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.


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.


March 2015
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Gaining Perspective

There’s not much to complain about residing in San Carlos; it’s by almost every measure a great place to live, raise a family, attend school, dine at amazing restaurants, have great neighbors, and all of the other lifestyle things we value as a community. Although neighboring residents often make fun of the city’s slogan “The City of Good Living,” it is apropos in many ways. But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum. And when there is a vacuum of real problems, we tend to elevate the little ones into big ones. This is true for both the city and the school district. Of course, the classic San Carlos story is the fact that it took eight years to decide what surface to put on a field! Regardless of one’s preference on that particular issue, it’s hard to argue that the amount of effort, work, time, and consternation that went into that debate was proportionate to its substance. This is why those who know me well know that I’ve, tongue-in-cheek, used the affectionate moniker of “City of Made-Up Problems” to describe San Carlos. I love San Carlos, but often we get wound up by the little things. This doesn’t mean we don’t have issues to address — of course we do — but compared to what goes on even in neighboring communities, let alone around the country and around the world, we don’t have a lot of big things to complain about.

Although the school district is “high performing” by all traditional measures, we certainly recognize that we need to always improve and move forward. This is why we spent most of last year completing our groundbreaking Strategic Plan to move education into the 21st Century, and we passed a bond and developed a new Facilities Master Plan to build new schools to meet these strategic goals and to serve the incredible influx of new students in the coming years.

I’ve written and spoke about many times how school board service is different from any other political body. We don’t declare a political party when running for office, we are part-time, unpaid volunteers (or little paid in some communities), and rarely is “higher” political office the goal. We have the luxury of truly representing the community and serving students without fear that folks will ascribe ulterior motives to our actions or fear that our words will be assumed to be anything other than genuine. Admittedly, the public doesn’t always appreciate this fact, and the overall dysfunction of the larger American political system is often painted on all public servants, including school board members. Despite this, I have always tried to do my best to serve the students and the community, but at the same time always tell the truth, including calling constituents on bad behavior when it (albeit rarely) happens. Not everyone will (or should) agree with me (and I love a good debate), but I know that most people don’t question my motives or my judgment. By the way, our fellow servants on the City Council have it a lot worse than we do — people give them less of the benefit of the doubt, and I have on multiple occasions been ashamed at how our community has engaged with these public servants. I of course don’t agree with everything my representatives do, but that doesn’t mean my engagement with them has to mimic the worst in what we witness in state and national politics.

This brings me to recent events. It’s been a frustrating week, not because of any substantive action or inaction done by our district, but the nonconstructive (and potentially destructive) engagement of a select few members of our community, backed up by members of the press whose interest was more about seeking a “big story” than about understanding the truth. As many of you know by now, the District agreed to give our Superintendent, Dr. Baker, a bridge loan to finance the purchase of a new home in San Carlos. This was discussed by the Board in numerous closed session board meetings (as is required by the law, compensation negotiations happen in such sessions, just like negotiations with our teacher’s union or any other specific compensation matters), and these discussions clearly led to the later public endorsement of the entire Board showing our collective enthusiasm for the Superintendent to move closer. We thought of it as a celebratory occasion to have our Superintendent have even greater ties to this community. The loan itself was purely to account for timing differences between when he could make an offer on a new home and when he could sell his old home. In reality, the loan will be paid back within one month’s time, and the district will actually make a little money off of the loan (which was just a side benefit). So, the only effect on the operating budget of the district was a positive one. As a board, the most important function we have is to hire, review, and potentially fire a superintendent. Like a corporate board, the CEO is only employee we “manage.” And having a long-term relationship with a great superintendent is the greatest gift we can give to our community. When people have asked me, “what’s been your greatest accomplishment in your time on the school board,” my answer is always that we hired this Superintendent. I believe that he has already proven himself the best Superintendent that San Carlos has ever seen, and probably the best in the entire county (and although I won’t name them, so many school board members around the county have told me that they agree)! So, this bridge loan was an opportunity to create a stronger relationship between the district and the community and make a little money in the transaction with near zero risk. What’s not to like? In fact, it was considered so obvious of an issue that it was placed on the consent agenda as a non-controversial and routine matter.

Enter in San Carlos Patch. Patch has turned itself into a self-parody of everything that is wrong with journalism — it doesn’t act a true local source of information and has become a sandbox for non-constructive engagement. In most towns, including ours, it’s become somewhat of a joke, and it’s no coincidence that their business is failing — the San Carlos edition in particular is slated to be shut down or consolidated with another one. Without even doing the minimum amount of research, Patch sees an agenda item on a board meeting and writes a sensationalistic article implying some wrongdoing without understanding any of the background or context. Now enter in one man with an agenda. One man who has never paid attention to any school district activities or attended any school board meetings. But this man is running for San Carlos City Council and saw an opportunity to paint himself as a “government watchdog,” so he posted all over Patch, other social media sites, and e-mailed a bunch of people to take a stand. So, imagine our surprise when all of these folks showed up at the board meeting on 9/12 to express their consternation at the loan. It was sad that few had done even the slightest bit of research (or spoke to any board or staff members) before speaking. It is of course their right to speak (and we encourage folks to show up at board members and express their views, including ones that don’t agree with ours), but this meeting in particular was an unfortunate example of the type of unconstructive engagement and lack of critical thinking that we usually attribute to the comments made to “higher” political officials. Even after such input, the Board re-iterated its position and unanimously affirmed its decision to support the loan.

It was later learned there was a timing problem in the administration of the loan. The loan was originally meant to close escrow the day after the board meeting, but it closed a day before. It had to do with a request by the title company to move the date. Of course, in hindsight, the district should have told the title company we couldn’t have accommodated the change, but it didn’t. Having to do it over again, I’m sure it would be done differently, but given the context of this being perceived as so obvious and routine (with full board support), it probably didn’t seem to be a big deal at the time. And as we are trying to teach our students, it’s ok to make mistakes — you learn from them, and move on. And given that this “mistake” didn’t have any real ramifications (except for a marginal increase in District revenue by having interest earned for two more days), we should model that same behavior.

So, there’s the big crime. Effectively an administrative error with no actual consequences. No deceit or ill intent on anyone’s part. But guess who decided he — being completely rebuked at the board meeting on the substance of the issue — now had a horse to ride and cry “government corruption”? Efforts to make a big deal of this nothing caught the idea of both the Daily News and the local ABC news affiliate. I spoke to both of them during their “research”, and although The Daily News included some of my comments (although it left out a ton of context), ABC didn’t use anything I said because the substance of the issue didn’t fit into its pre-determined story arc. The ABC report was comical in its quality, and the reporter was particularly rude, cutting me off mid sentence and refusing to acknowledge that there was even another side to this story. So, in addition to being disappointed by the poor approach taken by this vocal minority in our community, I was sad to see up-close how badly our media outlets behave. Being a public official for the last six years, I realize how often media outlets get their facts wrong (it’s a bit of a running joke among many), but this was way beyond. It demonstrated a collective disregard for critical thinking that I heretofore assumed was only prevalent in national debates. What a scary notion — will it be hard for me to believe almost anything I read or see anymore?

I hesitated to write this post at all because I thought the issue was so nonsensical that it didn’t even deserve my time. But this “made up problem” can have real ramifications. It’s already had a devastating toll on our amazing district office staff who had to spend so much of their time last week dealing with this silliness rather than serving children. The Superintendent is being harassed — the ABC news folks hid near his house so they can ambush him when he got home! If he or other members of his staff decide it’s not worth the hassle anymore, it will be this community that loses out. But here’s the good news — the far majority of San Carlans are hugely supportive of the district. I have been flooded with calls, e-mails, texts, and in-person conversations by folks who are shocked at this nonsense, and many have been trying to counter the ignorant comments on social media sites, but unfortunately social media sites often favor the ignorant. I thank all of those who reached out and for your dedication to making this district the best it can be. Ironically, not a single person with concerns has sent me an e-mail or called me to discuss those concerns or to learn more. The distance (and often anonymity) of social media posts is far too easy than talking to someone who may actually have a different perspective than you. As I have always said, I’m happy to talk to anyone anytime about any issue. I couldn’t address every single question that people have brought up on social media sites, but I’m happy to talk anytime…just reach out.

I’m confident that my colleagues on the San Carlos School Board understand — and I urge all school board members everywhere to understand — the lesson of why we’re different than other “politicians” and to stand by their principles and continue to focus on what’s best for students. As a community, we must demonstrate that we will not allow San Carlos to devolve into a place where the loud and ill informed (let alone those with a personal agenda) can take us off track from the amazing work we are doing (and real problems we need to solve) in public education. We have an amazing staff too, and they need to get back to their day job tackling real issues.

The Big Buzz

Welcome back to school! Students arrive on campus on Wednesday, but teachers and other staff have been busy working for a while, many throughout the summer. The district has stepped up its emphasis on professional development, and there were more programs, internal conferences, and other PD opportunities for all staff than there have been in recent history. There is an excitement and “buzz” around the school district that I haven’t seen before, and I have had a number of staff members stop me personally and tell me how excited they are about the District’s new Strategic Plan, the upcoming plans on facilities (including the building of our new 4th-5th grade schools), and the associated professional development that has gone on this summer and is planned for the year. One teacher told me this past week it was the best she’d ever seen in her many years of service in this district! Obviously there is a lot to work on with teams developing actions plans to implement our 21st Century Education Vision as well as prepare for the coming Common Core Standards. The latter will not be an easy transition (including for parents) as we implement the new (and better) curriculum and assessments as prescribed by Common Core (officially beginning next school year, unless delayed by the state). It will change everything from daily curriculum to standardized test scores.

The other big news for this year was the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula. LCFF removes many of the “categorical” funding sources for schools and directs greater funding to districts with greater needs (in terms of more English language learners and students in poverty). This makes complete sense and is a good first step, but the state did not significantly increase overall education funding. So for districts such as San Carlos, our financial situation is still very tight with only a modest increase over last year (and still well below where funding was when I started on the board). So, we will continue to have to find creative solutions particularly as we implement some of the new ideas in our strategic plan.

I encourage you all to read my Spring end-of-year wrap-up, as those issues will continue to be our focus. I am already impressed by the pace of new implementation plans that are emerging from all school sites, so I suspect everyone will notice these changes throughout the year. Also, as I posted previously, this year in a school board election year (although not for me). I encourage everyone to read up on the issues and the candidates and to vote! See you around campus!

School Board Election this November

As many of you know, our four-year school board terms begin and end on odd-numbered years, and every two years there are two seats or three seats up for election. As I was re-elected two years ago, my seat isn’t up, but three others are. Beth Hunkapiller, who has served on the San Carlos School Board for 20 years, is not seeking re-election. The two other seats are held by Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farthey, both of whom were appointed in the beginning of 2012 to fill the seats vacated by Carrie Du Bois and Mark Olbert (each having been elected to a different position in the middle of their school board term). There will be four candidates running for three positions in this election, and the top three vote-getters will be elected.

Carol and Kathleen are both running in this election, and I wholeheartedly endorse both of them to continue their work on the school board. Carol has been a long-time and dedicated volunteer in the San Carlos School District community, including when I worked with her on the board of the San Carlos Educational Foundation. Carol is bright, detailed-oriented, and passionate in her dedication toward our schools. She will continue to strive for excellence as we execute on our new facilities plan and 21st century education vision. Kathleen has also proven herself in a very short period of time, being also very bright as well as a good visionary and strategic thinker. She continually asks how we can do things better, and leverages her extensive business experience for the benefit of our organization. Both Carol and Kathleen helped shepherd a truly extraordinary year for SCSD and are essential links for continuing this great work. They both deserve your vote.

There are two other candidates running — Nicole Bergeron and Sarah Stiefel. My very strong recommendation and endorsement goes to Nicole Bergeron. Nicole is a long-term San Carlos resident and volunteer (both having attended San Carlos schools herself as well as being extremely involved as her kids have gone through our schools). She has a ton of energy and has proven that she will work hard on behalf of our kids. She brings a diverse set of experiences, including as a school site council and parent leader, foundation and non-profit executive, non-profit board member, as well as an education and housing advocate. She is also dedicated to our current vision and moving the district forward on our key initiatives such as our strategic plan and facilities master plan to accommodate our ever-increasing enrollment. I urge you to vote for Nicole Bergeron in addition to Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley this November!

I also encourage you to look at the other races in November that will affect our community, such as the race for San Carlos City Council, the Sequoia Union High School District, and the San Mateo County Community College District. You can see a list of all candidates for ever race in the county at https://www.shapethefuture.org/documents/dynamic/candidaterosterweb.pdf.

The Most Strategic of Plans

In my six years on the school board in San Carlos we have done some exciting things, but I think all of it pales in comparison to the vision and ideas outlined in our new Strategic Plan which was adopted by the Board last night. Even though this is all “easier said than done,” most public school districts have never even ventured to write down many of these goals, so this is a huge step.

This plan is written in the context of truly re-thinking how public education should be structured in the 21st Century, meaning that we are no longer constrained by 19th Century limitations on the who, what, where, when, and how we educate our children. Although this is not just about technology, clearly technology developments have been the catalyst to allow us to think how we can break down the “walls” – both literal and figurative — in the learning process. In doing so, we can create a richer, more personalized, and more relevant learning experience for all students. Some of the highlights of this “wall-breaking” include:

  • Emphasizing the Whole Child, focusing on the 5Cs (Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, Citizenship, and Creativity & Innovation), and embodying design and innovation thinking in the curriculum
  • Developing a project-based, technology-infused approach to teaching and learning, featuring real-world, meaningful design challenges, including a deep appreciation for and exploration of the creative expression found within the arts
  • Bringing together a team of educators, broadly defined, from the community and across the globe, to be part of our educational “team”
  • Challenge the traditional “sorting” mechanism of students (age, grade level, etc.)
  • Extending and redefining the school day, leveraging the exploding opportunities afforded by blended learning, and redefining the notion of the “classroom” and “school”

Although fulfillment of these goals will take many years, we will start to see its practical implementation particularly as we build our two new 4th-5th grade schools. We have already seen facility designs that incorporate greater use of “learning commons” spaces, flexible walls among “learning suites,” and of course a technological infrastructure to support all of it. Also, our new curriculum design team is charged with determining how we implement many of the ideas contained in the strategic plan, including the greater emphasis on project-based and design learning, blended learning, use of community and global resources, and management of our human resources. On that last point, our new agreement with SCTA contains a goal to develop a new teacher evaluation system (which I predict may have very similar features to the recent system adopted by the San Jose Unified School District).

This Strategic Plan was the result of almost two years of work among district office staff, teachers, other staff members, parents, and board members through dozens of meetings and lots of input in many forms. Although in any process like this there are certain to be varying perspectives, it was amazing to me how aligned almost all constituents were — teachers, parents, principals, board members, etc. San Carlos is clearly ready for this and excited for it! I wish to thank all of the people who were involved in all of these discussions, the open minds, and the “out of the box” thinking we got from so many people.

Of course now the hard work begins. Certainly we’ll run into issues, there will be disagreements along the way, and many goals may take longer to achieve than we would like. But it’s hard to overemphasize how big of a deal this is, and I’m excited for the future of this district and its students!

Read the plan here: http://rosenblatt.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/2013-2018-SCSD-Strategic-Plan.pdf

2012-2013 End of Year Wrap-Up

Friends & Supporters,

I’m sending you my traditional end-of-the-school-year wrap-up of all of the happenings in the San Carlos School District. We did tackle all of our big goals for the year as I outlined in my beginning-of-the-year summary, but here is an overview of the year’s big news:

  • Bond/Facilities — The big milestone in the year was the passage of Measure H, our $72 million bond measure to build new facilities in our district to handle our ever-increasing enrollment. Along with this was the finalization of our Facilities Master Plan, which is the road map for our new building and renovations over the next decade. In addition to technology upgrades and various projects at each school site, the primary focus of this plan is building two new 4th-5th grade schools to be located at the current middle school campuses. This plan will relieve overcrowding at all of the existing schools and provide us an opportunity to build new schools with a modern design to support our strategic plan (see below). As you can imagine, there is a ton of work to be done in the implementation of this plan — the current projection is that some projects will be complete by the start of the 2015-2016 school year but that the first 4-5 school will open for the 2016-2017 school year. We have already executed on the first part of this plan, which is to find a new location for the District Office — once the transaction is completed this summer, the office will move to 1200 Industrial Road (corner of Howard) and would consolidate the district staff from current dispersed locations and provide sufficient facilities for professional development, teacher training, and public meetings as well as free up significant space on the Central Middle School campus. Note that we had a number of other small wins in this area, as we were able to re-finance some of our older bond issuances at lower interest rates to save taxpayers money.
  • Strategic Plan — although technically not final yet (it should be approved by the end of this month), the new Strategic Plan is quite the breakthrough. It will force us to rethink almost everything we have done in public education (including the curriculum itself as well as the very way we structure classes, school, and the role of educators), and I think it will be a model for many other districts. Of course, the implementation of the plan will be difficult and take many years, but it’s a great vision with so much collective support among administrators, teachers, parents, and board members! Note that both the Strategic Plan and the Facilities Master Plan were the result of dozens of meetings among staff member and community members at school sites, in various working subcommittees, and in a number of very successful district-wide community meetings. Thanks to everyone who participated in this process. I encourage everyone to read the Strategic Plan. The first step (which has begun) in implementation is the creation of a dedicated Design Team — a team of administrators and teachers who will work over the next 18-30 months to design the curriculum, structure, and personnel model of our new schools and for the district in general. This will ensure that the physical design of the schools aligns with the curricular design as we re-think many of the historical elements of public education to implement a real 21st century learning environment.
  • Electives — This was the first year of our expanded electives offerings at the middle schools (including the introduction of theater classes at Central thanks to our partnership with SCCT), and there will be a further expansion for this year. This is great progress, but this is an area where more work must be done. Consistent with our soon-to-be-approved Strategic Plan, we need to figure out a way to offer a greater variety of electives, create the ability to participate in multiple areas of interest, and build a much more student-centered curriculum. Stay tuned.
  • Math Curriculum — Long overdue, we finally implemented a new approach to middle school math progression which will allow more students to take higher-level math, not force TL kids to go to Carlmont for geometry, and make consistent between the two middle schools the placement criteria. This coming school year will be its first year of implementation, so I’m certain there will be tweaks needed along the way, but it’s a long overdue and very exciting change.
  • Sustainability Policy –The District adopted a new Sustainability Policy which addresses integrating environmental education and stewardship into the curriculum, developing programs to monitor consumption and conserve use of natural resources, building capacity for renewable energy generation for all school sites, and committing as much as possible to use of green building materials in new construction. Like the Facilities and Strategic plans, the hard work is yet to come and it will take years to fully implement, but I’m very exciting about having this new policy. We should definitely be seeing solar panels as part of our new building projects!
  • Finances – This remains a focus for the District given the environment in which we live and our dependence upon the state budget for funding. No doubt you have heard that the Governor is proposing a new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) as part of the state budget. Most folks in education agree with the main principle — which is to allocate more money to students with greater needs — but given the current low level of funding for all schools, it’s a tough time to redistribute slices of an already shrunken pie. School districts like San Carlos won’t see extra money under this new formula, but given that the overall state financial picture has slightly improved, it’s possible we will see a very slight increase in our funding level next year. Details are still to be worked out, but the bottom line is that we will remain in a very tight fiscal situation for a number of years. On the bright side of the financial picture, we finally received the money from the settlement of the lawsuit with the Redevelopment Agency which although was a one-time infusion of money, definitely shored up the District’s finances a bit. Although not totally unexpected, one negative development this year was the final dismissal of our suit against the former County Treasurer for his mismanagement of funds (including ours) in his investments in Lehman Brothers. We unfortunately won’t see any relief from that incompetence and negligence.

There were a bunch of other improvements and policy adjustments over the last year, including successfully transitioning CLC to its independent non-profit status for the full year and building a stronger relationship with the District, stopping the practice of vendors giving commissions to schools for services, starting the monthly Superintendent newsletter, implementation of the new transitional kindergarten, a new partnership with the City of San Carlos for after-school athletics, and great hires in folks like Robert Porter (Chief Operating Officer) and Chelle Pell (Head of Facilities).

Next year will prove to be equally as exciting, as we take on the tasks in our Facilities Master Plan and Strategic Plan. In addition, we’ll see the finalization of the Governor’s LCFF, and the state will begin to implement the Common Core Standards. Common Core will be a huge focus for every school district over the next two years, as it will be a massive change in curriculum, testing, and teaching methodologies. Our District is investing a lot more in staff professional development related to Common Core implementation. You’ll be hearing lots more about this in the coming year.

Another interesting regional development is the agreement in the San Jose Unified School District on a new teacher evaluation system. It’s truly a breakthrough development that creates a system for real performance evaluations worthy of professionals that both provides the support required to improve teaching and learning as well as the accountability for high performance. Although not perfect , it’s smart and balanced, not relying on the nonsensical notion of test scores but rather on stronger and more frequent reviews (including by peers), a connection between performance and pay, new career positions for teachers, and a better system for helping (or removing) under-performers. I believe this is going to prove to be a model for many other school districts including ours. It is very consistent with our Strategic Plan, and I believe you’ll start seeing similar discussions in our district this coming year.

Personally, I continue to be involved in regional and state issues related to public education. I continue to write for EdSource and sit on the board of the San Mateo County School Boards Association (this month I wrapped up my second year as President). This year I joined the San Mateo County Core Organization Task Force and the Peninsula Partnership Leadership Council, the latter being focused on expanding preschool and increasing reading proficiency. As some of you know, I also tried expanding my personal horizons within the arts by getting involved in SCCT’s community production of The Wizard of Oz, which was tremendous fun. Thanks to all of you who came out and supported me!

But the most important personal development of the year is that my oldest child is graduating from the San Carlos School District this month! (My younger one is entering 7th grade next year). It has been a remarkable nine years, and he has grown tremendously thanks to the “village” of our school district and our community that help raise all of our children. I want to thank all of the teachers, counselors, administrators, librarians, and other students and parents who collectively made this a wonderful experience. It is a truly bittersweet moment!

Finally, this year is a school board election year! There are three seats open (mine isn’t open until 2015), and it’s certainly possible there will be some vacancies. As always, I encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to learn more about running and serving on school board. It’s a remarkable experience that I highly recommend and one that has changed my life in so many ways. If you have any interest or would just like to learn more, feel free to contact me anytime.

And once again, thank you for all of your support of our school district and our students — I look forward to a number of exciting years ahead. Have a great summer!

Spring Update

I have not given an update in two months, so here’s my “getting close to the end of the year” update. In particular, the District staff, architects, and project managers have been hard at work honing the details of our facilities planning, including preparing for the first bond issuance, analyzing timelines and logistics, and sharpening pencils on budgets. Specific updates include:

  • New District Office — the district placed an offer on a building to re-locate the district office. The transaction is still in the “due diligence” phase, but it looks promising to close. The new district office would move to 1200 Industrial Road (corner of Howard) and would consolidate the district staff from current dispersed locations and provide sufficient facilities for professional development, teacher training, and public meetings. The space will cost us significantly under what we had budgeted, and it is in move-in condition with furniture and infrastructure. if all goes to plan, the district office will be able to move over the summer. This will also free up significant space on the Central Middle School campus.
  • Timeline for new schools — based on recommendations from the architects and our facilities committee, we are pushing back the dates for completion of both the middle school renovations as well as the new 4/5 schools. The board discussed this last night and agreed that although we recognize we need the additional space as soon as possible, we want to make sure all of this is done correctly and prudently. The new planned timeline for completion is as follows: Central and TL — Fall 2015, 4/5 school adjacent to Central — Fall 2016, 4/5 school adjacent to TL — Fall 2017. The various projects planned at the elementary schools will be done throughout this whole time.
  • Bond Issuance — The district has received its credit review and is ready for its first bond issuance. However, as I noted in my recent article in EdSource, pending state legislation — AB182 (which has already passed the Assembly) — has the real risk of hampering our bond program. It could substantially delay projects if passed (for example, if bond issuances had to be limited to 25 years, we may not be able to float all of the bonds already approved within the timeline we plan). Our financial advisor is looking into our various alternatives, but it’s worth noting this regulatory risk based on a very ill-conceived bill from Sacramento.
  • Strategic Plan — we’re getting close on finalizing the district Strategic Plan. This is going to a be a groundbreaking document forcing us to rethink almost everything we have done in public education, and I think it will be a model for many other districts. Of course, the implementation of the plan will be difficult and take many years, but it’s a great vision with so much collective support among administrators, teachers, parents, and board members! Our recent community meeting on May 2nd yielded some additional strong feedback which will be incorporated into the next version of the document — stay tuned. The goal is to pass the plan by June.
  • Budget – we should know within a few weeks what the effect of Gov. Brown’s budget proposal (including his new Local Control Funding Formula) will be on San Carlos. It appears that we may see a very modest increase in our per-pupil funding and overall our financial profile will not change much. More to come on this as well.

As we approach the end of the school year (about four weeks from now), I’ll give a more comprehensive wrap-up.

Facilities Master Plan Approved

Last night the Board approved the District’s Facilities Master Plan (FMP) — this is the road map for the building and renovation of our facilities over the next decade. The version posted online was not the final one passed — there were a few minor changes in language and organization of “phases” for certain projects — the revised one will be posted soon on the district web site. This is a major step forward and allows us to start the work on design and construction.

The FMP is not just about Measure H — it’s about our broader facility needs, and as you can see in the plan, we outline projects that cost far in excess of the $72 million authorized under Measure H. However, we identify other potential sources of funding, which include state grants, separately financed projects (such as for sustainability initiatives), and private grants and donations. Although the intent is to do projects at each school site (particularly on technology infrastructure and sustainability), the bulk of the work will happen at the middle school sites and in the building of our new 4-5 schools. In addition, it is a priority to find a new location for the San Carlos Charter Learning Center (CLC) in order to create more space on the Tierra Linda campus.

On a related note, the Board gave direction to the Superintendent to proceed with his proposed Design Team for the new 4th-5th grade schools. This is a team of administrators and teachers who will work over the next 18-30 months to design the curriculum, structure, and personnel model of our new schools. Their role will also be to ensure that the physical design of the schools aligns with the curricular design. This will be the first substantial opportunity to re-think many of the historical elements of public schools and to implement a real 21st century learning environment, both in terms of the physical learning spaces as well as the very design of the curriculum and school day itself. It will be the first instantiation of our overall District Strategic Plan which we will finalize by the end of this school year. I’m looking forward to seeing it develop!

New Sustainability Policy

Last night the board passed the first ever Sustainability Policy adopted by the San Carlos School District. I’m very excited about this!

The policy is of course just a first step toward (and a prerequisite for) real action on this front. The policy is designed to be reasonably holistic and cover a number of areas, including:

  • Integrating environmental education and stewardship into the curriculum
  • Develop programs to monitor consumption and conserve use of natural resources such as energy and water
  • Build capacity for renewable energy generation, e.g. solar power, for all school sites
  • Commit as much as possible to use of green building materials in new construction, including all our upcoming construction related to our Facilities Master Plan and recent bond measure passage.

Of course this is all easier said than done. It will take a lot of work and many years to fully implement the ideals stated in this policy. But this policy will give us a road map for future work and will also potentially allow us to qualify for grants to pursue additional projects in the area of sustainability. In addition to the obvious ideas such as adding solar panels at each school site, we have to think about how do implement programs that both make our infrastructure more energy (or water) efficient but also potentially change behavior to reduce our footprint. So, I predict a lot more to come in this area, but it was certainly a big step last night. I’m proud to live in a community that almost universally has such a commitment.

Click here to read the full policy.

Hold Harmless not so Harmless

Last month I gave a preliminary take on the Governor’s proposed budget, which looks to replace our existing funding system with a new Local Control Funding Formula. Last week the State Department of Finance released it’s district-by-district calculation on the impact of the LCFF. It should probably come as no surprise that San Carlos comes out at the low end of that calculation (it would remain the lowest funded district in San Mateo County) with its relatively high income population and low percentage of English language learners, while at the same time being a Revenue Limit district. Unlike a similar proposal the Governor made last year which would have actually re-distributed existing funding, this proposal has a “hold harmless,” meaning that no district will lose money compared to what it has now. Although I like the concept of this new system, there are issues in the details, particularly as it relates to San Carlos. Unfortunately we may be held to a low funding level for a long time. I re-print my article published yesterday in EdSource today which goes into more explanation:

I want to like the governor’s proposal — I really do. Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula is certainly the first sign of real and meaningful education finance reform in decades. As a very active voice decrying our dysfunctional system, I should be jumping for joy right now, shouldn’t I? The governor absolutely needs to be commended for his political courage and vision to change this system, and the notion of directing more money to districts with higher needs is spot on. And folks who are more politically savvy than I in the ways of Sacramento tell me this is the best chance we’ll have to make these changes. So, what’s the problem?

To be clear, I have always argued that communities with economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners should get more funding, and if anything the weights in Gov. Brown’s LCFF probably aren’t nearly enough to compensate for the inherent challenges in educating certain populations. However, I have also argued that adding universal preschool would go a long way toward leveling the field for our students, and ironically may even be more powerful—and maybe even cheaper in the long run—than compensating districts in later grades for more challenged populations. Despite the recent attention this issue has been getting (not unrelated to the president’s call for expanded preschool), this issue seems to be mostly absent in this conversation at the state level about education finance reform despite its clear linkage.

The LCFF also presents some very practical challenges for districts such as my own. Ours, like 90 percent of districts in the state, is a Revenue Limit district, meaning that its funding is essentially dictated by the state, but we live in a high cost-of-living area with a middle-upper income population. So, properly, we’re on the low end of this weighted formula, but that hardly accounts for what it really takes to educate our children. For example, the most obvious “weight” missing in the LCFF formula is regional cost of living. Ultimately, it’s not the inputs (e.g., money) that matter but rather the outputs—what you can do with money. We must pay teachers a higher amount than most other places in the state or else they wouldn’t even be able to afford to live within a commuting distance! So, the same dollar does not buy the same teacher (or administrator, or counselor, or librarian, etc.) across the state. I’ve discussed this issue with a number of our state representatives who generally agree that although this is an honest intellectual argument, it’s a dead political one. No one is going to stand up and advocate to give more money to “rich” districts despite the truism that some places get more for their dollar than others. Although this issue is a challenge for my district, it also affects the number of economically disadvantaged communities within our county that still suffer from the same relative high cost-of-living pressures. Although they will gain from the “weights” in the LCFF compared to a district like mine, they will still lose out compared to similar districts in other counties.

One potential political “compromise” here is the lowering of the parcel tax threshold to 55%. SCA 3 would place a measure on the ballot, which if approved by voters would lower the threshold to pass a school parcel tax from the current two-thirds required. Although I am a supporter of doing this in any case (as the 2/3 requirement has been particularly onerous, and lowering it will allow more communities to help fund themselves), its passage would act as a bit of a counterweight to the inherent bias in the current LCFF formula against districts in higher cost-of-living areas—many of these (although not all) have demonstrated an increased capacity to tax themselves to compensate.

The next big issue is the definition of LCFF’s “hold harmless” concept (the promise that no district will lose money versus what it gets today). Of course the LCFF is a major improvement over last year’s Weighted Student Formula, which would have actually taken base money away from districts (including mine), but the hold harmless provision still misses two key points. First, we will still be losing some streams of “categorical” money that we received in the past and which, in our case, won’t be made up by the new LCFF weights. Second, many revenue limit districts are funded at a rate 20 percent below what they were pre-recession. And California wasn’t exactly funding our schools well even at that time. So, the promise to hold us flat at our current lower level is cold comfort. According to our preliminary calculations, our district will crawl back to its pre-recession funding level once the formula is fully implemented (assuming state revenue projections hold up). This is consistent with the governor’s plan to take seven more years to bring districts back to their 2007-08 funding levels, but this means it effectively will have taken over a decade—more than an entire generation of students in our K-8 district—just to return to the modest level of funding we had before. The obvious alternative—as discussed in the interview with Assembly Chair Joan Buchanan in EdSource Today back in November—is to first restore all districts to pre-recession levels before implementing the weighted formula. But of course this would cost a lot more money and would delay relative funding for those districts most in need.

Lastly, we have an expectation-setting problem. Each of our local communities (and our employees) may have greater expectations than reality will bear out. On a statewide level, just like the passage of Proposition 30 last November, LCFF implementation runs the risk that it will give many the erroneous assumption that we have now “fixed” the problem. It’s a major step in righting the ship, and I continue to applaud the efforts. But unless we recognize that it is just a first step, California will continue to systematically underfund public education and shortchange our future…we will have just spread around the misfortune a little more rationally.

Middle School Math Changes – Update

Last night the administrative team came back with the proposal for middle school math based on the board discussion we had in November. The plan is a very rational approach — developed by the teaching and administrative staffs at the middle schools and the district office — that aligns the approach between the schools and gives more students an opportunity to take higher level math classes.

As I wrote about then, this has been a long-standing issue in our district that has unfortunately been ignored (including by the Board). Historically, our two middle schools have approached math differently, both in terms of the criteria of which (and how many) students get into Algebra and Geometry and how they teach Geometry (Central has a teacher, TL kids go to Carlmont to take the class). In addition, the district has been very conservative compared to comparable neighboring districts in terms of the percentage of students who are placed in higher math classes (e.g., we place about half as many kids in 8th grade Geometry as do Belmont or Menlo Park, and in those two districts, 100% of their kids still score proficient or advanced — so clearly they are not stretching by any means).

Although the full effects of the changes will take two years to implement, the schools will begin applying the new criteria for placement for next school year. And we will use the same methodology at both Central and Tierra Linda. The criteria will include a number of factors, including multiple test data points, course grades, and teacher judgment. We also discussed last night how we can create a system to get both student and parent feedback into the decision process. The staff will develop the specific criteria over the next couple of months. Also, TL will join Central in having it’s own Geometry teacher, ending the practice of sending kids across the street to Carlmont to take that class. The chart below outlines the general pathways that students will have through middle school math.

Math Paths

Clearly the major decision points will happen between school years, but this system will also be designed so that there is some fluidity with students moving up or down as appropriate during a school year, most likely at the end of trimesters. Although those adjustments should be rare, we certainly want to give the opportunity for students to be re-assigned if the original placement wasn’t appropriate. We must also recognize that some of the specifics may change as we migrate to the Common Core Standards. Lastly, we all agreed that this remains a work in progress — we should monitor the outcomes of the system at the end of each year and adjust as necessary.

This is one of those “it’s about time” moments, and I appreciate all of the hard work by the district office and the teachers to finally make this a reality.