Butler outlines full year of successes, achievements

ATASCADERO — Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Butler delivered his “State of the District” speech before the AUSD board of trustees Tuesday evening, painting a picture of a bright future for the district, its teacher, staff and students. 

“We’re in a good spot right now,” Butler said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve got the right people in place, and we’ve got the will to do it.” 

Butler outlined successes and challenges at AUSD in several different areas, beginning with the reduction of class sizes in Kindergarten through the third grade, which the board has made a priority in recent years. According to Butler, the average number of students in each K-3 class has dropped from 29.33 students in the academic year 2018/19 to 26.53 students this year. 

“You can see how nice those numbers are,” Butler said. “It gives those students that little bit of extra time with the teacher, a little bit of extra attention.” 

Butler also praised the board’s direction to make citizenship a priority for students and outlined some ways that schools are teaching students to be good citizens and to look out for one another. 

“I’m so glad that our board has made citizenship a priority,” he said. “They grow up and they’re our neighbors — we want them to be good people, it’s better for our entire country.” 

Students in the district seem to agree that things are only getting better. Butler presented the results of a student survey that asked respondents to rate different aspects of their school on a scale from 1-5. When asked if the school provides an environment that encourages learning, the response from students went up a full point this year over last year. When asked if the school enforces rules equally, responses went from 3.49 to 3.79, and when asked if the school is safe, responses went from 2.88 to 3.87. 

“It’s good to see that our students are feeling supported in the classrooms,” Butler said. 

Butler said that the district has also seen success with the implementation of “thinking maps,” which encourage students to get their thoughts down on paper using whichever method appeals to them the most, from classic flow charts to the “double bubble” method. Butler said that the think maps were implemented at elementary schools three years ago, at the middle school last year and at the high school this year. 

“It supports eight different thinking processes that people have,” he said. “It’s the kids thinking — think maps always begin with one thing, a blank piece of paper. The students put their thoughts on the paper, not the teachers’.”

Butler said that two district schools were recognized for their outstanding practices this past year with Atascadero Middle School being named a California “School to Watch” and Paloma Creek High School being named a “California Model School.” Both schools, Butler said, would serve as a model for other schools in the state and the nation and help teach their practices to others. 

“It was so impressive to hear an outside source verify how well one of our schools is doing,” Butler said. 

Butler shared statistics about where AUSD students are heading after they graduate and expressed pride at the fact that 81 percent of graduates are pursuing one type of higher education or another. The vast majority of students — 56.5 percent — are opting to attend community colleges. Another 16.1 percent are attending universities or four-year colleges, 14.3 percent are immediately joining the workforce, 4.9 percent are spending time traveling, 4.6 percent are joining the military and 3.6 percent are attending trade or technical schools.

“So 81 percent of our kids are saying, ‘hey, I’m really interested in something’ and I think that says a lot about the school district,” he said.

Butler said that he’s happy that the board has decided to formalize “teacher leadership” and implement teams of teacher leaders and department chairs that help to develop curricula and monitoring operations in the district to make sure that they are conforming to state standards. 

“We’re stoked about doing better with academic achievement — putting those goals out in front of us — and the only way that we’re going to do that is by monitoring things closely.” 

Butler said that teachers have also responded positively to the district’s new professional development opportunities with 55.51 percent of teachers rating the opportunities as “excellent.” 41.26 percent of teachers rated the opportunities 4 on a scale of 5 and only 2.64 percent gave a 2 rating. 

“Our principals do a great job leading professional development on Fridays,” Butler said. “That positive spirit spills over at the district level. We’ve got a good thing going in this area right now.” 

Butler also provided a long list of the district’s achievements over the past year including Green Ribbon awards, the AHS Greybots winning the robotics world championship for the third time, half of the County Honor Band being made up of Atascadero students, the AHS softball and water polo teams going to CIF playoffs, school board member Donn Clickard winning a state award for School Board Member of the Year and the construction of new science and shop facilities at Atascadero High School. 

“This is a phenomenal complex we put it,” he said. “We got this one right. The high school just flows. You ask the kids about it and they’re just beaming. They have room to move and there’s room for all of the equipment. It was a really great use of band funds and it’ll be fun to open up the science and shops soon.” 

Getting through this together, Atascadero