GUEST COLUMN | Forward Together: Reflections on the First Three Months of the School Year

Hello Visalia Community, 

As I wrap up my entry plan and first six months as Superintendent, I want to thank you for being so welcoming and inviting as I joined this great community. I have had the opportunity to meet many parents, community leaders, students, and staff since being named superintendent. 

Immediately upon becoming superintendent, the board and I reviewed feedback from our community, families, staff, and students that was gathered through surveys and forums, and we took decisive action. Your voice matters. The following key investments can be attributed to our Board listening and responding, and we are just getting started! 

  • Academics
    • Established a three-year math requirement for graduation
    • Began offering a 24/7 online, chat-based tutoring system for students in grades 4-12 called Paper
  • Student and Staff Safety
    • Implemented Raptor Technologies – a comprehensive visitor and emergency management platform with real time support for staff
    • Approved a robust transportation information system called Transfinder to keep track of bus riders in real-time and communicate alerts to families
    • Hired additional site and district personnel focused on safety and student conduct
  • Communications
    • Developed an intentional communications plan with daily engagement via four major social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok)
    • Hosted and implemented roundtables and advisories to gather stakeholder feedback Our Board also knew that in order to provide direction for the future, we needed a vision, so,our Board developed core beliefs and commitments.

I am proud that our Board spent the entire month of August thinking deeply and intentionally about what the district should believe in and be committed to. Our district’s core beliefs and commitments are:

Our core beliefs and commitments provide a strong framework for key areas of focus. Additionally, they unify the Board and district staff to ensure we are all focused on the main thing – the betterment of our students. The key investments and development of our core beliefs and commitments were necessary to ensure that our students receive the highest quality educational experience. 

This October, we received our student results from last spring’s state tests in English language arts and mathematics for students in grades three through eight and eleven.

The results below represent the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency on their grade-level standards. 

  • 41.75% English language arts 
  • 24.88% mathematics Visalia Unified outperformed Tulare County’s average in almost all student groups, and was the second highest performing district in the county as a whole.

I want the community to know that coming out of this pandemic, our staff, students, and families have worked hard to keep students focused on academics, and I am proud of their efforts. I also want you to know that we are not satisfied with these scores. I have declared publicly that we will be the highest performing district in the county, and then the highest performing district in the Valley; and in future years, the highest performing district in the state. 

We need to produce the highest-quality academically and socially rounded graduates–with all graduates being college and/or career ready. This will be the fulfillment of our Board’s beliefs and commitments. Our students’ success rests not only on the shoulders of our district, but the entire community. 

This is why our Board developed the One Visalia Connected initiative. Research confirms that when a student is connected to a meaningful activity or mentor outside of the classroom, the likelihood of them excelling rises. The goal of this initiative is to connect every student to a meaningful activity, thereby increasing their chances for success. 

To develop this initiative we have been engaged in hearing from leaders throughout Visalia including: civic, community-based organizations, education, faith, and industry. In addition, we have been seeking feedback internally through my Superintendent’s Advisories which include staff, students, and families. 

I am confident that connecting with our students on a deeper level will be transformative for all of Visalia. I am so proud of the work each of our 3,500 staff members do each and every day to ensure that our students receive the best education possible. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us. If we truly want to see our students succeed, they need to see us be One Visalia Connected. Our Board has provided us with the first foundational steps in moving forward together, and we are committed to continuing to create ongoing opportunities for listening and feedback sessions. Please join the Board, myself, and all of our Visalia Unified team in opening up every opportunity for our students to be successful. 

I Believe In, I Belong In, I am VUSD. 

Kirk Shrum Superintendent

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