Innovations in Education: Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs
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San Diego City Schools, California

District Demographics
Enrollment 138,613
Enrollment Trend Decreasing
Number of Schools 185
Population Type Urban
Subsidized Meals 56.4%
English Learners 29.4%
Special Needs 10.9%

In San Diego, poverty is not readily apparent to casual visitors who tend to be more familiar with the area's beautiful beaches, its world-famous zoo, and other tourist attractions. But in school year 2002-03, 56.4 of San Diego's almost 140,000 public school students were eligible for free or reduced meals, 31 of its 185 schools had such high percentages of eligible students that under federal regulations the schools rated as 100 percent eligible, and 126 schools received Title I funds. In this 200-square-mile district just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, 29.4 percent of the students are designated English learners, and more than 64 learning other than English are spoken as the primary language in students' homes.

San Diego has been working hard to close a challenging achievement gap, work that has started to yield results. District achievement data over the last six years reveal consistent improvement in student performance. For school year 2002-03, California's student achievement accountability barometer-Academic Performance Index Blueprint, which requires classroom teachers in program (API) results-showed growth in student achievement across all district schools and all student subgroups. Moreover, Hispanic, African American, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made greater gains districtwide than any other group. But more progress is needed. Of the 126 San Diego schools receiving Title I funding in 2003, 37 had been designated "program improvement" schools by the state, and 24 of those had been in program improvement status long enough to require that they offer supplemental educational services. In the district's first year offering SES, four approved providers were available to San Diego students, and parents signed on with two of them.

District leaders attribute much of the generally positive API results to the district's Blueprint for Student Success in a Standards-Based System, a comprehensive and ambitious long-range reform plan adopted in 2000 and aimed at improving academic performance. Quick implementation of many of the Blueprint strategies meant that when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was adopted a year later, many of the legislation's key requirements were already in place, including extended learning opportunities (ELOs). Recognizing SES as an important addition to its existing ELOs, San Diego placed SES in the Office of Instructional Support, which also oversees the ELO Department, and gave it direct, day-to-day management of the new program to the ELO director.

When it came to developing SES's required student learning plan, San Diego was ahead of the game thanks to the Blueprint, which requires classroom teachers in program improvement schools to complete a learning contract for every student at risk of not meeting grade-level reading or math standards. Regularly updated with performance data, a student's learning contract is used to guide both classroom teaching and the district's after-school academic intervention efforts. Instead of creating a separate document for the SES student learning plan, the district has chosen to incorporate the required information (e.g., SES learning goals, timeline, progress reports) into students' existing learning contract. This one-student, one-plan approach is the district's approach to keep student achievement information coherent and organized in one document that follows the student electronically.

San Diego uses several strategies to inform parents about SES. Every identified parent receives a letter, sent out in five languages, telling them that free tutoring is available and including a list of providers and an application form. When the initial mailing yielded a low response, the district got the principal and teachers at each program-improvement school to communicate directly with their parents. The district sends principals SES timelines and a list of eligible students along with SES enrollment information and application forms to keep at the school. In addition, the district's Web site ( offers a variety of NCLB-related information for district staff, school-site staff, and parents alike.

Rather than wait for the state department of education to provide evaluative information about providers, San Diego is developing an assessment of provider effectiveness. Thus far the district has been using two primary strategies: close monitoring of students' learning contracts to track progress, with follow-up meetings with teachers and parents regarding students' academic progress, and solicitation of parent feedback about how they think their children are doing.

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Last Modified: 07/08/2009