Article - Office of College Advancement

Schools chief delivers upbeat report

Newark superintendent addresses challenges of new technology in talk

By Todd R. Brown, Staff writer.

Friday, October 19, 2007—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

NEWARK—Shifts happen.

That was the message of Newark's "state of the schools" address, delivered Thursday by Superintendent John Bernard with a few jokes, some critical concerns and an overall upbeat impression of the district's accomplishments.

The event included a presentation created by a Colorado teacher that offered such thought-provoking notions as "China will soon become the No. 1 English-speaking country in the world" and "the number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet."

In other words, punning on ubiquitous computer and PDA shift keys, "shifts happen" in demographics and technology, and hence teaching needs and methods.

"They don't know what 'Beta' is," Bernard said of today's students, who are easily familiar with cutting-edge video and DVD gizmos. "They don't know who Mork is or where he's from."

In terms of population changes, Bernard said Latinos made up 43.5 percent of the student body in 2006, according to state figures, a 100 percent increase in the past decade.

He said the number of low-income students also has gone up, from 30 percent to 38 percent between the 2003-04 and 2006-07 school years, according to subsidized lunch figures.

Even with those challenges, Bernardsaid suspensions for violence and drugs in the past two years were down 9 percent, while expulsions in the past year were down 63 percent.

Meanwhile, API scores are up, with the district earning a nine-point gain in 2007 to 736, and Newark Memorial High School boasting a 33-point jump on the academic index, making it the most improved school in the region.

On the other hand, most Newark elementary schools saw API scores drop three to 41 points.

He also said 94 percent of Newark seniors passed their California exit exams last year, while 97 percent earned diplomas.

Donald Gill, who is going on his third year as principal of Newark Junior High School, said early intervention programs have been vital to district improvements, including a 15-point API jump last year at his school.

"We targeted kids to improve," Gill said, noting that state-funded tutoring before and after school is helping non-native English speakers with their English arts and math work.

Those students—"kids that would not normally be recognized for academic achievement"—are rewarded for their efforts with ceremonies and treats, he said.

In an aside, Newark Mayor Dave Smith plugged the grand opening of the Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology on Jan. 28, with a gala event to follow Feb. 2 at the new campus and at the Newark/Fremont Hilton, where the state of the schools address took place.

"This is going to be the campus of the future," he said of the ultra-green design.

Officials are planning for an enrollment of 3,000 students in environmental studies and other fields.

In the Newark Unified School District, Bernard said the total enrollment as of Oct. 6 was 7,141.

"We had anticipated a decline in enrollment," he said, but noted that the dip was only about 20 students instead of the hundred-plus that officials had predicted.

And many of these "Millennial Generation" youngsters—as opposed to those snarky Gen X'ers who preceded them—will need to learn skills for jobs in technology that hasn't even been invented yet, he said.

Shifts happen, indeed.

On the Web: Did You Know? Shift Happens, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljbI-363A2Q

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers Newark, Ohlone College and ethnic community issues. Reach him at 510-353-7004 or todd.brown@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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