Butler, AUSD look at year ahead

Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler has an office view overlooking the Atascadero Middle School facility. Not that he has a lot of time to look out the window as the office doubles as a conference room for staff meetings. (photos by Camas Frank)

ATASCADERO - While they’re still following through on plans laid out for the 2018-2019 school year, the staff at the Atascadero Unified School District office have been ringing in the new calendar year with the rest of the community.

So far, said AUSD Superintendent Tom Butler, “It has been a really smooth start to 2019.”

And he’s hoping things stay that way.

A quick review of headlines in 2018 showed some unexpected challenges for the District, a planned student walkout which was canceled by a bomb threat, there was also unrest in the teaching ranks over financial priorities, and even one previously well-liked instructor arrested for allegedly taking images of his students for lewd purposes. If any of those situations had been foreseeable, Butler noted, the District would have availed themselves of any precautionary measures, but as life unfolded, he’s proud of the AUSD staff and the support of the elected school board through the year.

“School [and student] safety has always been a top priority,” he said, during a drop-in visit by the Atascadero News to the District’s office behind the Atascadero Middle School. “If there had ever been a red flag with [former sixth-grade teacher Chris Berdoll] we would have acted at that point. That’s one of the events you, unfortunately, have to deal with if it arises.”

As for the issue of school safety overall, there are more options which have emerged along with technology, “something that’s new is the Rave safety app, a smartphone application which we’re implementing in partnership with the Atascadero Police Department and the [San Luis Obispo County] Sheriff's office. That allows access to multiple communication channels in an emergency, they can see our internal communications as well as allowing everyone to be on the same page in a crisis.”

Common sense, he said will aid them as well, in keeping eyes and ears open as anniversary dates come up on the calendar this year, for instance, the first anniversary in February of the  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.

On to brighter subjects, all incumbents up for election on the on the AUSD Board of Trustees at the end of 2018 were re-elected, which, said Butler, helps in uniformity of goal setting.

“An important marker of this board has been their sound financial stewardship,” he said, “we’re in a better position than many other local districts because of [the board’s] careful management.”

The Board also passed their California-state mandated 2018-2020 LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) in May of 2018, with a new focus on academic and behavioral support mechanisms. The behavioral elements have a lot in common with mental health and maintaining a safe learning environment but, Butler said, it’s broader, including “development of citizenship goals. We’re working turning kids into scholars, in the pursuit of academics or of a trade.”

To help do that a number of improvement projects are underway, a shortlist of which is:

reconstruction or modernization of the Creston Elementary School; similar work at the San Benito Elementary School slated for June 2019; and various projects at the Atascadero High School such as new girls’ locker room facilities and tennis courts.

Some of the projects going forward will use the last of bonds approved to be issued on the financial markets, expected to garner $13 million. Construction is already underway for new classrooms at the high school with lab and shop equipment.

“A big coup for us this year is that we’ve hired on two Special Education teachers who will start in June,” Butler said, adding that is considered a win because even though they have approximately 35 new teachers in the District this year, recruiting for that special certification is a statewide challenge. “They’re in high demand because every district is looking for applicants with that credential.”

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