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.


September 2015
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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!

Chris Mahoney stepping down as SCCLC Director

Chris Mahoney, the Director of the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, recently sent a letter to the school community announcing that he was stepping down from his role as SCCLC’s Director. As many of you know, Chris has had a year filled with serious medical challenges. Despite this, he is on the road to recovery and expects to be back to 100% by later this year. However, he needs to focus on his recovery and can’t devote the time required to lead CLC.

Chris has presided over a lot of changes in the last five years at CLC, including significant enrollment growth, new technology programs, and a new relationship with the San Carlos School District as CLC has transitioned into an independent organization. Chris has always been a vocal supporter of the overall district’s vision and push into 21st Century Learning, and I suspect you’ll see him back in public education very soon involved with similar initiatives.

I certainly wish him the best of health, and good thoughts to the CLC community as they work through the transition.

You can read his complete letter here.

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!