More than 100 people attended “The State of the District,” which Hemet Unified School District Superintendent Christi Barrett presented for the numerous stakeholders in the district.
Photo by JP Crumrine

State of the Union, State of the State and now State of the District — Hemet Unified School District, to be specific.

On Oct. 12, HUSD Superintendent Christie Barrett and her staff presented to a large group of stakeholders their view of the state of HUSD. More than 100 people who attended were Hemet residents or business people.

“I thought it was an accurate picture of where HUSD is as a district and the directions that they want to go. I hope that we can make this an annual affair,” said HUSD President Vic Scavarda, Idyllwild’s representative.

The conception for the session came from Barrett’s initial interviews with the board in the spring of 2016. After she assumed the superintendent’s position, she devoted time to reaching out to the community and establishing networks.

As a result, she “learned that many people don’t know much about the district.” Her role expanded beyond leading the educational pursuits of thousands of Hemet youth to include educating the community about its school district, which includes more than 15 elementary schools, eight middle schools and five high schools.

For the current academic year 2017-18, nearly 21,400 students are enrolled in HUSD schools, according to the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Vince Christakos. More than three-quarters of these kids are eligible for the free and reduced-cost lunch program. One out of seven students are in special education, one in eight are English learners and nearly 1,200 — 5 percent — are homeless youth.

Barrett began with an explanation of educational acronyms and the current trends. For example, the federal emphasis on education has evolved from a more centralized approach when former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” programs were dominant to a less centralized and greater state autonomy under the current “Every Student Succeeds” programs.

In the past two years, California has made a “very large transition to local-control funding,” Barrett said. State funding is shifting to districts with more low-income and English-learner students. “A greater emphasis on equity versus quality,” she said. “And equity now means differences.”

An integral part of this shift toward local control is greater local accountability, Barrett stressed. Each district prepares an accountability plan with public input and public review.

“It’s our responsibility to meet the needs of every child,” she said, describing one of HUSD’s goals going forward. The new accountability recognizes the variability of student’s futures and goal. No longer does the district assume “all have the same plans.”

The goal is no longer simply academics, but preparing students for entry into the world — whether that is a continuation of education or the beginning of a career.

“[The event … showed us the direction our superintendent wants to take us in as we strive to become the premier school district,” said Idyllwild School Principal Matt Kraemer.

Barrett then introduced Tracy Chambers, assistant superintendent of Educational Services, who described the panoply of programs HUSD employs. They range from nutritional to behavior and mental health, and food for foster youth.

“We are doing whatever we can to meet every individual student’s needs,” she stated. This includes the opening of a Parent Resource Center this year. “For student success, the relationship with parents is critical,” she added.

Another program is BARR — Building Assets, Reducing Risks — which is focused on students entering high school. Those who pass the first year are 3.5 times more likely to graduate; so HUSD puts a lot of emphasis on helping high school freshmen overcome the transition to high school.

“What we do now will impact generations,” she said proudly. This includes working with teachers to ensure they have tools and materials to help all their students.

Two examples of HUSD’s changes are its career Technical Education programs, which supply more than half the auto mechanics in the valley now. Also, the number of students taking the college entrance exams has grown markedly in the past two years.

Concluding the event, Dr. Alex Ballard, director of Assessment and Accountability, got the attendees involved. He had each table discuss three separate questions, and then list the top ideas from each one.

He asked, “What does HUSD need to continue doing in the district, what should [HUSD] stop doing as a district, and what should they change in how they serve students?”

After the session, Scavarda spoke to several of the attendees, who learned about the district that morning.

“Being all things to all students is quite a challenge,” he said, summarizing the message. “One thing that resonates with me is that we cannot go with a ‘One Size Fits All’ model that we have, unfortunately, resorted to in the past. Each school is unique, and needs to be treated with that consideration in mind.”