Closing The Achievement Gap In Natomas

NUSD Candidates’ Plans
To Make It Happen

THE NATOMAS BUZZ asked the six candidates for school board, “Natomas schools have lower achievement results in low-income students and students of color. What in your opinion are the most important factors in raising student achievement? What measures should the school board take to improve student outcomes?” Here are the answers we received, in the order they were submitted. Click here for previous entries in this series.

The board has already taken a great step in hiring a new superintendent who has a history of closing the achievement gap and a commitment to doing so in our district. She has already made a positive impact on school climate. I am committed to supporting her in choosing the right team to make that happen for our kids.

We need to help equalize the opportunities these students have. I supported our reading program that provides books in primary grades that go home for students to keep. Sometimes these are the only books in that household. We need to make kids strong readers early so that their school experience is successful.

I support additional staff on our campuses who connect with students individually and help them know their education is important. These include teachers, counselors, librarians, classroom aides, and other mentors. I support restoring safe, supportive after-school tutoring and mentoring programs.

I will provide teachers with a data system that helps them identify specific student study needs and hold them accountable for serving each student. Students living in poverty often don’t have people in their lives who can take the time to make them feel they can achieve. I will work to make sure our staff are both pushing and supporting students toward their diploma and beyond.

I will continue to push staff to make schools a welcoming place for parent involvement and personal development.

I will continue questioning our outcomes and pushing for high achievement amongst all our kids.


The key indicator of student achievement is household income level. More than race, ethnicity or language spoken at home, if the family of a student is living in poverty, that child is less likely to achieve academic success. In the Natomas school district, many of our students of color and English Language learners live in low-income households.

That said, our current district officials are squandering funds that were intended to offset this income-based disadvantage. Our district is currently in Program Improvement status because it has failed our most vulnerable student population, even while pocketing millions of Title I funding dollars to address this very issue. For example, this week alone the school board voted unanimously to hire yet another “education consulting firm” at a cost of over $20,000 during the next two years.

Most parents in our district live at or near the poverty line and work long hours to provide for their families. Parents struggling to afford food and rent can’t easily set aside the time to review their children’s homework, or help them excel academically. For the sake of our children we must get our priorities in order!

We must spend our available resources for after-school programs, extra tutoring, and rehiring counselors so our high school students select the best courses. Let’s collaborate with our diverse non-profit resources and bring back summer school. This is a social justice issue. We must hold our school board accountable for wasteful spending, and put our education dollars back into the classroom.


Fifteen years ago my school had a high student failure rate just like many Natomas schools. We rationalized our circumstance by blaming the students and parents for our failure. We even developed grading, attendance, homework, class assignment policies to not only hide from parents but steer any blame away from the school. In meetings we used our college educated staff to overwhelm working parents to better illustrate that the parents, who had shown up to request our help, were the problem.

The fact was in those early days; very few staff believed they could actually make a difference. A change happened when a new principal, myself, and two other teachers were hired. The four of us believed that student failure was our failure. We attended workshop after workshop. We experimented, swapped stories and developed a set of instructional tools that excited and motivated students. Our scores went up and we were having fun. Our success infected the other staff members and fifteen years later our challenging student population outscores their counterparts in Natomas.

I would improve outcomes by demonstrating that all of Natomas’ children can truly learn and develop a capacity within the district to train teachers in methodologies that go beyond “direct instruction.”  I would also replace policies that blame students and their families with policies that assist and support. I will make sure all students are taught by credentialed teachers and make it a priority to give teachers all that they need to teach their classes.


It is mind boggling to know that for the last 10 years we have known 50% of our 9th graders will fail English I and 60% will fail Algebra I and have done nothing about it.

Attending a parent conference of a failing student corroborates the danger of the above statistic. As president of the Natomas Parent Alliance, I have attended many conferences and typically, within the first ten minutes, the focus of the meeting switches from how to help the student improve to what the student had not done. In these meetings teacher after teacher would be paraded in front of us to demonstrate that the student was not doing his/her work.

The question I proposed to each teacher was: What is your failure rate? It always amazed me that most teachers responded by saying that over 50% of their class was failing. Teachers who fail most of their classroom reflects teacher failure not student failure. Creating a syllabus, assigning lessons, and grading are only 10% of teaching; the other 90% is understanding student diversity, understanding students’ individual needs and being knowledgeable of instructional techniques that go beyond seat work and direct instruction.

As a new board member I would improve outcomes by training more teachers to use  a variety of assessments (formative, interim, and summative) to plan curriculum and develop related syllabi and related student lessons. I would also train school staffs on how to communicate more effectively with parents and stop hiding behind email and Power School.


First, I believe we need to be open an honest and not afraid of offending people with the truth. The truth is, throughout this nation African American students are on the low end of achievement in schools. The reason for this is because there are a percentage of African Americans who do not view the importance of education the same as others. To most, education does not lead to riches like athletics and entertainment so there is not focus on it.

During the 80’s education was a prime focus in a lot of African American homes. Two good reasons for this are:

1. A lot of parents at the time with school age students were children of the civil rights movement themselves and understood the importance of education.

2. There was an abundance of images of educated minorities on popular TV shows like The Cosby Show, which had an educational message subliminally written within the show. 

Thirty years later, the focus on education is simply not within the home nor is there a popular image that conveys the message of education.

We need to reach out to the parents and families of our students and not be afraid to ask questions about their children’s education in relation to home. This school board should advance its focus outside the classroom and into the home. By designating parent outreach committees the board will be able to bridge the gap between the classroom and home in order to increase minority student’s achievement.


Test scores are up 21 points Natomas this year alone and we are making strides in closing the achievement gap, but there is much more we can do.

The quality of a teacher in the classroom is the single most important factor in determining how well a child learns. Therefore, the most important factors in raising student achievement are retaining highly qualified and effective teachers, expanding and improving teacher support, increasing before and after school programs, building strong, honest partnership with the community and parents, and establishing programs to address the needs of all of our children.

Test results and the assessment of that information is the primary tool for the board to improve curriculum, teaching and the evaluation of programs. This information will be used to generate the data on which policy decisions are made. Educational assessment is an underpinning activity in every school and every district. It is the most vital component in innovation, higher standards and educational excellence.

The adoption of continual assessment is the most effective method for measuring student learning and teacher effectiveness. Therefore, the board must:
  • Design and implement rigorous standards and high quality assessments,
  • Develop stronger data reporting systems, and
  • Continue ongoing assessments of that data.
By promoting collaboration between business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders to raise student achievement, and implementing rigorous assessments of data, the success of our low-income and students of color will rise, closing the achievement gap. Please join me; this work CANNOT be done alone!


  1. Oh, come on Ryan! The Board approved a contract last week for a specialized educational contractor that will help the district bring in more funds. The specific program they were hired to implement is very paperwork intensive and it’s cheaper to hire an outside firm to manage this program than to bring someone in-house to do it. This was a prudent move and investment on behalf of the board. If you thought it was such a bad idea, why didn’t you say anything? You were there and could have made a public comment.

  2. Ryan Herche is right! We’re hiring consulting firms to do our paperwork now?! The board “invested” over a million dollars on “education consultants” in the last year alone. No wonder we’re so close to a state takeover! I’m sorry but there’s no way I’m voting for “experience” in this race. That “experience” has gotten us in this mess! It’s going to take new leadership to fix our budget problem.

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