Proposed homework policy stresses 'quality over quantity'; Supreme Court rulings & education; What's being built at local campuses.

Where McGaugh's outgoing principal is headed; Outdoor Science School schedule announced; Plus, drama students win awards.

Where McGaugh's outgoing principal is headed; Outdoor Science School schedule announced; Plus, drama students win awards.

Helping you better understand, navigate and participate in the TK-12 public school experience in Orange County.

In this week's newsletter...

June 28, 2022

  • FIRST BELL 🔔Rethinking homework: Proposed policy to emphasize 'quality over quantity."
  • SECOND BELL 🔔The recent Supreme Court decisions impacting education.
  • EXTRA CREDIT 📌Outdoor Science School, 2022-23 budget, and more on tonight's agenda for the Los Alamitos USD Board of Education meeting.
  • RECESS 🎓 LAHS drama students win Thespy Awards!

How much homework is appropriate? A new policy at Los Alamitos USD aims to answer that question. Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Spotlight Schools is a nonpartisan, hyperlocal newsroom covering education in Orange County.

School is out for summer. That means we'll be reducing our newsletter frequency to twice a month. The next newsletter will be published on July 12.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter for news and updates. 

Please send feedback/story ideas/questions to hello@spotlightschools.com.

Yours in knowledge,

Jeannette Andruss, Spotlight Schools Founder and parent of two students in the Los Alamitos Unified School District

FIRST BELL

This Week's Top Story

Proposed homework policy focuses on 'quality over quantity'

Board of Education scheduled to vote on proposal tonight

Big changes could be coming to the Los Alamitos Unified School District's policy on homework. After months of development, the new policy being considered by the Board of Education at tonight's meeting emphasizes promoting “student wellness and academic rigor” and valuing “quality over quantity.” 

That translates to fewer time spent on homework overall for students at the district’s nine campuses.

“There is a lot of research that supports [that] if you overdo the amount of homework you actually see a negative impact on learning and so we really want to make sure that we're addressing best practices and research and really making sure that our homework has a positive impact on students and student learning,” Deputy Superintendent Ondrea Reed said during her presentation on the revised homework policy at the June 14 Board of Education meeting (it starts around the 1:32 mark). A final vote on the policy is expected at tonight’s board meeting.

Under the proposed policy, elementary and middle school students would not be assigned homework on weekends. And even in high school, no homework would be given over school breaks.

The slides below show the proposal for how much time students should be spending on homework based on their grade level and course load.

Screenshot of proposed homework policy outlining number of minutes for students at elementary and middle schools.

Screenshot of proposed homework policy for high school students.

The revised approach to homework has two parts: an update to the board policy (Item 5a on the agenda) and the addition of an administrative regulation (Item 5b on the agenda) which outlines how the policy will be implemented by staff.

The last time the policy was updated was 2014. According to Reed, the shift to revise it was set in motion before Covid-19. Families were reporting students staying up past midnight to complete their homework as they juggled commitments to after school sports and activities. 

Like many projects, the process slowed down during the pandemic, but ramped back up last November. Reed said the policy is based on reviews of the latest research, input from dozens of meetings among staff, surveys of secondary school students as well as consulting from the Stanford-affiliated program Challenge Success

An example of the research is a Stanford study that showed students in “high-achieving communities” who spend too much time on homework experience increased stress and physical health problems. 

“Effective homework practices do not place an undue burden on students,” the district’s proposed homework policy reads. “The Board recognizes the value of extracurricular activities, unstructured time, and adequate sleep for a student’s success in school.”

Reed said middle school teachers will create a “conflict calendar” so that students aren’t loaded up with projects or tests in different subjects at the same time.

Parents of high school students who enroll in multiple Advanced Placement classes will be advised to review how the workload could impact their child’s overall schedule. In a phone interview, Reed said that parents can “make sure that the lifestyle of your child can accommodate the academic load.” 

PARENTS REACT 

Most parents responded positively to the proposed homework policy in a June 16 post on a Facebook group for district parents.

Oliver Lee, a parent of a soon-to-be 6th grader at McAuliffe Middle School, said he welcomed change. Lee said his daughter was spending up to three hours every day on homework during her last years of elementary school. 

“I noticed she had an obscene amount of homework. Some of her friends in other classrooms weren’t getting nearly as much as her,” Lee wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools. “She’d have multiple breakdowns crying and stressing she would not finish in time and get benched for recess for not completing some of the work.” Lee said her teachers didn’t have an explanation for the disparity. 

Many commenters applauded less homework as a boost for students’ mental health. “I’m all for a lighter workload. It’s hard seeing your students b​​urned out at the end of a semester,” one wrote. 

Other parents had questions including how Jiji, the online math program, would factor into homework minutes and how average homework times would be calculated. 

Others wondered if students might miss out on developing other skills with less work at home. “We do not need busy work but on some level we have to teach good study habits,” a parent wrote. Another parent wrote: “I think homework is necessary and serves a purpose more than just getting an assignment done. It helps my child manage his time to get it done.” 

Reed said if the homework policy passes as expected, the district plans to hold meetings with families in August to answer questions.

We want to hear from you! Are you a student, teacher or parent with an opinion on homework? Email us at hello@spotlightschools.com

SECOND BELL

Other Stories We're Following

Supreme Court issues opinions impacting education

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

The Supreme Court issued at least three rulings in recent days that could impact schools. 

  • Yesterday, in a 6-3 ruling, the court sided with a former Washington state high school football coach saying he had the right to pray on the field after games. “The case forced the justices to wrestle with how to balance the religious and free speech rights of teachers and coaches with the rights of students to not feel pressure into participating in religious practices,” reports the Associated Press
  • A week ago, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that religious schools in Maine cannot be excluded from a program that offers tuition aid for private education. The ruling could allow other private religious schools access to taxpayer dollars. 
  • The high court’s overturning of the 1973 case Roe vs. Wade on Friday eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion. That could impact where high school seniors choose to attend college. As EdSource reports, higher education leaders in California, including the president of the UC system, committed to offering students “the full range of health care options possible in California” as well as comprehensive health care education and training.

Orange County Certifies Primary Election

The Orange County Registrar of Voters has certified the June 7 Primary Election. Turnout for the election in O.C. was 35%.

At the state level, the runoff race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction is coming into focus. It looks like incumbent Tony Thurmond will face Lance Christensen, a policy analyst, in the November General Election. Current tallies show Thurmond with 46% of the vote and Christensen in second place with 11.8% of the vote.

Christensen works at the California Policy Center, a think tank that supports charter school expansion. It’s also where Orange County Board of Education President Mari Barke works. 

California’s Secretary of State has until July 15 to certify the primary election results.

Solar panels installed on campuses

A June 22 photo shows the solar panels being installed at McGaugh Elementary school in Seal Beach. Photo: Jeannette Andruss

Solar panel systems are currently being built at the Los Alamitos Unified School district’s six elementary schools, two middle schools and district office and will soon be constructed at Los Alamitos High School.

A revised design for the panels at LAHS is on tonight’s board meeting agenda. It was reworked based on community feedback, which was gathered through meetings at every site, according to C.J. Knowland, Director of Facilities, Maintenance, Operations, and Transportation.

First approved in 2020, The solar panel project could translate to between $11 - $17 million in savings over the next 30 years, according to the district.

The installation will help cut power costs and also provide shade in parking lots and on campuses.

“That was one of the main things we discussed for the sites to figure out the locations that will provide the most benefit,” Knowland said in a phone interview this week. 

He said that while the solar panel structures will likely be built before the school year resumes in August at the elementary and middle schools, they won’t start generating energy until weeks after school starts.

Outgoing McGaugh Principal lands job in Inglewood

Outgoing McGaugh principal Issaic Gates, Ed.D, is headed to the Inglewood Unified School District. Courtesy photo.

In the final weeks of the school year, Issaic Gates, Ed.D., announced that after two years as the principal at McGaugh Elementary school in Seal Beach he would not return for the 2022-23 school year. Last week Gates shared that he’s heading to the Inglewood Unified School District and will become its Executive Director of Student Support and Secondary Education starting on July 1. Gates said the job is intended to focus on students at the district’s three high schools. 

Gates started at McGaugh at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the first full academic year during the Covid-19 pandemic. He called it an honor to serve students and offer a safe environment during unprecedented and uncertain times. “Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, we were able to create a lot of joy,” Gates said.

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Other Stories We're Reading 

  • Gov. Newsom strikes budget deal and delivers big increase to K-12 funding // EdSource 
  • California last in the nation when it comes to school bus access for students // L.A. Times
  • Vaccine consent age raised from 12 to 15 in proposed CA legislation  // Mercury News 
  • The Orange County Health Care Agency is setting up a plan to get Covid-19 vaccinations for younger children 6 months and older // OCDE Newsroom
  • On July 1, California will become the first state in the nation to mandate later school start times for middle and high school students // The Atlantic // EdSource (note: article is from 2019)
  • O.C. Charter school under scrutiny for alleged mismanagement // The O.C. Register
  • O.C. Board of Education member Beckie Gomez resigns amid lawsuit // Voice of OC // The O.C. Register 
  • New Ken Burns documentary takes raw look at youth mental health crisis //  The 74 
  • Hurley helps transform handball walls into works of art at O.C. school // The O.C. Register

Volunteers paint the handball wall at Eader Elementary school in Huntington Beach. Photo by Nicola Byford via The O.C. Register.

 

EXTRA CREDIT

Meetings // Events // Opportunities // Resources

MEETINGS

HAPPENING TODAY: The Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 6:00p.m. at 10293 Bloomfield Street. 

In addition to the homework policy described above, tonight's agenda includes. 

  • BUDGET: The Board of Education is set to vote on the budget for the 2022-23 school year amid dropping enrollment but increased funding from the state’s surplus.
  • OUTDOOR SCIENCE SCHOOL: Approval of an agreement with C.O.D.E.S Mile High Pines Outdoor Science School (Item 4f on the agenda) for the 2023 Outdoor Science School for the district’s fifth graders. (ICYMI… Last year the Pali Institute was used for the longtime district tradition due to concerns about Covid-19. A few parents complained after learning it employed non-binary counselors. Read more here.)

The 2023 OSS schedule is:

  • January  31 - February  3  (Lee Elementary)
  • February  7 - February 10  (Weaver Elementary)
  • February 14 - February 17  (Los Alamitos Elementary)
  • February  28 - March 3  (McGaugh Elementary)
  • March 7- March 10  (Rossmoor Elementary)
  • March 14 - March 17  (Hopkinson Elementary) 
  • REVISED MEETING TIMES: The board will vote on revising its meeting times for the rest of the calendar year to start its regular meetings at 6:00p.m. instead of 6:30p.m. 

You can watch tonight’s meeting streaming live on YouTube here.

HAPPENING WEDNESDAY, JULY 6: The Orange County Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 200 Kalmus Drive in Costa Mesa. 

EVENTS

HAPPENING JULY 4 🇺🇸🎇: Celebrate Independence Day at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. Details below and here.

HAPPENING JULY 9: Rossmoor Family Festival continues in Rush Park with King Salmon performing.

RECESS

Your Dose of Good News

Drama students earn honors at Int'l Thespian Festival

Los Alamitos High School drama students spent some of their summer vacation earning accolades for their talents at the International Thespian Festival. Held last week in Indiana, students took part in workshops, performances and earned Thespy awards. That includes an award for Miranda Rojes for her costume design for the show "Back to the 80’s." And for the second year in a row, student Sophie Littig won National Superior for Short Film.

And mark your calendars now... the schedule of shows for LAHS Drama for the 2022-23 school year is out now. The first performance of "Charlotte's Web" will happen in October.

Thanks for reading!

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