About this site

I am currently 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.

 

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Moving Onward on Facilities

Last night we wrapped up our discussion about grade configurations for our Facilities Master Plan. The bottom line is that the board agreed to proceed with the plan to include the 4/5 schools on both the Central and Tierra Linda campuses and to plan for CLC moving to a new location. Not knowing how long it would take to find a suitable site, it was well understood that we would leave CLC where it is in the meantime and thus could have an interim state where the new school, TL, and CLC remain on that campus until CLC is moved. Although the traffic was the number one concern in this scenario (regardless of how temporary or permanent it is), there would be significant mitigation efforts done as part of the construction, and we have known for sometime that we have to look at other solutions for TL (such as transportation, entrance from Alameda, etc.) even if we did nothing. Also, this approach gives us future option value to move CLC at any point in time — to either a new location or one we own. In any case, it was clear that from a financial standpoint, the goal was to ensure that the cost of moving CLC would effectively be funded by other sources, which could be state money allocated specifically for charter schools, a capital campaign by CLC itself, or funding from partners. Therefore, the total cost to the district wouldn’t be any greater than just leaving CLC (and renovating it) in its current location.

The first part of last night’s discussion included information brought back by Dr. Baker and his team at the request of some of the board members from previous meetings, including discussion of the operating cost differences among the plans proposed and some of the pros and cons related to implementing our new 4/5 configuration in different scenarios. We also reviewed our original criteria for making this decision and discussed scenarios that we had (some time ago) taken off the table. Lastly, we saw a review of some of the design elements — both the physical and the curricular — of our new 4/5 21st Century Learning environments as envisioned. But as Dr. Baker reminded us, it will take a good 12-18 months of work to build the specific curriculum, which can only start once we’ve decided on our overall configuration plan and phasing for actual implementation at each site.

Without recounting the entire discussion, it was clear that the consensus of the board was the the 4/5 configuration on the middle school was the best solution from an educational perspective, and that trumped all other concerns. I earlier wrote why I think that is so — particularly the issues of equity, scale, leveraging existing assets on the MS campuses, and a smoother transition for kids. One of the teachers that spoke described this outcome as a “dream come true” for kids and for the district.

Although this was a long process — having been discussing facilities planning and grade configuration for almost two years now — and a bit difficult in the last month or so as more members of the community have weighed in and expressed angst with the plan — it is hard not to be excited at the innovative journey we are about to take. And you can also see that excitement in the SCSD team that spoke about our approach to 21st Century Learning. The possibilities to make real strides in implementing our strategic plan and remaking education in the modern era can happen now because of the intersection of our pedagogical vision and our facility needs.

But now the hard work actually begins. To be clear, the board didn’t approve any specific project or budget — it agreed upon the major configurations of our Facilities Master Plan. The next steps include the following:

  • Complete the Facilities Master Plan (perhaps sometime in the late winter)
  • The board review a specific set of plans — and budget — consistent with that plan
  • Start the process (”get in line”) to be eligible for state matching funds for construction
  • Develop a full “phasing” plan for construction projects
  • Identify potential sites for CLC and determine feasibility and funding

It’s still unclear when actual construction will begin. Although the original plan had some work — likely at the Central site — begin as early as Summer 2013 and finish some work for the 2014-2015 school year, it’s possible that is too aggressive and work would start later in the year or the following summer. This is all to be determined. The Board would of course have to approve all final construction plans, phasing, and of course budget. We were also reminded that in all scenarios, our desires exceed the money raised by Measure H, and that the district would continue to find other sources of funding (including potential state grants). We will have to carefully consider the phasing of projects so that we can prudently build within our means but at the same time plan for a longer time frame. Note that the Facilities Master Plan would look beyond Measure H in terms of time and scope.

I would like to commend my colleagues for putting in the massive amount of time and effort to study the issue from all angles, speaking with so many community members to get input, and for finally making a difficult decision that they believed was in the best long-term interest of our students and our community.

One Step Closer

Yesterday the school board had a special meeting to continue the discussion from last week regarding the Facilities Master Plan, and specifically the grade configurations related to TL, Heather, and Arundel. It was a thorough discussion lasting 3 1/2 hours. The first part of the meeting was devoted to delivering more information that the board requested last week, including issues related to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), operational costs for the district in different scenarios, as well as issues of future flexibility.

The board then discussed the scenarios presented in the prior meeting. Firstly, almost all board members acknowledged the overwhelming feedback they had received from the community and remarked that there was quite the diversity in opinion. One of my colleagues remarked that she wished everyone who had written could have been able to see the letters from everyone else who had written! Personally, I have made an effort to respond to everyone, and I appreciate the conversations (via e-mail, this blog, and the phone) that I’ve had with so many folks.

It didn’t take long for the Board to come to consensus on its number one preference — what we called Option 2 last week — building the 4/5 school at Tierra Linda and moving CLC to a new site. We discussed that option for a while recognizing that it could take a year or two to identify a suitable site, but Dr. Baker was optimistic that finding one was a distinct possibility. Although there were no formal decisions made at this meeting, the board agreed that it wanted to go forward on this plan (a) given a reasonable timeframe to find such a suitable site, and (b) the overall cost of this option wouldn’t materially exceed the next best option. There was some optimism that the costs involved (including potentially purchasing a new site) would be reduced through partnerships with other entities, including perhaps the city, the CLC community, and other organizations. But we also acknowledge that there were forces outside our control that could prevent this plan from happening, so the board agreed that it needed a back-up plan in the case we were unsuccessful in moving CLC to a new location. It’s difficult to predict the likelihood of our being successful, but most certainly we would need to plan for — and budget for — such a back-up plan.

On this issue there was not universal agreement. However, the board quickly agreed to remove Option 5 — moving CLC to Arundel — off the table. In addition, most board members did not like the idea of moving CLC to Heather, but some were OK with leaving it in its current location. Although I thought that moving CLC to Heather is a better idea purely from a land use perspective, leaving CLC on its current campus could be a significantly cheaper scenario and thus would give us more resources for all schools as well as for traffic mitigation measures, for example. So, I did not have a strong opinion between those two back-up plans. Two board members appeared to favor the mini 4/5 schools — Option 3 — as their back-up plan, but at the end of the discussion it appeared a majority would adopt Option 1 — CLC staying where it was — while we looked for a new site for the school.

The goal would be to finalize this decision at our next meeting December 20th. To be clear, next week’s decision is around the configurations and land use in our Facilities Master Plan. It’s not an agreement to break ground, but rather the plan would guide future planning and potential proposals for outside grants. Based on this decision, the team would then have to come back with a more detailed budget and timing plan for all sites. The board would then need to consider and approve those budgets and specific construction plans. Also at that time, the district would be in a position to apply for potential state matching grants or other sources of funds. Note that this will be a very long process. Specific construction decisions will be likely be made over the next couple of years and some projects — given the way it will likely be phased — will take years beyond that to be completed. Obviously all of this detail is still to come.

I appreciate that no matter what the ultimate decision is, there will be folks who won’t agree or feel like their voices weren’t heard. I will say, in reflection, that although sometimes the process seems a bit messy at times, this is how it’s supposed to go. I’m quite certain that all of my colleagues have spent an amazing amount of time absorbing feedback, studying the issue, and applying their best judgement to what is an extremely complicated puzzle. And all for no other purpose than what each thinks is in the best interest of all of our students. Regardless of the outcome, I hope folks appreciate that. And I’m confident that we’re going to continue the amazing work in this district and provide some very exciting opportunities for all students!

Solving A Complicated Puzzle

This has been an interesting week. It was dominated by discussions regarding our facilities master plan, and specifically the plan for a 4/5 school at Tierra Linda. (There is little dispute about our plans to build a 4/5 school at Central and remove 4th grade from both White Oaks and Brittan Acres).

Let’s start with the background. Enrollment and capacity have been significant issues since I started on the board, and in fact led to the boundary changes almost three years ago. Those helped rebalance enrollment among the schools, but of course didn’t change the fact that our overall growth continued to climb and all schools (with the exception of Heather) were exceeding their intended capacity. As an Arundel parent, I witnessed first-hand the loss of “quality” space as more rooms had to be converted to classrooms. Among Arundel, Brittan Acres, and White Oaks, that has meant some combination of the loss of science rooms, art rooms, and outdoor facilities, as well as the addition of portable classrooms. Some years back, many (including me) assumed that the solution would be to build a new elementary school, but after researching this idea, we ran into three problems. The first was the lack of available space in San Carlos (and especially in a place that it made sense to create another neighborhood school). Secondly, even if we found a new space, it would require changing the boundaries again and perhaps changing the feeder patterns to the middle school. And lastly, doing this wouldn’t help the growing enrollment and capacity challenges at the two middle schools. With help from the administrative team and a facilities and enrollment committee comprised of representatives from each school, Dr. Baker proposed an interesting solution at our March 8, 2012 board meeting. This solution — creating two 4/5 schools, one each at Central and TL, and removing a grade from the four elementary schools — was elegant in that it both evenly addressed facilities issues while also creating an opportunity for an amazing pedagogical environment in our new 21st Century learning mode (you can read more about the pedagogical rationale here).

Since last March, this has been the assumed plan. Of course we always knew that we had the right to change it and do more research. But as we discussed it more (both among board members and with the larger community), it became apparent that this solution was very exciting because it gave us an opportunity to build these new 4/5 schools in a 21st Century Learning environment while leveraging the assets and programs already at the middle schools, all the while reducing overcrowding and traffic at each of the elementary school sites. For most of 2012, there were dozens of forums where our facilities and enrollment issues — and this proposed plan — were discussed and shared with the community to inform and get feedback into the process. The Superintendent held community forums on the topic, he led multiple meetings at each school site (including with both faculty and parents), the Superintendent presented this plan to the San Carlos city council, we had many public board meetings on the topic, and of course I wrote about it extensively on this blog. There were naturally some open issues, primarily whether CLC would stay on its existing campus or move to Heather school. In any case, Measure H had to pass, which is did by 68%!

Since the election, the administration has hired architects to begin renderings of designs for both Central and TL. Through that process and some additional feedback received, the architects were also asked to look at renderings if we were to have smaller 4/5 schools located each at Arundel and Heather. The architects reviewed each school site and held community meetings at Tierra Linda, Arundel, and Heather. Through those meetings, a number of parents — particularly at Arundel school — expressed some serious concerns about the plan to locate the 4/5 plan at Tierra Linda. A few of those parents were particularly active, and the board members received quite a few e-mails in the last week leading up to last night’s board meetings. I offered to speak to each person that contacted me, and a few took me up on the offer.

Before I get into the substance of the issue, I did want to note one important matter. Although I would say that about 90% of the folks who contacted me were very constructive in their dialog (and in fact appreciated that regardless of their opinion, they recognized that it was a very complex puzzle and appreciated that the board really did have the best interest of our students in mind). However, there were a select few that took a different approach. It saddened me to see people insulting me on e-mail or being snarky and disrespectful through comments on this blog. Those who know me, know that I call people out on bad behavior, and I remind them if their goal is to influence policy, then insulting the policy makers is generally not a winning approach. Unfortunately, there are a minority of people who imprint their overall view of politics and politicians onto their local school members while not appreciating that we’re a different breed. If you’re interested, you can read a recent article I wrote in EdSource related to this topic. Threats, insults, and childish antics don’t work. Again, this is only a small number of folks doing it, but I hope that these people realize 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, we have no higher officer to run for, and no political career to protect. Regardless of our agreement or disagreement on any issue, I will always engage with anyone in this community who takes a constructive approach to the dialog.

This brings me to last night’s meeting, which had a reasonably full house in attendance. Other than our annual board re-organization (my term as President ended), most of the meeting was devoted to the Facilities Master Plan, the findings and analysis of the architects and their teams, and discussion among the board on how to proceed. About a half dozen Arundel/Heather parents spoke, largely echoing the concerns sent to us earlier on e-mail.

It would be impossible to do justice to the presentation, as it was two hours long (you can view the slide deck here), but I can’t imagine anyone coming away from the evening not appreciating at least two things: (a) the issue is incredibly complex and involves multiple factors that need to be balanced, and (b) the district has really done it’s homework. The presentation was universally viewed as outstanding.

The board then proceeded with its discussion. Here is my analysis of the issues we discussed.

Although some elementary school parents expressed some safety concerns regarding their child being on a middle school campus, I think most people in the room generally understood that there really shouldn’t be any such concern. Dr. Baker presented a bunch of local school districts where elementary and middle schools are co-located, and of course there are many examples of K-8 schools (such as our own CLC). In fact, we were all reminded that there have been Kindergarten and Pre-School students (from Montessori) on the TL campus for decades!

A second category of concerns from some parents was about the community and cohesiveness of their schools and the fear that some of that would be lost by removing the 4th grade. Having been heavily involved at both the schools and the district for a long time, that is counter to my observation. I believe that community is driven by the people (staff and parents) rather than the grade configuration. We discussed the fact that, for example, the Las Lomitas school district has a K-3 and 4-8 with incredibly strong community involvement. If anything, I believe making these schools smaller — as part of our original intent — actually better promotes the sense of community at an elementary school. There is some perception among Arundel parents that TL is less of a welcoming community, and although parents definitely participate less in the classroom (and I agree there are things we can do to make it easier for more parent participation), it’s largely a moot point as the 4/5 kids would be going to a new school, which by its very design would not only encourage, but likely require, greater parent involvement at a much higher level. That is part of the 21st Century design.

Another issue that emerged was traffic. Clearly there would be additional traffic issues if we were to add a 5th grade to Arundel. The architects talked about some mitigating solutions, but they all had real issues as to whether they would work or what their cost would be (such as adding another entrance from Wellington Drive). Of course, if we were to add the 4/5 school on the TL campus and not move CLC, then we’d increase the traffic problem there. Regardless of the ultimate configuration, the architects suggested some very strong designs to improve traffic flow at TL.

Lastly, we discussed equity — the notion that kids from anywhere in town will get the same education. An important distinguishing characteristic of this school district has been promoting such equity and symmetry of path. I would argue it’s something we do extremely well, and given the relatively small size of the community, its absence would have serious ramifications. Even something like the success of the San Carlos Educational Foundation is an expression of that cohesiveness, equity, and knowing there really is no difference in your schooling path regardless where you live. I would argue this approach to equity strengthens the whole community. We know that even with the existing symmetry, it takes effort to push this equity — the recent discussion about middle school math is a great example. So although a few parents expressed the thought that symmetry was not required for equitable outcomes in the district, I find that in practice it actually is in our community like ours. I can only envision how the school programs will begin to diverge and that if we were not to place the 4/5 school at TL, five years from now we’d have hundreds of parents very upset about the wonderful environment that kids on the other side of town are getting that their kids aren’t.

The other big issue discussed by the Board was the scale of these 4/5 schools (meaning having a sufficient number of kids). I think most of us were in agreement that this was a real asset. Given the nature of the 21st Century Learning environment — including much more self-directed work and more flexibility and choices — scale is needed to make that work in practice. We risk not being able to the provide that level of flexibility and opportunity for the smaller number of kids that would be in the mini-4/5 schools at Arundel and Heather. In addition, the middle schools have real assets — both physical and programmatic assets — that would be leveraged by the 4/5 school to implement such flexible and diverse programs. We can try to imitate that on the elementary school environment, but it would likely be less powerful.

Lastly, the Board discussed the future flexibility gained by any of the possible options and in fact asked the Superintendent to come back with more analysis in this regard. I await that analysis, but I suspect the mini 4/5 option at Arundel — due to the nature of the way the school is wedged in a residential area and up against a hillside — would box us in both physically and from a configuration point of view if enrollment were to grow beyond our projections.

The board needs to make a decision, and it was the original goal to have such a decision by December 20th, with the notion that some groundbreaking would begin next summer. We of course reserve the right to delay that decision and even delay construction. But here is my analysis. Although I recognize and appreciate some of the parents’ concerns (and many of those I would have shared when I was first at Arundel), we need to recognize that the board must take into account all of the pieces of this puzzle knowing that we are making a long-term decision. In effect, we need to see around corners. In my research leading up to this board meeting, I also spoke to many middle school parents, and as one may suspect, they have a different view than many of the elementary parents. Their experience and perspective is of ones who have been through a greater portion of the SCSD experience. I’m quite certain that if the district were to decide to do the mini 4/5 schools at Arundel and Heather, it will rank up there with one of the all-time mistakes we’ve ever done. TL parents already told me that they’d be very upset if their 4th or 5th grader didn’t have this same experience as the new school adjacent to Central. I also know how much we’ve lost at our elementary schools in terms of quality space and what a gift we’d be giving back to Arundel and Heather by reducing that enrollment. It would provide a much better educational experience for those K-3 kids.

I would say the most board members recognized that building the 4/5 school at TL while at the same time moving CLC to a new location was probably the most elegant solution for a number of reasons. It accomplishes the pedagogical goals (while retaining the scale and leverage of the original 4/5 plan) and would reduce crowding and traffic at every school site. The challenge with this plan is that it’s dependent upon an unknown — whether we can obtain a new site for CLC and (perhaps in partnership with others) fund it so that it is not materially be more expensive than other options. So, we all agreed we need a back-up plan in case we can’t do this, as well as a timeframe to attempt to secure such new site. The board was less in agreement last night as to this “back-up plan,” and certainly we will discuss that further at our next meeting on December 20th. Although not perfect, I believe the next best plan is to still have the 4/5 at TL while moving CLC to Heather. Although it would of course impact the Heather campus, traffic could be mitigated by coordinating different start/end times for the two schools. And Heather still has the biggest parcel of land available with the lowest density of students. And regardless of which of the above two paths we take, I am confident that we will make the best-long term decision for all students and accomplish a number of goals:

  • Create 4/5 schools with enough scale in a location that allows for easy leverage of assets and programs while having a tremendously strong parent community
  • Give us the best tools for continuing to promote equity throughout the district
  • Provide the most flexibility going forward in the case enrollment grows even higher
  • Reduce traffic at Arundel
  • Give back quality space back to both Arundel and Heather
  • Allow for a smooth transition for students

And at the end of the day, I believe this will provide the best outcome for kids. I’m sure that all my colleagues and I have no other interest.

Finally Some Real Higher Math Changes

In my five years on the school board, the most persistent (and justified) complaint that I have heard about our school district is the way we manage our math program in the middle schools, particularly for higher-level students. Primarily, parents have been puzzled by the lack of consistent approaches between our two middle schools with respect to the criteria for placement into higher math courses and how such courses are taught. In addition, there has also been anecdotal evidence — and a feeling among many parents — that San Carlos does not push its students enough into these higher level math courses relative to neighboring districts. This issue has come up periodically over the last few years, but honestly I can say we did not give it the requisite attention it deserved. And ironically, it’s a relatively easy problem to solve. This year finally it was placed on the front burner for a number of discussions, and at last night’s board meeting I believe we had a breakthrough.

By way of background, Central Middle School and Tierra Linda Middle School have been taking different approaches to higher math courses, meaning Algebra in 7th and 8th grade and Geometry in 8th grade. CMS has historically been more aggressive than TL in the number of kids placed in these higher math courses (with one exception this year). In addition, CMS has more of a “tracking” system, placing kids in 6th grade, for example, in an accelerated class, while TL has a “differentiated” program, where the teacher customizes instruction to multiple levels within the same class. Lastly, CMS has its own Geometry teacher while TL sends 8th graders across the street to Carlmont High School to take the Geometry class. These different approaches were not really by any design, but rather accidents of history and inertia from individual choices made some years ago.

As per the Board’s request from a prior meeting, last night the administration brought data comparing the differences between our schools as well as comparing San Carlos to other districts. The data proved that our hunches were correct — San Carlos is quite conservative in terms of the % of kids it sends to these advanced math courses. For example, on a percentage basis, we send less than half as many kids to 7th grade Algebra than does either Belmont or Menlo Park (ironically, the side effect of being more selective in which kids get accelerated is higher test scores…so this a is a great example where test scores shouldn’t be the goal!). So, it was universally agreed by both administrators and board members that we should not be an outlier and need to be more aggressive in this regard. So there was general agreement on a few things: (a) we should have a goal (the number 20% was discussed) for the number of 7th graders who go into Algebra, (b) we need to employ the same methodology for placement at both CMS and TL, and (c) we start this for next school year, meaning assessments done this Spring will follow a new protocol.

There was a bit more discussion around the other differences between the schools, mainly the “tracking vs. differentiation” issue and the use of Carlmont High School for TL Students. Although many in the room argued that both approaches can work, I pushed back on that assumption. In my opinion, Math is the most “linear” of all subjects, meaning that many concepts have to be grasped in a specific order (unlike History or Science where there are many paths through the curriculum). And as such, it feels counter-intuitive to me, that notwithstanding having great teachers (which we do), we can properly accelerate and prepare advanced students in mathematics using only a “differentiation” approach. Although I said I was open to being convinced otherwise by our educational experts in the districts, I had a strong bias toward taking Central’s approach to use across the district. With regard to using Carlmont for Geometry to TL students, I was equally strong in my convictions — it is time to end that practice. Particularly if we push more kids into higher math, we will certainly have more than enough kids to have our own teacher and our own classroom. The current practice is suboptimal on so many levels, and again, it’s an easy fix. Although I don’t know for certain, I suspect we will all ultimately agree on these two points.

There’s one last piece to this discussion. The district will need to communicate very clearly our new approach so all parents understand, and particularly understand (and embrace) the fact that this approach may likely reduce our math test scores, and that is not only OK, it’s actually a desirable outcome.

The next step is for Dr. Baker and his administrative team to come back with the final proposal in terms of our overall goals as well as the consistent implementation of methodology between the schools. But in any case, I was very excited about the conversation, and frankly I do accept some blame for not pushing this years ago. But we are here now, and it’s about time!

A Good Night For San Carlos Schools

Regardless of your take on the Presidential race and the various national contests, there’s no denying that yesterday was a good day for San Carlos Schools.

First and foremost, Measure H passed — and passed big! As per the unofficial tally last night, Measure H had a 66.7% approval rate (noting that it just needed 55% to pass). The election will likely be officially certified by the end of the month. As I have said multiple times, this bond measure is crucial to ensuring that we have enough capacity in our district to meet our ever increasing enrollment, and it will allow us to build the facilities to support 21st century learning. Thanks to all of the members of campaign committee and all of the volunteers and donors who got the word out. This will help our schools, support our property values, and strengthen this community as an amazing place to live. It was a great gift that San Carlos gave itself.

As I previously outlined, there were two state ballot measures, Propositions 30 and 38, that would have a direct financial impact on public schools in California, including our own. If they had both failed, it would have caused another devastating cut to our budget. Fortunately, Measure 30 passed with approximately 54% of the vote. Measure 38 was soundly defeated with less than 28% of the vote. But let’s be very clear — Measure 30 DOES NOT INCREASE FUNDING FOR SCHOOLS — it essentially just guarantees the status quo for this year. It avoids an additional cut. Obviously a good thing to do, but we’re far from out of the woods on restoring lost education funding and reforming the California education finance system.

Thanks again to San Carlans for being so supportive of our public schools. Particularly with our bond passage, there are going to be some exciting times ahead!

Big Step in Strategic Planning

Last night’s board meeting was an unusually formatted one — it was a workshop bringing together all of the work done to date on our strategic plan. This has been a process that kicked off in the summer of 2011, and most of last school year was devoted to community meetings as well as many board meetings, school site meetings, and staff meetings about defining exactly where the district should be heading and the meaning of 21st Century Learning in San Carlos.

This past summer, the school board had a retreat where we went through a series of discussions and analyses to come up with our top goals and targets over the next 5-10 years. Since then, there have been two more strategic planning meetings using the same framework for discussion — one meeting among the administrative team and one among members of the broader staff of teachers and other district employees. None of the groups had any visibility into what the others had come up with until we brought them all together at the meeting last night.

All of the worksheets from each of the three meetings were hung up on the walls for us all to peruse and discuss. (Note that the attachments online were just the summaries of the targets). The first thing that almost everyone noticed was how remarkably similar they were. Often there is this construct in public education that there is this tension between the school board and teachers or between administrators and teachers, and of course there are disagreements sometime. But last night demonstrated that in looking at the big picture, everyone is really on the same page on how we want to re-shape education for our kids.

Naturally, the board’s targets and taxonomy was a level of abstraction above the administrators and staff, whereas those groups got into more specific detail on implementation strategies. And we all agreed that it’s difficult to categorize all these thoughts in a simple way, as there is so much overlap among many of these ideas — it’s a multidimensional Venn diagram of sorts. But a few key themes emerged:

  • Promoting global citizenship, well-rounded, “whole child” social/emotional learners
  • Emphasizing professional development for educators, giving more time collaboration and innovation, and having more educators in leadership roles
  • Creating a “boundless” learning environment that breaks down the virtual and physical walls of the school — creating flexible learning spaces, flexible time to learn, and making education more relevant and personalized
  • Better engaging with (and educating) the community as well as expanding our pool of educational resources out into the community (both locally and globally)
  • Creating an environment of continual improvement and innovation
  • Having the technology infrastructure and making sure technology is embedded in all of the initiatives above

The next steps is for a steering committee to digest all of this input and start building the actual draft of the strategic plan. The goal is to have a first draft by the end of the calendar year so the board can review in January. Then we will look to have the strategic plan completed by the end of the school year. There was a ton of energy and optimism in the room with folks ready to take on the hard work of actually trying to implement much of this. And make no mistake, some of it will be really hard — it may involve changing decades-old practices and doing this in the context of continued fiscal and regulatory constraints. And some will naturally resist change. But this was a great step and demonstrates that our community is up for the challenge.

Facilties Master Plan

At last night’s school board meeting, we reviewed the initial work of the facilities master plan being developed by the school district. This is the result of work done over the last few years by staff members informed by community committees and board discussions. Although the plan itself (and our overall needs for new capacity, building 21st century schools, etc.) is needed regardless of how we will fund them, clearly the pending Measure H bond measure has accelerated the need for the plan.

As we have discussed over the last year or so, the current plan is to build two 4th-5th grade schools, one each on the TL and Central campuses. This would relieve overcrowding at the existing elementary schools without changing school boundaries, build new modern schools that all students in the district could attend, leverage the existing resources on the middle school sites, and avoid having to purchase expensive new land.

Although last night we didn’t get into the specifics of the potential projects outside of the two new schools, we discussed that the intent was to address a number of deferred maintenance projects that exist at each of the school sites.

The discussion focused on the potential phasing of the projects and the hope that any construction would be managed such to minimize impact on students (i.e. not displacing them into temporary facilities for a year, etc.). We also discussed one key lynchpin question, which is whether or not Charter Learning Center (CLC) should move to the Heather Campus. CLC has expressed that it is neutral regarding which location would be better (which makes sense given it is the only school which has no neighborhood boundary), and the board was not unanimous in its thoughts here. Although not perfect, I believe moving CLC to Heather is a very elegant solution for two main reasons:

  • Heather has the lowest density of any school site (by an order of magnitude) in terms of the number of students relative to the size of the parcel
  • As we have discussed many times, the traffic issue around TL is one of our biggest issues, and with overall enrollment growth, the adding of 4th grade onto the campus, and the expected growth at Carlmont High School, this is poised only to get worse. Of course, moving CLC to Heather will create additional traffic near Heather, but the issues will be minor compared to what will happen at the TL/Carlmont corridor.

There is still much work to do on our master facilities plan. The next step is to hire an architect and get more specific plans and budgets around all of these projects. As expected, the main challenge will be financial. Of course to accomplish any significant subset of these projects, Measure H must pass. But even if it does, Dr. Baker stressed that it is our intent to find additional sources of money beyond that as our needs far exceed the potential bond proceeds. This can be accomplished a number of ways, including partnerships (e.g. working with the city of San Carlos on fields, working with tech companies on infrastructure, etc.), seeking grants, and potentially even borrowing from other sources (e.g. loans to fund sustainability projects, the savings from which fund the payback of the loan itself — such as solar power). We also have to be creative in leveraging resources we have, both in terms of shared facilities as well as using existing land that requires the least amount of prep work.

But overall, these are very exciting times. It’s the first time in many years that the district has had such a master plan which lays out a way to meet our needs for many years to come. Of course, there will be many more updates on this subject, but in any case remember to vote for Measure H!

Getting to the End of the Ballot

I bet you’re aware there’s a big election on November 6th! You know about the Presidential race, the races for U.S. Congress, and maybe even the races for State Senate and Assembly. But did you know there are a number of local races that have a much more direct effect on this community? The challenge is that most of these will be at the end of a very long ballot — so make sure you stay with it and make it to the end! Ballots should arrive by next week, but here is a preview of some of those important local issues:

Measure H
Measure H is the San Carlos School District bond measure which will allow the district to raise up to $72 million to build new schools to meet the demand of our increasing enrollment, modernize existing sites for 21st Century Education, expand technology, and improve energy efficiency and sustainability for long-term savings to the district. As I have written and spoken about many times before, more and more young families are moving into the school district because of the solid reputation of our schools. But that has led to increased enrollment and overcrowding as our schools weren’t built for our current enrollment, let alone the continued growth to come. Most San Carlans realize that, even purely from an economic point of view, any extra tax would be dwarfed by the increase/protection of their home values, which have been driven by buyer demand to move here because of the schools. And as any parent in San Carlos can tell you, we need the facilities! You can read the details of the measure here. VOTE YES ON MEASURE H.

Measures 30 and 38
Although these are state measures, they will have a direct effect on the San Carlos School District. However, many people are understandably confused as to their difference and how they would work. Proposition 30 is the initiative backed by Governor Brown, while Proposition 38 is backed by Molly Munger and the State PTA. The California School Boards Association has published a summary of the two measures in a relatively simple two-page table you can view here. If both measures pass, the one which receives the most votes will be the one in force. The worst case scenario is if both fail — in such a case, we will be looking at a more than $1 million cut to our annual budget. Unfortunately, having two similar measures on the ballot may split the yes votes, so it’s crucial for our schools that we vote yes on both measures to ensure that at least one of them passes. VOTE YES ON BOTH MEASURES 30 and 38.

San Mateo County Supervisor
There is a runoff for the 4th district for County Supervisor (but everyone in the county votes regardless of their district) of the top two vote getters in the June primary, Shelly Masur and Warren Slocum. Shelly is currently a School Board member in Redwood City and is the past President of the San Mateo County School Boards Association. I have known Shelly for many years, and she has been a tireless advocate for education and for children. She understand the issues, exercises strong judgment, has earned a ton of endorsements (including mine), and has done her homework. She would be an excellent County Supervisor as she understands how the County can best serve its residents and be a partner with local agencies, Check out her website for her background and overview of all of the issues. VOTE FOR SHELLY MASUR FOR COUNTY SUPERVISOR.

San Mateo County Board of Education

Although most of the seats on the County Board this year are uncontested, there is one race for Trustee Area 7 (again, everyone votes) between Joe Ross and Jo-Ann Sockolov Byrne. I have endorsed Joe Ross, who I have found to be a smart, dedicated individual who understands the power of public education and its role in giving all children, regardless of their circumstances, the opportunity to reach their potential. In his day job as Executive Director of Citizen Schools California, he devotes his life to the endeavor. He has also done his homework, and I’m continually impressed by his energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. VOTE FOR JOE ROSS FOR COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION.

Measure A
Measure A is the San Mateo County sales tax measure which would fund critical county services. Like school districts, the County has had to slash its budget over the last few years, so Measure A is designed to bring back some funding for programs such as child abuse prevention, 911 emergency dispatch, healthcare for low-income children,fire prevention and response, pre-school, after-school and library reading programs and homework centers for children and teens, keeping county parks open, long-term care for seniors and the disabled, and ensuring hospitals and emergency rooms are seismically safe and remain open. You can get more information on the Measure A website. VOTE YES ON MEASURE A.

Of course, there are many more races and measures on the ballot, but I wanted to touch on the ones most likely to have the biggest impact on our local community. Of course, I’d be happy to talk or answer any questions if anyone wants to discuss anything else on the ballot. But above all else, REMEMBER TO VOTE!

What does “21st Century” Education Mean Anyway?

Today EdSource published a white paper I have been working on for a while called “PURSUING MODERN AND IMPACTFUL PUBLIC POLICY TO RETHINK CALIFORNIA’S K-12 PUBLIC EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY.” It is, in many ways, the summary of all of the issues that we have discussed locally in San Carlos as well as the many issues and frameworks presented by other educational leaders.

The purpose of the paper is three-fold:

  • To broaden our thinking about what defines a “21st Century Education” and understand that although technological changes were largely the catalyst for our new world context, it is not the technology alone which will create the modern educational experience. Rather, it is the elimination of the virtual and physical restrictions we have created for learning and the opening up of new, previously unavailable (or costly) resources to enhance teaching and learning.
  • To acknowledge that one can be both be a staunch defender of public education and also recognize that to move forward, we must change almost everything.
  • To appreciate that in order to accomplish even a fraction of what I suggest, significant public policy changes at the state level need to be made.

Here are the links to my short blog post on EdSource introducing the topic as well the white paper itself.

Special thanks to Craig Baker, Tom Keating, Ted Lempert, my colleagues on the San Carlos School Board, and colleagues from the San Mateo County School Boards Association who all helped shape (in some cases knowingly and in others unknowingly) many of the ideas and concepts in the white paper. I hope it is useful as a framework for our future discussions!

Extending the Superintendent Contract

I’m excited to announce that at next week’s board meeting, the School Board is voting on extending the Superintendent’s contract through July 2015. Dr. Baker has been an amazing addition to this community, and I dare to say he is one of the best — if not the best — Superintendent in the county. He has been with us for just over three years, and this agreement would extend that for almost another three years.

He has elevated both the dialog and the level of work and professionalism in this district, has brought in solid members of the team, and has taken on big initiatives. Among his accomplishments include successfully navigating through the worst fiscal crisis in the district’s history, implementing a boundary change, improving district communication and engagement, kicking off our 21st Century Learning initiative, and developing creative and effective plans to solve our capacity and enrollment challenges. He is also an excellent education leader, and has re-focused the district on professional development and learning communities within our entire staff.

There are still plenty of challenges and big issues yet to tackle, so I’m excited he’s committed to us for a while. Congratulations to him and to the whole community. Although there are no major changes in the contact itself, you can view the new agreement here to be approved.