Saugus Union head hosts talk

Dr. Hawkins engages in a conversation with both parents and guardians of the school district to discuss her vision for the upcoming school year, and beyond. Eddy Martinez/The SIgnal.

Superintendent Colleen Hawkins hosted the first of three Coffee with the Superintendent meetings on Thursday in which she, along with parents and district staff, shared their vision for the Saugus Union School District.

“What’s next for our K-6 students?” Hawkins asked the crowd in attendance at Plum Canyon Elementary School. “How are we going to prepare them and give them those foundational tools?”

Saugus Union’s newest superintendent has worked in education for 26 years across five districts, but Hawkins said she can’t answer these questions on her own.

“I want to be able to make sure the decisions we make as an organization are truly representative of the district, and not of a single voice or location,” Hawkins said. “Plum Canyon, West Creek and all of the schools are very unique and different,” which is why the 20 or so community members in attendance Thursday were asked to name a few programs that they’d like to start, stop and continue in the district.

After visiting various schools in the district, Hawkins noted the growing importance of science labs, which is something she’d like to continue.

“They are so important to the students,” Hawkins said, adding that she can’t wait to develop what the instruction will look like in these new 21st-century classrooms. She hopes the district will focus on growing the arts and technology-focused classes, such coding and robotics.

Attendees agreed that science labs and 21st-century classrooms were important to the district and Plum Canyon Elementary School, along with a vegetable food cart and a teacher roundtable.

The idea of a dual-immersion program, which Hawkins discussed at the beginning of the meeting, piqued everybody’s interest.

“Our kids would be biliterate by the time they’re in sixth grade,” Hawkins said to attendees after they asked for more information on the program.

“Basically, what you do is start with a group of kindergartners,” and choose a target language, such as Spanish, Korean or Vietnamese, that you want the kids to know, Hawkins said. The young children are then put into a classroom mixed with children who speak one of the chosen languages.

During the first year, students are instructed using only the target language for about 90 percent of time spent in class, Hawkins said. “By the end of third grade, students transition to a 50-50 model, which is 50 percent English and 50 percent the target language,” and by the time they finish seventh grade, students have finished their high school foreign language requirements, are completely bilingual and are prepared to learn a third language, such as Mandarin, Hawkins said.

“It’s an amazing, amazing program,” Hawkins added, “and I never thought it could be done with a group of kids who primarily spoke English” and had parents who spoke no other foreign language.

There a few steps Saugus must take before establishing a dual-immersion program, but Hawkins cited the William S. Hart Union High School District and College of the Canyons as two potential partners that could help.

The meeting then moved to cover what parents would like the district to stop, “and I always get cautious with this one because some things are state- and federally mandated,” Hawkins said.

The elimination of colored behavior charts was the only suggestion presented by the audience, who favored the continuation of the positive behavioral interventions and supports program and anti-bullying campaigns.

“We would never publicly correct the behavior or performance of an adult in the district, so why would we do that with our children?” said Julie Olsen, a Saugus parent and board member.

Before the meeting closed, the audience suggested that the district continue instruction with Chromebooks and iPads, as well as the Skype Scientist program in the upcoming year, and beyond.

“If you try to compare the district to any other in the state, you can’t find another,” Hawkins said, adding that this is why it’s important to gather information from the community at events like this.

District staff will read and categorize the suggestions that parents made, Hawkins said. “This data will help drive a presentation to the board on Sept. 8.”

Those who were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting can attend one of the two upcoming meetings, scheduled 6-7 p.m. Monday at West Creek Academy and 9:45-10:45 a.m. Thursday at Mountainview Elementary School.

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