I’m coming up on the second anniversary of my first column, and school’s out. So this is an opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned, exploring a variety of school matters in our community.
No public school district is rich. But the Coast Unified School District is better off than most because of its basic aid funding. In general, basic aid means the district keeps locally sourced revenues in excess of the state’s guarantee, rather than receiving funds from the state. Coast, with a general fund between $10.5 million and $11 million and average attendance of slightly more than 700, spent more than $15,000 per student last year, compared with the state average of slightly less than $9,000. That difference in spending means that CUSD offers small classes and a broad range of subjects that would normally be found in larger districts.
Teachers and administrators are engaged with the students. The schools’ principals provide a great example. When I was growing up, the principal’s office was a place to avoid. I expect this is still true in many places. But, at our schools, you’re not likely to find principals in their offices. They can usually be found on the campus or in the classrooms. They know the kids, and the kids know them.
There is a high degree of integration in the curriculum. A couple examples come readily to mind. In the Grammar School, the Peace Leader program is supported throughout the campus. Conflict resolution and leadership skills are taught at each grade level. At the middle school, when the whole school read “A Long Walk to Water,” related lessons were included in all subject areas from art to physical education. The teachers in the district embrace these opportunities to deepen students’ connections to what they’re learning.
The district’s students grow and mature in a personal and supportive environment. During the scholarship interview day, a number of graduating seniors said they’d once been shy or had held back from participating. But then, with the encouragement of friends, teachers and/or administrators, they’d tried something new — student government, sports, theater, etc. In a small district like Coast Unified, the school experience is very personal. Adults touch students every day, promoting growth.
When I started writing these columns almost two years ago, I had a couple of goals in mind. The first was to focus on the classroom. Educating young people is a complex task. There are numerous mandates from the state that cover everything from curriculum to how funds can be spent. There are objectives and policy set by the Board of Trustees and the superintendent.
All of these things are necessary and well managed in our district. I consider many of them education in the abstract, though. The tangible manifestation of education is what happens in the classroom: the interaction between teachers and students. To me, this is what’s really interesting about education, and what I try to write about.
The second goal was to help connect the schools to the part of our community that isn’t students and their families. Another thing I’ve learned is that the connection already exists to a far greater extent than I’d realized. Our schools are supported by individual volunteers and the area’s many service organizations in numerous ways. The time, energy and financial support of many people is inspiring. School really does matter to the community as a whole. That makes writing these columns a joy each month.