The new superintendent of Coast Unified School District faces such tasks as improving English language learner skills, attracting young families to a district with significant declining enrollment, and building a new Santa Lucia Middle School athletic field.
In a wide-ranging interview, Vicki Schumacher discussed several areas of focus for the district of 736 students and 46 teachers and an annual budget of about $10.3 million.
The district serves students from Cambria, Cayucos and San Simeon — communities that have large populations of retirees and parents who work in the tourism industry. The three towns have a combined population of about 9,100.
“The district has seen declining enrollment because high home prices tend to drive younger families out,” county Superintendent Julian Crocker said. “However, the district is on solid funding ground because it’s a basic aid district.”
As a basic aid district, Coast Unified receives the bulk of its budget from property taxes that bring in higher school revenues than the state funding formula based on per-pupil payment allocations would provide.
The district spends about $14,050 per student.
Schumacher, who last served as an assistant superintendent in San Bernardino County, began her new position July 1.
As she embarks on her first superintendent position, her goals include effectively preparing Coast Union High School graduates for college or the workplace, emphasizing reading and writing supported by evidence to prepare students for college, and integrating technology into the classroom.
Schumacher, who earned a master’s degree at UC Berkeley and a doctorate at UCLA, both in education, points to small class sizes, a family-friendly community and a solid funding structure as incentives for families to move into the Coast Unified school district.
She hopes to boost enrollment numbers, which have declined steadily, with a drop of more than 100 students over the past decade.
Coast Unified reported an enrollment of 898 in 2004-05, with a budget of $8.3 million, in comparison with this year’s total of 736 students and a budget of $10.3 million.
“We’d like parents to know that everyone in Coast Unified is focused on the success of each student,” Schumacher said.
The district hasn’t yet assessed its latest student demographic data. But last year, it had a student body of 37 percent English learners and 60 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The average class size was 14 students.
One initiative to attract more students to the district is the Cambria Promise, which would generate fundraising dollars to help pay for the first semester or quarter of a Cambria high school graduate’s college education.
The district plans to partner with a number of nonprofits, organizations and agencies that could help fund the scholarship idea.
The Cambria Promise concept borrows from a program at Cuesta College called the Cuesta Promise, which waives the first semester tuition of all Cuesta students who come from San Luis Obispo County.
Coast Unified already distinguishes itself through its use of iPads.
The district is in its third year of offering an iPad to each of its students from the sixth grade on, incorporating the devices in class work and administering grading on the gadgets.
“It’s not only important for students to use the iPads and gain digital literacy and good online citizenship, but we had a program last year to help our parents get up to speed,” Schumacher said. “Parents who understand how to use iPads can check on their children’s grades and better connect with them in their school work.”
The district faces ongoing challenges of improving language skills of English learners.
Those are being addressed with specialized instruction that includes designated daily courses for English language learners, an afterschool learning partnership with the YMCA, and groupings of students for certain class exercises based on their speaking and language skills.
The district also provides nighttime adult education that helps parents learn English language and other skills to better support their children’s classroom needs.
Another of Schumacher’s goals is to foster community partnerships that have helped the local school district in a variety of ways over the year.
Volunteer efforts from the local arts community help children in extracurricular activities including stage productions, painting and music.
Community partners such as Lions Club of Cambria, Cambria Rotary Club and the University Women of Cambria have contributed scholarship money for Coast Union High graduates.
Schumacher hopes to discuss shared uses of facilities, such as the potential for a new middle school athletic field made of AstroTurf artificial grass.
She said the field now is poor condition and needs to be replaced.
An AstroTurf field would save water as the community wrestles with water shortages amid the drought.
“We’re looking into using AstroTurf,” Schumacher said.
“That’s a potential field the community could use as well as the school district.”