Antioch School Board adopts slower-paced math courses for high schools, hears of solar energy improvements, seven apply for board vacancy

Navarro: Wait to hire new superintendent until Board vacancy is filled

By Nick Goodrich

At their regular meeting on Wednesday, April 20th Antioch School Board approved slower-paced math courses for Antioch’s high schools, heard about the solar energy improvements to facilities and about the demotion of a vice principal to a teaching position.

Public comments opened with Antioch resident Shannon Ripoli speaking out against the recent demotion of Gil Armenta from Vice Principal of Mno Grant Elementary to a teaching position. More than a dozen Antioch parents and residents stood for the duration of her comments in a show of support.

Ripoli told the Board that throughout his time as Vice Principal, Armenta created an environment where students and staff could thrive.

“He brings many irreplaceable assets to our school,” she said, noting that he was known for developing strong relationships with students, families, and the school’s staff.

She said that the decision to reassign Armenta to a teaching position apparently came as a result of declining enrollment. However, Antioch Unified has suffered from a similar District-wide trend in recent years. Ripoli believes Armenta is not the reason for the decrease, and that he has much more to offer Mno Grant. “We believe a mistake has been made,” she concluded.

Other speakers, Chris Colkward and Dozier-Libbey High School Principal Scott Bergerhouse, spoke in support of Stephanie Anello for the vacant District Superintendent. Anello has served admirably as the Interim Superintendent as the Board tracks the progress of Leadership Associates, the search firm it hired to fill the Superintendent position.

“I think with the addition of Stephanie Anello as Superintendent, you can’t fail,” Colkward stated. “She’s going to bring some fresh and positive ideas to this District.”

Bergerhouse also spoke in favor of Anello.

“She has a passion for student achievement and quality production,” he said. “It is a needed decision and the correct decision for our schools.”

Facilities Update

The Board heard a presentation from Chris Learned, the District’s Acting Chief Business Official, offering a summary of capital improvements made in recent years.

The largest expenditure was on solar energy. Learned reported that solar panels have been installed at 20 school and District sites, for a total cost of $27,694,776.

The solar projects, which are projected to eventually pay for themselves and are already cutting utilities costs at the sites, comprise the majority of the expenditures of the Qualified Zone Academy Bond. This bond is a lump of money awarded to school districts to make improvements on facilities, such as solar energy generation, energy efficiency and STEM academic training. However, the entirety of the bond funds must be completely expended by a certain date: in the AUSD’s case, July 25th of this year.

Currently, the District has nearly $3 million remaining to spend by that date. Projects already underway include roofing improvements at Antioch High School, HVAC improvements at AHS, and HVAC improvements at Bidwell. Learned offered several projects that could be used to spend the remaining funds, including roofing at Mission Elementary and HVAC updates at Turner Elementary.

Another important aspect of the presentation involved the District’s deferred maintenance fund. Essentially, this fund is comprised of money set aside for “deferred maintenance” purposes: projects at school sites that are not urgent or emergency projects, but that may become problematic later on and will have to be revisited.

Learned reminded the Board that the AUSD has set aside little to nothing for such projects, and in fact has not formally created a deferred maintenance fund. “There’s a deferred maintenance problem in this District,” he told them. “We should create a deferred maintenance fund.”

Learned reported that District staff has identified about $35 million in deferred maintenance projects across the District. “It makes good sense for the District to have this fund, so it can start to tackle these issues,” he said. After some discussion, the Board seemed to agree, and moved to bring up a resolution in a future meeting that would create a deferred maintenance fund, worth about $800,000.

Math Courses

The Board then opened a discussion on math courses in Antioch high schools. Performance in Algebra classes by high school students have not been up to par in recent years, which is one reason for the creation of the new after school Math Intensive program at Deer Valley High School.

New Algebra courses for the upcoming 2016-17 school year were brought before the Board and approved on a 3-1 vote, with Trustee Fernando Navarro dissenting.

Julie Young, an Antioch resident that consistently tracks AUSD proceedings, spoke before the Board on the topic.

“Common Core isn’t working, and it’s dumbing down our students,” she said.

Young criticized the proposed courses, asking if slower-paced math classes, would really improve the situation. She went on to add that proficiency in elementary math classes -namely in fourth and fifth grade – would have to be improved to better prepare students for the courses they will take in high school.

Board Member Walter Ruehlig agreed with Young’s idea of earlier intervention. Interim Superintendent Stephanie Anello noted that AUSD’s students’ math performance drops in half when they hit fifth grade. Board Member Debra Vinson stated that other Districts employ math coaches in high school and even middle school, which could be an option for AUSD.

Navarro offered a different view.

“Common Core underestimates the intelligence of our kids,” he said. “Math Intensive proves otherwise. It proves that they can do it.”

Nonetheless, the Board approved the slower-paced math courses for the high schools in the District, for the 2016-17 schoolyear.

Navarro: Wait on New Superintendent until Fifth Board Member appointed

After the vote, the School Board wrapped up its regular agenda and put forth several items for discussion or voting in future meetings.

Vinson, continuing from an earlier meeting in which the idea was discussed, asked that the Board look into establishing petty cash funds for school sites in the District, as there are currently none. She also brought up the issue of omitting names from Board meeting minutes, which Young had previously expressed concern about, as an obstacle to transparency. Board President Diane Gibson-Gray, also concerned with this issue, agreed with Vinson to revisit the topic.

Navarro had several comments on the ongoing search for a new superintendent. Noting that the Board was down to four members after the recent departure of Claire Smith, he suggested that the Board hold off its vote for a superintendent until a new board member was found. In the meantime, he suggested Julie Young as a viable candidate to replace Smith, noting that she is always involved in District proceedings, and has a wealth of knowledge and experience that would be an asset to the Board.

The Board will discuss the possibility of postponing the hiring until after the board vacancy is filled, when it meets again with its search firm, Leadership Associates.

At its last meeting, the Board adopted the procedure for appointing a new board member, which is the similar to the one they followed last November when Navarro was appointed. Seven people have applied, including Young and former Board Member Joy Motts who both confirmed they had applied. The names of the other applicants were not yet released to the public by District staff, at press time. Interviews of the applicants and a possible appointment will be held Wednesday, May 4.

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