Guest Columnist Bob Laurent
Amador County’s District Three Board of Education Representative
Having read about President Obama’s historic signing of the landmark K-12 education measure signed into law on December 10th, my first speculation would be that "Every Student Succeeds Act" will have no effect here. This is because it largely implements and allows--on a national level--what California has already been pioneering in the last two to three years. California has reduced emphasis on testing, changed to tests that are meaningful to teachers, increased flexibility in classrooms, and increased vocational, arts and life skills classes.
For example, one of Amador’s high schools now has a modern culinary arts facility (the Rancheria made a significant contributions to this), and the other one has been approved to get one. Instead of household stoves and ovens, they will have modern commercial cooking equipment. The old business classroom (think clerical workers) is being modernized, using the more innovative setups that successful tech companies like Google and Facebook are using. This makes it usable for implementing computer graphics skills, such as animation and game design, as well as more traditional skills along with the 21st Century skills the students of Amador County need to compete in jobs that don't yet exist.
Our students will soon have access to the University of the Pacific's online library, giving teachers more opportunities to use materials that go beyond textbooks. We also have a digital dropbox for sharing curriculum, ebooks, digital technology and Smartboard lessons. Foreign language learning opportunities are increasing, in part due to more effective use of technology. The arts classes are growing and new class offerings are planned. Even though it takes years to “fix a leaky roof,” our students are receiving amazing opportunities.
Because of the new legislation at the national level, this will be more possible for kids elsewhere. Amazingly, Amador has been at the leading edge, and visitors are starting to come to look at what's been done. Our teachers jumped into the New California Standards with enthusiasm (with some exceptions, of course), and this has been conveyed to the students. Discipline problems are decreasing, in spite of the occasional problem (like the pound of marijuana found in December.) In terms of the opportunities for our kids, this is a great time to be on the board.
If we can just fix a couple of pending headaches, and if enrollment growth seen this fall continues, we'll be the envy of rural school districts everywhere.
A lot of the credit goes to local advocate, Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti; as well as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson's leadership at the state level-- has also helped to make this possible. California has already been moving away from “No Child Left Behind” for years. Teachers who have been willing to put in extra time to learn the new approaches, especially those who have learned to train other teachers, deserve a lot of credit. Our amazing teachers are on the cutting edge, and continue to work on projects throughout the state, as well as here in Amador, to develop and implement curriculum. We've even had teachers help align the State Environmental Education Initiative Curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards.
The new "Every Student Succeeds Act" places more emphasis on alternative teaching methods and programs. For example, this year our Independence High School program switched to a partial project-based learning curriculum and is continuing with its development. I don't anticipate much more money, and I think oversight and assessment for program effectiveness will be streamlined, as best as possible, to what is already occurring here in California.
(This 'guest' column recently ran in The Upcountry News, courtesy of Rick Torgerson.)