Last night was the last board meeting of the school/fiscal year, and there are a number of updates:
2012-2013 Budget: The Board approved next year’s budget. There are not a lot of changes compared to this year, but we did budget assuming the Governor’s tax measure would fail. In this case, we start eating into reserves again, and would have to seriously re-examine the following year’s budget in the winter and spring. In addition to the tax measure passing, there are some other potential upsides to the budget, including a settlement from the RDA judgment.
Bond Measure: The Board finalized any remaining tweaks on the bond measure and agreed upon an amount (which would be $60 million, pending some final analysis from our financial adviser). Our review of potential projects and preliminary cost ranges demonstrated that our needs actually far exceed that amount, however we are limited in how much we can ask for in a Proposition 39 bond. So, the project list will require some serious pencil sharpening and prioritization, but we we will be able to accomplish the core of our facility needs, which is the increase in capacity by building new schools and creating the technology infrastructure for a 21st Century Education. The School Board will officially vote to place the measure on the ballot on July 16th.
Bus Pilot: We got a report on this spring’s busing pilot, which unfortunately was not as positive as I had expected. Although there remains a fair bit of interest among parents (many of whom would be willing to pay for such a service), we now better understand that in order for a program like this to work on any scale, we would likely need multiple smaller buses (similar to San Carlos’ old SCOOT service) that could provide more convenient pick up locations for students. Unfortunately this model is more expensive, and would only be fractionally covered by any fees we could charge. We agreed to continue to look at other potential solutions, which could be a single bus route in the afternoon from Tierra Linda to the San Carlos Youth Center, using our existing Special Ed buses to run additional routes, working with the city to see if there are potential busins partnerships in the future, and maybe even looking at alternate sources of funding for such a service.
Schools in China: Principals John Triska of Brittan Acres and Steven Kaufman of Central gave an overview of their trip to China as part of an exchange program which was funded by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and co-sponsored by the California School Boards Association. It was a fascinating report on what they experienced and the schools they visited. You can see some photos and some narrative of their trip here. Interestingly, they learned how significant the level of resources was placed into education (at least at these visited schools, which are admittedly in the wealthiest part of China), as there were so many more administrators and teachers relative to the size of the student body than we have here in the U.S. (and particularly California) as well as a greater breadth and depth of programs for students. On the other hand, the system had a much stricter cultural interpretation of the purpose of school — for example, the main exams taken to get into high school (which isn’t free) largely determine a student’s career path and status much more so than it does here. In any case, it was all very fascinating and we appreciated the report!
Analysis of Paid Time off for teachers: One year ago, the District make a change to the way it treats time off for teachers. Historically, teachers had a number of “sick” days and then a number of “personal necessity” days. The latter were often referred to as “no tell” days because the employee didn’t have to give a specific reason for their absence (although there were enumerated valid reasons that were allowed — they just didn’t need to disclose which reason it was). This year’s change was a move to collapse these categories and make all of the days “no tell” days. Some board members in the past have argued that it would open the door for abuse of the system. I have always taken the opposite position — that a system like this actually more treats our employees like professionals. In any case, the meeting last night looked at the data on days taken off, and it turns out that the total days taken off this year were less than the total of sick and personal necessity days taken off last year. Of course, this is only one year’s worth of data, but it certainly shows there was no systematic abuse. The board agreed that we should continue this policy and extend it to all employees, tracking the data again next year. Last night I reiterated my position that the new methodology is consistent with the notion of treating our staff as professionals, but that it should open the door to discussing many of the other approaches we take (both benefits for, as well as responsibilities of, employees) and whether they are indeed consistent with a professional workforce. For example, we should look to pay our employees like professionals, which could affect both the amount we pay them as well as how we pay them, but it also means looking at some fairly antiquated notions like work rules (e.g. time constraints on when meetings can be, et al). True professionals don’t have “work rules,” and most of our staff don’t adhere to the ones we have anyway. So, it’s time to have that discussion and modernize some of these approaches.
Strategic Planning: The School Board will be having it’s summer “retreat” on July 16th, when in addition to voting on the bond measure, we will discuss our strategic plan. Fortunately, we have already done a lot of the legwork that will make up the content of the strategic plan, including the facilities discussions as well as the community meetings on 21st Century Learning, but we need to pull it all together and decide on the form of the plan itself. Everyone agreed that we don’t want a giant document that will just sit on a shelf — maybe it will take the form of a web site or some other dynamic and sharable asset. I look forward to that discussion.
Have a happy summer everyone!
Over this past year, there has been a lot of momentum on the idea of expanding elective offerings at the middle schools, both the opportunity to have more than one elective as well as increasing the number of choices for students. Last night the Board received a report on the plans for next year, one which moves us in the right direction.
One of the main challenges in expanding elective opportunities is devising a master schedule at the middle schools. Using our existing traditional 6-period schedule, and without increasing the school day, it is hard to fit in more options above the required time for math, science, language arts, history, and P.E. Many students in both schools take advantage of our incredible instrumental music programs as their electives, but then that crowds out other opportunities. Also, there has been some inconsistency between the two schools in the offerings. Both Central and Tierra Linda have put in a fair amount of work to figure out a way to at least expand the number of choices for next year, including a French and Yearbook/Technology offering at TL and Spanish, Theater (as per our partnership with SCCT), as well as a “mini exploratory wheel” of music appreciation, technology, design, speech, community service, and study skills at Central.
This is great progress, and I thank the staffs at both of these schools for the hard work to get to this point. But there is still ways to go, and hopefully we’ll see even greater expansion for the 2013-2014 school year. Unfortunately, the district was unable to implement a proposed change to Central’s master schedule itself — going from a traditional schedule to a block schedule — which would have allowed students to take multiple electives. This would have required a change in the SCTA contract, which was not approved. I was frankly disappointed by this, and it’s my hope that over the next couple of years, we can remove these legacy barriers (which may include the length of the school day itself) to make constructive changes that improve our schools’ offerings and students’ experiences.
But for now, I’ll take the progress we’ve made!
Dear Friends and Supporters,
I continue my custom of writing a year-end summary of all of the happenings in the San Carlos School District this past year. In my four and a half years on the board, this has probably been the busiest and most exciting time! Of course, not the least of the events of the past year was my re-election to another term. Thanks to everyone who was supportive of my campaign, and I'm excited to devote the next four years to the role. Also, as you may be aware, we have three new board members this year (Adam Rak, Carol Elliott, and Kathleen Farley). Adam was elected with me in November (Tom Quiggle decided not to run again) and Carol and Kathleen were appointed for the remainder of Carrie Du Bois' and Mark Olbert's term as they both successfully ran for the Sequoia Union High School District Board and the San Carlos City Council, respectively. Our three new board members are doing great, and I'm excited to be working with all of them. One of the many things I like about school board service is that, unlike almost all other political bodies, we actually encourage new folks to be on the board! To that end, keep in mind that three seats will be up for election in November 2013, so if you have any interest or want to learn more, please contact me.
Since December, I have been honored to be Board President (by custom, we rotate that position each year), which officially just means that I chair the board meeting. However, the Board Presidency tends to be a bit of a ceremonial position, which has allowed me to be at more school functions this year and speak at events like Central's 8th grade Career Day as well both middle school's graduation ceremonies. It has been a lot of fun, and I've been touched by the warm response I get everywhere. Also, this was the first year that the School Board members have been honored by cars in the San Carlos Hometown Days Parade, which was great fun. I also continue my role as President of the San Mateo County School Boards Association, and I have been reelected as President of SMCSBA through the end of the 2012-2013 school year. SMCSBA organizes a number of professional development and advocacy events for school board members in the county, as well as produces the Kent Awards, where SCSD's ROPES program was an honoree this spring.
This year focused around two major strategic projects — our facilities planning initiative and our 21st Century Learning initiative. I won't go into all of the details here as you can read them on my blog, but I'm very excited about both of these forward-looking projects. The first is about creating the right space to hold the ever increasing number of students in the school district. San Carlos has earned a reputation for outstanding schools, and young families have been continually moving into the city. Although this a fabulous "problem" to have, it does require our building new schools. The current plan would be to build two new 4th-5th grade schools, one on each of the sites of the Central and Tierra Linda campuses. This would accomplish a number of objectives, including (a) removing one grade from each school to reduce overcrowding while not changing school boundaries, (b) building new, modern, sustainable schools that all students would be able to attend, (c) leveraging the resources of the nearby middle school by the use of their facilities and allowing students as young as fourth grade to have electives, and (d) saving money by not needing to purchase land. The District conducted a survey this Spring to get community reaction to a potential bond measure to fund this new construction as well as renovation and updates at our existing schools. The results were very positive, and it's likely the Board will place a bond measure on the ballot for vote this November. It must pass by at least 55% — you will definitely be hearing more about this in the summer and fall.
The 21st Century Learning initiative is a very exciting, but also complex, project that forces us to reexamine almost every way we run public schools, including the design and implementation of the curriculum (and having the right tools and technologies), the design of the facilities themselves, and the organization of the school day. It touches so many aspects of schooling it would be impossible to fully review here, but please check out the District web site section on 21st Century Learning to read an overview of what we're talking about. We had three community meetings this spring to review some of the concepts and issues, and this summer and fall the school district will be rolling out more pilot programs using different technologies and project-based learning designs. Of course, the timing with our facilities planning is perfect, as we can design our physical spaces to align with these new paradigms. Be on the lookout for more updates and community meetings in the fall.
Like every year, finances and budget remain a concern. We continue to be dependent upon the state's poor finances and dysfunctional system (with only the mitigating factors of our own parcel taxes and educational foundation to soften the blow), and there remains great uncertainty with regard to the budget itself as well as the Governor's tax initiative in November – note that today is the deadline for the state to pass it's budget. (Fortunately, it appears that the legislature won't be adopting the Governor's proposed weighted formula for funding school districts as a tie to the tax measure passing. Although it made sense in theory, because it is was proposed without new funding, it's zero-sum redistribution of money actually makes San Carlos a loser in the formula — there was a scenario where San Carlos schools would have been better off if the Governor's tax measure fails, i.e. the "trigger cuts" to education would be less than the loss from the new weighted formula). So, although we're prepared for the worst, we're hopeful for a slightly brighter financial picture and are prepared to make a few more investments if such cuts don't happen. Such investments may include new elective/curriculum options and professional development (both of course related to the 21st Century Learning initiative) as well as improving the operations of the school district. Another potential area for additional funds is the money owed to the school district by the now disbanded San Carlos Redevelopment Agency.
One other specific area that I'm very excited about is our partnership with the San Carlos Children's Theater. This partnership is a perfect example of an outside-of-the-box relationship which both expands opportunities for our students while bringing in additional resources to the district. And it perfectly aligns with our 21st Century Learning initiative by making much more accessible the benefits of the performing arts to a larger subset of our students. SCCT will move all of their main performances and classes to Mustang Hall and will offer electives to both Central and Tierra Linda middle school students. In addition, the school district will get a percentage of revenue SCCT collects from both registration fees and ticket sales. A true win-win!
Of course we are not without our challenges. In addition to the need to move forward on areas of facilities and 21st Century Learning — and our continual budget challenges — traffic and safety remain an issue at many of our schools. The facilities project will, in part, address these issues, but our schools are locked in tight residential areas, and there is no amount of road striping, signage, and access redesign which will completely solve the problem. I continue to be hopeful that we will also be able to start seriously thinking about transportation solutions for our students, but it would likely take a significant investment and/or some more out-of-the-box solutions. We should continue to do this type of thinking.
I have spoken at more education events this year, and I continue to write a lot as there are still great misunderstandings about public education in the larger political arena. Organizations like Children Now and Educate our State are making strong efforts and strides at looking at fundamental reforms to our state finance and related systems (and we had a great event with them in San Carlos at the beginning of this year), but I find that most of the political chatter around public education is sadly composed of more sound bites and less real analysis as to how the system currently works and therefore how one can change it. Some of my more notable written pieces this year include:
I will continue to write both news updates and opinion pieces on my blog, and as always, I'm happy to chat with anyone who wants to discuss happenings in the school district or about education in general. Thanks again for your support of our schools, and have a great summer!
I had the privilege of speaking at both the Tierra Linda and Central Middle School graduations this week. A few people had asked if I could publish the remarks, so here they are:
Congratulations to the class of 2012. I am honored to be able to take a few minutes to address you.
You will hear a lot – both today and in the coming years – about following your passion and your potential to accomplish impressive things in school and in life. And of course I agree with all of that.
But I’m not here to reinforce that point. You don’t need me to add to the chorus of people who will give you advice on your future. Particularly as you go through high school and college, you’ll get lots of advice on what to do with your life. “The world needs engineers…the world needs scientists…the world needs artists…” Well, yes….
But you know what the world really needs more than anything…especially these days. It needs *good people*. No matter if you become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, carpenter, businessperson, or even a politician…it’s most important to be a good person. Our world needs it more than ever.
Fortunately, I think you’re well set up for this. We’re privileged to live in a place where our community – and our schools — has these values. Yes, we focus on math, science, English, history, music, athletics, and all of the other subjects. But I know that your parents, your teachers, your principals, your counselors, and everyone else at this school district – including your board members – spend a lot of time thinking about how we help you as a good person.
There’s no handbook to being a good person. And to use a cliché, it’s a journey, not a destination. Even we adults are continually learning just by making choices every day. In high school and college, you will be faced with a dizzying array of choices, both academic and social. Each of you will forge your own path – perhaps my only advice is that when you reach a crossroads, ask yourself “what is the RIGHT thing to do.”
So, be kind. Be respectful. Be tolerant. Be open-minded. Be fair. Be honest. Be trustworthy. Be a friend. Engage constructively. Be selfless. I know, sometimes it’s hard to think about these things with all of the other pressures on you. You will make mistakes — will all do. But it’s how you learn from your mistakes that matter most. How you grow as a good person. You’re already on the right path – I’ve met so many of you, and I’m continually impressed with the caliber of human beings that go through our schools. It’s clearly a hallmark of this community.
So, take some time to thank your parents, your teachers, and everyone else who has helped shape who you are. And on behalf of the entire school board, I once again wish congratulations to our graduating class, and best of luck in your journey. We look forward to hearing about all that you will accomplish in school and in life, but we are even more excited about the way you will make a positive difference in your community by making good choices and by taking the journey that good people do. Thank you very much.
Last night the San Carlos School District held its third and final meeting in a series of community forums scheduled this spring to discuss 21st Century Learning (here are links to information about the first and second meetings). This session was designed to give participants (which included mostly parents and staff) a first-hand look at some of the methodologies and tools the district is looking at related to curriculum. In the prior meeting, much of the attention was focused on the physical environment — the design of schools and learning spaces, whereas this meeting was more focused on teaching and learning itself.
Everyone was divided into groups and rotated through three “stations,” each demonstrating a methodology and tool set:
- Flipped Learning — This was a hands-on demonstration of the Khan Academy, including how students can watch “lessons” at home prior to coming to class and then take assessments on that knowledge. They also reviewed the approach from the teacher’s point of view, with a dashboard of individual student performance that better allows the teacher to tailor instruction to individual students. (For more info on the Khan Academy, check out Salman Khan’s 2011 TED talk).
- Design Learning — The “students” were given a design challenge to build a working electrical circuit, working in small groups, using a set of materials provided. It demonstrated a way to teach certain concepts and solve a problem in an engaging, hands-on, collaborative way. The adults came up with some very creative solutions!
- Computational Thinking — Computational Thinking is a problem solving method using models based on computer programming to approach problems in an analytical way while allowing creative solutions. At this station, the computer program Scratch was demonstrated to show how even young children can use the methodology of computer programming (using a tool that allows them to do that without knowing computer programming per se) to find solutions.
From my observations, attendees were very engaged in all of these activities which effectively demonstrated a fun and productive learning environment. In the group discussion that followed, attendees talked about the potential for many of these approaches, but also about the amount of work required to ensure we have the resources to do it well across schools and grades. It was properly noted that SCSD is already doing a lot of these approaches now in our schools (FOSS Science, Scratch pilots in some classrooms, and many examples of project-based learning), but it’s clear that there is a still a significant investment needed in professional development and overall curriculum design (across all subjects) to make these approaches a natural part of all students’ experiences. And of course, these ideas go hand in hand with the changing of the physical design of our schools discussed in the prior meeting, so there is a great opportunity with our upcoming bond measure to fund new schools and renovations throughout the district.
The district administration is also looking to partner with a number of organizations that can provide the resources to help us pilot and/or extend many of these 21st Century approaches, including organizations such as Khan, Google, and the Institute of Design at Stanford.
For more information and resources on these topics, check out these sites:
Flipped and Adaptive Learning
Salman Khan’s 2011 TED Talk
An Interview with David Kelley of IDEO and the Stanford Design School
Design Challenge Learning at The Tech Museum
Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone
A talk by Mitch Resnick of MIT