Opinion: “Major Restructuring” comes to Cunha Middle School


By on Wed, July 9, 2008

Suppose you were a school board member required to make "fundamental reforms" at Cunha Middle school through "major restructuring" of the school's governance. What would you do? The Cabrillo Unified School District's board was faced with just that question at its June 26 meeting. It's answer: create a committee. The district might reasonably be presumed to already have a sufficiency of committees, but the board's decision to create one more has the virtue of not making a bad situation worse.

Last year was the sixth year that Cunha Middle School failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act. Consequently this item appeared on the school board agenda: 10.a. Review and approve plan for Alternative Governance of Cunha Intermediate School as a Year Four (Restructuring) Program Improvement Site. It begins:

Background Information

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Cunha Intermediate School is in Year Four Program Improvement (has not met AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] for six years). Year Four Program Improvement School Requirements dictate that the District and Cunha:

…prepare a plan for alternative governance of the school by selecting one of the following options:
  1. Reopen the school as a charter,
  2. replace all or most of the staff including the principal,
  3. contract with an outside entity to manage the school,
  4. state takeover (not available in California), or
  5. any other major restructuring.

Cunha is the first of CUSD's school sites to reach the six-year NCLB milestone (Hatch is not far behind). The general idea is that a school that has failed to meet its academic performance goals for six straight years needs to be shaken up. The board was understandably reluctant to convert Cunha to a charter school, contract out its management, or replace the staff, and "other major restructuring" sounds nearly as ominous. What to do? Easy:

6. Create a committee.

Well, not quite; there is no Option 6. The board instead chose Option 5 ("any other major restructuring"), and simply defined "creation of a committee" to count as "major restructuring". The plan as presented:

A District Liaison/Leadership Team (DLST) comprised of Cunha staff, parents, District staff and community representatives selected Option 5: Implementing any other major restructuring of the school's governance arrangement that makes fundamental reforms and leads to improved student achievement. The DSLT determined that the formation of an Alternative Governance Board for the purpose of providing shared leadership, collaborative decision making, and a focus on strategies to improve student achievement would support this option. The Superintendent has reviewed and approved this option.

Create a committee, call it a board, appoint the usual suspects, and we're in business:

Proposed Governance Structure

Cunha Intermediate School selected Program Improvement Option 5: Restructuring/Alternative Governance Model from the five possible options in the protocol.

The Alternative Governance Board (AGB) will be comprised of:

  • Principal/Mike Andrews
  • One faculty member/TBD
  • Community Schools Director/Anne Hipskind
  • One LEA member/Elizabeth Schuck
  • One parent/TBD
  • With a link to the CCSP

The AGB will provided shared leadership, collaborative decision making, and a focus on strategies to improve student achievement. This board will be linked to CCSP for program monitoring, access to resources, guidance.

As SSC is a legally required body, the SSC will submit site plans, etc. to the AGB for input/approval/guidance prior to submitting to the Governing Board.

["CCSP" is the Coastside Community Schools Partnership, an after-school program at Cunha. SSC is the School Site Council. "LEA" (Local Educational Agency) is the Cabrillo School District (CUSD). The "Governing Board" is the CUSD school board.]

So just how does the creation of yet another committee, even one called a board, count as "major restructuring"? It doesn't, of course, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. What appears to be (and is) a rather cynical end run around the NCLB Program Improvement requirements (with the tacit but full support of the California Department of Education) is also a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation. One more committee will, of course, yield no significant benefit, but neither will it do any real harm. The NCLB options, on the other hand, are guaranteed to be highly disruptive, and have the added feature than none of them has a demonstrated track record of improving underperforming schools.

More than 2000 of California's nearly 10,000 schools are now at some stage of NCLB Program Improvement, and the hockey-stick goals of California's NCLB implementation ensure that the large majority of all California public schools will be due for "major restructuring" within the next few years. Read that list of restructuring options and imagine them being applied to thousands of California schools at once—even if they had a chance of working, the disruption alone would ensure a statewide educational disaster.

NCLB itself was due for reauthorization last year, and Congress is still deadlocked over it (though its funding has been extended). The eventual new, improved version of NCLB will have significant changes, and the Program Improvement framework will no doubt be significantly revised. The strategy of the California Department of Education seems to be to ignore the current mandates, hoping that the new law will make more sense. Let's hope so too. In the meantime, by all appearances, the Feds are going along with the charade.

This is a shame. The CUSD administration must know that its "Alternative Governance Board" is an empty gesture (else why wait six years to create one, and why not appoint AGBs for the district's other schools that are failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress?). CUSD is experiencing a steady drop in enrollment and a dramatic demographic shift. Hopefully, with a new superintendent and three new school board members this November, we won't have to wait another six years for better answers.