HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//EDUCATION | In Hayward’s impoverished Jackson Triangle
neighborhood, just 16 percent of ninth graders attended class on a daily basis and just 34 percent of seniors at Tennyson High School graduated last year, according to a report this week.

The Hayward City Council held a hearing on a one year update on the Promise Neighborhood Initiative that focuses on education and safety in the Jackson Triangle which aims to increase school attendance, test scores and parent interaction with children’s education. The first-year report by Library Commissioner Sean Reinhardt noted low school attendance and graduation rates the counsel drew grave concern over.

The Promise Neighborhood Initiative is part of a federal grant from the Department of Education. The California State University East Bay, was one of the five recipients in the nation to be awarded a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant that aims to provide a continuous pathway from kindergarten to college that has guiding principles to help assist this goal. It also aims to make a healthier, more active and safer community. The partners in the implementation include, the Hayward Unified School District, including the adult school, Eden Area Regional Occupational Program, Chabot College and the Child Care Coordinating Council of Alameda County.

A couple major themes stuck out from Tuesday night’s discussion, attendance, graduation rates and education reform. Mayor Michael Sweeney began the questioning drilling home his concern over the poor attendance. “A couple of stats here are of a great concern. We are going beyond API [Academic Performance Index] scores here which we already know are horrible. This average daily attendance for 2012 is 75 percent for 6th grade, 22 percent for 7th, 29 percent for 8th and 16 percent for 9th grade. How do you explain that?” questioned Sweeney. Reinhardt said the school district’s wide attendance is at 90 percent but the data given was just the Jackson Triangle and was pulled from the Department of Education and needed to be confirmed. Sweeney was not amused, “That is not a very good excuse for not explaining this data,” said Sweeney, “Unless these numbers go up, this is going to fail, this whole thing is going to go up in flames.”

Sweeney also noted the level of graduates in 2012 with 75 percent from Hayward High School compared to a low of 34 percent to Tennyson High School. “These are just a couple of the areas that we need some breakthroughs and if not then you can forget about the rest of it. If kids are not coming to school and we can’t get them to graduate then they will not be successful in college,” said Sweeney.

Melinda Hall, Hayward Promise Neighborhood project manager, further elaborated on Reinhardt’s defense on the lack of confirmation on low attendance scores. “There are two ways of looking at attendance. There is the chronic absentee and the average daily attendance and I think there is an error between those,” said Hall who promised to have a more specific answer on that soon.

Despite that, other council members agreed with the Mayor over the dismal attendance, graduation rates and low API scores. Although, despite low API scores Reinhardt did say there was a small increase in scores for some schools over the years but overall ranged mostly in low 600 to the 700 when proficiency is expected to be at 800, a B grade level.

Other council members, like Greg Jones, Mark Salinas and Marvin Peixoto, focused on a second theme on Tuesday’s night’s meeting, education reform. Salinas called for radical reform, “I understand the Mayor’s point on students needing to be present and that’s important but also I think this is an opportunity to really think about radically changing the school structure. Here is an opportunity to really start something new,” said Salinas. Peixoto agreed, “There has not been much change structurally when it comes to education. We are still operating the same old way like we did 40 or 50 years ago when we were an agrarian society. When kids went home for the summer and picked fruit and that’s why they got three months off. This old model is not the best structure for education,” said Peixoto.

“That’s a pretty heavy duty question,” said Hall, “but from my perspective there is some things happening around this particular grant on how instruction is changing.” Hall noted that they are moving away from students opening text books and answering questions at the end of the chapter and doing packets. Peixoto also noted the importance of technical training for those who do not want to go to college. Hall further agreed in pursuing that road as well and added that technical college is thriving in California.

Representatives of the program also said a current assembly bill aims to partner different California promise neighborhood programs from Los Angeles, Chula Vista and San Francisco.

Although some change has happened, such as a small uptick in academic scores, the program takes some time to have a significant impact, said Hall. The program is based off of the Harlem Children’s Zone project that Hall said evolved on its own and did not start as a grant. But based off of that project it takes a “long time to make the systemic change but they weren’t as fortunate to have schools as partners,” said Hall.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.