I recently picked up a Bay Area newspaper, and the headline shouted: “Layoffs Despite Recovery.” An uneasy smile crossed my face as I realized we have been talking about this in public schools for almost three years now. Although Oakdale has had the benefit of a stable school population with a slight growth and excellent planning, we still will look at major cuts in the next six to 18 months.
I have been meeting with a community-based budget advisory committee to discuss our options and to plan for further reductions in programs or employees due to dwindling revenues. In spite of having a sound strategic plan developed by a forward-thinking board and a supportive community that are committed to keeping financial cuts as far from the classroom as possible, it appears that a reduction in force of some sort will be unavoidable. In light of this terrible situation, it is important that we talk about ways to ensure that students receive the best possible education in the safest environment under these difficult conditions.
Everyone’s concern for a safe environment at school actually begins when students walk out of their own front doors. Getting to and from school safely cannot be taken for granted. There are a number of factors that have recently resulted in more students walking and more parents driving than in previous years.
Due to budget cuts at the Oakdale Joint Unified School District (OJUSD), we have trimmed bus routes and extended walking distances so more students are required to walk rather than ride a bus to school. Due to pressure on its budget, the city has reduced the number of crossing guards.
There is more traffic in the morning due to parents driving the students who formerly rode buses and there are more pedestrians because more students are walking. People walking in the evening may be harder to see because there are not as many streetlights illuminated as the city is making an effort to reduce the amount of money it spends on electricity. As a result of all of these factors, it is very important that students understand the risks and demonstrate appropriate caution when walking to and from school.
As community members or parents, you can help reduce the risk to our children. Please be aware when you are driving, that at any time, dozens of children may be walking to or from school or a school event. We have activities going on throughout Oakdale from as early as 6:30 a.m. until well after 9 p.m.
Slow down and be alert. Use your Bluetooth and stay off your cell phone. Please no texting while driving.
Parents, advise and caution your children to use the crosswalks, look both ways, and anticipate speeding drivers. On a weekend, consider taking your children to an intersection and showing them appropriate crossing behavior: where to cross and how to cross safely. It may be a good idea to walk the entire route to school so you can point out potential dangers and indicate safe crossing points.
A few minutes of training may save a lifetime of heartache.
And ask yourself, “Are my children wearing clothes that make it easier or harder for a driver to notice them?” Conversations about traffic safety are not just for younger students. Junior high and high school students, listening to their iPods and texting on their cell phones, step off the curbs and into the street placing entirely too much faith in drivers.
I get frequent comments from community members that it appears that students are placing themselves in harm’s way by dawdling or what appears to be purposefully blocking traffic. This is especially dangerous when parents are running late getting their own students to school or themselves to work and may be impatient. This problem is certainly not unique to Oakdale but is worth discussing with your young adults at home.
A good way to provide a quality school learning environment is to volunteer your time. At the last Board meeting, Sierra View Principal Teri Taylor reported what a positive contribution parents are making as that school averages over 25 parent volunteers a day. These parents provide classroom assistance by conducting smaller student groups or working on projects that support classroom instruction. The other K-8 principals report that their parent clubs are active in assisting in the classroom as well as providing needed materials and supplies for students who are less fortunate.
High School Principal Mike Moore shared with the Board in a recent report that a wide variety of parent support groups exist to support high school students. All site administrators express thanks for the parent organizations for music, GATE, academic achievement, vocational education, sports, FFA, Sober Grad Night and others that keep targeted programs afloat in spite of the difficult economy. If you are not already involved in one of these fine organizations, volunteer now and make a difference.
Students who drop out have indicated to researchers that they did not feel connected to the school or the adults associated with the school. Connect yourself and your children to Oakdale schools by volunteering and getting involved and help to ensure that those programs that capture student interest are maintained.
Hard times are coming in spite of all the wonderful efforts made by the Oakdale community. This financial crisis is not the consequence of a lack of planning or dedication. Nonetheless, it will take a toll. We will need your help more than ever. Thank you again for your help and assistance, both in the past and in the future.
Superintendent’s Spotlight is a monthly column provided by Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Fred Rich, updating the community with information about school district activities.