The Rancho Santa Fe School District is embarking on a “self-study” process as Superintendent David Jaffe looks to develop an accountability and action plan for the district.
An initial parent meeting was held on May 25 to discuss the steps necessary in “developing an organization that embraces continuous improvement with a focus on how to best serve the academic, social and emotional growth of every student.”
In his short time since taking over as superintendent, Jaffe has observed and reviewed many of the district’s programs. He felt the one thing the organization needed was this process, establishing a clear plan to guide the district based on the input from all stakeholders in the school.
“It’s a growth mindset that these schools are great schools but what can we do for our students collectively to provide them the very best education not just academic, emotional and social development as well,” Jaffe said. “You can’t do that without going through a process like this… It brings us together around a common goal and develops a common language.”
Jaffe hopes for the action plan to be completed and delivered to the school board by December.
The process is similar to the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation process that high schools, charter and private schools are required to go through — Jaffe has assisted in 13 different WASC processes and has led three, including nine visits to other schools to help evaluate their programs. He also completed his own WASC reports during his time as principal at Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy.
The action plan will look into several topics and include measures of success, findings and evidence that lead to areas of growth. Topics will include everything from school culture to parent/teacher communication and homework. The plan will establish what the various stakeholders believe about that topic and new ideas that come forward can be vetted through that action plan. Jaffe said the plan will be reviewed each year and modified for improvement.
“I know that this can sound Utopian in its view and I get that,” Jaffe said. “In big, big schools yeah, this might be a little Utopian. But we’re so small that it really is something that we can accomplish.”
Jaffe said there will be times when not everyone will agree but the process will be in place to talk about issues and find solutions.
“In getting there, we have to get feedback,” Jaffe said, noting that he will look to survey parents, teachers and students often and hopes to get as much participation as possible. “Because we’re so small, I would love to see every family represented.”
The first survey is expected to go out on June 9, asking for feedback about the year.
Jaffe gave the example of the process that led to the recent middle school bell schedule changes, which occurred after Jaffe gathered anecdotal evidence from students and teachers. The idea was developed to change the schedule and it was then presented to parents. In the future, Jaffe hopes feedback from the surveys would help drive a change like that.
Jaffe said there are different ways to look at survey results and data. He referenced a California Healthy Kids survey of high school students which asked if they had an adult on campus that they felt cared about them and that they could talk to. Eighty-percent said yes, which Jaffe said could be seen as a success but he said what he would be most interested in is that 20 percent that said no and how a school could address the needs of those students.
As part of the first meeting, Jaffe asked parents what he has asked all stakeholder groups during past WASC processes — what are the district’s strengths and where can they find room to grow?
Parents mentioned areas of growth at R. Roger Rowe as more parental awareness of the school budget, efficient use of technology, communication tools and more opportunities for students such as a language lab and music.
The strengths many parents could agree on: the small-town community school feel, the science and robotics programs, the K-8 experience, “extraordinary” parental involvement and the district’s strong financial status.
Parent Jee Manghani prompted “awws” from those in attendance after he shared his view of the school’s strength.
“A lot of the staff knows the names of the kids,” Manghani said. “My son would come home back in kindergarten and say ‘Everyone likes me.’ I’d ask ‘Why?’ and he said ‘Because everyone knows my name.’ It’s a small thing but it’s huge for them.”
Jaffe said that was no small thing at all and part of his personal action plan is to learn the names of all of the school’s children and family members.
“This is a great organization, with outstanding teachers and staff overall. I’m fortunate to be here, it’s a great parent community,” Jaffe said. “We have all the makings to take a wonderful school and make it even better for our kids.”