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PUSD Board President, Superintendent Discuss State of Our Schools

Published on Thursday, September 15, 2011 | 12:58 pm

Schools are the heart of the community, Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Board President Renatta Cooper said in her first State of the School Address Thursday night. Ironically, she said, the government’s education policies are hurting schools.

“We know we are moving in the wrong direction,” Cooper said and added, “We are sacrificing our future because of the current financial problems brought about by a highly politicized dispute. It is short sighted and is not in the best interest of our children and our future in a globally competitive economy.”

At least $23 million were slashed from the PUSD budget over the past three years which Cooper said have had a crippling effect on the district school system. The budget cut forced PUSD to lay off “many excellent teachers” and increase class sizes.

The move to increase the number of students per classroom is also problematic, according to Cooper as she cited several studies and data which points to the negative effect of such a policy.

She reported, “We have also shortened our school calendar. We know, we have the shortest school year in the  Western civilized world at a 180 days, when the average is 220 days.”

The challenges of budgetary cuts were also raised by PUSD Superintendent Jon Gundry. In his speech, Gundry explained that the problem of budget cuts in the PUSD school system is much worse than the public realizes. He said that because the public sees that the schools are still open, teachers are still teaching and test scores are going up, they assume things are doing well.

They are  wrong, Gundry told the parents. PUSD schools are still functioning thanks to the dedication of educators who are able to achieve improvements in spite of dwindling or lack of resources, expanding and overcrowded classroooms and lack of support from the central offices, he said.

“The challenge is tremendous,” Gundry said in his speech. “Teachers are doing the best they can to step up to the plate and deliver even at a time of unprecedented lack of resources and an environment of increased accountability and much higher expectations,” he added.

Cooper explained that moving in the wrong direction is not the way PUSD wanted to go but they also have to face the challenges ahead.

“This is the dilemma we have to face. We need a longer calendar year and more resources for our schools. And we need to experiment with models to help us to get that way and get away from the 19th century agrarian model that our public school system is based on, which is no longer fully relevant to the way we live today,” she explained.

The decline in the financial priority of education is described by some as “educational malpractice.” But Cooper was quick to defend the educators whom she said has no hand in “allocating the funds that leads to these decision,” alluding to the politicians who make policies.

Rather, she said, dedicated educators are trying to make the best decision under the worst circumstances and will continue to do so until the situation improves.

On a positive note, Cooper commended PUSD students who continue to “make the community proud” with their achievements even with very little resources. In the last three years, schools in Pasadena district raised their API performances by 52 points, surpassing the state and county growth rates.

At least 10 schools scored 800 or higher in their last API test and Sierra Madre became the first school in PUSD to score above 900 in the API with a score of 908. Blair High School was named 2011 California Distinguished School, the first time PUSD won the award and hopefully not the last, she said. Also this year, PUSD graduates received more than $5 million in college scholarships.

“PUSD graduates are now studying in major universities, like Princeton, Caltech,  NYU, Notre Dame, Boston College, U.S. Naval Academy and others,” she said while the crowd acknowledged with enthusiastic applause.

Lastly, Cooper emphasized the significance of public school systems in the future of America. Because 90 percent of American children attend public schools, the future of America depends on it, she said.

“Public school is the only educational entity in the country that accepts all children without exception. We all have an investment in public school. We have a civic investment in its success. Public schools are the  incubators of ideals of future generation. No entity has greater collective impact on our future than public schools,” Cooper concluded.

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