OAKHURST – Vitally important to the well-being of any good-size community, and essential for its economic growth, Adult Education has nonetheless been hammered by budget cuts since the great recession hit California’s schools six years ago.
Now, thanks to a restoration of funding and the cooperative efforts of a consortium of school districts including colleges, adult education is about to have a renaissance in the state.
The coming improvements to Adult Education in Oakhurst, with strong potential for community involvement, could directly affect the foothills for generations into the future.
Not everyone is familiar with the K-12 Adult Education program, run by Yosemite Unified School District, or where it’s located. The Adult Ed classroom is one of a handful of humble portables that sit alongside School Road (Road 427), part of what comprises the Educational Options Programs. The buildings don’t look like much, but inside, and at other campuses in the District, some wonderful transformations are taking place.
Principal Randy Haggard is responsible for eight schools under the umbrella of alternative education in the District: Ahwahnee High School (18 students), Campbell Community Day High School 9-12 (10 students), Evergreen High School (68 students), Foothill High School (4 students), Meadowbrook Community Day School 5-8 (4 students), Raymond Granite High School, Yosemite Falls K-8 Education Center (5 students), and Yosemite Adult Education (18 students).
Dr. Haggard has been principal for six years and previously held the same job at Coarsegold Elementary for seven years. Right now, he wants the community to know that the District is circulating two versions of an online survey and they need as many people as possible to participate by completing whichever survey is appropriate. Adult Education in this case refers to students age 18 and up, and the District currently serves students who are 18-22. The need exists to cover a greater age-span, but the money isn’t there yet.
“The survey is designed for current and past students of our Adult Education program, as well as parents and community members, including and especially business owners and other potential employers in our community,” Dr. Haggard explains. “We’re using the survey results to help us in planning to better serve our clients/students, and responding to needs identified by the community and employers.”
Right now, the survey is critical as part of the formula for funding. It’s the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) survey, with which each school district is required to engage parents, educators, employees, and the community to establish plans for the District’s future. The plans describe the school district’s overall vision for the students, annual goals and specific actions the District will take to achieve the vision and goals.
Yosemite Unified is teaming up with the Community College Center and a consortium of nine school districts in the state, and the number of districts in the group continues to grow.
The alliance has submitted a proposal in response to the Governor’s announcement that Sacramento is set to approve over half a billion dollars for funding K-12 Adult Education, creating a bridge to community colleges in the process.
Between 2008 and 2014, Adult Ed budgets in California were cut by 67 percent. Of the districts involved in the present consortium, six had their Adult Ed doors shut completely this year and last year, while others offered programs that were substantially reduced. Now, the hope is that state legislators will approve the budget, possibly even increasing the amount of money set aside for K-12 Adult Ed, according to Dr. Haggard. The Legislature is expected to act by June 30.
Ultimately, five “strands” of adult education will be addressed. The first program area in the strand is Elementary and Secondary Basic Skills, which includes classes required for a basic high school diploma. Approximately 50 to 60 students are served through this program every year, with 16 students enrolled in the diploma program right now.
“This basic skills program typically serves 40 percent students with disabilities and is structured on a modified independent study instructional delivery model,” Dr. Haggard explains. Right now, one part-time instructor serves students in the diploma program, down from two teachers full-time prior to the budget cuts.
That lone part-time instructor is Dana Hall, who has been with the District since 2007. Hall works three days a week and each of her students, also known as clients, is allotted one hour per week to meet. With just 16 kids now, the school is at an all-time attendance low due to the lack of funding. In the past, they’ve had two teachers with 18 – 24 kids each.
Still, Dana Hall says the adult ed program is the “best kept secret” around.
“I am working with kids who want to be here,” says Hall, an experienced teacher of all grade levels and subjects.
Why are students re-enrolling in a diploma class at this time in their lives? Hall says the answer is simple.
“Many of them say they blew it in high school,” she explains. “They didn’t think they needed the education, they may have engaged in risky behavior, and now they’ve been out in the big world and realize they do need the education, and they’re willing to work for it. Nobody has to be here.”
Hall says her clients have a rainbow of reasons for enrolling. Some are special ed, some dropped out to care for family or because they were homeless. One student walked all the way from Mariposa once a week, she says, to get to his appointment on School Road in Oakhurst.
“He asked, ‘When is my appointment?’ and I told him, ‘it’s whenever you get here.'” Hall’s easy-going flexibility and compassionate understanding are apparent as she speaks.
Alternative Education Site Council committee member Jennifer Clark says Hall’s dedication to the program is contagious.
“I can actually feel the love that Dana radiates when talking about her adult students,” says Clark. “This woman is so passionate about her job and compassionate with her students, it makes me as a committee member want to go out and support her in any way I can.”
Meanwhile, as Dana Hall is talking about details like school registration and class times, a young woman pops her head into the classroom. She’s dressed like someone on her way to a job interview, and that turns out to be the case. Hall’s attention turns immediately to the potential client, who was enrolled in the district diploma program once before. She moved away because of family issues, got a job, then moved back. Many who don’t graduate from high school but head directly into the job force find out a few years later they need a high school diploma in order to advance their career.
Hall counsels the returning student briefly before she heads to the job interview, and it’s agreed that she’ll register and return soon. This young woman’s desire to complete her program despite the chaos of life is a perfect example of why the doors to Adult Ed must remain wide open.
When a new or returning student comes to Adult Ed, the school arranges their transcripts and the team helps them make a plan. If they’re terrified of math, says Hall on a for-instance basis, she has them start out nice and easy to get up to speed. The program is tailored to the individual.
In other aspects, though, Adult Ed students are subject to the exact same requirements as other graduates. Students enrolled in the diploma program, like all Yosemite District graduates, are required to complete a Senior Project involving community service, and a presentation to a community panel comprised of business leaders and other community volunteers.
The Adult Ed proposal has four areas in addition to the diploma program, including a strand for English language learners, one for students with disabilities, and another for Career and Tech Education, as well as programs for apprentices. Among the goals of the current survey is to clearly define employer needs in the community in order to establish apprenticeship programs locally.
Rima Runtzel is vice-president of the Alternative Education site council. She agrees that the survey is critical and wants the community to know the District needs the help of business owners and others.
“It is important that we get input from the community about the types of skills they feel are valuable so that we can tailor our programs to meet those needs,” Runtzel notes. “We want to provide students with a reason to stay in Oakhurst and be productive members of our communities going forward, rather than leaving because we can’t offer them what they need to succeed.”
Dr. Haggard and others in the Educational Options program look forward to some dramatic changes they hope will happen in Adult Education due to the special funding, and the on-going improvement of their existing programs in alternative education for students in grades K-12.
Having citizens engaged and responding to the current survey will enable the District to provide the best possible service to adult students and the community in the coming year, says Dr. Haggard.
“Right now we’re in a good position to not just maintain, but to grow.”
The surveys are available through Friday, Apr. 3.