VUSD exceeds county test scores, superintendent strives further

Visalia Unified superintendent reveals student assessment test scores are higher than the county average, highlights other accomplishments made for Visalia schools

VISALIA – Students with Visalia Unified School District are testing at higher rates than other schools in the county and the Visalia superintendent hopes to take them even higher with the groundwork laid out for the 2022-23 school year.

Superintendent Kirk Shrum gave a final update on his superintendent entry plan at the district’s board of trustees meeting on Oct. 11. As a part of his update, Shrum shared the school district’s preliminary 2021-22 state test scores, which are also known as California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) scores, for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Although this version of the test was a shorter version than tests from previous years, the scores revealed that, overall, Visalia students outperformed the average for all school districts in Tulare County.

“It’s good to see that we are leading some other districts within our community,” Shrum said. “Of course, what I hope for Visalia Unified is that not only do we lead next year in the data cycle as the highest performing district within the county, but I would love for us to be the highest performing district within the region, and then eventually the state.”

For Visalia Unified, 41.75% of students met or exceeded their grade-level average in CAASPP test scores for ELA. When it comes to mathematics, only 24.88% of students met or exceeded the standard, but still succeeded the average for all county school districts, which came out to 22.22%. The county average for ELA was 38.03%.

Although this can be considered a “bright spot” for Visalia schools and the district is happy with the information, Shrum said these numbers are not where the district wants to be. He said this school year sets the groundwork for a new baseline and the numbers will not be the same next year.

“I’m not going to be satisfied, this district team is not going to be satisfied, until every one of our kids is college and career ready,” Shrum said.

Prior to the district’s search for a superintendent last year, the community of Visalia was given a survey of what they expect from the role, and Shrum said they requested someone with vision, leadership capabilities and who is positioned to be great. The community was also clear about finding a superintendent who would focus on student academics, communication and safety.

“All of this helped provide the context that I needed to use to develop an entry plan and think about what some of our first actions would be,” Shrum said.

Shrum used three words to label the steps he took in his mission to meet those requests: engage, examine and envision. He said the three words were chosen intentionally because each one represented a phase with intentional actions he ensured to take.

When it came to the “engage” phase, Shrum said he went out into the community, spoke with different groups and listened to as many community members as he could. He said he took immediate action to speak with school stakeholders, like district leaders and community service clubs. He also attended school and community events, visited every school campus and facility and held staff and community engagement forums.

“I want to be clear, just because I’m ending the entry plan phase of the work, that engagement continues, that doesn’t just end,” Shrum said. 

The “examine” phase of his plan was of a certain importance, according to Shrum. He said he took a look at the academic data, budgeting and operations, culture and climate, communication practices and organizational designs for Visalia schools to identify strengths and where improvements were needed.

The final “envision” phase had the superintendent consolidating information as it was gathered from the engagement process and identified through his examinations. He said he was quick to take the necessary steps for the current school year in direct response to survey responses. 

Shrum’s accomplishments to date

On par with the superintendent’s entry plan, VUSD acted immediately to improve academics for the 2022-23 school year. This included adopting a three-year math requirement to increase postsecondary education for VUSD students; providing 24/7 tutoring for students grades fourth through twelfth with the online tutoring service Paper; the development of the district’s learning and leadership division to focus on student learning achievements; the development of the One Visalia Connected initiative to supply students with meaningful community engagement; and the development of two district director positions to focus on athletics and visual and performing arts in Visalia schools.

When it comes to student and staff safety, the school district implemented a new campus security system through Raptor Technologies. It now conducts background checks on visitors and makes it easy to quickly communicate any emergencies to staff and families. There was also the addition of Transfinder for school transportation staff, which provides staff with routing guidance and can be used as a communication tool with parents through the district’s information system if a bus is running late and they are concerned. 

Additionally, there was the development of safety and student conduct positions to focus on student and staff safety, as well as the development of a counseling structure for students of all grades to ensure students have access to academic and social-emotional counseling.

There was the development of a district communications department to properly provide relevant and accurate information to school stakeholders, which consists of students, parents, educators, policy-makers and the business community. There was also an update to the district’s website, site news notifications and social media campaigns.

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