Brenda Smith
Continued academic progress highlights Hughson Unified leader’s State of District speech

Impressive gains by students across many grade levels on key assessment tests were among the many highlights Hughson Unified Superintendent Brenda Smith shared Tuesday night during her fifth State of the District speech.

All Hughson students in kindergarten through 10th grade take the iReady assessment tests in reading and math three times a year, Smith told district trustees and others in the audience. The goal, she explained, is for all students to perform at or above the expectations for their grade level – even as she acknowledged the ongoing challenges caused by the in-person classroom disruptions in 2020 and 2021 during the peak of the COVID pandemic.

Smith illustrated her presentation with charts that show that the number of Hughson students performing at grade level for math has increased from 10% to 35%. At the same time, the district has decreased the number of students performing two or more grade levels below expectations from 53% to 32%.

In reading, the number of students at or above grade level has risen to 39% from 21%, and the number of  students two or more grade levels below expectations has dropped from 49% to 33%.

The improvement has been particularly noticeable at the youngest grade levels. Smith said 47% of students at K-3 Hughson Elementary now perform at grade level for math while those two or more grade levels behind have dropped to 9% from 40%. Reading at grade level at HES has gone from 18% to 59% while those two grades behind has decreased from 36% to 10%.

“That is some amazing growth,” Smith said.

Similar numbers are true for Fox Road Elementary, which teaches fourth- and fifth-graders. There, the number of students at grade level for math has risen to 44% from 10%, with only 21% two grade levels below. In reading, 34% of students now are at grade level, with those two grades below dropped from 44% to 27%.

Smith credited the district’s aggressive and targeted intervention programs at all grades for identifying and working with students to help them improve their performance.

“We know that we will be dealing with the impacts of distance learning for the next decade,” Smith said. “To help give our students the necessary support they need, we have moved to a system of in-school intervention at all sites. This was our second year of having dedicated in-class time where teachers can work with a small group of students or one-to-one. Students can make up work and get additional help in an area they may need.”

Smith’s speech touched on many other important areas of campus life.

One she is particularly proud of is the decision earlier this school year to have HES, Fox Road and Ross Middle School share the Husky mascot and black-and-gold color scheme as Hughson High. Smith thanked high school art teacher for creating new logos for HES, Fox Road and Ross.

“This move helped unify us and promote that our students are growing up as Huskies,” she said.

Smith listed many student accomplishments in the past year – the high school football team winning a state championship; other teams and individuals winning Trans-Valley League or Sac-Joaquin Section titles; FFA students earning state and national recognition; second-place countywide finishes by the Ross Academic Pentathlon and Hughson High Academic Decathlon teams; Ross and Hughson High musicians being chosen for county and regional bands; and the high school for finishing first in Stanislaus County for its anti-drug Red Ribbon Week activities and second in the Occupational Olympics.

Also singled out were Hughson instructors nominated for the countywide Teacher of the Year awards – Hilda Gutierrez (HES), Kate Gomas (Fox Road), Polly Hicks (Ross) and Carolyn Jones (HHS). Bus driver and yard duty monitor John Lundell also was recognized for his nomination as the countywide Classified Employee of the Year.

Financially, the district is in very good shape, Smith shared. Hughson Unified has a budget reserve of more than 10.59%, well more than the state-required 3%. Enrollment is up to 2,129 students, 63 more than the previous year. District enrollment has grown in four of five years, said Smith, noting that Hughson continues to attract students from nearby districts.

“We are proud of the fact that we have 84 more students from other communities who come to Hughson than we have Hughson students leaving for other districts,” Smith said. “That is a testament to the fact that our small schools offer big opportunities for our students.”

The superintendent also touched on expanded outreach efforts to the community, staff and students. Smith hosts a monthly morning meeting called “Coffee with the Superintendent” in which community members can discuss issues and have questions answered.

“I have met with some really great parents, grandparents, and community members through this process,” she said. “We will continue to hold these next year, and will be rotating school sites to make it more convenient for parents and staff to attend when it is at their site.”

Smith also goes to a different campus each month to talk with small groups of 12 to 15 students.

“This has by far been my favorite thing to do this year,” she said. “Our students are so well spoken and did a great job communicating the needs for their sites.”

Smith also thanked the many community partners that support Hughson Unified, among them – various Hughson restaurants, the City of Hughson, the Hughson Leaders Organization, the Hughson Family Resource Center, the Police and Fire departments, the Hughson Lions Club, the mentors who work with third- through ninth-grade students, and Legacy Health Foundation of Turlock.

Looking ahead, Smith previewed five building upcoming projects:

·A new entrance to enhance safety at Hughson High that also will add 25 parking spaces

·A locker room remodel at Ross

·A new playground structure at Fox Road

·A new room for the HES After-School Program, which will free up two classrooms

·Expanding the blacktop at the alternative education site to the district’s property line, which is adjacent to the Lebright ball fields parking lot

Smith’s entire speech can be seen on YouTube.