Modesto school board gives students a break on citizenship marks

naustin@modbee.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— Modesto City Schools board members on Monday gave a vote of confidence to coaches serving as mentors, heard teacher comments on proposals for their next contract and received an upbeat report on enrollment.

The board voted unanimously to make permanent a trial program allowing participation in sports and leadership classes despite two or more bad citizenship marks. Citizenship is a report card category.

“We believe at-risk students benefit from continued participation in sports,” said administrator Mike Coats, citing about 50 students who improved grades and citizenship to keep their sports slots. “Our students benefit from the hope this provides,” he said.

Gregori High Principal Jeff Albritton noted that other districts’ athletic programs do not have a citizenship bar to clear. Coaches mentored athletes with poor citizenship grades, he said, bringing up virtually all of them.

“I absolutely agree that we do not want to lower expectations, but I believe coaches are the best placed to change behavior,” said board member Jordan Dickson, himself an assistant coach for the JV basketball team at Central Valley High School in Ceres. “I believe this is a very forward-thinking program.”

“It wasn’t about lowering standards,” said student board member Michala Wyrsch, saying sports bring something positive to the lives of kids who need it.

The board held a public hearing that brought only teacher comments on opening proposals for the district’s contract with the Modesto Teachers Association.

“The MTA proposal is looking toward the future. After years of cuts, we are asking the same 4.5 percent the governor has offered for state employees,” said MTA President Doug Burton. “The district proposal is a look back to the past.”

In addition to the 4.5 percent raise, MTA negotiators will be asking for $450 more per month for health benefits and 11 additional work days. District negotiators will be offering a 2.5 percent raise, no additional dollars for health care and nine additional days, bringing back the full school year plus five work and training days.

The district also proposes changing language for evaluating teachers. It wants to eliminate the provision that standardized test scores not be used in weighing teacher effectiveness. In its place, Modesto City asks to include a variety of data showing how well students are progressing. It also seeks to evaluate teachers with less than 10 years’ experience every year, rather than every three years.

The board also heard a hopeful report on enrollment. Better employment numbers, lower foreclosure rates and building starts in Riverbank bode well for higher numbers of students, said Becky Meredith, director of planning and facilities support.

After years of declines, district enrollment has leveled off and is expected to remain at about 30,000, Meredith said.

Davis High’s number of students is expected to remain flat, despite incentive programs and boundary shifts. Bret Harte Elementary is projected to grow to 1,017 students, far larger than any junior high. Most Modesto City elementary campuses have 350 to 550 students.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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