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Farmersville Unified finds funds to extend the day

Farmersville Unified finds funds to extend the day

While Farmersville Unified School District was not among the finalists for federal funds, that’s not stopping their plans to try and race to the top on their own.

Dr. Christina Luna, superintendent of Farmersville Unified School District (FUSD), said the district has been able to shift funding to improve class sizes, add instructional staff and extend the learning time for each student by at least an hour each day.

“Our schools are in Program Improvement so we know we need to redistribute funding to address our academic achievement,” Luna said. “We are attempting to that with the resources we have available.”

Every school in the district is in Program Improvement, the designation schools receive after failing to obtain federal academic growth targets two years in a row. Hester Elementary, Snowden Elementary, Freedom Elementary and Farmersville Junior High School are all in year five of Program Improvement (PI) while Farmersville High School is in year three of Program Improvement.

Dr. Paul Garcia, director of projects and curriculum at FUSD, said the key to improving academic achievement is creating more instructional time for students during the day. This puts an emphasis on the district’s afterschool program, a joint venture with several outside vendors including the Farmersville Boys & Girls Club.

“We are making an effort to align our afterschool program with our instructional programs,” Garcia said.

Joe Engelbrecht, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, said he and the district are in talks about what that will look like for students. Engelbrecht said the club was glad to hear about the district’s focus on achievement because it more closely aligns with the goals of the club.

“Focusing on academics specifically in FUSD,” Engelbrecht said. “Aligning ourselves more closely with district goals.”

Garcia said the district is also creating an online credit recovery system, where students who have fallen behind can get back on track to graduate by taking courses online afterschool. Last summer they began a CAHSEE Boot Camp, where students study California High School Exit Exam sample test questions and learn strategies to manage their time and problem solving during the test.

Last month, Farmersville hired two instructional aides in 1st and one each in 2nd and 3rd grades and eight in kindergarten. By lowering the class sizes, Luna said Farmersville will maximize the amount of class size reduction funding from the state.

Luna said the additional teachers and instructional aides will also provide one hour of tutoring at a computer lab each day afterschool.

Dr. Garcia said the afterschool program is not just limited to academics. The district has also hired some hourly employees to provide a sports and recreation program for sixth graders at Freedom Elementary. The district is also allocating additional funds to bolster successful chess programs at Snowden and Freedom schools. Several studies in the last few years have shown chess to dramatically improves academic achievement at a higher rate than other “enrichment activities.”

The Honorable Knights, comprised of first, second and third graders at Snowden Elementary won the Tulare County Chess Championships earlier this year and have qualified for State two years in a row. Freedom’s chess team, made up of fourth, fifth and sixth graders qualified for their first trip to the State Championships this year and won back to back tournament championships this year. Both teams have about 20 players. Faiman said with the success of both programs she has a goal of eventually having a team at both Farmersville Junior High and Farmersville High School competing at both the State and National levels.

Garcia now provides stipends for the teachers who currently volunteer their time to run the chess programs.

“We are still looking for donations to help with materials and travel expenses,” Garcia said. “We wanted to try and offer the teachers something for this great program in Farmersville.”

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