10 questions: Where does Catherine Crystal Foster stand?


Q: What should the district do about the Cubberley Community Center site (4000 Middlefield Road)?

Catherine Crystal Foster calls Cubberley a "jewel" and said she would ask for a community needs assessment to determine the best use of the property. "We need to act on it and make some decisions," she said. "The game of chicken needs to end. Just saying, 'Well, (the terms of the lease are) going to roll forward if we just let it expire,' -- that doesn't seem to me to be leadership." She said the district should clearly say that it will need Cubberley within 10 years. It could be repurposed as a school and community facility with a design lab, internships and other programs.

Q: Should the district open a 13th elementary school?

Foster said the discussion around the need for a 13th elementary school should consider the future of Cubberley and other facility decisions. She said that ideally a new elementary school would open within three years.

Q: Should foreign-language instruction be provided in elementary school?

Foster has said investing in innovation, including foreign language in elementary schools, is one of her top budget priorities. "I've heard again and again talking to people in this community that they want (foreign language in elementary schools). ... Our budget should follow our priorities as a community, and it should follow our values," she said.

Q: Should the board repeal its June resolution criticizing the Office for Civil Rights?

Foster has said she would repeal the resolution if the allegations made against the Office for Civil Rights are not true. She has said she is "troubled" by the allegations but that there is not enough information publicly available to know whether they are true. She said at the first debate she would have voted for the resolution, albeit reluctantly and only if the allegations in the resolution are true. "We need to cooperate absolutely, fully and completely with the OCR, but to the extent that we see an issue of concern, I think that all of us share the concern (that) we want that agency to be functioning as well as it can." She has also said she "does not support expending district funds to engage in a fight with OCR, period."

Q: Your opinion of district versus school-site decision-making?

Foster has said Palo Alto has a culture of autonomy of schools that has both a beauty and a cost. What works well is that it lets creativity and innovation bloom. What works less well is that can create a kind of inconsistency that can lead to concerns, and sometimes resentments, among students and families. If there are inefficiencies related to constantly reinventing the wheel, that points toward a need to change site-based autonomy, she said. On issues regarding student safety, health or legal mandates, it's imperative that there be consistency across the district.

Q: Your view on the district budget?

Foster has said this is a time when the district needs to be "extremely prudent," but "you don't want to be so conservative that it inhibits you from being able to be a little bold and a little innovative when you need to be." She said her first top priority is evaluation, followed by professional development, writing instruction and advances in innovation (not necessarily in that order).

Q: Your view of the district's implementation of inclusion programs?

Foster also said inclusion works best when it is well-supported and there are case managers who clearly understand and communicate the goals for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in general-education classrooms. She said in order to work, inclusion must also be a commitment shared by the whole school.

Q: What would you do about the achievement gap?

Foster sees data and evaluation key to decreasing the achievement gap, which she called "a shame on our district." She said high expectations for all students, professional development and a shared leadership commitment are all essential.

Q: How is the district doing on managing student stress/well-being?

Foster said she's pleased to see the district making an effort to hire more staff to provide mental health support in schools, such as social workers. She suggested evaluating Adolescent Counseling Services' impact to determine how well the nonprofit is addressing the needs of students.

Q: Your opinion of Common Core?

Foster is excited about Common Core as an opportunity for Palo Alto to dig deeper on critical learning and teaching. She said data from past programs such as Everyday Math should also inform the roll-out of Common Core adoption.

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