Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
Homework policy and Schoology
Surveys by Challenge Success show that at both Paly and Gunn, many students are spending more time on homework than the 10-15 hours per week set by the district homework policy. On average, students at both schools spend around 3 hours per day on homework, on both weekdays and weekends. Juniors spend more time, with Paly juniors spending an average of nearly 4 hours a day on weekends. Around 60% of students report that homework “often or always” prevents them from getting enough sleep (and students report an average of only 7 hours of sleep per night, compared to the recommended 9 hours 15 minutes).
And since these numbers are means for all students, many students are doing even more homework, and getting even less sleep, than these averages suggest. In addition to the quantity of homework, a quarter of high school students feel that many or all of their classes assign unnecessary busywork. Clearly, we need a way to more closely track homework time and inform teachers about how much time their assignments are taking, and how well homework is helping students to learn.
At a special board meeting to review high school plans for the next year, I asked the Gunn and Paly principals to report on progress in complying with the district homework policy and the requirement that all teachers use Schoology, the district’s web-based tool for communicating assignments and test and project dates. There is still substantial room for improvement in both areas. This is my top priority for the remainder of this school year.
PAUSD is at a critical moment in deciding whether to open new elementary, middle, and high schools. The Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) delivered its final report to the school board at the January 12 school board meeting, and Superintendent McGee provided his own recommendations to the board. The most important of his recommendations is that the board authorize a task force to design a PreK-12 complex of choice schools (with a neighborhood preference) at Cubberley.
I appreciate the hard work of the EMAC members and the Superintendent. I agree that the district needs at least one new elementary school, and perhaps a new middle school as well. However, I doubt the wisdom of moving directly to planning for a new high school -- an expensive and time consuming endeavor. Instead, I believe we should invest in improving teaching and learning in our current high schools, for all of our high school students.
High School Size
District demographic projections show that Paly and Gunn will need to accommodate about 2300 students each by 2020, when enrollment will peak and then decline again. Accordingly, the district is currently in the process of completing a $200 million building campaign intended to expand the capacity of the high schools to meet those projections. The EMAC report casts doubt on whether the high schools will be able to meet the peak demand, but I feel confident based on the planning process and staff analyses that the schools will be able to manage that number of students. In any case, it’s not possible to build and open a new high school in time for the 2020 enrollment peak.
As you may know, the district is currently considering opening new schools to relieve overcrowding -- a 13th elementary school, a fourth middle, and even a new small third high school. I am writing to share my thoughts with you on this subject and to invite you to write me or visit my office hours to share your views with me.
What is EMAC? The Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) was appointed in the spring and is charged with investigating whether the district needs more schools -- and if so, where those schools should be located. The elementary and secondary subcommittees presented preliminary recommendations at two special school board meetings in October and November, and the board had an opportunity to ask more detailed questions and make comments last week, at a regular meeting on November 10.
In responding to these recommendations, I have three main goals. First, to ensure that we have the right schools in the right places to provide the best possible education to the students in our district, given our resources. Second, to use our district resources in a way that provides the broadest possible benefits to students across the district and in all of our schools. Those goals mean to me that the district should expand capacity in elementary and middle school. Finally, it is critical that we have an open, transparent process in which the public has all the information and everyone has an equal ability to participate.
||Supporting each student's intellectual, social and emotional development. Read more...
||Reducing school overcrowding and creating positive learning environments by reopening closed schools. Read more...
||Preparing students with 21st century skills including foreign language instruction for all elementary school students. Read more...
||Making decisions based on data and best practices, in an inclusive, collaborative and responsive process. Read more...
Ken would love to hear from you! You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call at 650-906-4340.