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MUSD: Waiting for Hollywood
Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer talks about his Parker pen collection. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
There are 23,400 students on 30 campuses in the Manteca Unified School District.

Even so, Jason Messer as superintendent is aware of five Sequoia School eighth graders who, teachers and the principal have identified, are at risk of dropping out of school eventually.

Messer sees his role as providing whatever support he can in the way of district resources to prevent that from happening in the next few years.

He is not satisfied with Manteca’s dropout rate that is just under 4 percent. The national average dropout rate is 4.4 percent. Statewide it is 20.1 percent.

Contrast that with Stockton Unified where the dropout rate is 17.7 percent.

In Stockton it is an issue of trying to simply identify who the dropouts are. In Manteca Unified, it has gotten to the point where they are keying in on struggling kids who are at risk of dropping out and trying to find ways to work with them to keep them in school.

The state is tackling the drop-out issue as if all school districts in California are at the double-digit level even though many, like Manteca Unified, have moved beyond the basic issues and are trying to fine tune efforts to cut the dropout rate as close to zero as possible.

It is one example of the fallacy of a one-size-fits-all approach that the state has taken toward school districts since assuming more and more control with passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 that allowed them to attach strings to money that replaced lost local property tax revenue.

It also helps re-enforce a misconception that Messer and many other educators believe exist that public education is failing across-the-board.

“We’re waiting for Hollywood and not Superman to tell the story of public education in Manteca and most schools in California,” Messer said in reference to the motion picture “Waiting for Superman.”

The movie takes the best of private sector education and compares it to the worst in public education.

“We’re waiting for Hollywood to tell our story and compare the best of public education with the best of private education,” Messer added.

Messer referenced polls that show 80 percent of respondents nationwide are satisfied with the education that public schools provide their children.

Messer: Schools
are not failing
Messer noted the state’s one-size-fits-all approach coupled with generalization such as “Waiting for Superman” focuses on are two big ways that the true success story of public education is being missed. While he doesn’t argue that there is room for improvement, he challenges assertions that the system is failing.

Among Manteca Unified bench marks in the past several years that point to making significant headway includes:

• Elevating French Camp School to such a significant level in state test scores that it went from the list of schools at-risk of being forced into what is essentially a mandatory takeover mode from the state to a point students are performing so well that has been weaned off Title I money designed to help struggling schools.

• Manteca Unified school scores show steady growth in the state’s Academic Performance Index until last year when they slipped one point from 751 to 750. The statewide performance target for all public schools is 800 with scores ranging from 200 to 1,000 in the subject areas of language arts.

• All 20 elementary sites received API scores of 738 or above.

• Four out of the five high schools registered API scores of 703 or above.

• Sierra High reached an API score of 750.

• Nine schools met or exceeded their school-wide API growth target.

• Fifteen schools had growth or no loss in their API scores.

• Brock Elliott, George McParland, and Stella Brockman schools have been selected as 2010 Distinguished Elementary Schools due to their academic achievements and for narrowing achievement gaps.

Messer credits Manteca Unified’s success despite budget cuts to three factors: a focused school board, a professional staff that has stepped up to the challenges, and a supportive community.

That is part of the story he believes Hollywood needs to tell.