Teach Elementary needs a campus by next year, district panel says

Teach Elementary — a San Luis Obispo magnet school for academically accelerated fourth- to sixth-grade students — should be moved to its own permanent school site by the 2014-15 school year, a district committee on accelerated learning recommends.

San Luis Coastal Unified School District students as a whole also need more access to technology and teachers need more training in math to meet the needs of accelerated learners, the Accelerated Learning Committee said in a presentation to the school board Tuesday night.

The recommendations come after the possible closure of Teach Elementary was discussed at a contentious series of school board meetings earlier this year because of capacity issues.

Superintendent Eric Prater formed the committee, composed of staff, administration, experts on instruction for high-proficiency students and community members, to evaluate the issue. The committee was asked to provide recommendations to improve the district’s efforts to meet the needs of all accelerated learners and find solutions for the shortage of space at Teach Elementary.

Terri Main, who served on the committee, told the school board Tuesday that after looking further into the issue she felt the district was not doing enough for gifted and talented students.

Prater doesn’t deny that.

“We can do a much better job in our school district of identifying students who have advanced abilities and giving them more opportunities to extend their learning,” said Prater.

“We have spent a great deal of time in our district addressing our struggling learners … however we really have not done the work necessary to address higher learning students, especially at the elementary level.”

Teaching 21st century skills

The recommendations suggest that teachers need additional training to bring more depth to math instruction for high-achieving students.

Also, each upper elementary student should have access to a tablet or laptop, which would expand the opportunities for advanced students.

“It is important to embrace the goal of ensuring students learn the essential 21st century skills for success in today’s global economy, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration,” according to the memo outlining the recommendations.

The report goes on to say that a program called STEAM, (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), should be integrated into all upper elementary classrooms. But to do that, students in third to sixth grade will need the technological tools to engage in such learning.

That comes at a cost.

The school board has twice postponed spending $1.1 million on the infrastructure needed at the district’s elementary schools to offer wi-fi because of budget cuts. Trustees are being asked again this year to approve spending the money.

Finding classroom space

Teach Elementary is one of three schools in the school district that offers an alternative learning model.

The school shares a campus with Bishop’s Peak Elementary, which is growing, leading to an impending shortage of classroom space at its existing site on Jaycee Drive at the northern end of the city.

The committee identified six possible locations for the school, ranked in the order of preference: the old Pacheco school site on Grand Avenue, the Lizzie Street complex where the district offices are located, former Morro Elementary in Morro Bay, former Sunnyside Elementary in Los Osos, Pacific Beach-Vicente Schools in San Luis Obispo and the Rancho El Chorro campus on Highway 1.

However, all of those sites come at a cost, said Prater.

“The challenge is: how do we provide this opportunity for families while minimizing the impact on everyone else in the terms of cost?” said Prater.

Some of the proposed sites are a realistic option, said Prater, but extenuating circumstances have to be considered. For example, the district has a lease with the SLO Classical Academy at the old Pacheco site through 2018 that can only be broken if the school stopped paying rent.

Future enrollment projections must also be added into the equation. Teach Elementary could be kept a fourth- to sixth-grade school, given a portion of that location, and later expanded into a larger program for advanced learning if the school site was needed as an elementary school, said Prater.

“It may be by 2018 that we need to open another elementary school,” Prater said. “I have an obligation to the school board and the community to preserve the facilities.”

Prater will make his own recommendations to the school board on Nov. 19.