12/7 Highlights: New Board Members

Welcome to Board Watch for WCCUSD’s December 7th Meeting!

At the December 7th Board of Education meeting, our school board swore in two new members: Tom Panas and Mister Phillips.  The Board discussed how to spend the College Readiness Block Grant.  They also approved a resolution that supports students and families who are undocumented, Muslim, or people of color against potential immigration enforcement at schools.  Additionally, the Board recognized El Cerrito High’s Theatre Program and Hanna Ranch Elementary for receiving the Gold Ribbon award. Lastly, at this meeting, students, teachers and community members attended to advocate for more teachers at both Richmond High and Ford Elementary.

To explore the full meeting agenda, click here.

New Board Members: Tom Panas & Mister Phillips

At the beginning of the meeting, our newly elected board members Tom Panas and Mister Phillips were sworn in.  Friends, family, and community members were in attendance to congratulate both Panas and Phillips.

The Board took the time to appreciate former members Randall Enos and Todd Groves.  In light of their departures, the Board was required to elect a new President and Clerk.  Liz Block was elected as Board President, and Valerie Cuevas will take on the role of Board Clerk.

Block welcomed the new members, exclaiming, “We are delighted to have them.”  Community member Christine Jones added, “[I can’t express] How happy I am to see Mr. Phillips on the West Contra Costa Unified School Board. I know he’s going to put kids first.”

Click here to learn more about Board Members Panas and Phillips.
Students, Teachers & Community Members Demand More Teachers

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A crowd consisting of students, teachers and family members attended the December 7th meeting to demand our school board take action on hiring teachers for both Richmond High (RHS) and Ford Elementary.  The group signed up for 15 separate public comments asking the Board for support.

An RHS teacher detailed the school’s lack of Special Education supports and staffing.  As she explained RHS’ plight, others huddled around with signs, standing in solidarity.  She then exclaimed that this was a “violation of our students rights and we demand action.” 

Another RHS teacher in her fifth year illustrated how the teacher shortage affects the current staff: “This is the reason why we can’t retain teachers.  You’re punishing those of us that stay.  The district collapses our overflowing classes.  We then have to take sick days to finish planning and grading.  We’re handing students substitutes that have no [class] work ready.  How is this not a civil rights issue?  Stop holding teachers and students accountable.  I invite the school board to come in and substitute; to see what’s really going on.”

Several students also spoke directly to the Board.  RHS Sophomore Christal Molina offered that her peers were incredibly behind due to the string of long term substitutes.  She then added,  “How are these students meeting the Common Core standards without a trained teacher? You are setting us up for failure.”

A number of parents demanded action from the Board.  Ford Elementary parent Bernice teared up as she addressed the Board: “My daughter is losing motivation to go to school.  She is 7, (and) she does not have a teacher.  My Kindergarten son is the same.  This is urgent.  It is not just (about) getting a sub.  Why don’t teachers want to come to our schools?  How do we get teachers to want to stay and teach our children?  It is not fair anymore for the kids.” An RHS teacher has filed a 90-page complaint letter that has compiled 316 signatures from other teachers, students, parents and staff members.

To review the complaint letter, click here.

Resolution in Support of Students who are Undocumented, Muslim or Persons of Color and their Families, and Protocols for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Access to Schools

The Board recognized that as a result of the November 8th national election, many of our students and families are afraid of possible targeting, abuse, and deportation. In response, the Board drafted Resolution No. 54-1617, which outlines specific steps that ensure students and families have the support of our school district and surrounding communities.

Board member Valerie Cuevas motioned to move the resolution discussion earlier in the meeting, since a large number of community members came to the meeting in support of the resolution.  The resolution was then read aloud by Cuevas to all in attendance for approval. Newly appointed Board Member Tom Panas commented that “we need to broaden the protected classes here: LGBTQ, Muslim, African Americans.  Possibly all children, parents and staff.”  

Afterwards, Mister Phillips raised concerns over the entirety of the resolution, “I agree with the spirit, but I have policy concerns.”  He was concerned over these aspects:

  • Whether the district has the resources to provide the shelter outlined
  • That the proposed Rapid Response Network extends support to all children and families, not just those undocumented
  • That the resolution would ask district employees to be out of compliance with the law if they deter ICE agents with warrants

Mister Phillips then proposed an amended Resolution that addressed those concerns. After much spirited discussion primarily between Board Members Phillips and Cuevas, the modified resolution was voted down by a majority of the Board.  Phillips reasoned that he “wrote a resolution to give the public what I thought they wanted. We should think on it.”  Cuevas later commented, “(Let’s) close the discussion so that we can move forward with the resolution that the community is in support of.”

The United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) teacher union also utilized public comment to share a resolution they had drafted. This was read for the Board’s consideration as well.

After more spirited and tense debate among our school board members, the resolution was approved by 5/6 board votes.  The majority of our Board agreed that passing the resolution as is would bring stability to the students and families of WCCUSD.  They also agreed that amendments and tweaks can be made over time to better accommodate the needs of our community.

Click here to view Resolution 54-1617.

College Readiness Block Grant 3 Year Plan

As a condition for receiving and spending state College Readiness Block Grant funds, school districts are required to develop and adopt a plan detailing how funds will be spent.  District staff presented a 3-year budget plan to our school board, specifying activities, spending, and alignment with LCAP goals.  

The proposed budget addressed these areas:

  • Professional Development
  • Increased Counseling Services
  • Materials & Supplies
  • Partnerships Between High Schools and Postsecondary Ed Institutions
  • Subsidies to Students to Pay Fees for AP Exams
  • Expanding Access to Coursework to Satisfy A-G Course Requirements

Staff members outlined three areas of need for WCCUSD:

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Budget approval will be discussed at a later Board Meeting.

Click here to review WCCUSD’s College Readiness Block Grant 3-Year Budget Plan.

Recognition for El Cerrito High Theater Program & Gold Ribbon School Recipient Hanna Ranch Elementary

The Board recognized El Cerrito High for their outstanding Theatre Program.  Attending El Cerrito faculty members individually recognized seven students who made immense contributions to the program.  One faculty member expressed gratitude for the program’s success, explaining “That we have a team preselected to help make that vision come to life.”

The Board also recognized Hanna Ranch Elementary for receiving the Gold Ribbon School Award.  The Gold Ribbon Award recognizes schools that have made gains in supporting student achievement and implementing our state’s academic content and performance standards.

Hanna Ranch Principal Santiago explained the school’s focus on early childhood intervention and growth mindset training.  The intervention supports included a Reading Club for struggling readers and a focus on Kindergarten literacy and comprehension.  This has led to disadvantaged students doubling their scores and improving at rates higher than those students not receiving extra supports.  When prompted on how these achievements were made possible, Principal Santiago shared that growth mindset plays a big role, “Especially when they’re young.  They have to have a can do attitude”

Click here to review Hanna Ranch’s Early Intervention Program presentation.

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