The Cambrian

Coast Union principal addresses rising number of failing grades

Coast Union valedictorian Xue DiMaggio, who led the drive for new water bottle refilling stations, does the honors Monday in the high school cafeteria.
Coast Union valedictorian Xue DiMaggio, who led the drive for new water bottle refilling stations, does the honors Monday in the high school cafeteria. Special to The Cambrian

Attendance issues, especially among freshmen, could be linked to an increased number of failing grades at Coast Union High School, Principal Jonathan Sison said Thursday.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Coast Unified School District Board of Trustees, Sison presented a report in response to concerns about a spike in the number of F’s at Coast Union in the third quarter.

“While the F’s are disturbing and a cause for concern, I’m hoping to shed some light on what’s behind it and offer a dialogue on next steps,” Sison said. “I see danger, yes, but also an opportunity to move forward, correct and improve.”

Sison presented a series of slides tracking the number of failing grades awarded in the third quarter each year from 2012 to the present in three academic areas, and from 2013 to the present in a fourth.

Each subject showed a large number of F’s in the first year tracked, followed by a reduction and a subsequent spike again this year:

▪  In English and language arts, 35 failing grades were awarded in 2013, followed by a drop to 15 the following year and 12 in 2015, then a surge to 27 this year.

▪  In math, there were 15 F’s in 2013, 11 each of the next two years and 18 this year.

▪  In history, 10 failing grades were awarded in 2014, just two in 2015 and 12 for the current third quarter.

▪  In the lab sciences, including biology, chemistry and physics, the numbers tracked at 29 the first year, then dipped to 20 and 21 the next two years, but rose to 35 this year.

Sison mentioned a potential correlation between the spike in poor grades and problems with attendance among freshmen at the high school.

“There seems to be a really high concentration of ninth-graders in classes where there are the highest number of F’s,” he said. “Many of our ninth-graders are struggling with attendance more than the ninth-graders we had last year.”

Sison said the trend toward more F’s is “really concerning,” but added that, although 181 failing grades were handed out during the period, “we don’t have 181 students who are failing.” Instead, he said, “we have many students with multiple F’s,” mentioning one student who had failed seven subjects.

Sison outlined a number of next steps the district could take to address the problem, including:

▪  Counseling students about the importance of good attendance.

▪  Connecting with parents about the importance of student attendance.

▪  Continuing to implement attendance policies.

▪  Offering professional learning opportunities to teachers, including coaching in math and literacy.

▪  Engaging teachers in discussion of grading practices and intervention, including assessment and tutoring.

Sison said he met with 12 students Thursday and will continue meeting with them during their “pass” periods to help identify problems and work on ways to address them. He said that while fewer students have been taking advantage of afterschool tutoring opportunities, he expected those numbers to pick up as students moved closer to final exams.

Board President Del Clegg suggested more parent conferences.

“If we’re surprised that we have these numbers, then we’re really not paying attention,” he said, “because we know who’s not attending classes and we know who’s not performing.”

Trustee Cindy Fratto suggested that the district look back at 2014 and 2015, when the number of failing grades was substantially lower.

“What was working?” she asked. “What changed? Let’s go back and do it the old way. I like the old results better.”

She also asked whether the numbers indicated that freshmen entering Coast Union had been having problems at the middle school level.

Santa Lucia Middle School Principal Kyle Martin said he had no School Attendance Review Board issues with any of last year’s eighth-graders, who he reported outperformed the state on standardized tests, with high levels of students scoring in the proficient and advanced range.

Audience member Andy Zinn spoke to the board, sharing feedback he’d received from students that “they don’t feel like they need to work hard — even the smart ones don’t. … They would like to be pushed harder.”

In other business:

▪  Student trustee Anna Harrington reported that the new water refilling stations had saved 180 plastic bottles. By 1 p.m. Monday, the time of a ribbon-cutting to dedicate the stations at Coast Union, that figure was up to 215 in the high school cafeteria alone. Xue DiMaggio, who led the drive for the new stations at Coast Union and Santa Lucia Middle School, cut the ribbon as Sison, Superintendent Victoria Schumacher, Lions Club President Dixie Walker and a number of students looked on.

▪  Schumacher announced plans for two meetings to discuss the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) with community members during community engagement meetings.

▪  Schumacher reported that the new Chromebooks purchased by the district have arrived and are in the process of being formatted for the district’s needs.

▪  The board adopted resolutions designating May 11 as the Day of the Teacher, May 15-21 as Classified School Employees Week and April 26 as School Bus Drivers Appreciation Day.

▪  Schumacher said negotiation sessions with the Coast Cambria Teachers Association for 2016-17 are scheduled for May 4 and June 1.

▪  The board moved the date of its June board meeting back a week to June 30.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor