California Teaching and Leadership Conference

California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell unveiled his new version of the three R’s to more than 200 educators at the 2nd annual CalServe Service-Leadership event at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim Tuesday afternoon.
Educators from all around the state of California came to the three day conference to celebrate the 11 schools that received the 2009 California Service-Learning Award. The award was given to schools that could integrate leadership in the community into their normal curriculum for at least two consecutive years and for as many as five.
O’Connell said these schools are setting examples every school in California should try to strive for by following his three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships.
“The rigor, you need for your curriculum, you need to prepare your students for the future,” said O’Connell. “The relevance, the applicability, you are able to identify a potential career path for students. And the relationships, perhaps with careers, perhaps with colleges or perhaps with work adjacent to the schools.”
These three parameters are ways to ensure schools continue following the new service-learning requirement. O’Connell feels these three R’s will continue to break the achievement gap, which he has been trying to eliminate since he began his career in 2002.
“Service-Learning really is the key component to help us close the achievement gap,” O’Connell said. “The achievement gap, for me, is the biggest civil rights issue of this decade, it absolutely must be addressed. We admit we have an achievement gap, it’s real, it’s persistent, and for the first time it’s narrowing… we need to remain focused on these three new R’s, so that you really do incorporate those three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships, we need to make sure we are that bridge.”
O’Connell also said he was proud of the test results California has demonstrated in relation to the rest of the country. O’Connell said state superintendents from North Dakota, Delaware and Rhode Island couldn’t even believe how well California was doing considering its diversity.
“We have a very diverse student population, we have the student population with the greatest potential on the planet…48 percent Latino, 31 percent White, 8 percent African American and 8 percent Asian,” said O’Connell.
Connie Pekedis, an educator from West Contra Costa Unified School District in Northern California, received the award last year for one of her district’s schools, De Anza High School. Among some of the things she said schools in her district did to integrate service into the classroom were recycling plastic bottles, donating the money to the Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and creating and distributing pamphlets in Spanish about how to survive a big earthquake. De Anza High School, one of six recipients of the award last year, studied the economics of poverty and created hygiene kits, delivering those kits to the homeless shelter. They also made pamphlets on raising awareness for global warming.
Pekedis said O’Connell was a nice change of pace from the otherwise monotonous conference that educators had been at since early Monday morning.
“Most of this conference has been repetition, that was something different, so it was good to hear about something different like the diversity rates and narrowing the achievement gap,” said Pekedis.
Mark Batenburg, Executive Director of Youth Serve California, hosted the event. He said his non-profit organization teaches students the skills necessary to perform once they graduate and gives them the empowerment to feel they can make a difference in the world. Batenburg was impressed with O’Connell’s delivery.
“That was a side of him I hadn’t seen before, he was very personable and funny,” said Batenburg.
O’Connell frequently made jokes and told little anecdotes throughout his speech to keep the educators’ attention high since the conference lasts three full days. Amidst his jokes and anecdotes, O’Connell finished with an urgent message about the poor economy.
“If you want to invest in the future, invest in education,” O’Connell said. “And the best economic stimulus we could have is to invest in public education.”
The 11 recipients of the Service-Learning Award, given out by O’Connell, were Discovery Bay Elementary School, Edwin Rhodes Elementary School, Etna Elementary School, John L. Webster Elementary School, Nevin Avenue Elementary School, Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School, Pacific School, Rocklin Elementary School, Tustin Memorial Academy, Valley View Elementary School and Yosemite National Park Valley School.
O’Connell has been the California state superintendent for seven years. He previously represented the 18th District on the California State Senate for eight years. O’Connell is a real proponent of expanding service-learning statewide. He has been focused on closing the achievement gap and preparing students for the rapidly changing economy throughout his entire career. Another focus he has been vocal about is the need to support relationships between schools and communities in order to bring real world experiences to a student’s studies.
“Service-learning makes academic content come alive as students apply their knowledge and skills to real-life situations,” O’Connell said. “Students become more engaged in their studies and see that they can make a difference.”
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