When Brian Stephens, Ed.D., joined Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) in 2014, he found a district that had been facing declining enrollment and the associated budget cuts. Dr. Stephens also found a driven and committed group of district leaders, who had been doing everything they could to ensure that students in Tracy were receiving a high-quality education. Teachers were innovating, but on their own, and the district was supporting them as best they could in the face of tens of millions of dollars in forced budget cuts.
Local Control Funding Formula had been applied, but was not effectively driving strategic planning. For the 17,000 students that the district served, Dr. Stephens knew he needed to do something profoundly different. Something that would ensure that students in Tracy were prepared for college and career, and that every adult in the school district was working together to achieve this goal.
He also knew that funding doesn’t drop from the sky, and that he couldn’t be caught every year reacting to the changes in district budgets. Dr. Stephens needed to get in front of the budget process to find money somewhere to turn his vision into reality. And that’s where Pivot came in.
Tracy Unified was invited by Pivot to join a group of districts that were working on an innovative new program, Smarter School Spending. This unprecedented collaboration between the nonprofit and the school district has a singular focus on strategic planning and budgeting to support the district’s success.
The first step: get the heads of business and academics talking together.
Second step: figure out exactly what they were doing that was moving the needle on student achievement. Put money behind that. And replicate it.
Easier said than done.
Undaunted by the journey ahead, Tracy Unified committed to the work. A Design Team of district leaders met with Pivot Learning to move the process forward. So far, they have identified $1.2M that they can better allocate to meet their instructional goals. And they have committed to early literacy and ensuring 9th grade success as the two most important priorities to impact student success.
To build sustainability and capacity for the work, almost 50 school and district leaders are meeting regularly to develop a deeper understanding of the process and tools, and how they can be applied to their budgeting and planning process in alignment.
Even more important—at least as Dr. Stephens sees it—is the learning that they have done about how to engage in a process like this. He commented: “Even if this work were to end tomorrow, the fundamental way we work together as a district has changed, and this collaboration will be felt for years to come.”
Tracy, CA, situated between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley, is a community originally formed as a stop on the Trans Pacific Railroad. Now, with a population of around 87,000, it is the second largest city in San Joaquin County. TUSD students are 49% Hispanic/Latino, 25% English Language Learners, and 46% of students are eligible for free/reduced lunch.
Pivot Learning is a nonprofit organization of K-12 education experts working shoulder-to-shoulder with schools, districts, and charters to address their biggest challenges in teaching and learning, equitable education spending, and leadership development.