Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
At the next school board meeting on Tuesday, June 9, the board will consider two important items: the 2015-16 budget, and evaluation of the district's law firms (the Weekly has an article on the law firm review, with background information and some comments from me). As I pointed out in my last post, one firm, Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost (FFF), has seen a very substantial increase in fees. FFF handles special education and Office for Civil Rights (OCR) related issues for the district. In 2009, FFF billed the district just under $30,000. Since 2012, PAUSD has paid FFF over $900,000, and the estimate for next year is $250,000. During the election I promised to look into these expenditures and work to reduce them.
Consistent with this pledge and to prepare for the board review, in late March I requested the last two years of FFF's correspondence with the district. I ultimately received access to those materials a few weeks ago. Based on my review of that information, as well as what is publicly known, I believe that we should look for alternatives to FFF that will more effectively:
- control legal costs
- provide effective advice that is focused on achieving concrete results for the district
- meet the needs of special education students without unnecessary conflict,
- help to promote transparency in policy formation and compliance with the Brown Act and the Public Records Act
A Gunn Bell Schedule that Puts Students First
The school board agenda for Tuesday, May 12, includes an item that is truly great news for our students at Gunn: a proposed new "block" schedule with fewer, longer classes each day; more time built into the schedule for teacher collaboration; and two periods each week dedicated to tutorial and counseling time for students. Behind this proposal is a process led by Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann that has been a model of community participation and research-guided policy development. We all owe the Creative Bell Schedule Committee thanks for their dedication and commitment. It is terrific that our Gunn students will now also enjoy the benefits of a block schedule, as our Paly students have for the last several years.
The details of the proposal can be found in the board agenda item. When I attended a community information night about the block schedule, I heard a presentation from Denise Clark Pope of Challenge Success that emphasized some of the benefits of a block schedule: fewer transitions during the day, reduced homework load as fewer classes meet each day, and longer class periods to allow for a greater variety of teaching strategies and learning activities. Taken together, this will be an effective change for reducing student stress and improving student wellbeing. It illustrates the power of looking for positive improvements that affect the day-to-day life of students in school.
Superintendent McGee's decision to eliminate academic classes in zero period at Gunn next year makes good sense. Well over a hundred local doctors, the pediatricians at PAMF, the HEARD alliance for adolescent mental health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all weighed in to underline the importance of school start times that build in time for students to sleep. (For more on the evidence, see my earlier blog post). If you can, come to the May 12 school board meeting to offer your support -- zero period will be discussed during an item on Gunn's proposed new block schedule. Email me for details.
But eliminating zero period is only half the job, since for many students zero period is a coping strategy for dealing with constraints coming from two main sources: homework load, and sports scheduling. On the school board, I will advocate for tackling these issues next.
||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.