About this site

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 2016
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Update on Math Pathways

At last night’s board meeting, we received an update on the District’s proposal for handling Common Core math implementation in the San Carlos School District. I wrote a detailed summary of our prior meeting in April where we went through some of the options and understood a bit better the approach behind Common Core. The big takeaways from that meeting included: (a) Common Core math is a much richer set of standards with an aim to significantly deepen students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics; (b) Common Core rethinks the sequence of when certain concepts are taught and blows up the boxes between what we formerly called certain areas of math, like Algebra, Geometry, etc. — in other words, certain parts of these “higher-level” math courses are actually taught a lot earlier than before; and (c) this is a very complex, multi-layered issue that has required extensive work by our math teachers and administrators, in collaboration with their high school counterparts. Because of all this, it is extremely difficult to compare our current offerings to the Common Core offerings. Some high schools for example, have embraced an “integrated” approach where they even remove the historical labels (Algebra, Geometry, etc.) altogether, and even though the Sequoia Union High School District is implementing Common Core, they are keeping a “traditional” nomenclature and sequencing.

As one could imagine, there is a fair bit of confusion and angst around this change, both because of the lack of comparability to the past as well our lack of history and data about what will best work for students. The District has continued to work hard on this issue and has had lots of community input (including at a meeting on May 7). Based on all of this, the Board received a more specific proposal last night, and I applaud the District staff for all of the hard work and for coming up with solutions that address so many of the needs and concerns.

My observation here is that there has been a healthy tension between parents who largely appear to be most concerned (and understandably so) about whether their kids will be challenged enough and educators who worry that the new deeper Common Core curriculum will actually be much more difficult and that we risk making inappropriate placement decisions if we use the same framework as before, e.g. “my child must take Algebra (or Geometry) by 8th grade.” Both of these perspectives are valid, and we must recognize that this is in the context of much uncertainty — all being new, we have no experience or data to inform decisions on placements of students and pacing of offerings.

So, to address all this, the District is proposing a broad set of offerings, with a number of different “paces” to find an appropriate one for each student. Although there has been some concern over the last few months by many parents that we wouldn’t any more be offering an “accelerated” class for 6th graders and/or a Geometry class for 8th graders, these options will indeed remain open. You can see the entire presentation from last night’s meeting, but the most relevant new piece of information was slide 5 (click on the image to enlarge):
Math

These three “paces” should accommodate almost all of our students, but we will must recognize that each class is still more advanced than its counterpart in the past. For example, being proficient in Common Core Geometry as an 8th grader should be much more difficult than it is even now, so although there is no way to predict the percentage of the student body that will fall into each of these paths, the educators are saying they think this “3 year pace” may be reserved for a very small number of students.

The next step is for the middle schools to develop their schedule for next year and look at student placements. Parents will be hearing soon about the placement process for next year. But given that we will be in a transition period for the next few years, we must recognize that we will make mistakes in placement. So, the Board consensus last night was that we need to build in extra flexibility and fluidity into the system so that we can accommodate (and indeed, even expect) the movement of students from one “pace” to another, either from year-to-year or within a given year. Also, we must ensure that there will be frequent communication throughout the year with individual parents to best understand how their student is doing in the current placement and also provide the appropriate level of support for each child during any change.

In general, these changes are all very exciting, but they will certainly produce some anxiety (particularly among parents) as it moves forward. Perhaps in three to five years these issues will be moot as we will have the experience and the data to be certain in our offerings and student placements, but for now we will work forward in partnership between our dedicated educators and families.

Where Good Ideas Go to Die

Update on the proposed land swap between the San Carlos School District and City of San Carlos.

Last night, the San Carlos City Council effectively killed the idea of a land swap between the school district and city. Over the objection of the majority of speakers who addressed the council, they rejected the swap idea but directed the city manager to go back to the school district and tell us they’d be willing to discuss a straight sale of the property, which of course is a non-starter. As an elected official I appreciate that public comments do not often reflect the majority of the citizenry, but in this case I believe the council heard a fairly representative sample of opinions during the public comment period. A far majority of the speakers supported the land swap, while a smaller group — almost entirely residents near the property in question — spoke out against it. I stopped taking notes tracking all of the factual errors thrown out by those opposing the deal. (BTW, I thought one of the most interesting comments came from a resident of the east side of San Carlos who argued that the Crestview community needs to do its part to contribute to the greater good of San Carlos such as his community has done with projects like the Transit Village, PAMF, and others. It was an interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought about).

Admittedly, it was a confusing topic because the council was effectively discussing two issues at once. The first was whether to bring to the voters a ballot measure that would allow the citizens to change the designation of the Crestview Property. The second was whether the council was in favor of a land swap. Council members debated how specific or general a measure should be and whether it should be tied to the land swap specifically.

In the end, here’s where each council member stood:

  • Mark Olbert was a strong supporter of the swap.
  • Ron Collins was fine with a swap, but wanted it to include other consideration from the district for what he believed were the inequity in “value” between the two parcels.
  • Cameron Johnson was fine with having CLC be placed at the Crestview site, but he didn’t want the Dartmouth site in return. So, he favored some other type of transaction to accomplish this, such as a long-term lease.
  • Bob Grasilli was in favor of a ballot measure to change the designation of the Crestview site, but wanted to preserve all options for the council to use the parcel as it wishes, and needed more information on a potential deal with the school district before agreeing to it.
  • Matt Grocott said he originally supported the deal, but after further reflection said there isn’t any value in it for the city. He at one point cited the desire to sell the land on the open market to a developer, but then later used the “green/open space” argument to say why putting a school there was a bad idea.

City Manager Jeff Maltbie asked for clear direction from the council on whether he can go back to the school district with the idea of a swap, lease, or outright sale. The only one that received a majority of council members in favor was the outright sale idea (which I have always found puzzling, because the city has always known that wasn’t an option from the school district’s point of view). So, there will be no public vote and no deal between the two agencies unless the city has a dramatic change of heart.

Naturally, there will be a collective frustration among many San Carlans about this missed opportunity. This would have been one of those rare “win-wins.” One other speaker put it really well when she asked which decision we are more likely to regret many years down the road (given the growth of school enrollment, etc.) — placing the school at the Crestview site or missing the opportunity to do it.

The upside here is that we at least have clarity. The school district has to solve this problem on its own. I appreciate the council’s taking up this issue and taking it seriously, even though I disagree with their conclusion and am disappointed by the lack of vision.

At our last school board meeting, we discussed our “Plan B,” which is now down to whether we keep CLC at the TL site or move it to Heather (no school board member thought the Arundel location was desirable). In that meeting, the sentiment of the school board was split, with three members leaning toward the Heather solution and two members toward the TL solution. Although I can live with both of these outcomes, I believe that moving CLC to Heather is a much more effective and efficient use of land and much better management of traffic and overcrowding. Frankly, the best argument to me for leaving CLC at TL is if there would be a significant reduction in total cost for doing so. So, the school board will look to making a final decision soon based on more details to be provided by staff, including traffic studies and cost detail, at our next few meetings. Finally, as a wildcard, the district could find some other new space to locate CLC, but naturally we can’t work on that assumption.

See a related article from the San Mateo Daily Journal on last night’s council meeting.

Adding Up the Common Core

As many of you know, next year our school district (along with every other in the state) will be fully implementing the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) 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 recently published a white paper reviewing the history of CCSS development and the benefits it will bring to public education.) Our district has embraced CCSS, and we have invested heavily in professional development for our staff around pedagogy based on these standards. Also, we are implementing the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC), meant to gauge students’ progress on these standards (most parents may know that this is a “practice” year for SBAC where scores do not count, and these tests started in our schools last week). Most educators’ view is that CCSS is a marked improvement over the current “mile wide and inch deep” standards currently in use in California. If you’re interested in learning more about common core, I recommend this video which does a good job laying out the changes and the benefits.

One of the big complexities here is in the implementation of, and transition to, CCSS, specifically with respect to mathematics. CCSS creates pathways that will seem very unfamiliar to all of us who went to school in this country. Just one year ago, we made a significant change in how we approach math in our school district. We had a number of years of data that suggested we were being too conservative in how many kids were accelerated into higher math classes, and we had different approaches in our two middle schools. We changed the policy to make higher math eligible for more students, and we aligned the approach between the schools, including bringing geometry “in-house” at Tierra Linda. However, what we didn’t know at the time was what would be included in the general “Common Core” math standards in each grade.

Through this past year, there has been a lot more clarity in the specifics around Common Core math offerings in both middle school and high school. In general, the Common Core math standards are much more rigorous than both the current standards as well as what we had expected them to be. At last night’s School Board meeting, we spent a long time on this topic, hearing presentations from David Foster from the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI) as well as from our own staff (administrators and teachers) who have been working on this problem throughout the school year. Although most of this work has not been visible to parents and students, our math teachers have been working a great deal with their counterparts at other elementary school districts as well as teachers at the high schools, and area superintendents have also been continually collaborating on this transition. This is a very complicated, multi-layered issue which took us quite a bit of time to unwrap. I’ll try to outline the highlights.

To best understand how Common Core is approaching math, we should start with the options for high school. High schools in California were given the option of one of two approaches to the pathway for math courses — “traditional” or “integrated.” Both choices would include the deeper learning inherent in CCSS, but they take different approaches to sequencing. The traditional approach is just that — it maintains a path we’re all familiar with — Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Trigonometry, Calculus, etc (or some combination of those). The integrated approach is one which breaks down the walls of those traditional classifications and creates a sequence of courses, each of which teaches concepts inherent in all of these subjects, e.g. there are “calculus” concepts that would be taught in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade as well. Experts in the field (including SVMI) highly recommend the integrated approach as it better aligns with the deeper standards inherent in CCSS and has proven to work better as evidenced by the experience of high-performing countries around the world (that is why some refer to the integrated approach as an “international” approach). Different school districts within California have taken different approaches, and indeed whole states across the nation have chosen different paths. Over the objection of many (including many of the county’s elementary school districts), the Sequoia Union High School District (to which most of our students will matriculate) has chosen the traditional path.

For SCSD, there are a few levels of complication. The first is that the current courses at each grade level are not as rigorous as their Common Core analog. (Although this a gross simplification and not entirely accurate, it seems useful to think of the equivalent Common Core math course for any respective grade as being roughly one-half of a year ahead of the historical standard course for that grade. What is really happening is that these new standards are better addressing core conceptual mathematical principles. This in theory will address the superficial treatment and mastery of these concepts that often only become apparent in later courses — including in science — when students are called upon to “make use” of math to solve real world problems. So, the Common Core courses are more “advanced” without per se being “ahead of” the current ones.). Secondly, we have students who are currently taking Algebra (both in 7th and 8th grade) as well as some 8th graders taking Geometry. Particularly for the 7th graders taking Algebra this year and for 6th graders who would have gone into Algebra next year under the current system, there is a transition period where we may need to offer classes not entirely consistent with CCSS for a short period of time and/or perhaps “catch students up” to a course they can take next year. Lastly, we have to align our placements with the paths in high school. Notwithstanding the high school district’s choice of the traditional math pathway, there are still some adjustments and potential “compacting” that would need to happen, particularly to ensure that our higher-achieving students can have the option of taking calculus in high school. The presentation from last night’s meeting outlines some of the potential pathways through both middle school and high school (note that Carlmont and Sequoia will actually take different approaches to “compacting”).

So, there is still quite a bit of work to do, both with respect to the “transition” period over the next year or two as well as where we settle on the math offerings. For example, it’s very possible going forward we may offer only two course levels in 8th grade — “Common Core 8″ and “Common Core Algebra 1,” the latter being more advanced and richer than the algebra currently offered (note that in any case, we will offer Geometry next year for 7th grade students currently taking Algebra 1). But the board discussed two important concepts last night: (1) that we must provide support to students (identified by teachers) who need to “fill in the concept gap” between their current course and the following year’s accelerated course, and (2) we need to remain flexible in our future offerings, particularly for higher-achieving students. As this is still so new for all of us, we need a few years of data to better understand if we’re providing the right mix of classes and if we’re appropriately balancing being conservative or aggressive in the number of students at each level. Despite the changes in course names and sequences, what won’t change is the District’s overarching goal of creating the most appropriate path for each student and pushing each one to his/her potential.

The District will be communicating a lot more over the next couple of months about these pending changes. I encourage folks to read all correspondence on this topic and to attend any events that you can. The next local event will be Wednesday, May 7th at 7:00 PM in Mustang Hall at Central Middle School. This meeting will discuss the Common Core math progression and will include representatives from both Sequoia and Carlmont High School Math Departments. Bring all of your questions!

As parents and former students ourselves, we are inherently biased by our own experience with education, yet we are now entering an era where more and more things about our public schools will look very unfamiliar to us. This includes so many aspects of our Strategic Plan, our new 4th-5th grade schools, how we look at master scheduling, and certainly all of the curriculum changes inherent in the Common Core. I encourage everyone to embrace this unfamiliarity as symbols of real progress in a system that hasn’t changed much in a century. Despite all of the challenges and angst that will accompany this transitions (particularly with Common Core Mathematics), patience and persistence will ultimately yield great results for our students.

Landing on a Good Solution

At last night’s School Board meeting, the Board discussed the idea of potential land swap between the San Carlos School District and the City of San Carlos. It’s a very exciting development with great possibilities, and the entire board was very supportive of the idea.

As almost all residents of San Carlos (and certainly all parents in the school district) know, enrollment in the district has been growing at a fast pace and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. Rightly so, San Carlos continues to get accolades as one of the best places to live in the area, driven in part by the quality of the schools. The school district has been planning for this growth for a number of years, and twelve months ago we passed a new Facilities Master Plan to address both the capacity issue as well as transforming our learning environments for a 21st century education. This plan calls for the building of two new 4th-5th grade schools — one on each of the existing middle school campuses — as well as technology and other upgrades at all school sites. Construction is set to begin on the Central campus this summer and on the TL campus one year later. It’s an inspired solution which accomplishes a number of goals, including: (a) creating new schools in a 21st century design, (b) preserving equity across the district, (c) giving back quality space to elementary schools, (d) being extremely cost efficient, (e) providing flexibility for future growth, and (f) reducing traffic at most school sites. The only real open issue was what to do with the Charter Learning Center. If CLC were to remain on the TL campus, that campus would get very crowded and traffic woes (already severe given the proximity to Carlmont High School) would worsen. Although as part of any new construction we would significantly improve school entrances and traffic flow, it would continue to remain a hot spot in the district.

The Board agreed one year ago that the best solution would be to move CLC to a new location that the District would have to find. The CLC leadership team has been very supportive of this effort. But as you can imagine, it’s been extremely difficult to find a suitable site for a school in San Carlos at any reasonable cost. The District has spent most of the last year looking to do just that, and no good options have appeared. However, in discussions with the City of San Carlos, the idea was floated to do a land swap. The City has for many years owned a property on Crestview Drive (click here to see approximate location), and the proposal is to swap this parcel of land for the upper part of the Tierra Linda Campus (the part where there is currently a Montessori school and a run-down dirt softball field). If this were done, the school district could build a new CLC on the Crestview site whereas the city could build new sports and recreation facilities (e.g. soccer field, etc.) on the upper TL Site. As the new city park would be used largely after school hours, there would be little traffic impact during peak school times.

In doing this sort of deal, we’d accomplish many goals at once:

  • Increase available park/recreation space — specifically playing fields — in San Carlos
  • Accommodate the increasing enrollment of SCSD while reducing traffic congestion and student overcrowding at the TL campus
  • Maximize use of existing resources of both the City and SCSD and save taxpayer dollars
  • Complete a transaction quickly and easily (a land swap has many fewer administrative and legal hurdles than a purchase or sale)
  • Strengthen the partnership between the City and SCSD and set us up for further exciting initiatives in the future

In addition, the CLC site would be able to accommodate a small open space/park/field, and the District will be building enhanced field spaces on both the Central and TL campuses as part of its renovation in any case. So, the net result is truly a win-win!

Of course, the city may choose to sell the parcel of land to a developer (and according to newspaper reports, the city has offers from developers in the neighborhood of $18 million). The City Council of course needs to decide which path is more valuable to the community. Of course they have the right to determine that pocketing the $18 million has a higher value than the extra field space, but I would argue that the annuity of having this extra space so desperately needed is worth much more. In fact, the choice is even starker than that. If the city were not to agree to such a swap, then the District would have to go to an alternate plan for CLC. There are three possibilities — leaving it at TL, moving it to Heather, and moving it to Arundel. Although the Board hasn’t officially decided on what its “Plan B” is, it’s rational to believe that moving CLC to Heather is the next best alternative. Heather has the next biggest campus with a fair bit of space for a new school and relatively less traffic compared to TL or Arundel. If CLC were to move to Heather, that would mean a significant reduction in field space there — fields that are used extensively by the city and local sports groups. So, interestingly, the choice for the city between a land swap and a sale to a developer of the Crestview property could mean either a significant addition of field space or a net reduction of space.

Although certainly there will be (and have been) objections from residents who live adjacent to the Crestview site, I believe their expectations of having open space next to them forever is unrealistic. The city will likely choose of of these two options, and I would argue that having a school up on the site (rather than more housing) is better long-term for the residents and their property values. And ultimately, it’s hard to believe that a far majority of San Carlans wouldn’t be very excited about such a land swap given all the benefits community wide. And as Mayor Mark Olbert writes on his blog, we are really one community even though we have two government agencies responsible. And as a single community, we’d still own the same properties and in fact just leverage their use much better.

So, the ball in now in the City’s court. There will be meetings between City and District staffs, and the City Council needs to take up the agenda item to discuss their direction with the property. And a decision has to reached relatively quickly, because the school district will need to start planning for the alternative if the City decides to sell the property instead. Although I will respect their decision if they choose to sell it to a developer, I believe the greater value is in this deal. And I would further argue that if they believe in that concept, the relative appraised values of the properties are irrelevant. Something only has a monetary value if you’re going to sell it — if you’re not, we’re comparing immeasurable benefits — the traffic and overcrowding mitigation for the school district and the field spaces for the City. So, I would hate for any discussion between the two entities to get mired in negotiations over value or notions of one agency paying another just because of a number written on a piece of paper. This is an opportunity for an amazing partnership that can transcend bureaucratic ways of doing business for the purpose of significantly enhancing this community and serving so many of its citizens.

LCFF, LCAP, CCSS, and SP — How do they fit together?

This is a very unusual time in California public education in that a number of fundamental components of how we operate are changing simultaneously. Some of these significant changes include:

  • The adoption of Common Core Standards (CCSS) – a state-led initiative to establish consistent and clear education standards for English-Language Arts and Mathematics that would better prepare students for success in college, career and the competitive global economy. The goal is to allow students to delve deeper into the subject matter and better promote critical thinking, analysis, project-based learning, writing and communication. 45 states, including California, have adopted CCSS, and they go into effect in this state for the 2014-2015 school year.
  • New Assessments Coming – In conjunction with the adoption of the Common Core Standards, the State of California has replaced the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Assessments with new Smarter Balanced Assessments which go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended response and technology enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Some of the tests will be adaptive, and all will be taken on-line. The Smarter Balanced Assessments do not officially roll out until the 2014-2015 school year, but SCSD students will take practice test in Spring 2014, for which the scores will not be published. There will be no STAR testing in 2014, and the existing API scores will be replaced and not comparable to any future assessment results.
  • The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – a new way the state of California will determine the “revenue limit” of most local school districts — it is based on removing most categorical funding streams and replacing it with a base funding amount per student plus supplemental funding for districts based on need — as defined by percentages of students in poverty or who are English language learners. For more detail on LCFF, see SMCSBA’s Position Paper on the new funding system and/or watch my updated video on the history of California education finance.
  • Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) – as part of LCFF, school districts are required to develop, adopt, and annually update a three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), beginning on July 1, 2014, using a template adopted by the California State Board of Education (SBE) (note this template is still in draft form and is expected to finalized this spring). The LCAP is required to identify goals and measure progress for student subgroups across multiple performance indicators (see below).
  • San Carlos Strategic Plan – although specific to SCSD, the recently-adopted Strategic Plan is already starting to re-imagine and re-create public education in our community. The plan is visionary and speaks to how we “break down walls” (figuratively and literally) to create schools that develop and deliver innovative and engaging curriculum and instruction, leverage human capital to support staff as 21st century educators, and build learning environments that reflect, support, and sustain 21st century learners. What has been most remarkable is, in just this year alone, how teachers, principals, and all district staff have embraced this plan and have already designed new methods and programs at all grade levels. Each site has already developed it’s own site implementation plan aligned with the Strategic Plan.

In general, these are all extremely positive developments, and if anything San Carlos’ Strategic Plan goes further than new state regulations in terms of curriculum, assessment, and accountability. At last night’s School Board meeting, we had an extensive conversation about the alignment between our Strategic Plan and LCAP requirements. As part of our plan, we had already envisioned a “dashboard” that the District would use to measure, analyze, and report on performance across a number of different areas, both relating to student achievement as well as general progress toward making the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan. We have a sub-committee working on the design of that platform, but it will likely be a superset of the LCAP requirements, which already include a number new elements and measurements. The eight main categories of LCAP are:

  • Basic Services
  • Implementation of State Standards
  • Parent Involvement
  • Pupil Achievement
  • Pupil Engagement
  • School Climate
  • Course Access
  • Other Pupil Outcomes

The LCAP requires every school district to have a process for significant community engagement and input as part of the building of the LCAP. Fortunately, this type of engagement has been fairly standard practice in San Carlos, but the LCAP will put a larger umbrella and framework around it. Also, having already built our Strategic Plan through a thorough and thoughtful process over a number of years with participation from staff and community, we have so many of the core elements and ideas of measurement in place.

This presentation gives an overview of LCFF, LCAP, and our timeline and process for both building our first LCAP and of course aligning that with both the Strategic Plan and our annual budget which also has to be completed by the end of the June. Each school will have its own LCAP and that will replace (or otherwise encompass the requirements of) the Single Plans for Student Achievement (SPSAs) and perhaps even the School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs). You will certainly hear more over the next couple months about both site-based and district-wide meetings to gather input and discuss the impact of all of these changes. The new district dashboard that we develop will also develop over time as we better understand what we can and are able to measure while having information in a digestible and actionable format for staff, board, and the community.

It’s a very exciting time in public education — it will be a TON of work and we will make mistakes along the way, but San Carlos is very well positioned to be a leader implementing these new changes.

A School By Any Other Name...

As most of you know, the San Carlos School District is proceeding with its plans to build two new 4th-5th grade schools, one on each of the existing middle school campuses. The rennovation of Central Middle School and the new 4-5 school on that campus are the first major projects, and the Draft Environmental Impact Report on that project is currently out for public comment. The final EIR is expected to be brought to the board for approval in February, with construction assumed to start this summer.

In all communications to date, we have been using the names “Arroyo” and “Dartmouth” to describe the new 4-5 schools on the Central and TL campuses, respectively. These have only been working names, simply by using the local street. It was always the intention of the District to have a discussion around naming these new schools. In late October, the board had an initial discussion on this topic and concluded two things. First, the board asked the Superintendent to pull together an ad hoc committee of parents, faculty, and others to discuss the issue of our naming policy. Second, we all agreed that the naming process itself for these two schools should be an inclusive one to gather ideas far and wide from the community, including from staff, parents, and students.

At last night’s board meeting, we received the report from the committee which discussed the naming policy, and we viewed a draft of a policy for first reading. Interestingly, we had a fairly strong consensus among these committee members as well as school board members to have a policy prohibiting the District from naming a school (or other significant school facilities) after any person, living or dead. I was excited to see this, because I believe that naming a major facility (school or otherwise) after a person is actually an exercise in exclusion, not inclusion. Naming schools is a once-in-a-generation opportunity (if even that often), so how do we choose? Everyone involved in public schooling recognizes that it takes thousands and thousands of people to make a school district successful. Who among us would deserve such an honor to have his or her name permanently plastered on the front of the building? If we believe that it really takes a village, there isn’t anyone whose service can stand out over tens of thousands of others. Everyone’s name deserves to be on that door. So, the answer must be that no one’s name be there. And I believe this applies to historical figures as well — how could one objectively judge among a cadre of amazing people in history? If we tried picking either someone local or historical, it would be an exercise in adults picking other favorite adults with our choices likely biased on coincident timing more than anything else.

Notwithstanding our board’s consensus on this overall policy of prohibition around naming facilities after people, we did have an interesting discussion over the concept of “naming rights,” i.e. the idea (however extremely unlikely in our case) that some wealthy benefactor could donate a significant amount of money and hope to have a name on a building. Although we largely agreed we wouldn’t want to “sell” the name of a school itself, we were split on the notion of allowing that for other facilities (e.g. gymnasiums, theaters, libraries, etc.). Personally, I felt that if a donation (from a person or company) were so significant (maybe 7 or 8 figures?) as to create a facility or program that otherwise wouldn’t exist in that form while preserving equity across the district, then we will have served children by accepting such a donation. Of course, this is ripe with issues, including making sure such naming is consistent with our values. But at the end of the day, the discussion is probably academic given the infinitesimal likelihood of our being faced with such a dilemma. We will revisit this section of the policy at an upcoming meeting and try to synthesize board members’ various concerns here.

But the big picture here is the overall consensus on the meat of this policy — it gives us the ability to rise above any political issues and do something truly meaningful when we name our schools. I don’t know what the right names for our new schools are, but I am looking forward to an inclusive process where we bring in students, staff, parents, and other community members to brainstorm ones that are most relevant for us.

Rethinking the Starting Age of Public School

The following op-ed piece was published on EdSource today. Also, this is a preview of a position paper being published by the San Mateo County School Boards Association — a preview of that paper (and the earlier one on LCFF) can be downloaded here.

The current structure of U.S. public schools — including the K-12 grade framework — was established over a century ago based on the goals, scientific knowledge, and theories of child development at the time, yet this structure has been remarkably resistant to change despite the fact that our society, economy, and the requirements of our public school system have changed dramatically. Even though educators and policymakers alike have questioned many of the other antiquated structures and practices around public education, there has been remarkably little debate about whether our current grade system is still relevant in the modern age. Starting public school at age five is now essentially an arbitrary point and one which we now know does not best serve most children. Specifically, our incredible advancements in the understanding of child development and brain development allow us to know now that fundamental skills are produced in the early years of childhood, long before children start kindergarten. To compensate for the fact that public school starts too late, we have a created a early childhood education patchwork of state-funded schools, local school district programs, and other child care and preschool programs run by both for-profit and non-profit entities. The U.S. is ranked 26th among industrialized countries in the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education, and this lack of universality has created a discriminatory system that only serves half of our children with inconsistent quality often not linked to kindergarten readiness at their local public school.

Although there is always talk about how public schools are failing our children, the fact is that less than 40% of our children are ready for kindergarten when they get to our public schools, creating an opportunity gap long before our schools can address it properly. Many children who live in poorer households and neighborhoods are both less likely to have attended a quality preschool program and less likely to have resources and support outside of school during their K-12 years. There is a mountain of evidence that this opportunity gap is created when children are young — 88% of those who drop out of school could not read proficiently by 3rd grade.

Certainly there is no panacea for every issue in public education, but if there is only one singular change that could address many systemic inequities, creating universal preschool as part of our existing public school system is that change (I would argue it would have a monumentally greater impact on the opportunity gap than would the Local Control Funding Formula). In addition to the moral and social obligation, the opportunity gap created by the lack of universal preschool has a real economic cost to society through lower productivity and competitiveness, lower tax revenue and higher social costs, including higher crime and public safety spending. The evidence linking quality preschool attendance with improved social and economic outcomes is overwhelming, with studies showing multiple times return on dollars spent on early childhood education. Even within my county of San Mateo, a pilot “Preschool for All” program in one district demonstrated immediate and profound results.

President Obama helped energize the debate last February when he talked about making high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. But I would argue that even President Obama is using the language of the 20th (and even 19th) century, and the educational community does itself disservice by calling it “preschool.” That implies something extra and not necessary. Certainly if we were to start our public school system today, we wouldn’t likely start it at age five — a decision made over a century ago for a purpose long past by people with much less scientific understanding of childhood and brain development. Rather we would start public school at age three or younger. So, what we now call “preschool” would just be “school” and it must eventually become part of our public school system. Ideally, we’d just expand our current public school system down two more grades. Only in a half-joking way, I’ve argued that we should renumber the grades, with what we call “Kindergarten” today becoming “3rd grade” — you wouldn’t tolerate your child’s missing 1st and 2nd grade, would you? Making this change would naturally require a significant investment, both in the operating dollars to teach more students but also the money for facilities for local districts to support the extra grades. But to be clear, one shouldn’t infer that the intent is just to duplicate what we currently do in the higher grades (particularly with respect to overly burdensome standards and testing), but rather to create inherent in our public system developmentally-appropriate high-quality nurturing environments for three and four year olds. To make such a change, I recognize that we would have to bring in more early-learning expertise into our public school system to have both teachers and administrators who know how to appropriately address the needs of this age group, as well as have them ready for Kindergarten.

But this is all indeed possible. There is buzz now in Sacramento of taking the current Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program and opening it up to all four-year olds. This would be a tremendous step forward to accomplishing this goal, of course assuming that the legislature fully funds both the program costs and the facility costs. There are also a number of local initiatives — including one in San Mateo County — to march toward universality of early childhood education. But I would argue it’s more than just making sure we serve every student. Only when such early education is core to our public system will schools — all the way through high school and beyond — be truly effective in serving all students to reach their highest potential and be prepared for success in the 21st Century.

Updated Video on California Education Finance (San Carlos edition)

I have been asked by a number of folks to update my earlier video on how the California education finance system works. It was last updated two years ago, and since then there have been some significant changes in California around how schools are funded. So, the new video updates the data and includes explanations of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and Proposition 30. I have also shortened the video to be under 22 minutes, deleting certain sections and topics such as Proposition 98, which is less relevant in our current model. Also, this video is more San Carlos specific and is primarily meant for the San Carlos school community, although the general background and issues apply to almost all school districts in the state.

You can view the video on Vimeo, or watch it below:

Onward and Upward!

Voters overwhelmingly demonstrated their tremendous support for the direction of the San Carlos School District with the election of incumbents Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley by a significant margin. Nicole Bergeron will join the board in the third open seat, and Nicole has also been a tremendous supporter of the district and its direction. I wrote earlier why this was the right combination of candidates to move the district forward and to elevate the board itself. It’s clear that our community is as excited as we are about our strategy and the leadership of Dr. Baker and his team. We will continue to do the hard work of implementing our Strategic Plan and Facilities Master Plan as well as face the myriad of issues we will encounter, including the perennial shortage of resources. This community has proven that recent distractions only should be treated as such. I congratulate Carol, Kathleen, and Nicole on their decisive win, and I look forward to working with them all over the coming years.

In the race for San Carlos City Council, Bob Grassilli and Matt Grocott were re-elected and joined by Cameron Johnson. Congrats to Bob, Matt and Cameron. Cameron will be an exciting addition to the council as it embarks on some very exciting projects and faces numerous challenges and opportunities. I predict that we’ll continue to have a very strong partnership between the city and school district, and I look forward to working on more projects and programs on which we can collaborate. I was disappointed that Karen Clapper was not elected given the tremendous job she’s done since being appointed, but I hope that she stays involved in public service.

The race for the Sequoia Union High School District was probably one of the more contentious of local races. In this race, incumbents Alan Sarver and Chris Thomsen won re-election, with challenger Georgia Jack just a few percentage points behind. I know and respect all three of these folks — I congratulate Alan and Chris and hope Georgia stays involved. Although I recognize that there are serious differences among SUHSD board members, I urge them all to come together as a unit to find common ground on the the myriad of issues they face.

The San Mateo County Community College District race was the least dramatic of the night, with incumbent Richard Holober and former Cañada College President Tom Mohr winning by an incredibly wide margin. Congratulations to Richard and Tom, and I look forward to seeing all of the exciting happenings at the community college district.

Note that the election is not official until certified by the county elections office sometime in the next four weeks, however with all precincts reporting results and the only ones left to count being provisional and related ballots, one can be confident in the above results (interestingly, the one race which has the possibility to change is the one for the Belmont-Redwood Shores School district, the preliminary results of which separate the 3rd and 4th place finisher by only 21 votes!).

Congratulations once again to all of the winners (including all new school board members in the county), and I’m especially excited that we can now focus on the real work to get done in our school district!

Vote November 5th

The following is an e-mail I sent out today to my personal mailing list. Please send me an e-mail if you’d like to be added to it.

This November 5th there will be four local elections for most San Carlos residents. Those of you who vote by mail may have already received your ballot. However you choose to vote, it’s important to make your voice heard in these local races. As has been my custom, I am sending out a summary of the races and my recommendations and endorsements. Here’s the rundown:

San Carlos School District
There are four candidates for three positions. I have endorsed incumbents Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley, along with Nicole Bergeron. Both Carol and Kathleen have done an amazing job in the last two years and have been instrumental in developing our groundbreaking strategic plan and facilities master plan. Carol has been a long-time and dedicated volunteer in the San Carlos School District community, and she is bright, detailed-oriented, and passionate in her dedication toward our schools. Kathleen has also proven herself in a very short period of time, bringing her combination of business experience and education background to be a great strategic thinker. Nicole is a long-term San Carlos resident and volunteer who brings passion, energy and a diverse set of experiences to the board, and she will be a great complement to the team as we implement our strategy over the next four years. If you’re interested in seeing the video of this week’s candidate forum, click here.

San Carlos City Council
There are six candidate running for three positions. In this race, I have endorsed Bob Grassilli, Karen Clapper, and Cameron Johnson. Bob has been a strong and dedicated council member for the last eight years, exercising fiscal responsibility and a balanced approach to providing services and emphasizing quality of life in our city. Karen has proven herself in a short period of time as a strong, strategic thinker who does her homework and has a particular dedication to a greater partnership between the city and the school district. Cameron is smart, energetic, and someone with solid judgment and critical thinking skills, and with his background in both the private and public sector, he will provide a critical perspective as our city government builds an even stronger partnership with its citizens.

Sequoia Union High School District
There are three candidates running for two positions. Chris Thomsen and Alan Sarver are incumbents, and Georgia Jack is the new candidate. I have not taken an official position in this race as I know all three of them well, but it is a very important one as the SUHSD faces many big issues over the next four years. So, please do your own research and definitely vote (I have linked their names to their respective websites).

San Mateo County Community College District
There are four candidates for two positions. I have endorsed Tom Mohr and Richard Holober. Tom has had a distinguished career in education as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and most recently President of Cañada College. He is a fountain of knowledge and understanding about the workings and the importance of the community college district, and he would make a great addition to that board. Richard has provided strong leadership for the district which has both dealt with serious fiscal challenges but has also taken opportunities to innovate.

I hope this is helpful, but most importantly, get out and vote!