Continual challenge of new school year

Big changes: Complying with Proposition 227 and other state mandates will prove difficult.

With fall classes about to start, Ventura County schools can take their latest report card as both a comfort and an inspiration.

According to the state’s High School Performance Report for 1996-97, the county’s public high schools have improved in the past two years, and are now ranked slightly above the state average in most areas. While that report is welcome, there’s clearly still plenty of room for further improvement. Achieving that improvement should be the prime focus of everyone — teachers and administrators, students and parents — during the coming school year.

Charles Weis, Ventura County superintendent of schools, expects this to be a particularly challenging year for public schools at every level, largely because of fundamental changes — such as reduced class size and a longer school year — dictated by the California Legislature. What makes adapting to these changes even more difficult is the fact they were enacted by the Legislature after some schools had already started fall classes. As just one example, Fillmore schools — which are on a year-round schedule — have already been in session for three weeks.

Asked to name the primary task facing the schools right now, Mr. Weis said, “Implementing all the new state programs and mandates, starting with Proposition 227.”

Proposition 227 is not a legislative program but a mandate from California voters via the initiative that, in effect, banned bilingual education. Students are now supposed to be “immersed” in English in making a lingual transition, presenting a particular problem for schools with a high proportion of students who come from homes where another language is spoken.

Complying with Proposition 227 will be “a continuing challenge,” said Mr. Weis. The state will be monitoring compliance, he said, with the county schools office “trying to help the schools comply by providing guidance and developing acceptance.”

Mr. Weis reported that only one new school — Walnut Canyon School in Moorpark — was not completed in time to be ready to open for the new school year. But even schools that are physically ready will be scrambling procedurally, because of the mandated changes. “In some cases,” he said, “the schools will have to change the way they do business.”

The legislated changes are designed, of course, to improve student performance. If they are successful, the next report card for county high schools should continue the upward curve.

The state’s assessment ranks schools in six areas — involving graduation rates, the ratio of college-prep classes to vocational classes, test scores and the rate of college attendance for graduates. The scores of Ventura County high schools continue to reflect the county’s economic and ethnic diversity — with schools in the more affluent areas of the county scoring better than those in less affluent areas. That same pattern can be found throughout the state.

Ironically, there’s one area where county high schools rank below the state average: sending graduates into the California State University system. It should be a goal of county schools during the coming year to get more students ready for CSU, particularly for the day in the not-too-distant future when the county’s CSU, Channel Islands campus is ready for them.

Indeed, as the new school year begins, the challenges are many and great for Ventura County educators. We trust that local educators will respond to those challenges with the enthusiasm necessary to help make the new school year a memorable one for local students.

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