About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

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.

 

June 2014
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2013-2014 Year End Wrap-Up

As the school year has just finished, I like to send out my annual wrap-up of the state of the San Carlos School District. It has been an interesting year, characterized by incredible progress on many fronts as well as a number of frustrating periods.

This year felt like everything hit us at once — some changes coming externally while others originating internally. And although this is hectic and difficult at times, I believe it’s fundamentally a sign of great progress, and we are all better off in the long run when we make many changes at once.

The major external changes came from the state in the form of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP), and the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Although the first two got a lot of hype this year, it is actually the third which is the most fundamental. LCFF is certainly a good step in that it provides more resources for school districts with greater needs, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the “Revenue Limit” system of California finance (it just changes how that Revenue Limit is calculated) nor does it add more money into the system. In fact, SCSD is a district which is on the short-end of the new funding calculation, so our financial position will remain tenuous for a number of years. For the first time, we had to submit LCAPs which describe the school district’s overall vision for students, annual goals and specific actions the district will take to achieve the vision and goals. Although there are very specific LCAP requirements around goals, parent engagement, and other aspects, most of this was work we were doing anyway and certainly is only a subset of our District’s Strategic Plan. The District is developing its own “dashboard” of measurements to better understand our progress and areas for improvement, and I believe we will have a first draft of that next year. See my blog post which outlines the interplay among all of these changes and new requirements.

Common Core, however, is a real substantive change which will impact all of our students for years to come. Next year our school district (along with every other in the state) will be fully implementing the new Common Core State Standards in language arts and mathematics. These new standards are designed to be fewer, deeper, and to better promote critical thinking and conceptual understanding. The San Mateo County School Boards Association published a very good white paper reviewing the history of CCSS development and the benefits it will bring to public education, and this video is a good overview of what Common Core means. Although a lot of Common Core will seem unfamiliar to all of us, I believe it is an incredibly positive change and nearly all educators believe it will promote better outcomes for kids. SCSD has devoted (and will continue to devote) significant resources to professional development for teachers on Common Core, but certainly there will be bumps in the road in implementation. As many in the district know, we have had much research and study by our educators and many public discussions specifically around Common Core math — the new course definitions and new pathways through middle and high school. This is an area that has caused much anxiety among the parent population, but I believe we have developed a very strong plan to serve students at all ability levels.

We continue to make significant progress on the District’s Strategic Plan, and if anything we are ahead of plan as so many teachers have begun to implement elements in their classrooms. The board saw presentations on the amazing work being done at all schools — San Carlos’ plan has become a model for the county, and our teachers and administrators have been invited to speak at multiple events across the county to teach others in what we are doing! (Here’s one example). There is still lots of hard work to do, but we are in a very exciting time in our school district as we really re-think almost every aspect of teaching and learning to make it more relevant for the 21st century. The District continues to examine how we can expand elective offerings for all students, which may include some experimentation with the “master schedules” at the middle schools. I predict we will see some more concrete proposals in the coming year.

Related to our Strategic Plan is our unique and incredible partnership with the San Carlos Children’s Theater, which continued to strengthen and expand this year. New drama elective classes were brought to Tierra Linda in addition to those already offered at Central, and of course the productions continue to go strong. SCCT brought back to the Board an amazing report of their progress and the positive outcomes for the children — undoubtedly this partnership is helping fulfill our vision of ensuring our children are well-prepared for success in the 21st century and are versed in creative problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, and leadership. We look to further growth in the number of, and breadth of, offerings for all students in the coming years.

Our building projects continue on plan (and on budget), with work already beginning on the Central Middle School site to prep for the new 6-8 middle school. The bigger unknown is the plans with respect to the Tierra Linda site, as it conditioned upon a final decision regarding the location of Charter Learning Center (CLC). As you’ve undoubtedly seen in the news lately, the District proposed a land swap with the City of San Carlos, where the District offered to give the upper part of the TL campus in exchange for an approximately equal size parcel on Crestview Drive. The benefits of such a deal are many, including accommodating increasing enrollment, reducing traffic congestion at the TL campus, increasing available park/recreation space in the city, and maximizing the use of existing resources of both the City and SCSD and saving taxpayer dollars. Public reaction was swift, with a clear majority of San Carlans for such a deal but with significant resistance from some local residents. The City initially balked at the proposal, but then came back with a willingness to have some joint sessions to negotiate a potential deal. The last session was this past Tuesday, but there may be some additional meetings. As of this writing, I cannot predict the outcome, but I am hopeful that the two agencies don’t miss this unique opportunity to best serve our community. It will take 4 out of the 5 council members at a meeting on June 30th to vote to move the idea forward toward a required November referendum, where it them would have to be approved by a majority of San Carlos voters. In another example of the “City of Good Living” becoming the “City of Made Up Problems,” some local residents have even hired an attorney to threaten to stop any deal struck between the two agencies. Regardless of one’s opinion on the idea of a land swap, outsiders must view it as odd that such negative energy is directed at the notion of being located next to an excellent school. All of that said, the District remains undeterred and is hopeful we will come to an agreement with the City.

The other big news was that last November there was a school board election. Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley were elected for a full term (following their appointments two years earlier) and Nicole Bergeron was also elected as a new board member. We now have a very strong team on the board — all with slightly different perspectives and strengths, but with a common philosophy and action-oriented dedication to advancing the district forward and serving all students. I commend all of my colleagues and enjoy working with them.

Unfortunately this year also brought one of the most frustrating periods of my school board tenure, not because of anything we did but because a few individuals who went to great lengths to mischaracterize a creative move by the board so as to score political points and undermine the District. This shameful behavior was precipitated by the loan we gave to our Superintendent, a move which frankly should have been lauded for solidifying the District’s relationship with him and retaining undoubtedly the best Superintendent in the county (while actually making money for the district). As most of you know, I never shy away from a disagreement, am always willing to talk or meet with anyone, and I really enjoy the dialogs we have (both electronically and in-person). My only requirement is that we engage constructively, and unfortunately that wasn’t the case with this fringe element’s reaction to the loan. Any decision-making process can be improved (and perhaps better communication about the purpose and benefit of the loan may have helped), but in substitution for a critical and constructive dialog, the negative energy, nasty invective and deliberate distortions of a few made a mockery of the political process. While we’ve all become inured, unfortunately, to this kind of silliness on the national stage, I maintain that (almost all of the time) School Board service is a shining example of the ideals of political representation. Yet it’s worth remembering that such caustic behavior can strike anywhere, at any time, when a community lets down its guard (and although on a much more limited scale, the same behavior was exhibited more recently). Fortunately the effects were short-lived, but I do worry that incidents like this discourage good people from running for the school board.

Other important updates this year include the launch of a new and much improved District web site, which includes dynamic blogs from our staff in the areas of Innovative Learning, Learning Spaces, and Community Engagement. I encourage everyone to check out the web site regularly as it is now a much more valuable and timely resource. The District also agreed to a smart Naming Policy for the new schools that we will be building; we will be kicking off this fall the process to get community input on school names. Lastly, the District continues to be focused on issues of traffic and safety, particularly at a few of our campuses. There has been work with the City of San Carlos on Safe Route to Schools projects, including some work on better signage, crosswalks, and other street improvements. Most notable, the District has been actively engaged in the “Four Corners Working Group” which is a collaborative among our District, the Sequoia Union High School District, and the Cities of San Carlos and Belmont, to improve traffic flow and safety in the Alameda/Club/Dartmouth corridor. There has been a traffic study conducted and a number of potential mitigating measures identified, including potentially a new entrance into TL and other traffic flow changes. Based on the full analysis of a consultant hired, the working group is expected this Fall to propose changes to its respective governing bodies. In addition to traffic flow and related changes, my hope is that the group will propose (and support funding) a transportation solution which I have always thought is long overdue.

Personally, I continue to stay involved in many county-wide organizations, including the San Mateo County School Boards Association and the Peninsula Partnership Leadership Council (the Big Lift), and I still write periodically for EdSource on statewide issues. Speaking of statewide issues, perhaps one of the biggest other pieces of news was the recent Vergara v. California decision, where the Superior Court overturned five California Education Code statutes around firing protections, tenure, and seniority for teachers. This has the potential to be huge — see my blog post with my analysis and take on the opportunity.

I do want to acknowledge all of our staff for the incredible work this year — so much of it (particularly in areas of strategic plan implementation and facilities work) is behind the scenes, but I can tell you that the volume of work done this year has been truly Herculean. Kudos to the whole team for their passion and dedication!

I have only one and half years left on my second term, so 2014-2015 will be my last full school year on the board. I will not be running for a third term, as I think it is healthy to encourage and groom a strong bench of candidates to serve. I’d be happy to speak with anyone who wants to consider running for school board — notwithstanding even this year’s frustrations, it’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I look forward to another exciting year and active and constructive engagement by all! Thanks again, and have a great summer!

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