Reaching beyond the classroom doors
How a California school district increased its graduation rate
By Martinrex Kedziora | November | December 2020
Since 2010, the Moreno Valley Unified School District has increased its graduation rate by 25.5 percent — that’s more than any other district in Riverside County. The total graduation rate for the 2018-2019 year increased to 91.2 percent from 89.3 percent. The Hispanic student group graduation rate increased from 90 to 91.2 percent and the African American graduation rate increased from 84.7 to 91 percent. All rates continue to exceed the state and national average, and although there may be various factors that contributed to that success, I believe two of our major driving forces are our parents and our community. We are one of six school districts across the state selected to serve in the Community Engagement Initiative Cohort II because of the positive results we have had with our programs and our commitment to continuing on that path of success. The CEI is a five-year effort intended to strengthen the California Statewide System of Support by building the capacity of school districts to engage their communities in more authentic ways. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the California Association for Bilingual Education and Families In Schools jointly lead the CEI. We understand the direct impact parent engagement has on student academic achievement across all socioeconomic groups. We believe parents are a vital partner in linking schools and families together. Therefore, we offer multiple opportunities to establish strong partnerships with parents such as giving them the opportunity to join the African American Advisory Council, African American Parent Advisory Committee, Community Advisory Committee, District English Learner Advisory Committee and Site English Learner Advisory Committee.

We understand the direct impact parent engagement has on student academic achievement across all socioeconomic groups. We believe parents are a vital partner in linking schools and families together.
I’ve also organized a series of Superintendent’s Strategic Plan and LCAP meetings that includes an entire meeting session with students because we want to hear their voices first. Student voice is essential because they are the ones we serve; they are the ones we think about in every single decision-making process that occurs. In those meetings, we encourage students to invite their parents to come to the community meetings so they can be part of the planning process as well. MVUSD is proud to extend its services beyond clubs and committees. Each year, we offer a variety of workshops through the Parent Projects Series, Financial Freedom Workshop, Padres Brillantes Workshop and Self-Esteem Workshops. These workshops provide guidance for parents by providing information and strategies on raising teenagers, mental health, bullying, cyberbullying, safety, drugs and alcohol, creating positive learning environments, weight management, stress management, interpersonal communications, and emotional health. All programs are constantly monitored and revised to be responsive to the needs of all students. Therefore, we launched new workshops this past year to continue increasing parent and family engagement while meeting the needs of students. The new workshops that have been offered for families this past year include First Aid Mental Health Workshop, Full Plate Living Workshop, Partners in Parenting University and The Children’s Project Workshop. One of our strongest resources in linking our schools and families has been working with Parent Ambassadors to help spread MVUSD’s vision, support our goals, and advocate for student success. Parent Ambassadors are parents who are involved in decision-making, developing parent and community participation, attending conferences, and contributing to student success across the district. Establishing the Parent Ambassador Program has exceeded our goals, achieved our outcomes and promises continued success.
Another undoubtedly successful program that I am very proud of is our Community Wellness Center, as it has made a huge impact on students and families in the district. It has successfully eliminated barriers to learning by providing students with a school-based program while increasing health, safety, academic support, activities and free resources. The Community Wellness Center has served over 21,000 families in just three years of its existence, earning the district its 10th Golden Bell Award within the past nine years. The National School Boards Association also selected our district as one of three Grand Prize 2020 Magna Award winners earlier this year for the programs and services at the Community Wellness Center. The Magna Awards are presented to districts that exemplify school district innovation and creativity. The 2020 awards program focused on equity in education and recognized district programs that remove barriers to achievement for vulnerable or underserved children. Most recently, we launched our HeartsYOUnited campaign. HeartsYOUnited is a kindness and compassion campaign that launched districtwide in 2019. Through a variety of community gatherings, school events and activities, and partnership programs, the campaign aims to: spread kindness and compassion inside and outside of the classroom; inspire youth to stand up and speak out against bullying and violence; increase awareness of the programs, services and policies; and foster a safe learning environment in collaboration with students, staff and parents.
This past year, we were able to partner with the Anne Frank House, an independent nonprofit organization that runs a museum in the house where Anne Frank went into hiding, to increase awareness of Anne’s life story all over the world. We believed sharing the story of Anne Frank and having students become docents for the traveling exhibit would inspire students to learn about tolerance, respect for cultural diversity, and empower them to make a difference. Parents who attended the Anne Frank House exhibit were so impressed with the work that was done at Landmark Middle School, that we were able to extend it to another school.

One of our strongest resources in linking our schools and families has been working with Parent Ambassadors to help spread MVUSD’s vision, support our goals, and advocate for student success.
Erin Gruwell — the best-selling author, former teacher, activist, and the inspiration behind the movie “Freedom Writers” — and the original Freedom Writers met with several students at our middle schools to share testimonials about the violence and trauma they faced as students and the lessons of growth, perseverance and community that came along with it. Our students learned the importance of taking positive action in their class, community and in the world. The Freedom Writers group has been working with students throughout the year. One unique area that we also connect with families is through our district’s music programs as families understand that participating in the arts increases student achievement in other academic subjects. In the past five years, we added significant resources to our visual and performing arts programs, including a dedicated Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, and additional instructors at schools to ensure students at all 40 schools have visual and performing arts programs. We are extremely proud to have 41.3 percent of students participating in the arts — higher than the 39 percent state average. With the increase in arts education in our schools, we decided to host annual events to provide the opportunity for students to showcase their talents to their parents, family and the community. Events include a High School Honor Choir Concert; Elementary, Middle, and High School Honor Band Concert; and a Band and Orchestra adjudicated festival every spring semester. Due to large attendance and interest in these events from parents and community members, the Moreno Valley Unified School District has made plans to build a Performing Arts Center at Moreno Valley High School. The center will be 26,000 square feet with a seating capacity of 625 and a 2,400-square-foot lobby and art gallery. We are committed to removing barriers and inequities in arts education by including the arts as part of the comprehensive education provided to all students and increasing opportunities for families to engage with their children by providing state-of-the-art facilities for students to showcase their talents and skills. We also worked with our community to create our very own Moreno Valley Education Foundation to create and maintain a diverse community that seeks to provide resources that enhance the educational experience of students in the district. This foundation supports all of the district’s music education programs by supporting grant requests from teachers and principals. Creating these opportunities for parents to be involved in their children’s education allows us to collaborate with parents and our community in meaningful ways. The district’s ultimate goal is for everyone to join the district in fulfilling its mission to ensure all students graduate high school prepared to successfully enter into higher education and/or pursue a viable career path.
Martinrex Kedziora is the superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District.
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