Ben Irwin, The Record
Stockton Unified School District plans to break the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” cliché to send hundreds of educators to a conference in Las Vegas this summer.
The Professional Learning Communities conference from Solution Tree came up at Stockton Unified’s Jan. 24 Board of Trustees meeting. The board unanimously approved $1.1 million in Title I funds — a federally funded program for improving academic achievement that, in part, pays for professional development — to send over 500 district teachers, principals and staff to bring back knowledge from the education extravaganza in the desert.
Stockton Unified boasts an $859 million budget, though County Superintendent of Schools Troy Brown said in an Oct. 20 letter he’d “lost confidence in the accuracy of the actual financial data and the projections.”
The Stockton Unified Department of Public Safety had a heightened presence at the Jan. 24 board meeting after an anonymous caller claimed 150 protesters would be at the meeting to show their outrage with the conference, SUSD confirmed.
But when the meeting took place, no protesters showed up. Brenda Vazquez, who had a 209 Times press pass and recorded the meeting on her phone, was the only person to make a public comment against sending SUSD’s teachers to the professional learning conference in Las Vegas. She towed the same line the 209 Times had hours earlier on social media: the conference is a million-dollar Vegas party for Board President AngelAnn Flores and her supporters.
Vazquez’s comments were met with disapproval from the crowd and several board members.
“Shame on anybody who tries to turn this around and paint it as a false narrative,” Flores said at the Jan. 24 board meeting. “If you are a parent and you have students at SUSD, you want your teacher to have this training … we will not allow anybody to come into our house, take this narrative, and paint it in a bad light. We care about our kiddos.”
‘We’re not taking this money away from anything else’
Trustee Kennetha Stevens said the PLC conference is something Stockton Unified has done for years and is included in the School Plan for Student Achievement — a detailed document on individual school sites’ planned actions and expenditures to support students.
“We must invest in our people … When I read the SPSA, every principal is asking for PLCs for their school sites, for their teachers … they want to invest back into their school communities,” Stevens said. “We should do our research before we attempt to talk against the district and what we do to be a viable asset to our school sites and our students moving forward.”
Brian Biedermann, SUSD’s director of educational services, prepared the PLC conference documents — not Flores. He said there could have been 42 different board agenda items — 42 of SUSD’s 56 schools have opted into the conference so far — but he chose to package them into one board item to “streamline the process.”
“This is Title I money that has to be spent on professional development. We’re not taking this money away from anything else,” Biedermann said at the Jan. 24 board meeting. “Every single one of our schools, all 56, are saying they’re going to use the PLC process to move their data (forward) … of the 500-plus people that are going to this conference, a large majority are teachers.”
The conference is scheduled for June 7-9 after school is out for the summer. Biedermann said the school district cannot take teachers to professional development conferences during the year due to a substitute teacher shortage.
“We have to do it in the summer,” Biedermann said. “I wish it wasn’t in Las Vegas … it is where it is, it’s been there for, I don’t know, 20 years.”
PLC and educational challenges Stockton faces cost-COVID-19
Stockton Unified teacher Angela Pascual was one of several educators who spoke in support of the conference at the Jan. 24 board meeting. She was sent to the Las Vegas PLC when she became a teacher at the district in 2016, she said.
“(We saw) hundreds of teachers from surrounding districts and other states — the spirit of collaboration was in the room, and this old-time educator got in the groove,” Pascual said. “We were not allowed to go out and just party.”
Pascual said the conference equipped teachers with the tools to “implement instruction in a consistent manner,” and they saw seventh and eighth graders make “leaps and bounds” in their writing as a result.
“If you want to attract teachers here — because many of us are five years and out — you have to provide them with a sound foundation to stand on,” Pascual said. “This is one of those foundations.”
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A joint study between Stanford and Harvard universities released in October 2022 equated the change in SUSD’s math scores from 2019-2022 to a learning loss of 64% of a grade level district wide. The study also shows the district’s math scores are nearly three grades behind the 2019 national average while reading scores are 2.4 grades behind.
“(PLC) is the mechanism our principals and our teachers are telling us on how we’re going to get back or how we’re going to catch up,” Biedermann said.
Biedermann, who did a small stint as Stockton Unified’s interim superintendent in 2020, said it’s about investing in people to adapt to a post-COVID learning environment. He said virtual options are available as well for educators who are still wary of large crowds.
COVID has really changed things, and so has the PLC process,” Biedermann said. “If you look at the training offerings they have, a lot of it is for social-emotional learning … redefining education in the classrooms. We can’t just assume our teachers are going to do that by themselves.”
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