Despite the threat of budget cuts tied to the district’s continued declining enrollment and increasing pension costs, Napa Valley Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Sweeney was optimistic during the 2018 State of the Schools event at Napa Elks Lodge on Friday morning.
In the last 12 years, the percentage of NVUSD students qualified to attend the University of California’s top schools has increased from 23 percent to 45 percent, said Sweeney, who is retiring in June. When it comes to graduation rates, the district is 10 points above the state average, he said. Ninety-two percent of NVUSD students graduate from high school.
But there are still challenges ahead.
“Our test scores have been going up over (20 years), but at the same time our demographics have become more challenging,” said Thomas Kensok, vice president of the NVUSD Board of Education. The district has more students facing poverty and more English language learners than it did two decades ago, Kensok said.
There are achievement gaps between white students and Hispanic/Latino students and white students and English learner students, according to the district’s annual report for the 2016-2017 academic year.
About half the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch and some families may not be able to stay in the district due to increasing housing costs, contributing to dropping enrollment. The district’s budget is based on enrollment – more students mean more money, the report said.
The district offered a retirement incentive to qualified employees, 117 of whom accepted the offer, for an estimated one-year savings of more than $3 million, according to the annual report. Staff received a 1.25 percent raise.
“We have four goals in the district,” Sweeney said. Those goals are to prepare students for college, careers and life, provide equitable access to all students, instill in students “21st century skills,” and make sure students are healthy.
This year’s challenges will be to increase student proficiency in language arts and math, especially for English language learners and special education students.
“Math is an area we need to work on,” Sweeney said. “We don’t have the best math scores.”
The NVUSD serves approximately 18,000 students in schools in Napa, American Canyon and Yountville.
Sweeney highlighted the success of specific NVUSD programs that aim to close the achievement gap between students including Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), Legacy Youth Project, Napa High School’s Layla program, ALPS, La Promesa, and the dual language immersion program.
This past year, the district spent nearly $5 million on upgrading technology infrastructure, according to the annual report. That included upgrading its wireless network and voice over Internet protocol for telecommunications.
Every middle school student in the district has a laptop to use in the classroom – the district wants the same for high school students, Sweeney said.
The district made strides in supporting student health after adding wellness centers to Silverado and Redwood middle schools and changing the school lunch program so that students have healthier options, according to Mike Mansuy, director of student services.
“This week we served kids fish tacos,” Mansuy said. Students now have vegetarian options, more produce and, he said, many of the meals are made from scratch. “The days of cheese zombies are gone.”
This was the district’s second year presenting the “State of the Schools” information. Elizabeth Emmett, director of communications and community engagement, said that she hopes to repeat the event every February.
“Our goal is to be transparent with our community about our goals, successes and challenges, and to highlight success stories and to engage with our fellow public agencies, like cities and county,” Emmett said. Elected officials, school principals, the district’s partner organizations as well as district staff and parents were invited to the event sponsored by ATI Architects & Engineers and the Napa Valley Education Foundation.