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Our leadership and how we live our lives weave a story to inspire and transform the lives of others. We need to ask ourselves … what am I doing to connect the dots? What am I giving to inspire others? How can I lead, teach and contribute to make a difference; to transform a life?

I have been fortunate to serve in the U.S. Air Force for 31 years and have had the opportunity to travel to a number of places. Even still, I must say that one of the great fortunes I have found as county superintendent is the rich diversity of our student population and communities across San Bernardino County, and also the passion and dedication that individuals and groups make on behalf of our public schools and students to truly transform lives.

It is from this richness and diversity that innovation and collaboration spark within us a desire to unite together, to build up our schools and communities into environments where children, families and business thrive, and where together we are inspired to commit to something much greater than ourselves.

Just last month, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson released his Blueprint for Great Schools 2.0. The Blueprint lays out many of the same priority areas our schools and districts are focusing resources on here in our county. Can I say we were ahead of the curve? I definitely think so.

In San Bernardino County, we're putting vision into action … through our Strategic Plan work at County Schools, Collective Impact work with the Countywide Vision and District Community Cabinets, and Cradle to Career as a roadmap for student success. It's exciting to see this work coming to fruition through collective, community action - or a Collective Impact approach. When education, government, business, non-profits and citizens unite together to address complex social issues, powerful things happen and we can make significant progress toward lasting change.

Moving farther down the Cradle to Career Roadmap to success, I am excited about a new collaborative effort between the County Schools office and the County Library System to promote student literacy in our region. This new collaborative with the County Library System will leverage resources and information to support the countywide literacy goal. The library systems network of 32 branches in the county covers a vast geographic area that is home to more than 540 public schools in the 33 school districts that serve more than 410,000 students.

Students throughout the county will now have access to hundreds of thousands of library materials. We also are promoting a countywide Vision2Read literacy campaign that will launch on Sept. 19 on the Cal State campus as part of County Schools' annual Family Reading Rally, where 50,000 donated books are being distributed to families, schools and districts.

As part of our Collective Impact work, District Community Cabinets of representatives from the various sectors in school districts throughout the county are developing strategies, actions and success indicators of their own to help achieve the Cradle to Career goal in their respective school communities. Many districts have adopted the Countywide Vision resolution, as well as the Cradle to Career Roadmap.

At County Schools, the Roadmap serves as a guidepost to align our work with our strategic intent, with our mission to service school districts and communities and to collectively improve educational attainment and quality of life in the region. This is serving as the wellspring for two more exciting collaboratives as part of Collective Impact with one of them being the Regional Hub of Excellence.

The Alliance for Education was invited by the James Irvine Foundation to establish a Linked Learning Regional Hub of Excellence in partnership with Cal State San Bernardino, the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and partner districts as one of only seven regions in California. Linked Learning is a proven approach to education that combines college-focused academics, work-based learning and integrated student supports.

Each career-oriented pathway is centered on one of California's 15 largest industries, such as engineering, manufacturing, and health care - the high demand jobs our students will compete for - and so we need to ensure students graduate with the education and skills necessary for both college and future careers.

All of our collective efforts will benefit from the new Alignment San Bernardino County Portal. I am excited to announce the portal’s official launch today! The Alignment SBC Portal is designed to connect employers with community organizations and other businesses in the county to mobilize and align community resources to accomplish the cradle to career goal.

As we unite in Collective Impact work countywide, we want to be certain we have a forum for authentic student contribution to this work. Student voice is a powerful method for meaningful student involvement. So for the first time, we convened a group of diverse students from 40 high schools across the county to share perspectives with each other and educators about topics critical to their well-being and the pursuit of their dreams.

During the events, students worked in teams to address topics and issues relative to them and their fellow students. Then, they presented their perspectives to their peers and facilitators. Student Advisory Panels will meet three times over the school year, having the opportunity between the meetings to gain insights from peers to add valuable context to the conversations.

Student Advisory Members from Wilmer Carter and Etiwanda High Schools - video

If we truly want to transform the lives of our students to ensure their success, we must listen and hear their thoughts on what makes for powerful learning and connections. So, it pleases me to introduce to you Raihanah Medlock and Sheba Jennings from Project Action, a non-profit community-based organization for youth and young adults that enhances community unity through mentoring, performing arts and education. Raihanah is an 11th-grader at Grand Terrace High School in Colton Joint Unified School District, and Sheba is an 11th-grader at Summit High in Fontana Unified School District.

Central to Project Action’s mission is to improve the physical health, mental health and emotional well-being of youth and young adults in an effort to promote positive community involvement.

We know, the state of our health and well-being deeply influences every part of our life - how we work, play and relate with others, and from early on and throughout our academic career - how we learn. Which is why in San Bernardino County, we are working to strategically coordinate and align integrated health services as part of daily life on the school campus. Dr. Charles E. Basch of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University called a renewed focus on health the missing link in school reforms to close the achievement gap.

We know that learning and health are inter-related. If students come to school hungry, in need of dental care, emotionally troubled or traumatized, their ability to learn is severely impacted. We owe our students safe and positive social and emotional environments where they feel nurtured, inspired and educated, so learning can flourish. Not only is wellness a critical component to academic achievement in the classroom, it’s an essential factor for staff who enrich the educational environment for students.

Seeing this as integral to our mission, County Schools is undertaking a new Strategic Initiative for the 2015-16 academic year that is centered on improving wellness. The goal of the Wellness Strategy is to create an environment that nurtures both personal and social wellness for staff and students to help build healthy communities.

Supporting the social, emotional, mental and physical health of all students to minimize barriers to academic success was the focus of this year's fourth annual Southern Region Student Wellness Conference, which took place in July. More than 500 practitioners from education, government, public safety, social and health services, as well as faith-based, family and community participants gathered for five days of intensive sessions in the areas of:

  • Physical health;
  • Counseling, psychological and social services;
  • Health and safe school environments; and
  • Family and community involvement.

The fact that conference attendance has doubled in the past three years is a testament to the recognition and collaboration interconnecting health and school.

2015 Southern Region Student Wellness Conference - video

One of the many programs highlighted at the Wellness Conference was (PBIS), or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. PBIS is a proven and proactive strategy for defining, teaching and supporting student behavior, resulting in academic and social gains and a positive school environment. One of the first things PBIS does is create a huge increase in positive expectations being taught to the benefit of both students and staff fostering positive, healthy school climates.

In SB County, 44 percent of all public schools are implementing PBIS to great success. In the High Desert, where PBIS first got its start in Snowline Joint Unified School District, 14 school districts have the program in place. Silver Valley Unified School District, which started PBIS in 2011, showed a drop in office discipline referrals of 540 in the span of just one year.

In the West End/Valley regions of the county, 13 districts have PBIS. We have seen the number of school sites increase over the past three years from 15 to 128. Ontario-Montclair was one of the first districts in the San Bernardino Valley Region to join PBIS three years ago. The district hasn’t had an expulsion in its last two reporting years with PBIS and has seen a decrease in suspensions of 11.3 percent.

A promising practice worth highlighting is Colton Joint Unified School District’s Model SARB program. Local and county SARBs - or School Attendance Review Boards - are created by school districts and county offices of education to identify and assist students with attendance problems that may be due to chronic illness, truancy, transportation problems, disabilities or behavioral health issues.

The State Model SARB award recognizes excellence in community collaboration, measuring and reporting outcomes for chronic absenteeism and overall district attendance. Recent studies have shown that chronic absenteeism that begins in kindergarten can result in major reading problems by third grade. Colton’s SARB has received statewide model program designation from the California Department of Education four times – 2009, 2011, 2013 and again this year.

Black Rock High School in the Morongo Unified School District is another school recognized by the state in 2015. The school was named as a Model Continuation High School for providing innovative programs and comprehensive services to students who may otherwise be at risk of not graduating. The school stood out because of its senior portfolios, the responsibility the students take on with a self-generated student reporting system, and the positive atmosphere created by students and staff.

Black Rock High School - video

Believing in our students and instilling in them responsibility and commitment inspires them to succeed! Coalescing an entire school community in study, collaboration and action planning around a complex social and educational issue with to create the conditions necessary for achievement at high levels is the goal of another promising practice.

The Task Force Study Model looks to build a framework of stakeholders representing educators, parents, students and community members to complete an inquiry-based self-study of school practices. Dr. Dale Marsden and Dr. Kennon Mitchell successfully led the task force for African American Student Achievement in the San Bernardino City Unified School District where the district and community resulted in strengthening the academic achievement of African American students and all student subgroups.

During the 2015-16 academic year, Dr. Mitchell will bring the Task Force Study Model to County Schools. We are excited about the possibilities this work holds for us and moving all of our students toward excellence. Providing direct support to students in alternative education, special education and state preschool programs is one of the most critical services provided by our County Office of Education.

We have an amazing staff of highly qualified and trained teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, counselors, psychologist, principals and other administrative support staff who are specially trained to work with students of exceptional needs. It is hard, noble and rewarding work. Let me just share a snapshot of some of the work that takes place in County Student Services programs. Many County Schools’ special education programs are located on school district campuses throughout the county so students can share in many of the same experiences as their high school peers.

When it comes to prom however, staff in our Student Services programs goes all out to make sure the high school prom is a beyond memorable experience for students in our special education programs. On one special night each year, staff, families, community volunteers and students gather for a night of music, dance, food and fun at prom. Staff at our administrative sites have joined in and donate formal dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. And of course, we crown a king and queen!

The Building Skills Program at High Desert Juvenile Hall and four alternative education school sites offers juvenile court schools and at-risk youth an opportunity to learn tangible skills, build a foundation for their future, and explore their interests and aptitudes in the construction industry. The program is a collaboration between County Schools’ Regional Occupational Program and the County Probation Department. The program was recognized earlier this year with an Achievement Award by the National Association of Counties.

Attention has risen and is needed with regards to our homeless student population and foster youth. We have long known that if children are worried about where they will be sleeping at night or when they will be eating their next meal, it is difficult for them to focus on, let alone engage in, learning.

Studies have shown that both homeless and foster students are at risk of dropping out of school. Foster youth students have the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups of students. With nearly 37,000 homeless education students and more than 3,000 foster youth in our county, we cannot sit idle.

This summer, our County Schools’ Children Deserve Success program that serves homeless education students throughout the county delivered close to 6,000 backpacks and school supplies. The program also provides shoes and clothes, tutoring services, bus passes and sheltering assistance.

In the Morongo Unified School District, close to 350 families met at the Sportsman’s Club in Joshua Tree for free backpacks and school supplies. One mother who was there with her two children - a seventh- and ninth- grader, and both honor students - arrived at 7 a.m., two hours before the giveaway was to begin. The mother said that without the backpacks and school supplies, her children would go without them. The need for such support is great, yet such acts of support can inspire our students to achieve great things.

The preceding student performance was Brian Chang on trumpet and James Yang accompanying Brian on piano. Brian was the County Music Educator’s Association Solofest winner for the middle school instrumental category for 2015. Brian now attends Redlands High School as a freshman. James is an eighth-grader at Cope Middle School.

Transitioning to the new Local Control Funding Formula and accompanying accountability system has been a major shift for our school districts and is transforming how we fund our school programs and engage our local communities. Additional funding in the governor’s budget for 2015-16, brought on by an improved economy and higher than anticipated tax revenues, has accelerated the pace toward full implementation of LCFF - especially for those districts with high proportions of low income, foster youth and English Learner students.

The Local Control Accountability Plan - or LCAP - is the accountability arm of the school funding formula. Through the LCAP process, community stakeholders are sharing a greater role in determining how resources are best used to produce student outcomes at the local level.

While helping to achieve the Cradle to Career Goal, Community Cabinets also help school districts engage parents and the community in their Local Control and Accountability Plan process. Our County Schools' office reviewed and approved the LCAP for all 33 school districts. The primary areas that emerge from district LCAPs will be a focus for County Schools as the second year of LCAP implementation is in process.

With college and career readiness as the driver for our new rigorous state standards, skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking are core. While many counties and states are struggling with how to move the needle forward to achieve the standards, in San Bernardino County, schools and districts are learning from national experts and sharing best practices.

Take this example from Los Osos High School in the Chaffey Jt. Union High School District: Students in Jennifer Nicastro’s Expository Reading Writing courses prepared and presented projects where they created mock non-profit organizations. They wrote their own grant proposals and pitched their ideas to a panel of “investors,” like the popular TV show, “Shark Tank.” Not only is the course directly tied to the standards, it prepares students for college and career opportunities by integrating academics with career-based learning and real-world workplace experiences. It's all about making knowledge and expertise more discoverable and more accessible.

Just released were the results of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which monitor the results of the Smarter Balanced assessments. Administered to students statewide last spring, the new assessments require much more of our students than previous multiple-choice exams. Students must now think critically, write analytically and explain how they solve problems.

Having just received the first year of CAASPP results last week, we know there remains work to be done in future assessments, but parents should understand that these are one set of data used to assess the progress of their children. This year’s scores are a baseline for measuring progress in future years. Our schools and districts in the county will use these results to guide instruction and will gives us a better picture of how well students are prepared for college and the workforce. Other indicators will include high school graduation rates and the number of students completing A-G coursework - two numbers that have been on the increase in our county. Yet we still have much work to do.

In 2013-14, 78.6 percent of county students graduated from high school. That’s in comparison to 80.4 percent statewide. About 1-in-3 county students, 32.8 percent, completed their A-G Requirements. Statewide, 41.9 percent of students complete the courses required to enter the UC or CSU system. More and more career pathways and career technical education courses are earning the designation to meet A-G requirements. We are preparing our students for whatever path they aspire to pursue beyond high school graduation.

Which is why ROP and Career Technical Education are alive and well in San Bernardino County. San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools’ Regional Occupational Program students graduated at a 91 percent rate last year. The county’s ROP students also had an 85 percent placement into post-secondary education and training, employment and the military following high school.

Annually, County Schools ROP honors distinguished ROP students for outstanding performance in their industry sector. This year, 15 students were selected from the top 50 nominated by area high schools. Rim of the World student Kaitlyn Flores captured top honors in the public services industry sector category. Kaitlyn plans to follow in her father’s footsteps as a firefighter after serving in the United States Army.

ROP Firefighter, Rim of the World Graduate - video

We also continue to promote and support AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination - because it works! AVID graduates consistently outperform their peers by multiple measures. In our county for 2014-15, 96 percent of AVID students graduated having met A-G requirements. Also, AVID students stay enrolled in college at rates that outpace other programs. 87 percent of AVID grads enroll in a second year of college compared to 77 percent of non-AVID students.

Throughout May and June, I had the opportunity to attend a number of the high school graduations of more than 26,000 seniors in SB County’s 2015 graduating class. The memories I will take with me are the moments when I would see the smiles on students’ faces as they walked across the stage.

They remind me of our mission - to transform lives through education - and of our shared vision in San Bernardino County to see all children succeed. As each student crossed the stage, I wondered: What will you do the day after graduation? In fact, I wish I could have asked each of those students the day they started kindergarten; and first grade; and second grade: “What will you do the day after graduation?”

I know many of our families and schools begin instilling in their children and students early on the importance of education, and the goal of going to college or entering a career. For students that attend San Bernardino High School feeder schools, the expectation that they will attend college is set at kindergarten.

I attended San Bernardino High School's graduation ceremony, and it was the kindergarten class that led the procession. The school principal told me, "We want the students to know, at the beginning of their educational career, that they will graduate as Cardinals."

The expectations that we set early on for our children matter. Every interaction matters. This is how we lead to inspire.

It pleases me to introduce the A.B. Miller Conservatory Dancers who will perform an originally choreographed, scored and directed dance number called “The Listening Body.” The dancers worked as a collaborative ensemble to generate the dance movements in response to our themes of unite, inspire, transform. The piece was directed by Rosa Rodriguez-Frasier. Their instructor is Ms. Nicole Robinson. From Fontana Unified School District, A.B. Miller Dance Conservatory.

Every child, in every school in our county deserves to be safe, healthy, engaged in learning, supported, and inspired. Going to college, landing a great job, these are the hopes and dreams to which all of our students should have the opportunity to aspire. This is what we can and should expect of them; and of ourselves.

This is how we TRANSFORM LIVES THROUGH EDUCATION.

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