March 9, 2017

Superintendent's Communications Tools: News You Can Use and Superintendent's Weekly Message

Yesterday, our Gunn student-led Titan Broadcast News team filmed my April “News You Can Use” video, featured on our "Community Connection" monthly newsletter. My lead was, “It seems we hear mostly bad news when you flip on the television, open the papers, or click on your internet news feed these days, but if you came here looking for bad news, you came to the wrong place.” I think it’s worth repeating because we have lots of great news to share, including the fact that BOTH the Paly boys and girls basketball teams won their conference championships … this, in spite of the fact they have not had a home court gym the past two seasons! Girls Coach Scott Peters and Boys Coach Pete Diepenbrock and their talented, cohesive, hard-working, and resilient teams have had a remarkable run this year, and I could not be prouder of them, and could not admire and appreciate these two coaches more, as they never complained about the challenges of not having a home gym or even a real locker room. They found a way to rise to the top through teamwork, hard work, and love of the game. And speaking of runs, the Boys team is still moving through the state championship Division 1 playoffs, as they defeated Fremont  59-56 Wednesday. Although the girls dropped a close one to Stockton in Stockton, they played with the heart, talent, and true sportsmanship that characterized their outstanding season right up to the last buzzer. Way to go, Vikings!

Speaking of high schools, regular readers of this Weekly Message know that our elementary schools swept the top 12 in the statewide 2017 Niche rankings for best elementary schools.  Readers also know our middle schools swept the top three!  “What about the high schools?” you ask!  Well, both Gunn and Paly are in the top 5 statewide, with Gunn listed as number one!  Check out the 2017 high school rankings.  While 50% of the index for the ranking is based on academics, other components include culture and diversity, teachers, parent and student satisfaction, and even opportunities to participate in activities and sports.  In other words, it is a comprehensive system and speaks well for all of our great schools here in California. Needless to say, we could not have such a terrific system without fantastic students, dedicated teachers and staff, a talented leadership team, thoughtful Board members, engaged parents,  generous taxpayers, a supportive greater community, and a work ethic that is second to none. 

Tuesday Board Meetings

This week we had two Board sessions, and next Tuesday (March 14) we have two more. The Board's morning workshop, which runs from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m., will be dedicated to Board Operations. Discussion will focus on how our Board can operate more efficiently and effectively and make the best use of their time together. The evening meeting will be a regular Board meeting and here are the items that we will discuss:

Superintendent’s Report

Tea Time with Teachers:  This past Tuesday, Paly’s Associated Student Body (ASB) hosted the first “teacher tea.” I was fortunate to be invited to participate. Tables of two or three teachers enjoyed tea and cookies with five to eight students at each table. Conversation starters were posed and tables switched around every so often. I especially appreciated the final question: “Teachers, what is one thing you wish all students knew?; Students, what is one thing you wish all teachers knew?” The conversations were fascinating, and here are a few of the most frequently mentioned comments:

  • Teachers wish that every student knows how much each of them matters to their teachers.  “We teach because we love kids, and we love you,” said one, a theme echoed by many. Other common remarks were, “We want you to love learning,” and “We want you to belong.”
  • Students wish that every teacher knew, “We want you to connect with us; share what you like and what you like to do; tell us about your families; let us know what high school was like for you.” They also said, “We want teachers to know how much we love it when you really pour yourselves into a lesson, when we can feel your excitement and passion about what you are teaching.” A final common remark was, “If you notice we may be down or stressed out, ask us what we are feeling. It shows that you know us and really care.” These are wise words and no matter how many professional books we read or workshops we attend, few are as valuable as hearing directly from our students about what matters most to them.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR):  At the February 28 meeting, the Board approved the Resolution Agreement concerning two cases that had been opened more than three years ago, one at Paly and one at Gunn. This week we received the 23-page report of the findings. I will make a few summary comments regarding this document. We have learned from past errors, and with Wellness and Safety as one of our three District goals, we are re-doubling our commitment to assuring a safe, supportive, healthy environment for all students and staff.

Project Rally/East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring:  We will be honoring our partners from East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring (EPATT), who have been working with our historically underrepresented (HUR) students to assure their success in school. Specifically, we are especially grateful for Project Rally, a program they initiated with two of our elementary schools. Two years ago, EPATT reached out to PAUSD to collaborate on a program that targets HUR kindergarten and first graders and their families, to build literacy, confidence, and engagement. The programs began in 2015-16 at Fairmeadow and Hoover Elementary Schools with 23 students. PAUSD principals Grant Althouse and Katy Bimpson met with EPATT Executive Director Dave Higaki and Academic Director Kesha Weekes to provide one-on-one tutoring in foundational literacy skills, along with tennis instruction after school. Parents were an integral part of the program, participating in informational, instructional, and social events throughout the year.

Agenda

A.  Middle School Mathematics

After a year of exploration and a full semester of piloting two textbooks, members of  the Middle School Mathematics Textbook Committee will present the findings of the pilot. The Big Ideas series will be recommended for adoption. 

B.  District Equity Plan

Equity Administrator Dr. Martha Castellon will present the revised Equity Plan. The plan was presented at an earlier meeting and since then has been shared in other public forums, with district leaders, and with the Minority Achievement and Talent Development (MATD) Committee, which now includes eight students. The plan has undergone several revisions, and we are eager to hear additional feedback from the Board and community.

C.  Appointment of Auditors

We believe it is a sound business practice to re-bid audit services on a regular basis to assure that a set of fresh eyes look at our financial practices. This past fall we put out a Request for Proposals and at the meeting will discuss the staff recommendation to select a new audit firm for the District's financial audit. The auditor for the bond performance audit remains the same. We expect the audit firms to be approved at the next meeting.

D.  Authorization to Bid Summer Maintenance Projects

We have a long list of summer projects throughout the district. These are listed in the packet. This is an annual item and an important one to assure our students have a safe, comfortable environment that is conducive to learning.

E.  Renaming Schools Advisory Committee

At the Special Board Study Session held on March 7, members of the Renaming Schools Advisory Committee (RSAC) presented a summary of their background work, findings and recommendations, and range of cost estimates. The work of these thirteen dedicated volunteers represented eight months of discussion, spirited debate, comprehensive research, and exemplary community outreach. Minutes of the Committee meetings and the final report, including detailed appendices, are posted on our website. 

At the March 7 meeting, approximately 15 members of the community spoke to the issue. The Board has also received numerous emails that are included in the Board packet. 

The majority report of the committee made a compelling case for renaming Jordan Middle School, based upon David Starr Jordan's active role in the eugenics movement and advocacy of forced eugenic sterilization, including becoming the Chair of the Eugenics Section of the American Breeders Association and founding father of the Human Betterment Foundation. The fact that the body of work devoted to eugenics that David Starr Jordan produced is antithetical to the PAUSD mission, goals, and values justifies renaming of David Starr Jordan Middle School.

As for Terman Middle School, the committee found that in 2001 when Terman was reopened, the name was changed from Lewis M. Terman Junior High School, which had been the name of the school from 1958 to 1978, to Terman Middle School in order “to honor both Lewis and Frederick Terman.” While Lewis Terman was “pivotal in the national eugenics movement,” a lifetime member of the American Eugenics Society, and advocated IQ testing to identify “feebleminded” individuals for forced sterilization and segregation, his son Frederick Emmons Terman had no role in eugenics and no evidence exists that he supported his father’s beliefs or work. In fact, Frederick became a renowned engineer known for his innovative work, support for entrepreneurs, and personal attention to the needs of all of his students. To this day, Stanford’s Engineering Library bears his name. In 2001, had our third middle school been renamed Frederick E. Terman Middle School, it is not likely that a name change would have even been considered at this time. That, however, was not the case and given that the Terman Middle School was named in recognition of both father and son, and that confusion and consternation exist over the use of the family name, my recommendation is for a newly selected Advisory Committee to take up the charge of recommending new names for both David Starr Jordan Middle School and Terman Middle School.

In closing, don’t forget to set those clocks ahead one hour! While it will make Monday even more challenging for the kids to get up and out the door, the extra hour of daylight at the end of the day should brighten everyone’s spirits. Mine will be extra bright as my wife’s older sister – a long time liver transplant survivor – and her husband will be joining us on Thursday for ten days, for their first visit to California. What they want to see most is our schools, so the first stop on Friday will be a tour of our campuses and classrooms. We have a long list of excellent adventures planned and are excited about introducing them to our great state, and they are excited about a reprieve from the frozen north of Suring, Wisconsin! 

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