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Q&A: Palo Alto School Board candidates talk about elementary school issues

 

What are the top three improvements the school board candidates can make to help Palo Alto's elementary schools? Read on for the five board hopefuls' answers to this and other questions on elementary schools, in lieu of a Palo Alto Council of PTAs debate on the topic that was canceled last week.

Terry Godfrey's responses

Q: What can you do as a board member to leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide? Kids Clubs districtwide are an oversubscribed resource for working families: How can they be used to provide greater supports and enrichment for students?

A: The Board's involvement is twofold: to set goals and policies around supporting students, and to designate funding towards efforts to increase achievement. 

I would expect the new minority achievement and talent development task force will most likely bring forward some recommendations for more robust after-school and summer school support for struggling students.

For now, we have different after-school options at different sites with no systemic review of their goals or efficacy. For example, Barron Park offers a full-day kindergarten program that allows students the opportunity to participate in structured social activities and enrichment, such as music, P.E., art, dance, and science with the Jr. Museum, but other schools don't do this.

We have an opportunity with the new task force and with a renewed focus on evaluation to examine what happens at the sites and use it as an opportunity to review, evaluate and learn from one another.

The Kids Clubs are oversubscribed as a function of our schools being overcrowded. Bringing a new elementary school online should help. An overall strategy for providing more support after school may very well involve utilizing the Kids Clubs differently.

Q: What are the top 3 improvements you can make to help our elementary schools and how can you carry those out?

A: 1. Both research and educational practice indicate that foreign language instruction (e.g. FLES or Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) brings cognitive benefits that are well documented. The task force I was on in 2007-08 recommended starting with grades 3-5 at a cost of $1.1M annually. We should start there plus sixth grade to bridge to the existing programs that start in 7th grade. Then evaluate and decide the way forward.

2. Deal with enrollment growth. There are $60M reserved for elementary schools from the bond.  Takes about $35M to build one, $750k to staff the administration and $3-3.5M for teachers. 

3. Embed social/emotional curriculum into the elementary schools that is consistent across schools so that the kids get the benefit of the programs and arrive at middle school with a common set of values, vocabulary, and skills for the social-emotional domain.

Q: What is your position on Choice schools especially given that all choice schools in Palo Alto are oversubscribed?

A: I support choice schools – our community values choices, it keeps very engaged families in the district and accommodates different types of learning styles. 

Logistically choice programs are tricky as it requires the right kind of teachers in the right place with the right number of students to fill a classroom. We have seen recently that the district doubled Connections and halved Direct Instruction so movement can happen. 

With a new elementary school and the probable redrawing of attendance area boundaries we may have the opportunity to expand capacity in some existing programs.

Gina Dalma's responses

Q: What can you do as a board member to leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide? Kids Clubs districtwide are an oversubscribed resource for working families: How can they be used to provide greater supports and enrichment for students?

A: After-school time provides an unparalleled opportunity to re-connect and re-engage with learning in non-traditional ways. It is particularly helpful to kids that learn differently in classrooms because it is a much more flexible learning environment.

As a board member, I would work at achieving the learning potential of after-school opportunities, by ensuring that these are quality programs based on best practices. In order to do that, I would establish policies to document the different programs that exist in our schools, design metrics of success, gather data and then scale what works consistently and thoughtfully.

It is also an opportune time to look at best practices nation-wide and specifically at project-based learning approaches in out of school time (OST). The field has really innovated forward in terms of OST. As a board member, I would share what I have learned from the field.

Lastly, I would prioritize our investment in key levers for student success – and one of them is clearly more time to learn. The Local Control Accountability Plan is a great process to prioritize this effort.

Q: What are the top 3 improvements you can make to help our elementary schools and how can you carry those out?

A: We have great programs throughout our district that provide an extraordinary learning environment for our students. The challenge has been two-fold. First we need to address the needs of all students and second, we need to create a learning institution that embraces innovation, measures what works and scales consistently to serve all kids. For that I would:

1. Establish a system of continuous improvement where school district administrators and teacher leaders are tasked to document innovation, establish metrics of success and scale what works consistently (e.g. project-based learning, after-school programs, language immersion programs and experiential learning spaces).

2. Establish a long-term facilities plan where we are looking at elementary schools with a population of between 300 to 400 students as optimal for student success. We know we need a 13th elementary now, but we also need to a long-term vision and plan for it accordingly.

3. Invest in teacher professional development. There is no more important lever for student success than phenomenal teaching. Meaningful professional development requires learning best practices, having an opportunity to participate in collaborative learning with other teachers to fine-tune their skills and being able to observe master teachers.

Q: What is your position on Choice schools especially given that all choice schools in Palo Alto are oversubscribed?

A: We have created amazing learning opportunities for K-5 students in our schools. Language immersion, project-based learning, partnerships with non-traditional education organizations are just a few. Nevertheless, we have created a system of winners and losers – where if your child enters into a choice program you win, if not you feel you have lost.

I believe in choice as an environment where we can innovate, but not as an environment where we can exclude students and families from participating. Innovation and best practices are only valuable if we are able to scale them. As a board member I would:

1. Look at the system as a whole. Understand what we have by documenting best practices. Measuring what works and making sure that we are scaling what works so every single student and family that wants to participate in these programs has the ability to do so. No one should be excluded – if there is the desire to participate.

2. Make sure that we are building a learning institution so we are continuously looking at best practices at different sites and sharing them so all our kids get what is best about our schools. We need to create an environment that encourages cross-pollination.

Catherine Crystal Foster's responses

Q: What can you do as a board member to leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide? Kids Clubs districtwide are an oversubscribed resource for working families: How can they be used to provide greater supports and enrichment for students?

A: First, let's be sure that no student falls through the cracks and that all students receive the support they need during the school day to bring them to grade level or beyond.

To maximize afterschool time, we can focus on best practices from other districts and within our own district.

We do not currently have a systematic way of tracking and assessing the programs provided across all the schools right now. The board can direct staff to document and assess services at each school, and bring principals together to share best practices.

Our schools use classrooms for many purposes after school. The board can ensure policies on use of facilities enable schools to provide on-site programs that serve our students academically.

For students who take the bus from East Palo Alto, the board can craft policies and provide resources to facilitate transportation home after school hours.

The board can create stronger partnerships among the Kids Clubs so that resources and programming can be shared across sites efficiently.

Within Clubs, staff can use online programs to engage and teach students, create models like Barron Park's Maker Studio that could be shared with the school, or support writing workshops for struggling students.

Q: What are the top 3 improvements you can make to help our elementary schools and how can you carry those out?

A: 1. Increase consistency in teacher quality and programs across classes and schools. The district can:

• Recruit and retain the best teachers;

• Strengthen teacher evaluation and assessment;

• Enhance teacher mentoring, training, and peer sharing;

• Solicit productive feedback from families;

• Examine student progress across teachers;

• Map and assess differences in programs across schools;

• Create a framework for addressing when differences make sense and when they don't

2. Provide greater support for special education inclusion so it is successful for all students and teachers. The district can:

• Provide additional training for teachers and aides

• Provide adequate funding;

• Articulate and model a districtwide commitment to inclusion;

• Communicate with all parents about inclusion

3. Make smart choices about opening a 13th elementary school. The district can:

• Move swiftly to plan to open one;

• Remain open to all reasonable options for sites and configurations, accounting for all relevant factors;

• Keep the need for a new middle school in mind when picking a site;

• Communicate proactively with parents and the City on enrollment boundaries and transportation

I also have a strong interest in writing instruction and world language instruction in elementary school.

Q: What is your position on Choice schools especially given that all choice schools in Palo Alto are oversubscribed?

A: We are very fortunate to have such a rich array of learning options for our kids. We will make the best decisions when we recognize that parents in this district value choice, but parents also value equity and value neighborhood schools. Our choice programs are strong, and I fully support them.

But they also are lotteries that leave many families feeling frustrated when their child does not secure a space. The high demand shows that what is being offered has value to our families.

We should consider what it is that makes some of our programs over-subscribed and bring some of those programs and practices to non-choice schools. This includes project-based learning like Ohlone and Connections, greater focus on social-emotional support, and foreign language instruction beginning in elementary school.

We know that choice schools have an impact on traffic and biking/walking to school.

The language immersion choice schools draw from across our district, while the other choice schools draw disproportionately from their neighborhoods. In order to mitigate traffic issues and encourage more biking and walking to school, it is important that we consider placement of choice schools when adding a new elementary or middle school.

Jay Cabrera's responses

Q: What can you do as a board member to leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide? Kids Clubs districtwide are an oversubscribed resource for working families: How can they be used to provide greater supports and enrichment for students?

A: As a Board Member I would vote to increase funding for afterschool programs, both by reducing our reserves from 10 percent+ to 5 to 8 percent and lobbying state funding opportunities to push for increases in education.

How we define "Grade Proficiency" changes overtime, and with Common Core, this will change again. We as a community, need to create our own proficiency standards to evaluate top down standards, because the detrimental effects of consistently telling youth that they aren't proficient, if they really are proficient, is bad and demoralizing.  

We need to make sure the actions we are taking in standardization are helping our youth, and not just making grownups look good.  

Anything that is speeding up school and adding more pressure to our children is potentially causing unneeded stress and anxiety, so we must deeply evaluate and look at all options.

We also need great support for enriching student growth and education with a diversity of afterschool programs that can help individual students excel in activities that aren't part of "grade proficiency". The more our schools evolve towards metrics and proficiency levels based on testing and standardization, the more important general afterschool programs are to keep a youth centric education.

Q: What are the top 3 improvements you can make to help our elementary schools and how can you carry those out?

A: One top priority is the health and well being of every child. As we go into the 21st Century, not only is our society going faster, but we have brought a faster pace into all of our schools including more homework, and less time for teachers to build relationships with students.

I advocate for going back to "Slow Schools." Even though I support teaching Technology, Coding, and Innovation, I feel that the sacred relationship between the teacher and our children should be brought back to how it was 20, even 40 years ago. No focus on continuous testing, no online grades that students check like their Facebook status, and no overwhelming amounts of daily homework.

Now is the perfect time to consider these issues, because we are rolling out new Common Core standards. 

We need to ensure that a comprehensive and conscientious evaluation is done of the Common Core implementation to reduce mistakes, encourage improvements and minimize philological and metal side effects. This should also include creating a mini-strategic plan focused on how we can support the unique needs of each and every student, and ensure that each student gets the tools they need to meet achievement goals.

Q: What is your position on Choice schools especially given that all choice schools in Palo Alto are oversubscribed?

A: My understanding of "Choice Schools" is that there are certain alternative programs that parents and students love and although the district is trying to expand these amazing programs, there still is not enough room for all the students who want to be enrolled. 

The most effective and best educational opportunities that certain Choice programs give to students, should not be limited to small numbers, and the administration is not stepping up to expand these programs so that ALL students have access to them. The problem is that the systems of decision making and scaling are not in place. 

Parents need to be empowered to collaborate with the administration to ensure that the programs that are oversubscribed can easily and efficiently be scaled to benefit all students. Additionally we must accept the fact that all of our schools are "oversubscribed" and that we need to continually work to get class size DOWN. 

In creating a 13th elementary school, as part of a Cubberley mixed education upgrade, I would promote a focus on providing choice programs to students and other alternative school immersion programs, including inter-generational education. In this way we can reduce class sizes and expand choice programs.

Ken Dauber's responses

Q: What can you do as a board member to leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide? Kids Clubs districtwide are an oversubscribed resource for working families: How can they be used to provide greater supports and enrichment for students?

A: I will press for a districtwide analysis about how the district can provide educational services outside of normal school hours, whether it be after school, during breaks, or on weekends. The key insight is that students benefit from more time in school, so we should be looking for cost-effective ways that we can provide academic services outside of the school day. Here are several obvious examples, but there are certainly more:

We should provide after-school spaces for homework and for tutoring. That includes expanding our partnership with organizations like DreamCatchers, which provides afterschool tutoring for middle school students.

We don't do as much as we could to connect the schools to Kids Clubs. I've spoken to Kids Club staff about this, and they are willing and eager to have more communication with teachers about homework, children's academic needs, and so on.

We should fully fund summer school. Research shows that many students regress in their learning over the course of a long summer. Summer school is a relatively inexpensive way to prevent that, and enable students to get a head start on the next school year.

Q: What are the top 3 improvements you can make to help our elementary schools and how can you carry those out?

A: The top 3 improvements we can make in our elementary schools at the board level are opening a 13th elementary school, providing foreign language instruction for all of our elementary school students, and better consistency among teachers and more opportunities for feedback from parents to principals about teacher strengths and weaknesses.

Our elementary schools have become extremely overcrowded over the last 20 years, as student population has increased by 50 percent but we have opened only one elementary school. I am committed to moving to addressing any obstacles and swiftly opening a new school.

Research demonstrates that children benefit both in language ability and in overall literacy when they start foreign language earlier in elementary school. Beginning language instruction in kindergarten is an affordable, highly effective change that I strongly support.

Dr. McGee has pointed to increased consistency among teachers as a key goal for him, and I support that effort. Our strategic plan surveys show that teachers themselves view this an issue that should be addressed. An important aid to this goal is improved opportunities for parents to provide information to teachers and principals that can be used to identify issues and provide support.

Q: What is your position on Choice schools especially given that all choice schools in Palo Alto are oversubscribed?

A: I support our choice schools. Where we could do better is in responding to the oversubscription by incorporating the good things from our choice programs into our neighborhood schools, so far as possible.

For example, the demand for language immersion programs is a signal that parents would like to see foreign languages in our neighborhood. Similarly, the strong excess demand for Ohlone should be met with improved social and emotional education and support in our neighborhood schools.

We can see the same phenomenon with the oversubscription of Connections in middle school at JLS. In general, we shouldn't ration with lotteries the good things that our district provides that could be provided in some form on a broader basis.

Related content:

2014 Election Central: Palo Alto School Board

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by paccc is for fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:39 am

The Kids Clubs at elementary schools today are after school care. They aren't an educational program along the lines of Kumon.

If you want to turn them into something else then you're going to need to re-vamp them wholesale, bringing in qualified teachers and turning them towards learning and not just play. This affects all after-school students and not just those below grade.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:27 am

We have to be very careful here. PAUSD is in the business of providing education for all children, not for childcare. Whereas providing childcare at school sites is a worthy and indeed noble cause, it should not be anything more than that.

As soon as it is seen to be a perk for lucky families, or a means for educating those that need extra help, it is becoming something that could become a controversial topic.

Providing help for those that need it is a great idea. Trying to provide some childcare is fine. But mixing those two separate issues is not something that PAUSD or candidates should be dealing with.


1 person likes this
Posted by paccc is for fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:52 am

It also starts to become an extension of public elementary education and therefore needs to be free.

This needs to be a free, targeted initiative. The whole idea of "connecting with kids clubs" to help children's academic needs is wrong. There is no targeting, there is no guarantee that it will help the kids in need and it is not free.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park School
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:41 am

How will running school for 2 or 3 more hours be anything but an exhausting nightmare for already stretched kids? How many hours a day should they be expected to do things that resemble screeching chalk across a blackboard?


2 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Kids are already doing their homework in Kids Clubs. Posters who are actually parents probably know that. Having some better communication between teachers and Kids Club staff about where kids are struggling, what help they might need, etc. is a good idea. It doesn't turn Kids Club into an educational institution, it just makes them better places to do homework. Just a note from the teacher attached to the homework when useful, and vice versa from the Kids Club staff member, would probably do the trick.


Like this comment
Posted by paccc is for fun
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

@Parent of 2
They are only doing homework at PACCC in 4th and 5th grades. Then, they do little beyond providing the opportunity to get the homework done. However, that part of the question was how to help "leverage after-school hours to provide comprehensive academic support for all students below grade proficiency districtwide". PACCC is not a good fit for all the previous reasons stated.

The second part of the question was regarding providing greater supports and enrichment for students. This doesn't require greater communication with the schools to help with homework. These children aren't the ones below grade proficiency districtwide.

Finally, the assertion that it is an "oversubscribed resource for working families" is only partially correct. They are oversubscribed in some schools but they are a resource for all families. I know plenty of non-working parents that use the after school programs for the social aspect.


Like this comment
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

casey is a registered user.

Has there been any longitudinal studies on how students who attend Hoover or Ohlone perform in later grades, versus kids who attend their neighborhood schools? I still do not understand how Hoover teaches differently than the neighborhood schools. Perhaps, the only way to find out is to send one kid to Hoover and another to the neighborhood school. Can any parents comment on the program at Hoover?

Do parents select Hoover for the higher API scores, the educational philosophy or just because it is different?


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck School
on Oct 22, 2014 at 5:47 pm

My issue with the elementary schools is the filth. Dog doo on the grass, filthy picnic tables. One time, I saw the janitor take the long, red mop from sweeping the red top to sweeping a picnic table. Can't the picnic tables be cleaned? Our children have to eat on them. Jordan tables are filthy too. And I'm no clean freak - they are filthy by American standards.


Like this comment
Posted by Cortelyou
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

At first I thought the Candidates' responses were ordered worst to best, but then I saw Jay Cabrera's and the pattern broke down. Any guesses?


1 person likes this
Posted by Training
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm

An elected Board of Education member needs to make a top priority to change the training and advise PAUSD Board Members and Administrators get. Law firm presentations by District's law firm (sorry if mispell) Fagen, Freidman, Fulquist (FFF)shows a District being advised to avoid dealing with problems or to create conflicts with parents:

In "IEP Excellence" - FFF tells school Boards best defense is a good offense.

In "Tips for Successful IEP Meetings", FFF advises Districts Red Flags if parents:
-Requests Child's Records
-Express Concerns
-Seems Anxious

Worried parents of disabled Special Education children who are anxious or concerned is not a reason to run up legal fees and sue people.

Techniques FFF advises Board members to use:

-District should call parent outside the meeting (so there is no record of what District said)
-In a meeting, get the parent saying yes to everything early on(like a used care salesman)

These are just tricks, not collaboration or working with parents.

If a parent expresses concerns, FFF advises District:
-Deflect the parent concerns
-Ignore it and move on
-Threaten to end the meeting
-Say you want a break, call in a District Administrator, tell parent to meet with District's advocate during a break (So there is not record. If the parent won't meet, district can make them look unreasonable.)

These are tactics to ignore and avoid dealing with disabled children's needs. They are questionable pressure tactics. They may get the District what it wants in the short run, but will they solve any problems in the long run? Will they educate disabled children or keep them safe and stop bullying and OCR complaints? They show a District spending legal fees to fight and ignore children's problems, not teaching. Candidates, please change this.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I don't understand why there is what appears to be a news blackout on the fact that Foster's husband is on the Utilities Commission. This is public information and not derogatory.

Web Link

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm

@Training
a resident of Jordan Middle School,

Thank you!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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