The School Board got right to work in 2016 with two main issues that commanded the majority of the Board's time in January: managing our enrollment growth and a proposal to rename Jordan Middle School. The first came out of a Board focused goal for 2015-16; the second came to us from the community.
ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT (ELEMENTARY): After nine months of work and several interim Board reports, the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) presented its final report to the Board this month. For elementary enrollment, the Board voted to absorb the students who will move into the new Stanford housing units into Nixon Elementary School by adding 1-3 portables over the next few years. This may be a short-term solution if enrollment eventually exceeds capacity in our district. The elementary subcommittee also submitted a "minority report," advocating for a new elementary school at Greendell/525 San Antonio (and possibly re-opening Garland Elementary), in order to increase acceptance rates into district choice programs and reduce overflows from neighborhood schools. Two additional elementary issues surfaced: whether the district should add "neighborhood preference" to the choice programs and whether the district needs to re-align boundaries of our elementary schools to accommodate the areas of growth around town. Some districts re-align boundaries every few years, to be more responsive to new housing growth. Historically, boundary changes in Palo Alto are met with passionate outcry from district residents who expect to attend a certain school, so our district has only changed boundaries when absolutely necessary. These two topics will likely come back to the Board over the next few months.
ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT (SECONDARY): The EMAC Secondary subcommittee presented several recommendations to the Board. One set of ideas included improvements to our current high schools such as forming core teams (like our middle schools) or a "house" system to create smaller "schools within a school." These and other creative ideas would serve to improve student connectedness on our secondary campuses, promote more teacher-student interactions, and make our large schools feel more personal and accessible. An additional set of ideas included creating a design task force to explore a potential new PK-12 campus (or subset thereof) at Cubberley. A majority of my Board colleagues clearly stated they did not support the idea of a new high school at Cubberley. Instead, they prefer that district financial resources, time, and energy be spent on improving our current secondary schools. The EMAC committee should be commended for their very difficult work over the past nine months. Every committee member dedicated hundreds of hours of their personal time to guide the district's thinking on enrollment management and I am grateful for their contributions to our discussion. The Superintendent will return to the Board in February with a revised plan. To read the final EMAC Report and Superintendent Recommendations, click HERE and download the packets from our regular Board meetings on January 12 and 26.
RENAMING OF JORDAN MIDDLE SCHOOL: Community member and PAUSD parent Lars Johnsson submitted a proposal requesting that the Board consider renaming Jordan Middle School. He presented compelling evidence of David Starr Jordan's leadership in the Eugenics movement in the early 1900's, a movement to create a master race through desirable breeding and forced sterilization. He was the first President of Stanford University, a renowned ichthyologist (Ichthyology: the study of fish), a Peace Activist, and a founding member of the Human Betterment Foundation, credited with shaping Hitler's ideas about race betterment through eugenic sterilization. Mr. Johnsson learned about David Starr Jordan's legacy through his son's 7th grade book project. The Board discussed the process for naming facilities and will vote on creation of a Citizen's Advisory Committee to explore this possibility at its next meeting.
ELEMENTARY MATH EXPLORATION TIMELINE: On January 26th, Chief Academic Officer (PreK-5) Barbara Harris and the Math TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) Team presented the timeline and process for exploring and piloting a new elementary math curriculum. This year, a committee of teachers, math leads, administrators and parents will collaborate on exploring a variety of math curricula that meet CCSS (Common Core State Standards) with a goal of narrowing down the options to 2-3 curricula to pilot in the 2016-17 school year. After the pilot year, the math team will present their recommendations to the Board for the new math adoption, currently slated for the 2017-18 school year. A parent math survey will be sent out this month and several parent "learning sessions" will be organized in the Spring. Check the PAUSD website for the math committee application form, available in the next few weeks.
HIGH SCHOOL SPSAs (Single Plans for Student Achievement): On the morning of January 26th, the Board held a special meeting to hear updates from our high school Principals about progress towards their individual site goals. Both schools are looking at systems alignment (course consistency, aligned student learning outcomes, best practices with regards to homework and grading, and common syllabi and assessments), deepening instructional practices (both schools are creating PLCs--Professional Learning Communities), and promoting a strong school culture of "student choice and student voice" (defining multiple pathways to success). Both Principals also thanked the Board for approving the Mental Health Therapist positions at the end of last year. These folks are already essential personnel on campus as a resource for students, teachers, and administrators.
SCHOOL SITE VISITS: This month, I toured several classrooms at JLS with Principal Sharon Ofek, observing students and teachers hard at work doing engaging projects in a variety of subjects. It was a pleasure to see such high quality teaching and learning going on in every classroom. Under her leadership and in partnership with the Teachers' College writing program, JLS teachers have transformed their approach to writing across the school. I was also able to share a lunch hour with the dedicated teachers and staff at Hoover Elementary School this month. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives of teachers who had been in a "direct instruction" model for 20+ years and those for whom Hoover is a new place to work. Often during these school visits, I meet teachers who have worked at more than one of our stellar schools. It's great to hear about the similarities and differences each school provides our outstanding professionals. I remember our former Superintendent sending out a letter to teachers each year, encouraging them to get out of their comfort zone and try a new school. I can see a cross-pollination of ideas happening around our district and it is terrific to see teachers share ideas and past experiences with new colleagues. We are lucky to be in a district that embodies the idea of a culture of life-long learning, even for our seasoned professionals.