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Santa Clarita CA
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August 11
2018 - Big Oaks Lodge in Bouquet Canyon burns down [video]
Big Oaks Lodge

| Thursday, Apr 4, 2019
Science Assembly Mountainview Elementary
Mountainview Elementary held the Magic of Science Assembly recently. Students learned some fun, science based tricks. The assembly was made possible by PTA donations. Photo credit: Mountainview Elementary social media account.


Instruction is the single most important element of any school district. The teaching and learning process must be at the core of all of the work done within a school district and the central goal for improvement or enrichment of the students who attend the district.

The Saugus Union School District (SUSD) has had many award-winning and notable years of providing quality instructional programs to its community. While it continues to be a high achieving school district within the state, we see that we have some areas of opportunity when we compare ourselves to our local districts and to districts that are demographically similar. The following two charts show a four-year comparison of SUSD’s English Language Arts (ELA) achievement and mathematics achievement as measured by the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) in grades 3-6.
ELD and Mth Data 2 SUSD

When we examine the local area school districts achievement and other demographically similar school districts (i.e., similar in size, ethnicity, English learner enrollment, etc.) we see that they are achieving at higher levels. We must ask ourselves “What are they doing that is different?”

The answer to that question is simple. The higher performing districts have district-wide systems that incorporate a cycle of continuous improvement and provide opportunities for systematic collaboration between teachers. These two elements combined with a systematic intervention/enrichment model create an environment where the assessed needs of all students are met and their individual achievement levels rise.

To that end, SUSD is moving to develop the following:
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) environments at all school sites
Common Curriculum Implementation and Common Assessments
Response to Intervention Processes

Professional Learning Communities (PLC) Environments:
Professional Learning Communities or PLCs is an idea that has been part of the educational community for many years. Pioneered by the Rick and Rebecca DuFour in the late 1990’s, it is the idea of teachers working collaboratively to design both instruction and assessment that are aligned to individual grade level or content area standards while meeting the assessed needs of their individual students. PLCs work on the cycle of continuous improvement in that teachers at a grade level examine common data to determine instructional and achievement needs, they design or plan instruction and assessments to meet those needs as well as grade level expectations, and finally they follow a cycle of plan, do, check, act that allows students to receive instruction that is at their specific level, but also drives their achievement forward in order to ensure optimal learning. PLCs function on the following 3 questions:

What do we want each student to know and learn?
How will we know when each student has learned it?
How will we respond when a student has difficulty or needs more time to learn?

The goals created for a PLC group are called SMART goals because each learning goal must be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Results oriented, and Timely.

SUSD has been working at individual school sites to develop PLC structures. Several schools (Plum Canyon, Bridgeport, West Creek, Emblem, Skyblue Mesa, Cedarcreek, and Santa Clarita) have had leadership teams (administrators & teachers) attending training sessions with the Ventura County Office of Education around implementation of the PLC structures. Recently a group of SUSD administrators went to a three-day training with Solution Tree (DuFours company) to better understand the PLC principles and be able to fully implement them in SUSD. We are planning additional training for this summer by PLC experts for teacher and administrator teams from each of our 15 school sites. We know that when we begin working collaboratively toward common goals and use our collective expertise to address the needs of students we will see new growth and continued success.

Common Curriculum Implementation and Common Assessments:
California Department of Education (CDE) provides all districts with common curriculum standards, common assessment experiences, and common instructional tools to ensure that all students across the state have a baseline or foundational experience when they attend a California public school. SUSD has that same responsibility to the stakeholders who entrust us to educate their children each year. By implementing a common curriculum, using common assessments to understand student progress, and providing common instructional tools to every school, SUSD will create that foundational experience for ALL of its students.

Teaching is both art and science. The science is found when schools use effective research-based practices for instruction and assessment. The science is also found when schools use a systematic approach to instruction and assessment that is based the cycle of continuous improvement. The art of teaching is what occurs when highly trained educators use those systems and research-based tools to design lesson/activities for students to engage in learning. The art of teaching occurs when individual schools and classroom create environments where students are fully engaged in learning and their individual needs are being met.

To accomplish having both the art and science of teaching, SUSD teacher teams are beginning, this spring, to develop common curriculum guides for English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. Each curriculum guide will support the pacing of the California State Standards as well as outline the instructional resources that can best be used to instruct those standards. Each curriculum guide will provide information on the timelines for instructing the standards each trimester, to ensure students receive all of the grade level standards in a subject area each year. These curriculum guides, however, will not be a “same page/same day” map that eliminates the art of teaching by individual classroom teachers. Teachers will use the curriculum guide to support their individual or grade level collaborative lesson design to meet the specific needs of their students in their current classroom.

To ensure we are all moving forward at the appropriate levels of rigor and challenge, SUSD teachers will also work to select/design common district benchmark assessments that will be administered several times throughout the school year – ELA and math. These assessments will be based on specific content for each time period of the year and will allow classroom teachers to participate fully in the PLC process of raising student achievement. These assessments will combine with both classroom and state assessments to give parents information on the individual progress their student(s) are making toward achieving grade level standards. While these test will not become the “high stakes” tests that we have heard about in the media, they will be a common metric from which we can periodically measure our progress or mirror our progress on other assessments.

Response to Intervention Processes:
As a natural byproduct of implementing a cycle of continuous improvement and common curriculum and instructional practices, SUSD will begin a formal process of Response to Intervention (RtI). The RtI process creates a tiered model of support for students by identifying those practices and programs that are available for ALL students as part of their academic and/or social emotional learning – Level 1. The RtI model progresses to Level 2 by identifying those supports, programs, and/or practices that some of our students need to be successful. Level 2 supports are provided to those students systematically and only when needed. Level 3 is the highest tier of support provided to ensure that students with the most severe academic and/or social/emotional needs have the supports they need to thrive.

Teams of classroom teachers, site administrators, and district office staff will meet and use our common curriculum tools and assessment tools to create this tiered system of supports. While many of these supports are already in place at individual schools, creating a district-wide RtI model will allow for them to be implemented consistently and with fidelity across all 15 school sites. Because this model is dependent on the creation of a common curriculum, common instructional models, and common assessments, families will begin seeing the RtI tiers in a more formal structure in the spring of 2020. Please know, however, that supports for students are currently in place and will continue throughout the formalization of the RtI model. If students need support to either remediate their learning or enrich their learning parents should contact their child’s teacher or the site principal to discuss the needs.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):
The Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS are the newest set of standards that school districts are using to guide their science instruction. While there are many discussions around how different these standards are, in many ways they are similar to the standards that we have seen in the past. The content of these standards in elementary school is fairly similar to previous standards (for example, the “parts of a plant” is still taught and still taught in grade 1). It is the method that is used to teach the content and how the students interact with the content to construct meaning that has changed. For example, while learning the information about parts of plants, students will also learn patterns and structures and how those are applicable in other areas (i.e., animal or human appendages/organs, machine parts, etc.). The ability to understand simple content in a more complex manner will allow students to transfer and apply their learning as they grow and develop. In addition, we see integration of concepts from mathematics and engineering into the elementary curriculum (i.e., using media to communicate a solution or using media to search for a potential solution to a problem).

The NGSS Standards were adopted by the state of California in the fall of 2013 and the Framework guiding those standards was adopted in the fall of 2016. The California Science Test (CAST) was piloted in 2018 for grades 5, 8, and high school. The operational CAST test will be used in 2019 and our first true scores will be received. Having experience with the state assessment and the scoring process will give schools a great deal of information on how their instruction is aligned to the assessment students will take. Finally, California adopted a textbook list in November of 2018. The adoption of this list of textbooks allows districts across the state to purchase much need NGSS aligned textbooks. Prior to this list being published districts who purchased textbooks were responsible for certifying that those books met all Education Code requirements for diversity, gender equity, etc.

SUSD has provided training and site level curriculum coaches focused on the NGSS standards since 2015. In 2018-2019 we will begin to participate in an adoption cycle, create NGSS curricular materials, and implement the NGSS standards TK-6 according to the following timeline:


2019 Begin NGSS textbook adoption process


2019 Begin NGSS pacing/curriculum guide work


2019 Support SUSD teachers with TOSA dedicated to NGSS


2020 Implement NGSS adopted materials & SUSD curriculum guides

Until the new textbooks are adopted and purchased for the classrooms, teachers will continue using their currently adopted textbook materials for content and adapt their lessons to meet the demands of the NGSS. This means that while plant parts will be taught, students will learn about them in connection to patterns and understand that those parts are similar to parts/functions of the parts of other organisms. Training and support for all classroom teachers will continue for NGSS and remain throughout the first few years of the adoption.

Final Thoughts:
Curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development are critical pieces to the success of any school district. By having quality process and systems in these areas schools can ensure that students are learning at the appropriate levels and that they can support them when they struggle. Successful districts never finish this work because the cycle of continuous improvement is always driving it. New instructional strategies need to be explored, supplemental materials need to be brought into the system to address needs, outdate practices need to be phased out to make way for more efficient strategies, and quality research-based, effective practices need to be maintained to ensure that ALL students are successful. This means that the work of curriculum development is never done. It is always advancing, reflecting, reacting, and changing to meet the needs of our current students. But as long as we do that work in a collaborative supportive environment that balances the science and art of teaching we will be successful. By working Together WE will Achieve More!

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1 Comment

  1. Bart Joseph says:

    Schools are a big direct influence for real estate pricing. This super was a great hire. Keep it up.

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