Williams school board more transparent, likes changes

Williams Unified School District has had a tumultuous few years, but the school board said last week that the dust has settled, a new year has begun, and they will move forward with their plans to turn students into scholars.

Board President Sylvia Vaca, at the Aug. 16 meeting, said the school board is standing by Superintendent Edgar Lampkin, as well as new and returning administrators, teachers, and staff that have embraced programs they believe will provide younger students with bilingual education and strong language development, older students with rigorous academics and early college opportunities, and all students with a multi-cultural experience that includes music, sports, art, and physical fitness.

School board members last week were largely not phased by parting shots at the controversial superintendent by former paraeducator Meghan Miller, who represented the classified staff during last year’s firestorm, or by the loss of 40-year veteran teacher Dale Martini, who said in her July 31 resignation letter that she retired because of a “hostile school climate and low moral brought on by the decisions and actions of current administration.”

“We’ve been through a difficult road,” Vaca said. “Not everybody is bying into what we are trying to do, but it seems (Lampkin) has a vested interest in every student, and his vision that he has passed on is how we are going to achieve our goals. It’s pretty much what we have been wanting.”

While teachers last year, including many that have now moved on to other districts, repeatedly said that Williams schools “use to cast a shadow” in Colusa County and not “stand in the shadows” when it came to academic achievement. California Department of Education reports indicate that has not been the case for some time, especially after the 1998 passage of Proposition 227, which required all public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade be taught only in English, with only English educational materials.
Williams Unified has the largest percentage of English learners, and has experienced largely poor achievement outcomes, according to state reports.

According to the Fall 2017 Dashboard report, Williams Unified was the only district in Colusa County with basic needs largely unmet, including instructional materials, teachers, facilities, implementation of academic standards, and parent engagement.

Lampkin, who was hired during the summer of 2016 to improve student outcomes and provide equity in education for English learners, was aided in the district’s goals by the passage of California’s Proposition 58 the following November, which effectively repealed the English-only mandate, and allowed WUSD officials to implement the controversial bilingual learning program referred to as Dual Immersion. The district was also aided by a new state funding formula that boosted revenue to contract a host of new programs aimed at staff development and improving student achievement.

“The past two years, from when school started, it was chaotic,” Lampkin said. “The two years were chaotic with lots of things happening; lots going on that kept everybody wondering when things would slow down or when things would stop.”

Since summer school, however, Lampkin said everything has quieted down, and that the district’s current administrators, staff, and teachers are committed to a school year that can now move forward with its programs, including SEAL, the comprehensive model of intensive, enriched language and literacy education designed for English language learners, dual enrollment courses at Woodland College, advanced coursework, and access to real and virtual libraries.

The district is also moving forward with facility improvements, utilizing funding from the bond measure approved by district voters in 2016, staff development for new teachers, and other programs that provide students with a 21st century learning environment, Lampkin said.

“I’m excited about where we are and where we’re going,” he said. “I think we have come to the tipping point and we’re looking forward to the next couple of years in our district. I have no doubts that we will be seeing some amazing things.”

Although union representatives at the end of the school year predicted a “mass exodus” of students, and earlier reports indicated that as many as 160 students would transfer out of the district, that number was only 30 by the start of school, and then 20 by Thursday’s school board meeting, with a few new or returning students expected, officials said.
“I’m happy to hear that we are adding more students as we go, so hopefully, if we keep watching it, we will be where our target is,” said WUSD Director of Fiscal Services Mechele Coombs. “But if not, at first interim, we will be making budget adjustments to accommodate for that.”

Williams receives about $10,000 per student a year, according to its funding formula, so a 20-student loss from what was budgeted amounts to about $200,000, officials said.
Trustee Yareli Mora said she is very happy with the changes, and appreciates what the staff has done to move the district in the right direction. She said she witnessed the changes first hand when her child came home excited about school, reading, math, and art.
“To her it was so fun that she didn’t even consider it work,” Mora said. “So, I’m glad to see that, and that she likes being here at school.”

Mora noted she is still concerned about the lack of involvement by parents, stating that studies show students perform better in school, have fewer behavioral problems, perform better academically, and are more likely to complete high school than students whose parents are not involved in their school.

While the teachers union was able to pack parents into school board meetings during turbulent salary negotiations, teachers and parents were absent from last week’s school board meeting entirely.

Nonetheless, board members said they would continue to make an effort at each meeting to follow their legal counsel’s advice to be more transparent and communicative during their decision-making processes.

The district also added a section to the regular meeting agenda that includes routine purchase orders like construction costs and attorney fees.

The board’s next regular meeting will be Sept. 13. A special workshop will be held Sept. 25 to continue the discussion on effective governance.

Agendas and minutes of the school board are printed in both English and Spanish. Meetings are open to the public and translated live from English to Spanish.