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Riverside Press Enterprise


Rialto Unified A Study In 'Epic Fails'

July 23, 2014

By Ben Boychuk

The Rialto Unified School District is an embarrassment to an already battered public education system. Its schools are hazardous to children's intellectual health and taxpayers' dollars.

Alas, come Aug. 4, some 26,000 youngsters are supposed to return to Rialto's flagging public schools, guaranteeing that many will be consigned to mediocrity. Parents shouldn't sit still for it.

The headlines from Rialto are bad enough. An embezzlement scandal. Gross fiscal mismanagement. Fishy contracts with little vetting or oversight. A “hostile work environment.”

Then, of course, there's the Holocaust denial. Earlier this year, 2,000 Rialto eighth-graders were given a “critical thinking” assignment in which they were asked to argue whether the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during World War II or if the Holocaust was, rather, “a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”

As many astute commentators noted at the time, a better question is why and how the Holocaust happened.

But that would have required critical thinking on the part of Rialto's eighth-grade teachers. Such thinking was nowhere evident.

Beyond the sheer outrageousness of the assignment, did anyone take care to notice the quality of the work? And not just in the 50 or so essays where students concluded that a bona fide historical event never occurred. All of the essays are available online. Few display a sound grasp of grammar, syntax or spelling, let alone “critical thinking.”

The fact is, Rialto's schools don't teach their pupils to read, write or compute very well. Sixteen of Rialto's 29 schools are classified as “program improvement,” which in effect means they've failed consistently to meet the state's average yearly progress (AYP) goals. Only two Rialto schools, in fact, made AYP in 2013.

All five Rialto Unified middle schools have been in “program improvement” for at least five years, according to the district's last accountability report. That means every one of those eighth-graders who pondered the reality of the Holocaust attends a failing school.

The Rialto Unified school board is contrite, as well it should be. The Holocaust assignment, confessed trustee Joseph Martinez, “should have never happened.” In what may be the understatement of the year, he added at last week's board meeting, “We have, in fact, had epic fails.”

Martinez and another board member, Joe Ayala, are targets of a recall campaign for their support of ousted superintendent Harold Cebrun and alleged complicity in squandering $30 million in district reserve funds.

Recalls are tricky business. They shouldn't be undertaken for frivolous vendettas. Criminality, gross negligence and incompetence — “epic fails,” let's say — would surely qualify. Supporters need 9,450 valid signatures by Sept. 16 to put up Martinez and Ayala for a new vote. Of course, school will be well underway by then.

A recall, however, isn't the only option. California may not have private vouchers, but parents do have the right to transfer their kids to another public school in an adjoining district. The system isn't perfect, but the truth is that private schools are out of reach for most Rialto parents, so public school choice is the only real option. Unfortunately, the interdistrict transfer period doesn't begin until January.

Angry parents could also push for substantial reforms, with or without the school board's cooperation, thanks to a 2010 state law.

California's landmark Parent Empowerment Act — also known as the “parent trigger” — provides that if a school is one of the “persistently lowest-achieving schools” identified by the State Board of Education, has been in program improvement for at least a year, has failed to make adequate yearly progress and has an Academic Performance Index score of less than 800, then parents can petition for one of several prescribed reforms.

And if at least half of eligible parents sign on, the district must implement those reforms, which may include replacing principals and teachers or converting a failing school into an independent charter.

Parent trigger campaigns are tough to assemble quickly. But with school starting in two weeks, parents and concerned citizens have an opportunity to begin organizing while people are paying attention. Rialto needs accountability and change, pronto.

Original Source:



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