Category Archives: Vallejo Unified School District

Benicia Superintendent Charles Young on school classes to start August 17

Vallejo, Benicia school districts getting ready for start of fall classes

Solano County on watch list

Vallejo Times Herald, by Thomas Gase, August 5, 2020
Dr. Charles Young is Benicia Unified School District’s superintendent. (Chris Riley – Times-Herald file)

Zoom accounts. Masks. Decent WiFi. It’s not the typical back-to-school shopping list, but then again 2020 has been anything but normal due to COVID-19.

With the start of the school year right around the corner (Aug. 17 in Solano County) teachers, administrators and school board members are currently working quicker than The Flash to make things run smoothly when students return back to class.

When the students do return it won’t be on campuses as the Solano County Office of Education announced three weeks ago that local schools will start the new school year with distance learning. This is because Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in July that that schools in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list begin the school year via distance learning. Solano County is on that list.

“It’s definitely different preparing for the start of the school year in the digital age,” Vallejo High principal Jarrod Bordi said. “We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming this week and we’ve had a lot of professional development this week. We will have three more days next week with our staff. We want to make sure that our teachers have all the right tools they need.”

Kids and parents walk on to the Widenmann/Solano campus on the first day of school in 2019. (Chris Riley–Times-Herald)

Newsom has said that once these “watched” locales meet requirements (including being off the list for 14 consecutive days) campuses may reopen, but as of now, Dr. Charles Young, Superintendent of Schools for Benicia Unified School District agrees with Newsom’s plan.

“We have a phase-in model approach,” Young told the Times-Herald. “We would like to be able to do in-person teaching when it is safe for students and staff as outlined by the Governor’s Directive. … Everyone is doing their very best getting ready for the year. BUSD is very fortunate to have amazingly talented employees in all parts of our system who work together in ways that are supportive and student-centered.”

Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson said in July that educators “are working tirelessly to design and implement solutions to meet a broad range of unique needs for thousands of students.

“Bottom line is equity for every student is critical,” Estrella-Henderson said. “Our districts and charters schools will continue to be flexible, resourceful, and innovative no matter where instruction occurs on the first day of school.”

Young said that one of the most important issues was to make sure every student is prepared.

“Students will be provided with Chromebook for home learning,” Young said. “Some specialty classes at the secondary level will also have supply kits for students.”

Young as well as Bordi said that Benicia and Vallejo will keep a regular grading policy for the fall and not turn to a pass, fail system.

The Benicia superintendent said that there will be challenges to the new school year but that his staff and himself learned a lot during the spring semester when distance learning was first put into effect.

“Challenges include not being in the same space with our students;” Young said. “Keeping students engaged; how it’s difficult to do small group work and collaborative/hands-on work; and creating and keeping culture, community and connection, these are all challenges.

“That being said, I’ve been impressed with our teachers commitment to students,” Young continued. “I’m impressed with their ability to adjust and learn and create new “system” within 48 hours; our teachers partnership, positivity and collaboration to do what needs to be done to support students. We learned a lot in the spring such as teaching online in smaller groups works better for some students; creating a set schedule and being as consistent as possible; finding additional support curriculum that works well online; creating connection is key and that learning and teaching takes longer online.”

Bordi also said that Vallejo High will switch some things up in the fall due to what the school learned from distance schooling in the spring.

“I think this time around it’s going to be a little more robust and more direct with how we communicate with the students,” Bordi said. “For some this will be easier, while for some this may not be easier. But we want to provide a more rigorous, robust semester for kids this year.”

Bordi said one of the biggest challenges is “meeting the needs of everyone” involved. As Vallejo High moves forward he said it will take a “team effort.”

Young said that BUSD is always listening to community feedback on what they can improve on and what they should continue to do.

Some parents expressed their hopes and concerns about the school year to the Times-Herald online on Wednesday.

Iona Morgan has a student who will be a senior at Benicia High as well as an eighth-grader at Benicia Middle School.

“My biggest concern is the greater uncertainty around the college application process,” Morgan said. “Biggest hope is finding a way to protect students’ mental health. Challenges are having kids miss their friends and teachers. But I did enjoy the flexibility that distance learning provided.”

Parent Debbie Lamb said her biggest concern was funding.

“AB77 and AB98 base this year’s funding for schools in California on last year’s numbers,” she said. “But for charter schools with a growth plan, this means new students won’t be funded and the schools aren’t allowed to disenroll students either.”

Robert Alexander also weighed in on the issue on Twitter.

“Biggest hope: Pandemic=road to school vouchers. I want VJO families at @VCUSD to have choice-ability-resources to get their kids into best learning environment for their kids (SPSV-Justin-DLS-etc). If they like @VCUSD, they can give their vouchers back and stay in Vallejo public school”

Bordi said that high school is important and stressed that giving incoming freshmen the great experience of finally getting to high school is on the minds of staff.

“One thing we’ve been talking about is orientation,” Bordi said. “We want to give incoming students that great welcoming experience. It won’t be physical where a teacher shows you around the school personally like in the past, but we still want to provide a welcoming experience.”

Incoming freshmen at Vallejo High will be picking up textbooks and other materials on campus on Thursday, Aug. 13. The distribution will be spaced out and done alphabetically while staff shows up to make sure social distancing is being followed.

Newsom said the pace at which counties on and off the monitoring list resume in-person classes this fall is incumbent upon people following state health mandates and guidelines like wearing masks and face coverings, practicing physical distancing, hand washing and minimizing contact with people outside one’s household.

“The more we do … and we do it at scale, the quicker all those counties are going to come off that monitoring list, we’re going to mitigate the spread of this virus and those kids are back in school,” Newsom said in July.

Newsom also outlined the state’s requirements for distance learning. Schools must ensure that all students have access to the requisite technology and internet service for at-home classes and that students and teachers interact with each other daily. Schools must also lay out plans to modify their lessons for English language learners and special education students.

“Safety is foundational and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into this fall and we work our way through this pandemic,” Newsom said.

Mitchell Romao, Vallejo Unified School District interim superintendent, as well as VCUSD President John Fox, did not return phone calls to the Times-Herald for this story.

Covid-19 – Vallejo schools ease up on grading, Benicia stays tough but will discuss

[Editor: The Benicia School District’s May 7 meeting will take up the hot topic of grading policies under distance learning.  In this updated version of the Times-Herald story, Benicia Superintendent Charles Young goes on record defending Benicia’s grading policy.  For context, read below about other Bay Area school districts, and check out the California Dept of Education’s Coronavirus Guidance on Grades and Graduation.  – R.S.]

Coronavirus: Vallejo School District changes grading policies, but Benicia stays the same

Vallejo Times Herald, by Thomas Gase, May 1, 2020

With the coronavirus outbreak changing education with distance learning, many school districts have made changes to their grading policies for the spring semester.

The Vallejo Unified School District announced last month that third-quarter grades will be used for final grades, unless those grades go up during the final semester. This is the same for Fairfield and West Contra Costa County, while the Dixon Board of Supervisors announced they adopted a pass/no pass policy.

Other counties going to a pass/no pass or credit/no credit policy include Napa, Santa Clara, Sonoma and San Mateo. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a credit/no credit policy (after initially adopting a policy that would have given all students “A’s.”

However, while many school districts have switched things up, Benicia Unified has yet to make any changes to its grading policy,  although there is an item on May 7 board meeting that mentions a report from Dr. Leslie Beatson on the next steps of distance learning.  One of the components of that presentation and discussion will be an update on the grading being implemented in Benicia Unified School District, according to an email from BUSD President Diane Ferrucci.

“Thursday’s board meeting will include an update from our Education Services Department on the distance learning plan to date, a standing agenda item as long as we are engaged in this model, and will also include an update on student feedback, engagement and grading,” Benicia Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Charles Young told the Times-Herald. “We have evidence illustrating that our model is working on behalf of the vast majority of our students and is helping to keep levels of student engagement high as we all navigate this new model together.”

Leann Taagepera, a parent of a senior student at Benicia High, was not happy with BUSD not making changes to its grading policy and sent out an email to Ferrucci requesting that the topic of the grading policy be an action item” on the board’s agenda, instead of a discussion only item.

“School boards across the state and nation are voting on the grading policies revised per the CDE’s suggestions during this school closure time period,” Taagepera said. “The school board and the public should be afforded meaningful input into the grading plan, not merely be told by staff what staff is proceeding with.”

Taagepera also requested Benicia High provide a survey to high school students and parents to solicit their opinions about what should compose the district’s grading policy during distance learning and that the survey include the state’s guidance on grading during the distance learning time period.

In an email to the Benicia School Board, Taagepera wrote, “All of the (school districts) are either adopting a credit/no credit or pass/no pass system or a system that states that the spring semester grades will not fall below what they were in the first quarter when schools closed, or a combination of both. Again, BUSD is the one district I have located that is not modifying its grading policy during this terrible time of upheaval in the lives of our students, parents, and teachers.”

Young said there are reasons they haven’t made a change to a pass/no pass policy as of yet.

“We stayed with the use of grades at the secondary level as it is a feedback system of which students, staff and parents are imminently familiar,” Young said. “We are aware of at least one district that decided to use credit/no credit is now getting petitions from parents to return to regular grades. This work is complicated and we know there is no perfect system. We are focused on the needs of our students and we will continue to reflect on our process as we go forward, not only with distance learning, but with all we do on behalf of our students.”

Young went on to praise Benicia teachers and faculty with their work in distance learning.

“Our teachers and all staff have been just amazing,” Young said. “We were among the first to implement the distance learning model (many school districts had upwards of three weeks of no instruction as they transitioned to distance learning), a formidable task for sure, but we were providing instruction on day one. We quickly distributed Chromebooks to students in need (the high school was already one-to-one); we identified essential standards by grade level and course offering. Our partnership with the Benicia Teachers Union has never been stronger and their level of professionalism continues to not only be admirable but is a model for other districts.”