Heidi's Education Newsletter - December 2013

As we close out 2013, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your elected Palo Alto School Board Member.  This past year, I've met amazing, talented, and hard-working professionals striving to innovate, teach, model, explore, and inspire students from pre-K through high school and beyond.  There is a tremendous community-funded bond program in action across the district, constructing state-of-the-art facilities that enhance student learning.  And, for the first time in three years, the district's financial outlook is stable enough to avoid program cuts and increase compensation for teachers.

There is, of course, hard work ahead.  In the coming months, the Board will be finalizing the Uniform Complaint Procedure, Non-Discrimination/Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Board Policies, in addition to working with the Office for Civil Rights, the California Department of Education, and the California School Boards Association towards adoption of a comprehensive Bullying Policy.  The Board will also continue our enrollment growth planning process, with a decision on a 13th elementary school scheduled for June.  We will also approve new curriculum options at the secondary level, including innovative courses that embrace hybrid, or online, learning components.  And we will be presented with specific plans for improved counseling services at our secondary schools.  I plan to continue these monthly updates, so you can stay informed about the complex work going on throughout our district, as we strive for excellence in public education.   

Here are some highlights from December, including an update from the California School Boards Association's Annual Education Conference, which my colleagues and I attended earlier this month. 

CA SCHOOL BOARDS EDUCATION CONFERENCE: School Board Members from around the state convened in San Diego to discuss Common Core state standards, community partnerships, digital learning, funding, finance, and facilities, leadership through governance, school safety, and student achievement.  Keynote speakers included Jane McGonigal, author of "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World," and Yong Zhao, author of "World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students."  Here are a few highlights:

I attended a workshop on Facilities and Common Core, which explored how student learning should drive facility design.  Innovations include learning "pods," open floor plans with "flow," round tables, flexible furniture, outside classrooms, easy access to technology, and corridors as collaboration spaces.  Milpitas is doing some interesting work in this area and a colleague and I may go over and see what we can learn.  (Check out ideas at: http://dschool.stanford.edu/makespace/

I also attended an interesting workshop on School Board "governance," defined as a particular skill set, balancing diverse roles as community representative (what we WANT to do), legal obligations (what we MUST do), fiduciary responsibilities (what we are ABLE to do), and reliance on the education professionals in our district (what we OUGHT to do).  Effective boards build on these diverse points of view towards a shared understanding, in order to develop inclusive solutions.  My favorite quote from the workshop: "Misunderstanding and miscommunication are normal and natural aspects of participatory decision-making." (More info.: California School Boards Association Governance and Policy Resources.)

Other workshops I attended included: California's fiscal outlook and K-12 education funding, ensuring equity and addressing disparities in education (through LCFF), a Youth Voices panel of high school students, improving Board communications, and an analysis of middle school student achievement.  Unfortunately, a workshop I signed up for on understanding special education law was cancelled.  Overall, the conference was a valuable opportunity to connect with School Board members from across the state and share thoughts, ideas, and concerns about education today. 

STUDY SESSION ON ENROLLMENT GROWTH:  The Board met on Dec. 9th to discuss elementary facilities planning and middle school enrollment growth. We are carefully looking at school boundaries, trendlines for growth within each cluster (north, south, west), demographer's projections against actual enrollment growth, overflows by cluster, the City of Palo Alto's housing plan, and Stanford's new housing.  In January, staff will prepare various program and school options to share with the Board.  After an initial Board discussion, the staff will make additional public presentations of these options for the larger community.  The district's plan for middle school enrollment growth remains to find a workable solution with Stanford to facilitate moving Bowman International School, so Terman Middle School can expand to the size of both JLS and Jordan.

ELECTION OF OFFICERS: Barbara Mitchell was unanimously elected as new Board President and Melissa Baten Caswell was unanimously elected as new Board Vice-President.

NEW CALENDAR: The Board approved the next three years of calendars through the 2016-2017 school year.  Find them at: PAUSD.

COUNSELING: Brenda Carillo, Director of Student Services, brought together counselors from all five secondary schools to present the new Secondary Counseling Logic Model (PAUSD Counseling Services).  The counselors have been meeting monthly to create a unique vision and mission that will unify and guide our secondary schools with a common purpose and metrics across all three tiers: academic, college/career, and personal/social.  The Board will be presented with a more comprehensive update of our High School Counseling Programs in March.

SAFE AND WELCOMING SCHOOLS: Brenda Carillo, Director of Student Services, updated the Board on the Safe and Welcoming Schools Action Plan: to increase awareness of the district's commitment to provide comprehensive student safety services, establish clear policies and practices to support safe school environments, and ensure that all employees, students, and parents understand behavior expectations, reporting procedures, and access to assistance.  There is keen interest in creating strong communities at every school to prevent bullying.  The Task Force will continue to work on curricula and programs, communication efforts, and parent and student involvement to raise awareness and support students and families affected by bullying.

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT-COLLEGE READINESS: Dr. Diana Wilmot, Coordinator of Research and Evaluation for the district, presented A-G completion and college-going rates regarding preparation of our graduates for academic success in college.  We reached a Strategic Plan Goal that 85% of district graduates would complete A-G coursework with a C- or better.  Both Paly and Gunn increased A-G completion rates by 10% since 2008.  (Paly-70%-80%; Gunn-80%-90%) We still have hard work to do to support A-G completion for our socio-economically disadvantaged students (46%), English learners (52%), special education students on an IEP (44%), and students from the VTP program (50%).

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