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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Constructive Behavior

School Board service is a funny thing. On the one hand, most recognize that my colleagues and I volunteer thousands of hours for no purpose other than to do the best thing for students. We have no other agenda — we have no political donors or parties to serve and no political career to protect. For me, it still a shining example of a representative democracy. And of course, we have a staff (from the Superintendent on down) who work for this public entity clearly not for the dazzling pay but for their devotion to children and their education. The work done by our leadership in this District is nothing short of groundbreaking.

But every once in a while (and fortunately not very often), people forget this dynamic and somehow imprint their view of politicians in general onto us, and in doing so engage in shockingly negative and downright mean behavior. Such was the case in the board’s discussion last night around the District’s approach to after-school programs. Unfortunately, the frenzy was kicked off by our current vendor, San Carlos/Belmont After School Program (SCBASP), who has been providing after-school programs for decades at some of our school sites. It has always been known by the District that students and families have been generally happy with SCBASP’s program, but the District has been reviewing all partnerships in the context of strengthening programs for kids, best aligning such programs with our overall Strategic Plan (where the goal is very clearly to better integrate all programs throughout the day), and examining financial alternatives given our continued poor funding from the state. Seeing an agenda item for yesterday’s board meeting, SCBASP sent out an alarmist e-mail full of half-truths to the families they serve, who in turn flooded us with e-mails and attended last night’s board meeting. I understand that parents were working with incomplete information, but it demonstrated something about social psychology that so many were willing to jump to conclusions without getting all of the information. I’m glad that many attended last night’s meeting so folks could hear what is really going on (which is the fact that under no circumstances would the after-school program go away — it was question of whether the District should consider “in-sourcing” it). And although some e-mails we received we only asking for more information, the far majority just parroted what they had heard and many went further as to sling insults at the Board at the District.

It saddened me to see members of our community act in this way, and it didn’t stop with the e-mails. Last night’s meeting demonstrated some of the rudest behavior I have seen at our meetings. Last night I tried to remind folks that if their goal is to influence policy, then insulting the policy makers is generally not a winning approach. Board members were constantly interrupted by some members of the audience and ignored the Board President’s plea for civility. It was an ironic lesson for our students in how not to behave.

I don’t know what the outcome will be for this particular decision, but I do know a few things. I am confident that our staff and Board will have an honest and thoughtful discussion and analysis around the issue, taking into account all dimensions of it and always keeping the quality of programs for our children as the prime consideration. I encourage SCBASP to join our ensemble of partners who have worked so hard to find collaborative solutions with the District and not work at odds with it, and I encourage parents to gain this perspective. Please remember that it is constructive engagement which influences.

11 comments to Constructive Behavior

  • Barbara Delbono

    I have re read your blog several times since the Board Meeting in June. I finally feel a need to respond. Yes, I am employed by After School so I have a personal involvement here. For 33 years we have built relationships with families..The first kids came back to work for us and now we are taking care of their kids…at least the ones who stayed in San Carlos. The excitement level rises when parents compare the current SMARTE program to ours.

    Honestly, Seth…We have seen SMARTE employees come and go in rapid succession. We have seen them leave their kids unattended on the playground. Our kids did a ROPES Project to raise money so SMARTE would have some books and toys…Like the AfterSchool kids have.We have elaborate projects and 6 hour fun. SMARTE looks like glorified babysitting to an outside observer. Employees frequently appear to have their heads down and are talking on their phones or texting. If the District can offer a quality program…Educated child care providers, benefits, good salaries that can support a family..ie: Quality Child Care… Maybe the people of San Carlos won’t go crazy when you try to shut us down.

    White Oaks Families are a classy group. Putting them down as “Rude” is not going to fly…These people make more money and fly in higher circles than you and I ever will…Please listen to them…Keep After School as it is as an option. Any other option, I feel , will destroy good faith with the School Board and bring us all down

    Best Barbara DelBono 33 year employee of After School

  • Seth

    Barbara — I appreciate your comments as to the substance of the issue with regard to the partnership with After School and what is best for children. We can certainly have a discussion about this. But I think you may have misunderstood the crux of my blog post. My post was about HOW people communicate, not what they are communicating. Irrespective of the merits of any side of an issue, engaging constructively must be the approach. When people are rude, I must point that out. I also find it odd that you give a free pass to folks because you think they make a lot of money…I’m not sure why that is particularly relevant or how social-economic status should affect the proper way to engage one’s elected officials.

  • Barbara Delbono

    I was referring to the fact that San Carlos Families as a whole are particularly well-educated and fluent at expressing themselves. Social-economic status aside…I just wanted to remind you, as I’m sure you know, that they will not lay down and accept a program that is not up to their standards. Engaging our elected officials is not always easy when the impression is already there that they have made up their minds. I know that you felt an uncomfortable vibe that night…I think people were just a little panicky and wanted quick answers. We all want what is best for our children. I hope we can work together and make that happen.

    Thank you for your response.

    Best

    Barbara Delbono

  • Seth

    San Carlos is a community with many educated folks who of course can express themselves and have high standards. But there is often a challenge when smart, well-intentioned folks enter a conversation in the middle and without context. You must of course appreciate that the school board members are also highly educated people who have largely spent many many hours discussing and studying most issues, yet how issues are presented by outside parties (often parties with very clear self-interests) hardly represent the full context of that issue. School board members devote a significant chunk of their life (for no pay) for no other reason than to do the best for children. People may not always agree with everything that is decided nor will we be always correct (and certainly not always popular), but to assume some other ulterior motive — and then treat these representatives disrespectfully — is the behavior that should be avoided. I do hope that most folks will accept that whatever the decision will be, it will be made with the most thoughtful analysis and discussion — taking into account multiple points of view and multiple issues that need to be balanced — and will always keep the children in the forefront.

  • Barbara Delbono

    A short note…I don’t think anyone doesn’t realize the hours and personal time the School Board puts in…Many members are and have been After School Parents. I don’t believe any comments made were directed personally to School Board Members. I understand that you think they might not have all the facts…Obviously they don’t…They were just frantic for answers.

  • Deanne Roche

    Seth,

    I have several questions about the School district’s intentions for after school programs. There is a post on Nextdoor (which I have found to be very misleading at times) that I want to fact-check before responding to. In your blog post you mention that the board is reviewing all of it’s partnerships – but you also mention that under no circumstances would the after school program go away. Are you saying that under no circumstances will the privately owned San Carlos/Belmont After School Program go away and that the district is not considering plans to evict them from their facilities on school property? Or, are you saying that the district will definitely have an after school program, but it may not be SCBASP and only SmartE will be offered.

    I want to make sure that I understand the facts. Thank you!

  • Seth

    Deanne — I am saying that the district will continue to offer an after school program, irrespective of how it is provided. There is no dispute as to the value of having an after school program; the question is how to best provide such a program.

  • Deanne Roche

    Wow — I have to say that even though my children are now past the age of needing after school care, I had a very emotional reaction to the news that the school district is even considering replacing the existing program with a SmartE only option! I do hope that in writing your post you took into consideration how emotional parents can be about the subject of quality child care. These decisions will have a big impact on the families who are not just “generally happy” with SCBASP, but are able to have a career balance because they know that their children are HAPPY in a supportive environment. There were many days when my children were at the SCBASP White Oaks afterschool and I would pick them up early — only to hear “can you come back after 5, I don’t want to leave yet.” I never felt guilty that I was a working mom because my children were at SCBASP afterschool.

    When the district eliminated SCBASP at the middle schools and replaced it with SmartE only, the staff was replaced by a single part-time worker. The kids were not allowed to play outside at all because the single staff member could not supervise both indoor and outdoor activities at the same time. I would get a daily phone call from my son begging me to come get him as soon as possible. He had been very happy in the SCBASP middle school program — which was in the exact same room the year before.

    So, I understand why the question of how to best provide an afterschool program is a very very emotional one for the families that are dependent on the program. I love the fact that most of the staff at SCBASP have child development degrees and many of them have been there for literally decades. But even more, I love the fact that my children LOVED their time in the program. This is the type of program that I want in San Carlos and I can tell you from experience that the SmartE program is not an equivalent substitute. I hope the board and the district take all of this into consideration when they evaluate forcing the elimination of a program that has provided our community with the highest quality care for over 30 years!

  • Seth

    Deanne — I understand emotions are high, but as a board member I have to weigh many factors. Taking into account parent input is absolutely important, but it can’t be done to the exclusion of all other considerations. Many assumptions are being made on issues that are not yet resolved. For example, there is nothing to suggest that if we were to deliver the program with a different organization, it couldn’t be structured exactly the same with the same nurturing environment, with similarly credentialed employees, etc. We are absolutely taking all of that into account.

  • Deanne Roche

    Seth — I think that one of the reasons that emotions are high is because there a distinct lack of information about what is being evaluated and what the issues that are being considered are. I do know that SCBASP worked constructively with the district when this whole process started back in 2010. But I also know first-hand that communication from the district about the SmartE program was not good and in many cases was not constructive. When the SmartE program took the class space at Central from SCBASP we were told in April of 2010 that there would be a new program the next fall. Signups were slated to start August 1 — which is incredibly late for a program that would start that same month. Approximately 1 week before the start of the school year we received a note that afterschool care would not start on the promised date and that “the decision was not made lightly.” This left many many parents without care and frankly without enough time to find a decent short-term alternative. When the program did start, it was painfully evident that the one part-time employee at the site was overwhelmed and undertrained. She did not stay for a full year.

    I have to say that if I was the owner of SCBASP and each year faced a new and fairly unpredictable threat of eviction from the spaces I had organized and occupied for over 3 decades and this would lead to the necessity of having to terminate employees who had worked for me for decades — I would have stopped playing by the poorly articulated rules of the district long before they appear to have.

    As a very happy customer of SCBASP and an incredibly unhappy customer of SmartE, I would greatly appreciate information on exactly what is being considered. Here are my specific questions — but please add any information that you think is important to the evaluation.

    1. Is the primary reason for this re-evaluation that the district believes that they can make much-needed money by being the sole provider of after school care?
    2. Are the only “vendors” that are being considered SCBASP and SmartE?
    3. What information has been communicated to SCBASP about their leases on the spaces they currently occupy at the elementary schools?
    4. Is there a specific web site that we can follow to get information about the district’s plans in real-time.
    5. Will there be a formal comment period where parents and students can comment on the process?

    Thank you!

  • Seth

    Deanne — in answer to your questions:

    1. There are a few reasons that a change is being considered, including (a) potential for the district to improve the quality of the after school program and better align it with its overall strategic plans and what is done throughout the school day, (b) limited flexibility from the current provider in considering modifications to the program, and (c) the ability to generate additional revenue for the district which of course would be put back into the schools for both teachers and student programs.

    2. There are no other vendors being considered. Keep in mind that SMART-E isn’t a specific program per se, it is just an umbrella name for all district-run programs outside the regular school day. Part of the confusion, I think, is that people assume that whatever their specific experience or knowledge of what SMART-E is, is what would be the new program. SMART-E just means district-run — the program itself can look like anything (or exactly the same as it currently is).

    3. The District staff has been in constant communication with SCBASP about all aspects of the partnership just as it does with all its partners.

    4. The District web site will have periodic updates I’m sure, but there is no specific web site about this plan. The district does send out a summary of every upcoming board meeting and a summary of the discussion after the meeting. And of course, you can also watch the video or read the minutes of any meeting at http://www.scsdk8.org/school-board/board-agendas/board-meetings/. I think there is a perception that we’ve had all of these meetings with no communication about it. There’s been exactly one meeting on this topic, which was the one I reference in the above blog post. There will certainly be a few more before any decision is made. We are still at the beginning of this process.

    5. Board meetings are the place for anyone to make any comments. We hold meetings normally the second and fourth Thursday of every month, with our next meeting this coming Thursday. This topic isn’t on the agenda for this week’s meeting, but members of the public can comment on items not on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. And when a topic is scheduled for a specific meeting, then there is always a separate comment time during that agenda item.