WHAT I LEARNED IN HIGH SCHOOL: I was at Gunn High School several times this month in the wake of recent tragic events and was fortunate to be invited, along with Superintendent Dr. Max McGee, to listen to Gunn SEC (Student Executive Council) students talk about ways to alleviate stress and de-stigmatize mental health issues on campus. Some of the concrete ideas from students included: promoting consistency in regular lane classes (AP lanes work from a national curriculum, so they are more standardized), retakes on tests, block scheduling, enforce homework policy of 7-10 hours/week (no weekend/holiday homework, even for AP classes), require one visit to an ACS (Adolescent Counseling Services) counselor per year to reduce stigma of seeking help, meet monthly with a guidance counselor, educate parents about mental health issues including signs of depression in teens (PAUSD Health Services) (HEARD Alliance), tone down competition between students, avoid test stacking: assign a testing day for each department, and promote healthy/manageable course loads. Students have mixed feelings on limiting AP courses; some believe these are the courses they are most passionate about. Other concrete suggestions: allow food in the library; spread out finals to all five days, instead of 2-3 per day; make it easier to drop a lane if needed. Also, students would like parents to be required to attend bi-monthly seminars on reducing pressure on their children. One of the student commissioners summed it up: "Hey, people, a "B" stands for "Balance." If a "C" means average, remember that a "B" is above-average. It's not the end of the world."
NOTE FROM SUPERINTENDENT: In one of his recent district-wide e-mail communications, Dr. McGee reiterated the district's plan to support our high school students. I'll reprint it here in case you missed it:"While we already have considerable prevention efforts in place including active monitoring of at-risk students, extensive counseling, our student Reach Out, Care, and Know organization, homework monitoring, and professional development efforts with teachers, we have plans to do more in the areas that directly link to student social emotional health. These areas include sleep deprivation education and management, a more formal approval process for students who want to take exceptionally challenging classes or heavy workloads, an independent research study of consistency in curriculum, instruction, assessment, grading and homework practices, tight monitoring to eliminate project and test “stacking”, additional professional development, and continuing our frequent and consistent messaging regarding the importance of students becoming thoughtful learners for a lifetime, instead of chasing A’s and APs."
PARCEL TAX: In January, the School Board approved the ballot language for a renewal and increase of the current parcel tax to be placed on the May 5, 2015 ballot. The current parcel tax (expiring next year) of $638 per parcel is estimated to bring in $12.4 million in 2014-15, which is 7% of the district's budget, so these are critical funds which enable us to: preserve core academic programs, reduce class sizes, provide teacher professional development, protect high school electives, and increase counseling support for students. This is a stable, local funding source that cannot be taken away by the state. The proposed increase of $120 per parcel will bring in an additional $2.3 million in revenue, allowing us to address the following new priorities developed by the Superintendent and the School Board in alignment with our Strategic Plan: Equitable Oportunities for all, including extending summer school, expert tutoring, after-school/weekend programming, and PreK-2 literacy support; STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Initiatives, including advanced authentic research/production programs in science and arts, computer science curriculum in grades 7-12, and class size reduction in current electives; and Health and Wellness supports, including an expansion of family and student counseling, supports for exercise, nutrition, and healthy sleep awareness, and the addition of school nurses in our elementary schools. The proposed parcel tax is for another six-year term, and continues the exemption for seniors, two percent escalation, and an independent oversight committee with annual audits.
DISTRICT MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS SERVICES: The Board heard a comprehensive report from Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carrillo detailing dozens of district programs that foster our Strategic Plan Goal of student personal development and support, including direct services to students and families, as well as schools-based partnerships with more than a dozen health service organizations in the larger Palo Alto community. She also gave an update on district bullying prevention efforts and base-year data collection using the new bullying incident report forms. To view the entire report, click HERE and download the January 27th Board Packet.
LIAISON SCHOOL VISITS: In addition to visiting Gunn High School for PTSA Meetings, Parent Network Coffees, and support of the Crisis Response Team, I've also recently been to Duveneck for a Principal's Coffee with Chris Grierson, took a tour of the Children's Hospital School at Lucile Packard/Stanford Medical Center, and will be at Hays in early February for the next Principal's Coffee with Mary Bussmann. At Duveneck, I learned about a "Teachers visiting Teachers" project, where every teacher is being given a full hour to go observe in a colleague's classroom and learn from each other so they can grow best practices across all grade levels. At the Children's Hospital School, I learned more about the history of the school (founded in 1924, it is the oldest hospital school in the country) and met the small, but mighty PAUSD staff that provide educational support to any child in the hospital for an extended stay. You can read more about the hospital school on the PAUSD website HERE.
NEW COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS: I am rotating off of the City/Schools Liaison Committee and rotating on to the Los Altos Hills Town Council (LAHTC)/PAUSD Liaison Committee for the 2015 calendar year. I will stay on the Board Policy Review Committee and become Chair this year. And I will stay on the Property Subcommittee, which is only activated when needed. I've posted the full list of School Board Committee Assignments on my website: www.heidiemberling.com.