School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Marie Freitas, Manteca USD

Marie Freitas, school board president, Manteca Unified School District

What does your district have planned for the 2022–23 school year to foster learning recovery and educational advancements?

Manteca Unified School District continues to foster learning recovery and education advancements during the 2022–23 school year. We have worked thoughtfully to refine programming and acquire tools and resources which aim to close the learning gap, allowing emerging students to be successful. We operate using a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support framework, which is designed to give targeted support to students and identify learning barriers early to intervene quickly. The systems work harmoniously to support the academic growth as well as behavior, social-emotional needs and absenteeism. One newer tool in the system is diagnostic testing for grades K-12. This testing directly aligns to official state testing and is a great tool for teachers to help them identify unmet essential standards and create lessons based on each student’s academic level. This testing occurs three times throughout the school year (fall, winter and spring), and the data gathered is critical to inform instruction so that all students show academic growth.

Cooperative learning is a focus in our district. It is a program aimed at closing the learning gap that allows emerging students to be successful in a collaborative learning environment. It is completely student-centered, providing structure for true collaboration amongst students. Teachers group students purposefully, based on individual learning needs, and teach using structures designed to engage all students in a safe environment. We have been a Professional Learning Community (PLC) district many years, and it continues to be a focus as teachers work weekly within their PLC groups and attend annual trainings. The purpose of a subject-designated PLC group is to identify essential standards, create common form assessments based on those standards, and then analyze data to inform instruction so that all students can be successful. During the process of data analysis, teachers identify students by name and need to ensure high levels of learning for all.

What types of professional development priorities or supports do you have planned for teachers and staff?

MUSD is proud to have staff who are dedicated to being lifelong learners, and where professional development opportunities are plentiful. The board’s position is very clear: in MUSD, all students work to achieve grade-level state standards, feel safe and supported to realize individual success. We understand that meeting these targets requires high-quality professional development and training. We have a department known as Teaching and Learning, made up of instructional experts that conduct professional development opportunities and support sessions for both certificated and classified staff year-round. In the 2021–22 school year, this team made over 8,800 staff connections, which focused on base curriculum, assessment testing and evaluating data, informed instruction and teaching to standards. MUSD recently hired an administrator to oversee emergency preparedness and safety, and the current school year includes various trainings pertaining to school and campus safety. We have a strong commitment to professional conversations and development for all staff and value our teams tremendously.

What are some ways the district is sharing positive news and/or support with families and the community?

Our district shares positive news that supports our families and the community by using our many digital or online platforms such as our website, mobile application, social media outlets, media pitches and our monthly digital newsletter, “The Mark Highlights,” to name a few. We are passionate about communication and transparency as we believe it builds trust, increases traffic flow to district resources and celebrates the moments the make us #proudtobemusd. From first day of school photos to instructional plans to Hispanic Heritage Month in a Spanish II classroom, there is always news worth sharing in MUSD. Our district’s community outreach team is at the helm of all public information and finds ways to communicate across platforms that keeps our whole community informed.

What is one thing you’d most like to accomplish during your time as a trustee and why?

What I would most like to accomplish during my time as a trustee is ensure a positive, safe environment that supports our students’ academic, social and emotional needs. Our district’s vision statement states, “Every student works to achieve grade level standards, feels safe, and is supported to realize individual success,” and we believe in this vision whole heartedly. Individual student success is the reason I am a trustee. I see potential in every student who attends Manteca USD. With our qualified staff coupled with our system for instruction, there is nothing that could stand in the way of students becoming solid members of society.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy road trips with my husband in our fifth-wheel trailer. We have been to 45 states and plan on visiting the last five within the next few years. Some may think that driving long distances (highway hypnosis) isn’t for them and could get boring. However, there is beauty in every terrain, and new adventures await around the next turn, if one looks for them.