Tell Our Story
Richmond, California's GLR campaign efforts have been concentrated recently on the West Contra Costa Unified School District, which has been designing a new strategic plan to better serve their students. This new 5-year plan is designed to combat issues like the achievement gap, and create a shared vision and implementation strategy to coordinate the many great initiatives and programs currently operating in the District.
The WCCUSD faces all of the challenges and dilemmas of urban school districts in California--high poverty and large numbers of English learners-- as well as a history of budget problems and a student population residing in five different cities. Nevertheless, the District has made progress in recent years, increasing student achievement, paying off a state loan and cultivating community partnerships that bring resources and a new sense of hopefulness. The changing educational landscape also makes this an opportune time to design and engage stakeholders in a new plan.
The strategic planning process was led by a community-based Steering Committee, a collection of 20 diverse individuals each representing a vital stakeholder group, and facilitated by a team of consultants paid for through a generous grant from Chevron. The planning process centered on a robust and bilingual community engagement effort. Over the course of six months, the process included 45 one-on-one interviews, 30 focus groups, eight town hall meetings, a series of student discussions, and online and paper surveys; more than 2,100 individuals were able to weigh in regarding the District’s and community’s needs and priorities.
The community engagement effort provided a clear and comprehensive understanding of the District’s primary strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Of the challenges identified, seven stood out from the list:
1. Achievement gap – The District’s African-American and Latino students, particularly the males, far underperform their White, Asian and Filipino counterparts.
2. Lack of program alignment – There are numerous successful initiatives and programs operating within the District, but there is little coordination between the efforts.
3. Low trust – Internally and externally, far too many individuals and organizations assume the worst of the district, bringing an unhealthy level of skepticism into every District initiative and interaction.
4. Poor communication – Without a clear vision and a defined communications strategy, the District is unable to communicate effectively with its internal or external stakeholders.
5. No sense of urgency – Though many within the District want to see change, there is little sense of urgency to see that change happen now.
6. Insufficient professional development for teachers – Teachers in the District are not receiving the support and development they need to become great teachers.
7. Weak talent recruitment and retention – The District is unable to recruit or retain top talent, especially at the principal level, which inhibits instruction and management, and negatively impacts school culture.
To address these critical hurdles, six key priorities were identified:
1. Create high expectations – It is not sufficient to believe that every student can succeed; the District and community (and the students themselves) should expect that every student will succeed. Objectives will likely include emphasizing pre-K through 3rd grade to rapidly bring student performance to grade level, developing a robust home visit program to build stronger partnerships between teachers and parents, and strengthening their partnership with Contra Costa College and a pathways program with CSU East Bay.
2. Support quality instruction – Teachers should have the support and training needed to become great teachers. Objectives may include implementing professional learning communities at all levels, implementing best practices for educating English Language Learners, and expanding the dual immersion program. The district may also seek to support ongoing adult education and learning and leveraging and coordinating academic supports.
3. Embrace collective ownership – Every stakeholder group has an opportunity and responsibility to play a role in promoting student success. The District thinks this may happen by centralizing the management of community-based organizations, funders, and the business community and expanding and deepening relationships with the West County philanthropic community, among other outreach efforts.
4. Invest in the whole child – Student success is not limited to classroom performance; social and emotional development are necessary complements to academic achievement. Possible objectives include supporting Full Service Community Schools (FSCS) throughout the District, building out a suite of Out-of-School Time programs to serve the whole child, and proactively working with local government, businesses and foundations, and local and national teacher unions to increase the District’s available resources.
5. Transparency and accountability – The community should be able to understand what is happening in the District and hold the District and its leaders accountable for success. This may include improving the internal data collection and management system, supporting strategic partners (CBOs, funders) by providing data necessary to improve program outcomes, and identifying who inside the District is responsible for what tasks.
6. Innovate – Doing things the way they have always been done is insufficient; the District should look to best practices and cutting edge innovations to help prepare its students for the 21st century. The objectives might include lowering barries to experimentation, strategically integrating technology into the classroom, school-site, and District, exposing students to new ideas, and proactively learning from other districts.
The implementation of the strategic plan will no doubt be difficult, requiring the dedication, leadership, and cooperation of all of the District’s stakeholder groups. However, the good news is that the Strategic Plan engagement process demonstrated a willingness and desire on the part of the entire community—students, parents, teachers, administrators, classified employees, business leaders, nonprofits, funders, and the public-at-large—to engage with the District’s challenges, commit to solutions, and dream big. Everyone is focused on the same goal of success for all WCCUSD students; now everyone must work together to build a District capable of achieving the community’s dreams.