Marc Winger
Superintendent, Newhall School District

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, May 8, 2005
(Television interview conducted May 4, 2005)

Marc Winger     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Marc Winger, superintendent of the Newhall (Elementary) School District. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: The Santa Clarita Valley is expected to more than double in population in the next 20 years. What's the short-term outlook in the Newhall School District?

Winger: Short-term, there's a big change going on in Newhall. We're going to see either a decline in our enrollment or very stable enrollment. We've been growing 3 to 5 percent for the past 15 years, so it is a big change in the Newhall School District.
    It has a lot to do with the central part of Valencia, the older part of Valencia — the homes getting older, the kids getting older, leaving our district. On the east side of our district, we're packed at McGrath School. On the west side of our district, we're packed at Pico Canyon, Stevenson Ranch School, but we are slowing down for a couple of years as development west of the freeway slows down, as well.

Signal: After struggling to keep pace and having to rally support for the Measure K school construction bonds, it's strange to contemplate a decline in enrollment.

Winger: The great news is, because of Measure K and because of developer agreements that built schools, we're now in front of that scale. For 20 years we were behind that curve — we were on multi-track, year round education for five years because of crowding; now we're finally in front. And we're really positioned for the next big phase of Newhall Ranch, which will be in our school district, to seat the initial kids because of a site that we're building right now in Westridge.
    So we're ahead of the game and we're just kind of stable or in a little bit of a decline in the next few years.

Signal: You won't be giving any of that Measure K money back to the taxpayers, will you?

Winger: We've spent almost all of it. We built McGrath School; we've completely renovated Wiley Canyon, Meadows, Old Orchard; we're now moving on to Newhall School and Peachland, and then the money will be gone.

Signal: Is there any provision in Measure K where you have to maintain growth in order to tap the funds?

Winger: No. It was about modernization, too; it wasn't just about growth.

Signal: Tell us about the modernization.

Winger: We're really proud of that. We're talking about projects that range between $5 million and $9 million. Complete renovation of Wiley Canyon School — completely new multipurpose room, cafeteria, library, office space, renovation of every classroom there. Real modernizing for technology, plumbing, electrical — but the site just looks a lot nicer, too.
    We did the same thing at Old Orchard, (which) never had a multipurpose room that could seat more than about 250 kids; now (it's) got a nice-sized multipurpose room, completely renovated library, every room was renovated. Those schools were 30 years old, as was Meadows — completely renovated Meadows. We'll go on to Newhall and Peachland. We're not going to do as big a job at those schools, but we are going to add a library (of) equivalent size to the ones that we have at other sites, because they're way undersized at Newhall and Peachland. And renovate some of the plumbing and electrical — some of the kind of non-sexy stuff. But it really needs to be done. Those schools are 40 and 50 years old.

Signal: Despite the growth that's happening in Stevenson Ranch and on the east side, you're still going down overall?

Winger: It's interesting because there is big growth on the east side, the mostly Hispanic community around Valle Del Oro (and) San Fernando Road. Our McGrath (Elementary School) is completely packed with 700 kids. And on the west side, Pico Canyon, Stevenson Ranch, that whole Phase-3 at Pico Canyon continues to supply kids to the district.
    But the decline in the kindergartens at Valencia Valley, Meadows, Peachland (and) Wiley is so large that it offsets the growth that we're seeing. And on the west side, when Phase 3 (of) Stevenson Ranch is done, there will be no more new housing built until probably Newhall Ranch, after Westridge is done, and that's why we're going to kind of go into a stable period here.

Signal: Is it that people in the older parts of Valencia and central Newhall are aging in place?

Winger: Sure, I mean people like me. My youngest son is a 12-year-old; he's going to junior high next year. We've been in our house for over 20 years, and I think that's what is going on. The kids are getting older, moving onto the high schools — and I'm just talking about K-6, elementary; that's who we deal with. And I think that's pretty much the trend.
    Certainly, houses are selling, but they aren't necessarily being sold to families with elementary-aged kids. We saw that in Westridge, big-time — sold to families, high school and college-aged kids.

Signal: People aren't moving up?

Winger: I don't know what they're doing, but they aren't bringing kids to the Newhall School District. At least for a couple more years.

Signal: So you can breathe a bit.

Winger: Yeah, and it feels good. We are in front of the curve in facilities. We haven't been there for a very long time. It's not great news in terms of budgets, because growth is good for school budgets, but we all need a little space to breathe for a while.

Signal: From J. Michael McGrath School on the east to Stevenson Ranch on the west, with some of the ritzier parts of Newhall and a substantial minority population in between, you've got a very diverse student body.

Winger: We're the most diverse student body in the Santa Clarita Valley. J. Michael McGrath is 70 percent Hispanic. That really shocks some people. Overall in the district, we're 35 percent Hispanic; that's a bigger shock. But (the) total 6,800-kid district (is) 35 percent Hispanic, and people don't have that perception of the Newhall School District. Wiley Canyon is 50 percent Hispanic. My son's school, Peachland, is about 35 percent Hispanic. It's a changing demographic in young children, and we're really experiencing it first-hand.

Signal: Valleywide, Santa Clarita is only about 19 percent Hispanic; when you were assistant superintendent at Sulphur Springs, you had a Hispanic population in Canyon Country, as well.

Winger: Not as great. That's the point. Although there is a significant population on the east side on the valley, as well. And then there's the great middle, Saugus, which doesn't really have as strong a (Hispanic) population. Although they, too — at ... some of their schools off Soledad Canyon, they have some significant populations. We're all experiencing it. Castaic, of course, (for a) long time has had a Hispanic presence and a black presence.
    We're all experiencing the change that's happening in Southern California. Not as drastically as down south in L.A., but certainly we're seeing it with young kids.

Signal: How do you deal with the disparity between the needs of the rich and poor?

Winger: At a school like McGrath School or Newhall School, we do have compensatory education funds from the federal government — Title I is a well-known program — that put a lot of money into low-income areas to provide specialized programs for those kids.
    We have — and this is a great program in Newhall — we have state preschools at our low-socioeconomic schools. That gives English language learners a whole year of English prior to kindergarten. It really gives them a boost, coming in. That's just been a terrifically successful program. So we do compensate in a variety of ways for low-socioeconomic kids. (They) don't have the same background as middle-class or upper-middle-class from the west side of the freeway.

Signal: California voters overturned bilingual education in 1998. Today you've got different kinds of programs for English language learners. What's your personal assessment of which better serves these kids?

Winger: We are doing an all-English program. We do have Spanish-speaking teachers, because that's quite important, to deal with parents, and so when we're recruiting we're still looking for Spanish-speaking teachers. But we do an English-only program, and we have specialized materials for that program.
    What we're finding, the key to success (for) English language learners is vocabulary. So where we can concentrate the most on vocabulary, that's where we know we're going to get the most growth out of kids.
    Let me share some other thing with you. On the west side of the freeway, we have a lot of diversity, also. It's Asian, mostly Korean, but a lot of ethnic programs at Pico Canyon and Stevenson Ranch School and a lot of different languages. We have 24 different languages that people come in speaking.

Signal: Meaning, 24 languages that are spoken in the home?

Winger: Spoken at home. Spanish, obviously, is the predominant language, but (there are) 23 others, and we're working with all those kids to bring them into English as rapidly as possible.

Signal: Since the transition from bilingual education to English-based programs, is there a greater or lesser percentage of kids who are ready for the mainstream when they leave the sixth grade?

Winger: Well, more. Honestly, it's more. But remember, under bilingual education, the kids were being tested on English-language tests, yet they were either studying or being taught in Spanish. So it's a little bit of a mismatch in terms of progress. So now we've aligned it — they're being taught in English, they're being tested in English — so you do see gains, there's no question about it.
    I think the long-term question is one that still isn't answered, and that is, could we figure out somehow — and it would be a major research study to figure out — if a child who came through bilingual education, and there are still kids that do that, and a kid who came through English-only, let's look at the dropout rate in high school. Let's look at the success rate in high school. And then let's try and figure out which was the better program. Because it's really the down-the-line success that counts with this.

Signal: Is that being tracked?

Winger: I'm sure someone, somewhere, is doing it. It's not us.

Signal: Your obligation stops after the sixth grade.

Winger: Now, we care about seventh and eighth.

Signal: On that note, the elementary district could opt to unify. Is there any move afoot in Newhall to unify?

Winger: No. There hasn't been any discussion. You mentioned that I've been around a long time. I've seen, I want to say, half a dozen unification efforts —

Signal: Hold it. You don't seem old enough to have been around a long time.

Winger: I've been in education 30 years now, and I started in the Newhall School District (as a teacher). So, I've seen unification come and go about a half a dozen times — serious attempts at unification. For one reason or another, it's never flown, and Newhall School District hasn't talked about it at all, honestly.

Signal: You've been an outspoken critic of the governor's education budget proposal this year.

Winger: I know it's confusing to people when they watch those television ads where the governor says, "I've given them more money." And you know, he is telling the truth. I'm not saying he's lying. He is giving us more money over last year. (But) he's not telling the whole truth, and that's what's really pushed my button.
    There (are) a couple of things to talk about there. One is his proposal for Proposition 98, which is the school funding guarantee passed in 1988 by a majority of the voters. That (was) a proposition just like the ones that he's out there getting signatures on. Last year the education coalition of Sacramento agreed to forgo $2 billion of education money, to contribute to (solving) the budget crisis, to try to fill that gap of $7 billion. And the governor said, "I promise you, this is coming back to you."
    When he put out his January budget for next year, he reneged on that deal and he said, "I can't help it. We're in serious trouble. I can't live up to that promise." That's what we're so angry about. He didn't live by his word and say that that would return. He also has proposed to pretty much gut Proposition 98 in the future, so we're really upset about that. That's the long-term hurt. But short-term, also.
    When he's on TV saying "more money," he's telling the truth — that's the cost-of-living adjustment and growth. So if we were growing, we'd be getting new money for new kids, but the cost-of-living adjustment is between 3 and 4 percent right now. What he isn't saying is, he has also proposed some takeaways.
    Now, in the Newhall School District, that cost-of-living adjustment and the little bit of growth that we think we will get comes to about $330,000. We have a $40 million budget, so that's less than 1 percent of our budget.
    He has proposed a shift in the state teacher retirement payments. And it's really complicated, but the state pays 2 percent into that, to every teacher and every administrator for their retirement, right now. And the governor has proposed to shift that cost, that 2 percent, from to the state to the district. So the state doesn't have to pay it — it helps with the (state) budget — but the districts do (have to pay it). Well, in the Newhall School District, that's over $400,000. So give me $330,000, take away $400,000, and I'm in the red right away. And that's in his January proposal. And he's got other proposals that hurt in the same way, and that's what we're so upset about in the short term.

Signal: About the $2 billion that was promised last year —

Winger: Let me put it this way: Not promised; it's in the Proposition 98 guarantee. We just didn't get it. And he promised to restore it.

Signal: He promised to restore it this year, and if you don't get it — have you identified specific things that you're doing today, that you wouldn't be able to do?

Winger: Excellent question. The story in Newhall — and all the districts; I can speak pretty confidently for Saugus, Sulphur, Castaic and even Hart — the story in the Santa Clarita Valley is that we've been growing. So we've been able to keep ahead of the ax, because of growth. So what's going to happen next? Well, we're slowing down. I've opened two new schools — McGrath and Pico Canyon, two years ago. I'm opening a tenth school in Westridge in September. What we haven't been able to do is expand all of those central, core district services — music program, counseling, our grounds crew, our maintenance crew, our technology crew. We haven't expanded our district office staff. We've expanded sites in two years' time. We've expanded teachers, we've expanded families and kids, but we haven't expanded our services. Our music program is stretched to the absolute limit. Our counseling program is minimal, minimal, minimal. So what we haven't been able to do because of the budget is expand.
    Now, I've convened a committee of parents and employees and administrators and said, "If you could dream and say, what would you need for 10 schools, what would you do?" They gave me a laundry list of things that came up to about $450,000 of what we should be doing (in terms) of augmentation of personnel. Can't do it. Can't do it. So that's what the hurt has been.
    We should be keeping up with our music program, we should be keeping up with our counseling program, we should be mowing our lawns more — and we haven't been able to do it.

Signal: What would you say to the taxpayer with no kids who says music and art and all that stuff is nice, but they need to know reading, writing and arithmetic — not all of those luxuries?

Winger: I don't disagree with what they need to know, but they need music, and some kids need counseling. And we do know that education is a popular issue among voters, so whether you have kids or not, it's always popular. When the city polls on what's the most important issue to parents, education is always in the top 1 or 2 or 3. So even those non-parent taxpayers know the value of education.
    When we went out and passed Measure K in 1998, we certainly made the point that our quality schools, our award winning schools — just in the last four years we've got state Distinguished Schools, a Blue Ribbon school, Title I Achievement school. You know what that does for property values. They know what that does for property values. So they normally support education and support things like the music program.

Signal: The governor has some other education proposals that are related but different — tenure and merit pay. What's your position?

Winger: Well, the tenure and merit pay are, in my mind, bound together. What he really has proposed is not necessarily merit pay; it's tenure, and then, acceptable evaluations move forward on a scale. Unfortunately, I don't know if it's been tried and found to be successful anywhere, and that's what I'm a little leery about...
    Unfortunately, California has a history — especially in education — of leaping into things without kind of piloting and seeing how things are going to work. I'd rather see us go slow if we're going to have to try things out, instead of making this quantum leap into this other whole different system.
    On top of that, right now, I don't think, is the time to do it, given the crisis in funding and education. I think it's too much of a change in a bad environment right now. I (am interested) in it, I'd like to see it fully fleshed out, but none of that is in the initiative (or) in the proposals. It's not really well-defined.

Signal: Supposedly the school district would be able to create its own merit pay system; but then, evidently, there's some sort of state-defined formula?

Winger: I'm not sure what the formula reference is, but basically what they said in the proposals that I know is that you'll negotiate with the teachers association (on) how you, at a local level, will do this.
    To me, that means that it's going to go 1,000 different ways for the 1,000 school districts in California, because negotiations take you in different directions. I'd much rather have — if we're going to go down this road — a really refined proposal that defines it statewide, so that it's uniform. And I haven't seen that. And it isn't in what the current proposal is. I think (the proposal seems unclear) because I don't think they can articulate what they're suggesting.

Signal: Have you been surprised at the cold reception the governor's merit pay and tenure proposals have received? Conversely, are you impressed with the teachers' ability to articulate their concerns about the governor's education budget?

Winger: I think they really have done an excellent job getting out there, and his fall in popularity in the ratings — I read in some analysis that it (is) directly connected to people's view of him on education now. And I think the teachers association has done the job on that.
    Am I surprised? Not at all. And because it stems from that basic anger — not just the teachers' but the administrators' and the school boards association and the whole education (community) is so angry at him for breaking his word on the deal from last year — that this was bound to be unleashed when he came out with proposals that were even worse for education.
    You can bet (the California Teachers Association) is going to come out strong about merit pay and tenure; they always will, they always would have. But it was really exacerbated by his break on his pledge to the whole community. So he's catching a lot of flak from education, and basically I think he was asking for it when he couldn't stand behind the deal he cut.

Signal: Federal level: No Child Left Behind. Are there children who should be left behind?

Winger: No. No child should be left behind.

Signal: Is it right to matriculate everybody?

Winger: No. The answer to that is, it's not right to matriculate everybody; it's not right to leave everybody behind.
    But it's not right for us to have Special Ed children with identified disabilities compete at the same level of proficiency as our regular-Ed kids. And that is what No Child Left Behind asks us to do. It's really not realistic.
    I mean, (Special Ed students) are diagnosed for a reason, and they should have some differentiated standard of proficiency. But right now, No Child Left Behind holds us all to the same standard. By 2014, every child — and that's what they mean by "No Child Left Behind" — (is supposed to) meet these rigorous standards in California of proficiency. It's not realistic.
    I have strong feelings about Special Ed and English language learners (ELL). By definition, they can't be proficient until we either cure the Special Ed kid, or with ELL kids, until they're fluent English speakers. And we can do that. But you can't hold them to that same standard of being proficient while they're still labeled as English language learners. Give them six or seven years to move them along into English language learning — and then hold me accountable for that. But right now, they're measuring English language learner growth.

Signal: What is your assessment of assessment tests? Are they worthwhile? Are teachers still teaching to the test?

Winger: I think they're very worthwhile. I know teachers have a hard time with the amount of time of testing, and it does take a big chunk of time in the spring. I think they're worthwhile because we do have to show the public what we're doing.
    Now in California, we're judged mostly on the California standards tests now. The standards tests are reflective of the California standards of language arts and mathematics. Therefore, "teaching to the test" is not a bad thing anymore. If we're teaching to the tests, we're teaching the standards, and that's what it's all about.

Signal: So the tests reflect what you're supposed to be teaching anyway?

Winger: Yes. So it's not a bad thing anymore to say, "teaching to the test." It should be what we're doing; we're teaching to the standards. And I believe that we should be held accountable, and we do a lot of work in Newhall on understanding those tests, analyzing (them), regrouping kids to meet their needs, based on testing. It's a pretty important indicator.

Signal: Switching gears, you've got a new agreement with the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center.

Winger: A great piece of news. (On) Tuesday night, the (school) board took action to approve a memorandum of understanding which would allow the Samuel Dixon Center to come into a specialized space that we created — not for them, but for a previous program at Newhall school. They're going to bring in low-cost or free basic medical exams and referrals to the children of the Newhall community.
    This is a great thing. Up to about two years ago, we had what we called a Healthy Start program in this space. So it's got a little ante-room, a reception room and an examination room. The Healthy Start program was a federal grant doing exactly what Dixon wants to do. The funding grant ran for about five years. (The) funding ran out, we couldn't get renewed; it was cut back and the space was vacant.
    It was just one of those serendipitous things — (Dixon board President) Adele Macpherson caught me at a meeting and said, "Do you have any place we could —" And I said, "Wow. This is great." Because it's going to be a great service to the kids in Newhall — the Arch, Race and Pine (streets) area, and then our far-east area around McGrath School. Those people, some of them were going all the way up to (Val Verde) to get services from Dixon. Now it's right in their neighborhood.

Signal: Would this be specifically for the kids, or would it be a regular Sam Dixon clinic that's open to the community?

Winger: What they said is, they want to start with under-18. They want to give it some time. They got a grant to do this, so I'm not sure of their requirements for their funding. But they have said we start from under-18; we want to see if we want to expand to family health and older people after some time of running that program. It starts with kids.

Signal: So is the school becoming a place for more than just education?

Winger: This is a partnership, and that's the beauty of it. It's not the school doing it. We are going to provide the custodial and the electrical and all that kind of stuff. But the beauty is, it's a really specialized partner coming into our school, using our space, but providing their expertise to do the program — not the school.
    And the school really is the center of the community — an elementary school, especially. People know it, people are comfortable there, so it's a great little add-on to that. And the space we have is out on 12th Street, completely separate from the school; (the) outside entrance (is) fenced off from the site. So (they) won't interfere with one another at all.

Signal: How long have you been at Newhall?

Winger: Seven years as superintendent.

Signal: What's next for Marc Winger? Didn't you want to be Hart superintendent?

Winger: Hart is a high school district. I've had great success in Newhall. I don't know what's next, but it's been successful, and when Hart came along, it wasn't right for me to go after it. That's a tough job. Mine's not an easy job.

Signal: Staying in Newhall for a while?

Winger: I think so.

Signal: What's the challenge now, if you're not dealing with overcrowding any more?

Winger: No Child Left Behind is going to be a challenge. And it's a challenge every day to make sure 6,800 kids move forward academically, working with teachers, working with a great set of principals. It's enjoyable. So that's good enough. I'll stick with that.
    I mean, yeah, we solved facilities, but there's always something coming along — how we're going to deal with the budget crisis, or how we're going to keep that music program moving. I work with great teachers and great principals, so it's a great situation right now. I'm really pleased with where I am.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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