SUSD Mission Statement
Our mission is to inspire, engage, challenge, and support all students
to reach their highest level of learning and personal development.
Our Schools Are Becoming More Safe
One of the many good things about our smaller mountain schools is that our students are able to come and go in an environment filled with professionals who know them and care about them. The rates for school violence are practically nonexistent when compared to larger valley schools. Along the same line, we are fortunate to be able to say that gangs are not a concept or reality that we have as yet had to face. Still, as a part of the larger society and world we can and are working hard to improve our system of safety and reduce the threat of danger coming into our schools from the outside.
Internally, we are working on developing strong, positive school cultures on all campuses and looking at ways we can be more responsive to issues such as bullying when they do happen. With the increase in technology use in our schools, we will be addressing and instructing our students on being good digital citizens. This would include how and with whom we communicate on line and in social media.
About a year ago, some of you may recall a bomb threat at the Sierra Junior-Senior High campus. We were fortunate in that it was an empty threat, and we learned a great deal that day. First, we learned that even though we had a detailed plan, we didn’t respond as well as we need to when it came time to put that plan into action. We also learned that due to our location, we can’t wait for direction from law enforcement to arrive before we implement our plan. After all, as good as they are – and they are fantastic, we live on a big mountain and these fine people must cover a huge geographical area.
Our immediate response to the threat was to provide all personnel with “Seconds to Survive” training presented by our County Sherriff’s. Our bus drivers also received a full-day of training on armed intruder response. We have also taken steps to make our facilities safer; ensuring all doors lock from the inside and buildings and rooms are clearly marked for first responders. Later this year Sierra Unified will be launching a new website that will include a Mobile Ap. This will allow us to communicate directly with all families, should an emergency arise.
This year we have been working with school safety specialists and have started the training for Emergency Response Teams. The training is based on Incident Command System (ICS) originally developed to deal with wildfires here in California. Its use has since spread and is practiced nationally. The ICS system provides a means by which our schools and the district will address incidents using a common structure and language. Once fully trained we will begin coordinating with local agencies to share our plans and schedule practice responses with agency support and participation.
Our goal is to have our schools be the safest place, away from home, for your children. It is only in a safe, caring environment that our youngsters will be able to learn, grow and be their best.
Not long ago, California schools in general and especially those closer to home in Sierra Unified were in the midst of a seemingly insurmountable fiscal crisis. In 2011-2013 California schools were funded at a deficit of more than 20%. When coupled with over 15 consecutive years of declining enrollment and a long term 1.1 million dollar annual facility debt, Sierra Unified found itself in the midst of what many termed the perfect storm. Today and looking forward, Sierra Unified’s weather forecast calls for sunshine, literally and figuratively.
You may recall at the peak of the fiscal crisis, the district was facing some dire choices. Many staffing positions had been cut, two elementary schools had just closed and the district failed to pass a bond that would have cleared the debt. There simply was not enough money in the budget to continue paying the million dollar plus annual payment on the Foothill facility. At that time refinancing the debt seemed like the only option. Faced with either extending the debt for another 20 years at a lower annual payment, or enlisting the help of all employees, the choice became clear. The dedicated employees in Sierra Unified had stuck it out so far, there was reason to believe they would be willing to sacrifice even more if it meant saving the district. They did. In less than one hour of negotiation, the certificated staff agreed to an 8.5% pay cut for an undetermined number of years. Classified staff followed in kind. In the end all Sierra Unified employees agreed to what could have been a six year pay cut of 8.5%. The people who work very hard for our students every day cared enough to sacrifice in the short term for a healthier, more fiscally sustainable district in the long term.
As it turned out, the 8.5% agreed upon cut was fairly short lived. Part of the agreement was that as the district was able to reduce and eliminate the pay cut, it would do so. With the passage of Proposition 30 the following November, the district was able to reduce the cut to 5%. In the years that followed the staff eventually saw their pay restored, and some modest cost of living increases have been possible. As superintendent, I have so much gratitude to the entire staff. It is difficult to say where we might be now had the choice been made instead to refinance the loan. One thing is certain, we would not be where we are today. In February I signed the final warrant that clears the debt on Foothill Elementary School facility. The district is officially debt free.
There are more great things happening in our district that you should know about. For the second year in a row after nineteen consecutive years of declining student enrollment, our student numbers have increased. This represents quite a shift from the years where enrollment from one year to the next dropped by one hundred or more in some years. Another exciting development is that after years of planning, we have “flipped the switch” on solar. Both district solar projects, at Foothill and Sierra campuses are up and generating power. In the first year alone we are projected to save over $175,000. Over the life of the project the district is expected to save over five million dollars. This savings will be used over time to build programs, restore buildings and to support district efforts to become a destination district.
Good things are happening in Sierra Unified! The Sierra Unified School Board approved the 5-year Technology Plan at the January 9th Board meeting. The board approved a plan that will be implemented over the next three years. Implementation of the plan will provide daily access to technology as a learning tool for students and emphasizes teacher training on how to integrate technology into the instructional program.
Under the plan, the district will upgrade the technology infrastructure at all schools and will purchase laptop devices to accomplish the goal of providing all students in grades 3-12 with access to a laptop for daily use within the classroom. In grades TK-2, smaller sets of laptops will be purchased for use in small group instruction. In grades 3-6 each classroom will be provided with a full class set of laptops as will core classes (English, Math, Science and Social Studies) in grades 7-12. The libraries at Foothill and Sierra will be upgraded with a set of new devices as well. At the secondary level, an additional cart of devices will be purchased for student use in elective classes. Teachers will also be getting new laptop computers to allow for better integration of technology into classroom instruction.
Director or Curriculum and Instruction, Sue Mitchell, led the district technology committee which consisted of representatives from each of the three campuses and district level personnel. The plan includes a budget for replacement of technology on five-six year rotation as the machines wear out and/or become obsolete. There will also be an opportunity for students to purchase older devices that are still viable at a greatly reduced cost. The SUSD 5-Year Technology Plan can be found on the District web page. We look forward to providing our students with the technology to assist them in becoming college and career ready.
We believe strongly that technology is an important component in preparing students to step into their future. In Sierra Unified we are committed to doing just that.