State of the District
Hughson superintendent highlights success of students, staff during sixth State of the District speech

Success in and out of the classroom has continued in the past year throughout the Hughson Unified School District, Superintendent Brenda Smith told members of the school board and others in the audience Tuesday night.

The district’s motto is “educate, empower and excel,” and Smith shared plenty of examples of what that looks like during her sixth State of the District presentation.

Academically, Hughson students are in the process of finishing the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are the required state tests. Students in grades 3-8 and 11 are assessed in math and English; students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades also take a science test.

Smith shared graphic slides showing students continuing to make progress in math based on diagnostic tests taken at the beginning of the school year, in December and again in April.

“For all HUSD students in math, we have increased our students on grade level from 11% to 31%.  We have decreased the students two or more grade levels below from 52% to 32%,” Smith said.

Similar results were evident in the district’s reading scores, she said. Students reading at grade level increased from 22% to 41% while those two or more grade levels behind dropped from 38% to 30%.

At Hughson High School, Class of 2024 valedictorian Cailin Kelley has been named a National Merit Finalist and earned a National Merit Scholarship. She plans to major in biomedical engineering at either Cal or UCLA next fall. Smith called Kelley “an amazing student” and praised her for participating in choir, drama, cross country, soccer and track as well as being a CSF Lifetime member.

Fourteen of Kelley’s classmates will receive the coveted Seal of Biliteracy on their high school diplomas, signifying their fluency in two languages.

Student achievement was not confined to the classroom. Ross Middle School’s Academic Pentathlon team won the county title for the fifth time since 2018, earning 31 individual medals and sweeping the essay competition. At the high school, the Occupational Olympics team finished first in the county while Academic Decathlon squad was second. Decathlete Josh Chapin was first overall in the Honors category.

Ross also was named a California Distinguished School for addressing the achievement gap after the pandemic, improving attendance and decreasing suspensions.

“We are so proud of the staff and students at Ross,” Smith said. “They work hard, they have high expectations, and there is an atmosphere of trust and respect on the campus.”

Athletically, Hughson students once again lived up to the Huskies’ proud tradition. So far this year, high school teams have earned a Sac-Joaquin Section title in football, Trans-Valley League championships in in girls basketball and cross country, and are competing for titles in baseball, boys track and tennis this spring. Ross teams have won East Valley League championships in volleyball, soccer, and boys and girls basketball.

Three FFA members earned their American Degrees, the highest honor nationally and something only 1% of FFA students achieve. They are Grace Harkrader, Jasmine Delgado and Kristen Larson. Eight other FFA members earned their State Degrees, the highest honor in California. Landon Mason and Logan DeKleva of the Hughson High Bass Club were named Anglers of the Year in California and qualified for the second time for the National Fishing Tournament this summer in South Carolina.

In all, 87% of Hughson High students and 70% of Ross students participate in at least one sport or club.

Smith also recognized some staff members who have received various honors in the past year.

Assistant Superintendent Carrie Duckart was named Administrator of the Year in Region 7 by the Association of California School Administrators.

Pepe Flores, a custodian at Ross, won the Stanislaus County Every Employee Making a Difference award in his category and now has a chance to be named the state winner next month.

Nominated as Hughson’s entries into the countywide Teacher of the Year competition in various grade levels were Kristyn Perino (second grade, retiring from Hughson Elementary at the end of this year), Claudia Vasquez (English, Fox Road), Jayce Jepson (math, Ross) and David Zylstra (math, Hughson High).

The district’s enrollment has grown to 2,180 students from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade, Smith told trustees, an increase of 51 students this year compared to 2022-23. Hughson’s payroll includes 288 employees.

“Our high school has the highest enrollment that it has ever had -- we have been between 810-850 students all year,” Smith said. “We continue to get a high number of interdistrict transfers from other communities to our freshman class. … We are proud of the fact that we have 109 more students from other communities who come to Hughson than we have Hughson students leaving for other districts. That is a testament to the fact that our small schools offer big opportunities for our students.”

Smith said the high school, middle school and Fox Road Elementary all met the district’s goal of 95% attendance.

It has been a busy year for building and maintenance projects in the district, with the prospect of more significant big-ticket items still ahead.

·         Hughson Elementary: New portable building for after-school programs

·         Fox Road: A new play structure and sign

·         Ross: Remodeled locker rooms and new sign

·         Hughson High: Security fencing, a reconfigured entry and artificial turf in a play area

·         Alternative education site: New fencing and an expanded yard

“We have an extensive list that gets updated every year so we always have a five-year plan for facility improvements,” Smith said.

Upcoming projects included another portable classroom at Hughson Elementary, a new roof and HVAC system in the 40 wing at Hughson High, two remodeled home ec classrooms at the high school and a shade structure at the alternative education site.

Smith also laid out the case for a $46 million school bond, which the board is considering putting on the November 2024 ballot. The money would be used to replace a century old ag science and ag mechanics shop at the high school; repair or replace leaking roofs, plumbing and HVAC systems at multiple sites; add classrooms to prevent overcrowding; and update classrooms, labs and technology to today’s standards.

All the money would be locally controlled and overseen, in part, by an independent oversight and audit committee made up of Hughson residents. It would add $60 per $100,000 of assessed value to people’s annual property tax bills. Smith said Hughson has the lowest amount of school bond debt compared to other Stanislaus County communities.

Financially, the district remains in a very strong position, Smith told trustees. It has a cash reserve of 16.7%, well above the state’s requirement of 3%.

“A healthy reserve means that we will be better able to weather cuts to our budget at the state level,” Smith said.

Improving communication was one of Smith’s goals this year. Once a month, she hosts Coffee with the Superintendent, a chance for parents, community members and staff to talk with her at one of the school sites. She also has a monthly roundtable with 12 to 15 students – a meeting she calls “by far my favorite thing to do this year.”

The superintendent also thanked community partners for their support, including the City of Hughson, the Hughson Leaders Organization, the Hughson Family Resource Center, the Police and Fire departments, the Lions Club and Legacy Health Endowment.

Smith’s full presentation can be viewed on YouTube .