Plain talk from MUSD at ‘We Believe’ conference
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune Madera Unified School District Superintendent Todd Lile talks about the accomplishments the district has made during a We Believe event at the Madera County Office of Education on March 6.
School district gives reasons for hope
Two hundred fifty people responded to Madera Unified School District’s invitation to join in a celebration of the district’s new theme, “We Believe.” In what was labeled as the first annual “We Believe” conference, virtually every aspect of MUSD was put on display via photographs, videos, slide shows, and individual participants, including demonstrations from Madera High School’s robotics team. The March 6 festive gala took place in the conference room of the Madera County Office of Education where scores of district employees greeted and escorted guests down a corridor of exhibits and into the conference room. The event drew leaders from across the entire social/economic/political spectrum of the community and presented them with an assessment of the direction in which Madera Unified is going in everything from aesthetics to academics. As the program opened, the audience was given a slideshow, which among other things stated unequivocally that the district has work to do in the areas of English/language arts and math. Only 32 percent of the students met or exceeded the English/language arts standards, and just 21 percent met or exceeded the math standards. “Too few students are ready” was the message. With that, however, came the affirmation that the district is on the road to change, as a few results give witness. For instance, in the last state tests, Sierra Vista Elementary had a 16-point increase in math scores, which represents the highest increase among schools with similar demographic makeup. By the same token, King Middle School had a 16-point increase in English scores. Madera South’s projected graduation rate is 95.1 percent, and Madera High’s projected rate is 97.8 percent. In addition, Mountain Vista High recently received Model Continuation High School Distinction from the California Department of Education. Superintendent Todd Lile set the tone for the conference in his address. “To be transparent from the outset, we know we have a lot to improve upon when reviewing our current student achievement results. Teachers, support staff, administrators, and the trustees all believe we can do more, and WE BELIEVE our students are worth it. So tonight, together, we ask you to THINK BIG and DREAM BIG with us,” Lile intoned. The superintendent then went on to issue the challenge. He alluded to the “upheaval” the district endured at the beginning of the year and noted that the school board had invited WestEd, an outside consulting firm, to come in and examine the district. Lile said that WestEd determined that the district’s organization did not at the time support the trustees expectations. The consultants also pointed out that no school districts like Madera Unified were “high performing.” It was at that point that the district’s trustees and executive cabinet developed the “We Believe” concept. “We believe we can be the first high performing district of our kind,” Lile told the crowd. “So why do WE BELIEVE in Madera?” Lile asked. “We believe because we’ve seen what our staff can do when they take up the challenge of modernizing.” Lile maintained. He cited the Maintenance and Operations Department and their commitment to modernize campuses. He pointed to the Child Nutrition staff, which has changed its entire philosophy from school lunch to “lunch at school.” Lile also credited the “teams of teachers who prove our students can beat the odds when they are well resourced, trained, planned, and supported.” According to Lile, over the past 25 years, gang activity in MUSD has decreased 85 percent. Five new elementary schools have been built and more will come, and the new Dual Immersion program at Madison has been launched. He pointed out the district has three thriving middle schools and is now planning a new “world class, high tech, career-themed middle school. Lile also praised the following: • Two very successful high schools • One of the finest art programs in the Valley • More athletic championships in the last 20 years than in the previous 40 • One of the best career technical education programs in California—with world class robotics • The 7th largest FFA chapter in America • The soon-to-be constructed Matilda Torres High School After the presentations, the audience divided into discussion groups to discuss what they heard and provide input. Participants in the conference gave the event rave reviews. Among them was Brad Krause, Dean of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Madera South. “It was a worthwhile event and very positive for our community and the district We Believe in,” said Krause. “Seeing students showcasing their involvement in programs like the Visual and Performing Arts, Future Farmers of America, and Robotics allowed everyone to see the power of the educational opportunities being afforded to our students,” Krause exclaimed. Krause also said it was great to see “our stakeholders get a chance to hear and have a voice in the direction the board of trustees and district are taking under Board President Al Galvez and Superintendent Lile.”