Calendar Rescission Vote

I have been responding to quite a few emails expressing a wide variety of opinions since the Board’s decision to revoke the modified calendar on January 13th. I thought I would share some of what my response has been to those who have been kind enough to contact me. I will not be relitigating the merits of a modified calendar at this point, especially since we will be discussing this issue again in future committee and Board work. I would, however, like to share with you my thoughts about my vote.

First of all, if you haven’t already, I always recommend viewing the Board meeting in order to hear all the discussion, rather than just seeing the reports of final action. Archived meetings are available on-demand, usually by the end of the week of the meeting, on Tri-Valley TV.

From my viewpoint as one Board member, I felt that making a change to the 2015-16 calendar at this late date is incredibly problematic for the many folks who have already scheduled their lives around the approved school year. I tried very hard to make the best of the current situation by suggesting a compromise – keep next year as approved but rescind the future years and start the process over. My motion was not even seconded; therefore it could not be discussed.

It is important for folks to recognize that elections have consequences. Trustee Miller made no secret of his desire to rescind the calendar decision – in fact he campaigned almost solely on that issue – and that he wanted to start the process over. Based upon how at least two other trustees have voted in the past on this issue, and you only need three votes, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the modified calendar decision would be rescinded.

After it became clear the other Board members were not interested in considering my compromise motion, I was not willing to vote in the minority just to make a point, when the larger goal of working together to move the district forward on so many other important topics is at stake. Hence the unanimous decision to rescind.

The staff will now go back to the employee calendar committee to negotiate the new dates for 2015-16, and I am hopeful we will be able to make an announcement soon.

Please stay involved as the Board has directed staff to begin a new improved process for looking at modifying the calendar for the 2016-17 school year. Board members all reiterated their interest in ending the first semester before Winter Break.

Posted in Board Meetings, Reflections | Tagged | 2 Comments

Local Control? Not according to the budget trailer bill…

I opposed the last minute education budget trailer bill, SB 858, crafted behind closed doors with no policy or public review, which places a cap on local school district reserves when the State actually puts money into the proposed Rainy Day Fund.  It is said by many to be the price for CTA’s support of the Governor’s November ballot initiative. I believe that you cannot look at this heavy-handed hypocritical piece of legislation – which completely flies in the face of the Governor’s oft-repeated mantra of local control or “subsidiarity” – without also understanding the simultaneous solution they crafted to solve the unfunded liability in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). After the May Revise, the Governor surprisingly announced that his plan to address the unfunded pension liability would begin this fiscal year, and will increase the local school districts’ annual contribution from 8.25% to 19.1% over seven years.  In fact, for many districts, this huge increase will completely absorb the additional funds we are targeted to receive in the new Local Control Funding Formula. I would argue, and did, that since state legislators increased the pension benefits, they should have to pay for it at the state level and not take it out of local Prop 98 dollars. However, that is not the plan. From my vantage point as a locally elected school board member responsible for the fiscal health of my school district, the two scenarios feel very connected – the state isn’t giving districts additional dollars to pay for the mandated pension contributions, so capping the amount of local reserves is one way to free up money to be spent on our increased costs. So much for local control.

For a thorough analysis of this issue, please see the commentary from CSBA & ACSA at Edsource.

Posted in Finances, Legislative | Tagged , ,

Salute to Service 2014

After a very long hiatus, I would like to begin writing again. And I would like to start by sharing my remarks from our annual Salute to Service Ceremony on May 1st, where we recognized our employees who are retiring, as well as celebrated milestones in service. It is a wonderful ceremony, often with jokes as well as tears, as principals share many stories about their honorees.

“Thank you all for coming. I am speaking today because our Board President unfortunately had an unavoidable work commitment that is keeping her from congratulating you in person, so she asked me to congratulate you on her behalf!

I am so pleased that Pleasanton Unified is now recognizing a Classified Employee of the Year, as well as a Teacher of the Year. And I am doubly pleased that we are recognizing our first recipient here today, Ruth Highstreet of Donlon Elementary. I got to know Ruth when my daughter attended Walnut Grove, where Ruth’s smiling face and professional “can-do” attitude greeted parents every day! Congratulations, Ruth, very well-deserved.

And I would like to congratulate Lisa Highfill on being chosen by her peers as Pleasanton’s Teacher of the Year. Yet I would hazard a guess that Lisa didn’t just become a great teacher this year…I’m pretty sure she has been a pretty good teacher for the 20 years she has served in Pleasanton! But this year, many of you got to experience Lisa’s teaching first-hand, in your own classrooms, in her role as our Instructional Technology Coach. So folks got to really know her beyond her traditional stomping grounds over at Fairlands. This highlights one of the problems we have traditionally had in education – the silo effect – which has prevented us from being able to work together across classrooms, school sites, school districts – the world even – to share best practices, to observe and learn from each other, and in general, look for chances to say “now, why didn’t I think of that?” I’m so happy that with some restored funding for professional development, our instructional coaches, and using ever-improving technological tools, we can tear down those walls between us and really share with each other the ways we are improving student learning and engagement.

It is an exciting time in education. Even a little scary. But I remember back when we had Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg here in our district, he reminded us that you can’t get across a chasm by taking small steps. You just have to get a running start and then leap across. Those of you who are retiring this year, and who we are celebrating and thanking today, you gave us the running start. And you’ve been through a lot!
• Loss of stable education funding post-Proposition 13
• Development and implementation of the first set of state standards
• Standardized testing
• Stricter accountability
• The challenges & opportunities of least restrictive environment
• Changes to classroom management (& parental) expectations
• And classified folks having to do more with less – less staff, less resources, changing demands.
My goodness, if you’ve worked here for 30 years, it is remarkable to note that when you started out everything was done by hand, nary a computer or printer in sight. Voicemail was the big thing! But you know what they say…”change” happens. Ok, so maybe that’s not what they say 😉

Thank you so much for your service to our children. I know you’ll be off trying to do all those things that you’ve delayed for so many years, and probably you won’t miss us much… but I guarantee that we’ll miss you as we join hands to take that leap forward. Congratulations on your retirement!”

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Board Meeting Recap: March 12, 2013

It was a fairly routine business meeting last night, but we did have a large group of elementary teachers come before us during public comment to express their frustrations over the changes occurring in the District. In particular, although they are grateful for staggered reading as a response to losing class size reduction in grades K-3, they expressed concern over meeting the needs of struggling students when they have 30 kids in the classroom. They are also concerned with changing the role of Reading Specialists, who pulled students out to work one-on-one, into Literacy Coaches, who will train and support classroom teachers to provide intervention strategies that don’t require students to miss instructional time. They also reported a perceived lack of communication and opportunity for teachers to provide input into the changes, as well as some folks feeling disrespected as they are expected to change their practices. I hope I have captured the concerns accurately. Although we have already had a Board presentation on the Literacy Coaches, we asked the Superintendent for a study session to address just exactly how the new system will work when fully implemented, including the plan to utilize volunteers to provide some one-on-one support for students.

Change is hard. I do not dismiss the feelings expressed by the folks at the podium last night – not at all. I have known many of them for years and consider them friends and colleagues. Through our Strategic Plan and the work the Superintendent is doing to implement the Board’s goals, we ARE asking a lot of our employees. It is ONLY because of my belief in the professionalism and competency of our teachers that I trust we can successfully make these transitions. We ALL will have to become more comfortable with the accelerating pace of change in the educational system due to the combined pressures of new research-based evidence, disruptive technological innovation, and the politics of education reform. There will certainly be disagreements about just what are best practices, however, and for the sake of our students, I count on continuing to hear from folks with diverse opinions as the Board makes our policy decisions.  

Apprenticeship Program/Got Skills? Open House:  the Board heard a report about the local apprenticeship programs available to our high school graduates in the Tri-Valley. The state provides funding for the training programs, which for us locally include firefighters, cement masons, and carpenters. There is coordination between the apprenticeship programs and the school district through our Career & Technical Education and Regional Occupation Programs.  To get more information about the skilled trades and apprenticeship programs, come to the Open House on Thursday, March 14th, from 6-8 pm, at the Carpenters Training Center, 2350 Santa Rita Rd, Pleasanton.

Second Interim Financial Report:  Although we are still waiting for more clarification about the “if and when” of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that the Governor has proposed, the Board heard a detailed report on our current financials and approved our District’s 2nd Interim Report as of January 31, 2013 with a Positive Certification. We are required to submit these “updates” to the County Office of Education for their review and concurrence with our financial plan to remain able to meet our obligations not only for this fiscal year, but for the next two. There were several bright points in the Deputy Superintendent’s report, but two in particular resonated with me.  Because we have been receiving more money in developer fees as the housing and construction market picks up, we are not only able to make our debt service payments without impacting the General Fund, we have an extra $500K to make another payment on our loans we borrowed from the Sycamore Fund. I would like to see this reserve fund built back up to its historical levels as it definitely provides a cushion to help with instability in state funding.  We have repaid 30% of the loans outstanding, and will end this fiscal year with a $5.2 net balance.  Once we have repaid all the loans, plus interest, we will have returned to the pre-recession balance of $7.3 million.

The other bright spot is that the Board accepted the Superintendent’s recommendation to begin allocating dollars for technology expenses.  In similar sized districts, one could expect to see spending on technology equipment and infrastructure to be approximately $1.0 million per year.  PUSD historically relied on the Sycamore Fund to match dollars donated by parent groups to spend on technology at their individual schools.  That system not only created inequities across school sites, but imploded when interest rates crashed and the District began to borrow from the Fund for operations.  The dollars being allocated for upcoming technology expenses are being generated by the payoffs occurring in some capital leases.  The Board has heard loud and clear that our teachers and staff need technological tools and support in order to do their jobs now, and we will certainly be required to have computers in place for the Common Core online assessments that are coming in 2014-15.  I look forward to the inventory status report coming soon to the Board from our new Director of Technology Services, and to the Technology Plan process to follow!

Posted in Board Meetings, Curriculum, Finances | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Board Meeting Recap: March 5, 2013

Well, if you blinked, you missed it!  This meeting date was originally scheduled as a Special Budget Meeting back in August when we set the calendar for the year.  For the past 5 years, we have needed extra meetings in March to deal with the on-going budget cuts.  The good news is that because of Proposition 30’s passage in November, we didn’t experience mid-year budget cuts from the state and a special budget meeting was not needed.

However, so much of our Board business is responding to legal notification requirements and deadlines, so our meeting agenda instead included some regular personnel items, which were ultimately pulled, as I’ll explain.  That’s why we finished the meeting in less than 15 minutes!

LEA Plan Addendum – This item was originally on last week’s agenda, but was postponed to this week due to time constraints.  As a result of our District going into Program Improvement, we are required to submit to the California Dept of Education a revision to our Local Education Area (LEA) Plan.  In general, LEA is “eduspeak” for a school district.  We failed to make adequate yearly progress in two of our subgroups – Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students, and Students with Disabilities.  This is not news – we have been working to improve the achievement of these students specifically, and of all our students in general, via our Strategic Plan and our focused, need-based alignment of interventions and resources.  Now we have just officially provided the State our plan reflecting our work.  A Board member asked a question about our District’s Theory of Action, which was presented to the Board back in September.  You can read all about it at PUSD’s A Theory of Action – from Goals to Action.

The Board pulled the other two items as not needed – Reductions to Teachers due to Reductions in Particular Kinds of Service (PKS), and Non-Reelection of Probationary Teachers.  Both of these items are a regular agenda feature this time of year due to the nature of the March 15th deadline for notices of possible layoff for teachers.

In the simplest terms, District administrators look at enrollment and classes that students are signing up for to determine how many sections of each subject or PKS are needed.  However, as teachers hold different certifications, there is often some movement in assignment and you can accomplish the reduction in service without layoffs.  For example, let’s say you don’t have any students who signed up for “Underwater Basket Weaving (UBW)” so you will want to reduce or eliminate that PKS.  Let’s further say that the UBW teacher also holds a multi-subject credential.  Therefore, the UBW teacher can now be placed teaching something else, so no layoff is needed.  For PUSD, we do not need to issue any notices due to reductions in PKS this year, so the item was pulled.

As for Non-Reelection – again I must issue an “eduspeak” disclaimer.  If a Probationary teacher is not going to be offered a contract for the following year, for any reason, they are said to be “non-reelected”.  A Probationary teacher can be non-reelected without specific cause – an individual may have even received a positive evaluation, but perhaps is deemed not to be a good fit for permanent status in a school district.  However, the employee may choose to resign instead of having “non-reelected” on their record.  Since the Board must take action to non-reelect, we had it scheduled on the agenda, but did not end up needing the item, so it was pulled.

We did have one Consent Agenda Item – approval of the Bio-Medical Science Project Lead the Way Course.  We discussed this at length last week, and the course was unanimously approved on Consent last night.  I can’t wait to see the classroom plans and hear from the two Foothill teachers when they get back from their summer intensive PLTW training!

We will be back to our regularly scheduled programming next Tuesday, March 12th!

Posted in Board Meetings, Curriculum

Board Meeting Recap: February 26, 2013

So many folks have told me lately that “that’s not what I read online” about discussion and votes taken by the school board that I’ve decided to share a few notes and comments from our deliberations after each meeting.  It is not my intent to produce a set of minutes of the meeting, but to offer my personal reflections on our decisions.  The best way to understand the process and outcome of the meetings is still the old-fashioned way – come down and be there in person.

Restorations:  After five years of budget cuts, it was a pleasure Tuesday night to be able to take action to restore some positions ahead of the infamous March 15th lay-off deadline.  The Superintendent presented her recommendations to the Board at the February 12th meeting where we had a long discussion about many of the positions – most notably literacy interventions and the additional vice principals.  We are all anxious to be able to restore programs for our students and it was hard to rein in our desire say “more, more, more.”  However, the staff clearly heard the Board’s direction for additional support for literacy and library hours because the revised recommendation to the Board this week added an additional 1 FTE Literacy Coach, with the idea that this position could be used to coordinate training and placement of some volunteers to assist in our efforts to address student needs, and 1 FTE Library Assistant at the high school level.  There was little discussion and a unanimous vote to approve.  However, a motion was made to further add additional positions to Literacy Coaching (1 FTE) and Middle School Library Assistants (0.5 FTE).  I really do not have any problem with either, I simply wanted to wait until we knew more about what our budget will look like for next year, so I voted no.  The positions cost approximately $102K and that is not really overly burdensome when you look at the totality of the entire budget, but that is also ¼ of the way to class-size reduction for 1st grade, for example.  If PPIE continues to raise a significant amount of donations, I would like to be able to consider the possibility of helping them get the rest of the way there.  In any event, the motion carried, so with the additions, we restored/continued $2.9 million in positions, for the upcoming school year only.  Thank you, PUSD employees, for your concessions which bolstered our ending fund balance.  And thank you to the voters who approved Proposition 30 so we didn’t have to spend that money to pay for a mid-year cut from the state.

It is important to note just how crucial the donations from our partners are.  Thank you to all of the donors who are supporting the work of these organizations to support our students!  We are able to restore the positions for the Elementary Band & Strings program because of PSEE (Pleasanton Schools Educational Enrichment Foundation).  And without the support of PPIE (Pleasanton Partners in Education Foundation) which to date has raised $300K for programs for next year, we would not have been able to make many of the restorations.  Quick plug – the 1st Annual PPIE Run for Education is on April 14th – be there, or be square!

Layoffs:  But wait – why then is that teacher I like getting a preliminary layoff notice?  The Board, as is standard practice, voted to release all temporary status teachers (approx. 44 FTE).  Temporary teachers are aware of this practice – it is not a surprise.  Districts do this to avoid conferring an expectation or entitlement to probationary status the next year.  However, with this slightly better budget situation, it is likely that we will be able to offer many of our temporary folks a new contract for 2013-14 before this year is out.

Bio-Medical Science Project Lead the Way (PLTW):  As is our protocol now, we are having big topics brought to the Board as discussion items first when possible, and then voted on at a subsequent meeting.  So Tuesday we learned about an exciting proposal to implement PLTW at Foothill High School for next year.  This is part of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) effort – we already opened the Engineering PLTW at Amador – now we are looking to offer Bio-Medical Sciences at Foothill.  PLTW fits in with our Strategic Plan perfectly – relevant, rigorous, creative, etc….it will be coming back to us at the next meeting on the Consent Agenda.

Personnel Document:  And speaking of the Consent Agenda, there seems to be a little confusion about the vote on the Personnel Document this meeting.  At our Feb 12th meeting, the Board already approved adding .2 FTE to our Assessment Coordinator to make that position full-time (.80 Assessment Coordinator/.20 Management Assistant) because we really need to continue training our teachers on using assessments, and our Online Data Reporting System (OARS), to inform their instruction.  We have already seen big gains in our staff’s ability to quickly pull information on how students are doing and then get them any necessary targeted intervention to succeed.  The Board voted unanimously and without any issues.  However, what is complicated to explain, and perhaps understand, is that because management employees are paid evenly over their contracted work year, the effective date needed to be corrected to the beginning of the fiscal year.  Because of the workload, that employee had been working full-time and would have run out of the equivalent of the part-time status by the beginning of May.  The Board agreed that the work is critical and we needed that position to continue.  Hence, the change to full-time.  However, to make sure the employee was paid for the time already worked, the date needed to be set at the beginning of the fiscal year in order to calculate that equivalent payment over the employee’s work year.  I told you…complicated.  With an effective date of Feb 12th, the position would have “run out” of days in the middle of May, hardly better than before we increased the position.  By correcting the effective date, the position will be filled through the end of this fiscal year.  So the Superintendent requested to pull the Personnel Doc from Consent to discuss this correction.  The Board approved the Personnel Doc with the correction.  Although Trustee Arkin voted no on correcting the effective date because she said she felt it was setting some kind of bad precedent, she repeated that she didn’t have an issue with the position.

All-in-all, it was a good meeting and President Bowser did a great job keeping us on task, and getting us out on time.

Posted in Board Meetings, Finances | 2 Comments

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

Can I just say that last week was a VERY good week? I am grateful that California voters decided to support the Governor’s plan to restore some fiscal stability to the state budget and stop the cuts to education by passing some temporary tax measures. Many of us in education spent a great deal of time walking precincts and phone banking for Proposition 30, so I thank all my fellow volunteers who gave up their evenings and Saturdays! But we all need to thank Governor Brown for leading a masterful campaign and to First Dog of California Sutter Brown for “barking the vote” with younger voters, whose increased voter turnout made all the difference. A big smooch to you, Sutter!

Courtesy of Sutter Brown

So what’s next? Well, it is not like our schools were given millions of NEW dollars this year, we just avoided more cuts. It will be a slow rebuilding process with lots of conversation around our new Strategic Plan and the implementation of the Common Core Standards. In addition, the state will again propose a weighted student funding formula, which carries significant financial risk for our district if not implemented in such a way to hold us harmless. So before we jump into new battles, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some of the things we did to improve the functioning and efficiency of our school district over the past couple of years, in spite of the turmoil. The budget cuts got all the press, but there were some changes that happened along the way that you may have missed…

I’d like to use an article from the California School Boards Association on “The Top 10 Ways to Raise Revenue and Cut Costs” (California Schools, Fall 2012) to frame this discussion. You’ll have to stick around to see all ten topics covered over the next several posts!

#10 Cultivate Collaboration
# 9  Generate Grants
# 8  Start a Foundation
# 7  Cut Costs
# 6  Go Green
# 5  Sell Stuff
# 4  Share…
# 3  Your Name Here
# 2  Appeal to Voters
# 1  (wait for it…) Make the most of CSBA Membership! Well, it is an article in their trade mag, afterall…

Posted in Finances, Legislative, Reflections | Tagged | 1 Comment

It makes me want to buy school supplies…

To paraphrase Nora & Delia Ephron’s words from “You’ve Got Mail” –  I love this time of year, and I want to go out and buy school supplies because the smell of newly-sharpened pencils makes me happy.

It’s that time of year, and today was our all-staff meeting welcoming everyone back to the new school year.  The keynote speaker was Carl Guardino, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who gave a wonderful talk on what the business community expects from us, and what we should expect from them.  Refreshing.  I hope we can learn from the SVLG and cultivate our own local organization comprised of supportive business leaders here in the Tri-Valley.

As Board President, I was invited to address our staff, and here’s what I had to say:

“Good morning! Superintendent Ahmadi has informed me that I have about two minutes to speak today. Well, if you watch the school board meetings, you know that not one of us is actually capable of speaking for only two minutes 🙂 But it is a such a rare opportunity to have you all gathered together, what can I tell you that you don’t already know?

It is not news to you that the pace of educational reform has dramatically accelerated. According to Jamie Vollmer, during the past 20 years alone nearly 40 major areas of responsibility have been added to the list of school mandates. And that doesn’t even count the specialized topics within subject areas, or the increased reporting and data requirements, nor the explosion of standardized testing! All without adding a single minute to the school calendar…which now, by virtue of our state’s budget woes, we must do all this “even more” with “even less”! On top of that, now we have a new district Strategic Plan and the Common Core to implement, with higher expectations for our students, and for all of you. So why am I not depressed and pessimistic?

Because I’ve been in your classrooms, and on your school sites! I am continually astonished at the level of professionalism and dedication within our ranks. I know that other school districts probably have some wonderful staff too, but when I am out of Pleasanton listening to the tales of woe from other board members around the state, often I can only pinch myself and say I am so lucky to get to work with some of California’s finest!

Ok, you’re probably thinking to yourself, you’re the Board President, it’s your job to say stuff like that! You may think no one else in the community agrees with me. Pleasanton couldn’t pass a parcel tax, so that must mean they don’t support education, right? Here’s some data that I hope will help remind us of just how supportive our community really is and how much they value the work you do.

We still have an abundance of riches when it comes to volunteers, despite our changing demographics. They are still out there and still willing. Just one example are the dedicated volunteers now re-energizing our two district Education Foundations, PPIE and PSEE!

And at each of your sites, you have a fanatical army of support in your parent group organizations. In addition to the estimated 200,000 volunteer hours they provide each year, did you know that the PTAs & PFCs raise EACH YEAR, at nearly EACH SCHOOL, approximately $100,000 that stays at your site? That money is spent in a myriad of ways, but for the most part ends up directly in the classrooms, the libraries, and the computer labs.

Speaking as someone who is not alone in dropping over $1,000 at this week’s walk-thru registration, parents still believe that the programs we offer and the work we do deserve their support. Are we experiencing a bump in the road as we change our “ask” to make it more clear that all our students are entitled to participate in our programs regardless of ability to pay? Yes. But I believe it is a temporary hurdle, one that we will clear as our communication on the subject continues to improve.

But what about the larger Pleasanton community? Where are they? Well, they’re here too, it just isn’t as obvious. Local businesses have always donated very generously and repeatedly to school fundraisers, and even provide grants for specific programs, such as Project Lead the Way. And through the exceptional networking of Superintendent Ahmadi and other administrators, business folks and community members are becoming even more engaged with our school district every day and are now asking us “how can we help?”

I can’t stress enough how important momentum and positive energy are. So take heart. Our path is clear to me, even if it sometimes feels like two steps forward, one step back. We must continue to communicate our successes to the community, while simultaneously and honestly working on our problems, because, hey, nobody’s perfect. And we must give credit where credit is due. Thank our parents for ensuring our students arrive to school well-fed and prepared to learn, and appreciate the personal and financial commitments most parents make every day to support our work. Thank our business leaders for continuing to support both individual programs and schools, and for their wonderful commitment to our Ed Foundations. And thank community members, like the senior citizens who meet with the Superintendent every month, and our civic leaders for their verbal support out in the wider community.

But most of all, thank each other. Not one of us could do our jobs in this school district alone. From the outstanding leadership of Superintendent Ahmadi and her Cabinet, to the hard-working classified employees at the District Office and on our school sites, to the dedicated teachers and aides in the classroom – you have the awesome responsibility and actual power to impact our students’ lives for the better, and for the rest of their lives. And I know you do just that, despite your own personal financial sacrifices – which is why I am so grateful to be a part of the Pleasanton Unified School District, why I’m such an optimist, and why I say today, to you, thank you, and have a wonderful year.”

Posted in Community, Reflections

No school board election in November for Pleasanton…

The filing period has closed and no one has stepped up to challenge the three incumbents running for the school board, so PUSD will not be on the ballot in November. What does this mean for our community?

One might argue that the absence of any challengers means that the community is, in the main, satisfied with the performance of its school board. There is probably a certain amount of truth to this. While there may be concerns with individual decisions made by the Board as a whole, or by the particular votes of a single trustee, it takes a lot of passion and maybe a little outrage to see yourself fighting and winning a seat of your own. What do you bring to the table that is different and better than those currently serving? Given your understanding of the issues, what do you hope to change? It is such a huge step from individual advocacy to making policy.

However, I would argue that there is more than a little fatalism evidenced in our local election cycle. Do folks really believe that they can make a difference? School communities feel pretty powerless in the face of the seemingly never-ending bad news from Sacramento. Despite our continued success story as a school district (more on that in a later post), board members have had four years of increasingly difficult decisions to make. And even in good times, if you’re doing it right, the job is HARD! Little glory, lots of guts. As a result of 40 years of court decisions and legislative policies (to name just a few – Serrano vs Priest, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Prop 13, the movement to state standards, the federal NCLB’s emphasis on testing, and a state Ed Code so convoluted it functions as an attorney jobs act), there seem to be fewer and fewer truly “local” decisions. In fact, it seems the only time the legislators trust us puny local leaders is when we have cuts to make…when they are handing out money, there are always strings attached!

So since school boards are, in fact, state agencies carrying out the state function of providing public education to a community’s children, why do we need locally elected board members anyway? Actually, there are quite a number of so-called education reformers who think elected school boards should be abolished.

No less than Arne Duncan, our US Secretary of Education, does not believe in their value. I quote directly from a 2009 article in The Times-Picayune “that Duncan came down squarely against local elected boards as the governance structure for large, urban districts. He said he favors mayoral control, appointed school boards or some type of top-down authority…He argues that elected school boards in urban districts lead to a perpetual churn of superintendents, leadership and policies.”

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix and former President of the State Board of Education, has also said that elected school boards impede the growth of student achievement. He feels that elected school boards are too subject to political winds, and to maintain student achievement growth we need more consistency and longer-termed leaders. “It is the system that says you have to make a difference in your short term,” Hastings said of school board members, “that is the fundamental problem.” (The Advocate, 2011) Reed, as a charter school advocate, thinks that appointed non-profit boards, where sitting members select new board members, is a better model.

But where in appointed self-perpetuating boards is the voice of the public? According to the National School Boards Association, we have had laymen overseeing the public education of our youth since 1721! And since 1826 those community members have been elected. In a representative democracy, it is not necessarily speed and efficiency that is most valued, but the ability of the local community to have a voice in their own governance and the education of their children.

For Pleasanton, a wealthy community with highly-educated parents, our task is to deepen our “bench”.  We must encourage others to get involved and mentor future board members whether they be parent volunteers or business leaders. We must, by our actions, show that their participation does make a difference.  And we must continue our efforts to promote our excellent school district and help our community understand the challenges and opportunities we face together. Our students depend on it.

Posted in Community, Legislative, Reflections, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

My brain hurts…or what I did on my summer vacation

Wow – two days spent at the Google Apps for Education Summit learning how their apps can make things simpler for our teachers and administrators, how learning can be more engaging and interactive for students, and best of all, how to impress one’s friends with cool “ninja” tricks in Chrome.  I will confess, there were not many school board members there (I think fellow trustee Jeff Bowser and I were it) and you may well ask why then, were we there?

Our district is fortunate enough to have two Google Certified Teachers, Lisa Highfill and Nicole Dalesio, at Fairlands Elementary.  I was fortunate enough to witness some of the amazing things they accomplish in the classroom with their students using tech tools at an open house they hosted for parents last year.  When I found out about the Google summit, I couldn’t wait to learn more.  In this era of dwindling financial support from the state, anything that is effective, efficient, and inexpensive gets my attention.

Well, being in a conference with hundreds of excited, energized, hyped up teachers (about 40 of whom were from Pleasanton) rubs off.  My personal Google apps “to-do/to-learn” list is verrry long now, nevermind the apps for education stuff!  However, the focus of the summit, from Google’s Jaime Casap (follow him on Twitter @jcasap) was “why now it’s no longer a question of whether we should integrate technology in education, but rather it is now a question of how we can leverage it to build the skills students will need to compete on a global scale”.  If you’d like to see what kinds of topics were addressed so you can explore ideas for Google apps on your own, check out the list of workshops.

My favorite quote was an offhand remark of Casap’s:  “Google Forms is the gateway drug to Google Apps for teachers”.  In fact, after the first day, one of our teachers came back and had solved a perennial email collection problem with a form tailored to his program, which spans nine sites. You could almost see the lightbulbs flashing as our teachers realized how these tools will help them be more effective; how these tools will be the lingua franca to help them communicate to our young digital natives who speak, essentially, a foreign language and learn in a completely new way.

So, one might think, we’ve been here before, so what?  I have been supporting technology in our district since my husband and I helped build the first computer lab at our son’s elementary school back in the mid-90’s, using spit and donated equipment.  This isn’t the same old story – the availability now of hand-held wifi devices at a reasonable price point is having a revolutionary impact on education.  Combine that with the emphasis in the Common Core Standards on analyzing and using information, not simply regurgitating it, and with our new 2012 PUSD Strategic Plan, now is the perfect time to begin applying some innovative strategies and tools.

The old proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” has never been more true, and it is true for our teachers, too.  Learning new skills is time-consuming, especially when we are already stretched very thin, and quite frankly, kind of scary.  But if we can demonstrate that a new skill or technology will save a teacher some time AND it is good for kids, we are half-way home.  As for me, as a school board member, knowing what is possible and what kinds of questions to ask to further our District goals, is why I spent part of my summer vacation with a bunch of other geeky educators.

Posted in Curriculum, Reflections, Technology, Uncategorized | 5 Comments