COVID-19 numbers stabilize, says Superintendent

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) School Board of Trustees opened its regular session on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 7:00 p.m. with nothing to report from closed session.

The meeting opened with the recognition of Linda Preston and Randy Poudrier for each exemplifying the core value of excellence. San Gabriel staff and the families wanted to recognize Preston for showing her dedication as a temporary teacher over the first four weeks of school, during which time a full-time Kindergarten position had remained unfilled. Poudrier was spoken about very highly by his colleagues. “Randy’s one of those employees you can always rely on,” said Assistant Superintendent Curt Eichberger.

Principal Julie Ann Davis of Monterey Road Elementary School presented her school’s motto for the 2021-22 school year, “Keep calm and gallop on!” along with a “Positive Behavior Systems” treemap, goals of reinforcing behaving “the mustang way”, a student achievement treemap, and a positive reinforcement program for students powered by “mustang money.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero

Davis thanked the board for their approval last spring of additional counselors who are now on-site at all Atascadero Elementary Schools. Davis also thanked the teachers at her school.

“I could not be more proud of my teachers coming off of the last year and a half,” Davis said. “I am just so proud of their hard work and dedication in always striving for excellence. They work as a team, and that’s why our students are able to succeed.”

Principal Davis shared her goal of achieving the school’s best score yet in student proficiency, and she announced a partnership with One Cool Earth, where students participate in outdoor learning at least one day a week.

“We are retraining our students with all of our green practices,” said Davis. Outdoor learning spaces include the school’s garden as well as brand new surf desks, which allow students to learn while sitting on the grass outside. The surf desks were delivered just last week.

The meeting then turned to oral communications from the public.

Katie Fullerton was the first speaker. She expressed her frustration and embarrassment due to the timeline of the pool for the High School. She stated that she has a son who is a freshman at the high school and plays on the water polo team.

“Everybody has a pool, but us,” said Fullerton. She then asked a question regarding the status of the plans that was directed at Superintendent Butler, who responded that the plans have just come back from the architect and will be submitted to the Department of State Architecture for approval in October.

Board President George Shoemaker reminded all parties that the subject of the pool was not an agendized item and therefore could not be discussed in detail during this meeting.

The next speaker was Atascadero High School sophomore, member of ASB, and class officer, Riley Rocha. Rocha spoke on both the dress code and the new bell at the high school.

Rocha stated that she has fielded complaints from students bringing concerns to ASB regarding the current dress code and alleged that the current code is “one-sided” and biased against girls. She also stated that the dress code had not been changed since the 1900’s. Rocha spoke specifically about language in the dress code, which prohibits students from showing their breasts, midriffs, and thighs, and argued that these standards make it difficult to find clothing at stores that are in compliance with the dress code.

Rocha then shifted the topic to the new school bell. According to Rocha, many students had complained that it is hard to hear and that the old bell is better than the new one. “It’s just not really working out,” said Rocha. “It’s something that we have to fix.” Rocha related an instance in which she was tardy to one of her classes after a break simply because she had not heard the bell ring.

The next speaker was a junior “and a proud member of the student body” at Atascadero High School named Lauren, who also spoke on the school’s dress code, and “the treatment of girls in this system.” She went on to say, “I think the areas that are pointed out in the dress code, such as midriff, shoulders, collar bone, thighs, those things aren’t inherently sexual things.” She suggested that causing girls to cover these areas may be having the opposite effect as intended and argued that the current code is “pointing out that those are things that girls should be ashamed of.” Lauren said that clothing, especially for teenage girls, is a big part of self-esteem and that when teenage girls are told to wear clothes over these areas, it can be detrimental to their mental health. Lauren also addressed the perceived discrepancy between boys and girls in regards to dress code and pointed out that the High School’s website features a photograph of three shirtless boys at a football game with “AHS” written on their chest.

The Superintendent’s Report followed. Superintendent Butler gave an update on Coronavirus numbers, which he states are “trending in a pretty good direction.”

On the first day of school, there were 32 positive students, 0 positive staff members, and 0 deaths.

On the week of Aug. 23-29, there were 17 positive students, six positive staff members, and 0 deaths.

On the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 there were 16 positive students, two positive staff members, and 0 deaths.

On the week of Sept. 6 to Sept. 12 there were 17 positive students, two positive staff members, and 0 deaths.

On the week of Sept. 13 to Sept. 19 there were 15 positive students, two positive staff members, and 0 deaths.

“It’s definitely stabilized after coming back from summer,” said Butler, “and I want to remind everybody that those numbers I’m sharing are out of 4,634 staff and students, so that’s a pretty low percentage.”

Butler then went on to recap the Job Information night earlier in the afternoon and thanked Assistant Superintendent Eichperger for organizing the event. “I was so pleased with the number of people,” said Butler, “but I was thoroughly impressed by their quality.”

Butler then spoke of the Parent Advisory Committee meeting, which took place last week. A couple of parents on that advisory group have been big proponents of the outdoor furniture and have been sharing with all of the sites and PTAs the exciting solutions they’ve been finding for outdoor learning applications, such as the new surf desks. “Those are awesome!” said an inspired Butler. “It’s been a nice partnership with parents across the district to get more outdoor spaces.”

“I’m very pleased to share with the trustees that the Atascadero Lighthouse Afterschool Program is back!” The program is a collaboration between the Atascadero Lighthouse Foundation and the Greyhound Foundation to provide positive afterschool activity, primarily for elementary students.

Activities include Grow, Cook, Eat from One Cool Earth, where students learn about gardening and healthy cooking; Building Computers in which students take apart and reassemble computers in order to learn how to build them; Active Games, Just for Fun, Book Club, Bicycling with K-Man Cyclery, and Art.

Butler noted that those programs move from school to school, “so parents, look for those sign-ups! We hope you’ll participate.”

He then moved on to the topic of student behavior in which he alluded to an incident or potentially series of incidents that were not expounded upon, other than that they involved the app TikTok, and a popular “challenge” that involves causing damage or committing theft in public places. Butler encouraged parents to monitor what their children are doing on their devices and reminded everyone to “Do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. Be nice. Be kind.” He went on to say that “some of our students have gotten into a position that isn’t in their best interest right now.”

He then said, “One of the negatives (social media apps) could be TikTok. Those challenges are not okay, and I am digging the vibe I’m getting from the high schoolers. They’re nodding. Right on. Thank you for helping on this.”

He then pleaded with parents once again to “talk to your students about respecting our school property and other public properties…We certainly don’t want our students sidetracked by a social media craze, and so I’m asking our parents to partner up with us—I know you will—and to help support our students in a positive way.”

Finally, Butler thanked Nicole Hider, CAPS, and the entire team for an incredible fundraiser that raised “$57,000 that will be going into our classrooms, supporting incredible experiences that our teachers have designed for all of our kids across the district.”

Board Members Reports were next, and board members each took the time to thank Preston and Poudrier, Principal Davis, and each of the members of the public who spoke during the oral communications portion of the evening.

Trustee Tami Gunther said, “This whole TikTok thing—life is nothing if not choices, right? Sometimes we get swept along by what I call a pack mentality. It’s not us making the decision; it’s going along with whatever the crowd is doing, so Bravo to the kids who are thinking for themselves and making those wise decisions. For those who made a mistake and made a poor decision, I hope that those lessons are learned quickly and not repeated, and we sure appreciate the parent support in working with us to get that stopped.”

Gunther also announced that she would be attending her first in-person California School Board Association (CSBA) Board Meeting this weekend and that she will have a report for them at the next meeting.

The Action Items for the evening came next, and the minutes for the meeting on Sept. 7 were approved unanimously, as was the Consent Agenda.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jackie Martin spoke on the topic of enrollment. She shared the good news that enrollment was better than had been budgeted for and the bad news that it was still lower than had been hoped for.

“Last year, we had 4,397 kiddos, and as of last Monday, we had 4,353 kiddos,” said Martin. “The positive is we projected that we would only have 4,285 students, so we’re 68 better than anticipated for this school year; however, we’re down 44 over the prior year.”

She then dispelled the misconception that attendance does not matter this year due to a “hold-harmless” allowance.

“Our funding will not change this year because we are on a hold-harmless from the 2019-20 year when enrollment was 4,600 kiddos,” said Martin, “but the lower our attendance is this year will impact next year and possible reductions down the road because of that huge decline, so we do want to try to keep our attendance up as high as possible so that we can continue to provide to our students those services that are needed.”

Martin then highlighted the “incredible growth” at San Gabriel that was far greater than anticipated. All of Atascadero’s elementary schools grew in attendance this year over the prior year, which Martin said was “interesting.” Atascadero’s secondary schools have all declined when compared to the prior year.

The final item of the evening was a vote on a resolution delegating power to the Superintendent to enter into specified contracts, which was approved unanimously.

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 8:12 p.m. and the next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.