At the same time as PUSD’s recent fiscal stabilization plan was adopted by the board and the reductions included therein were being implemented via layoffs of various staff, the school consolidation committee’s report was presented. The superintendent has expressed the desire to pause and explore ways to increase revenue and also to attract students to increase the socioeconomic integration of our schools, which the Board of Education has made a focus area of the district. Students in socioeconomically diverse schools — regardless of a student’s own economic status — have stronger academic outcomes, score higher on standardized tests, and are more likely to enroll in college.
Pasadena Unified has retained a team of nationally recognized school integration experts — Richard Kahlenberg, Michael Alves and John Brittain — to help our current federal magnet grant increase the socioeconomic integration in our schools. According to the 2016 Kahlenberg report “Better Together” commissioned by the Pasadena Educational Foundation, we know it is possible for PUSD to attract more middle-class students with the right mix of vibrant programs and instruction. This expert team recommends keeping schools open to develop a combination of controlled school choice and the creation of attractive magnet schools at sites that don’t currently attract enough enrollment. Logically, to attract and diversify enrollment at any school, you need open school campuses and available seats for them. The experts recommend that PUSD fully embrace a districtwide magnet school approach to raise educational outcomes and graduation rates for the families now in PUSD, and to attract middle-class families who may be reluctant to send their students to Pasadena public schools.
This is a long-term plan, not an overnight solution. It takes time to train teachers, build partnerships and create specialized curriculum and programs that parents and students desire.
Schools mentioned in the committee’s report are home to vibrant academic programs that are already attracting mixed-income families. For example, Blair is a school with over 80 percent of students actively choosing it during open enrollment. The school’s International Baccalaureate program offers students a rigorous, research-based, interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on critical thinking and developing internationally and community minded individuals. While all IB students are eligible to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests (and for the last two years Blair has had the highest AP pass rate in PUSD), only IB students may take IB tests, a key college admissions discriminator. It is one of only 38 schools nationwide authorized to offer all three secondary IB programs: Middle Years Programme (Grades 6-10), Diploma Programme (Grades 11-12) and the Career Related Programme which works in conjunction with the Health Careers Academy (HCA). The school also has a PUSD middle school Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program, PUSD’s International Academy — whose team of supportive teachers help newcomer English learners grow their skill. The academy also includes PUSD’s only JROTC program, a thriving music program that has been awarded more than $85,000 in grant money over the past six years, the only Students Run LA program in the San Gabriel Valley, whose members train to complete the LA marathon, and a revitalized basketball team that has reached the CIF playoffs for the past few years. Blair’s unique programs attract dozens of our district students, and PUSD’s commitment to Blair is shown by a $24 million modernization of the main high school building that will reopen next year, and the recent installation of a new all-weather running track.
Wilson Middle School has unique advanced studies, project-based learning, award-winning performing arts, and is a pathway to Pasadena High School’s App Academy. Its uniqueness has made it the second-largest 6-8 grade program in PUSD, after Marshall, and the largest traditional/stand alone middle school. Jefferson Elementary has opened a Spanish Dual Language Immersion program that has generated renewed interest and enrollment. Next year, Cleveland Elementary will share its campus with Odyssey Charter School in compliance with Proposition 39’s requirement of reasonably equivalent facilities. PUSD staff and charter staff are currently discussing ways that the charter can help provide more opportunities and services for PUSD students and increase the revenue paid to PUSD by the charter. Odyssey is committed to the principles of the Diverse by Design charter network, and this board member is hopeful that the charter parents will experience the value of the greater diversity offered by PUSD and will agree to help with the overall goal of socioeconomically integrated public schools in the PUSD area.
Scott Phelps is a member of the Pasadena Board of Education. The views expressed here are his own.