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Frequently Asked Questions
     
1.    Why the push for the Education Declaration?  
2.    Why the push for an AUSD? Isn't Altadena part of the Pasadena Unified School District?  
3.    How big is Altadena's academic achievement gap?  
4.    How do we close the academic achievement gap?  
5.    How does forming an Altadena Unified School District help close the academic achievement gap?  
6.    Is the idea to create a wealthier district with higher test scores?  
7.    Wouldn't we get higher test scores if Altadenans just became more involved in PUSD schools?  
8.    Is it feasible to create the Altadena Unified School District?  
9.    How many students would an AUSD have?  
10.    How will the old district's property be divided?  
11.    How long will it take?  
12.    Will my taxes go up?  
13.    Is this the first time a part of PUSD has decided to create a new district?  
14.    Can PUSD function without Altadena?  
15.    Will I still have to pay for Measures Y and TT after the AUSD is created?  
16.    Will the County Committee's feasibility study of the proposed AUSD unification tell us what's wrong with PUSD?  
17.    Is there hope for PUSD?  
18.    Why not us, as well?  
19.
How many board members will AUSD have?  
20.  
Where will the High School be?  
21.  
What will happen to our Charter schools?  
22.  
What about our existing teachers?  
23.
What about our group home children?  
24.
Who started all of this?  
25.
I couldn't find the answer to my question (Please use the "Other Skills" box and select "Submit" on the Volunteer Signup form in this link to ask your question)  

1.
Why the push for the Education Declaration?  
 

The Education Declaration summarizes the bold activities of schools across the USA that serve predominantly low-income student populations like Altadena's while quickly bringing every student to grade-level proficiency.

Long before petitioning for Altadena Unified School District (AUSD) began in 2006, the chief petitioners knew that a new school district organized around typical adult priorities would produce little improvement in student academic proficiency. It was for this reason that the Altadena Schools team developed the goal of Every Child to and Through College by 2020 and the Education Declaration.

With sufficient support for the Education Declaration, we can get every Altadena child on the road to and through college by 2020. In an economy that stopped creating opportunities for those who lack a better education long before the Great Recession began, insufficient support for the Education Declaration will make 2020 even worse than 2010.

Return to the Education Declaration Support Form

 
     
2.
Why the push for an AUSD? Isn't Altadena part of the Pasadena Unified School District?     Top
 

While the push for an AUSD is currently on hold, the reason is simple. In a community that aspires to provide opportunity for all:

  •  Less than 70% of our low-income student majority will graduate from high school.
  •  Those who do graduate perform, on average, at an eighth grade level.
  •  Less than one in ten low-income students will graduate from college. *

By supporting the Education Declaration today, every Altadena general education child can be on the road to grade level proficiency and even college by 2020. Should sufficient community support for the Education Declaration be met with continued Pasadena Unified resistance to change, renewed petitioning for AUSD becomes the backup plan. If we don’t take these steps now, 2020 will be even worse than 2010.

Our patience with the large and static achievement gap between Altadena’s low-income student majority and non-low-income students in Pasadena Unified has come to an end. This dreadful academic performance gap is the difference between the economic freedoms obtained by those who make it to and through college and those who do not. While this achievement gap within Pasadena Unified has been unchanged for many years, the gap between Pasadena Unified’s students and the best among their low-income peers from across California has also been growing with increasing speed every year. So with no end in sight, this situation has become morally, economically, and socially unacceptable for many Altadenans. To tolerate this situation further is to say “yes” to having Altadena deal with the effects of a permanent US recession.

It may be useful to know that our urgent dissatisfaction is consistent with the rich heritage of Altadenans being first in our region to step up to solving difficult issues, dating back to Altadena's founding when Altadenans provided jobs for those who had been excluded from work in neighboring communities and when our Altadena predecessors provided sanitariums for families who had come to our region seeking better health only to be sent away - to Altadena. Years later and beginning in 1967, three Altadena couples prevailed against Pasadena Unified in the US Supreme Court after our local school district became the first one outside the deep south to actively resist desegregation. Now with an emerging body of knowledge documenting how our very large and static academic achievement gap is being closed elsewhere, many Altadenans are saying now is the time to complete the work those three Altadena couples started.

(*Many sources, including the US Dept of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005 and Till Victory is Won, CHOICES Project, UCLA, 2009 (page 91 of 150 pages, PDF) quote cumulative dropout rates between the 9th and 12th grades of 50%. Other sources maintain that if large California urban school districts did not employ “diploma counselors” to visit chronic truants at the truant’s homes and count the contact as an attendance day, the dropout rate would be even higher. PUSD will claim a much lower dropout rate than what we have quoted here, citing CA Dept of Education Testing & Accountability “longitudinal” data whose lack of reliability was a contributor to California’s failure to win either round of the US Dept of Education’s “Race To The Top” funding. PUSD will also praise increases in the high school exit exam pass rate at PUSD without disclosing that the exit exam (the “CAHSEE”) tests for 6th, 7th, and early 8th grade skills. This makes the CAHSEE a better measure of a student’s readiness to enter high school than exit high school prepared to compete in a global economy. 8th grade skills per STAR Reporting and District Dashboard 2005-10)

 
   
3.    How big is Altadena's academic achievement gap?     Top
 

At the elementary level, Altadena’s predominantly low-income student academic proficiencies are usually 30-50 percentile points below their top demographically comparable peers statewide per test results from the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program. After elementary school, our student's academic proficiencies get even worse. View District Dashboard for a summary.

To provide a more specific illustration, year after year, approximately 3 out of 5 students attending public schools in Altadena end their third grade less than proficient in English Language Arts. To put this statistic into greater context, a recent PUSD Superintendent said that the Federal Prison System surveys districts like PUSD by asking “How many of your third graders still can’t read?” Since the probability of those who can’t read by the end of their third grade blossoming into readers is known to be very low and our federal prisons are full of non-readers, the answer to this question has become a metric for forecasts of how many prison cells will be needed 20 years from now.

 
   
4.    How do we close the academic achievement gap?     Top
  First off, we can be encouraged that the educators who have closed the academic achievement gaps in the communities they serve have shown us the way to do the same thing here in Altadena.

It ultimately boils down to what educators at each school spend their time on as an educational team, in the classroom, and in the community. Interestingly, educators with high penetrations of low-income African-American and Hispanic students like ours in Altadena but who have closed the academic achievement gaps in their schools have done so by executing the activities that are summarized in the Education Declaration. Support the Education Declaration today!

We encourage all Altadenans to begin familiarizing themselves with the best practices for closing the achievement gap by supporting the Education Declaration. You can also learn more about how the Education Declaration priorities are implemented by reviewing the short videos in the Recommended Resources section of our home page. But for those for whom this is too much material, we can leave you with this one key lesson: The number of educators who actually close the academic achievement gap is a tiny fraction of the many who talk about it. Which means that if we want to close Altadena’s achievement gap quickly, we will need to learn how to attract board candidates who bring a very different set of skills to the table than those we’ve typically produced in our past. Not only will our voters need candidates they can elect who will know how to successfully edit their governing activities to their share of the Education Declaration, one of the most critical early activities the new board will need to succeed in will be their ability to retain a search firm with the strict proviso to never present a candidate for superintendent whom board members cannot objectively, measurably, and independently verify have already closed the achievement gap in every grade and subject.

In summary, if we want to take adequate risk from our ability to close the gap quickly and keep it closed, we will need to learn as a community how to stop welcoming educators who have never closed the gap to darken our school's doorways.

 
   
5.    How does forming an Altadena Unified School District help close the academic achievement gap?  
  By itself, not much!

This is the reason these two important activities were also kicked off in 2006:

1) Make every Altadenan aware of the appalling size of the academic achievement gap and what this is going to do to our community in 2020 and beyond.
2) Inform Altadena voters of their role in bringing home to Altadena the rare and extraordinary educators who have closed the gap elsewhere and who will be willing to do the same hard work here in Altadena

In 2011 the Altadena Schools team also kicked off a promotion to build community support for the Education Declaration. With sufficient support for the Declaration, Altadena can reach the goal of every child to and through college by 2020 with or without AUSD. AUSD without sufficient support for the Declaration is not useful. With sufficient support for the Declaration, Altadena can reach the 2020 goal a) by working with PUSD to implement the Declaration ASAP or b) by filing the last signatures for AUSD.

Taken together, these activities have everything to do with closing the achievement gap! In fact, these activities have the potential of serving as a future model for our nation’s closure of its academic achievement gap, an effort some have called “the key civil rights challenge of our generation."

Interested in helping with this important work? Please click Get Involved.

 
   
6.    Is the idea to create a wealthier district with higher test scores?     Top
  Wealthier, no. Altadena has its share of individuals with high incomes, but it also has many underprivileged individuals who are an important part of our diverse community.

As for higher test scores - absolutely. We know by the results found at a small but growing number of schools across California that if we act now, we can close our academic achievement gap and bring every child to 100% academic proficiency regardless of family background by 2020. We also know that the old paradigms of leveling blame at this group or that for our problems doesn't work. Instead and from close examination of the available data, we know that while the hypothetical addition of wealthier families to our public school district would make the district look more proficient academically, only a very strong emphasis on closing the academic achievement gap will end our continual masking of the gap between our underprivileged and middle class students. And since we know that the number of educators who actually close the academic achievement gap is a tiny fraction of those who talk about it, nothing short of making the retention of those special few public educators who have an independently verifiable record of closing the gap as our top priority will quickly close our gap and keep it closed.

 
   
7.    Wouldn't we get higher test scores if Altadenans just became more involved in PUSD schools?     Top
 

The AUSD pursuit is partially the result of decades of tutoring by Pasadena Unified parents and other volunteers. We, like other Altadenans, have been working and volunteering in local public schools since the day PUSD was created. So despite the fact that over 10,000 private school students in the PUSD service area of Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre now account for 33% of the service area’s combined K-12 private and public enrollment, giving PUSD the highest private to public enrollment penetration of any district PUSD’s size in the USA, we know that apart from professional educators making the closing of the academic achievement gap and bringing all students to grade level proficiency their top priority, very large gaps like Altadena’s do not shrink in size or reliability until the low-income population drops well below 10% of the enrolled.. This is hardly a realistic expectation for Altadena when year after year, nearly 2/3 of our public school enrolled have been identified as low-income students.

Meanwhile and in spite of Altadenan’s best efforts, PUSD schools have not gained meaningful academic ground on public schools statewide in many years. Forecasts of the date by when the academic achievement gap between PUSD’s low-income students and non-low-income students will be closed are now measured in centuries. With these facts in mind, we believe hope for the never-ending stream of PUSD initiatives such as 2000’s “Charter Reform”, 2002’s “Best in CA in 3-5 Years”, “2007’s Approach to Excellence” and 2010’s “PUSD Strategic Vision for 2020” will only insure that Altadena’s demographic majority will very likely be even less prepared to compete in an increasingly global economy in 2020 than they are today. See FAQ #1 for more details regarding Altadena’s academic trend.

For these reasons, many in our community believe Altadena needs to step up to learning how to detect the school board candidates who will be trustworthy to retain the very rare superintendent who will attract, retain, and develop the rare educators that can successfully implement the hard work of closing the gap and raising our demographic majority to grade-level proficiency in every subject in a few short years.

It is important to point out that across the USA, no community with a low-income student majority has brought their students to academic proficiency in every grade and subject at more than one school. With ten schools in the petition area, this effort intends to make Altadena Unified a very attractive career move for top educators from across the USA with an independently verifiable record of closing the achievement gap. FAQ #21 discusses the important role that existing PUSD teachers will also have in this effort to bring all Altadena students to grade-level proficiency at what could be a first-in-the-nation scale.

 
   
8.    Is it feasible to create the Altadena Unified School District?     Top
  That's what we'll learn once enough signatures are collected on the petitions. As part of the process for creating a new school district, the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) will commission a study that will determine if it is feasible to create the new district out of the old and whether the new district will meet all legal requirements.

Per LACOE, most of the study’s effort and timeline will be focused on a mandated Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The other subjects will include insuring that the district will have enough students and that the district’s organization will preserve the affected district's ability to educate students in an integrated environment and without promoting racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation. With at least as many K-12 students in the petition area as La Canada Unified and with demographics that are similar to Pasadena’s, we are confident that the study will come back positive for Altadena. Beyond that, repeating what an LACOE representative once told us, "Ninety percent of the questions people have about unification can't be answered until after the feasibility study has been completed."

In other words, we'll need to wait.

 
   
9.    How many students would an AUSD have?     Top
  This depends on when an AUSD actually opens its doors. The current estimate is approximately 4,000 students – roughly the same as the enrollment in our neighboring La Canada Unified School District. Per California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 5, §18573, a unified school district must have a projected enrollment of at least 1,501 students on the day the unification becomes effective.
 
   
10.    How will the old district's property be divided?     Top
  State education law requires that both assets and liabilities be divided proportionally between the new and old district. This means that not only would AUSD become the owner of the schools in the petition area upon voter approval to form the district, AUSD would also own a fair share of PUSD's liabilities, including that of Measures Y and TT and any other voted indebtedness PUSD and its electorate may incur prior to AUSD unification.
 
   
11.    How long will it take?     Top
 

The process starts once Altadena Schools determines that sufficient community support for the Education Declaration exists and the LA County Registrar determines that the signatures on the petition for Altadena Unified are sufficient. Once these hurdles have been cleared, a series of hearings are held and a feasibility study is commissioned in conjunction with an Environmental Impact Report (also known as the EIR or CEQA). These steps insure that the legal requirements for authorizing a new unified school district have been met. The key statutory requirements in the feasibility study include insuring that the district will have enough students and that the district’s organization will preserve the affected district's ability to educate students in an integrated environment and without promoting racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation. We expect these hurdles to be cleared quickly. The statutory requirement that is expected to take the longest amount of time is the EIR, also known as the CEQA. It is estimated that these steps, from the submission of over 7,000 signatures through the calling of an election for final voter approval, will take approximately 18-24 months.

Can you help tell our fellow Altadenans how we can close the academic achievement gap in a few short years? Please let us know by clicking Get Involved. Thank you!

 
   
12.    Will my taxes go up?     Top
  There is no reason for taxes to go up as the result of creating an Altadena Unified School District. Funding would come from the same state and federal sources that provide the far higher per-pupil spending above the California average that our Altadena students receive today. In fact, confirmation that "any increase in costs to the state as a result of the unification will be insignificant and otherwise incidental" will be one of the statutory conditions of California Education Code §35753 that the feasibility study will verify before the county and state can approve the call for an election by the voters. Of course, some time after an AUSD is formed, Altadenans could vote for another bond measure like Measures Y and TT for Altadena's public schools, or a parcel tax like the Measure CC that the PUSD Board has put on the May 2010 ballot.
 
   
13.    Is this the first time a part of PUSD has decided to create a new district?     Top
  No. In the 1960's, La Canada was added to the list of school districts that have been formed from a portion of PUSD, which at one time included large areas of the western San Gabriel Valley and included communities such as those served by what are now the Monrovia Unified and Temple City Unified School Districts.
 
   
14.    Can PUSD function without Altadena?     Top
  That'll be answered in the feasibility study, but there's no reason to believe it couldn't. It'll just be a smaller district, with fewer schools, fewer students, and fewer employees. Those remaining in PUSD will actually have the chance for better representation, as PUSD's seven board members will represent fewer constituents.
 
   
15.    Will I still have to pay for Measures Y and TT after the AUSD is created?     Top
  Yes. Because Altadena schools have benefited from Measure Y, Altadenans should expect to continue paying their fair share. The same will be true for Measure TT.
 
   
16.    Will the County Committee's feasibility study of the proposed AUSD unification tell us what's wrong with PUSD?     Top
  The feasibility study has one major focus: to confirm prior to an election by the voters that the unification of an AUSD would substantially meet the minimum statutory criteria of California Education Code §35753. The study looks at a variety of factors, including the adequacy of the number of students enrolled, weather or not the reorganization will promote sound fiscal management, and weather or not the reorganization will promote sound educational performance. While the feasibility study is not a management audit, it is an independent report that will provide another picture of PUSD health. And that's something that many people - including some PUSD board members – have said that they hadn't received. Perhaps this is why PUSD's deputy superintendent at the time publicly stated, "We welcome the review."
 
   
17.    Is there hope for PUSD?     Top
 

We believe so, and we hope that the unification of an AUSD will help spur PUSD to increasing the academic performance of every student. Competition is usually healthy, and we believe that PUSD may become more motivated to close its academic achievement gap when it is bordered by a district with substantially similar demographics dedicated to closing and keeping closed its own large achievement gap.

 
   
18.    Why not us, as well?     Top
  Several PUSD constituents who live outside the petition area have asked why the boundaries of the AUSD aren't extended further outward to include more of the current district. There are several reasons, including the natural topology, which lends itself to creating a district bounded by wild lands on three sides, focused on the community of Altadena. But perhaps the most important reason is that the LA County Office of Education and its partners across some 15 county departments, including the Registrar/Recorder and County Counsel, determined that the petition area boundaries were what they needed in order to lend their regulatory approvals to the petition before anyone spent many hours collecting 7,000 signatures. This doesn't mean we don't empathize with others who believe that their children would be better served by a new school district that we want to see focused from top to bottom on closing our community’s academic achievement gap. Indeed, at a later date, expansion of the AUSD's boundaries might prove a workable and desirable option. But for now, we believe that it is best to concentrate on creating a new school district using the boundaries that have been tuned per what our county government partners would need in order to support this effort once the signatures have been collected.  
   
19.    How many board members will AUSD have?     Top
  AUSD will likely have five board members elected to represent the entire school district "at large".  
   
20.    Where will the High School be?     Top
 

That's one of the things we'll learn more about once the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) has completed their feasibility study as required by law to determine if the new district will meet all legal requirements before going to the voters. All else that can be said on this subject carries the risk of speculation, but with that caveat in mind, many have noticed that Eliot would be a likely candidate.

Much like the answer to FAQ #7, we'll need to wait for an answer to this question.

 
   
21.    What will happen to our Charter schools?     Top
 

Per the CA Education Code Section 47605, charter schools renew their charters with their host school district except for those cases where the charter was granted by the county or state board of education and the host school district declines to renew the charter. So with that exception in mind, we can expect that charter schools in the AUSD territory at the time the new school district is organized will renew their charters with AUSD instead of PUSD.

 
   
22.    What about our existing teachers?     Top
  Since the educators who successfully complete the hard work of closing the academic achievement gap remain very rare, existing PUSD employees will have an important role to play in AUSD. Generally speaking, PUSD employees who transition to AUSD can expect to do so with their contracts, pensions, and seniorities intact. Please see Chapter Nine of the California Dept of Education Unification Handbook for more detail about the protections the Education Code provides.

However in order to meet the goal of closing the academic achievement gap in every school, grade, and subject in a few short years, AUSD will also need transitioned PUSD educators who demonstrate they cannot step up to closing Altadena’s huge achievement gap to leave AUSD at the same extraordinarily high rate they have voluntarily left PUSD this past decade.

Employees who voluntarily separated from PUSD in the last ten years did so at a rate that staffs the equivalent of one to two Altadena schools per year. It will be challenging to replace this staff with the rare talent needed at a rate that is also two to four times the County and State average. Nevertheless, with employees united to a new district governed by the necessary gap-closing priorities, of AUSD’s size and lead by a new Superintendent with an independently-verifiable history of closing the academic achievement gap in every grade and subject, we believe this turnover represents a compelling opportunity to prove how the gap can be closed at the next logical step in our nation’s effort to do so at a system-wide scale. Please see Projected Teacher Hires and District Staffing for more details.
 
   
23.    What about our group home children?     Top
 

Altadena has an admirable legacy of care for our less fortunate neighbors, a legacy that dates back to when the predecessors to Altadena’s group homes were founded over 100 years ago.

Occasionally we hear from someone who questions Altadena’s widely held commitment to these most vulnerable children, many of whom also qualify for special education services. It should be noted that the total licensed capacity for group homes in Altadena is 176 beds. This is less than ½ of 1% of Altadena’s population. Additionally, over two-thirds of Altadena’s group home capacity comes from just two facilities. These two facilities typically operate at between 50% and 100% of their licensed capacity. Please see the Community Care Licensing Division Search Form and the Altadena Census for further information.

So the next time someone offers a defense of the status quo with the statement that “Altadena’s group home population percent is the highest in the County and State”, we encourage you to consider if Altadena’s unyielding commitment to so tiny a population is a worthy pretext for allowing our community’s enormous academic achievement gap to persist.

 
   
24.    Who started all of this?
  Initial discussions about forming an AUSD were held throughout the community around 2001, but no active steps were taken at the time.

In 2005, the Altadena Town Council raised the issue, but again no active steps were taken.

In 2006, three Altadena residents - Maurice Morse, Shirlee Smith, and Bruce Wasson - with the very significant and much-appreciated assistance of other community members, worked with the LA County Offices of Education, Registrar, and Legal Counsel to provide the information needed to draft a legally appropriate petition for unification. By so doing, these Altadena residents became the Chief Petitioners that California's Education Code §35701 requires of the unification process.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Official website of Altadenans For Quality Education (AFQE, AUSD Now!)