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Manteca Unified embraces regions
schoolsS1 8-27-08
Students cross the quad at Lathrop High between classes. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca Unified is school district of 24,500 students  on its way to becoming 50,000 students if all of the housing plans in Manteca and Lathrop come to fruition.

Such numbers makes it easy to lose track of students and develop disconnect between schools.

It is why more than two years ago Manteca Unified embarked on a system where schools are clustered into eight regions based on the need to articulate programs as well as other common denominators. While some grouping are what you might expect — elementary feeder schools paired with a high school — half of the regions are based on other commonalities such as being more traditional country schools.

The largest region addresses the education of 5,000 students.

It is akin to mega-churches that operate “smaller churches” within a massive congregation so that connections can more easily be established.

Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher says a region approach allows schools to work seamlessly in identifying struggling students, tracking them, and taking steps to adjust programs to improve their academic performance.

“It’s not organized with the high school principal in charge,” District Superintendent Jason Messer said.

The reason is no one wanted to slip into the trap where decisions would be handed down by placing the emphasis on the high school. Instead those leading each region come from the elementary ranks to help secure a more holistic approach to programs and classroom collaboration.

It allows eighth grade math teachers to not just have an understanding of the high school level curriculum but provides insight for high school teachers to see just how their future students are doing as well as what adjustments may need to be made to help assure their success.

When the district was looking for a way to make sure the educational programs were manageable and effective as Manteca Unified grew, they heeded advice from Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke who worked with a similar system at Elk Grove Unified School District. The south Sacramento County school district with 64,000 students is the fifth largest in the state.

The district has been using the region approach in a variety of ways. They are able to do such things as identity interest of seventh and eighth graders to adjust high school elective offerings.

But perhaps more importantly they can more closely monitor students who are struggling not just to keep tabs on them so they don’t fall through the cracks but to also coordinate multiple year efforts effectively using a collaborative team approach to tailor teaching as much as possible to address deficiencies.

 “Our elementary and high schools have been developing strong vertical articulation in region meetings,” noted Clara Schmiedt Manteca Unified Director of Secondary Education. “These meetings are held quarterly and there are discussions among administrators regarding how students are doing when they reach the 9th grade. There has been an even greater focus on at-risk students throughout our system. The high school and elementary school teachers and administrators meet several times a year to discuss academics and curriculum needs for students. There are days when coaches, band directors, JROTC, and other electives go to the elementary schools to present their programs.”

The effort has led to high school, counselors meeting with at risk 7th and 8th graders several times during the school year in a bid to build a relationship with students and support them to do better.

Other ways the effort works is through high school tournaments staged for Acorn League sports teams and elementary students being invited to see high school plays.

At Lathrop High and Weston Ranch High, feeder school 8th graders will travel to the high school to participate in band and choir.