By Misty Volaski
After five years, the Ojai Unified School District board members are evaluating the seven district vision statements they created in 2006 (see below for list). A Nov. 1 special meeting included all the principals in the district as well as other key administrators in a roundtable discussion on what the OUSD priorities should be and what issues need to be addressed heading into the future. Included in the current list are mentions of “student connections to school,” maximizing resources with declining enrollment, developing financial plans, expanding technology, reaching out to the community, and emphasizing a “healthy lifestyle.” The meeting was facilitated by Bronte Reynolds, former Montecito Union School District superintendent and associate professor at CSU-Northridge, who is also a 14-year resident of Oak View.
The evaluation of the vision statements will continue over the next few months, said OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser. “All constituents should have an opportunity to comment” on the list, he said, including the entire OUSD staff, parents and community members.
Those at Tuesday night’s meeting discussed the issues on the list as well as others not currently included.
Nordhoff assistant principal Greg Bayless addressed the issue of continuing to improve technology at school sites. “Nordhoff is excited about (it),” he said. “With these limited resources … we’ve done a lot. Public education is under siege, so to hold the line is good — but moving forward like this is really encouraging.”
Theresa Dutter, principal of Summit and San Antonio elementary schools, said she wanted to see the increase in technology continue. She worried that if the “paper and pencil” way of learning continues, “we’ll lose some of them.”
That brought up the discussion of connecting students to their schools. Board member Linda Taylor pointed to programs such as drama, sports, art and after-school programs as being big factors in keeping students in school. She wondered whether OUSD could use more vocational programs similar to those already in place.
Also discussed was the issue of whether blanket standards of success could be implemented for students, such as dress code, coming to class on time, etc.
“We want to send them into adulthood with the basic skills (of adults),” said Board Member Kathy Smith.
“School is their job,” said Board President Rikki Horne. “If you go to a job, you get there on time, dress well, don’t swear —- (this is) training them in the real world.”
Matilija Junior High School assistant Javier Ramirez said that he and principal Emily Mostovoy strive toward consistency with all policies. Mostovoy added that the goal of MJHS is to nurture and support the students academically and socially. “Being prepared, using their agenda — having a flash drive — these are the tools to be an academic student and successful in life.”
Thayne Whipple, OUSD’s newest board member, asked, ‘What does ‘success’ mean though? If a kid is smart, gets 100 percent on tests, but has a problem with tardies are you going to say to that kid, ‘Oh, you get a C because you’re tardy?’”
Mostovoy noted that the size of the district allows the teachers to discuss individual students more often and be ready to address their individual issues. Whipple wondered whether students could be rewarded for the things they do well individually — “instead of penalizing them.” Horne replied, “It sounds like that’s what they’re doing.” Topa Topa principal John LeSuer said, “Teachers reward students for their differences.”
Facilitator Reynolds then asked attendees which things on the vision list aren’t being done so well. Director of elementary services and Chaparral High School principal Marilyn Smith said she felt that the Latino population wasn’t being reached as well as it could be. Ramirez suggested that the OUSD reach out to churches like St. Thomas Aquinas, where the Spanish catechism classes are full. “We can use those existing channels to reach out,” he said. Also discussed was the need to speak in person to Spanish-speaking families as opposed to sending home fliers, as well as investigating the possibility of utilizing public access TV and offering potluck dinners with child care.
Horne said she felt the OUSD could do a better job of reaching out to the non-parent population; Smith pointed out that superintendent Bangser is a member of the Rotary Club of Ojai and on the board for the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, and that both Bangser and Whipple have been involved with the Ojai Education Foundation.
Getting them into the schools to participate and volunteer is also important, said LeSuer. The Rotary Club brought in readers to elementary schools he said; why not reach out to the other groups in town “like the Optimists? We just have to ask.”
Whipple also asked the board and administration members whether they thought it would be valuable to simply ask the community for funds to help bridge funding gaps. It was determined that it would be possible and beneficial for OUSD to create a picture of what the “ideal” district would look like, what services would be offered etc., then find out the financial gap between the funding that would require and the funding currently available.
The Vision Statement issue will be an agenda item at the next school board meeting, slated for Nov. 15 at the OUSD offices.
Ojai Unified School District Vision:
1. Key descriptors of the district include innovation, choice, high quality, and high performance. These attributes must be apparent in our plans, actions, and budgets.
2. Student connections to school are critical. The district needs to expand access to high quality vocational instruction, the arts, athletics, and other curricular programs that create connections among students, adults, and learning.
3. Our district must be prepared to strategically deal with being a smaller school district (2,500 to 2,700 students). Determining the best configuration of schools for student success and maximizing the use of resources and facilities will be part of this strategic planning.
4. The district must develop a long-term financial plan that ensures continuing financial solvency.
5. The use of technology to support teaching and learning and to do the business of the district must be improved and expanded.
6. The district needs to expand outreach to the community. Outreach includes public relations and a greater utilization of community resources to support our schools.
7. Students and staff need to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle, passion for learning, and high standards for character. The district will need to institutionalize these beliefs into policy and action.