|Steve Betando, Superintendent
Morgan Hill Unified School District
15600 Concord Circle
|June 2014 An Amazing Year
August 2013 Continued Commitment to Excellence
The Board of Education has appointed Mr. Steve Betando Superintendent effective January 28, 2014. Mr. Betando began his career in education as a teacher in the Franklin-McKinley School District. He advanced from teaching to vice-principal, principal, curriculum director and assistant superintendent. Before coming to Morgan Hill, Mr. Betando was assistant superintendent in Fremont Unified School District, and interim human resources director/consultant for San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District. He arrived in Morgan Hill in January 2012 as interim assistant superintendent for human resources and was appointed to that position permanently in July. Mr. Betando holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Special Education, and a Master’s Degree in Education, Administration and Supervision. He has authored publications and taught a variety of courses, seminars, and workshops related to positive work relations, creating a culture of high achievement, preparing for negotiations, and effective evaluations, to name a few.
Mr. Betando has built strong relationships with district staff and community members in the short time that he has been in Morgan Hill. He is a great listener and problem solver. He has knowledge and experience in curriculum, finance, transportation, food services, maintenance and facilities, and human resources.
We welcome Mr. Betando to his new position and look forward with excitement to the year ahead.
Sobrato High School 2017
What an incredible day. As history is created all around you today, as it has this entire year, you are about to embark on an individual journey and write your own personal history.
I am envious of each of you as you map out what your history will be. This is a day of achievement, a day of excitement, and a day of celebration. It is also a day of determination for the future.
Before you walk across this stage to the cheers of your friends and family I want to add another purpose to your determination. As we celebrate your academic achievements, think about all that you’ve done to get to this place. Take a moment to reflect on the character footprint you leave behind now and what you will leave behind in the future.
Each day, each year, in your life’s story there is nothing more important or more meaningful than the impression you leave behind on others. Your character footprint becomes your history. We all know people who have left unforgettable impressions on our lives who have changed who we are simply by their own character footprint.
Take a moment to think about a person or two who have left a lasting impression on you.
Is that person selfish…. or selfless?
Some people leave good impressions, and some leave not so good impressions. It is those good impressions, that are wrapped in kindness, compassion, understanding, and strength that I hope you all will strive to be your character footprint. It also isn’t difficult to think of someone whose character you don’t admire or who has left a poor impression on you and that is also a character footprint which has a very lasting impression.
You will all experience great successes and you will all experience failures. You will have grand achievements and heartbreaking setbacks. However, neither successes or failures can define your character. To your family, your friends, your professors, or your descendants, how you treat other people during your successes or during your failures that is what will define you. How you treat others during their successes during their failures, that will also define you.
The lack of kindness tends to hang on more loudly in our minds than kindness does. The lack of kindness often creates a deeper footprint, it changes us, it molds our perception of a person or a situation, it lingers in our minds. Think of those who have been unkind, who have made others feel small or ugly or invisible. I urge you to not be that person.
No matter where you end up in life whether a medical technician the CEO of the largest tech company in Silicon Valley, a struggling artist loving what you do, a farmer, or a life-saving doctor, the value of your character footprint defines you.
Be a good person, not to receive the accolades that come with giving of one’s self but because you can. Be an inspiration to others, not for the social media glory of a million followers but because having the ability to inspire others is a gift that should not be lost.
If nothing else, be humble, be compassionate. But most important of all check your biases at the door before you judge a fellow human-being too harshly.
Ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu sent us his words from the 5th century and I believe they are a wonderful road map to building a character footprint. He said:
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Congratulations and best wishes class of 2017, and for the benefit of all of us go forth and make life extraordinary.
Live Oak High School 2017
Today you end one long journey and begin another. The milestone of high school graduation is like no other moment in your life. As you sit here this evening, cell phones in hand, Instagram, and Snapchat at the ready. I want to speak to you about the power of your communication.
If we look back through the history of communication, we see that the speed in which we can now communicate with one another is infinitely faster. From letters carried over weeks on horseback to messages that are delivered in an instant. Advancements in communication have changed the face of our society.
The written word is a powerful tool. It can be used for good or evil. It can be used to rectify a misunderstanding or cause chaos. Think about a time you’ve had a misunderstanding with a friend or your parents because of an email or a text message. Or the way that you constructed a message was taken as mean-spirited and not as you had intended. Today’s fast moving methods of communication can have far-reaching unintended consequences.
Being an effective communicator is the key to your success in life. Up until this point, your voice has been formed and shared in part by your parents, your peers, and your teachers. Now, as you cross this threshold into adulthood the strength of your voice, the power of your opinion is at it’s most vulnerable. You now have the chance to sculpt your own practices of communication.
How you communicate, the way you convey yourself to others is no one else’s responsibility but your own and it is critical for your future successes.
Many of us conduct the majority of our communication from behind a screen. Email, social media, text messages once in awhile it’s a phone call or a video conference, but for the most part, we tend to remain isolated from those we are in communication with. There are so many ways to communicate these days that the art of personal interaction has fallen short.
Still, in-person communication, which is the most underutilized, remains the highest valued form of communication. When Face-to-face, 93% of everything we intend to say is said without words. Non-verbal cues give us a better understanding of each other. They help us hear what is not being said. Your tone, facial expressions, body position, and other cues can emphasize the true meaning of your words. Although emojis are regularly used as surrogate emotions in casual messaging, the ability to communicate effectively and with true emotion, and in person, is something you must be able to master.
Although it seems faster to communicate electronically, you sacrifice a key attribute of in-person communication, the speed of response. Face-to-face removes that delay, meaning can be immediately clarified, and misinterpretation corrected at once. While messaging seems like a faster more convenient way to communicate. It can create misunderstanding and delay the connection between two individuals.
Consistent in studies, research has found that the number 2 reason why people are chosen for a job is the same number 2 reason why people lose their job. It is one’s ability or lack of ability to communicate effectively, and it is the interpersonal skills that will create your hire or cause you to be fired from a position. Your success in college, career, and in any relationship will depend on your ability to be an effective communicator.
The key ingredient to being an effective communicator will depend on your ability to listen. Calvin Coolidge once said: “No man ever listened himself out of a job.”
I implore you as you move out into the world think about how you communicate with others. Make an effort to give more face time to your conversations. Build deep and lasting relationships with others. To step away from social media and your smart phone and engage in meaningful conversation and listen.
Congratulations class of 2017, we wish you all the best and look forward to seeing what you do in the future.
Central High School 2017
Families, friends, and faculty welcome to Central High School’s 2017 commencement!
Graduates. We are here today to celebrate you as a graduate from Morgan Hill Unified School District. We celebrate your hard work your accomplishments and your steadfastness. In a few moments you will be crossing through one of life’s most significant milestones, your first step beyond high school as a graduate.
In past years, I’ve had the honor to stand on this stage and talk about how our students have persevered, about how they have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and your stories tell of similar struggles. Central High School graduation is one of my favorite places to be at the end of a long year, because this is where your strength turns perseverance into potential.
Each of you sits on this stage tonight, because you have worked tirelessly to reach your goal of obtaining a high school diploma. You are no strangers to beating the odds and we are all so proud of your achievement.
As you end this journey and begin a new, one I want to take this opportunity to not only celebrate your hard work but to also celebrate your willingness to help others and further impress upon you how helping others is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your future.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “Life’s most urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” Some of our students answered that question, Angel Salas, Ivan Preciado and Samantha Ruiz who sit on this stage tonight are three remarkable students with an intense desire and determination to help make a difference in our community. Angel, Ivan, and Samantha lead Central’s Interact Club. The Interact Club’s mission is to empower young people in our community to take action, to develop leadership skills, and gain a global perspective.
A message about helping others is important in any year, but perhaps particularly so this year. With so much happening around the country and the world, it is more important than ever that we come together to help each other.
Shamiya Robinson is another shining example how helping others makes our community a better place. Shamiya sometimes completes her work with time to spare. Once finished with her class projects, she asked others if they need help with theirs. And that’s not all. After a long day of classes, she helps around campus, giving our custodial staff an extra hand to keep the campus looking great.
Going that extra mile for others. Giving of yourself to the general community or to people who benefit by your actions is actually a priceless gift that you can give to yourself.
The most successful people in the world are philanthropists. They give of their time and of their money to help others, others who will never be able to repay them. It doesn’t take money to give of yourself, whether through kindness or an extra hand. There is no greater cause than a cause beyond yourself.
Congratulations class of 2017!
Community Adult School 2017
Principal Brown, Community Adult School Staff, trustees, graduates, family and friends. Life is a wonderful journey. We set and determine our course in life by the choices we make each and every day.
A famous sports hero from India, Sachin Tendul.kar, once said, “Success is a process. During that journey, sometimes there are stones thrown at you, and you convert them into milestones.”
Today, we are celebrating a milestone for you, a marker of your success measured by your academic achievement. I honor you and congratulate you for your achievement and I am proud to stand in the midst of those dedicated staff members who have worked with you to reach it.
There is one man in this room who, by his passion and efforts, has made it possible for all of you, and thousands of others to turn the stones carried to the doors of the Adult School into your milestones of graduation.
That man, of course, is Morgan Hill Community Adult School’s Principal Dennis Brown.
Nearly 17 years ago, Dennis came to Morgan Hill Unified School District to lead the adult school and he began a journey that would change thousands of lives. Kindly and unassuming, Dennis is a steadfast friend to all he encounters. Soft spoken and compassionate, he takes a personal and heartfelt interest in the lives of students who pass through the doors.
When adult school programs were closed throughout the state due to budget cuts and political maneuvering, Dennis Brown creatively consolidated programs and adapted to changes in regulations. Tailored course offerings and developed partnerships eventually turned Community Adult School into a model program.
He made personal sacrifices to not only save adult education in the South Bay but to serve more students in an even broader region of California while other adult school programs collapsed.
In his tenure, Dennis touched the lives of many individuals. He maintained and grew valuable programs which have helped to create a solid core of citizens with the talent to provide, long-term, positive contributions to our society. He is a man who gives of himself to open doors for others and as a model for us all, Dennis puts others before himself.
Graduates your success, the success of your predecessors, is truly a reflection of Dennis Brown’s success. There are not enough selfless people in this world and we must all appreciate our fortune for experiencing his dedication and commitment to this community and the students Dennis has served. Great men can change the world by changing the lives of others, Dennis falls into that category.
Dennis, for your leadership, support, care, creativity, drive, intelligence, intuition, mentoring, friendship, and endless compassion. We honor you and thank you for all you have done.
Graduates, my core message to you for the future is Dennis Brown’s positive and selfless attitude. It is his strong, kind spirit, and persistence that I hope you will carry forward as you move through this uncertain world.You will leave here this evening with a great accomplishment under your graduation cap. It is our wish for you to go forth with strong convictions to continue to succeed in all that you do while pushing others, as Dennis has done, to do the same.
Congratulations class of 2017!
Thank you to Morgan Hill Life for sponsoring. There is so much I am excited to talk about but I can’t get everything in this one event.
I am exceptionally honored to stand before you today as the Superintendent of Morgan Hill Unified School District. Stepping into the shoes of Wes Smith three years ago was a daunting task, but one I took on with enthusiasm and passion for continuing MHUSD up a path of progress and success.
This is the inaugural State of the Schools address, the first of what will surely become an annual event and I could not be more proud to share with you the work that the MHUSD team has done helping our students to excel and making our schools better each year.
The state of our schools is, as a community, the state of our future. And the future begins with our 8700 students who attend class daily on one of our 14 campuses. Tonight, I will discuss with you our vision and where we are in relation to that vision. I will provide an overview of the challenges we face as a district and our strategies to address those challenges head on as we continue to move our schools forward. We throughout the district are Tapping Our Potential Within to help inspire and drive forward successful fulfillment of our vision.
Our central vision is that all students will receive an excellent education and be empowered to succeed in school. Our students will be prepared to achieve in our diverse global society and to make meaningful contributions to their community. Students will become critical thinkers and problem solvers who can thrive in the challenges of the 21st Century.
We know that as a district we cannot fulfill our vision alone. We rely on and partner with parents with world class California universities, with businesses, both here in Morgan Hill and throughout greater Santa Clara County and with engaged community leaders.
We are fortunate to be educating our students in the heart of the technology world where we have access to some of the most brilliant minds and innovation available today.
Providing an excellent education and empowering our students to succeed in school.
American Historian Daniel Boorstin once said that “education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”
Even as an educator for over 30 years, I am constantly amazed at how much I learn every time I walk into one of our classrooms. Whether it is a Kindergarten class or a 12th grade AP Geology class, there is so much out there that I didn’t know I didn’t know.
Children are sponges. They are born knowing nothing more than the basic instincts of survival. Parents, friends, teachers, and community members are responsible for instilling in them their outlook on life. We can either build their confidence or we can tear them down, make them feel safe to express themselves or we can oppress them, we as adults play a pivotal role in their success in education and in life.
Early literacy is the key to every student’s academic success. Research out of Stanford University tells us that a child’s vocabulary skills are linked to their economic backgrounds. By the age of three, a child from a wealthy family is exposed to up to 30 million words more than a child from a poor family. That is a gap that many students in our district have on the first day of kindergarten.
41% of our students in Morgan Hill come from economically disadvantaged households. There is little we can do to control the lack of family income but, we must do everything possible, and strive to do more to help and support every student in our district whether advantaged or disadvantaged.
What is interesting however is that in Morgan Hill, even with a majority of the households above the poverty level, 92% of those children are below the Kindergarten reading level when students enter our Kindergarten classes.
By third grade, which is the key turning point for students in education, 77% of those same students are at or above a third-grade reading level We are proud of that number. We have plenty of room to grow; we know from the numbers I just cited, that there are outside forces fighting our quest to reach 100%, but we will not give up on obtaining full literacy for all students.
As we look at early education, I am pleased to announce that this year we have expanded our hugely successful Transitional Kindergarten program to three additional schools and have expanded the age eligibility by a month allowing more students participate in this vital program.
Transitional Kindergarten is a free, full-day early education program that provides an essential bridge between prekindergarten and the primary grades. It enables children to develop the academic, social and emotional skills they need to be successful once they enter Kindergarten. By laying a strong foundation, Transitional Kindergarten helps to boost confidence, early literacy, close achievement gaps and advance student performance in later grades.
Parent engagement is also gaining more momentum in the District. A parent being involved in their child’s education whether it be in our classrooms or at home is the greatest indicator of student success. Students spend 13% of their year in our classrooms but the rest of their time is spent at home or around other adults. Keeping learning going once they leave our campuses is one of the most important things parents can do for their children.
But we are not satisfied with just any increased parent engagement. We want all parents to be engaged and feel welcome in our classrooms and of critical importance, they must feel comfortable enough to have conversations with our staff about the help that they feel their child may need.
That is why, under the leadership of Dr. Ramon Zavala, our English Learner Master Plan is quickly becoming a plan that many other school districts will soon utilize as the standard for English Learners. The EL Master Plan is an overarching plan that provides coherent PreK-12 pathways to engage all English Learners in high-level multilingual learning opportunities.
Imagine, all English Learners in MHUSD schools to be academically successful, as well as, fluent and literate in two or more languages. It’s happening now for some English Learners and intentional actions are being taken so we are able to reach all English Learners.
In order for us to achieve our vision for English Learner success, we need to engage better English Learner families and communities to participate in the process.
Here are just a few of the many ways we are planning to do that.
redesign and administer an enhanced English Learner family survey to determine strengths, resources, and needs of EL families.
incorporate Parent communication strategies into school plans addressing how each school will work to specifically engage and communicate with parents of English Learners, and,
establish parent centers at each school.
At MHUSD, we know that for low socioeconomic and EL parents, alike, there are inherent financial and language barriers to participating at school events. But whether it is because of scheduling, transportation, finances, or communication difficulties, we can not sit back and accept that some of our parents do not feel comfortable engaging with our schools to help their children excel. That is why we have also launched a CARE Team. This action team, headed by one of our dedicated counselors Andrea Bird has a mission to help identify students in need and plan home visits so that we as a district can better understand how to support families in a more holistic way by connecting them to services they may need.
If parents and students feel more secure at home, they are more likely to be involved at school. We are doing everything we can to help our families connect with services they need so that they can thrive.
We know that the state of our schools is strong and the state of our schools is strong because of our teachers, our principals, staff and because of all of our parents who are actively engaged on our school campuses. Any school district can attest to the fact that without a strong, dedicated group of teachers and classified staff as the backbone of the district we would fail. We are extremely fortunate in Morgan Hill that we have such amazing individuals working for us. Custodians, bus drivers, service and clerical staff, teachers, and admin. This group is devoted and enthusiastic about our students and where we are headed as a district.
It is also the dedication and hard work of those individuals that allowed us to begin this new school year with sixth-grade students at the middle schools. Our parents understand how beneficial three years, as opposed to two years in middle school will help their children. Not only will they be able to grow a strong relationship with teachers and have school identity over three years, but they will be able to build a stronger community with each other to help them move through these pivotal adolescent years.
Our team spent the last year planning and preparing for friendly student integration into a multi-teacher-day in turn to help build confidence in our sixth-graders so that when they graduate to seventh-grade they are better prepared for a six teacher day.
We have felt overwhelming support from our community for this transition. We received great feedback from our parents on what they wanted to see and I’m pleased to say our teams are well on their way to meeting those expectations this year. I thank all of our parents, community members, and staff who made this transition possible.
Sobrato High School was just ranked in the top 4% of all public and private high schools across the nation by U.S. News and World Report. It was not chance that got us there, it was the hard work and dedication of our Sobrato teachers, staff and those who support them.
Last year, Live Oak High School was awarded the very meaningful Caring School Climate Award from Silicon Valley’s YMCA Project Cornerstone program. This award is a part of the Asset Champion Awards which are designed to celebrate schools for their commitment to making Silicon Valley a better place for young people to live and grow.
The Caring School Climate Award is designated specifically to recognize model schools that are transforming their campuses into caring communities where all students are valued and feel welcomed and respected.
But what I make clear to you is that it was also the persistence, skills, and dedication of all of our teachers across the district that give us the ability to receive these awards and recognitions. The students graduating from Sobrato, Live Oak, Central, and Community Adult School are developed in all our schools and don’t just appear as 9th graders in Morgan Hill.
This is a unified effort in a unified school district developing our students from preschool to graduation.
High school graduation rates also translate into financial benefits for our students and our community. Our graduation rates are among the highest in the County and the State. It’s a simple equation. Education contributes to economic gains for our students, our families and for Morgan Hill. You don’t achieve those gains without setting a high bar. All four of our comprehensive secondary schools have been recognized by the state of California as Gold Ribbon schools, the highest honor a school can achieve. On top of that, last year Britton Middle School was also honored by the California State Board Association as a Golden Bell recipient. We set the bar high for our schools, and I am proud to say we are reaching those goals.
Prepare to achieve in our diverse and global society.
As parents and community members, we work to raise each student as a well-rounded human being. Our comprehensive education makes certain that a sampling of all of the great things life has to offer is available to help build their character and to also help them better understand the world around them. But what does it actually mean to have a well-rounded child in a diverse and global society and why is it important?
When our children grow into adults and leave the security of home for college, the military, or a career we want to make certain they are equipped to take on whatever challenges life has for them. At MHUSD, we feel a deep obligation to help all of our students prepare for the unexpected, to help them better understand the world around them, and give the confidence and courage to interact with peers especially those who may not be exactly like themselves.
Diversity in our classrooms and across our campuses help our students to better handle and celebrate diversity in the real world. Not every child is raised the same way, there are different cultures and different socio-economic backgrounds. How can we expect students to grow and thrive in a global environment if they are not able to interact with, accepting, and learn from others who are not exactly like themselves?
There is no richer society than a diverse society. Our campuses are as diverse as the world we live in. Our schools are designed as the center and focus of the neighborhoods around them. Neighborhood elementary schools are best for both the students and the community. As students promote through the grade levels, their world expands to other communities, into middle school, then high school, and off to college or career.
Every student is unique in personality, strengths, and experiences. We strive to foster a cohesive environment for all of our students by teaching them to respect each other and use kindness as a way to bridge the gap between themselves and other students. We must celebrate student diversity, recognize the supreme value of multiple ways of learning, value unique assets, and be better by overcoming disabilities and challenges in order to contribute to a world-class experience and rich community.
Along with lessons of diversity in people, we also seek to show our students diversity in education. Our schools exemplify cultural centers where students flourish in world languages, theater, music, and art.
At P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy, we integrate art into the classroom through technology. With great partnerships with the Disney Museum and Silicon Valley Tech Museum, we are constantly creating new ways for students to engage in both the arts and sciences.
Jackson Academy of Math and Music is another of many great examples, where teaching the arts is a way to better connect students with learning and the world at large. Through the use of music, and by teaching the history of music, students are learning more about how music and art influence our daily lives and how it impacts communities across the world.
In today’s fast paced world, to have a well-rounded child also must learn how to use technology effectively and efficiently. So how do we prepare students for a world that is completely dependent on technology? Last year, we launched a dynamic plan to ensure all of our students have access to help them learn and to prepare them for the present and future world that defines our community. Every school in our district is now equipped with Chromebooks for students to utilize. Our seventh through twelfth-grade students receive a Chromebook at the beginning of the year to use as their own until the last day of school.
In our elementary schools, each student has daily access to technology devices. Every campus has free wi-fi for our students to utilize. We are also using this technology to help bridge the achievement gap. When every student has the equal access to technology we not only teach them about the equipment and devices, but we are providing them with the 21st- century tools, knowledge, and skills to succeed no matter what their wealth level.
Right after graduation, many students choose the military or go straight into the workforce. At MHUSD, we support all of our students and want to give every student who walks onto our campuses that best chance at success for his or her unique chosen path. That is a key reason we are investing more in Career Tech Education or CTE.
CTE has the potential to help every student when they choose college, military or career after high school graduation. CTE provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners. We look forward to partnering with local Morgan Hill business such as Mission Bell, Leal Vineyards, Specialized, Kaiser Permanente and others to make this program a complete success.
The manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality industry in our area is booming. Through CTE programs, internships, and apprenticeships we will be setting up our students for the local and national workforce. CTE paves a path for students to choose what they love to do and move them quickly toward a strong income in that field. But also for those who take CTE course and continue on to college we are teaching them the skills they can use to maintain a good paying desirable job while in college. This also can cut down on college student loan debt and advance pre-courses necessary for a higher degree.
CTE programs also instill the specific general necessary skills that will enable graduates to thrive in the workforce.
Make meaningful contributions to our community
Aristotle once said that “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” At MHUSD, we believe that too.
Around the district, we’ve had discussions about our Restorative Justice and Positive Behavioral Intervention Support program. Restorative Justice and PBIS on our campuses is something we take very seriously at MHUSD. The emotional health of our students is just as important as the health of their minds. We are more than just an educational institution where students come to learn subjects. We are creating well-rounded students who understand compassion have the ability to work in a diverse setting understand the importance of community service, and most of all understand the huge responsibility they have as the next generation of citizens and leaders.
Become critical thinkers and problem solvers who can thrive in the challenges of our ever changing world.
We have been very driven at the district in our quest to put high-quality people in leadership roles who are able to research and implement the changes necessary to keep our students ahead of the game. Our society is shifting rapidly, but that does not mean we are going to jump on the bandwagon with the newest fad just to say we are doing it. We are given one opportunity to educate our children and we take this charge with great care.
We research, do our homework and due diligence to look at how every change affects students in a positive way to ensure that any big moves we are making are going to be for the maximum benefit of our students and community.
Over the last few years, we’ve heard over and over that we need to be more focused on encouraging our students toward areas of science. Living this close to Google, Facebook, Apple, it is something that should come as no surprise. We are very excited that after many community meetings, research, and working on building partnerships this year, Paradise Valley has opened its doors as an engineering academy. San Martin/Gwinn has begun to utilize new, environmentally friendly, STEM ready classrooms, and Britton has begun its partnership with the Silicon Valley Tech Museum.
Our students are not the only ones who are served well by our focus on critical thinking and problem solving. With the sudden closure of Silicon Valley Flex Academy in July, the district was faced with a possible influx of 167 students that needed be placed on our campuses a mere two weeks before the beginning of the new school year. The MHUSD team pulled together, opened our doors, and responded quickly and efficiently to this new, last minute arrival of students and I am proud to say that we have successfully placed every displaced student possible who registered with us on our campuses and we also established a distance learning secondary program.
In direct response to the closure of the Flex charter school, we pushed forward our plans for an independent learning secondary school so that we would be able to better accommodate those who thrive in a more multi-dimensional learning environment taking advantage of robust digital programs and interactive learning we had just finished piloting.
We were able to shift some programs to make space at the Loritta Bonfante Johnson Education Center and I’m pleased to report that the students we have enrolled in this new school are thriving, excited to be there, and even more excited by the vigorous online learning program that we are using.
Facilities and Measure G Funds
Looking to the future needs of our students as they and the world become more technologically savvy, encounter less traditional work spaces, and we begin to understand how to better educate students on their personal level, we know that our facilities must follow suit.
Our students need access to technology to learn about technology, but they also need facilities that facilitate that learning process in a way that keeps education in touch with the outside world and most importantly maximizes their learning potential. By utilizing Measure G funds in a researched and well thought out way we are not only staying true to our commitment to the taxpayers who have entrusted us with these funds, but we are advancing our students education, as well as, positively impacting our community.
We are finding ways to maximize learning for our students while also creating an aesthetically comfortable environment. Our schools are more than just classrooms. They are the focus of our communities. They are gathering places and we want to make our community proud. I’ll take a couple of minutes here to walk you through where we have spent our Measure G funds and show you some examples of how we are improving the learning environment and community at the same time.
A new technology infrastructure was the first item on our list for Measure G funds. Last year, we partnered with Cisco to put in place a state of the art infrastructure which connects all of our schools digitally and provides fast, reliable wireless internet service across our district. After the infrastructure was in place, we purchased, configured and aligned Chromebooks with our instructional programs.
Five million dollars of Measure G funds were used to build a brand new multi-use building on Encinal Campus housing Charter School of Morgan Hill. We also revamped San Martin/Gwinn thanks to Measure G funds by modernizing the administration building and the quad to include outdoor classrooms. These are only the high visibility projects. What you might not see are the new fire alarms, roofing, security cameras, fencing, hardtops, new bathrooms, and many other facility upgrades around the district.
One of our future Measure G projects, is the rebuilding of Britton Middle School. The new conceptual design is utilizing the latest in technology and green construction methods. This new school will face Monterey Road helping to give the downtown area an entirely new feel.
Funding of our schools is at the forefront of many conversations around the community.
California schools receive a large majority of their funding from the State, primarily from income and sales tax revenues, but also from local property taxes that are collected at the local level and distributed by the State. By their nature, income and sales taxes are more volatile revenue sources because they can rise and decline dramatically. As a result of this volatility, California school districts face dramatic cyclical funding variations as the economy changes.
Over the past five years, school district funding has been partially restored to its pre-recession levels; however, we recognize that the inherent economic volatility in our state revenues will limit the ability of the State to fund education especially during periods of economic downturn. For that very reason, it is imperative that we keep a reserve on hand with an unpredictable economy. Any reserve is a safety net that allows a district to meet its obligations as unplanned changes in revenues and expenditures occur.
Districts in California have very little control over revenues, as those are mainly controlled by the state government. Historically State revenues have been undependable, even in good times. A reserve fund allows the District to continue to meet its obligations and stay in business even when faced with unexpected expenses. Unlike a private or chartered organization, closing our doors and telling the students to go elsewhere is not an option.
One important thing to remember is that reserves are one-time funds, once used, they are not replenished except by purposeful action. Reserves will help carry a public organization through financially difficult years but a budget cannot sustain itself over time if the structural expenditures outrace the dependable income.
Even so, the District finances are strong and built in projected increases in the State’s funding formula allow us to spend down our current healthy reserve to give salary increases. When negotiations with our employee groups are completed, our budget will reflect a reserved spending impact for the purposes of salary increases but at the same time maintaining long-term solvency.
Directly related to our reserves and financial stewardship, MHUSD’s bond rating was upgraded from from Aa2 to Aa1 in November 2015. With the upgrade, Morgan Hill Unified School District joins a small group of school districts in California recognized for their sound management practices and financial strength. Bond ratings are critical in the financial marketplace where higher ratings indicate strong investments which in turn garner lower interest rates. Since bonds are repaid through local property tax assessments, the lower the interest rate translates to lower taxes for property owners.
In 2013, the Legislature approved the The Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF which has dramatically changed how schools are funded. The LCFF by itself creates no new sources of revenue but its provisions determine how available state revenues will be distributed to districts.
After the LCFF is fully implemented in a few years, all districts will receive a uniform base amount per pupil, with different amounts depending on the grade level. In addition to the base grant, districts receive additional funds based on the unduplicated number of high needs students who are defined as low-income children, English learners, homeless students and foster children, who attend their schools. Approximately 43% of the district’s student population qualify as high-need under the State’s definition.
Although LCFF changed the allocation of State funding, it did not address the funding inequities for districts located in areas of high property taxes (called Basic Aid Districts or Excess Tax Districts). The State still continues to allow Basic Aid Districts to retain excess property taxes that exceed their LCFF allocation. We are not a basic aid district. We do not receive extra taxes. One-third of all of the school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area are Basic Aid, many in Santa Clara County. Due to their high property taxes, these districts have available resources greatly exceed a district like ours.
In comparing Morgan Hill Unified to other unified districts in Santa Clara County, Morgan Hill ranks lowest in LCFF funding. In addition the gap in funding is considerable, with the highest funded district in the County receiving approximately $2,350 more per student or 30% more per student than Morgan Hill Unified receives.
Challenges that we face
Even with all of our many successes, we still face a few challenges as a district. Like the majority of school districts across California, we are struggling to recruit new, high quality teachers. This problem stems from the high cost of living in and around Morgan Hill and how MHUSD is funded by the state. As I stated previously, many districts throughout Santa Clara County are receiving as much at 30% more per pupil than we do here in Morgan Hill.
It isn’t just a local funding gap. The latest national estimates rank California 46th in per capita spending among the 50 states. Our District’s funding challenge is sure to grow by losing another $1.6 million dollars if the Prop 30 supplemental tax measure expires this year without a replacement measure. But a replacement measure is on the November ballot and called Prop 55. Prop 55 extends high income earners personal income tax increase for 12 years and would restore the lost funds when Prop 30 expires.
Another challenge that we face, which is unique to Morgan Hill is the amount of land our district covers. Morgan Hill Unified is the largest geographic school district in the county covering an area of nearly 300 square miles. This large, rural setting raises the transportation costs of the district. We do not have a state income for transportation, so the this program draws resources away from the core instructional program and personnel funds. Other districts in Santa Clara County do not provide transportation as students have access to regional transportation options or walk to school.
So what do we do? How to we face these challenges and overcome them? We must continue to keep them in front of us and face them head on. As an example, besides strong recruiting practices, we have started offering a new tuition reimbursement program for individuals interested in the teaching profession to the tune of $10,000. We are hopeful that the incentive will develop potential teachers for our community.
And although we can not solve the high cost of living in and around Morgan Hill, we have been working with the city to look at affordable housing options for our teachers.
We do face challenges as a district and we are committed to tackling those challenges every day. At the same time we have so many accomplishments and milestones to celebrate. Our district is getting stronger every year, we are pushing harder, meeting higher expectations, and our students are excelling. We educate all children and find ways to get better, on purpose, every day, every year.
Thank you to everyone who came out to night, thank you to all of our parents and community members who volunteer and provide invaluable feedback to us throughout the year. Thank you so much to our powerful Home and School Clubs who help us move mountains of school activities and launch new and grander projects every year and thank you to our English Learner Advisory Committees who guide and support exceptional practices for our students.
Finally, thank you to our teachers and staff. You make this district great.
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