VISTA, Calif. Nov. 21, 2018 – Concerned parents, teachers, and students packed the room at last Thursday’s Vista Unified School District board meeting, asking Superintendent Linda (Wagner) Kimble and board members for more study, more transparency, more collaboration, and more dialogue, as the board discussed making sweeping changes to the admissions policies of its five successful magnet schools. However, the meeting concluded with the board declaring its intent to vote December 13th on a yet to be disclosed proposal that will change the magnet school admissions process, starting immediately for the 2019/20 school year, effectively dismissing the concerns, questions, and requests voiced by stakeholders.
Two of the five board members that will vote on December 13th, Martha Alvarado and Debbie Morton, were elected this month and will be sworn in the same night that they will be called upon to decide on a proposal that will impact the District for years to come. “My concern is that any proposed changes for the priority enrollment are clearly being rushed and communicated poorly to parents,” said Christina Thackeray, a parent.
“These two factors alone are key signs that VUSD is not ready to make an informed and fair decision that is inclusive of all concerns of all students and parents.”
The district, which revised its magnet admissions policies less than one year ago, neither articulated its reasoning for revisiting the magnet admissions topic again so quickly, nor its rationale for changing procedures, other than stating in its presentation that “(the current priority categories for admission) are effectively disenfranchising specific populations of students who have a greatly reduced chance for admission to magnet schools in VUSD”. No further data, statistics, nor explanations were provided to identify which populations were affected, nor demonstrate how changes to the admissions process would address the problem.
Another parent, Shiloh Strawbridge, reminded the Superintendent and board members that the changes the district enacted for the current school year adding busing to alleviate transportation hardships and reducing the percentage of out-of-district transfers were solid steps that needed to be given time to work.
The district has a longstanding policy of offering priority magnet school admissions to students moving up a magnet school level (magnet-to-magnet progression), siblings of contemporaneously attending magnet students, district employees, children of active duty military, and foster or homeless children.
However, based on comments voiced by board member Cipriano Vargas, at least some members are in favor of immediately moving to an “open” lottery system, which goes against its own policy and previously stated goals. A number of parents and students spoke in favor of maintaining the magnet-to-magnet priority group, with many citing the District’s own directive, under its previous Superintendent Devin Vodicka, to create articulated magnet pathways from kindergarten to 12th grade in its International Baccalaureate, STEM, and visual and performing arts magnet programs across two elementary, two middle, and one magnet high schools.
Julie Kelly, a parent who served on the VUSD District Magnet Committee in 2013, spoke about the district’s intent to create magnet-to-magnet pathways, saying, “There is a rationale and a historical foundation for the magnet-to-magnet progression. It was intentional and should be maintained. The District’s magnet programs are succeeding wildly in part because of that progression. Please consider that success, and the promises that have been made to district
families, and move forward with careful study and consideration.” Kelly asked the board to slow its review and replicate the 2013 decision making process, which involved months of meetings, qualified surveys, an outside moderator, and inclusion of all stakeholders.
Other parents implored Superintendent Kimble and the board to focus its energy and attention on improving the district’s non-magnet schools, citing published statistics such as Rancho Minerva Middle School’s 18% proficiency rate in reading and asserting that the demand for magnet school admissions is trending high because parents don’t have acceptable “home school” options. “We can’t solve a complex urban planning challenge by arbitrarily changing magnet admissions to an open lottery,” summarized Strawbridge. “There are still failing schools in the district that need attention. We can’t solve a communication issue by destroying a pathway that parents and students rely upon. The Superintendent and school board need to approach this challenge with greater study and awareness while taking care to protect its very successful magnet schools.”