Oct. 4, 2012
by Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Ojai schools got a $42,000 boost this year thanks to a local mom and a former school board member who refused to sit back and watch as declining budgets increased student-to-teacher ratios. “We have such high expectations of what a teacher can do, but some of those are unrealistic,” said Karen McBride, who teamed up with parent Elisa Oliver and other Ojai-area residents to create 100 For Ojai Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for teacher retention in the Ojai Unified School District. “A teacher is only one human being, and there’s only so much they can do as class sizes keep increasing.” The funds raised through donations on www.100forojaischools.com throughout the spring and summer were distributed evenly among the elementary schools, Matilija Junior High and Nordhoff High School. At Meiners Oaks Elementary, $3,000 was used to fund a teacher for the Positive Attitude Will Succeed (P.A.W.S.) program for academic achievement. “It’s an intervention program,” clarified Meiners Oaks principal Dawn Damianos. ” It’s how we reach students who need extra support.” Students rotate in and out of the program as needed, to help keep them on track with their peers. At the Ojai Unified School District’s largest elementary school, Topa Topa Elementary, $4,500 is being used to fund a teacher for a similar program, Prescribed Instruction. The focus there will be on reading and language arts. At Mira Monte Elementary, a teacher is being hired with their share of the donated funds ($3,800) to improve fourth- to sixth-grade students’ social studies and science skills. The District’s two smallest schools, Summit and San Antonio Elementary schools — which share a principal, Teresa Dutter — will also share $2,400 to support their large number of combination classes. “For example,” said Marilyn Smith, the OUSD’s director of elementary education special projects, “one teacher will teach second grade math while the other teacher takes the third-graders to another room for their math instruction.” The funds will also be used to bring an extra teacher into classrooms when the regular teacher is conducting one-one-one student assessments — “a valuable tool for identifying academic gaps,” Smith added. “By having a substitute, the regular teacher can be assessing, and the rest of the class continues seamlessly through the day.” At Matilija Junior High, principal Bill Rosen said the money his school received made a big difference in class sizes. Administrators were able to add an additional math class, Algebra 1, which dropped the average Algebra 1 class size from 40 students to 30. That reduced student-to-teacher ratios other subjects, as well, Rosen said. “For example,” he noted, “we reduced an English class from 41 to 34, a social studies class from 42 to 36, and a physical science class from 41 to 33. The bottom line is that the enhanced student-teacher ratios will allow for much more personal attention between students and their teachers.” A similar affect is being felt at Nordhoff, where an added geoscience class dropped the number of students from 39 to 31 in the required freshman course. This reduction enables significantly better weekly lab experiences for students,” said principal Greg Bayless, “since they are in much smaller groups and therefore have more time handling equipment and engaged in the actual mechanics of lab work.” The positive effects are felt throughout those students’ time at Nordhoff, Bayless added. “Smaller class sizes enable teachers to give much more individualized attention to ensure students’ initial success in science at NHS, increasing the likelihood that students will move on to three and four years of science, which we believe best prepares them for a variety of post-secondary choices.” When she found out how the funds were being used, McBride said. “It just felt fantastic! It made me feel so good. it was the frosting on the cake, to see where money’s going, how many students are impacted and how many teachers are impacted.” McBride sent a special thank-you to Oliver, who “really bore the major effort here,” as well as to OUSD board member Linda Taylor, “who donated $3,000. That’s the single highest donor to this effort. We were so pleased … it said a whole lot about her commitment to Ojai schools.” McBride said that although the 100 For Ojai Schools’ summer fund-raising drive has ended, the group is still hoping to get additional donations. “Those funds would be donated for the 2013 calendar year,” she said. “That could have an additional impact, there’s not doubt about it.” See www.100forojaischools.com to donate.