Incorporating the themes of leadership, advocacy and service, San Bernardino County Superintendent Gary Thomas recently delivered his fifth annual State of Education Address.
“We know that distinguished, bold and active leadership aspires to transform lives through education,” Thomas said. “That advocacy shapes policy, as well the lives of students and families; and with both innovative and responsive service, it keeps students at the heart of our calling and work.”
Thomas delivered his speech at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts in downtown San Bernardino. Greg Devereaux, Chief Executive Officer, San Bernardino County, emceed the event and introduced Thomas.
Several hundred community members attended the event, including elected county leaders, community and business partners, teachers, superintendents, classified staff and board of education members.
In his speech, Thomas introduced video presentations of students, representing different focuses of his speech from college and career preparation and school safety to student activities and programs.
“The students represented today are only seven of the more than 414,000 public school students in our county, and they only represent a microcosm of the diverse populations we serve,” he said. “We are aiming high and see it as a moral obligation to work across boundaries to support the success of every child.”
Strong leadership from the classroom to the administrative offices and across the county’s 33 school districts takes a cooperative spirit, which is taking shape in San Bernardino County. Thomas highlighted the collaborative efforts under way with the countywide vision project, citing the work of Devereaux at the county, as well as newly appointed President Tomás Morales of California State University, San Bernardino, who co-chairs the project’s education element group with Thomas.
“We want to create broad-based support for a countywide goal where all sectors of the community partner to support the success of every child from cradle to career,” Thomas said. “Education lays a foundation for the fundamental future success of our county and region.”
Support from the public in passing Proposition 30 in November is the first good news about the state budget that Thomas can report since he began his tenure as county superintendent.
He also said that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed new overhaul of school funding through the Local Control Funding Formula finally begins to address the state’s inequitable and outdated system. The proposed formula recognizes the needs of disadvantaged students, but in no way adequately funds the needs of California’s public education system.
“I am hopeful that the tables have turned and we are seeing the beginning of a reinvestment in public education in California,” he said. “One thing is for sure: a strong finance system for our schools is essential to meet the need of preparing students for college and careers, and for schools to succeed in teaching to a more rigorous set of Common Core standards.”
With the new Common Core standards on target to be fully implemented statewide by the 2014- 15 academic year, an emphasis on project-based learning and a heavy emphasis on increasing use of technology will be cornerstones to the new standards.
Along with the new focus through Common Core, increasing graduation rates with the goal of providing more post-secondary educational opportunities for county students will remain top priorities. In a recent Forbes.com report, this region ranked as second- fastest in the country for growing high-tech jobs.
Having strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM curriculum in schools is paramount to continuing to fuel the trend for creating more high-tech opportunities. Preparing students for post-secondary educational and career opportunities is one of the strategies County Schools adopted as part of its strategic planning process in 2012.
“The gap between the demands of California’s economy and the supply of college-educated workers represents a serious hurdle to an economically viable future for our state as a whole, and particularly for the Inland Empire region,” Thomas said.
Dropout rates in the county have been decreasing – down to 15.3 percent during the most recently reported data in 2010-11 – while grad rates have been on the rise, up to 74 percent.
On the subject of school safety, Thomas said the collaborative nature in the county among educators, law enforcement and justice have made differences in protecting students and staff on campuses. Being even more vigilant, schools need to rehearse scenarios about active shooters on their campuses just like drills that have been done in the past concerning fires and earthquakes.
“My office has pledged to work with the district attorney, county sheriff and other public safety partners to tackle challenging issues that threaten the safety and well being of our children,” he said.
In conclusion, Thomas wants to provide educational opportunities for all students to achieve.
“At County Schools, we see it as our purpose to lead, to advocate and to serve - on behalf of students and on behalf of you,” he said. “We believe that through this stewardship and through our commitments we can deliver on this promise and transform lives through education.”