The Ravenswood City School District is working to identify their educational priorities as the district prepares to receive an influx of cash and increased control over allocation of the money under California’s new K-12 school funding formula.
“This is a new day for Ravenswood,” District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez said at a recent meeting of the district’s partners, funders and school principals. Hernandez called the new funding a “huge opportunity to reassess how we’re preparing our students.”
California’s Local Control Funding Formula — which took effect last July — aims to distribute resources more fairly, by tying school funding to student demographics by providing extra money for disadvantaged students. In addition to increasing base grants for grades K-3 and 9-12, schools with students who are low income, English learners or foster youth will receive additional grants.
Funds are being rolled out over an eight-year period, with additional grants projected to grow incrementally through 2021. This year, California’s 2013-2014 Budget Act provides $2.1 billion to support the first year of the funding formula’s implementation.
Ravenswood, where 90 percent of students are low-income and 67 percent are English learners, stands to benefit greatly. Still, the district has been hit hard by state education cuts in recent years, and faces a major shortage of resources and programs that the new funds won’t be able to completely address.
As such, the district remains focused on ensuring that the funds they do receive are utilized efficiently. And with the elimination of most state spending requirements, school districts will now be primarily responsible for the distribution of their money.
In lieu of requirements, districts must solicit input from their communities and schools to develop Local Control Accountability Plans that outline student achievement goals and plans for meeting them. Ravenswood is preparing to poll parents and teachers to help identify feasible goals.
Hernandez says giving the district increased spending control will provide “a great opportunity to direct funding towards the highest priority areas.” However, districts won’t know exactly how much funding they’re actually receiving this school year until July, when accountability plans are finalized and the year is already over.
This ambiguity has made some districts hesitant to move forward with spending. Still, Ravenswood has already said science, technology, engineering and math programs will be prioritized.
Robert Pronovost, Ravenswood’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Coordinator explained that he has begun a project to create a “Maker Space” in every school in the district. These are rooms equipped with technology, tools and mentors that help to maximize student’s creativity.
“They can build with their hands, prototype things using design thinking, learn how to code and [learn] robotics,” Pronovost said, explaining that these spaces will allow “our students to become those innovators that we know they can become.”
Hernandez is excited about the project as well. “We have to prepare our students for that 21st century workforce,” she said, “They need to learn new ways of thinking, new ways of exploring, new ways of creating.”
While Pronovost and Hernandez remain optimistic, they understand the challenges that Ravenswood faces. For the 2012-2013 school year, per-pupil spending in the district amounted to $6,287 compared to the national average of $11,068. The new funding formula will only lessen — not eliminate — this disparity, and the district’s list of unmet needs is long.
This is something that Fabiola Macias, mother of a fourth grader at Willow Oaks School, can attest to. Though Macias believes improving science, technology, engineering and math programs is important, she said that addressing the language barrier faced by English language learners might be even more critical.
“With science and math, a lot of it has to do with comprehending what you’re reading. And if you don’t understand what you’re reading, it’s really hard for you to understand what you’re trying to learn,” Macias explained, emphasizing that Spanish-speaking parents faced a similar barrier when trying to help their children with homework.
Additionally, Macias was glad to hear that Ravenswood was polling parents to help create their accountability plan, as she’s been frustrated by the district’s lack of responsiveness in the past. “Parents do need to be more involved,” she acknowledged. “But when parents are trying to be involved, they (the district) need to do a better job of listening.”
In her first year as superintendent, Hernandez has tried to foster dialogue.
A recent meeting among district partners, funders and principals focused on addressing barriers to effective resource allocation. Officials agreed on the need for greater uniformity in academic programs and standards across Ravenswood schools, and increased collaboration across content areas.
Participants remarked that this was the first time they had attended a meeting that addressed these issues in so straightforward a manner, and some expressed admiration for Hernandez’s focus on transparency and accountability.
“With the new leadership, we can all work more interdependently, and identify common issues, common metrics,” said Renu Nanda, executive director of Ravenswood Education Foundation, an organization that works to channel resources and volunteers to the district.