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Civil grand jury examining county, community schools
July 12, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Serving high school students detained for legal issues or who have been expelled could be improved by consolidating three locations and creating performance measures, according to a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report released Wednesday.

In the seven-page report, the civil grand jury explored the question: "How does San Mateo County provide educational services for high school-aged juveniles that have been detained on legal charges or expelled from local districts?” While the report acknowledged those working in court and community schools have significant challenges, the report also noted the programs could be improved upon. Increasing success can be achieved through consolidating three campuses, creating a method for tracking student success and considering entering an accreditation process, according to the report’s recommendations.

"We appreciate the time and energy the grand jury has invested in learning about our court and community schools program. We believe these recommendations validate our ongoing work and will increase community awareness regarding the unique and complex needs of this particular group of students,” County Superintendent Anne Campbell wrote in a press release.

The San Mateo County Office of Education is responsible for educating juveniles detained at the Youth Services Center for criminal offenses, as well as students expelled from school districts within the county. That includes three community schools located in South San Francisco, San Mateo and Redwood City. Two of the schools employ one teacher and one instructional aide each while the third, on Tower Road in San Mateo, has four teachers and three instructional aides. In total, about 290 students are served at any given time but about 1,500 students are served throughout the school year due to the transient nature of students in these circumstances, according to the report.

Consolidating services and offering bus services from the other two schools to the centralized area could allow for better service to students, according to the report. In addition, the report suggested creating a method of gauging success by tracking student credits earned or successful completion of the General Education Development test.

Joan Rosas, associate superintendent of student services for the County Office of Education, said the county plans to open one consolidated campus in the fall. Previously, the campuses were often linked to Boys and Girls Club locations which offered a number of benefits for after-school programs. However, it made finding qualified teachers difficult. In the fall, a newly revamped, centralized program will open with a more traditional high school setting in which students will go from class to class. Specialized needs of students will continue to be met, she said.

High turnover and a range of student needs create a challenge in terms of finding qualified teachers. The report found 20 percent of teachers in the community schools would be considered "highly qualified” during the 2010-11 school year. The County Office of Education said that has risen to 50 percent in the most recent school year and is expected to increase to 80 percent in the 2012-13 school year.

Following student success has been a challenge because of the high student turnover.

"The court and community schools staff is working to create an internal database to augment existing data management systems,” according to a press release.

In the coming year, the county will begin to collect more data such as how many units a student earns and what books are read while in a county-run school. Lastly, the county will track where a student goes after leaving — back to his or her home district, completing a GED or possibly entering college, said Rosas.

The schools are currently not accredited and the county is preparing work to start that process. Accreditation, Rosas said, will give students an option to go directly to a four-year college after graduation. Students currently have the option to attend a community college before attending a four-year college.

To read the full report visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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