September 30, 2016

As September closes and the end of the first quarter looms, we have much to celebrate this month.  We also have much to celebrate next month as it is National Principals Month.  I am most grateful for, and respectful of, each of our eighteen site leaders.  I trust that we will share our admiration and appreciation for their hard work, dynamic leadership, and compassionate care for every one of their students and staff.

This past week I received a few inquiries about the Special Education Program Review that was conducted by leading experts from Harvard University.  We learned from the review team that the final report would not be completed for at least another two weeks.  Once it is complete, Dr. Thomas Hehir, Silvana and Christopher Pascucci Professor of Practice in Learning Differences, will be in our district to present it and conduct meetings to hear from community members regarding the team’s conclusions and recommendations.  We expect to present the report at the November 1 Board meeting.

Following Tuesday’s marathon Board sessions, which totaled almost nine hours, we saw published stories regarding the budget and enrollment management, both of which are important issues.  Unfortunately, none of our learnings from shadowing students or the detailed information regarding the academic performance of our elementary school students received any media coverage.  I hope readers of this weekly who were not able to attend or see the Board meeting take a few minutes to review the slide presentation included in the Board packet.  Here are five key headlines:

  • Our students excelled on the State Assessment.  Of all grade levels taking the test (3-8 and 11), 55% of students EXCEEDED state standards in English Language Arts and 63% EXCEEDED state standards in mathematics.
  • Student performance improved over the year.  Since the scoring for state tests is in a continuous progress scale, we would expect the results to remain stable for a cohort of students as they move from one grade to the next.  The graphs show that as students moved from one grade to the next, the percentage of students meeting and/or exceeding standards increased in several instances.  The largest gain was in eighth grade mathematics.  When they were seventh graders, 63% of the class exceeded standards, but as eighth graders a whopping 70% did!
  • The average scale score of our students on the state tests is two or more grade levels above the state average.  The average scale score of the PAUSD fourth grade in mathematics was 2558, while the average scale score for the eighth grade statewide was 2541!
  • We have significant room for improvement.  The scores of our historically underrepresented populations and our low-income students are below those of their classmates.  Last year we funded numerous interventions and saw the needle move a bit, so we have to sustain our support systems, interventions, family connections, and high expectations for ALL students.
  • Our faculty works exceptionally hard to transform the words of our vision statement – “empowering every child to reach his or her fullest intellectual, social, and creative potential” – into active practice, as well as to assure that we achieve our goal of “joyful, purposeful learning.”  Likewise, our students work exceptionally hard to succeed, and by and large seem to enjoy it.  I am so proud of all of them.

Of course, state test scores are just one measure of student achievement and success.  We have several other measures, as well as observations and anecdotes that matter a lot but cannot be measured.  These include the extent to which our students work together to support each other and the methods teachers use to enhance the “curiosity, creativity, and resilience” component of our mission statement (I heard of a GREAT lesson from a Gunn teacher today), the school spirit that we foster, and the countless ways in which we attend both to our students’ social-emotional and academic needs (such as our new warm and welcoming high school wellness centers and free ACT tests for first-gen students).  I love this district!

Looking ahead to next week, we have some outstanding professional learning opportunities for our faculty on Friday.  The secondary schools are preparing programs tailored to their sites, and the elementary teachers will be at Gunn to learn “Powerful Practices” from their peers and experts in a variety of fields. We are especially excited about the keynote speaker, Chris Fitzgerald Walsh, and also that Todd Wanerman will lead some sessions.  Chris Fitzgerald Walsh is an experienced K-12 educator, media producer, and entrepreneur.  Chris has held leadership positions with numerous national education organizations including New Tech Network (NTN), Edutopia, WestEd, and Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).  He also co-founded the Google Teacher Academy, and he is the creator and executive producer of the Infinite Thinking Machine.  Chris earned his M.A. in Learning, Design, and Technology from Stanford, and a B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Mr. Todd Wanerman is an Inclusion expert in the early education field, as well as a wonderful educational consultant for early education environments and elementary schools.  Most recently he talked about the importance of student choice and play with our kindergarten teachers.  The Powerful Practices flyer is attached, and you will be impressed with the entire day of programming.

Also, next week is Walk and Roll week and Board members, district leaders, and I have been recruited to host events at the schools.  On Monday I will be traveling by bike first to Ohlone and then to other venues as time allows.  Having ridden Page Mill to Skyline last Thursday (phew!), I welcome the more level and much shorter commute.  More importantly, I am proud to encourage cycling to school.  On Thursday, we had visitors from West Windsor, New Jersey tour Jordan Middle School and they were amazed at how many students rode their bikes to school.  One of the visiting students remarked at the bike cages and safe lanes and was ready to defect on the spot! 

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, and if the meteorologists are on target, we have some moisture falling from the sky.  It has been so long in coming, that I can’t remember the last time we had that phenomenon, much less what it’s called, but our environment will gladly welcome it!

Powerful Practices flyer.pdf