On Thursday evening, Sierra Sands Unified School District held a public forum to explain and collect feedback on the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) and California’s new Dashboard program. 

The forum was led by SSUSD assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Michelle Savko and it was held in the Burroughs High School library. SSUSD held these forums at different times and places throughout the week, and still plan for one more held on Wednesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. at Inyokern Elementary School library.

According to a slide on Savko’s presentation, LCAP is a critical part of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which the presentation said is the most significant change in California’s K-12 funding system in 40 years. 

“One goal of the new law is to improve academic outcomes by targeting more money to school districts that serve high-needs students. Another goal is to give districts local control to decide how to spend education dollars, and hold them accountable for getting results,” the presentation said. 

Toward the end of the presentation, SSUSD presented some ideas on how to use the funds provided to them. Savko stressed that these are ideas still in the brainstorming draft and are subject to change. She said SSUSD is currently reaching out to staff, parents, and other stakeholders to get feedback on these ideas and to collect more ideas.

Current ideas include professional development targeted toward areas of student need, instructional coaches, adding middle school intervention/collaboration teachers, and expanding summer school options. Savko said they’ve already received more ideas from parents, one of which is to add paraprofessionals to help in more classes.

High-needs funding

Savko explained the LCFF funding tiers. Because LCFF funds are focused towards helping serve high-need students, school districts enter higher tiers of funding based on how many high-need students they have. The high-need students it focuses on are students from low-income families, students learning English language, and foster youth.

LCFF permits all districts a base level of funding. If the district’s population is at least 20 percent of those high-need students, the district enters the “Supplemental” tier. If a district’s population is at least 50 percent of those high-need students, the district enters the “Concentration” tier. 

SSUSD just recently entered the concentration tier, currently showing 61 percent of its population in one of those high-need categories. Savko explained that SSUSD believed that they had those students, but struggled to collect the data proving they had beyond the 50 percent mark in order to push themselves into the higher tier of funding. For years, the district sat just a few percentage points shy of unlocking that tier.

“You might recall this fall we sent out a new income verification form which we encouraged parents to complete. That allowed us to capture more of those student numbers we knew were out there,” she said. 

She said that pushed the district into the “Concentration” tier, and SSUSD will receive $500,000 extra dollars in LCFF funds this school year. 

SSUSD superintendent Ernie Bell said that it’s also important to note that the amount of money is based on a three-year average, so they expect that $500,000 to grow significantly over the next couple years. At the moment, the three-year average is held down by the previous two years in which they weren’t in the “Concentration” tier. Bell said that after two more years, by the time the averages catch up and so long as parents continue filling out those income verification forms, he anticipates that $500,000 will grow to around $2,000,000.

“We need to get the word out to parents,” Bell said. 

Savko showed a slide in the presentation giving a yearly breakdown of LCAP funding. For the ‘18-’19 school year, they estimated to receive $4,426,380 from the “Supplemental” tier of funding and $541,00 from the “Concentration” tier of funding. The “Concentration” tier funds will be entirely new, but SSUSD received “Supplemental” funds to the tune of $3,525,367 in ’17-’18 and $3,421,161 in ’16-’17.

According to the presentation, the LCAP funds must be used to improve services directed towards supporting those high-needs students. That’s where the “accountability” part of the LCAP name comes in. SSUSD has to show in its plan how those funds will go towards programs and procedures that are principally directed towards helping those high-needs students. 

Dashboard

Dashboard is California’s new online tool that shows how districts and schools are performing according to metrics in California’s accountability system. According to the SSUSD presentation, it’s like a report card for schools.

Without requiring any sort of login information, the website allows users to quickly search for schools and district, then displays performance metrics in clear and colorful graphics. 

Visit CAschooldashboard.org to try it. According to the Daily Independent’s experience, the search function requires direct input to pull up the correct schools, unlike other internet search engines which will attempt to pull up similar results even if the search was imperfect or spelled incorrectly.

To find individual schools, search the school name without the word “school.” For example, search “Burroughs High” to find Burroughs High School. Search “Sierra Sands Unified” to find all SSUSD schools. Search “Ridgecrest” to find all available schools in Ridgecrest.

It’s a new program and some of the metrics show incomplete data because they require data that averages across multiple years. However, the tool as it strives to increase transparency and help schools and stakeholders improve schools by clearly showing where schools excel and where schools struggle.

Savko explained how in the past, this data was difficult to find, and then once found the data was difficult to interpret even for education professionals. 

Now the data shows clear, color-coded pie charts for multiple school performance categories such as math performance, English language arts performance, graduation rates, suspension rates, and so on. In addition, users can click on each of these categories to explore them in depth. 

A significant change from past practice is that allows schools to have more individualized control, according to Savko.

“It moves past looking at only a test score and allows us to have a more holistic view of the school,” Savko said. “What’s neat is that the state hasn’t given us unattainable targets. We’re only competing with our selves, that’s what’s fascinating.”

She said that the focus now isn’t on achieving a one bar, but rather on making sure schools are continually improving. She said that rather than schools competing against each other, they’re now competing against themselves. For example, schools that test the same in math might show different levels of color-coded performance on Dashboard because the program is focused on continual improvement rather than just the scores. Schools perform on Dashboard by improving themselves every year. 

Dashboard and LCAP work together, Savko explained. She described how districts are required to review their performance on Dashboard to help inform their plans for using the funding. They will use it to identify areas of great progress, as well as areas of great need. They will also put a focus on performance gaps, like when one category of students excel in an area while another group underperforms. 

“It’s a tool that really revolutionizes how we are transparent in California,” Savko said.