Heidi's PAUSD School Board Newsletter -March 2016

Spring Break is here and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to relax and regroup before the final few months of the school year.  For those of you who do not have a child in PAUSD schools, you will experience a lovely week with less school traffic!  I hope you are all able to enjoy some time with your families.  

LANING/TRACKING STUDY SESSION: We began March with a study session on "laning," "tracking," and "ability grouping" practices and what that looks like in PAUSD schools.  Ability grouping is a pedagogic practice of pairing students of similar ability into small, flexible groups, usually for reading or math instruction.  Tracking is a school's practice of separating students into different classes based on academic achievement.  And laning is the practice that allows students to move out of a current "track" and into another, based on certain learning criteria.  One concern about these practices voiced by the Office for Civil Rights in the US Dept. of Education is that school districts have a responsibility to ensure that they do not use ability grouping or tracking practices that result in discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. This is an equity and access issue.  If tracking results in courses with substantially disproportionate enrollments of minority or non-minority students, it is a violation of Title VI protections.  The research on these practices is mixed, although some studies show that when the curriculum is differentiated, it benefits high ability students.  Other studies show that heterogeneous classes appear to benefit low ability students, but could depress the achievement of average and high achieving students.  To read the full packet from the study session, click HERE.

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING (SEL) CURRICULUM COMMITTEE: Research has shown that a unified social and emotional learning program for youth can provide a strong foundation for maintaining a healthy balance between the many physical and psychological pursuits a person will encounter over the course of their life.  A coordinated SEL approach can serve as a way to organize all of a school's academic, personal development, and risk prevention activities.  The district is forming a SEL committee to research and identify SEL curricula and materials for use across our school district.  Right now, each school has a unique way of incorporating SEL learning.  This committee will focus on evidence-based curricula which promote high levels of student achievement and emphasizes the development of basic skills, problem solving, and decision-making. To read more about these efforts, click HERE.

RESOURCE ALLOCATIONS: The Board has had several budget study sessions (Nov. 3, 2015 and Feb. 23, 2016), in addition to various district Budget updates and has nearly completed negotiations with our union stakeholder groups.  The district is recommending budget augmentations totaling $3,828,000 for the current year, next year, and some reserved for 2017-18.  These resource allocation requests include: expert math intervention specialists at the high schools, potential new full-day model for kindergarten, a wellness coordinator to manage our district efforts around health and well-being of youth, providing breakfast to students in need at the elementary schools, class size reduction at the high schools, mitigating enrollment growth at the middle schools, expanding the small learning community and TEAM programs at the high schools, and providing additional reading specialists at the elementary schools, and supporting high school athletics, among others.  The Board shared our priorities and the Superintendent and staff will bring back a final budget augmentation request in May, after contract negotiations are concluded and hopefully once we see the Governor's May Revise of the State Budget.  

STRONG START RESOLUTION: The Board discussed a resolution to support and endorse Strong Start of Santa Clara County and the commitment to expand access to high quality early learning opportunities for all children birth through 8 years old throughout our County.  PAUSD has been a leader in providing high quality early learning environments for our youngest students through the programs at Greendell (Cubberley), including PreSchool Family, Springboard to Kindergarten, Transitional Kindergarten, and our special day classes, and in our K-2 classrooms.  This commitment reflects our current practices and will provide leadership and inspiration for other districts to join these efforts as well.  

EVOLVE RESOLUTION: The Board also considered approving a resolution that supports efforts to modify how the values of commercial properties in California are reassessed while maintaining Prop 13 protections for residential properties and small businesses.  There is still some question about whether the additional revenue generated from this modification would directly benefit our community, as our funding model is "basic aid" (or "community-funded" through our property taxes), as opposed to most school districts in California (90%), which are funded through the Governor's LCFF education budget formula.  Whether or not we benefit, supporting additional funding for education across the state will benefit everyone.  One of our leadership organizations, Schools For Sound Finance (SF2), is still exploring any potential unintended consequences from supporting these efforts and one of my Board colleagues will present those findings at our next Board meeting when we take action on this item.     

COMMUNITY EVENTS:  The City of Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan Update Committee discussed Land Use this month.  Big issues include where to build new housing, what types of housing we want in our community, how to protect the natural spaces we all enjoy, and how to alleviate traffic and promote more sustainable modes of transportation.  I was also privileged to speak at the "Youth Speaks Out" exhibition of teen art at the Palo Alto Art Center on Mar. 25th.  Youth voice through the arts is a powerful window into the lives of teens in Palo Alto and I highly recommend you check out the exhibit, on display through April 12th.  

Enjoy the beginning of Spring!