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Back To School 2019

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This week's episode focuses on education as San Diego Unified School District begins a new academic year, the Sweetwater Union High School District grapples with a major budget shortfall, and local students sound off on whether they feel safe on campus.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 It's back to school. Time for San Diego is public schools from later start times to healthier meals. We look at some of the changes this year. A budget crunch for schools in the South Bay. Sweetwater says it can't pay for buses and other basic services. Parents pressure the district to find a solution and from high school to elementary, San Diego's kids answer whether they feel safe at school. I'm mark sour. The KPBS round starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:34 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:38 welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS roundtable today. Adriana Hel D's interactive producer, a voice of San Diego, KPBS reporter John Carol, excuse me, education reporter Kristen Takeda of the San Diego Union Tribune and will hunts Berry reporter also add voice of San Diego. Well, summer is over and school is back in for more than 100,000 San Diego unified students, the districts leaders facing wide ranging challenges focused on the wellness of students in a rollout for the media this week. And we'll get to that in a minute. But, uh, Kristen, let's start with the decry declining enrollment. That is, uh, how that impacts the policy of letting families choose which schools, um, that their kids are attending.

Speaker 3: 01:22 Yeah. So this is something that's kind of been happening over the past few years is as enrollment declines there, the district has been kind of tried to try to minimize the number of students who leave their neighborhood schools to go to different schools across the district. And that has a lot of implications for those neighborhood schools that are left by like kind of left behind because if students are leaving them, then they also bring state money with them since money follows a student in. But it's kind of like they, the district needs to find a way to balance choice with, um, neighborhood schools and so, and lifting up those neighborhood schools and making sure that they're not, um, I guess left behind to put it in a certain way. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 02:05 Yeah. And you've reported many students are choosing to leave their neighborhood schools explain the tension between giving families school choice and trying to keep kids in their neighborhoods, schools by improving poor performing schools.

Speaker 3: 02:17 Yeah. So that's [inaudible] that's what the district is trying to do with those neighborhood schools is um, yeah, just at home. Yeah. I lift them up and things like that because if they're, I think what's happening partly is that there are, um, certain, uh, choice offerings of different programs and things like that that are at these choice schools. But that's drawing on what the has been drawing away, uh, students from the neighborhood schools. So what the district needs to do is offer either like similarly competitive or attractive programs at the neighborhood schools or just otherwise kind of, um, convince the public that the neighborhood schools are like very much a viable choice too. Um, and so it's kind of a, yeah, a balancing act there.

Speaker 4: 03:00 Well, yes, San Diego Unified, I think they're, their plan, right? Kristen is to try to make every school in San Diego a quality neighborhood school. That's their vision 2020 that they've laid out. But when parents are choosing out of those schools, I think that creates a tension, right? Because they want a good school in every neighborhood and that means they need to kind of make sure schools aren't under enrolled. They might throttle choice back here, there too, to try to achieve that goal. But there's definitely a tension between that choice and quality neighborhood school.

Speaker 3: 03:32 Yeah. And a lot of people say like parents shouldn't have to be leaving schools to find a quality school. They should be able to have one in their own neighborhood. So yeah, same, same thing. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 03:42 And then the flip side of that is, uh, schools in more desirable areas. La Jolla for example, they lament that limiting choice means they lose some diversity with more students of color in a mostly white community. Right.

Speaker 3: 03:53 Yeah. So part of that is related to the, um, that there are these, um, there have been federally funded programs that, um, essentially transport students to, um, students from, uh, maybe more diverse neighborhoods too. Um, schools like La Jolla high. And so with the wind down of those programs and the, um, the funding is going away for that, that means that, um, it kind of restricts a lot of students' ability to choose another school or go to another school. And so that, um, also isn't kind of an equity issue in that, like if you can't transport yourself, if you don't have the means to go to like physically go to another school or have a car, yeah. Then you, you are having a limited choice versus other more, uh, well off families. And so, um, yeah, that's part of it too.

Speaker 1: 04:40 Well, let's move to a struggling school and struggling neighborhood. Lincoln High Lot has been written about this particular school. Tell us about the shakeup among administrators there and what that means for Lincoln going into this school year.

Speaker 3: 04:52 Yeah. So in June, right as the school year was ending for Lincoln High, um, the district suddenly announced that they were removing all of their principals, um, all four of them from the school. And they didn't really give much of an explanation why. But, um, every, um, it's, uh, Lincoln has been struggling with low s low academic performance and also highly leadership turnover for years. And it's just kind of a, it's just kind of an issue that the district hasn't really been able to solve for a long time. And so they're trying again with a new principal. Um, this, this new school year, they just put in a new principal who was leading a middles, another middle school in the district, but she has experience, um, teaching at Lincoln before. So they're hoping that an an another new leader will, um, yeah, kickstart something. Um, some change, but we'll see how that goes.

Speaker 1: 05:47 Well, right. That's certainly want to follow up on as a, as a year goes on a renewed emphasis teaching a math were black and Hispanic students been under represented and in advanced classes. Right?

Speaker 3: 05:57 Yeah. So that's

Speaker 1: 05:58 something else in the district is starting this year is that they've been noticing that, um, students of color specifically in black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in advanced or accelerated math classes. And so they're trying to, um, address that inequity partly by introducing this new math pathway they call enhanced math. And it's supposed to be as rigorous as advanced or accelerated in math. And the, but the end goal for that math pathway is the same. It would go to like calculus and other advanced classes. But, um, the difference is unlike accelerated in math, you don't have to have any prerequisites. Um, and, but, um, the whole idea this is in the [inaudible], um, is when it comes to sorting students into math or regular math or advanced math, there are often, um, inequities and disparities that come into play that are not like, they're not really the students. They're not the student's fault. It's not because the student was necessarily just lower ability, but they weren't, perhaps they weren't given the opportunities earlier to have advanced math in the first place. And those disproportionately affect students of color. So that is something that they're hoping will, um, fix that disparity. Okay. And the ultimate goal, all these kids have courses, graduation. And will you reported this summer on local college attendance rates more or were some of the takeaways from that debt?

Speaker 4: 07:21 Yeah, we got some new college going data it's called. So it tells us how many kids are going to college. We've kind of always known the overall figure, but we, we found out a lot more detailed information this time. The main takeaway is that I think San Diego Unified's graduation rates about 85%, about 72% of students go to college. So I mean that sounds really good, right? I mean that's, that's not a bad figure. Um, but when you drill down in the data, you noticed several things. Uh, I think the thing that sticks out the most to me was that Latino students, uh, college going rate has been stubbornly behind all other groups. And that's not a needle. San Diego unified has been able to move, you know, while they were at 72% as a district, I think 63% of of Latino students went to college, even though they make up the, the, by far the biggest percentage of students in the district, Latino students.

Speaker 4: 08:18 So there is struggling there. The other take away. A lot of students go to community college more than any other group. More than those who don't go more than those who don't go to four year colleges. And what we know about community college is that while it is great, it's affordable, it can provide a, a career. About 70% of people don't finish. So we should, we should know that going into the college going right that there's a lot of people going who aren't finishing and, and that's something the state's got to figure out how to deal with.

Speaker 1: 08:46 Okay. More challenges there. Of course. Uh, we're going to get back to the focus on wellness at the, um, at San Diego unified rollout this weekend. Chris, tell us about, uh, healthy start times. This has been an issue a long time. A teenagers is not only they'd, I don't want to get up morning biologically, there's studies that show we really can't learn and they're getting tired through the day by these early start times. Right?

Speaker 3: 09:08 Yeah. So this idea of having later start times as being healthier for adolescents is that, um, the, the, the idea and some researchers back this up is that, um, teenagers are more likely to benefit from more sleep in the morning. Like they're just there. Something about their biological clocks is set so that they, it's worse for them to get up earlier. And, um, yeah, so that's why I'm, the district has been rolling out these later start times. Um, they started with three more. Um, they've been starting it, but they have three schools that piloted, um, this school year. So, and then starting next year, all middle and high school, all high schools. We'll be having this later start time. No later. I mean no earlier than eight 30. So I guess that, um, could be seen as good news for families who don't are at, for students who don't want to wake up early, but on the same time, um, it's um, phase some back, uh, is face some opposition statewide because it can complicate bus schedules for school districts or also parents. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1: 10:14 So good news for the kids who get to sleep in, but maybe not so much for mom and dad and others who have to get them to school. All right, well we'll follow up on that and a lot of this stuff, uh, as we see what happens through the school year, we're going to move on now. We turn now to fall out this week from the financial problems plaguing the Sweetwater union high school district. A $30 million budget crisis has led to severe cuts and bus routes for four schools. We're sandy saying your senior high, that is the hardest hit of a 29 bus routes cut by the district 20 or at San Ysidro high. And John, you were, um, you were looking at that very contentious meeting this week. A contentious might be an understatement. Give us the scene. What happened at that school board meeting this week with these cuts?

Speaker 5: 10:55 Well, this has been an issue that's been roiling for a while now because the cuts were first announced back in May. So the parents have had a, uh, time to build up steam and a, at the meeting earlier this week, uh, more showed up and they were louder. Uh, they, uh, made these, uh, like paper Mashay buses and stuff that they were holding up and saying, you know, don't cut our bus routes. Um, the district says that a Santa c dro is a special case because, um, of, uh, the roads that surround it, for many years they were not deemed to be safe for the students to walk to school. Now all the work, especially in [inaudible], I believe it's, Oh, Tai Mesa road, yes, uh, is all been completed. And so the district says, okay, well that concern is no longer there. And along with what you mentioned, the $30 million shortfall, and that's a whole other story by the way. Uh, there are accusations of fraud and the SEC is now looking into it about that on the show. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so they felt that, well, we have to do something. And so, uh, it was never supposed to, according to Manny Rubio, the district spokesperson, it was never supposed to last forever. These bus routes, the understanding apparently back then according to him, was that when the, all the road work was done, that some of those bus routes would go away. And that's what's happened.

Speaker 1: 12:16 Well, it ran at the meeting at that didn't sit too well saying, Geez, we never really have to give you a bus routes here. And it just causes such a nightmare as we'll get to in a moment with one student. Protect.

Speaker 6: 12:25 Yeah. One parent has said, you know, we understand that, you know, required by, you know, the state to provide, uh, transportation from home to school, but it's disappointing that now that you're in this financial crisis that, you know, your, um, I, I think she said her, the generosity is like, it has an expiration date. Right. Um, so for them it's kind of like, if you weren't in this position, you know, you probably would have kept our buses.

Speaker 1: 12:50 Well, we have a clip here from a 19 year old, a Hector Castro. He graduated last year from Sandia Cedar High, but says his younger STIs, excuse me, sister still attends. Let's hear what he had to say.

Speaker 7: 13:01 Oh, you have to walk up this canyon road with scorching hot weather. You have to prepare a meal or some sort of a refreshment to be able to walk up this hill. This, this canyon road has Rodens has a snakes. Coyotes. It's a very dangerous road.

Speaker 6: 13:16 Yeah.

Speaker 1: 13:17 All right, well let the, as a segue for us into your story this week, you've decided to, a very clever idea. You decided just to focus on one student and what, uh, the journey is, I guess is the way to put it for just to get back and forth to school and on one day and in up, uh, look, um, first, uh, tell us about this student and his mother must have been among the most outspoken at that meeting, right?

Speaker 6: 13:41 Yeah. So I met him, uh, Jose Luis and his mother at a district meeting and she had spoken to the board about how her son was getting rashes, walking to school every day because of bugs. Um, along all the time, Mesa road, which is right next to a canyon. Um, and you know, she was really worried about him because he would go to school early in the morning. He would start walking like around five 20. So after the meeting was over, I just asked her if I could join him, um, and his walk. And so the next couple of days later I woke up around the same time that he does everyday, which is around four 30. And I walked with him and I got to know him on the way up. And um, one school was out. I got to walk with him on the way down as well.

Speaker 1: 14:22 All right, well walk us through that day a kind of specifically there. First of all, we should say mom can't drive home cause she works nights and he's actually up at four 30 in gone before she gets home from her job. Right,

Speaker 6: 14:32 right. Exactly. So it's [inaudible],

Speaker 1: 14:33 it's dark, it's four 30 in the morning and off we go. What happens now,

Speaker 6: 14:37 right. So he starts walking by himself. Um, and we should say he's a sophomore. Yes. 15 years old, I want to say 14 years old, he'll be 15 in October. Okay. Um, but he walks up this hill by himself. Um, starting around five 20. I'm very dark and it's all uphill. Um, and sometimes, you know, it does get hot, obviously it's summer. Um, but once he gets there, um, he has zero period because he's involved in a lot of clubs including ASP. So he has to be there, um, earlier than most of the students. Um,

Speaker 1: 15:09 the sleep end times that we were there.

Speaker 6: 15:11 Exactly. Yeah. He doesn't, he doesn't have a chance to see. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 15:14 And then start in at seven with the Club meeting.

Speaker 6: 15:15 Exactly. Yeah. So at seven and after that, that particular day, um, his class was also, um, he had physical education after ASB. So you would see the irony in that, you know, he just made this three mile journey up a hill and he has to take a class to make sure he's physically suited.

Speaker 1: 15:32 All right. Well, we do have a clip from him, his own words here. As you walked with him, let's hear some of that.

Speaker 2: 15:40 How long does it take you to get home? Usually 10. One hour. 45 minutes to two hours. And what do you do once again, if I have time to eat? What time do you wake up next morning between [inaudible]?

Speaker 1: 16:06 Well, I, you know, we, we talk about dropout rates sometimes when we do these segments on schools. This is a colossal challenge for this young man and I assume others now with this bus crisis there to simply get to school and back. Um, you know, it's gotta be very discouraging.

Speaker 6: 16:21 Yeah. I'm at the sweet water, uh, board meeting this week. He, uh, spoke to them and he had said that he seen some of his classmates who also have to walk that hill, that their grades have started to also dip because when they get to school, they're just exhausted from walking. And when they get back from school in the afternoon, they just don't, they're tired from the entire day of learning. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, um, it's definitely affecting them more in more ways than they would have thought.

Speaker 1: 16:48 And looking at your interactive feature, this was more than a 12 hour thing just to get back and forth to school. Do the classes, do the meetings and walk home again?

Speaker 6: 16:57 Yeah, it's a full day. It's a three miles up a hill and then three miles down the hill. Um, and it's during summer. So, um, the temperatures are definitely rising.

Speaker 1: 17:07 Okay. And Jose Luis Perez, what does he see as his future here? I mean, it's sounds like a pretty discouraged young man. We're only at the start of the school year,

Speaker 6: 17:15 right. So when I was walking with him, I was asking him about, um, his plans after high school and he's still trying to figure it out. Um, I asked him if he had any colleges in mind and he know, he straight out said to me, you know, um, no one's a kid from San Ysidro, which was really, you know, disappointing to hear. Um, but I guess, you know, coming from a low income community and constantly losing with his mom on a trailer. Right, exactly. And you know, having bus routes being cut, um, going to school, that's, you know, been um, I was saying like in the backburn of many people's, you know, mines, um, it's definitely

Speaker 1: 17:50 played into, into his um, [inaudible] of moving on. One more clip. He was at the Monday night meeting that we talked about the outset here and spoke during the public comment portion. Let's hear some of that.

Speaker 8: 18:04 We shouldn't be suffering or risking our lives for your mistakes. This is unacceptable and something needs to be done before someone get injured, kidnapped or killed while walking to school and back until these issues are resolved or dealt with. We are in Christ. It's whether you believe it or you don't, students matter. We will not stay quiet and let our voices be heard. Thank you for your time.

Speaker 1: 18:25 All right, we're about to close this segment, but John, where's the, where's the sweet word or a high school board? Where do they leave this issue? Any chance the bus routes might come back here.

Speaker 5: 18:36 They restored a of couple of basically what many Rubio described as shuttles that will sort of both do separate loops and they're trying to maybe get some more of the kids that would have otherwise been out of luck. Uh, but other than that, uh, he was pretty tough on that and said this district is sticking by their decision, uh, and that they don't have to provide these, there's a three and a half mile rule and if they're inside three and a half miles to the schools and then that's that,

Speaker 1: 19:04 well we'll see what happened. We're out of time on this. We'll see what happens going forward and follow that one up as well. Well, school shootings are a constant, horrific reminder that safety is of utmost concern for students attending class and a nation of Washington guns. Yet there are many other safety concerns for students, parents and teachers and school staff that exist in the shadow of school shootings. San Diego unified is attempting to shine some light on this with its annual survey of how safe students feel in their schools. And will your story and voice this week reveals the results of that stir a survey. Let's start with a little background. Sure. Uh, what it asks, who responded? Uh, what's the purpose of the survey?

Speaker 4: 19:40 Yeah. So this is, it's called the California healthy kids survey. It's done at most schools every year. And it asks a whole lot of questions. Actually, I won't even try to get into them. It asks how motivated students are and how, how caring adults are. What we focused on is how, see how safe students feel inside their school. So the, so the question is, do you feel safe in school?

Speaker 1: 20:03 Okay. And the response a percentage varies a lot from school to school, right? Yeah. Not Everybody. It's not 100% re responding in this survey.

Speaker 4: 20:11 Well, yes, the response rates, very definitely the response, you know, for elementary school students, parents have to say they can fill out the survey. But I, you know, the thing that stuck out to me even more was the disparity in how much students feel safe at school in elementary school, 77% district wide. But you have, uh, several schools where 100% of students who took the survey reported feeling safe. You know, you can imagine those schools were north of Eight. Um, and a lot of schools where the percentage was low, you know, the percentage at some elementary schools dip below 50%, which I think in elementary is rough. In middle school and high school, there's kind of a push towards students feeling less safe in school. Maybe they're becoming more aware of school shootings. There's more fights going on, but, but elementary school, that's not what you want to hear.

Speaker 4: 21:00 That less than 50% of students feel safe inside of school. That's so disturbing to say the least. Which among the San Diego high schools are ruins where students reporting not feeling safe? Well, Lincoln High School is a good example. We talked about Lincoln early earlier and it's had persistent issues with, um, academic achievement, Balsa violence. And, um, I think that comes across in the statistic. Um, I think it was in the forties or the 30s, what percentage ninth graders felt safe at at Lincoln it was ninth graders for high school, seventh graders for Moodle, middle school and fifth graders for elementary school that, that took the survey. All right. And of course we talked about shootings in that's the cloud that's over all of us in this society and certainly at schools, but what are some of the other reasons that are causing students and parents to say we don't really feel safe at our school?

Speaker 4: 21:48 Sure, yeah. I mean I take porter elementary for example, a school we've covered quite a bit with significant safety challenges. 70% of students feel safe there. Um, and I, I spoke with one family, a money k's was the mother and she said her son had been bullied. He'd witnessed a lot of fights. She had witnessed several fights. She said she'd broken up three fights at the school herself. And these safety issues really like rippled out into her whole family. And there was a really interesting aspect of your story. I don't think people realize that you think, oh, this kid's being bullied and that's, that's terrible. But it's not just the one child. No, that's right. Because then that child stops wanting to go to school, they start throwing fits, you know, in this, in this case, he didn't want to get dressed in the morning and he had two younger siblings.

Speaker 4: 22:36 So that meant the mom couldn't get them dressed and ready for school and everybody's on a schedule X. Right? Everybody starts being tardy. They start missing more days. It, this bullying really impacted that whole family. It creates chaos. And of course we, we've talked, I mean we've done a number of stories throughout society on bullying. It's a huge problem in society. But when you get down to the granular level here, I mean, what can be done in that family's incidence? What can be done about this situation? Well, you know, I think that parent went to school administrators often and frequently asking them for a new safety plan and she felt like she was stonewalled. Um, I heard the same from other parents. I mean, I hope that's part of what this data can do. A, you know, by US publishing the database of it, which San Diego unified hadn't done, they had made the, the data a little more difficult to find. I, I hope this can empower parents to go to their school and say, what are we doing to make kids feel safe here specifically? Because I know at bird rock and La Jolla elementary, the kids feel really safe, so, so what can we do here to change it? Right. And what is, what's the response, I mean you guys cover this as a beat. What are you hearing from

Speaker 1: 23:46 the schools in terms of the response to surveys and complaints like this one about bullying?

Speaker 3: 23:50 Well, I hear the district talk a lot about how it encourages our, it's been trying to address bullying mainly through like trying to publicize bullying, reporting avenues more often. Like I guess mainly online. So I think that's something that they've been seeing as one of their solutions to the issue. But I think, um, and this is something that schools everywhere I think heard needing to address is how to address discipline. Um, because there are kind of mixed results on, for example, like restorative discipline, like how that's being implemented. And that's the idea of that is, you know, to stop like on, on the one hand you want to, you know, make sure there's order in schools. But on the other hand you don't want to end up suspending a lot of students and kicking them out of school. Um, yes, that, that disproportionately affects students of color. But at the same time, you, um, I think I've heard, I've heard from a lot of teachers who don't think that that is being implemented correctly and it's creating even more disorder in classrooms by just letting students stay there. Um, and not really addressing the bullying if they just keep staying in the classroom and just, yeah.

Speaker 1: 24:59 We're almost out of time is it seemed like there's being progress being made a will. Yeah. You know, a whatever they told me when I published this database was that they used the survey results to work with individual schools. Um, but that was kind of vague. I didn't get a sense beyond that. I think parents will take a lot of note in that and I think it will empower parents to talk to their board members and their district leaders to say what kind of curriculum, what kind of social emotional stuff are you doing in my school? Okay, good. Well we'll have another one to follow up on a school year. A Nice we can follow up as it progressed us here on all of these stories we raised. Well that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests. I'd run a Hell d is the voice of San Diego, John Carroll of KPBS News, Kristen Dakota of the San Diego Union Tribune and will Huntsburg also a voice of San Diego and a reminder, all the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.