Fall is here and so is Election Day. Remember to exercise your civic duty and vote. My parents were great role models for me growing up; we always had passionate debates about issues on the ballot. I remember my dad being very excited to cast his first vote when he became a citizen of this country. And I remember when I lived in Costa Rica, where Election Day is a national holiday. People take to the streets wearing photo buttons of their favorite candidates, proud to be a model democracy in Central America. Here in Palo Alto, I'm honored to continue to serve as your elected representative on the PAUSD School Board, and I look forward to welcoming two new members to the School Board this week.
MINORITY ACHIEVEMENT AND TALENT DEVELOPMENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE: This month, Superintendent Max McGee discussed the creation of an advisory committee to delve deeply into our achievement data and look at why our African-American, Latino, and socioeconomically-disadvantaged students do not score as highly, nor have the opportunity to access as many AP/honors classes, as their Caucasian and Asian peers. National research suggests that states should use a 5-part framework to focus on equity issues, including: equitable school finance, effective teachers, Principals, and curricula, high-quality early childhood education, mitigate poverty's effects with broad access to support services (tutoring, extended learning, summer school), and accountability and governance. Applications for the committee closed on Oct. 31st. A Board report is slated for April/May 2015.
PAUSD K-5 WRITING PROGRAM IMPROVEMENTS: For the past two years, PAUSD has focused on student outcomes in writing, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels, in alignment with our district Strategic Plan. The district investment in writing efforts totals nearly $450,000 and includes: large-scale professional development for teachers and principals, purchases of supporting materials at all elementary schools, and an intentional shift in writing instruction and assessment practices. Improvements are being implemented in partnership with Columbia Teachers College (CTC) and are fully aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Beginning this Fall (and again in Spring 2015), all K-5 students will be assessed on a common writing prompt and scored on the CTC writing progressions (rubrics). Goals are to create "powerful readers and writers who read and write for real reasons - to advocate for themselves and others, to deepen their own and others' knowledge, and to illuminate the lives they live and the world they are a part of." In a survey given to teachers, 100% (of 112 teachers) responded that this comprehensive training was (highly) valuable, and reported changing teaching practices as a result.
MONTHLY OCR UPDATE: Superintendent Max McGee has instituted monthly Office for Civil Rights (OCR) updates, until all OCR cases are resolved. Of the twelve complaints filed in PAUSD since Sept. 2011, OCR closed eight cases, developed resolution agreements with the district in two cases, and two cases remain pending--one of them since June 2013. Legal costs of OCR compliance over the past three years included $6,396 in training for staff, $40,000 for development of improved policies and procedures (bullying policy and procedures, uniform complaint procedures, sexual harassment/discrimination policy and procedures), $22,200 for development of the Board resolution and recommendations for improving OCR practices with local school districts, $24,000 for Public Information Act requests, and $273,077 for legal expenses related to individual OCR cases, for a total of $366,445. Dr. McGee reiterated that it is his goal to reduce the number of OCR complaints to 0, and to resolve any future issues that may arise in a way that is collaborative, fair, and prompt. The Board appreciates the district's commitment to open, transparent, and frequent communication with the community.
AROUND THE DISTRICT: This month, I had the pleasure of touring Middle College, our alternative high school program for Juniors and Seniors in partnership with Mt. View/Los Altos School District and Foothill College. The students were kind enough to share their perceptions, insights, and ideas with me about continual improvements to the student experience in our high schools. I also attended an Education Update with State Assemblymember Rich Gordon, who shared the somewhat shocking statistic that in January 2015, because of term limits, 80% of the Assembly will have served two years or less in the legislature. And I attended the 2014 Fall Regional Meeting of Schools for Sound Finance (SF2), an advocacy organization for community-funded districts like Palo Alto. Now that the Governor has addressed equity in education funding through his Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), SF2 is advocating for "adequacy" in education funding. It's not enough to find new ways to distribute the same amount of money. California needs real change as we are once again ranked 50th in per-pupil spending across the nation.