Editor’s note: Don Shalvey who is the chief executive officer of San Joaquin A+, which consists of a group of educators, business leaders, active citizens and philanthropists who support education. Mr. Shalvey has spent the past 55 years in public education, including serving as a deputy director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he is the founder and former CEO of Aspire Public Schools.
Our schools have faced unprecedented challenges over the past three years. Lost learning time. Teacher burnout and staffing shortages. A mental health crisis among students.
We at San Joaquin A+ applaud the herculean efforts of teachers, parents, and school staff for the work they’ve done to support students throughout the COVID Pandemic. We believe we must celebrate and support them, while being honest about the challenges that our students continue to face.
Because when we look at what is happening in schools, data shows students are falling behind, and local feedback indicates that students and educators feel stuck in neutral. In addition to COVID, we know there is another unique crisis facing the largest school district in our county that is creating this feeling: the inept governance of the Stockton Unified School Board.
We take stock of these challenges and identify opportunities for our youth in our latest report titled “Stuck in Neutral: How Governance Failures Have Held Back Progress in Stockton Schools and How More Focused Investment in Our Students Can Help Them Accelerate Forward”
Stockton is currently led by its sixth superintendent in as many years. Not one, but two grand jury investigations have called out the Board for failing to effectively lead the district, while highlighting disturbing incidents of financial mismanagement.
In our report, we spotlight how Stockton’s failed school governance has held back the district from reaching its full potential and actually undermined the work of our hardworking teachers. Our teachers deserve clear, consistent leadership. They don’t deserve a school district that changes superintendents every year like clockwork.
At the same time, we highlight the opportunity to catch our students up. The Edunomics Lab at the University of Georgetown estimates that kids in Stockton Unified lost 23 weeks of learning in math and 21 weeks in reading during the pandemic. They calculate a needed investment in high dosage tutoring at a total of roughly $109 million dollars to catch SUSD students up in reading and math.
The good news, as the calculator also shows, is that the United States government provided $156 million in ESSER III funds (part of the total $250 million Stockton Unified received for COVID relief in total) for tutoring and other needs through 2021 that needs to be spent in the next two years. These federal funds should be directed right into high dosage tutoring strategies to catch students up and accelerate their learning.
As a community, we must be ready to both hold Board members accountable to engage with the public to spend this money, while also supporting the actual leaders and educators who are focused on helping students catch up. For example, the Board has just appointed a new Superintendent who has a track record as an educator and school leader in Stockton. We can support the current Superintendent and collaborate on important initiatives for students while demanding better of the Board.
As we approach election season this November, we urge SUSD families and community members to engage with any potential school board candidates who will prioritize the challenge ahead by transparently and urgently putting federal funding to work to help our students. And in doing so will engage with our community, listen to their needs, be consistently transparent in how they are spending the public’s money, and will focus ultimately on hiring more district leaders and engaged educators who will put our children first.
Just as importantly, we are cheering on our educators and school leaders to help students get “unstuck” in the early months of this school year; by using any dollars, resources, and local capacity currently available to get creative about how we can help students make up for lost time right now.