”, but an “Education Community” that serves as a model for other small districts and towns across the country. That means continuing to build Ojai Unified as a safe, inclusive, compassionate, modern, eco-friendly, health-conscious, conscientious, collaborative, and award-winning community that inspires active engagement and support from all members of the Ojai community, and where our students, teachers and families thrive.

As part of that effort, you will notice an enhancement to our own approach that is captured in a buzz-word we’ve used around the district office lately - “‘K-12ness.” We are seeking to enhance our “K-12ness” by building strong connections among and between all of our schools and grade levels - from TK through graduating senior, by ensuring all staff are working together strategically across grade levels to create greater cohesion and increase achievement. So look to see references to our “‘K-12ness” throughout the year.

Key Achievements We’re Building Upon: To get to where we want to go, we have to naturally reflect from where we’ve come. And what a difference a year makes! I am happy to kick-off the start of this school year with our attention focused on celebrating many of our key accomplishments that we will continue to build upon over the next 10 months and beyond including:

  • Student achievement increased last year relative to the prior year (2015-16) as measured by state-testing.
  • Our class sizes have decreased throughout the district. At our elementary schools, we have our smallest class sizes in a decade (26:1 this year compared to nearly 31:1 just four years ago in the 2013-14 school year).
  • We have completed or made critical progress on repairs and improvements to our infrastructure through “Measure J” funds including: roof replacements at Nordhoff and Meiners Oaks; campus painting at Nordhoff, Matilija, Mira Monte, and the Chaparral auditorium; and a new cafeteria kitchen at Topa Topa.
  • Our hard-working staff has received two consecutive years of much-deserved salary increases following several years of no raises.

What’s Coming Up: Building on that momentum, we will continue to invest our resources in teacher development and enhancing our student’s learning experience. Several new initiatives starting this year include:

    • A new curriculum (elementary English Language Arts),
    • A discrete transitional-kindergarten program,
    • Additional technology in the classroom,
    • Increased access to technology and after-school support for students, and
    • New career technical education offerings at Nordhoff, Chaparral and Matilija.

Challenges Ahead: Although we have tremendous momentum and excitement going into the new year, we also must balance it with a healthy and realistic understanding of the critical issues the district continues to face. With student enrollment continuing to decline, Federal, State, and Local dollars decreasing and becoming more uncertain, our schools need additional support to continue to deliver a superior education for all students, regardless of their background or economic status.

How You Can Help: Given these challenges, I am hopeful you will find opportunities throughout the year to support our schools in a way that works best for you and your family. Whether its volunteering inside or outside the classroom, joining your school PTA/PTO, or making a donation to your school PTO/PTA/Booster Club and the Ojai Education Foundation, every little bit you can give helps us maintain and enhance the education experience throughout all of our schools.

And speaking of ways you can help, I encourage you to participate in our six-week districtwide Back-to-School campaign “Feed Our Kids, Fund Our Schools”. From now through September 29, we are encouraging families to enroll in our Free & Reduced Priced Meals program offered through our Nutrition Services department. Students who qualify for this program receive a nutritious meal for free or at a significantly reduced price. And for every student who qualifies for this program, the District receives an additional $1,400 in additional Federal & State funding, even if the child does not participate in the program. Please see the Nutrition Services brochure that was included in your child’s Back-To-School packet for more information. And be sure to enroll!

“Yours Truly”: My personal signature line, and a common theme you will hear across the district and in each of our schools this year is, “yours”. I say “yours” as a reminder to myself and others that we work for you! Building and enhancing our relationships with you, our parents, and our other key stakeholders, will become an even greater priority in our district, and a defining trait moving forward. And I underline, “ours” to emphasize that together, we make up our Valley. In fact, for the first time in a long time, all of our school principals, the assistant superintendent and I actually live in the Ojai Valley, so I guess you can say we’re “Valley Strong”!

As we start this new chapter in our district, we can expect this year as with every year to include great excitement and incredible achievements, along with its own set of challenges. Given we are all working together and focused on the same goal, to provide your child an enriching, inspiring and superior education, our entire district is committed to working in partnership with you throughout the year, and reflecting optimistically on our journey along the way. I am looking forward to working with you and to a wonderful year!

Your Superintendent,

Andy Cantwell