Op-Ed: Grants extend CSUMB’s reach into local schools

The following op-ed was published on Nov. 21, 2014, by The Salinas Californian.

A recent report by the advocacy group Children Now gave Monterey County low marks in several measures of education and child care.

While we should never ascribe too much importance to a single ranking, it is true that the overall education level in our county lags behind state averages. One piece of good news is that, on Election Day, voters in three county school districts again showed their willingness to invest in education, approving bond issues in Salinas, Pacific Grove and Gonzales.

And, for our part, Cal State Monterey Bay is committed to playing an active role in bringing all stakeholders together to address these issues. Toward that end, we have established a College of Education, which will increase our capability both to collaborate with local districts and to educate more of the teachers they will need in the future.

CSUMB recently received two Department of Education grants to support our efforts to work with local schools and to enhance our teacher preparation programs.

CSUMB will receive $2.1 million per year for six years and $1.4 million in year seven through a GEAR UP grant. The money will go toward helping more than 3,500 middle school students in San Ardo, San Lucas, Greenfield, King City, Salinas and Seaside become more college-ready.

The program, which is also supported by matching funds from the various communities, puts personnel in the schools to supplement advising, tutoring and student support programs. By working with cohorts of seventh- and eighth-grade students as they move through the system, GEAR UP seeks to improve their college prospects and to make a lasting change in the cultures of the partner schools.

Good schools need an ongoing supply of good teachers. In response to state funding cuts during the Great Recession, California school districts often had to lay off teachers with the least seniority. Many prospective teachers got the message; enrollment in teaching programs fell statewide. An older workforce and a shortfall of new teachers create an impending teacher shortage.

CSUMB’s teacher training efforts will be enhanced by a five-year $8.6 million Teacher Quality Partnership Grant from the Department of Education. Working with our colleagues at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, we will recruit, train and support new teachers primarily in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.

Our university is also pleased to be working with the Monterey County Office of Education to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support under a $2.6 million grant awarded to MCOE. The PBIS grant seeks to help teachers move away from ineffective traditional discipline methods and toward more recognition and praise of positive behaviors.

The Cal State system educates more than half of the teachers who now work in California classrooms, and also supports a strong educational research agenda. Our education deans have agreed upon four key elements that go into building a successful schools:

  • Using data to guide decision-making;• Having high expectations of every student;
  • Establishing robust professional learning communities in each school;
  • No sacred cows -- everything is up for discussion.

As we have met with local teachers and administrators around the area, we have been impressed with their interest in positive collaboration and their openness to new efforts to improve our schools.

Meanwhile, CSUMB is also working with key stakeholders in launching the Bright Futures initiative, a community partnership of local education, social service, business and philanthropic groups to support an improved cradle-to-career educational pipeline.

Our initiative will be based on a model adopted by more than 100 communities across the country. In Monterey County, we want to ensure that every child is prepared for school and is supported inside and outside the classroom; that every student succeeds in school, enrolls in some form of postsecondary education, graduates, and enters a career.

As the Children Now report makes clear, there are a long list of factors that go into helping our children succeed. Our effort to do better will require various initiatives over a number of years, and progress will not happen overnight.

But can you think of a more important task to undertake, or a better legacy to create, over the next decade?