About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. I created this site to keep in touch with folks who want to know more about what is happening in the District and what it's like to be a Trustee.

Please note that ANY OPINION EXPRESSED HERE IS PURELY PERSONAL AND DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT OFFICIAL POSITIONS OR POLICY OF THE SAN CARLOS SCHOOL DISTRICT NOR THE OPINION OF ANY OF MY COLLEAGUES ON THE BOARD.

The blog is intended solely for the purpose of informing and communicating with constituents. It is not intended in any way to participate in discussions with fellow board members.

I encourage everyone to visit the District web site as well as attend School Board meetings.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.

 

January 2017
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

What we learned from our first child’s journey through the college admissions process

INTRODUCTION
As a parent, it’s easy to convince yourself that it has all led up to this – every parenting decision you have made to date has somehow molded your child to be ready to leave the nest and go to college. It’s all too tempting to think that where they go to college is not just a judgment on them, but also a reflection on you. Parents who have kids as young as kindergarteners attempt to picture the road for their children – a road that ends with college and a road that we as parents are responsible for paving. That’s a fairly big burden to carry.

So, no wonder that when one actually gets to be in sight of the college admissions process that we as parents place a lot of pressure on both ourselves and our child. It’s an inherently stressful journey due to its intrinsic uncertainty combined with the weighty importance we place on the outcome. Naturally, this stress is elevated when one goes through the process with your first child.

Having just finished this first journey, my wife, son, and I have learned a lot – some from the great advice we received from others, some from the mistakes we made, and some just serendipitously. A lot has changed since we went to college about 30 years ago, and we were surprised how much we didn’t know. We learned lessons both philosophical and practical, however the former were critical to actuate the latter.

I naturally recognize that every child is different, and everyone’s parenting style (and background and experience) is different, but hopefully many of these lessons will resonate for most. It’s important to note that if your child is a potential Division I athlete or an outstanding artist/musician/thespian, there are very specific elements to that journey that would differ significantly from ours.

THE NATURE OF COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
The first thing you notice as a parent is how every school seems much more competitive and selective than it was a generation ago. This isn’t a mirage – it’s fundamentally due to a change in supply and demand. Although the supply of college enrollment slots has only grown minimally over the last few decades (only a handful of new universities have launched, and there has been generally modest enrollment growth from existing schools), the demand has skyrocketed. This is largely the result of the overall growth in the U.S. population, the percentage of U.S. high school students applying to college, and the growth of international students attending U.S. colleges(1). In addition, the Internet and the Common Application specifically have made it easier to apply to many more schools (I applied to five colleges whereas my son applied to 12). Because of the Common App and the relatively ease to communicate with prospective students in this digital age, colleges are more aggressive than ever in marketing to students. This allows them to reach potential students on a much broader scale than ever before. By increasing the number of applicants, they effectively lower their acceptance rates and become more “selective.”

The inevitable result from all of these factors is a lower acceptance rate across the board. Comparing acceptance rates from just 10 years ago, one sees dramatic declines at most schools. Here are a few examples at historically very “selective” institutions – showing 2006 vs. 2016 (2):

  • Stanford University (10% vs. 4.7%)
  • University of Chicago (38% vs. 7%)
  • University of Southern California (22% vs. 15%)
  • Vanderbilt University (33% vs. 13%)
  • Northwestern University (31% vs. 13%)

With a larger pool of students from which to draw and a lower acceptance rate, the requirements for admission get more rigid, including higher GPAs and standardized test scores. Also, as most schools report that a significantly higher number of students than those who get accepted would thrive at their institution, they are seemingly choosing between applicants who, on paper, may seem very similar. Ergo, from an applicant’s or parent’s point of view, there appears to be a lot of randomness in the system. Additionally, you quickly learn that some of the traditional “thumb on the scale” factors such as having an alumnus parent don’t hold the weight that they used to.

So, that’s the bad news. But there is good news as well. Because almost every school is more “selective” than it used to be, the caliber of the students has improved in all of these schools. Colleges that in the past may have been our “safety school” (or the one where our less accomplished high school peers attended) have suddenly become places that are both more selective with students who are quite accomplished.

There is an upside to all of this digital age marketing – students and parents can be exposed to many more schools that they might not have considered (or even heard of) in years past. Generally, more information is a good thing. Going through this process, one appreciates how many amazing schools are out there across the country (plus of course internationally if that can be considered). As a parent, you know a lot less than you think you did about hundreds of colleges. No doubt there are so many great schools (and some incredibly selective) that you probably never would have thought to consider based solely on your personal experience. The first lesson as a parent going through this process is recognizing what you don’t know.

Therefore, the biggest problem is not the uncertainty about getting into a great school but rather the awesome task of narrowing down the list of great schools.

NARROWING THE LIST
The biggest lesson that we learned is to first let go of the traditional construct of how we view schools – that every school is somehow on one long linear scale with the best at the top and some school no one has heard of at the bottom. The nature of the “product” of delivering a higher education is so complex and rich that it eschews attempts to measure it on a linear scale. Not that people haven’t tried. There are tons of college rankings – the most well known being from U.S. News and World Report. It’s naïve to think that parents won’t check these rankings, but it’s important to keep in mind that they are inherently both flawed and easily manipulated. For more detail on how these college rankings work and why they are so problematic, search for Frank Bruni’s articles in the New York Times. He lays out very thoughtful arguments that demonstrate the shortcoming of college rankings and presents evidence that our children’s success in life is more correlated to what they do with their college experience rather than the pedigree of institution that they attend.

With this frame of mind, we can change the conversation from what is the “best school that our child can get into” to what is the “best school for our child.” But if all things were equal, wouldn’t you want your child to go to the school with the best reputation (assuming you can even measure that)? Of course, but never are all things equal. It’s really about trying to divine the best fit for that student, which is enough of a challenge already. Your own biases or your long-held impression of a school’s “brand” could make it harder to find that best fit.

It’s also important to recognize that as little you know about colleges, your student knows even less. Sure, they’ve heard of Stanford, some of the Ivy League schools, and probably the big football schools around the country, but their lens through which they view colleges is mostly shaped by what you tell them. If you denigrate a school because it’s where your not-so-bright friend in high school went thirty years ago, they’ll never be able to view that place objectively. This is why in our children’s high school, they avoid the term “safety school.” There are schools where the student is “likely” to gain admission and schools that are “reaches,” but these are less loaded terms. So, it’s important to keep in mind that you have a ton of influence as to how your child will view a school and how excited they will or will not be at the prospect of attending it.

One of the hardest – and perhaps most counter-intuitive – lessons is to largely block out everybody else’s opinions of individual schools. Just as you recognize biases in yourself, recognize that everyone else has their own. The views of grandparents are likely out of date, out of context and not objective related to their grandchild who clearly could just waltz into any college they wish. Even friends – some of whom have gone through the college admissions process with their children – likely have strong biases based on either what was a good fit for their own child or something related to their own experience. Don’t ask anyone who went to UCLA what he thinks of USC, or anyone who went to the University of Michigan what she thinks of the University of Wisconsin. The main exception to this rule is that you absolutely gain valuable insights from current students (or their parents) at a particular school you’re researching.

Besides making some assumptions on certain characteristics of good fit schools (size, location, etc.), the target list is narrowed by learning where my child has some shot of getting accepted. Many high schools use a tool like Naviance as both a college application management system as well as a research tool. If schools keep the data, a student can compare his/her grades and SAT/ACT scores to students from their same school who in the past got accepted or rejected from any given college. Although Naviance is a great tool if used well, it can force a parent through the five stages of grief:

  • Denial – “There’s no way you need this GPA to get into that school!”
  • Anger – “The whole system is crazy!”
  • Bargaining – “Well, maybe if my child can play sports, or maybe they’ll just interview really well, and they can get into that school.”
  • Depression – “My child is never going to get into a great college”
  • Acceptance – “I understand that there are so many more great schools out there than I had thought of, and my child will get accepted to one which is a great fit.”

It is important to keep in mind that even this kind of data leaves out many factors that are additionally important in predicting whether or not a student gets accepted into any college. This is where your counselor comes in to help guide the student to create a balanced list of schools – ones that are a “reach,” ones that are “likely”, and ones in the middle. However, we have found that there is “arbitrage” in the system – based on what high school your student attends, for any given college they may have a relative advantage or disadvantage versus the applicant pool at large. This can be based on the high school’s particular grading system and rigor (and how certain colleges view that) or it can be based on relationships built up between high school counselors and college admissions officers.

VISITING SCHOOLS
It would be very difficult (and near impossible for your child) to get a good sense of a school without visiting it. Clearly the need to travel (spending money and time) may limit how many schools you can visit, but I can easily say that this was the most fun part of the college search process (for me). It’s absolutely fascinating to see how schools sell themselves, what sparks your child’s interest, and learning what they really care about and what they don’t. You’ll likely be surprised, as there were schools that my wife and I found incredibly impressive, but our son didn’t. It’s hard to remember that it’s not about us! In any case, start every visit with an open mind.

Naturally you have to start with some filter to narrow down the list of schools to potentially visit – size of school, section of country, rural vs. suburban vs. urban, sports-focused, religious/secular, etc. We got great advice that if your family is traveling for a vacation, just make a visit to a local college (even if that particular school won’t likely be a target) as it gives you and your student context as to what a school with certain characteristics (size, location, etc.) looks like – remember, they have no idea! This will inform your child in helping determine the features they like (or don’t like) about schools. Some of the most informative tours we went on were ones that our son hated, because it really helped us all focus on what was important to him.

The biggest challenge with visiting schools is remembering everything you saw, heard and felt – frankly after a bunch of visits, the experiences start to blend together and you start misattributing observations. Although it would be difficult (and probably awkward) to take notes while on a tour, we always got together as a family right after our visit (often by sitting in one of the school eateries) and having our student write down notes of everything we heard, observations, etc. Keep those notes in a single notebook or other place where they can be retrieved later (and will come in handy for the student to reference specific things they learned when they complete their application). Some students also like to take pictures to jog their memories.

For some of our visits, we brought along our younger child who frankly was less than enthused to go on all of these tours. If this can’t be avoided, it worked for us to give the sibling a job. We made a game of it. The night before we were to go on a college tour, each family member “bet” on one word which would be repeated most often by the tour guide (e.g., “community,” “relationships,” “challenge,” “safety,” etc.) and then the younger sibling would just keep a little score sheet tabulating the frequency of each word. It get them busy and put a little humor into the process as well.

Lastly, don’t rely solely on what you hear in the information session and tour. They’re of course valuable, but you have to recognize that they are part of the school’s marketing – and some schools just market better than others. Besides feedback from current students (or their parents) that you know, try to spend some time checking out the feel of the campus and watching the student interaction – your child may be able to pick up on whether he/she could see themselves there. (This is more difficult if you visit when students aren’t in session, which sometimes you must do given everyone’s schedule). One specific tip we were given is to recommend that your child go up to a couple of random students on the campus, introduce themselves saying they are a prospective student, and ask them two questions: (a) what’s your favorite thing about this school? and (b) what’s your least favorite thing about this school? Some high school kids may be too shy to do this, but college students are generally happy to talk to them. In this very short conversation, the student will gain some very valuable insights. If the school offers the ability for a student to sit in on a class, encourage them to sign up for that. It will help them both sense the “vibe” of the students as well give them a glimpse as to what college classes feel like.

THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Despite the existence of the Common App, this process is a lot of work and is generally no fun for the student. But there are some things we learned which could mitigate the stress involved.

First, long before college application time, make sure your child has a resume. They should have this anyway as they may apply for summer jobs or internships, but we found that the resume was a great “cheat sheet” to remind him what to include in college apps – both when they have to fill out the activities/extracurricular section but also as ideas for what to include in essays.

But probably the most important thing we learned was to have your student start early. They will likely be resistant to this idea, but saving all of the work for the first semester of senior year can be very stressful. The Common App (and the University of California) essay prompts are published well in advance, so it’s possible for the student to start drafting some essays over the summer. (It may be obvious to say that a student should just copy all essay prompts into a single Word document so that it can be edited and sections can be reused for similar essays, and then when completely done copied into the online application form). Obviously the student should leverage their guidance counselor and any resources offered by their school to help guide them through the application, but having a couple of essays completed before senior year starts puts them in a much better position.

Also some schools put greater weight than others on “demonstrated interest” (visiting the school, contacting the admissions office, even clicking on links in e-mails they send, etc.). They do this because one of their biggest challenges is managing “yield” (the percentage of students who accept an offer). Your child should leverage the advice of their college counselor to see how he/she can best demonstrate interest. In general, a counselor is often a better “task master” than the parents for the entire application process, but at the same time a good college counselor should be one who reduces the stress inherent in the process (for both student and parent), not add to it.

There’s of course all of the other aspects of the college application process, including taking the SAT or ACT, getting teacher (or other) recommendations, and going on an interview (at colleges where they are offered). Think of all of this when planning ahead and trying to avoid as much of a crunch time during the senior fall. If you think your student would do reasonably well in an interview, have them sign up for those. We’ve heard conflicting advice on whether interviews make a difference, but it probably can’t hurt, and to practice interviewing is just a good skill to have regardless. They should just remember to be themselves, use the essays they have written and their resume as something they review before the interview, and make sure they have a few questions prepared to ask the interviewer.

If at all possible, encourage your child to apply early to as many schools as possible (to the degree it is permitted, e.g. you can’t apply Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action to multiple schools) – there is really no downside other than making sure the work is done, and there is only upside in both potentially boosting chances of acceptance and hearing back from schools earlier. In any case, pretend that the application deadlines are actually a week earlier than published. It’s always good to leave a little buffer just in case there is any problem with the submission, including any technical issues and making sure all other materials are in.

TALKING ABOUT COLLEGE
Naturally, many of your friends have children also applying to college, so many others you know are going through the same process, each with a likely different philosophical view and level of stress. And your kids are different people. This makes it awkward to have conversations with friends and family about colleges. Kids feel this same awkwardness in talking to each other. It’s hard to separate conversations about college with the feeling that someone in their mind is comparing students against one another – all related to this common notion of putting schools on a “better/worse” continuum rather than thinking about fit. Of course you can’t avoid most conversations, but you can avoid exacerbating the awkwardness by using social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat posts about where your child got into school should probably be left until the school year is close to over.

Of course, even within your own family it’s hard not to turn every conversation into something about college, because it seems to always hang over you. Besides potentially increasing stress levels, disproportionate dialog may also make siblings feel a little left out. So, although it’s absolutely necessary to have many open and serious conversations with your child to figure out the best college fit, it’s also important to set aside some times to not talk about the process (maybe over dinners, etc.).

Most importantly, be patient and forgiving – with your child and between spouses. Periodically remind your child (and yourself) that they will get into a great school that is a smart fit for them. Remind them that getting accepted or rejected is not the same as succeeding or failing, and that what’s most important is how they take advantage of their college experience. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most kids are very happy with their ultimate choice of school and happy with their experience there. But even in the case where they are not, it’s not forever – they can change course and transfer later. In any case, despite what you may have thought when the kids were in kindergarten, you haven’t actually reached the “end” anyway – your parenting continues and hopefully will for many years!

Footnotes
(1) According to the Institute of International Education, there were about 427,000 international undergraduates at U.S. colleges and universities in 2015-2016, up 79% from over a decade ago.
(2) Source: Menlo School

Leaked Trump Speech Prepared for GOP Convention

According to anonymous sources, Donald Trump drafted this speech to deliver at the Republic National Convention in Cleveland in July. It’s incredible!

My fellow Americans, tonight is a special night indeed. Thank you for the honor of nominating me to be the Republican candidate for President of the United States. This is truly an historic occasion, but perhaps not in the way the most people think. I have faced huge obstacles in getting here today, yet due to the support of millions of Americans, I stand before you now as your nominee. When I first entered the race, I was mocked by the media and by the Republican establishment as just a reality star looking for publicity. But the voters took me seriously. When I mocked Mexicans and talked about building a big wall and having Mexico pay for it, every candidate on both sides of the aisle said I was xenophobic and unrealistic. But the voters took me seriously. When I mocked my fellow candidates on their looks, pundits said I went to far. But the voters took me seriously. When I talked about not letting Muslims in our country, the establishment said I was through. But the voters wanted more!

So what does this prove? It shows something amazing! Obviously, people are sick and tired of the politicians we have in this country – we have a bunch of losers! The people are looking for an outsider. Money rules in the U.S. political system, and I admitted to have taken advantage of that as much as I could. People have criticized me for donating to candidates of both parties, but of course I did. That’s how the system works. I have money – lots of money – and our system runs on money, and it would be stupid if I didn’t use my money to influence as many candidates as possible to benefit me and my companies. It would be bad for business if I didn’t.

The second lesson here is that – believe me – there are too many Americans that frankly aren’t very bright. No offense – I love you all, but you either can’t understand the issues, don’t take time to understand the issues, or are so emotionally driven by fear and hate that you will actually follow a demagogue. What I found most interesting is that the Republican establishment tried to stop me at every turn, yet they failed to realize the big irony – the fact that their politics of the last couple of decades – the politics of obstruction, exclusion, science denying, and fear – created the very conditions that allowed me to run and to win. Of course, they weren’t by themselves in doing this – they got a lot of help from our good friends at Fox News, who frankly doesn’t really care much about politics either. They just discovered that they can make money off the American people by being the mouthpiece of this fear. Trust me – they don’t put women like Megyn Kelly on the air because of their brains –she gets men to watch though! (By the way, the real reason I don’t like Megyn Kelly is not because she asked hard questions at the debate, but rather because she doesn’t take responsibility for being part of the problem. She stoked Americans’ fears for years, and then suddenly is shocked when someone runs for President embodying all of those ideas. And I do think she wants to sleep with me, so clearly she has some sexual tension issues).

It’s crazy that you all didn’t figure out that I got into this race as a bit of a stunt. I thought it would be fun to run my own little social experiment and at the same time mess with the Republicans, who have really become the party of stupid – and now a party that is in shambles – thanks to me! I will say that my experiment was an amazing success. I was constantly testing the limits of how far you would let me go. I mocked disabled people, and you clapped. I made up facts, and you clapped. I insulted and fear-baited. I even talked about dating my daughter, and that didn’t bother you! I bragged about the size of my penis, and you were impressed! I intentionally made up most of what I said –independent fact checkers said that over three-quarters of what I said was false – and the voters still supported me. I can say something like, “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick of winning.” We laughed so hard when we came up with that line! And my favorite part of this experiment was how much money we raised! Even though I always talk about how much money I have – I am really rich, you know – people still go on my website and send me donations that I clearly don’t need.

My I.Q. is one of the highest – you know it, and I know it. So c’mon, don’t you think I know that we have airplanes that can fly over any border wall that can be built…I know you can’t torture family members of suspected terrorists…I know immigrants have been critical in making up the tapestry of American life…heck, I married two of them! Yet, you let me keep going, and it was fun, so I kept going! This goes to prove that the Republican Party (with the help of Fox News) bamboozled you all into being driven by fear and the politics of exclusion. Even with hundreds of pundits, current and former politicians, military leaders, and even comedians poking holes in most of what I said, fear and ignorance blinded you. I was huge – the biggest phenomenon in the American history of politics!

Now, I wasn’t lying about a lot of things I spoke about. We are being run by some very stupid people, but I mostly mean our Congress. It is also shocking that one of the two major political parties in this country can’t put up a candidate who has any sense. I was telling the truth when I said that Ted Cruz is a liar (and a complete nut job, by the way) and Marco Rubio is a lightweight. Jeb Bush and Ben Carson – seriously, guys? But perhaps they are just a reflection of the voters – the American people need to look in the mirror, because so many of them are frankly not that bright and a little nuts themselves.

The truth is that I don’t really care about a lot of the political issues – abortion, immigration, gay rights, gun rights, etc. Of course, I care about taxes – lowering them generally helps me, so of course I favor that. But frankly, I don’t want the job as President of the United States. That would be way too stressful and frankly my life is pretty good without it. I can live anywhere I want in beautiful homes and resorts, and I have my beautiful wife – isn’t she terrific! I am my own boss – who would want to deal with Congress and putzes like Mitch McConnell who also don’t want to get anything done. It would be way too frustrating for me to be President – I’m the best at business, and I’m great on television. And it pays a hell of a lot more than being President!

I’m the only one who could have pulled this off and throw this entire process – and this party – into chaos. It deserved to be broken. And it’s not a terrible thing that I probably just handed the Presidency to Hillary Clinton. I disagree with Hillary on some issues, but as I have said in the past, she is smart, hard-working, and does truly care about the American people. You know and I know that with the exception of some social issues like gay marriage (which is of course a good thing), this county has drifted pretty far to the right over the last couple of decades, and Hillary Clinton is fairly close to what mainstream Republicans were in the era of Reagan. She will do fine as president, and hopefully our leaders can come together instead of creating the level of obstruction that they did for President Obama.

So, I will go down on history. Not as the first outsider President, but rather as the outsider who finally exposed our crazy system. I talked about making radical changes in Washington, and what I did will do that, just not in the way you thought I would. Thank you again for allowing me to have a ton of fun – I promised something huge, and historians will say this was huge! Don’t be offended by my experiment on you; you couldn’t help yourself. Just take the opportunity to take your heads out of your asses and stop being so stupid. If you do, we will make America great again! Thank you and good night.

Stay Classy, San Carlos

Last night was my final San Carlos School District Board Meeting as a Governing Board member, and it was bittersweet. Thank you to all who came by to see my last meeting and went out to celebrate afterwards. In the middle of the meeting, there was also an incredible surprise by former Bye Bye Birdie cast mates and SCSD teachers who broke into a flash mob singing a parody of Put on a Happy Face — it was incredible thougtful and entertaining!

The past eight years have been incredible, and I have been so privileged to serve in this community. Posted to last night’s agenda was a brief overview of our accomplishments, the lessons that I’ve learned, and the plethora of people to acknowledge and thank.

A few weeks ago I outlined a list of changes to, and accomplishments by, our school district over the last eight years.

And about a month ago, I put together a white paper on the big lessons learned over these eight years of service. Thank you to all of the folks who have already sent me so much positive feedback on this — clearly so many of these lessons apply to other school districts and other local agencies.

Of course there is a ton of work to still be done in our school district – that is the nature of a dynamic learning organization with grand plans. Last night I touched on what I referred to as the three “big rocks” — areas that I thought would be important themes over the next decade:

The “Meaty” Parts of the Strategic Plan
I have been so impressed how our staff has embraced our strategic plan – in fact this change has happened quicker than I would have predicted when we wrote it. I realize it has taken a ton of work, and we’ve had a few bumps in the road. But as we look forward over the next few years, I would suggest that the level of work and difficulty will actually ramp up as we get into the areas that I consider the most “meaty” in the Strategic Plan – those notions that change the very structure of how we run a school system, such as:

  • Implementing real personalized learning (building the “ecology” around providing this experience – sorting through the myriad of tools, having the right policies, supporting educators, etc.)
  • Changing the role of the educator, and putting a structure behind the concept of the “educator broadly defined”
  • Redefining the relationship with the public so as to embrace a culture of risk taking
  • Reexamining the very structure of time, place, and student sorting in defining what is “school”

Changing the Conversation about Success and Progress
This, in and of itself, is a meaty part of the Strategic Plan, but it seemed worthy to call it out separately. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made to date on our dashboard efforts and all of the new data we’re collecting, but it will absolutely be a challenge to create a measurement and reporting system that can accomplish all of the following:

  • Avoid reductionism so that information is relevant and placed in context
  • Highlight what’s truly important
  • Have information that is actionable at a board level as well as have a set of formative data for our educators and students
  • Somehow be able to analyze innovative efforts to help shape a culture in the community around risk-taking

Fundamentally, we have to try to measure our progress by looking at the areas we most care about – of course we want academic progress, but how do we genuinely know if our students are reaching their social and emotional potential and are becoming problem-solvers, critical thinkers, innovators, collaborators, and good communicators who are empathetic citizens and leaders? Cracking this nut would be a giant step forward in public education.

Making San Carlos Livable for Our Staff
We have a long-term affordability problem in the Bay Area – it will be increasingly difficult to live in this community. I can’t see any scenario where California education funding will permit us to, over the medium to long-term, pay all of our employees wages that will grow as fast as the cost of living. This is of course not just a looming crisis for SCSD, but for all public agencies and for the economy in general.

The problem with the crisis is that it’s a slowly moving one – we won’t wake up one day and say “wow, none of our employees can afford to live in the area” – it will happen slowly over time as it will get harder and harder for all to live near where they work.

So, I challenged the next board to think creatively about how we can continue to attract and retain quality employees in such a trend. Likely such as an effort would require more than just our school district – perhaps in partnership with the city, the County, the high school district, or even community-based organizations, we can think about creating housing for public workers. For example, I’d love to see a bond measure sponsored by both the school district and city to support all of the folks who work for public agencies. Universities and community colleges have historically done this, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t be done on the K-12 level – we’d of course have to make the case to the public, but I think the benefits would be very clear.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I wanted to use my final comments last night, and my final words here, to thank so many people that have both made my experience incredible and have contributed so much to this school district. I can’t begin to do justice to all of them, but I will highlight a few:

  • Dr. Baker – I’m very proud to have been on the team that hired our fabulous Superintendent, and it has been a distinct pleasure working with him and learning from him. His impact on our young people has been immeasurable.
  • District Office Team – I want to thank all of the folks who work in the district office, many of whom work incredibly hard and accomplish so much yet much of it is invisible to the community. I want to give a particular shout out to Mary Jude Doerpinghaus, Robert Porter, and Tom Keating, the senior folks at the district office with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working – they all are true thought leaders and innovators.
  • School Staffs –We’ve been fortunate to have great staffs at each of our sites. Our principals’ leadership has been crucial for our schools, and I want to thank all of our teachers who devote their lives to educating children and also thank our secretaries, counselors, librarians, para-educators, and custodians.
  • My Board Colleagues – Thanks to my board colleagues — Adam Rak, Kathleen Farley, Carol Elliott, and Nicole Bergeron — for all of their time, effort, and true mindfulness in serving. I have enjoyed working with them all, and I have appreciated how they are all honest and selfless servants for our children and our community. I also want to thank and acknowledge board members I’ve worked with in the past, including dedicated folks like Mark Olbert, Carrie Du Bois, and Tom Quiggle. I also want to thank Matt Kowitt, who has served for so many years as president of the Governing Council of Charter Learning Center and has been such a great partner and leader.
  • Other Elected Officials – Thanks to our city council members as well as our state legislators, past and present, who have represented this area well and have been big supporters of public education – keep up the fight! Also for all of the unselfish work they do on behalf of children, I wanted to thank so many of the other school board members in the County with whom I’ve worked on the San Mateo County School Boards Association – we have all learned a lot from each other!
  • Parents – Of course, San Carlos is the success it is in large part due to the amazingly dedicated parents who volunteer their time and donate their money to support all of our kids – I am so especially pleased how SCEF continually grows to remain such a powerful force in allowing this district to fulfill its mission – thank you to all of the folks who have been part of this and have worked so hard over all of these years.
  • Friends and Supporters – thanks to all of my friends and community members who, over the years, have voted for me, supported me, and have been confidants and sounding boards.
  • My Family – Last but certainly not least, I want to thank my family for their amazing support. My kids have grown up knowing how important it is to be involved in their community, and they have been my biggest cheerleaders. Of course, the biggest thanks goes to my wonderful wife Sara, who not only had to deal with my time commitments but also was there for me in every way possible through the celebrations and the frustrations. She is my best friend and best advisor, and she would always tell me when she thought I was right and when I was wrong. She also found time to be an incredible volunteer at our schools in her own right. I look forward to spending some Thursday night date nights with her!

Thank you all again for the amazing opportunity to play this part in our incredible village.

An Amazing Eight Years

As we are now just a little over two weeks away from the end of my time on the San Carlos School District Board, it seems like a good time to reflect on all of the things that have happened over these last eight years and the many accomplishments of the District. To be clear, these are not my accomplishments — they were the result of so much hard work by so many people, including SCSD employees, parents, other community members, and the board. I felt it important to summarize it as best I could given how easy it would be to forget all that has gone on — even in looking back at old agendas and files, I’ve no doubt missed many things, but hopefully the following summary will give a sense of the scope.

Personnel
At the end of the day, we’re a service organization. And as such, our success is so dependent upon the quality of the people in the organization. And in this respect, the District has done a great job of hiring and retaining (and in many cases, bringing back) folks at all levels who are all frankly not paid what their worth, but understand the importance of what they’re doing and recognize that if you’re going to take on this mission as your life’s work, San Carlos is a pretty good place to do that. Some specific accomplishments of note include:

  • Hiring Dr. Baker – no doubt the strongest Superintendent that San Carlos has had in decades (if ever), and also one who has been the envy of so many of my school board colleagues in other districts.
  • Serious Upgrade to District Office Team – We have such a strong team in the district office, and we owe so much of the progress of this district to them – folks like Mary Jude Doerpinghaus, Robert Porter, Tom Keating, and of course so many others.
  • Hired (and Retained) Great Principals, Teachers, and Classified staff – As a service organization, we have great leaders at each of the schools in the form of our principals and vice principals. I also think that we’ve created an environment that although never perfect, makes San Carlos a great place to work for teachers and other staff members. There are so many amazing teachers and classified staff that do the tireless work – for little money – every day because they believe in the mission of serving all of our children.

Vision and Strategy

  • Completion of our Strategic Plan – when people ask what I’m most proud of during my tenure, it is this – nothing short of groundbreaking, it has already become a model for so many other school districts. It has really put San Carlos “on the map” in the county and around the state for our innovative approach – it’s been so great to witness our team being asked to speak at events to spread the word. And more importantly, it is incredible how our teachers and administrators have owned it and used it a real guidepost for our growth as a district – it is no mere shelfware.
  • Focus on Equity and being One Integrated District – We have done such a great job creating and preserving equity among our schools and our student pathways – more so than perhaps anywhere else in the county. One of things that is largely unknown by the new generation of parents is that when my kids started in school in this district, we weren’t really a cohesive district. A friend of mine years back remarked that “San Carlos used to be seven schools in a community, but it has become a community of seven schools.” This is no minor distinction – when we started, our school communities were much more isolated and there was little cooperation – we learned that by working together we could make the pie much bigger for all – both in terms of programs and in terms of financial resources. We take that for granted today, but we must remember it took a lot of work to get there, and it requires diligence going forward to ensure we keep that.

Finance

  • Strong Financial Stewardship – We faced the worst economic downturn for CA public schools since the Great Depression and took prudent steps to leverage our reserves, and where we had to make cuts, have a thorough community process and discussion to minimize their impact. After many years of hard work we now have a solid budget with no deficit spending.
  • Incredible Increase in Local Funding – We passed three parcel taxes and one bond measure; we expanded our incredible relationship with SCEF to consistently increase financial support for our schools, launched our enterprise programs for additional sources of local revenue, and finally had a successful settlement of RDA money owed to the district
  • Focus on Taxpayers – We refinanced older bond measures on multiple occasions to save taxpayers millions of dollars
  • Improved Financial Reporting Systems – although school finances are incredibly complex and accounting requirements byzantine at best, the way we present our financial assumptions, projections, and overall health has been made so much more transparent

Facilities
We first have to recognize the incredible and continual increase in enrollment that we have had. In my first year on the board, we had a total enrollment of 2,877. This year have approximately 3,545 K-8 students. Even then so many of us said our schools were too crowded, and it seemed inevitable at that time that we would need to expand our facilities. Obviously this is a high-class problem as more and more families seek to move to San Carlos at least in part due to the reputation of the schools.

  • Finalized modernization with Measure E bond money – including lots of work at Tierra Linda as well as upgrades at every elementary school.
  • Added capacity at Tierra Linda – including the new modular classrooms
  • Completed Facilities Master Plan – which included the ingenious plan for our new Upper Elementary Schools
  • Purchased New District Office – a facility that has really been leveraged well for so many district functions, including teacher professional development
  • New Central Middle School – what a wonderful new facility that replaced a school that had been largely neglected for decades
  • Heather MU Room – a project that finally got done after it got dropped off the plans years ago
  • Arroyo, Tierra Linda, CLC, and Dartmouth School Plans – all to be completed over the next two years

Policies
There have been innumerable updates to policies, and as you know, it’s a never-ending process. However, we made some significant and impactful updates in the last eight years, including:

  • Boundary Changes – what an amazing example of an inclusive community-based process that addressed a clear need and had an immediate impact
  • New Enrollment Policy – related to the above, clarifying preference for siblings, children of employees, and folks who in live in San Carlos but outside of SCSD boundaries
  • New Sustainability Policy and Related Initiatives
  • New Wellness Policy and Related Initiatives
  • Stopped Practice of Vendors (e.g. photographers) Giving Commissions to Schools – and jacking up the price to families
  • Revised Practice of Charging Students Fees for Mandatory Items
  • New Facility Naming Policy – bold, progressive, and unique
  • Updates to Dozens of Other Significant Policies – including bullying and harassment, use of school facilities, animals in schools, safety, fundraising and gifts, technology policies, allergy policy, and a whole lot more. Many of these may seem minor, but they actually have a real and important impact on how our schools functions as well as the well being of our students.

Teaching & Curriculum

  • Successful Implementation of Common Core and SBAC
  • Embracing of the New LCAP Requirements – very thoughtful and relevant use of the LCAP meeting statutory requirements but also tying to our larger Strategic Plan and goals
  • Thoughtful and Thorough Discussions and Plan for Math Pathways
  • Expanded Elective Offerings – including innovative partnerships with groups such as SCCT – this is an area where I know we’ll see more to come
  • Dramatically Increased Quality and Volume of Teacher Professional Development
  • Successful Implementation of Transitional Kindergarten
  • Staff Salary Increases – although this has been one of the most difficult areas to address given how little we are funded as a district, I am glad we were always able to do what we could and now have a multi-year agreement to give our staff some predictability and shift our discussions to other strategic areas
  • Much More Robust Data – information from teachers, students, and parents about engagement in school and other measures of school climate and health
  • Dashboard – finally have an outline for a District-wide dashboard of multiple measures of student success and District health – this is an area I definitely look forward to seeing grow over the next couple of years

Special Education
It is easy to forget how incredibly far we have come in the improvement of our Special Education program since I started on the board. This is due to some incredible work by District staff to focus on serving each kid, honoring the process, and doing the day-to-day blocking and tackling to deliver an incredibly complex and varied program. When I started, this was probably one the weakest spots for the Districts, and now we have an enviable program and track record, as evidenced by:

  • A First-class Team
  • Reducing Needs for Services – by early intervention
  • More Success for Students Being Served
  • Lowering Costs – by insourcing and outsourcing services as appropriate, as well as by an incredible reduction in lawsuits against the district

Communications
Communications is one of those areas that can be perennially improved, and is often one of the biggest criticisms of the District. I’m excited to see a renewed emphasis on this for the coming year. It remains a challenge given that, by design, our core constituents turn over every year, as well as the fact that it’s human nature to only pay attention when you hear something you think is amiss. That said, older parents will agree that we have continually improved district communications, including an incredible increase in the volume and breadth of touch points, including:

  • The New “Accordion” Process – to ensure engagement by staff and parents and school site, administrators, and the board
  • More Frequent and Relevant E-mails
  • More Community Meetings
  • Improved Website with More Frequent Blog Updates
  • Board Alerts Before Meetings and Board Briefs after Meetings
  • Growth of Facebook and Twitter Presence

Community
We have in so many ways formed a tighter partnership between the district and the larger community, including:

  • Moving Board Agendas Online
  • Videotaping Board Meetings – and making those available online
  • Fundraising and Gift Coordination – Much improved coordination among SCEF, PTAs, and district regarding fundraising and gifts
  • Improved Relationship with City – despite our differences and hiccups at times, we have as tight of a relationship as ever with the City of San Carlos in areas of facilities, programs, and traffic/safety
  • Improved Relationship with CLC – although this has always been a strong relationship compared to that between most other districts and charter schools in the state, we have strengthened our working relationship, better clarified responsibilities, and worked with them to successfully transition them to independent legal status
  • Improved Safe Routes to School Activities
  • Leadership in the Region – Many of us have been involved in regional projects, including the Big Lift, San Mateo County School Boards Association, as well as serving as advisors to some of our state legislators. I encourage our new Board members to get involved this way as well

Thanks to all San Carlans for supporting our schools and for all of the great work we have been able to do together. I welcome all to attend my last board meeting on December 3rd to help celebrate all of this with me!

Congratulations to our new School Board Members

Eirene Chen and Michelle Nayfack handily won election to the Governing Board of the San Carlos School District, so they will be replacing me and Adam Rak. The official transition occurs on the first Friday in December, which will be December 4th. That makes December 3rd as my last school board meeting. (Unlike City Council, there is no official swearing in ceremony as the candidates are already sworn in when they file their paperwork to fun…so Eirene and Michelle will just be part of the School Board on December 4th and will attend their first meeting on December 17th unless there is a special meeting earlier).

Neil Layton also ran a good race, and I encourage him to stay involved and consider running in the next election cycle in two years.

Congratulations to Eirene and Michelle, as well as many of the local school board candidates who won election last night. You can see the full results here: https://www.shapethefuture.org/elections/results/2015/nov/web/.

What are the Big Lessons?

As I have been winding up my tenure on the San Carlos School District board, I have been asked by a number of friends and colleagues what I have learned about governing a school district and about local governance in general. So, upon the eve of this election day where we will elect two new school board members (beginning a period of one month where I will officially be a lame duck), I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts on the big takeaways from my experience. Hopefully it will be interesting and instructive to others who choose to serve as well as all members of our community.

You can download the white paper here: http://rosenblatt.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/The-Big-Lessons.pdf

If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here’s a list of the lessons if you’re curious about a particular one:
1 – Avoid the Temptation of Reductionism
2 – Remember Whom You’re Representing
3 – You Don’t Need to Act Like a Politician
4 – Haters Gonna Hate…
5 – Understand the Value (and Limitation) of Data
6 – See Around Corners
7 – Nothing (and No One) is “Away from the Classroom”
8 – It’s All About That Bass (and Treble)
9 – Risk and Change Must be the New Normal!
10 – We Can Make a Larger Impact
11 – Celebrate!

During my lame duck period, I will have additional reflections on what the District has accomplished over these last eight years as well as send out some acknowledgements. I will also give some reflections at my last board meeting on December 3rd.

The New Acronym on the Block

This week California released the 2015 CAASPP results — CAASPP is the newest acronym in CA public education. It stands for California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, and is based on the results of the new, computer-based, Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) that accompanied the recently implemented Common Core Standards. Our students first took the SBAC assessments in Spring of 2014, but that was considered a “practice year” for the test, and the assessments given in Spring of 2015 were the first ones where the scores were reported. Although the CAASPP should be a bit more useful than the old API scores as it has a better statistical methodology, doesn’t focus on a single metric, and is based on the deeper, more-relevant, Common Core Standards, focusing on standardized test scores is still fraught with issues so we must look at these scores as just one tool in our toolbox to understand how our schools and students are performing. The other big caveat here is that CAASPP only covers Math and English Language Arts — obviously we care about a lot more than that, and judging any school district (or any student) in just these two areas would be wholly incomplete. That’s why one of the District’s key goals this year is to build the framework for a larger “dashboard” of multiple measures of the health and performance of the school district. (The district has already begun collecting much more data — see an overview of the status from a recent board meeting.) In any case, this year’s CAASPP results will be a good baseline by which the district can focus efforts and measure progress in the future. Also, the CAASPP data can be broken down into different “claims” — sub-areas within Math and English Language Arts where one can see how students performed.

The CAASPP results are reported based on the percentage of students who “met the standard” in either Math or English Language Arts for that particular grade. A student is categorized as “standard not met,” “standard nearly met,” “standard met,” or “standard exceeded.” Generally districts will focus on the total percentage of students in those last two categories. The results for San Carlos were not terribly surprising and in line with what the district administration expected. Similar to the earlier STAR results, SCSD performed quite a bit better than the average of either San Mateo County or the State of California. However, SCSD lagged a bit behind the Basic Aid districts (all of which have significantly more funding than SCSD) that feed into the Sequoia Union High School District, but performed better than the other Revenue Limit / LCFF districts.

Perhaps most interesting are the results for 8th grade (as of course this is when we “hand off” the students to high school). Although Portola Valley is the clear (positive) outlier with more than double our per-student funding, SCSD performed fairly close to the other Basic Aid districts that feed into the Sequoia Union High School District and performed better than the other Revenue Limit / LCFF feeder districts as well as most other districts in the County.

CAASPP

Again, all of this data comes with a note of caution — it is very tricky (and to some degree, unfair) to compare our district against others, because as we know so many other factors are different — funding levels, demographics, etc. But perhaps where CAASPP will be useful is over time; 2015 becomes a baseline so that we can compare ourselves to ourselves and understand how are we making progress. Naturally, we’ll want to reduce the approximately 1/4 of students who are not meeting the standards while at the same time fulfilling the promise in our Strategic Plan of focusing on the Whole Child and creating personalized learning paths for all students to reach their potential and become problem solvers, critical thinkers, risk-takers, designers, collaborators, innovators, and contributing, empathic citizens and leaders. The District will have lots of data to help drive instruction, and CAASP results will only be one small part of the mix.

Over the next two weeks the District will be doing a deeper dive into the data and coming out with a summary analysis. Also by the end of next week, all parents should be sent an individual report as to how their student performed on the test. Lastly, the District will be holding at least one event at each school site to review what the CAASPP results mean (and what they don’t) as well as how the district will leverage them. Although I caution not to read too much into the results, if anyone has any concerns or sees trends in the information that they would like to learn more about, please attend one of these sessions or contact the principal at your school.

A High-Class Problem

As I’m sure most of you know, my second term on the San Carlos School Board ends this year, shortly after this November’s election (which is an odd thing to call it as in San Mateo County it will be an all-mail election). This will end my eight-year stint on the board, and I am grateful for the experience and having had the opportunity to be part of some extraordinary times in this District. I will save until the end of the year larger reflections on this time, but I did want to write a post about this year’s election.

This year, two of the seats — mine and Adam Rak’s — are up for election. Adam has also decided not to run for re-election, so this gives the opportunity for two new community members to join the board. The filing period for declaring candidacy ended earlier this week, and we have four individuals who have filed. Those who have been in the school district for a number of years will note how unusual this is — in the recent past all elections have either only garnered enough candidates to fill the slots (and hence no election) or just one one more candidate than positions with (in my opinion) a generally clear-cut choice among the candidates. I have always taken the stand that school board service is different than any other political position in that, among other reasons, we often encourage people to step up and take our places. It’s the healthy cycle of continual growth fueled by newer faces that enter our school community with a new energy and a strong stake in its success. As I end my tenure, it is very exciting for me to see so much interest in picking up the mantle. Perhaps it’s related to our relatively better financial position or perhaps it’s based on the progress this district has made over the last period. Or perhaps it’s just serendipitous. In any case, it’s a great gift to this community to have this level of interest.

Of the candidates, there are three very strong contenders — (in alphabetical order) Eirene Chen, Neil Layton, and Michelle Nayfack. I have met with each of them, and I find them all to be excellent candidates for school board. They are all young, energetic, intelligent, and strategic in their thinking. They are each big supporters of the District’s direction and Strategic Plan, and they each understand the incredible opportunity we have to fulfill the potential of that plan. Yet none of them are naive — they realize that the hardest work may be yet to come as we really re-think so many elements of a century-old education model.

Naturally, having such a strong pool of these three presents us all with a dilemma. I am often asked by friends and supporters for whom they should vote in these elections, and I have made endorsements to express such advice. But I must say with sincere honesty that based on what I know now, there is no clear-cut choice other than that two of these three should be elected. All three have my endorsement. I hope that the one who doesn’t win maintains his/her strong interest in serving and will consider running in two years when there will be three board seats up for election.

I realize that doesn’t help a whole lot in deciding for whom we should all vote. But given our historical challenge in attracting many high-quality candidates, this is a high-class problem to have. Also, I predict that Eirene, Neil, and Michelle will each run a very thoughtful and thorough campaign. I encourage all San Carlans to pay attention to their campaign materials, attend their community coffees and other get-togethers, attend and/or watch online the candidate forum which should shortly be scheduled, and talk to them directly if you can. It will help them be better board members, and help inform you on how to vote.

In any case, maybe I will look back and be most proud of the fact that our school district is in such a place to continually attract passionate interest from the community to play a key part in its public service. A high-class problem indeed.

Funding (Largely) Restored, Finally…

It took almost my full eight years on the school board to get really good financial news, but at last night’s board meeting we heard the almost unbelievable update that we will have enough money next year to restore most of the programs that were lost or cut since 2008, and even make some new investments. During my tenure, we had so many terrible financial years, and our district managed through the worst of them by cutting costs, reducing financial reserves, passing parcel taxes, and relying on ever-growing community support, such as that from the San Carlos Education Foundation.

Our financial good news stems from two major steps taken this Spring. The first was an increase in state funding — the acceleration of the full implementation of the new funding formula, as well as some increases in one-time funding related to Common Core implementation (all of this of course due to the more robust economy and surging State tax revenue). The second was the passage of Measure P by San Carlos voters. All of this means that we now have the ability for the first time in many years to pass a budget that is balanced, restores a healthy reserve level, and makes new investments in our students.

Essentially, the District is able to restore most of the programs cut since 2008, including reductions that were made to counseling programs, librarians, custodians, literacy, and electives. In addition, we can make a few new investments from items that were high on the priority list. Although some of the restorations will happen over time, we saw a budget proposal last night that included the following:

  • A multi-year agreement with employees for salary increases
  • Additional technology associatiates
  • Greater investments in musical instruments
  • Increased professional development
  • Increased discretionary funds at each school site
  • An additional position to support custodial, safety, and energy management
  • Greater investment in district communications
  • Increased number of counselors
  • Increased facility maintenance
  • Additional investment in literacy programs
  • Additional custodial support
  • Additional school secretarial support
  • Adding middle school electives to allow students to have a second elective option
  • Increased librarian time

The implementation details and timing of all of the above still need to be worked out. Although we have a few more meetings before we pass a budget, I suspect that the final one will be similar to what we saw yesterday. On a cautious note, it’s important to remember that our budget is currently based on the Governor’s state budget proposal, yet our revenue allocation will be based on the final budget passed by the legislature. So, there is still a risk that our revenue numbers could come in a little lower — we should have more clarity over the summer. But in general, our new financial picture allows us to see a much clearer path to executing upon most important initiatives in our Strategic Plan.

So, I don’t want to get too giddy, as we must recognize that California’s economy is cyclical and unfortunately school funding is dependent upon the State’s cyclical funding sources. That is why we will ensure that our near-term budgets have a very healthy reserve level (also, effectively back to the level it was before the 2008 recession). And we must recognize that although our financial picture has greatly improved relative to past years, SCSD is still one of the most underfunded school districts in a state that chronically underfunds education. Lastly, note that this is about our yearly operating budget — we will still face significant financial pressure in the short- to medium-term around our facilities projects, which are (ironically) negatively impacted by the good economy as the cost of construction rises rapidly in this region.

But for now, I will gladly take the good news, and it certainly gives me comfort that as I leave my school board service this year, I leave it with a renewed sense of excitement and possibilities!

2014-2015 Year End Wrap-Up

With only about three weeks of school left, it’s time for my annual year end wrap-up. This is definitely a bittersweet note for me to write. By all measures it has been a great year for the San Carlos School District, and of one I am very proud. We have made progress in so many areas, more of which I’ll discuss below. However, this will be my last year-end update as my second and final term on the school board concludes in December. It also happens to coincide with my younger child graduating from the District, ending 11 years as a parent in SCSD. Of course I will see a few months of the next school year as a Board member, but clearly things will be winding down for me. It has been one of the greatest experiences and greatest privileges of my life to be such a part of this special community, so I thank you all for the unwavering support through the years.

As most of you know, public education – and the San Carlos School District specifically – is in the middle of many changes, most of which I would argue are very positive and further our mission of serving all children in our community and preparing them for high school, college, and life. We have a new funding distribution formula in LCFF, new accountability standards in LCAP, and a new curriculum based on the Common Core State Standards. All of these I believe to be solid policy advancements, but they do present new challenges for us locally. It’s particularly heartening that the State is moving away from a reductive singular measure of success (API) and instead promoting the idea of a dashboard of indicators to both measure school and district performance and to create actionable insights. SCSD has made much progress in aligning its LCAP plans with its overall Strategic Plan and developing an information dashboard (to be unveiled soon) to better track how we are performing on multiple levels. This spring the students for the first time took the official Smarter Balanced tests aligned with the Common Core standards (and replacing the old STAR tests) – we don’t have data back on this yet, but we have anecdotal evidence that the students found these new tests much more challenging!

Our staff continues to embrace and extend the ideas in our groundbreaking Strategic Plan, delivering new and innovative ways to engage students and promote learning. I was privileged to visit the District “Day of Innovation” where so many teachers demonstrated the great project-based lessons they have introduced in the classroom. I continue to be pleasantly surprised how quickly our schools are embracing this paradigm and experimenting with different approaches to teaching and learning.

Another big focus this year has been around construction and facilities management. After the failed land swap idea (which I still contend was absolutely brilliant), the School Board decided to keep CLC on the TL campus and move it to the upper part of campus (I, personally, preferred the idea of moving CLC to the Heather campus where there was more room and future flexibility, but alas I was outvoted). In any case, this was a complex decision with many moving parts including locations of preschools, traffic issues, etc. On the subject of traffic, we made a fair bit of progress with the “Four Corners” committee, which was a task force of SCSD, the cities of San Carlos and Belmont, and the Sequoia Union High School District to improve traffic flow in the corridor around TL and Carlmont. We now have preliminary plans to re-work the roads and create a new entrance to TL from Alameda de las Pulgas. These plans still need to be finalized, and the two cities need to get a grant to fund the changes, but it’s my hope that within a year or two, we’ll see concrete (pun intended) changes here.

Of course, no discussion about facilities would be complete without recognizing the amazing construction work that has been done this year on the new Central Middle School – the building looks amazing, and it will be on time to open this Fall (as you may recall, the “old” Central will be remodeled for the new 4-5 school). The design of the new building – 2 stories with learning commons and flexible spaces – is a great example of a 21st Century Learning environment. One of the ongoing risks with our facilities plans is the ever-increasing construction costs during this real estate boom. We have to be very careful to ensure future projects can be funded – one way to ensure this will be to sell some excess property owned by the District, such as the Heather Dog Park. A committee is being created now to explore the sale or lease of surplus property.

The last big development during the year was the passage of Measure P this past month. Measure P did a few things – it renewed expiring Measure B, combined it with Measure A, and added an additional $58 per parcel per year (for a total of approximately $250/parcel/year), with this singular parcel tax now extended until 2021. With SCSD not benefiting much from the new Local Control Funding Formula, this measure was crucial to both retain our existing local funding base and to add approximately another $500,000 per year to help fuel our strategic initiatives. The residents of San Carlos continue to be both strongly supportive of our public schools and incredibly farsighted in understanding the connection between the health of our schools and the health and well being of our entire community.

Even though I won’t be directly involved in the school district over the coming years, I think there are many exciting things to anticipate. Certainly from a facilities point of view, we can look forward to the opening of the new Central Middle School, the building of the new CLC, and the renovation of existing facilities to create both 4th-5th grade schools. There has already been much community outreach in coming up with names for the 4-5 schools – I look forward to hearing that input over the next few months. Clearly there will be lots of excitement for the district as we transition to the PK-3 / 4-5 / 6-8 model of school configurations, and I particularly look forward to the new 4-5 schools being a great laboratory of innovation. Also expect to see more advancement toward the goals in the Strategic Plan, particular in the areas of classroom and grade configuration as well as staff responsibilities. As we discuss in the plan, there is much opportunity to leverage “educators, broadly defined” to promote teaching and learning, and there has also been some progress between the District and the teaching staff on new and innovative approaches to teacher mentoring and evaluations. On a State and Federal level, education policy will continue to be in the news, particularly as matters like the Vergara decision go through the legal appeal process.

One of my ongoing concerns for our school district will be to ensure it continual attracts good people to run for School Board. From the outside, the role often seems thankless, but I assure you that it isn’t. Certainly every once in a while you have to grow a thicker skin and endure ill-informed slights, but all in all, I can tell you that I have received so much support and encouragement from parents and others in this community that it dwarfs any negativity and unproductivity promoted by a small minority. And best of all, with the amazing staff we have in place in this district, combined with the incredible force of parent and community involvement, we can absolutely see real progress in how we serve the next generation, and it’s hard to get more rewarding than that. I truly encourage all of you to consider running for school board this year.

On a personal note, I wanted to thank everyone who came to watch me (as well as fellow Board Member Adam Rak and a host of other talented adults and students alike) in SCCT’s community theater production of Bye Bye Birdie. It was an awesome experience, and I appreciated all of your support!

Although it’s not an official goodbye just yet, I still wanted to say thanks again for eight great years. I don’t know how or where you’ll see me involved in this community after 2015, but you know I’ll continue to be incredibly supportive and supremely interested in our schools. And you can rest assured that the strong leadership and dedicated staff in this school district will continue to make amazing progress for years to come and keep San Carlos as a model for public education.