Escondido, CA
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State of the school District address: accentuating the positives

Supt. Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra speaking at Monday’s State of the District address.

The Escondido Union School District held its 4th annual State of the District address on Monday, with Supt. Luis Rankin-Ibarra leading the celebration of the schools’ positives.

Held in the smaller of the two California Center for the Arts, Escondido’s auditoriums, it began with a performance by the Rose Elementary Schools’ dance troupe: Ignite. 

Deputy Supt. Leila Sackfield introduced the board members, including President Joan Gardner, Vice-President Joe Muga, Clerk Doug Paulson and member Georgine Tomasi. She recognized other dignitaries, including Mayor Paul McNamara and city councilmember Olga Diaz. 

Veronica Casanova, family liaison from Rose Elementary, led the pledge of allegiance and district employee Eloisa Guerrero  sang the National Anthem. 

School Board President Joan Gardner told the audience, “Our superintendent has been with us for six years now and we couldn’t be more pleased with the direction of the district. We’ve come a long way as a district and we are so excited to share with you the great programs, staff, teachers, and kids we have here at the Escondido Union School District.”

She  helped the superintendent present the Public Champion award to Friends of Daley Ranch. 

Dr. Ibarra said, “The recipient of this award has been a great partner with the district for the past 16 plus years. Every year this organization raises enough funds to send every one of our 7th grade students from our school district on a field trip to Daley Ranch. Students learn about the history of our beloved Escondido and the local wildlife and habitats that exist in their backyard. It is my pleasure to recognize the Friends of Daley Ranch as the 2020 recipient of the EUSD Public Champion Award.”

Rick Mercurio and Fred Woods from the Friends of Daley Ranch and Chris Krstevski, the Escondido Lakes open space superintendent, accepted the award.

After another performance by Ignite, Dr. Ibarra declared, “This is what it is all about. Creating environments where great learning can happen. Creating the conditions where we will actualize the unlimited potential of every learner.” 

He continued, “When we began this event four years ago, we had envisioned a platform where we would come together as a community, share some information and celebrate our accomplishments. Now in my sixth year as Superintendent, I can boldly state that this district is not the same as it was six years ago. And every year, we keep getting better and better. And that is all attributable to the hard working teachers, administrators, professional staff, parents, students, and community partners that we have here at the Escondido Union School District.”

The Rincon Middle School Choir under the direction of Roger Anderson.

The district is the sixth largest elementary district in California. About 77 square miles, it serves K-8 students with 17 elementary schools, five middle schools and one intermediate school. It serves about 15,600 students, with 1,900 employees, making it the second largest employer in the City.  With an operating budget of just over $200 million, it serves diverse population where 78% of students come from low-income homes and 40% are English Learners. 

“While this describes who we are, it does not define the unlimited potential that exists within all of our students,” he said. “In order to meet the needs of all of our students, we have a clear vision of what is possible. That we will actualize the unlimited potential of every learner. This means that every individual in our organization is valued, cared for, and challenged to be their very best. It is about the belief in what is truly possible.”

The district has established four focus goals:

1. Increase student achievement
2. Create and sustain a positive school culture which embraces diversity
3. Ensure a safe and secure environment
4. And remain fiscally solvent

“These goals have remained constant and have served to anchor us in our work.  While it is these focus goals that have defined our work, it has been equally important to focus on how we accomplish this work. It is about the means to the end,” he said.

“To put it simply, we do this work together. You see, our Board of Education clearly understands the mission of our district, and that is universal student achievement.” He praised all the elements who work together, including school employees, teachers, business and community partners and parents. “Every child deserves a quality education, and that is what the Escondido Union School District is determined to provide to each and every student that walks through our doors. You want was it best for your child, and so do we!”

He talked about the inspiration he gets from the story of his late older brother, Rene, who had polio, which left him crippled so he couldn’t attend school with his five brothers. He attended a “special school” and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t welcome at the school his brothers attended. 

“Yes, my brother was having a difficult time and this manifested itself into defiance, truancy, and disobedience,” he recalled. “When my brother got to high school, he had already established himself as a ‘troublemaker’ and the staff at the high school was obviously frustrated with him that during one conversation, which by brother often recalled vividly as an adult, he was told, ‘why don’t you just drop out?’ and he did.” 

The Rose Elementary Schools dance troupe, Ignite!

He compared his path to that of his brother’s. He was offered a college career educational path by a counselor who ensured he was enrolled in the right classes so he could pursue his goal as a teacher. 

“Rene passed away in 2013, the fall prior to my superintendency here in Escondido. I have dedicated my superintendency to my brother Rene and I share his story to highlight the impact we can all have on the life of a child,” he said. 

“I believe in the power of public education and the impact it can have on our children. I also know that I can’t do it alone. It is about creating a system that will work for Rene. A system that will not wait until my senior year to ask me if I was going to college. Our vision is to actualize the unlimited potential of every learner. The system needs to work for all students. And when we say all, we mean all!”

Dr. Ibarra shifted to talking about the upcoming Measure Q on the ballot. “Back in 2014, my first few months on the job, we reached out to all of you, our community, for assistance. We needed your help as we placed Proposition E on the ballot and successfully passed the proposition which generated $182.1 million dollars. This was the largest bond measure passed by the Escondido Union School District. Simply stated the bond was about three things:

• Safety and Security
• Network Infrastructure
• Modernization of our aged facilities

With its passage, fencing projects were erected at the schools to make the campuses safer. “We all know that the world is a much different place than it was when our schools were designed back in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s,” he said.

He showed a video of the 2017 phase one of the Mission Middle School modernization project with substantial site work and the construction of a two-story math & science building. “Comprised of 36 modular units, built on site, the 16,884 square foot, state-of-the-art STEM facility, was erected in one day.”

He talked about Central Elementary School, built in 1938. It is the oldest school in the district. Bond money was used to build new kindergarten and preschool classrooms along with two new playgrounds. It also received new security fencing, solar lighting, and network and electrical upgrades.

Much of such work has been underground and not visible to the public. “At Orange Glen Elementary School, we corrected major drainage issues provided much needed electrical and network infrastructure upgrades while leaving behind a beautiful new courtyard and new playground structure and track,” he said.

Construction continues at Mission Middle for phase II, which will modernize the existing classrooms. Also under construction is Orange Glen Elementary School, which will provide new kinder, preschool and  special education classrooms. 

Construction for a New STEM Building at Del Dios Academy of Arts and Sciences begins soon. “This State-of-the-art Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building will not only prepare students for the 21st Century but the building will be serve this community well into the future,” he said.

The superintendent noted that when the bond was approved in 2014 there was more than $500 million of need.  “Well the remaining need remains and as we all know the longer we wait the more expensive it becomes. That is why, the district has placed Measure Q on the March Primary Election, to continue to renovate and repair our aging facilities. Measure Q provides a prudent plan to complete the next set of critically needed facilities upgrades and renovations and every EUSD school will benefit. Additionally, we will qualify for up to $17 million dollars in state matching funds, leveraging taxpayer dollars even further.”

He added that the district has earned a A plus rating from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee has confirmed that since 2015, the district has received clean audits with NO Findings. 

Kirk Effinger, chairman of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, who spoke about what the committee does to ensure that bond money is spent as it is intended.

He invited Kirk Effinger, chairman of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee to talk about how it provides oversight, reviewing the expenditure of bond funds, and ensures that the funds are spent properly, while informing the public about the progress of the program.

“Having sat as the chair since 2014, I can say without any reservation that the district is doing an outstanding job with the bond program, and its staff, consultants, and contractors deserve our congratulations on their continuing efforts to improve and enhance the learning environment for its students,” said Effinger.

“As we strive to actualize the unlimited potential of every learner, we continue to challenge ourselves to teach a much more rigorous curriculum,”  he said, adding later, “I firmly believe that we have the most highly-trained, highly-motivated, and highly-skilled teachers in the county.”

He introduced Christine Hansen, named one of five San Diego County teachers of the year for 2019-2020, who was given the privilege of announcing that “Next school year, in the fall of 2020, we are offering full day Kindergarten at all of our EUSD elementary sites!”

Audience members also learned about:

• Students in Kindergarten who get enrichment opportunities from the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum,  Through donors, all EUSD Kindergarteners attend a field trip to the museum. They conduct fieldwork experiences with standards aligned workshops conducted by the museum staff.

• Through the efforts of  Science Teacher on Special Assignment, Krystle Miller and The Escondido Creek Conservancy, the San Diego Zoo, and the Nature Collective, every 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grader engage in real-world scientific study of the environment.  Seventh grade students take an annual field trip to Daley Ranch. 

• After-School Seminars provide enrichment experiences and opportunities beyond the instructional day. 

• The Mobile Making Club by California State University San Marcos is a ten-week afterschool enrichment experience focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

• Computer Science Seminars meets twice per week for six weeks, in 90-minute class sessions, at each of the five middle schools and Quantum Academy. Students are introduced to computer programming, game design, hardware and engineering, circuitry, and scientific prototype design. 

• This year the district added a seasonal event called the EsCODEdido Hackathon (EsCODE Hack, for short) where students from all middle schools and Quantum Academy vote on ideas and concerns for local and global issues in order to make a social impact. 

• The Allegro string program now in its second year, is a partnership between the Civic Youth Orchestra and the Escondido Union School District. Students in grades  3 – 5, are provided either a cello or violin and receive free strings lessons twice a week at four sites. 

• Gifted and Talented Program ( GATE students have access to all enrichment seminars or are enrolled in Math Advanced courses at the Middle School. 

The district, said Dr. Ibarra, continues to implement the 1:1 iPad initiative where the goal is to have every student in EUSD in a 1:1 environment by 2020. All students in grades 3 to 8 have been provided a device. Next year it will expand to K-2. 

The superintendent discussed the state’s accountability system, where all students in grades 3rd through 8th grade take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), a standardized test aligned to the new more rigorous state standards. This exam has been administered every year since 2015. 

“We now have five years of data to demonstrate that our district is trending in an upward trajectory in both English Language Arts and Mathematics,” he said. “In addition, while we are still below the state average, the gap between the percentage of students proficient or advanced is getting smaller. Which means that our school district is showing progress at a faster rate in both English Language Arts and Math than the state average.”

Under the new accountability system, called the California School Dashboard,  instead of giving schools a ranking or number,  schools are ranked with a color ranking with red being the lowest to blue being the highest. Placement on the dashboard is determined based on distance away from the standard and growth from the previous year. 

The district: 

• Has no schools in Blue
• Four schools in Green
• Seven schools in Yellow
• Twelve schools in Orange
• No schools in RED

In Mathematics:

• No schools in Blue
• Three schools in Green
• Eight schools in Yellow
• Eleven schools in Orange
• No Schools in RED

Of the 3rd -8th grade students that generated these scores, 40% are English Learners. “We also know that once students acquire English, they are re-designated as R-FEP, which means they have been re-designated as Fluent English Proficient. When we look at this group, 66 percent of our re-designated students are meeting or exceeding the state standards in English Language Arts,”  said Dr. Ibarra.

He added, “As we further delve into the data behind the colors we continue to see school level teams realizing double digit growth throughout our district.

“We are pleased with our progress but are not satisfied with where we are. However, as we look to change the narrative, there is so much more to a district than a color or a number. No, we are so much more. In fact, we continue to attract the attention of others who have recognized us with state and local awards and we have been featured in various news articles, radio interviews, and television.”

He said, “Perhaps we have relied too heavily on our mathematicians to create our accountability system. Perhaps we may need to turn to our poets, artists, and musicians.”

This cued the introduction of the Rincon Middle School Choir under the direction of Roger Anderson.

After the performance Dr. Ibarra said, “Now, I ask you how can you possibly capture what you have seen? How can you measure this?  Not by any one standardized test, not by any number or color! We do not have to worry about these students, they are ready to tackle the world. The confidence that they exude is inspiring. And that is happening not only at Rincon, but across the district. It is time to change the narrative in our conversations and start talking about what is really happening in your local schools. Ladies and gentlemen, the STATE-of-the-District-is-strong!” 

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