Ceres (CA): Policy study of CUSD unveiled

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Nov 3 13:16:10 UTC 2006

Policy study of CUSD unveiled

The Ceres school system was one of three districts in California selected
for a unique study of approaches to address inequities in student
achievement. Policy Analysis For California Education (PACE), an
independent research center that aims to enrich education policy debates
with sound analysis and hard evidence, presented its findings Oct. 20 in
Sacramento. The two-hour seminar gave education officials information
about a variety of strategies used to raise achievement across diverse
communities of students. The two other spotlighted districts recognized
for their distinctive approaches to reform were Long Beach and Lemon

I'm impressed by the fact that they saw our district as worthy of being
selected, noted Ceres Unified Supt. Walt Hanline, one of the more than 100
people to attend the seminar. They did the research for over a year. Any
superintendent that is part of a team of individuals that do the work that
we have done makes me very proud. We stayed the course while everybody
else cut their staff development budgets. Districts included in the
research were selected from a pool of districts throughout California that
met the following criteria: significant diversity of student populations
(each district had at least five subgroups); substantial growth on
California's Academic Performance Index (API) for each subgroup over a
three year period (2002-05); and substantial narrowing of gaps in
achievement across subgroups.

Ceres Unified enrolls over 10,000 students in their elementary, middle and
secondary schools. The district encompasses an ethnically diverse group of
students; in the 2004-05 school year, 53 percent of students identified as
Hispanic, 33.8 percent as White, 5 percent as Asian, and 3.1 percent as
African American. Nearly 60 percent of the student population qualified
for free or reduced-price lunch and 23.5 percent were English Language
Learners. Ceres Unified was chosen as an example of a district that
focused resources on an intensive program of teacher professional
development as a means to address inequities in achievement. Interviews
were conducted with the superintendent, assistant superintendent, director
of curriculum and instruction and program specialist. Focus groups were
also conducted with the coaching staff, the Beginning Teacher Support
Assessment (BTSA) staff, and teachers and the principal from one
elementary school. In addition, a district wide professional development
session was observed.

Student achievement in Ceres Unified has climbed steadily since 2002. Each
year student performance, as reflected in the API, has demonstrated growth
in each of the district's significant subgroups. During the 2004-05 school
year, 97 percent of the district's teaching staff was fully credentialed,
compared to the statewide average of 93 percent. The district employs only
3 percent of its teachers on emergency credentials or waivers, while 4
percent of the state's teachers fall into that category. In addition, the
average years of teaching experience for the district's teacher workforce
is 14 years, with an average of 11 years teaching within the district.
This is over the state average of 13 years of teaching experience and an
average of 10 years teaching in a single district. These statistics
suggest that the teacher workforce in Ceres is a relatively veteran
faculty with high retention rates, as evidenced in Ceres' history of
investing in its teachers and their learning and development.

While Ceres clearly has a long-standing commitment to staff development,
the district has made significant improvements in the last few years to
provide a more focused program aligned with district-wide goals of
improving student achievement. Hanline embedded staff development days
into the teacher contracts and developed a coordinated approach to teacher
learning. Many teachers reported that the professional development they
receive currently is of a much higher quality than before because it is
focused. Additionally, the district's professional development has
provided space and time for teachers to work together. Often it brings
together grade level teachers to work on one topic such as differentiated
instruction.  This allows the teachers to collaborate, share ideas and
materials, and find out what's going on at other sites.

Ceres Unified leaders attribute rising student achievement to three major
shifts. First, the district, led by Hanline, created a coherent vision for
addressing the achievement gap. That vision led to significant changes
within the organizational structure of the district. This, in turn, led to
the development and implementation of a coaching model of teacher
learning. Hanline assumed leadership of the district in 2001. One of his
top priorities became the development of a strategic plan to raise student
achievement and meet the needs of all the students in the district. The
plan is reviewed each year, and based on the district's progress on its
goals, the goals are reprioritized as needed. The development of the
district's strategic plan led to prioritizing the district's goals. As a
result, the number one priority of the district became increasing student
achievement in reading, language arts and writing. The choice to
prioritize reading achievement was based on the perspective that reading
is the building block on which all other subjects rest.

Hanline backed up the district's commitment to literacy development for
all students by allocating sufficient resources and funding to it. The
district has also invested in substitutes to teach classes while classroom
teachers attend district-sponsored professional development. Once Hanline
stepped in, he brought in new leadership and created new management
positions, including the director of professional development.  This had
the effect of focusing district attention on professional development that
was aligned with the needs of its students. The director of professional
development instituted a coaching model in 2003 to support teachers'
ongoing learning and development, which in turn helped raise student
performance. The model has expanded from one coach to six full-time
coaches, with each having their own specialty: technology, K-2, 3-6,
Gifted and Talented Education (GATE), English Language Development (ELD),
and secondary focus. The coaches meet regularly with each other and the
director of curriculum and instruction to talk about the needs of the
teachers and students in the district. These meetings contribute to the
planning of the district-wide professional development that is offered to
the teachers.

Once the district's new professional development program was in place,
other changes followed soon afterward. The administrators chose to move to
a traditional schedule. This moved aligned more closely with the
district's push towards a district-wide professional development program.
With all schools on the same schedule, teachers could now attend the same
professional development trainings at the same time. This allowed for
collaboration among grade-level teachers across the district. The district
also implemented a new meeting schedule. This organizational change has
provided more opportunities for ongoing staff development.  Throughout the
district, every Monday afternoon is now reserved for a school site staff
meeting or a grade level meeting.

PACE concluded that Ceres Unified's distinctive history as an in-service
district has laid the groundwork for the innovative approaches it employs
in efforts to raise student achievement for all students. The district's
coordinated vision has led to changes in their organizational structure
that eventually resulted in a creative approach to ongoing teacher
learning and development-the coaching model. While we were unable to say
that the three-year gains the district has made on their API scores is a
result of the district's coaching model, it must be taken into account.
Thus, there are potential lessons to be learned from Ceres. - From staff
reports of the Ceres (Calif.)



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