The ending of a school year provides the opportunity for reflection. The 2012-13 school year was an outstanding year for students in the Benicia Unified School District. Our students excelled in all areas: academics, music, the arts, theater and athletics. Our academic achievement continues to be the strongest in the county. Our district Academic Performance Index (API) score has increased steadily; it’s grown to 857. BMS and BHS are the highest performing secondary schools in the county and Benicia High was included in the list of the top 200 high schools in California. Our passage rate for the high school exit exam is just under 100%. Our graduating seniors received over 1.2 million dollars in scholarships and will be attending some of the top universities in the state and the nation. We are also proud of two of our seniors who will be attending West Point this fall. The Panther Band continues to rank among the best in California and our Middle School Band was selected to lead the parade down Disneyland’s Main Street this spring. Of our 22 athletic teams, 13 finished in first place and won SCAC Championships. Our Drama Department won numerous Arty Awards, the high school equivalent of the Academy Award, including the Best Overall High School Musical. Our high school yearbook won the prestigious Gallery of Excellence Walsworth Publishing Award, given only to the top 5% of yearbooks. We had 17 Odyssey of the Mind Teams compete and two that made it to the state level. Our students are excelling at extraordinary levels and continue to make us proud.

Benicia Unified has gone through five years of substantial budget cuts, but as a result of the passage of Proposition 30, we will see some improvement in the upcoming year. Despite these challenging financial times, our schools have not only survived, but students have thrived—thanks to the talented and dedicated teachers and staff of Benicia Unified, and the support of our parent community, the Benicia Education Foundation, our PTGs and Booster Groups. The state legislature has recently passed historic legislation that will change the way education is funded in districts throughout California. The Local Control Funding Formula is intended to provide more flexibility to local boards and districts. Over the next eight years it will restore funding to the 2008-2009 levels. How this changing funding model will affect Benicia Unified remains to be seen.

This year we began implementation of Common Core Standards. These are a coherent progression of learning expectations in English Language Arts and Mathematics, and are designed to prepare K-12 students for the increasing demands of college and career. They are the result of a national effort, and have been adopted in 44 states. Implementation of Common Core Standards requires a change in curriculum, instructional strategies and assessments. This year a BUSD teacher on special assignment led the efforts on Common Core and next year lead teachers from BMS and BHS will help support these efforts.

A major focus for 2012-13 was the improvement of our technology infrastructure to support twenty-first century learning for students. Increasing bandwidth and providing wireless capabilities required significant time, effort and financial commitment, but we’re pleased that we will start next year with both. Our teachers are anxiously awaiting the improvements to support their instruction. We have cutting-edge teachers ready to utilize this improved technology—they are to be applauded for their continuous learning. Many have received Masters in Educational Technology, provided at BHS through Touro University, in order to better serve our students.

State assessments will change significantly in 2014-2015 with the implementation of Smarter Balanced Assessments; and all state assessments will be done online. We have much work to do to prepare for the new system but we’re on our way. We are also focusing on improving early education, and implemented a successful Transitional Kindergarten program for our youngest kindergarteners this year.  Next year we will have a district preschool at every elementary school. Our district continues to strengthen its academic programs while providing a well-rounded curriculum and extensive extra-curricular activities. We couldn’t do this without the support of our wonderful community.