EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT: One of the great benefits of being a PAUSD School Board Member is going to individual schools and talking with students. This month, I was lucky enough to go to Greendell, home of our early education programs, and talk with Paly students from the Early Childhood Development class, a semester-long course created this year. About 25 students come twice a week to Greendell to work with children and teachers in the preschool, Young Fives, Springboard to Kindergarten, and Transitional Kinder programs. Here, they can put theory into practice, as they learn from both their teacher, Hilary McDaniel, and all the Early Childhood Education (ECE) professionals on our Greendell site. Students shared their excitement with me about this hands-on, authentic, meaningful learning experience. To read more about my visit and see photos of the students in action, click on my blog HERE. The Board also approved a year-long version of the Early Childhood Development course at our last meeting.
EARTH DAY: I also had the pleasure of visiting Gunn at lunchtime on April 23rd in honor of Earth Day. Students used pedal-power to blend delicious fruit smoothies, while learning about terrific volunteer opportunities in our community with Canopy, Acterra, and other eco-friendly organizations. It was a beautiful day to emcee on the quad, celebrating those who had walked and rolled to school. I gave away Peet's gift cards and movie tix to lucky student winners. It was a fun afternoon organized by the Gunn PTSA Traffic Safety Team, the Gunn student Green Team, and the fabulous Penny Ellson and her team at Safe Routes to Schools. Photos HERE.
ADVANCED AUTHENTIC RESEARCH EXPANSION: Superintendent Max McGee proposed to the Board that the district enhance, extend, and expand the district's current Science Research Project (SRP) program to both high schools, and expand to include advanced research in the humanities, arts, and social sciences as well. These projects embody inquiry-based, real-world learning, as students choose a question and topic to explore with a mentor in a field of interest for a year-long investigation. Once this idea is expanded across schools and subject areas, these efforts may eventually lead to senior "capstone" projects, a meaningful culmination effort for graduates. Already, our 8th Grade Connections students at JLS Middle School do similar projects before they leave Middle School. In a separate item, the Board approved resources for an Advanced Authentic Research Coordinator, who will work with teachers and outside mentors to design, implement, and evaluate these efforts.
ZERO PERIOD: As the district continues to look deeply at the complex factors that lead to student suicides, one issue that emerged was healthy student sleep and school start times. Paly doesn't offer early (or "zero" period) academic classes. Paly Principal Kim Diorio told the Board this is a philosophical decision to encourage students to sleep later. Gunn began offering academic zero period classes in 2012, when the school start time moved from 7:55am to 8:25am, thus pushing the end of the day to 3:35pm. This later end to the school day affected students' participation in extra-curricular activities such as sports. Because Gunn doesn't have flexible "block" scheduling like Paly (although this will change in the coming year), every student currently attends all seven classes every day. Without a flexible schedule, the only place to add flexibility was the morning. Three years later, about 15% of Gunn students have learned to enjoy this early morning option, because it allows them to leave school earlier, giving them more time for extra-curriculars and homework. Dr. McGee looked at the research around sleep, particularly for adolescent health and well-being, and decided to eliminate the option for zero period academics at Gunn. At the same time, Gunn Principal, Dr. Denise Herrmann, convened a "Creative Bell Schedule" Committee to analyze the school day and address some of the issues that surfaced during the zero period discussion. To learn more about the work of the creative bell schedule committee, click HERE. The Board will hear Gunn's proposal for a new bell schedule in May.
VOTE! MEASURE A NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT: Please remember to mail in your ballots in support of Measure A. They MUST be postmarked by Tuesday, May 5th. We need two "yes" votes for every "no" vote, so your participation is absolutely critical to our success. I've volunteered for several phone bank evenings, calling Palo Alto voters and discussing the renewal and modest increase of our parcel tax. I am always humbled and grateful for the outpouring of support I've received on these phone calls and I am proud to live in a community that greatly values its local public schools. No postage necessary, so MAIL IN your ballot TODAY!
Some of you (especially those who may not currently have children in our schools) e-mailed me saying you enjoyed reading Dr. McGee's last "MaxMail" newsletter. Here is a link to his current newsletter: click HERE.