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.”