OAKHURST — With students back in school, we caught up to Mike Berg, Interim Superintendent of Yosemite Unified School District, who made a point of stopping into every classroom in his district to touch base. He says good things are happening at all of their schools, including Yosemite High School, Coarsegold Elementary, Rivergold Elementary, an Educational Options program, and Adult School: enrollment is up, budgets are balanced, contracts are squared away, positions are filled with great people, and the new school year is starting out on an even keel.
Berg has been in the position for five months, and says he’s really pleased that they’ve been able to resurrect the budget, make it positive, and spend it in the right places — doing the right things to support what the kids and community need.
At the end of the last school year, 17 employees in the district were given notice of potential layoff. Ultimately, Berg says, factoring in those who retired or left for opportunities elsewhere, only two people were laid off. Berg says those two individuals were offered and then placed in like positions that were either vacated or needed to be filled.
Some positions that had been vacant for some time have been filled, Berg notes, citing a new ag teacher at Yosemite High School, and positions at John Muir High School, north and south. YHS also has a new counselor with 16 years experience in the position.
The district has hired three new intervention specialists — that is, certificated teachers who provide academic as well as social/emotional counseling services. The intervention specialists will be at the high school, as well as Coarsegold and Rivergold elementary schools. Additionally, all of the special education teacher positions have been filled in the district, along with the hiring of a paraeducator/teachers aid for hearing impaired students. New hires also include cafeteria staff, and bus drivers.
According to Interim Superintendent Berg, contracts for teachers and classified staff are closed out for the 2018-19 school year, and negotiations will commence in fall with both groups for the 2019-20 school year.
“We are openly talking and collaborating, and the relations with the unions and myself and the board are very positive, and are unified at this point in time,” Berg says, adding that the intention is to make improvements to health plans, and consider salary increases for teachers and classified staff in the future.
“We are so fiscally strong and confident in that, that we are able to discuss salary increases for all employees, while at the same time increasing our strategic reserve, beefing up our curriculum materials and making a number of really great facility improvements.”
Just under a million dollars has been spent on facilities work within the district, he says.
“You’ll see paint, pavement, new roofs, technology, new marquis and messaging for communication at every site, wireless access points in every single classroom, and — it’s the newest equipment.”
Berg confirms that enrollment in the district appears to be up this year, calling that a good sign.
“In fact, I am looking at needing to potentially add teachers to reduce class size and to alleviate what could be crowding. We are going to check every day for the next two weeks and see if the numbers are as strong as they look. The bottom line, the principals are telling me the numbers are coming in stronger than anticipated.”
Berg has been on the job for five months, following the early departure of former superintendent Cecelia Greenberg.
In those five months, the interim superintendent says he has been impressed by the district’s resiliency.
“What I found here was a group of people who were really committed to the kids, and who really came together and came up with collaborative solutions to solve our budget woes, and create some new programs. We are one of the strongest budgets in the state, now, in terms of having a robust reserve, having our employees in a good spot, being able to talk about adding programs, and enhancing what we do.”
Berg is also proud of the professional development the district has undertaken as a whole, saying it’s cutting-edge to talk about “reaching into kids before trying to teach kids.”
During the week before students returned to class, the district came together for two days of professional development specifically around social/emotional learning and focusing on student achievement. The goal, Berg explains, was to look at how they can do things differently in order to teach kids differently, and reach kids differently.
Every employee in this district was invited to attend: teachers, classified, and administration. Many of the district’s Board of Trustees were present and, together with Berg, they served breakfast to the rest of the group before participating in the development day, side by side.
“The message was all about how we need to meet our kids’ needs, and we need to engage with our students, before we even think about teaching. We need to make sure they’re switched on and ready to learn.”
More professional development is planned, including a Board of Trustees day with a practical visioning session for the future. Also on the schedule is the state-wide search for a new district superintendent, which Berg will lead.
School Board elections will take place in November. Tim Curley is the only candidate for Area 1 — incumbent John Reynolds is not on the ballet. Area 4 will have a contest with current appointed, not elected, board member Stacey Montalto and challenger Shawnessy Gaynor. Area 5 will have a contest with incumbent Monika Moulin and challenger Jennifer Mills.
Meanwhile, the focus now is on the students.
The next Regular Board Meeting is scheduled for Monday, September 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the Rivergold Elementary multi-purpose room.