Bret Harte’s defenders say school improving, test scores rising

Bret Harte Elementary School’s language arts test scores have increased 8% and math scores 3%, while chronic absenteeism has declined 5%, Principal James Tucker told a community forum held Aug. 13 in response to negative publicity in the Sacramento Bee about the school’s overall test scores.

Tucker also mentioned new programs and tools to enhance student achievement, including the Benchmark advanced curriculum, a focus on small group instruction, and a computer for each student beginning this academic year.

Approximately 60 people attended the forum at Bret Harte.

Tucker, who is starting his fourth year as principal, stressed the importance of language arts because math tests are all word problems. Tucker indicated this is why Bret Harte’s math test scores are low. Hence, teachers will focus on language arts to help improve math scores.

Speakers included city school board member Lisa Murawski, school board President Jessie Ryan and Councilmember Jay Schenirer. Schools Superintendent Jorge Aguilar attended the forum but did not speak.

Tucker credited program incentives initiated by the school’s attendance clerk for the reduced absenteeism.

PTA President Daniel Savala, who has two children attending Bret Harte, said they thrive because of Principal Tucker and the teachers. Savala praised the after-school program for extra help, the sports programs and Reading Partners.

Karen Hill, a Curtis Park neighbor, is coordinator of Bret Harte’s Garden Council, which is starting its fourth year. The Garden Council helps incorporate food literacy into the school’s curriculum with students planting and harvesting some of the food they eat.

“Bret Harte and Curtis Park go hand in hand,” said Hill, who attended Bret Harte as a child. “As residents, we believe Curtis Park supports our school.”

The audience participated in a “community visioning, input and sharing activity.” Divided into four groups, the audience cycled through different whiteboard stations to brainstorm, write comments, questions and suggestions about enrollment barriers, what makes Bret Harte special, and why Oak Park isn’t mentioned.

An Oak Park parent questioned why Curtis Park parents are not sending their kids to Bret Harte. Tucker responded that he held 35 tours for prospective parents, many from Curtis Park.

School board President Ryan emphasized that Bret Harte serves both Curtis Park and Oak Park students. “It’s a bridge across communities,” Ryan said.

During the recession years, Bret Harte was on the school closure list, but the district wants the school to succeed. The reason for the emphasis on growing enrollment is two-fold: First, many students in the attendance area are enrolled in other schools; second, Bret Harte is currently under-enrolled, meaning it has a higher capacity than it is serving. Current enrollment is 280 students with one class for each grade level.

The school wants parents to see instruction first-hand. Speakers suggested parents of prospective students should base decisions not just on test scores. Look at a school’s social aspect and consistency. Many teachers and staff have worked at Bret Harte for years.

Planned follow-up work includes continuing the focus on growing academic achievement, seeking ways to partner with the community to increase volunteerism on campus, investigating opportunities for the district to promote Bret Harte to prospective families, and possibly holding a community-wide event to share information about the school.



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