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The first week of school in the Antelope Valley has begun with fresh ideas, new campuses and plenty of enthusiasm. From the Antelope Valley Union High School District to the Westside Union School District, students, teachers and parents can look forward to a challenging academic year filled with promise and high expectations as the next generation of leaders gain vital knowledge needed for prosperity and professional success in the 21st century.

Palmdale Promise initiative

The Palmdale School District is entering the second year of its Palmdale Promise initiative. In brief, the plan involves first a definition of the facilities needed to support and enhance the initiative. There is a stated requirement of an assessment of all district facilities (to determine the best practices for each campus), as well as an identification of needs for additional, renovated and different facilities to accomplish district goals. Officials want to project future enrollment and facility needs, based primarily on demographic forecasts and curricular trends.

The Palmdale Promise initiative calls for an identification and evaluation of the costs and subsequent benefits of a broad array of options to meet current and projected needs, as well as a definition of policies for long-range facility management. Officials wish to define a particular strategy that will address needs for short- and long-term facility improvements and for capital investments to support current and future educational programs. Finally, there is an ongoing effort to define such implementation steps necessary to fulfill the needs identified, coordination of the identified scope of work with funding resources, and the creation of a 10-year planning schedule for the work to be done district-wide.

New vans for campuses

“While we’re in the second year of the Palmdale Promise, we still maintain our original vision statement which is to provide our students with a world-class education necessary for success in life,” said Raul Maldonado, superintendent of the Palmdale School District. “We operate under a local control accountably plan or LCAP, meaning that our curriculum is tailored to meet the specific needs of our community. Parental involvement plays a significant role in how we educate our students, and we look forward to a very exciting school year.”

The district is proud of the acquisition of seven new vans—painted to match the specific schools they’re assigned to—which will be used to transport students to various education events around the region. There is a new fitness program at Cactus Intermediate School, that is designed to place an increased emphasis on staying physically fit.

“We ascribe to the long-held belief of a ‘healthy mind and body’ go hand in hand,” Maldonado said. “We’ve hired new physical education teachers to help our kids stay fit.”

Hundreds of Palmdale students benefited recently from the distribution of 650 backpacks by SAVES (South Antelope Valley Emergency Services). The backpacks were filled with pencil boxes, calculators, erasable pens, dictionaries, three-ring binders, notebook paper, erasers, staplers, graph paper and flash drives. Life Church and the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints Palmdale Stake helped to make the event possible.

CARES After School Program

The Lancaster School District is continuing is enrollment for its free CARES After School Program. Students can receive a nutritious snack, homework assistance, and both academic and recreational enrichment at Desert View, Discovery, El Dorado, Jack Northrop, Joshua, Lincoln, Linda Verde, Mariposa, Monte Vista, Sierra, and Sunnydale schools.

Officials at the Antelope Valley Union High School District are excited about its new software program designed to increase tracking of attendance rates.

“This year, in addition to continuing to prepare our students for college and careers by providing them access to a rigorous curriculum and conductive learning environment, we are further elevating our focus on student attendance,” said David J. Vierra, district superintendent. “It has always been clear that attending school regularly is a fundamental need for academic success. By using (the) Attention 2 Attendance software, we are able to send more timely and frequent communication so parents have a heightened awareness of when their child is missing school.”

Secondary school students throughout the Antelope Valley are being charged with developing increased academic proficiency. One of the advantages of attending school in the region is the strong emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, encouraged uniquely by the many aeronautics and engineering firms in the area. STEM education has been introduced via the Common Core curriculum which is a set of instructional standards in effect nationwide. However, the true impact that they have had on schools and education may not be known for several years. The shift to a national set of standards that are supposed to be the same for all schools in the 45 states that adopted them, has not only been revolutionary, but also controversial. The Common Core standards are internationally benchmarked, meaning that all of America’s teaching methods are designed to compare favorably with standards of other nations. Reportedly, Common Core was adopted because the United States had dropped considerably in educational rankings over the last few decades. By having standards that are internationally benchmarked, proponents of Common Core believe that secondary school students will see their grades improve.

Is Common Core working?

The benefits of Common Core are said to be considerable. In California, for instance, it has become arguably easier to compare standardized test scores more accurately. Before, each state had to establish their own standards and assessments, a process that may have contributed to the difficulty in comparing results accurately from state to state. Common Core has decreased the costs states pay for test development, scoring and reporting. This is because each state no longer has to pay to have their unique tests developed (i.e. each of the states that share the same standards can now develop like tests to meet their needs and split costs).

Common Core has reportedly increased the rigor in some classrooms and may be a better way to prepare students for college and global work success. This, according to proponents, may be the biggest reason why Common Core was created. There has been the development of higher-level thinking skills—or metacognition—in students. With Common Core, students are tested on one skill set at a time, with assessment covering several skills within each question.

Proponents say these assessments have provided teachers with a “tool” to monitor students’ progress throughout the academic year. These tools include the ability of an instructor to administer an optional pre-test and other progress-monitoring methods that can be used to assess students’ progress, and if youngsters are not achieving at grade level, there is an opportunity to develop a plan to get them to where they should be academically.

An ‘authentic’ learning experience

An additional benefit of Common Core relates to a more “authentic” learning experience, according to education officials. Teachers can see all of what a student has learned across all curricula through the multi-assessment model (pupils no longer have to simply come up with an “acceptable” answer but instead must provide a response, state how they arrived at the conclusion and, if necessary, defend their answer).

Also, Common Core may reportedly benefit students who move from one Common Core state to another because the states have the same set of standards. If a child moves from California to Idaho, for instance, he or she will have covered a subject and, hopefully, will have mastered the standard necessary for a passing grade.

While proponents laud the advantages of Common Core, there are almost as many who opposed the implementation of the curriculum. First, they say it is reportedly difficult to make the adjustment for students and teachers. Because the transition began in fits and starts, opposing educators say the methodology is often in conflict with their teaching pedagogy or the way they were taught originally to manage a classroom. Nor does Common Core match the learning mechanism that most students are familiar with. A lot of teachers have left the profession rather than make the switch. The standards are said to be vague. Many states, though, have been able to deconstruct or “unwrap” the standards by making them more teacher friendly.

Increase in ‘high stakes’ testing

Teachers who disagree with Common Core may base their displeasure on the fact that it forces younger students to learn at a more rapid pace. With increased rigor and an emphasis on higher-level thinking skills, early childhood education programs have thereby become more rigid. Pre-kindergarten instruction is vital, consequently the skills that students used to learn in second grade are now taught in kindergarten. There are ongoing complaints about obsolete textbooks—already common in inner-city schools—because new curricula and materials are not aligned to Common Core.

It also costs schools a lot of money to update the technology needed for the accompanying Common Core assessments, most of which are online. This has created various issues for many school districts which have had to purchase enough computers for all students to be assessed in a timely manner. The digital-divide at some urban schools has made adapting to Common Core particularly challenging. Also, Common Core has reportedly led to an increased value on standardized test performance or “high-stakes testing.” Since states are now able to compare their performances against another state’s more accurately, stakes have only become higher.

New state framework

Other secondary education news this year revealed that immunization shots are a priority. Children will not be enrolled on the first day of school unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date.

In Sacramento, the California Department of Education has approved a new History-Social Sciences framework to update and upgrade these subjects in all school districts. The framework will reportedly provide guidance to teachers, administrators and publishers for the teaching of history and social science. It includes more than 20 detailed classroom examples that will show teachers how they can integrate their instruction to build students’ history-social science knowledge and skills, literacy skills, and English language development. The framework is said to add considerable information on civic learning, consistent with the work of the California Task Force on K-12 Learning. Also, information has been added about financial literacy, voter education, genocide, and the societal contributions of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. A history of contributions from disabled persons will be part of the new school curriculum, as well as a history of California and the United States in general.

‘Safe schools’ a priority

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said the new framework is a big win for students. Within it, he said, there are mechanisms to improve the teaching and learning of history and social science, providing students with the latest historical research that will assist them in learning about the diversity of the state and the contributions from people of varied backgrounds.

“Many of the people whom our children will now learn about may not have received the appropriate recognition in the past,” Torlakson explained. “It will be an opportunity to teach about the many people over the centuries who have contributed to the growth of the nation and the state of California.”

Safe schools continue to be a priority in districts throughout California. A School and Community Safety Advisory Committee has been created to promote school safety, showcase best practices, and discuss new developments. A special conference this summer attracted nearly 900 school administrators, counselors, child welfare and attendance personnel, as well as members of the law enforcement community, and mental health and social workers who addressed ongoing issues such as bullying, cyberbullying, gang prevention/intervention, truancy and drugs/alcohol among secondary school students.

“We need to heal as a nation,” Torlakson said. “And we need to come together, and that’s where our schools can lead the way. Every day on campuses all across the state, teachers, law enforcement, students and parents and the community work together to show how we can build trust and confidence in each other and promote safety.”