Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
Created: 02/09/2011 07:10:13 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – County Schools Superintendent Gary Thomas envisioned a future where students thrive in schools that are open 24 hours a day in his annual State of Education speech Wednesday.

In that future world, based on the book “Edutopia” by author Alvin Toffler, different kids arrive at different times, teachers work with non-teachers and technology is infused into every aspect of the environment.

“We are a populace in transition and our students live in a different world,” he told the crowd gathered at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts. “Let’s envision the future of what public education can be and what it can do.”

Slowly but surely, county schools are moving toward that future, with many notable gains in recent years, he said.

Among them are gains in academic achievement that outpaced the state average in terms of growth on California’s measure of school performance, the Academic Performance Index, or API, last year.

“With 22 more schools surpassing the state standard of 800 on the API from the prior year, a record 169 county schools have reached the state benchmark,” he said. “There were also nine additional schools that passed 900 in API growth for the first time.”

In another sign of growth, eight schools from the county exited Program Improvement, or PI, which is the federal intervention for schools that do not meet their accountability measurements for two consecutive years. Four of those schools were in Year 5 of PI.

Audience member Linda Smith, president of Four-D College, praised the growth and Thomas’ vision for the future.

“I am happy to know we have leadership that is thinking outside the box to reach out and educate the youth of San Bernardino County,” she said.

Although still high, the dropout rate has also declined from 22.5 percent in the 2007-2008 school year to 21.6 percent in the 2008-2009 school year.

Meanwhile, the state dropout rate increased from 18.9 percent to 21.5 percent.

Thomas credited the decline to the Call to Action – Everyone Counts initiative, a partnership of educators, community members, politicians and others.

Other sources of pride he touched on are the success of Regional Occupational Programs, the county’s Alliance for Education and improvements in school safety.

To further get across his message, videos of real people who have been helped by county programs were shown throughout the speech.

All the good work, however, is at risk because of the state’s budget crisis.

Thomas described Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to avoid more cuts to K-12 education in his proposed budget as tenuous at best.

Brown is banking on voter approval of the five-year extension of tax revenues to shore up $12billion to cover roughly half of the state’s projected $25.4billion shortfall.

But if voters in June reject the request or the Legislature cannot muster a two-thirds majority to put the question on the ballot, K-12 schools stand to lose $2billion in funding at a minimum.

“The revenue extension will hold our resource-starved schools steady in a best-case scenario,” said Thomas. “This disinvestment in education is choking the economic engine of the state and breaking the promise of opportunity to students.”

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