2008-09-25 / Schools

Superintendents discuss education changes

By Joann Groff joann@theacorn.com

Local superintendents gathered to examine "The Changing Face of Education" during a forum at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks on Mon., Sept. 22.

Conejo Valley, Las Virgenes, Moorpark, Oak Park and Simi Valley districts were represented at the annual superintendents' forum, hosted by the East Ventura County chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.

"Education is at yet another crossroads," said Donald Zimring, superintendent of Las Virgenes Unified School District. "We are faced with increasing and often conflicting demands."

Zimring discussed how the economy and declining enrollment have affected schools throughout Conejo Valley and how districts must be more "nimble" in their approach to the business of education.

"There's been a change in landscape," Zimring said. "We are in competition for people. We have to start marketing ourselves. (But) we shouldn't be competing against each other."

Conejo Valley Superintendent Mario Contini wasn't at the forum, but he helped Moorpark Superintendent Ellen Smith prepare a presentation about the pair's recent trip to England. The two, along with other Ventura County administrators, traveled to Europe last year to learn from the British school system.

"Student input is important (in England)," Smith said. "The goal is a partnership where the teacher and the student take joint responsibility in learning. There's a lot of responsibility given."

Smith asked the teachers and other administrators in the audience to consider the last time they asked for student input.

"We need to create venues for student voice," Smith said. "We do a senior survey, but that's much too late. We need to do that much sooner."

Kathy Scroggin, the superintendent of schools in Simi Valley, wasn't able to attend the event but sent a prepared statement.

"We, like all of you, struggle with budget issues, declining enrollment and increased demand for school services," Scroggin said.

Scroggin discussed Simi's improved test scores, the district's award-winning teacher training program and a $100,000 scholarship earned by Apollo High School.

"We were concentrating on the worry lines and, in doing so, overlooked broad smiles," Scroggin said.

Oak Park Superintendent Tony Knight closed the forum with a discussion of how poverty is affecting gaps in student learning.

"The achievement gap is becoming wider, and that's something very important we need to acknowledge," said Knight, who denied suggestions that the learning gaps are the result of unqualified teachers, inadequate testing and illdesigned curriculum.

"The faces in our schools are becoming poorer, economically. We spend a lot of time (discussing) what goes on in the classroom instead of looking at the bigger picture," Knight said.

Knight encouraged the group to become aware of the presidential candidates' position on education and poverty, and printed them out for distribution.

"As educators we want to be apolitical," Knight said. "That time is over. We need to be aware. We're educators. We're supposed to be the experts."

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