September 1, 2017

The last two weeks I have received positive feedback from parents during back to school nights. I also got some constructive criticism from one reader who recommended that we include the entire weekly message in the email with a scroll down instead of with an additional click.  It scrolls on the website but not in the email – for now, please click below to learn more about these important issues:  Hurricane Relief, Walk-ins and Webinars, Homework, Math Night, and Labor Day.

Hurricane Harvey Help

On this past beautiful Tuesday evening, I rode my bike to the back to school nights at three elementary schools.  It was pretty much the perfect night to ride – not too warm, no humidity, little traffic – not to mention not having to find a parking place.  The teachers’ and principals’ presentations were fabulous and all seemed right with the world.  However, I returned home at 8:00 p.m. to flip on MSNBC only to see the devastated homes and schools and losses of tens of thousands of families in Texas.  Again, I was reminded of how fortunate we are and of a conversation I had with the principals and district leaders earlier in the day about how we might support schools or a district in Texas to recover from the disaster.  The following day we contacted educational leaders familiar with the area and are now in the process of establishing a connection to a community once the waters begin to recede.  Once we learn of their needs, we will work with our schools to identify what support we can provide and will keep our parent community updated for all who want to help us contribute in some manner.

Walk-ins Welcomed & Webinar

Beginning next week, I will be holding on-campus office hours at our secondary schools for students and staff who need questions answered, want to share ideas or opinions, voice concerns or compliments, or even need a little help with homework.  Currently, I plan to be at Gunn High School from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. outside building N. My goal is to do this every few weeks this fall, at least once at each of the five secondary schools.  As for the elementary schools, my plan is to hold brown bag lunches after winter break at each of the twelve schools.

While these events are for students and staff, never fear, parents and taxpayers, because Thursday, September 21, will be the first monthly webinar from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Along with some members of our leadership team, we will open with a few brief comments regarding timely topics impacting our schools and then answer questions and take comments from any and all individuals. For this first webinar, we will be summarizing district goals, the 2017-18 budget, and the Cozen O’Connor report regarding Title IX issues.  Last year our webinars were a great success.  We had more than 100 folks join our webinar on weighted grading and answered at least fifty questions live. Some excellent ideas emerged from that discussion that resulted in important new policy.

On Thursday, September 21, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. please join our webinar.

There will be other reminders as we get closer to the date.  For now, all you need to do is to load the Zoom platform on your device prior to the webinar.

Homework (BP 6154 & AR 6154)

As I visited classrooms during back to school nights, I was pleased to hear the district homework policy referenced frequently.  Several teachers cited the time parameters (below), shared that they seldom, if ever, assigned homework over weekends and never during holidays, and could be flexible with deadlines if students spoke with them. I was very encouraged because as a superintendent, parent, and grandparent, I have learned that the volume of homework is neither an indication of learning nor of academic rigor.  What matters far more is the quality of the homework.  As a reminder, here are the specific guidelines for homework quality from AR 6154:

Homework should be designed to:

  • Deepen understanding and encourage a love of learning.
  • Reflect individual student needs, learning styles, social-emotional health and abilities in order for students to complete their homework.
  • Provide timely feedback for students regarding their learning.
  • Include clear instructions and performance expectations so students can complete the work independently.
  • Be assigned in reasonable amounts that can be completed within a reasonable time frame.
  • Provide teachers with feedback regarding overall classroom progress toward expected outcomes.

The time parameters for each grade are:

K       Occasional short homework 
1        0-10 minutes average M-Th     
2        0-20 minutes average M-Th 
3        0-30 minutes average M-Th 
4        0-40 minutes average M-Th 
5        0-50 minutes average M-Th     
6        60 minutes average M-F 
7-8     70-80 minutes average M-F

High School:  students in their freshman year may reasonably expect average homework loads closer to seven hours a week. Similarly, seniors can expect loads closer to ten hours per week.  

Students who choose to enroll in Advanced Placements, Honors or accelerated courses should expect loads higher than those outlined above and should refer to class catalogs for homework expectations. 

Students who choose to enroll in Advanced Placements, Honors, or accelerated courses should expect higher homework loads, but not to exceed an average of 15 hours per week.

Also, the AR notes:  Students who elect to study music can expect to be assigned practice time that is in addition to the above loads.

This fall, we will be conducting a large-scale homework survey of our middle school and high school students.  We are building on a survey used successfully at JLS in past years, and will be updating it based on Board policy and current research so it will be relevant for our high school students.  Stay tuned for more information.

PAUSD Parent Night – Bridges in Mathematics

Elementary parents, please plan on joining us for a fun and informative evening exploring the new Bridges in Mathematics series.  On Monday, September 25, the elementary education team will lead some sample lessons to give parents a first-hand experience with Number Corner, math games, and helpful apps.  Childcare will be available, and both Spanish and Mandarin translators will be on hand to support parents as needed.  This special event will be held at the District Office from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Look for a registration form to come home soon or visit the event page.

Labor Day

In closing, I hope you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.  My parents instilled a sound work ethic in us, but my appreciation for the labor and the labor force behind Labor Day began with my summer jobs in high school and college. These included working the hot line during the graveyard shift at the Reynolds Aluminum plant in McCook, Illinois, and unloading railroad box cars at the General Foods warehouse in Dedham, Massachusetts. Those summers were hard, sweaty work, and I came to deeply appreciate how hard the permanent labor force toiled to support their families by earning every nickel the hard way. I learned a lot from them. That said, Labor Day not only meant a day off (or double-time pay) but that I could finally go back to school. Now it is a day off from school and a fine family time, but it is also time to be grateful for our workforce that undergirds this great community and country.