About this site

I am currently a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. I created this site to keep in touch with folks who want to know more about what is happening in the District and what it's like to be a Trustee.

Please note that ANY OPINION EXPRESSED HERE IS PURELY PERSONAL AND DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT OFFICIAL POSITIONS OR POLICY OF THE SAN CARLOS SCHOOL DISTRICT NOR THE OPINION OF ANY OF MY COLLEAGUES ON THE BOARD.

The blog is intended solely for the purpose of informing and communicating with constituents. It is not intended in any way to participate in discussions with fellow board members.

I encourage everyone to visit the District web site as well as attend School Board meetings.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.

 

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Landing on a Good Solution

At last night’s School Board meeting, the Board discussed the idea of potential land swap between the San Carlos School District and the City of San Carlos. It’s a very exciting development with great possibilities, and the entire board was very supportive of the idea.

As almost all residents of San Carlos (and certainly all parents in the school district) know, enrollment in the district has been growing at a fast pace and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. Rightly so, San Carlos continues to get accolades as one of the best places to live in the area, driven in part by the quality of the schools. The school district has been planning for this growth for a number of years, and twelve months ago we passed a new Facilities Master Plan to address both the capacity issue as well as transforming our learning environments for a 21st century education. This plan calls for the building of two new 4th-5th grade schools — one on each of the existing middle school campuses — as well as technology and other upgrades at all school sites. Construction is set to begin on the Central campus this summer and on the TL campus one year later. It’s an inspired solution which accomplishes a number of goals, including: (a) creating new schools in a 21st century design, (b) preserving equity across the district, (c) giving back quality space to elementary schools, (d) being extremely cost efficient, (e) providing flexibility for future growth, and (f) reducing traffic at most school sites. The only real open issue was what to do with the Charter Learning Center. If CLC were to remain on the TL campus, that campus would get very crowded and traffic woes (already severe given the proximity to Carlmont High School) would worsen. Although as part of any new construction we would significantly improve school entrances and traffic flow, it would continue to remain a hot spot in the district.

The Board agreed one year ago that the best solution would be to move CLC to a new location that the District would have to find. The CLC leadership team has been very supportive of this effort. But as you can imagine, it’s been extremely difficult to find a suitable site for a school in San Carlos at any reasonable cost. The District has spent most of the last year looking to do just that, and no good options have appeared. However, in discussions with the City of San Carlos, the idea was floated to do a land swap. The City has for many years owned a property on Crestview Drive (click here to see approximate location), and the proposal is to swap this parcel of land for the upper part of the Tierra Linda Campus (the part where there is currently a Montessori school and a run-down dirt softball field). If this were done, the school district could build a new CLC on the Crestview site whereas the city could build new sports and recreation facilities (e.g. soccer field, etc.) on the upper TL Site. As the new city park would be used largely after school hours, there would be little traffic impact during peak school times.

In doing this sort of deal, we’d accomplish many goals at once:

  • Increase available park/recreation space — specifically playing fields — in San Carlos
  • Accommodate the increasing enrollment of SCSD while reducing traffic congestion and student overcrowding at the TL campus
  • Maximize use of existing resources of both the City and SCSD and save taxpayer dollars
  • Complete a transaction quickly and easily (a land swap has many fewer administrative and legal hurdles than a purchase or sale)
  • Strengthen the partnership between the City and SCSD and set us up for further exciting initiatives in the future

In addition, the CLC site would be able to accommodate a small open space/park/field, and the District will be building enhanced field spaces on both the Central and TL campuses as part of its renovation in any case. So, the net result is truly a win-win!

Of course, the city may choose to sell the parcel of land to a developer (and according to newspaper reports, the city has offers from developers in the neighborhood of $18 million). The City Council of course needs to decide which path is more valuable to the community. Of course they have the right to determine that pocketing the $18 million has a higher value than the extra field space, but I would argue that the annuity of having this extra space so desperately needed is worth much more. In fact, the choice is even starker than that. If the city were not to agree to such a swap, then the District would have to go to an alternate plan for CLC. There are three possibilities — leaving it at TL, moving it to Heather, and moving it to Arundel. Although the Board hasn’t officially decided on what its “Plan B” is, it’s rational to believe that moving CLC to Heather is the next best alternative. Heather has the next biggest campus with a fair bit of space for a new school and relatively less traffic compared to TL or Arundel. If CLC were to move to Heather, that would mean a significant reduction in field space there — fields that are used extensively by the city and local sports groups. So, interestingly, the choice for the city between a land swap and a sale to a developer of the Crestview property could mean either a significant addition of field space or a net reduction of space.

Although certainly there will be (and have been) objections from residents who live adjacent to the Crestview site, I believe their expectations of having open space next to them forever is unrealistic. The city will likely choose of of these two options, and I would argue that having a school up on the site (rather than more housing) is better long-term for the residents and their property values. And ultimately, it’s hard to believe that a far majority of San Carlans wouldn’t be very excited about such a land swap given all the benefits community wide. And as Mayor Mark Olbert writes on his blog, we are really one community even though we have two government agencies responsible. And as a single community, we’d still own the same properties and in fact just leverage their use much better.

So, the ball in now in the City’s court. There will be meetings between City and District staffs, and the City Council needs to take up the agenda item to discuss their direction with the property. And a decision has to reached relatively quickly, because the school district will need to start planning for the alternative if the City decides to sell the property instead. Although I will respect their decision if they choose to sell it to a developer, I believe the greater value is in this deal. And I would further argue that if they believe in that concept, the relative appraised values of the properties are irrelevant. Something only has a monetary value if you’re going to sell it — if you’re not, we’re comparing immeasurable benefits — the traffic and overcrowding mitigation for the school district and the field spaces for the City. So, I would hate for any discussion between the two entities to get mired in negotiations over value or notions of one agency paying another just because of a number written on a piece of paper. This is an opportunity for an amazing partnership that can transcend bureaucratic ways of doing business for the purpose of significantly enhancing this community and serving so many of its citizens.

LCFF, LCAP, CCSS, and SP — How do they fit together?

This is a very unusual time in California public education in that a number of fundamental components of how we operate are changing simultaneously. Some of these significant changes include:

  • The adoption of Common Core Standards (CCSS) – a state-led initiative to establish consistent and clear education standards for English-Language Arts and Mathematics that would better prepare students for success in college, career and the competitive global economy. The goal is to allow students to delve deeper into the subject matter and better promote critical thinking, analysis, project-based learning, writing and communication. 45 states, including California, have adopted CCSS, and they go into effect in this state for the 2014-2015 school year.
  • New Assessments Coming – In conjunction with the adoption of the Common Core Standards, the State of California has replaced the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Assessments with new Smarter Balanced Assessments which go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended response and technology enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Some of the tests will be adaptive, and all will be taken on-line. The Smarter Balanced Assessments do not officially roll out until the 2014-2015 school year, but SCSD students will take practice test in Spring 2014, for which the scores will not be published. There will be no STAR testing in 2014, and the existing API scores will be replaced and not comparable to any future assessment results.
  • The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – a new way the state of California will determine the “revenue limit” of most local school districts — it is based on removing most categorical funding streams and replacing it with a base funding amount per student plus supplemental funding for districts based on need — as defined by percentages of students in poverty or who are English language learners. For more detail on LCFF, see SMCSBA’s Position Paper on the new funding system and/or watch my updated video on the history of California education finance.
  • Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) – as part of LCFF, school districts are required to develop, adopt, and annually update a three-year Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), beginning on July 1, 2014, using a template adopted by the California State Board of Education (SBE) (note this template is still in draft form and is expected to finalized this spring). The LCAP is required to identify goals and measure progress for student subgroups across multiple performance indicators (see below).
  • San Carlos Strategic Plan – although specific to SCSD, the recently-adopted Strategic Plan is already starting to re-imagine and re-create public education in our community. The plan is visionary and speaks to how we “break down walls” (figuratively and literally) to create schools that develop and deliver innovative and engaging curriculum and instruction, leverage human capital to support staff as 21st century educators, and build learning environments that reflect, support, and sustain 21st century learners. What has been most remarkable is, in just this year alone, how teachers, principals, and all district staff have embraced this plan and have already designed new methods and programs at all grade levels. Each site has already developed it’s own site implementation plan aligned with the Strategic Plan.

In general, these are all extremely positive developments, and if anything San Carlos’ Strategic Plan goes further than new state regulations in terms of curriculum, assessment, and accountability. At last night’s School Board meeting, we had an extensive conversation about the alignment between our Strategic Plan and LCAP requirements. As part of our plan, we had already envisioned a “dashboard” that the District would use to measure, analyze, and report on performance across a number of different areas, both relating to student achievement as well as general progress toward making the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan. We have a sub-committee working on the design of that platform, but it will likely be a superset of the LCAP requirements, which already include a number new elements and measurements. The eight main categories of LCAP are:

  • Basic Services
  • Implementation of State Standards
  • Parent Involvement
  • Pupil Achievement
  • Pupil Engagement
  • School Climate
  • Course Access
  • Other Pupil Outcomes

The LCAP requires every school district to have a process for significant community engagement and input as part of the building of the LCAP. Fortunately, this type of engagement has been fairly standard practice in San Carlos, but the LCAP will put a larger umbrella and framework around it. Also, having already built our Strategic Plan through a thorough and thoughtful process over a number of years with participation from staff and community, we have so many of the core elements and ideas of measurement in place.

This presentation gives an overview of LCFF, LCAP, and our timeline and process for both building our first LCAP and of course aligning that with both the Strategic Plan and our annual budget which also has to be completed by the end of the June. Each school will have its own LCAP and that will replace (or otherwise encompass the requirements of) the Single Plans for Student Achievement (SPSAs) and perhaps even the School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs). You will certainly hear more over the next couple months about both site-based and district-wide meetings to gather input and discuss the impact of all of these changes. The new district dashboard that we develop will also develop over time as we better understand what we can and are able to measure while having information in a digestible and actionable format for staff, board, and the community.

It’s a very exciting time in public education — it will be a TON of work and we will make mistakes along the way, but San Carlos is very well positioned to be a leader implementing these new changes.

A School By Any Other Name...

As most of you know, the San Carlos School District is proceeding with its plans to build two new 4th-5th grade schools, one on each of the existing middle school campuses. The rennovation of Central Middle School and the new 4-5 school on that campus are the first major projects, and the Draft Environmental Impact Report on that project is currently out for public comment. The final EIR is expected to be brought to the board for approval in February, with construction assumed to start this summer.

In all communications to date, we have been using the names “Arroyo” and “Dartmouth” to describe the new 4-5 schools on the Central and TL campuses, respectively. These have only been working names, simply by using the local street. It was always the intention of the District to have a discussion around naming these new schools. In late October, the board had an initial discussion on this topic and concluded two things. First, the board asked the Superintendent to pull together an ad hoc committee of parents, faculty, and others to discuss the issue of our naming policy. Second, we all agreed that the naming process itself for these two schools should be an inclusive one to gather ideas far and wide from the community, including from staff, parents, and students.

At last night’s board meeting, we received the report from the committee which discussed the naming policy, and we viewed a draft of a policy for first reading. Interestingly, we had a fairly strong consensus among these committee members as well as school board members to have a policy prohibiting the District from naming a school (or other significant school facilities) after any person, living or dead. I was excited to see this, because I believe that naming a major facility (school or otherwise) after a person is actually an exercise in exclusion, not inclusion. Naming schools is a once-in-a-generation opportunity (if even that often), so how do we choose? Everyone involved in public schooling recognizes that it takes thousands and thousands of people to make a school district successful. Who among us would deserve such an honor to have his or her name permanently plastered on the front of the building? If we believe that it really takes a village, there isn’t anyone whose service can stand out over tens of thousands of others. Everyone’s name deserves to be on that door. So, the answer must be that no one’s name be there. And I believe this applies to historical figures as well — how could one objectively judge among a cadre of amazing people in history? If we tried picking either someone local or historical, it would be an exercise in adults picking other favorite adults with our choices likely biased on coincident timing more than anything else.

Notwithstanding our board’s consensus on this overall policy of prohibition around naming facilities after people, we did have an interesting discussion over the concept of “naming rights,” i.e. the idea (however extremely unlikely in our case) that some wealthy benefactor could donate a significant amount of money and hope to have a name on a building. Although we largely agreed we wouldn’t want to “sell” the name of a school itself, we were split on the notion of allowing that for other facilities (e.g. gymnasiums, theaters, libraries, etc.). Personally, I felt that if a donation (from a person or company) were so significant (maybe 7 or 8 figures?) as to create a facility or program that otherwise wouldn’t exist in that form while preserving equity across the district, then we will have served children by accepting such a donation. Of course, this is ripe with issues, including making sure such naming is consistent with our values. But at the end of the day, the discussion is probably academic given the infinitesimal likelihood of our being faced with such a dilemma. We will revisit this section of the policy at an upcoming meeting and try to synthesize board members’ various concerns here.

But the big picture here is the overall consensus on the meat of this policy — it gives us the ability to rise above any political issues and do something truly meaningful when we name our schools. I don’t know what the right names for our new schools are, but I am looking forward to an inclusive process where we bring in students, staff, parents, and other community members to brainstorm ones that are most relevant for us.

Rethinking the Starting Age of Public School

The following op-ed piece was published on EdSource today. Also, this is a preview of a position paper being published by the San Mateo County School Boards Association — a preview of that paper (and the earlier one on LCFF) can be downloaded here.

The current structure of U.S. public schools — including the K-12 grade framework — was established over a century ago based on the goals, scientific knowledge, and theories of child development at the time, yet this structure has been remarkably resistant to change despite the fact that our society, economy, and the requirements of our public school system have changed dramatically. Even though educators and policymakers alike have questioned many of the other antiquated structures and practices around public education, there has been remarkably little debate about whether our current grade system is still relevant in the modern age. Starting public school at age five is now essentially an arbitrary point and one which we now know does not best serve most children. Specifically, our incredible advancements in the understanding of child development and brain development allow us to know now that fundamental skills are produced in the early years of childhood, long before children start kindergarten. To compensate for the fact that public school starts too late, we have a created a early childhood education patchwork of state-funded schools, local school district programs, and other child care and preschool programs run by both for-profit and non-profit entities. The U.S. is ranked 26th among industrialized countries in the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education, and this lack of universality has created a discriminatory system that only serves half of our children with inconsistent quality often not linked to kindergarten readiness at their local public school.

Although there is always talk about how public schools are failing our children, the fact is that less than 40% of our children are ready for kindergarten when they get to our public schools, creating an opportunity gap long before our schools can address it properly. Many children who live in poorer households and neighborhoods are both less likely to have attended a quality preschool program and less likely to have resources and support outside of school during their K-12 years. There is a mountain of evidence that this opportunity gap is created when children are young — 88% of those who drop out of school could not read proficiently by 3rd grade.

Certainly there is no panacea for every issue in public education, but if there is only one singular change that could address many systemic inequities, creating universal preschool as part of our existing public school system is that change (I would argue it would have a monumentally greater impact on the opportunity gap than would the Local Control Funding Formula). In addition to the moral and social obligation, the opportunity gap created by the lack of universal preschool has a real economic cost to society through lower productivity and competitiveness, lower tax revenue and higher social costs, including higher crime and public safety spending. The evidence linking quality preschool attendance with improved social and economic outcomes is overwhelming, with studies showing multiple times return on dollars spent on early childhood education. Even within my county of San Mateo, a pilot “Preschool for All” program in one district demonstrated immediate and profound results.

President Obama helped energize the debate last February when he talked about making high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. But I would argue that even President Obama is using the language of the 20th (and even 19th) century, and the educational community does itself disservice by calling it “preschool.” That implies something extra and not necessary. Certainly if we were to start our public school system today, we wouldn’t likely start it at age five — a decision made over a century ago for a purpose long past by people with much less scientific understanding of childhood and brain development. Rather we would start public school at age three or younger. So, what we now call “preschool” would just be “school” and it must eventually become part of our public school system. Ideally, we’d just expand our current public school system down two more grades. Only in a half-joking way, I’ve argued that we should renumber the grades, with what we call “Kindergarten” today becoming “3rd grade” — you wouldn’t tolerate your child’s missing 1st and 2nd grade, would you? Making this change would naturally require a significant investment, both in the operating dollars to teach more students but also the money for facilities for local districts to support the extra grades. But to be clear, one shouldn’t infer that the intent is just to duplicate what we currently do in the higher grades (particularly with respect to overly burdensome standards and testing), but rather to create inherent in our public system developmentally-appropriate high-quality nurturing environments for three and four year olds. To make such a change, I recognize that we would have to bring in more early-learning expertise into our public school system to have both teachers and administrators who know how to appropriately address the needs of this age group, as well as have them ready for Kindergarten.

But this is all indeed possible. There is buzz now in Sacramento of taking the current Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program and opening it up to all four-year olds. This would be a tremendous step forward to accomplishing this goal, of course assuming that the legislature fully funds both the program costs and the facility costs. There are also a number of local initiatives — including one in San Mateo County — to march toward universality of early childhood education. But I would argue it’s more than just making sure we serve every student. Only when such early education is core to our public system will schools — all the way through high school and beyond — be truly effective in serving all students to reach their highest potential and be prepared for success in the 21st Century.

Updated Video on California Education Finance (San Carlos edition)

I have been asked by a number of folks to update my earlier video on how the California education finance system works. It was last updated two years ago, and since then there have been some significant changes in California around how schools are funded. So, the new video updates the data and includes explanations of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and Proposition 30. I have also shortened the video to be under 22 minutes, deleting certain sections and topics such as Proposition 98, which is less relevant in our current model. Also, this video is more San Carlos specific and is primarily meant for the San Carlos school community, although the general background and issues apply to almost all school districts in the state.

You can view the video on Vimeo, or watch it below:

Onward and Upward!

Voters overwhelmingly demonstrated their tremendous support for the direction of the San Carlos School District with the election of incumbents Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley by a significant margin. Nicole Bergeron will join the board in the third open seat, and Nicole has also been a tremendous supporter of the district and its direction. I wrote earlier why this was the right combination of candidates to move the district forward and to elevate the board itself. It’s clear that our community is as excited as we are about our strategy and the leadership of Dr. Baker and his team. We will continue to do the hard work of implementing our Strategic Plan and Facilities Master Plan as well as face the myriad of issues we will encounter, including the perennial shortage of resources. This community has proven that recent distractions only should be treated as such. I congratulate Carol, Kathleen, and Nicole on their decisive win, and I look forward to working with them all over the coming years.

In the race for San Carlos City Council, Bob Grassilli and Matt Grocott were re-elected and joined by Cameron Johnson. Congrats to Bob, Matt and Cameron. Cameron will be an exciting addition to the council as it embarks on some very exciting projects and faces numerous challenges and opportunities. I predict that we’ll continue to have a very strong partnership between the city and school district, and I look forward to working on more projects and programs on which we can collaborate. I was disappointed that Karen Clapper was not elected given the tremendous job she’s done since being appointed, but I hope that she stays involved in public service.

The race for the Sequoia Union High School District was probably one of the more contentious of local races. In this race, incumbents Alan Sarver and Chris Thomsen won re-election, with challenger Georgia Jack just a few percentage points behind. I know and respect all three of these folks — I congratulate Alan and Chris and hope Georgia stays involved. Although I recognize that there are serious differences among SUHSD board members, I urge them all to come together as a unit to find common ground on the the myriad of issues they face.

The San Mateo County Community College District race was the least dramatic of the night, with incumbent Richard Holober and former Cañada College President Tom Mohr winning by an incredibly wide margin. Congratulations to Richard and Tom, and I look forward to seeing all of the exciting happenings at the community college district.

Note that the election is not official until certified by the county elections office sometime in the next four weeks, however with all precincts reporting results and the only ones left to count being provisional and related ballots, one can be confident in the above results (interestingly, the one race which has the possibility to change is the one for the Belmont-Redwood Shores School district, the preliminary results of which separate the 3rd and 4th place finisher by only 21 votes!).

Congratulations once again to all of the winners (including all new school board members in the county), and I’m especially excited that we can now focus on the real work to get done in our school district!

Vote November 5th

The following is an e-mail I sent out today to my personal mailing list. Please send me an e-mail if you’d like to be added to it.

This November 5th there will be four local elections for most San Carlos residents. Those of you who vote by mail may have already received your ballot. However you choose to vote, it’s important to make your voice heard in these local races. As has been my custom, I am sending out a summary of the races and my recommendations and endorsements. Here’s the rundown:

San Carlos School District
There are four candidates for three positions. I have endorsed incumbents Carol Elliott and Kathleen Farley, along with Nicole Bergeron. Both Carol and Kathleen have done an amazing job in the last two years and have been instrumental in developing our groundbreaking strategic plan and facilities master plan. Carol has been a long-time and dedicated volunteer in the San Carlos School District community, and she is bright, detailed-oriented, and passionate in her dedication toward our schools. Kathleen has also proven herself in a very short period of time, bringing her combination of business experience and education background to be a great strategic thinker. Nicole is a long-term San Carlos resident and volunteer who brings passion, energy and a diverse set of experiences to the board, and she will be a great complement to the team as we implement our strategy over the next four years. If you’re interested in seeing the video of this week’s candidate forum, click here.

San Carlos City Council
There are six candidate running for three positions. In this race, I have endorsed Bob Grassilli, Karen Clapper, and Cameron Johnson. Bob has been a strong and dedicated council member for the last eight years, exercising fiscal responsibility and a balanced approach to providing services and emphasizing quality of life in our city. Karen has proven herself in a short period of time as a strong, strategic thinker who does her homework and has a particular dedication to a greater partnership between the city and the school district. Cameron is smart, energetic, and someone with solid judgment and critical thinking skills, and with his background in both the private and public sector, he will provide a critical perspective as our city government builds an even stronger partnership with its citizens.

Sequoia Union High School District
There are three candidates running for two positions. Chris Thomsen and Alan Sarver are incumbents, and Georgia Jack is the new candidate. I have not taken an official position in this race as I know all three of them well, but it is a very important one as the SUHSD faces many big issues over the next four years. So, please do your own research and definitely vote (I have linked their names to their respective websites).

San Mateo County Community College District
There are four candidates for two positions. I have endorsed Tom Mohr and Richard Holober. Tom has had a distinguished career in education as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and most recently President of Cañada College. He is a fountain of knowledge and understanding about the workings and the importance of the community college district, and he would make a great addition to that board. Richard has provided strong leadership for the district which has both dealt with serious fiscal challenges but has also taken opportunities to innovate.

I hope this is helpful, but most importantly, get out and vote!

Chris Mahoney stepping down as SCCLC Director

Chris Mahoney, the Director of the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, recently sent a letter to the school community announcing that he was stepping down from his role as SCCLC’s Director. As many of you know, Chris has had a year filled with serious medical challenges. Despite this, he is on the road to recovery and expects to be back to 100% by later this year. However, he needs to focus on his recovery and can’t devote the time required to lead CLC.

Chris has presided over a lot of changes in the last five years at CLC, including significant enrollment growth, new technology programs, and a new relationship with the San Carlos School District as CLC has transitioned into an independent organization. Chris has always been a vocal supporter of the overall district’s vision and push into 21st Century Learning, and I suspect you’ll see him back in public education very soon involved with similar initiatives.

I certainly wish him the best of health, and good thoughts to the CLC community as they work through the transition.

You can read his complete letter here.

Gaining Perspective

There’s not much to complain about residing in San Carlos; it’s by almost every measure a great place to live, raise a family, attend school, dine at amazing restaurants, have great neighbors, and all of the other lifestyle things we value as a community. Although neighboring residents often make fun of the city’s slogan “The City of Good Living,” it is apropos in many ways. But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum. And when there is a vacuum of real problems, we tend to elevate the little ones into big ones. This is true for both the city and the school district. Of course, the classic San Carlos story is the fact that it took eight years to decide what surface to put on a field! Regardless of one’s preference on that particular issue, it’s hard to argue that the amount of effort, work, time, and consternation that went into that debate was proportionate to its substance. This is why those who know me well know that I’ve, tongue-in-cheek, used the affectionate moniker of “City of Made-Up Problems” to describe San Carlos. I love San Carlos, but often we get wound up by the little things. This doesn’t mean we don’t have issues to address — of course we do — but compared to what goes on even in neighboring communities, let alone around the country and around the world, we don’t have a lot of big things to complain about.

Although the school district is “high performing” by all traditional measures, we certainly recognize that we need to always improve and move forward. This is why we spent most of last year completing our groundbreaking Strategic Plan to move education into the 21st Century, and we passed a bond and developed a new Facilities Master Plan to build new schools to meet these strategic goals and to serve the incredible influx of new students in the coming years.

I’ve written and spoke about many times how school board service is different from any other political body. We don’t declare a political party when running for office, we are part-time, unpaid volunteers (or little paid in some communities), and rarely is “higher” political office the goal. We have the luxury of truly representing the community and serving students without fear that folks will ascribe ulterior motives to our actions or fear that our words will be assumed to be anything other than genuine. Admittedly, the public doesn’t always appreciate this fact, and the overall dysfunction of the larger American political system is often painted on all public servants, including school board members. Despite this, I have always tried to do my best to serve the students and the community, but at the same time always tell the truth, including calling constituents on bad behavior when it (albeit rarely) happens. Not everyone will (or should) agree with me (and I love a good debate), but I know that most people don’t question my motives or my judgment. By the way, our fellow servants on the City Council have it a lot worse than we do — people give them less of the benefit of the doubt, and I have on multiple occasions been ashamed at how our community has engaged with these public servants. I of course don’t agree with everything my representatives do, but that doesn’t mean my engagement with them has to mimic the worst in what we witness in state and national politics.

This brings me to recent events. It’s been a frustrating week, not because of any substantive action or inaction done by our district, but the nonconstructive (and potentially destructive) engagement of a select few members of our community, backed up by members of the press whose interest was more about seeking a “big story” than about understanding the truth. As many of you know by now, the District agreed to give our Superintendent, Dr. Baker, a bridge loan to finance the purchase of a new home in San Carlos. This was discussed by the Board in numerous closed session board meetings (as is required by the law, compensation negotiations happen in such sessions, just like negotiations with our teacher’s union or any other specific compensation matters), and these discussions clearly led to the later public endorsement of the entire Board showing our collective enthusiasm for the Superintendent to move closer. We thought of it as a celebratory occasion to have our Superintendent have even greater ties to this community. The loan itself was purely to account for timing differences between when he could make an offer on a new home and when he could sell his old home. In reality, the loan will be paid back within one month’s time, and the district will actually make a little money off of the loan (which was just a side benefit). So, the only effect on the operating budget of the district was a positive one. As a board, the most important function we have is to hire, review, and potentially fire a superintendent. Like a corporate board, the CEO is only employee we “manage.” And having a long-term relationship with a great superintendent is the greatest gift we can give to our community. When people have asked me, “what’s been your greatest accomplishment in your time on the school board,” my answer is always that we hired this Superintendent. I believe that he has already proven himself the best Superintendent that San Carlos has ever seen, and probably the best in the entire county (and although I won’t name them, so many school board members around the county have told me that they agree)! So, this bridge loan was an opportunity to create a stronger relationship between the district and the community and make a little money in the transaction with near zero risk. What’s not to like? In fact, it was considered so obvious of an issue that it was placed on the consent agenda as a non-controversial and routine matter.

Enter in San Carlos Patch. Patch has turned itself into a self-parody of everything that is wrong with journalism — it doesn’t act a true local source of information and has become a sandbox for non-constructive engagement. In most towns, including ours, it’s become somewhat of a joke, and it’s no coincidence that their business is failing — the San Carlos edition in particular is slated to be shut down or consolidated with another one. Without even doing the minimum amount of research, Patch sees an agenda item on a board meeting and writes a sensationalistic article implying some wrongdoing without understanding any of the background or context. Now enter in one man with an agenda. One man who has never paid attention to any school district activities or attended any school board meetings. But this man is running for San Carlos City Council and saw an opportunity to paint himself as a “government watchdog,” so he posted all over Patch, other social media sites, and e-mailed a bunch of people to take a stand. So, imagine our surprise when all of these folks showed up at the board meeting on 9/12 to express their consternation at the loan. It was sad that few had done even the slightest bit of research (or spoke to any board or staff members) before speaking. It is of course their right to speak (and we encourage folks to show up at board members and express their views, including ones that don’t agree with ours), but this meeting in particular was an unfortunate example of the type of unconstructive engagement and lack of critical thinking that we usually attribute to the comments made to “higher” political officials. Even after such input, the Board re-iterated its position and unanimously affirmed its decision to support the loan.

It was later learned there was a timing problem in the administration of the loan. The loan was originally meant to close escrow the day after the board meeting, but it closed a day before. It had to do with a request by the title company to move the date. Of course, in hindsight, the district should have told the title company we couldn’t have accommodated the change, but it didn’t. Having to do it over again, I’m sure it would be done differently, but given the context of this being perceived as so obvious and routine (with full board support), it probably didn’t seem to be a big deal at the time. And as we are trying to teach our students, it’s ok to make mistakes — you learn from them, and move on. And given that this “mistake” didn’t have any real ramifications (except for a marginal increase in District revenue by having interest earned for two more days), we should model that same behavior.

So, there’s the big crime. Effectively an administrative error with no actual consequences. No deceit or ill intent on anyone’s part. But guess who decided he — being completely rebuked at the board meeting on the substance of the issue — now had a horse to ride and cry “government corruption”? Efforts to make a big deal of this nothing caught the idea of both the Daily News and the local ABC news affiliate. I spoke to both of them during their “research”, and although The Daily News included some of my comments (although it left out a ton of context), ABC didn’t use anything I said because the substance of the issue didn’t fit into its pre-determined story arc. The ABC report was comical in its quality, and the reporter was particularly rude, cutting me off mid sentence and refusing to acknowledge that there was even another side to this story. So, in addition to being disappointed by the poor approach taken by this vocal minority in our community, I was sad to see up-close how badly our media outlets behave. Being a public official for the last six years, I realize how often media outlets get their facts wrong (it’s a bit of a running joke among many), but this was way beyond. It demonstrated a collective disregard for critical thinking that I heretofore assumed was only prevalent in national debates. What a scary notion — will it be hard for me to believe almost anything I read or see anymore?

I hesitated to write this post at all because I thought the issue was so nonsensical that it didn’t even deserve my time. But this “made up problem” can have real ramifications. It’s already had a devastating toll on our amazing district office staff who had to spend so much of their time last week dealing with this silliness rather than serving children. The Superintendent is being harassed — the ABC news folks hid near his house so they can ambush him when he got home! If he or other members of his staff decide it’s not worth the hassle anymore, it will be this community that loses out. But here’s the good news — the far majority of San Carlans are hugely supportive of the district. I have been flooded with calls, e-mails, texts, and in-person conversations by folks who are shocked at this nonsense, and many have been trying to counter the ignorant comments on social media sites, but unfortunately social media sites often favor the ignorant. I thank all of those who reached out and for your dedication to making this district the best it can be. Ironically, not a single person with concerns has sent me an e-mail or called me to discuss those concerns or to learn more. The distance (and often anonymity) of social media posts is far too easy than talking to someone who may actually have a different perspective than you. As I have always said, I’m happy to talk to anyone anytime about any issue. I couldn’t address every single question that people have brought up on social media sites, but I’m happy to talk anytime…just reach out.

I’m confident that my colleagues on the San Carlos School Board understand — and I urge all school board members everywhere to understand — the lesson of why we’re different than other “politicians” and to stand by their principles and continue to focus on what’s best for students. As a community, we must demonstrate that we will not allow San Carlos to devolve into a place where the loud and ill informed (let alone those with a personal agenda) can take us off track from the amazing work we are doing (and real problems we need to solve) in public education. We have an amazing staff too, and they need to get back to their day job tackling real issues.

The Big Buzz

Welcome back to school! Students arrive on campus on Wednesday, but teachers and other staff have been busy working for a while, many throughout the summer. The district has stepped up its emphasis on professional development, and there were more programs, internal conferences, and other PD opportunities for all staff than there have been in recent history. There is an excitement and “buzz” around the school district that I haven’t seen before, and I have had a number of staff members stop me personally and tell me how excited they are about the District’s new Strategic Plan, the upcoming plans on facilities (including the building of our new 4th-5th grade schools), and the associated professional development that has gone on this summer and is planned for the year. One teacher told me this past week it was the best she’d ever seen in her many years of service in this district! Obviously there is a lot to work on with teams developing actions plans to implement our 21st Century Education Vision as well as prepare for the coming Common Core Standards. The latter will not be an easy transition (including for parents) as we implement the new (and better) curriculum and assessments as prescribed by Common Core (officially beginning next school year, unless delayed by the state). It will change everything from daily curriculum to standardized test scores.

The other big news for this year was the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula. LCFF removes many of the “categorical” funding sources for schools and directs greater funding to districts with greater needs (in terms of more English language learners and students in poverty). This makes complete sense and is a good first step, but the state did not significantly increase overall education funding. So for districts such as San Carlos, our financial situation is still very tight with only a modest increase over last year (and still well below where funding was when I started on the board). So, we will continue to have to find creative solutions particularly as we implement some of the new ideas in our strategic plan.

I encourage you all to read my Spring end-of-year wrap-up, as those issues will continue to be our focus. I am already impressed by the pace of new implementation plans that are emerging from all school sites, so I suspect everyone will notice these changes throughout the year. Also, as I posted previously, this year in a school board election year (although not for me). I encourage everyone to read up on the issues and the candidates and to vote! See you around campus!