By J.P. Crumrine
and Marshall Smith
Editor’s note: Dr. Steven Lowder, the superintendent of Hemet Unified School District (HUSD) and HUSD Trustee Bill Sanborn met with the Town Crier staff on Wednesday, Sept. 21. This is the conclusion of a two-part series summarizing the school officials’ views of the district and its quality of education.
Last week, both Lowder and Sanborn talked about the trend toward increasing class sizes as a result of less money to hire teachers. “I don’t expect class size to go back [to 20 students per teacher] anytime soon,” Sanborn lamented.
Then they discussed what the district is doing to try to offset the larger class sizes. One of the uses for the new elementary school computers will be online programs supplied by the MIND Research Institute, from Santa Ana.
Last month, former gubernatorial candidate and new Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman gave this program to 10 Los Angeles schools as a $500,000 donation to support math education. The computer math game, part of this program, was successful in helping elementary school students at 47 schools improve their math skills last year.
More than 9,500 students improved their 2011 California Standards Test math scores by an average of 13.6 points after using the web-based ST Math software from MIND Research Institute (MRI) for one school year, according to a statement released by the institute.
Districts from Poway in San Diego County to Las Vegas schools have begun employing these techniques for helping students and enabling independent study and advancement.
These programs focus on conceptual understanding of math. “MRI is all visual,” Lowder said. They have been designed independent of language, so Lowder hopes the programs will also benefit the non-English speaking students.
“We tried to be creative with our use of categorical grant money,” Lowder continued. This is the source of money for the purchase of laptop computers for every kindergarten through fifth grade classroom.
Besides the MRI software, HUSD has also purchased COMPASS Odyssey for district classrooms. This software helps students and teachers assess student performance and levels.
“If it works the way it’s supposed [to work], and teachers are over-burdened, this will take some work away. It’s not busy work,” Sanborn stressed.
In the winter, HUSD and the Hemet Teachers’ Association will negotiate a new contract. Both Lowder and Sanborn expect it to be a difficult process given the diminishing availability of money.
“I think the board made difficult decisions to keep the district in good standing,” Lowder said. “They have done a great job keeping the eye on student achievement. It’s not great yet, but things are in place that will improve student achievement.”
Besides the previously discussed district-wide software, HUSD is not planning on establishing any new charter schools. The science school, Western Center Academy, located at the Western Center near Diamond Valley Lake, is the last new charter school the district has established. Last year, the Western API was over 900 — the highest in the HUSD.
Currently, Western Academy is only a middle school. In the future, HUSD may expand it through high school, according to Lowder. “It’s a science track that would be nice to connect with a higher education institution.” But, that may require money the district doesn’t have currently.