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Superintendent Cohen resigns

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Dr. Howard Cohen officially resigned as superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District December 17, 2010 amid allegations of questionable hiring practices. Associate Superintendent Adolfo Melara has temporarily assumed Cohen’s duties for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year.

Cohen’s attempt to hire interim Assistant Superintendent Vince Kilmartin as the interim bond liaison to manage the $162-million Measure J bond at the November 18 board meeting resulted in a disagreement between Cohen and the Board of Trustees. The board deemed this hire as an unethical use of district money. After the fallout at the November 18 school board meeting, Cohen filed an unexpected leave of absence December 6.

Kilmartin once worked with Cohen in West Conta Costra County Unified School District, and later at the at the Waterford Unified School District, where Cohen had hired Kilmartin’s educational firm Total School Solutions to manage the district’s master plan. In Waterford, Cohen was accused of mismanaging district finances, hiring unnecessary TSS staff and costing the school board $124,000 instead of the initial $33,000 intended for “polishing the school’s district plan. Cohen had also initiated pay increases of 5.2 percent, including a raise for himself, five months before the school board approved them.

As Cohen signed a three-year contract with the South San Francisco Unified School District, the district is bound under contract to pay Cohen with his full salary of $171,289 and benefits—while he is on administrative leave—until his term expires on June 30, 2011.

Science teacher Sanjay Makhijani was “extremely shocked” at the fact that Cohen is being paid the full salary and has been critical of the board’s decision in signing Cohen with the three-year contract.

“[Cohen’s salary] could have paid the salary of two teachers for the year,” Makhijani said. “Yet, we had layoffs of two valuable teachers”

Upon moving to the South San Francisco Unified School District, Cohen had attempted the same practices. In addition to attempting to hire Kilmartin from TSS, Cohen pushed for administrative salary increases at a time when the district was forced to lay off teachers, reduce programs, and school budgets.

The School Board is currently in the process of searching for, interviewing and eventually hiring Cohen’s replacement. As of February 28 the board is actively looking two possible candidates, Melara and former SSFUSD Superintendent George Kozitza.

 

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SSFUSD placed in Program Improvement

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

SSFUSD Under Construction

By Steven Hansen

"We have a number of students who are at the bottom levels not being served well. We need to do a better job at meeting their needs." District Superintendent Howard Cohen said.

The entire South San Francisco School District is currently under its second year of Program Improvement, a label given by the federal government to districts and schools that need to raise academic performance across various population groups. New district superintendent Howard Cohen, among others, are making the effort to move SSFUSD out of Program Improvement status.

Program Improvement status is decided by the federal government, through evaluation of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data, mainly derived from STAR testing results, evaluated on a five-point scale, with four being “Adequate”. The federal government, through their evaluation of the AYP, is concerned with how many students are in the four and five levels. Further, they evaluate the progress – or lack thereof – across specific population groups.

The government has a 14-year plan, which started six years ago, where they expect every school district across the country to be at 100 percent level four and five test scores. An expectation which Cohen finds a bit too lofty. “That’s statistically impossible. Every year, the target moves up. We have a number of students who’re at the bottom [three, two, and one] levels not being served well. We need to do a better job at meeting their needs.”

The district is in PI due to Parkway, Spruce, Martin, and Los Cerritos’ AYP and the rest of the schools in the district needing to raise scores for at-risk subgroups. Throughout the district, African Americans, Latinos, English learners, special education, and low socioeconomic groups are struggling, though certain subgroups, such as Asians, Caucasians, and Filipinos, are scoring at acceptable levels (Advanced and Proficient).

“There’s a serious achievement gap,” Cohen said, “Each subgroup that fails to meet the government’s AYP standards, which are always moving up, gets a “No” from the government, and one “No” in any subgroup means program improvement.”

While the district’s schools performed well overall in the state Academic Performance Index by moving students from the bottom two levels to at least the third, they are not doing well by the federal government’s standards.

The at-risk populations are spread out in various numbers throughout the district. All of the schools not previously mentioned for being in PI specifically have subgroups not meeting AYP standards. The district will likely be in its third year of PI next year, where the moving target scores make it more difficult to get out of. In order to do so, one practice that must be adopted is the use of nine essential program components, which are methods of teaching and training.

“We have to use this proven research that works well with both these particular [at-risk] groups as well as all students,” Cohen said.

As for how these changes affect students, teachers are being trained to implement these instructional methods in the classroom to improve students’ ability to grasp concepts.

“It’s good for teachers to reflect on what they’re doing in the classroom, and how they can improve it,” chemistry teacher Jolene Jordan said.

“I’m proud to say we have 100 percent participation by teachers across the district. We have an intelligent teaching staff that wants to help students improve,” Cohen said.

Data will be accumulated quarterly, so the district does not need to wait until the end of the year STAR tests to gauge how the students are progressing.

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El Camino plays it safe, enforcing lockdown

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment
Lockdown: EC plays it safe
By Catherine Tadina

California currently leads the nation in school-related violence. With the proximity of school attacks such as the Skyline College shooting and the Hillsdale High School pipe bomb incident, concerned school officials are focusing their attention in enhancing the school’s safety.

“In high school, we’re all pretty naive to what’s going on in the real world until something like a bomb threat or shooting wakes us up from our sleep,” junior Elaina Revilla said.

The Hillsdale pipe bomb incident where a former student came to school armed with a chain saw, two-foot sword, and ten pipe bombs, two of which he set off, and the Skyline shooting stemmed from an armed confrontation of two groups of gang members in a parking lot happened nine days apart, the former occurring last August 24 and the latter on September 2, 2009.

“I don’t feel as secure as I used to feel,” Campus Security Officer Jane Porcelli says.

In response to the Skyline College shooting, Principal Adele Berg enforced an after-school lockdown. Students on campus grounds after school were instructed to proceed to the Academic Building and remain behind locked doors until their parents arrived to take them home.

Since there were a few students in the courtyard and in different parts of the school, Berg made an announcement over the intercom system for every one one campus to come to the office. When she realized how many kids were on campus, everyone was instructed to go to the bottom floor of the Academic Building where the school staff locked the doors and sheltering the students inside.

“Once we were inside, they didn’t tell us right away what was going on,” Revilla said.According to Revilla, it was not until five minutes later that Berg entered the building and informed them of the events that had occurred.

“We didn’t have to do [the lockdown], but because the incident happened at Skyline and the people involved drove away, we didn’t know anything about who they were or where they might go.” Berg stated.

Students who were far from the Academic Building were instructed to go into a secure place such as the Big Gym and the Mat Room. Coach Oliveira opened the door to the gym and instructed students to go inside.

“The staff did a good job in giving us a sense of security,” Viray says. “I was not scared during the lockdown.”

Although the course of events ran smoothly during the lockdown, both Berg and Porcelli feel there’s always room for improvement in terms of security for students
and the staff.

In response to the recent threats to school safety, there was a Non-Student Day on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 for all schools under the South San Francisco Unified School District. This day was reserved for a “Safe and Secure School Seminar” for all employees, who had worked on school and District safety plans.