The five people running for two seats on the Palo Alto Board of Education were given a chance at the Sept. 16 debate, the second of the election season, to ask one other candidate one question. Below are their questions and summaries of the responses. They were given one minute to respond and the person who posed the question was allowed a one-minute rebuttal.
Terry Godfrey's question to Catherine Crystal Foster:
We have new superintendent, Dr. McGee, and he spends good deal of time talking about evaluation, which is music to my ears and the ears of many. Barron Park has a new maker's studio (for example). How do you evaluate something like the maker's studio versus the outcomes we want for our kids?
Foster responded that it was a great question because how the district evaluates (programs) is going to be the way that the board can bring the district forward and scale innovative programs. She said to start off, she would look at what the maker's studio's initial goals were, meet with those who worked to create the program and then figure out a data-collection plan to evaluate it. She said it is important to look at what you can do with the resources available and to keep a timeframe in mind. She also said it's key to "make sure we have usability in data" as "you only want to collect what you're going to use." With something like the maker's studio, it's important to think about what you want the kids to learn, how you want them to be interacting with each other and then come up with measures that are "very carefully tailored to what the goals are to get usable, actionable information" to decide whether to scale or cut a program.
Gina Dalma's question to Ken Dauber:
You've been advocating continuously about the need for a 13th elementary school and we've seen enrollment numbers taper off in last couple years. Would you still advocate for a 13th elementary school (if elected)?"
Dauber said that he would. He said he knows some people take the fact that there's been only moderate growth in student enrollment for the last several years as an indication that the district doesn't need to open a 13th elementary school, but that the district has needed to build a new school for a long time. He said over the last 20 years, the average size of elementary schools in Palo Alto has gone up by a third, yet the district has only opened one new elementary school -- in Barron Park in 1998. He said research shows that the optimum size for an elementary school is between 300 and 400 students, but only two of Palo Alto's elementary schools are that size. In 2008, the district set aside its size policy, which set a limit of 450 (students) for elementary schools, because they couldn't be sustained anymore. He said schools now are too crowded and it's time to open a 13th elementary school.
Ken Dauber's question to Gina Dalma:
All of the candidates, including both you and I, have expressed enthusiasm for Common Core. What we haven't talked about in very much detail is how it should be implemented, how long it will take for a successful transition, what some of the pitfalls are. What strategies do you have to make sure Common Core is going to work in Palo Alto?
Dalma said that in her work as a member of the National Common Core Funders Steering Committee, she's been working with 27 districts across the country to "do just that." She said the district needs to hone in on a vision that answers the question: "What do we want to achieve with Common Core?" That vision needs to be "owned" at every level of the district, from teachers to schools to administration. She said the Common Core rollout is not a short-term transition, but rather one that will take five years. She said the district must focus on teacher professional development, education technology, student programming and formative assessments during the transition period.
Dauber responded that he thinks the board needs to pay particular attention during the transition period to assessments and benchmarks of student achievement. Since the district piloted the Common Core's new Smarter Balanced test last spring, it does not have standardized testing results from those students. Current board member Camille Townsend has this year expressed her concern about that gap in assessment and Dauber said he thinks her concern is valid, "meaning we're going to have trouble with tracking a baseline of students in the transition to Common Core."
Jay Cabrera's question to Terry Godfrey:
There are so many opportunities and options for building interactive technologies to have the community more involved with the board. What's one or two that you might be interested in?
Godfrey said she agrees with Cabrera that the way the board currently gathers input when it makes decisions is "not optimal." The standard procedure is community members come to board meetings and wait for an agenda item and speak to it. She said that only lends itself to people who have the time to do that and "sometimes you miss out on other points of view." She said she would support sending out more surveys and using technology like clickers or online voting tools. She said "that sort of thing for us would be really useful to get a broader base of input instead of counting on people to come and stand in this room to do it or to email board members."
Catherine Crystal Foster's question to Gina Dalma:
Counseling at Gunn and Paly has been a subject of interest and controversy in our district. Please name any specific changes in counseling at Paly and Gunn that you have agreed or disagreed with, and tell us what changes you would like to see made to the current counseling programs at the two high schools.
Dalma started by explaining the difference between the two high schools' counseling programs, mostly focusing on the advisory system at Paly, which pairs an adult adviser with a specific student. She said it has been proven through surveys that Paly's system provides a "much better environment for students than at Gunn" and the board should look at what's working at Paly and scale it to affect all students.
Foster responded that she is interested in seeing how various "small, incremental" changes being made at Gunn and Paly will play out. She said the difference between the two programs goes back to the issue of evaluation and wants to make sure the board has a clear sense of what they're trying to achieve at both schools.