GUSTINE - The Gustine Unified School District is turning to UC Merced to evaluate the educational program at Gustine High.

School board members last week unanimously approved the $40,000 expenditure, which Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, said will provide an independent evaluation of what the school is doing well and what areas need improvement.

“It is important that we understand where we are. We can’t fix situations unless we know that they are there,” Ballenger commented. “Hopefully, we can be more pro-active in making sure that our kids are reaching their full potential.”

Ballenger said a focus will be on ensuring that Gustine High students have access to - and equal opportunity to complete - pathways to complete the A-G criteria required for admission to UC/CSU schools.

“UC Merced doesn’t care if they go to vocational schools, a two-year college, state university or private school. They are concerned that every student has equal access and and opportunity to achieve (the A-G completion,” he explained. “Right now, we don’t have real good data for tracking kids. Are there students coming in from eighth grade who really should be taking certain classes and pushing them a little more toward a UC or CSU program? Are we missing students? What areas are we doing well in, and where are the gaps?”

Ballenger said the district has shared its student data with UC Merced staff, who will use their analytic tools to critique the Gustine High program and offer strategies going forward.

“They are going to scrub our data, and sit down and talk with us about the tools that they have to counter some of the issues that they might be seeing,” the superintendent commented. “It really is the first step in a series with UC Merced. We need to get baseline data and know where we are at, utilize their tools and then look at other programs that they have that we could partner on. They will work with our counselors and administration so they fully understand the tools at their disposal and the services that are provided through the outreach center at UC Merced.”

Ballenger said the district has been in talks with UC Merced officials since last fall. He said GHS Principal Adam Cano reached out to UC Merced after learning from other schools about the program offered.

Ultimately, Ballenger remarked, the goal is to not short-change any student on opportunities or access - regardless of their college and career plans.

“They are going to really look at making sure that all students who have the potential ability and desire to complete the A-G requirements have the opportunity to do so,” he stated. “It is really about equity, and looking at our data in real-time so that we can react to student needs sooner rather than later.”