Modesto City Schools board to look at safety, 10-year plan update

naustin@modbee.comMarch 31, 2014 

— Modesto City Schools will update its 1988 10-year plan for its 34 school sites. The board also will address traffic safety for young students, in light of the death of a kindergartener hit by a bus last week while running across the street after school at Tuolumne Elementary.

“I feel it’s time for more oversight,” said board member Jordan Dickson at Monday evening’s meeting. After speaking with schools after the tragedy, Dickson said there is “wide variation” in how students are being dismissed.

Area school districts should form a joint committee to work on traffic safety around schools, board member Sue Zwahlen said. “It’s a culture that needs to change,” she said.

Regarding the district’s 10-year plan, the vote was unanimous to move forward in hiring a consultant to prioritize renovations and improvements for its 3 million square feet of school buildings.

“Every time we go out for consultants, we always have to ask, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ ” board Vice President Amy Neumann said, adding that she sees the project as taking too much time for existing staff.

The contract is expected to cost $50,000 to $125,000, said Becky Meredith, director of planning and facilities support.

“I think this is far overdue,” said board President Cindy Marks. “In doing this, we’ll be able to give equity to all our students.”

Marks said she particularly wants to get rid of aging portable buildings. Kirschen and Martone elementaries were constructed in 1988 entirely of portable buildings, Meredith said.

Online remedial courses were approved unanimously for summer school for struggling regular-education junior high and high school students. Summer courses also will be provided for special-education students.

Congregations Building Communities organizer Carlos Falcón said low-income parents see a large need for elementary summer school. “Children of (non-English) speakers tend to fall behind,” Falcón said. “These children are falling through the cracks.”

There is no extra money from the state for summer school, but it may be a community priority for general fund dollars going forward, board members said.

The board got an update on its after-school programs from coordinator Jane Manley. After-school education programs operate at 23 district campuses, including all junior highs. Together, the programs serve roughly 2,500, or 16 percent of the district’s kindergarten through junior high students. Manley said some 800 students are on waiting lists.

“It’s a real priority for me to see this expanded,” said Neumann, who has a child in an after-school program.

Students in the programs make snacks, do homework, play math games, do science experiments and art, take field trips and play sports. They do performances for parents, themed to history and holidays. Writing letters to veterans and making dollhouses for the Stanislaus County Children’s Crisis Center were among after-school service projects.

In other business, the board decided not to take up an administrative overhaul, putting off for another day consideration of adding three positions and raising the classification of four other jobs. Also, Community Hospice accepted a $100,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation for bereavement services it will be offering at 10 Modesto City Schools campuses. Community Hospice was on hand last week at Tuolumne Elementary after the kindergartner’s death.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339.

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