Making the Grade


This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

New Valley is brought to you by Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo -- the next stage.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Cooperation -- taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business and government together, to examine the impact of growth in the Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.


Our Central Valley has become a focal point for growth in California. It's seen by many as the region that could serve as a template for smart growth throughout the state. It's about potential. But beneath that potential are some disturbing educational issues that can blur the future of the New Valley as a vital, diversified region with a thriving workforce. Overcrowded classrooms…teachers in short supply…language barriers… lagging college preparation. All are serious points of concern as we look toward future growth.

The over arching story is that Sacramento Metro is doing relatively well and the South San Joaquin region is doing relatively poorly. A lot of it is a problem that has to do with language and poverty, things that disadvantage children.

If the Valley is to meet expectations our workforce is going to have to be well educated and positioned to handle the demands the 21st century will present. It's the "well educated" aspect of the formula that is the concern of this edition of New Valley. Are we "Making The Grade?"

That bell should signal a new day of learning in California...but lately, it's been sounding more like a death knell for the state's ailing public schools -- even though education always ranks near or at the top of public priorities.

Wayne Johnson, President, CA Teachers Association: "Despite the fact that the electorate is very supportive of public schools, the policy makers have been somewhat tightfisted when it comes to financing and supporting public schools."

And with budget deficits looming as far as the eye can see, it's inevitable that the schools will have to do more with even less. But for some, money isn't the real issue.

Sen. Charles Poochigian, Education Master Plan Committee Member: "The answer is not just coming up with more dollars, or coming up with a figure that's going to somehow change the way students learn. We've got to look at approaches."

Whether you see the problem as fiscal or philosophical, there's no denying that the crisis in California's schools is grave. The Valley falls victim to many statewide problems -- though in a few, perhaps surprising respects, it is ahead of the curve. It has a greater percentage of English-proficient students than the rest of the state -- and leads California in its percentage of credentialed teachers.

Sen. Dede Alpert, Education Master Plan Committee Chair: "That's one of the areas where the Central Valley is doing a bit better than the rest of the state. They actually have done a better job recruiting fully trained teachers."

...but that success has not translated into greater numbers of college admissions; the Central Valley lags far behind the rest of the state in the number of students who go on to four-year institutions after high school.

Lee Andersen, Supintendent of Schools, Merced County: "School achievement is related to socio-economic status when you do look at the research. Likewise college-going rates are directly related to socio-economic status."

But is poverty the only reason why so many Valley students fail to go on to higher education? Until recently, there was little data to support ANY conclusion...

Dr. Santiago Wood, Superintendent, Fresno Unified S.D.: "I believe that California continues to lead the nation in terms of education reform, but many of the efforts over the last decade or so have been sort of without context, without form, without a focus."

Focus came recently in the form of a comprehensive survey of education in the Valley, released by the Public Policy Institute.

Anne Danenberg, Research Associate, PPIC: "We wanted to create a set of measures that would allow us to benchmark, if you will, what the situation of students and schools in the Central Valley is."

Now that we have this data, the challenge is to insure we follow through -- so our students can meet the challenges of the 21st century head-on, instead of chasing after missed opportunities.

Five days a week thousands of students stream in and out of classrooms in this vast Central Valley school district. Fresno Unified is the fourth largest in California. Not only is it burgeoning, it's a perfect example of the melting pot of cultures in today's schools.

Dr. Santiago Wood, Superintendent, Fresno Unified S.D.: "We are attempting to educate 82,000 students, 105 different languages spoken, and 65 different cultures."

Dr. Santiago Wood, who became superintendent of Fresno Unified in 2000, says with such great diversity comes some of the biggest challenges.

Dr. Santiago Wood: "We have one of the highest poverty indexes in Fresno County. We also have one of the highest needs of child health issues, whether they're upper respiratory illnesses or asthma, because of the air quality issue here in the Valley."

Those are daunting issues for schools. To the rescue: a new "California Master Plan for Education." The 200-page document is designed to help Fresno and California's other 1,000 school districts set a positive course for education over the next 20 years. Republican State Senator Charles Poochigian of Fresno was a member of the Joint Legislative Committee that hammered out the first education plan in the nation.

Sen. Charles Poochigian, Education Master Plan Committee Member: "The Master Plan, at best, ought to be an overall blueprint, sort of a general roadmap on how you reach certain goals."

Committee Chair Senator Dede Alpert, a San Diego Democrat, said the plan is focused on student achievement rather than the education bureaucracy. The overall goal is to create a more cohesive educational system from pre-school through college.

Sen. Dede Alpert, Education Master Plan Committee Chair: "People tell us about all these children who arrive at CSU or UC and they have to take remedial courses. Well, aren't our higher education people talking to our K-12 people about what it is kids need to learn to be ready for college?"

The Education Master Plan lays out 50 ambitious recommendations, including:

1. Every Child be taught by fully credentialed teachers
2. Provide two years of public preschool
3. Require a full-day kindergarten
4. Offer a rigorous K-12 education

Fresno Superintendent Wood says he's excited about the plan.

Dr. Santiago Wood: "It has a future to have California be at the cutting edge of the 21st century and beyond. It has lain out some strong and high expectations for all students."

Wood says while this is a boilerplate document it still gives school districts the freedom to implement special programs. For example, Fresno adopted a rigorous reading and language arts curriculum. There are also English immersion classes for its many ethnic groups, including the large Hispanic population. The district even has language classes for foreign-born parents.

What are you learning?


But not everyone is in love with the new Education Master Plan. Some say it doesn't pay enough attention to programs for the non-college-bound student. Retired automotive teacher Ray Rasmussen told a public hearing the plan virtually ignores vocational education - and that worries the trades industry.

Ray Rasmussen, Retired Vocational Education Teacher: "We don't understand this. If we don't have the labor, we cannot do it. You cannot get the bum off the street and put him in a dealership, in a garage, on the electrical truck, on the plumbing truck, and say, "Fix it." You have to have some hands-on. There's no hands-on in this report."

Currently, Fresno Unified only has one occupational high school, Duncan Polytechnical. Senator Poochigian echoes the need for more emphasis on vocational education in the Central Valley where drop out rates are high.

Sen. Charles Poochigian: "While we want the most educated class of people anywhere in the world here in California and that ought to be our goal, it's also important to make sure the needs of every single student are met."

But some question whether one document can do that.

Dr. Michael O'Hare, President Fresno Unified S.D. Board: "It's very challenging on a Master Plan to address the needs of students that are in Fresno Unified and also students that are up in Redding or down in Temecula. Even in our own school district, the size we are, we have unique needs at each of our schools.

And is it too "pie in the sky?"

Sen. Dede Alpert: "Some people said along the way, "My goodness, do you know how much this is going to cost?" And we probably don't know the full cost of what this will be. But it is… I tell people, 'It's a twenty year plan.'"

The Education Master Plan certainly gets an "A" for ambitious. Some parts will be embraced. Others won't see the light of day as legislation is introduced to implement the recommendations. But many hope this is the first step toward re-establishing California schools as among the best in the nation.

Eugene Shaffer, Teacher: "This year I have an exceptional class. And even the ones that don't speak English real well they work very hard, and they try and keep up."

Keeping up can be a real challenge for many of these Stockton first graders. Not because the instruction is difficult, but because English isn't their native language.

Eugene Shaffer: "I can speak a little Spanish, I can speak a little Hmong, and so just enough where I can tell them not to worry, go outside -- that kind of thing."

Although these colorful crayons are written in both Hmong and English, Gene Shaffer's job here at Montezuma Elementary is to teach in only one language. This after the 1998 passage of Proposition 227.

Eugene Shaffer: "I really like the way the bilingual education is going right now, multilingual. We have a lot of support and we have a lot of books, that's something I didn't have at first."

Shaffer says it's a challenge getting through to some of his English Second Language learners, especially those who speak Hmong.

Eugene Shaffer: "They don't say that last letter sound; it changes the tone of the word. Like instead of 'ca,' say 'caa' or 'co.' There's actually eight different ways."

Shaffer says he's grateful to have a Hmong aid that gives his students the extra help they need to succeed.

Eugene Shaffer: "Basically if I'm doing spelling words she'll try to break down the sounds and work with them if they're having a hard time. Sometimes they just need to hear it again or sometimes they need to hear it in their own language."

Claudia Lockwood, Director of Multiligual Education, San Joaquin County: "We've come a long way in thirty years. Thirty years ago we didn't have a clue. We didn't have a clue how to determine where the kids were and where they should be going. And now we're at least there."

Claudia Lockwood is the Director of Multilingual Education for the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

Claudia Lockwood: "Martinez - how's the Martinez class going?"

Lockwood supervises the greater San Joaquin and Sacramento counties, and provides support for those educating English Language Learners.

Claudia Lockwood: "There's too many languages now to develop bilingual programs for everyone. We have to continue to develop programs that engage students in English in multilingual classrooms."

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 20% of all Central Valley students in the 2000 - 2001 school year were English Learners. This percentage is actually lower than the rest of California. The state has a much higher number of English learners at 26.2%.

Claudia Lockwood: "Eighty-three percent of the English learners in California are from Spanish-speaking homes. So the majority language for English Learners is still, by far, Spanish."

O.k. leer primero. Los posques quban cerca…

And while the vast majority of public schools are instructed to teach in English only, there are those doing just the opposite.

Kristie Dunbarr teaches her fourth grade students everything from math to social studies in Spanish here at Cesar Chavez Elementary.

Cabesas en el centro cinco sequndos.

This is a Spanish immersion magnet school in the Davis unified school district.

Kristie Dunbar, Teacher: "It might be double the work but it's also double the pleasure. What I want to give to these students is an opportunity to take their Spanish elsewhere whether it's in a profession or in a traveling experience."

Como esta Shandie? Bien?

Principal Jon Wallace says Spanish Immersion has been a part of this school for 20 years and surprisingly, the bulk of students come from non-native speaking homes.

Jon Wallace, Principal, Cesar Chavez Elementary: "The parents in the community who chose to send their children here to this school and participate in this program are very active. They have done their research. So I think there's just a lot of interest in it, in providing another opportunity for children to experience at the elementary level."

The school must still follow the state curriculum.

Jon Wallace: "Almost 100% of their instruction is in Spanish. As they progress through the grade levels incrementally English is added so that we are able to transition students onto their secondary school experiences."

En California…

Kristie Dunbar: "Some children have grasped onto the idea more than others and have embraced the language more. Sometimes I give for homework that they need to watch T.V. in Spanish or go get a DVD where they can change the language in Spanish. I'm surprised on a daily basis this rich vocabulary that they come up with -- and they surprise me."

Jon Wallace: "I think that's very fulfilling to be at a school where the students are learning the content area as well as something else that is going to benefit them in their careers conceivably and certainly in their own pleasure as they get older."

From English-only programs, to Spanish immersion, schools are moving forward to address language challenges in this ever-changing valley.

Claudia Lockwood: "Accountability has increased. I'm not sure it's Proposition 227. But the accountability issues in California have become so much stronger that we really have to look at what we're doing to make sure that these kids are succeeding along with everyone else."

Wayne Johnson, President, California Teachers Association: "We have a very serious teacher shortage in California. There's about 50,000 teachers that are teaching on what we call an emergency permit, which means that they're not fully credentialed. Last year, 10,000 fully credentialed teachers retired."

Teachers like Marilyn Podesta; she's a part-time special education teacher at Prairie Elementary in Woodland. Marilyn retired in 1994…but the classroom lured her back.

Marilyn Podesta, Teacher, Woodland Prairie Elementary: "I really did miss that day-to-day interaction with the students."

That interaction comes with challenges that weren't present when she began her career.

Marilyn Podesta: "I see a lot of problems that we didn't see 32 years ago, just in family life. The fact that parents have to work very hard and they don't always have the skills or the time to help the children at home."

Such problems impact teachers as well as students, and Marilyn worries about a tidal wave of retirement.

Marilyn Podesta: "There's a huge amount of teachers that are between 50 and 65 years old, and I'm not sure that that many young people feel this is a profession they are going to give their life to, given the salary..."

But the NEA just announced that California offers the highest average teacher salary in the nation. Good news - or is it?

Wayne Johnson: "We're improving, but still, the cost of living in California is so high that that number one ranking is deceptive."

But no one enters teaching in the hopes of getting rich. Most become teachers to make a difference.

Jeanine O'Brien, Teacher, Phoebe Hurst Elementary: "They don't give you raises or promotions in teaching for doing a good job, so there really is no other incentive besides getting that rewarding feeling."

Jeanine O'Brien is in her second year of teaching at Sacramento's Phoebe Hurst Elementary School, trying to light a fire under her students. No easy task given the overwhelming mandates from the state and district.

Jeanine O'Brien: "Our teacher's manuals, you's scripted. "Now say this. Now say this to the kids, and here are the responses you should receive." It's scripted down to every last minute of our day."

Wayne Johnson: "Teachers are all college graduates. Fifty percent of teachers have advanced degrees. The average year of teaching experience in California is twelve years. Well, these are very well educated people with a lot of experience, and not having any control over what they're doing is very, very frustrating."

Jamie Murray, Teacher, Sonoma Academy: "I think most private school teachers have heard of the proverbial "book closet" in a public school, where the course that you're teaching, simply the books that you're to be teaching, are in a closet and that's pretty much the curriculum that's set in stone right there."

That's why, after getting his Master's degree, Jamie Murray opted to teach at the private Sonoma Academy. He teaches Humanities, and is free to set his own curriculum.

Jamie Murray: "It's an integrated history and English course, and what we do is look at it from a global perspective."

But what appealed to him most was the school's mission statement, which called for students to be creative and ethical…

Jamie Murray: "…and another thing that's incorporated in the mission statement is nurturing teachers. And you don't see that too often…"

As a private school teacher, Murray was spared California's certification process, which few consider "nurturing."

Jamie Murray: "The credentialing process in California is so bureaucratic and so cumbersome that it is actually keeping people out of the classroom."

Lucky for her students, Jeanine O'Brien's experience was intense, but not discouraging.

Jeanine O'Brien: "It was a year and a half long program. And I did student teaching at three different schools, three different grade levels, for three different semesters. And I took classes in the evenings that teach you how to teach math to kids and to teach social science to kids."

As you'd expect in this age of testing, Jeanine's certification program focused on A-B-C's and 1-2-3's - and that saddens many long-time teachers.

Marilyn Podesta: "We want children to be good math students. We want them to be good readers. But I worry a little bit about…where's the social studies and geography, and the music, and the art..."

But Jeanine sees the latest testing craze as merely an extreme end of the swing on the education pendulum.

Jeanine O'Brien: "I think that it'll swing back the other way, and I think they will bring more science and history and art, and that sort of thing back. It's all kind of being cut out now, and it looks grim, but I think it will go back the other way. I'm optimistic; you have to be optimistic when you're a teacher."

The Central Valley holds close to 17 percent of the state's population but it has a school enrollment of 20 percent of the states children. The study by the Public Policy Institute reveals that the Central Valley has a lower percentage of students completing college prep courses and taking college entrance exams than the rest of the state.

Yesenia Martinez, Student, Golden Valley High School: "It's something that everybody should have the goal to go to college."

The highest percentage of college bound high school graduates statewide attends community college after graduation.

Tom Martinez, Student, Golden Valley High School: "You gotta do what you gotta do. If you don't get into your first choice and community college is the only thing you can do, then I would do that for sure."

Ashley Real, Student, Golden Valley High School: "I think college is very important. I learned from my parents, just going to community college really doesn't cut it to make a living.

Valley students don't fare well in completing courses in preparation for entrance to UC or state colleges. Less than 50% make the grade according to the PPIC.

Anne Danenberg, Research Associate, PPIC: "The south San Joaquin region is doing quite poorly on a number of our measures. The test scores are lower which is probably the biggest finding. College-going rates are lower. Graduation rates are generally lower. Students taking college prep courses are lower."

Don't tell that to our group of seniors from Golden Valley High in Merced. They're aiming their sights for USC, Chico, Sacramento State and Loyola Marymount among other institutions of higher learning. We chose Merced because it's the area slated for the newest campus in the University of California system. We wanted to determine what opportunities the new campus might provide regional schools in preparing students to enter the UC system.

James Grant, Communications Director, UC Merced: "The programs that are centered here in the Fresno office have to do with outreach to as many as 144 high schools in the valley every year. They have to do with reaching all the way down to grade four for some programs; it's called the Early Academic Scholars Program. The idea is to get more kids in the pipeline and create a college going culture in the Central Valley."

That's a tall order, especially in Merced County where they have a population with twice as many grade school dropouts as college graduates.

Jim Cahill, Asst. City Manager, Merced: "Remember the reason why the university is coming to the San Joaquin Valley in the first place is that traditionally there have not been many kids in the San Joaquin Valley who have gone on to enroll in the UC system."

Lee Andersen, Superintendent of Schools, Merced County: "It seems clear to me that it will have a positive impact on K-12 education in Merced County certainly, and my guess is most of the other counties."

The rural nature of the San Joaquin Valley and socio-economic factors also play a part in the low percentage of college achievers.

Anne Danenberg: "The strongest relationship actually exists between achievement and socio-economic status. In general, schools that have high proportions of students that are economically or socially disadvantaged in some way tend to have lower test scores."

Lee Andersen: "The fact that they're not in a metropolitan area, they're not exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles and opportunities I think, makes them and their families a little more reluctant to let go."

Ashley Real, Student, Golden Valley High School: "My mom does not want me to leave. She said I have to stay in California."

Donella Green, Student, Golden Valley High School: "He wanted me to go to, like, San Francisco or Berkeley or something up there. But that's too close to home to me."

Tom Martinez, Student, Golden Valley High School: "They want me to stay close to home but they said it's my choice, so ultimately it's up to me."

There's one thing that I want you to really work on…

If the proposed master plan is adopted and with a new university campus on the horizon, perhaps the prospects for higher education in the valley can improve. After all, isn't education all about horizons?

Donella Green, Student, Golden Valley High School: "I need to get out, explore the world. There's more to life than just the Central Valley and Merced."

The portrait painted by the Public Policy Institute doesn't foster much confidence in the future of education in the Valley. Hopefully the proposed "Master Plan for Education" will jumpstart a movement to improve our educational system. The bottom line? To ignore the educational health of the fastest growing region in the state would surely erode any progress already made.

Our assignment on New Valley has been to focus on growth issues affecting the great basin. We've studied housing, urban growth, transportation, technology, the economy, health care, natural resources…and education. Next time, we finish our first season by profiling the "Movers and Shakers": key players and organizations that are the driving force in achieving a valley less crowded, more environmentally healthy, and economically sound. Please join us for "New Valley: Movers & Shakers."

To comment on our program, you can contact us by visiting our website at "" Direct e-mail to Our regular mail address is New Valley, KVIE, P.O. Box 6, Sacramento, 95812 .

Additional support provided by the Great Valley Center.

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This program is brought to you through the generous support of viewers like you.

New Valley is brought to you by Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo - the next stage.

Presentation of New Valley is made possible by Intel Cooperation. Taking a leadership role in bringing citizens, business and government together, to examine the impact of growth in the Central Valley.

And by U.S. Home, committed to developing a positive future where we live and work by promoting responsible growth, and preservation of our quality of life.

And by the air districts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.