The Palo Alto Weekly asked the five school-board candidates to answer 10 questions about current and future issues facing the school district. Heidi Emberling's answers are below.
1. Do you support opening a new elementary, middle and/or high school?
The 10-year enrollment data shows we have added enough students to support a new school. Palo Alto values its smaller neighborhood schools, and I support the research showing an ideal elementary school is 350 to 450 students and an ideal middle school is 700 to 900. I want to keep our fields clear of portables and preserve our flex spaces for art, music and science labs.
2. What changes do you propose for the district's approach to administrative compensation?
I believe we need a new structure for administrative compensation. Our principals are the instructional leads at our schools. We have to compensate competitively to attract and retain the strongest leaders. We also have to provide multiple measures of evaluation and constructive feedback. The goal is high-quality teaching and learning throughout our district that promotes positive student outcomes.
3. What is your vision for the future of Cubberley Community Center?
Cubberley must be developed jointly between the city and school district, providing for both community and school needs. We can design and build joint-use facilities that are flexible for future needs, including fields, a gym, a theater and a pool. This district office should be re-located to Cubberley, to repurpose the current space for student learning.
4. Should public hearings be held on the terms of union contracts during the negotiation process?
To ensure that students stay at the forefront of our negotiations, public hearings should be regularly held during the negotiations process. We do interests-based negotiations and there are always trade-offs between investments in programs and compensation. Community members should be able to learn more about how we ensure our school district remains a "destination district" for our employees and families.
5. How can the district better monitor and ensure implementation of its homework policy?
We've implemented a pilot of student surveys at the end of each high school course in order to provide valuable feedback to teachers about student experiences. I would strongly advocate continuing this program. We should continue our focus on consistent, high-quality teaching and learning, ensuring that homework is meaningful and aligned with course goals.
6. What is the best way to expand access and capacity of the district's choice programs?
We have over-subscribed choice programs: Ohlone, Spanish/Mandarin immersion and Connections at JLS. We could open up another elementary or K-8 school option, or we can begin to provide more project-based, hands-on learning environments and language learning options in every classroom across the district.
7. What are your top three ideas for improving the district's fiscal health?
We need to develop systems to more accurately predict revenues, including exemptions. We need to analyze and evaluate the $13 million we've spent over the past four years, particularly in the district office. And we must adequately invest in our teachers, making cuts away from the classroom.
8. What should the district do to identify and deal with (including firing, if necessary) under-performing teachers?
Teacher evaluation is an important feedback tool -- our principals need to be strong and constructive evaluators. We need to strengthen our due-process guidelines for teacher-improvement plans. And we need to ensure that our new teachers receive the mentoring and support needed to succeed in the classroom.
9. If a member of the public emails a board member about a district matter, should it be made public (as long as it doesn't violate student privacy)? And if it is sent to a board member's private email account?
The Board of Education should have a system that mirrors the City of Palo Alto's as it pertains to public input and comment. It is clearly posted on the city's web page that all communications to council members are made public. Public communications to the board should be included in the following board packet.
10. Should the district rename Terman and Jordan middle schools?
Names matter. I look forward to the recommendations of the Renaming Schools Advisory Committee, which is gathering community input and deliberating about how to honor our students and school district. Our school names should reflect the values of our community, including tolerance of diversity and a belief that every student must feel safe and welcomed at school.