As we are now just a little over two weeks away from the end of my time on the San Carlos School District Board, it seems like a good time to reflect on all of the things that have happened over these last eight years and the many accomplishments of the District. To be clear, these are not my accomplishments — they were the result of so much hard work by so many people, including SCSD employees, parents, other community members, and the board. I felt it important to summarize it as best I could given how easy it would be to forget all that has gone on — even in looking back at old agendas and files, I’ve no doubt missed many things, but hopefully the following summary will give a sense of the scope.
At the end of the day, we’re a service organization. And as such, our success is so dependent upon the quality of the people in the organization. And in this respect, the District has done a great job of hiring and retaining (and in many cases, bringing back) folks at all levels who are all frankly not paid what their worth, but understand the importance of what they’re doing and recognize that if you’re going to take on this mission as your life’s work, San Carlos is a pretty good place to do that. Some specific accomplishments of note include:
- Hiring Dr. Baker – no doubt the strongest Superintendent that San Carlos has had in decades (if ever), and also one who has been the envy of so many of my school board colleagues in other districts.
- Serious Upgrade to District Office Team – We have such a strong team in the district office, and we owe so much of the progress of this district to them – folks like Mary Jude Doerpinghaus, Robert Porter, Tom Keating, and of course so many others.
- Hired (and Retained) Great Principals, Teachers, and Classified staff – As a service organization, we have great leaders at each of the schools in the form of our principals and vice principals. I also think that we’ve created an environment that although never perfect, makes San Carlos a great place to work for teachers and other staff members. There are so many amazing teachers and classified staff that do the tireless work – for little money – every day because they believe in the mission of serving all of our children.
Vision and Strategy
- Completion of our Strategic Plan – when people ask what I’m most proud of during my tenure, it is this – nothing short of groundbreaking, it has already become a model for so many other school districts. It has really put San Carlos “on the map” in the county and around the state for our innovative approach – it’s been so great to witness our team being asked to speak at events to spread the word. And more importantly, it is incredible how our teachers and administrators have owned it and used it a real guidepost for our growth as a district – it is no mere shelfware.
- Focus on Equity and being One Integrated District – We have done such a great job creating and preserving equity among our schools and our student pathways – more so than perhaps anywhere else in the county. One of things that is largely unknown by the new generation of parents is that when my kids started in school in this district, we weren’t really a cohesive district. A friend of mine years back remarked that “San Carlos used to be seven schools in a community, but it has become a community of seven schools.” This is no minor distinction – when we started, our school communities were much more isolated and there was little cooperation – we learned that by working together we could make the pie much bigger for all – both in terms of programs and in terms of financial resources. We take that for granted today, but we must remember it took a lot of work to get there, and it requires diligence going forward to ensure we keep that.
- Strong Financial Stewardship – We faced the worst economic downturn for CA public schools since the Great Depression and took prudent steps to leverage our reserves, and where we had to make cuts, have a thorough community process and discussion to minimize their impact. After many years of hard work we now have a solid budget with no deficit spending.
- Incredible Increase in Local Funding – We passed three parcel taxes and one bond measure; we expanded our incredible relationship with SCEF to consistently increase financial support for our schools, launched our enterprise programs for additional sources of local revenue, and finally had a successful settlement of RDA money owed to the district
- Focus on Taxpayers – We refinanced older bond measures on multiple occasions to save taxpayers millions of dollars
- Improved Financial Reporting Systems – although school finances are incredibly complex and accounting requirements byzantine at best, the way we present our financial assumptions, projections, and overall health has been made so much more transparent
We first have to recognize the incredible and continual increase in enrollment that we have had. In my first year on the board, we had a total enrollment of 2,877. This year have approximately 3,545 K-8 students. Even then so many of us said our schools were too crowded, and it seemed inevitable at that time that we would need to expand our facilities. Obviously this is a high-class problem as more and more families seek to move to San Carlos at least in part due to the reputation of the schools.
- Finalized modernization with Measure E bond money – including lots of work at Tierra Linda as well as upgrades at every elementary school.
- Added capacity at Tierra Linda – including the new modular classrooms
- Completed Facilities Master Plan – which included the ingenious plan for our new Upper Elementary Schools
- Purchased New District Office – a facility that has really been leveraged well for so many district functions, including teacher professional development
- New Central Middle School – what a wonderful new facility that replaced a school that had been largely neglected for decades
- Heather MU Room – a project that finally got done after it got dropped off the plans years ago
- Arroyo, Tierra Linda, CLC, and Dartmouth School Plans – all to be completed over the next two years
There have been innumerable updates to policies, and as you know, it’s a never-ending process. However, we made some significant and impactful updates in the last eight years, including:
- Boundary Changes – what an amazing example of an inclusive community-based process that addressed a clear need and had an immediate impact
- New Enrollment Policy – related to the above, clarifying preference for siblings, children of employees, and folks who in live in San Carlos but outside of SCSD boundaries
- New Sustainability Policy and Related Initiatives
- New Wellness Policy and Related Initiatives
- Stopped Practice of Vendors (e.g. photographers) Giving Commissions to Schools – and jacking up the price to families
- Revised Practice of Charging Students Fees for Mandatory Items
- New Facility Naming Policy – bold, progressive, and unique
- Updates to Dozens of Other Significant Policies – including bullying and harassment, use of school facilities, animals in schools, safety, fundraising and gifts, technology policies, allergy policy, and a whole lot more. Many of these may seem minor, but they actually have a real and important impact on how our schools functions as well as the well being of our students.
Teaching & Curriculum
- Successful Implementation of Common Core and SBAC
- Embracing of the New LCAP Requirements – very thoughtful and relevant use of the LCAP meeting statutory requirements but also tying to our larger Strategic Plan and goals
- Thoughtful and Thorough Discussions and Plan for Math Pathways
- Expanded Elective Offerings – including innovative partnerships with groups such as SCCT – this is an area where I know we’ll see more to come
- Dramatically Increased Quality and Volume of Teacher Professional Development
- Successful Implementation of Transitional Kindergarten
- Staff Salary Increases – although this has been one of the most difficult areas to address given how little we are funded as a district, I am glad we were always able to do what we could and now have a multi-year agreement to give our staff some predictability and shift our discussions to other strategic areas
- Much More Robust Data – information from teachers, students, and parents about engagement in school and other measures of school climate and health
- Dashboard – finally have an outline for a District-wide dashboard of multiple measures of student success and District health – this is an area I definitely look forward to seeing grow over the next couple of years
It is easy to forget how incredibly far we have come in the improvement of our Special Education program since I started on the board. This is due to some incredible work by District staff to focus on serving each kid, honoring the process, and doing the day-to-day blocking and tackling to deliver an incredibly complex and varied program. When I started, this was probably one the weakest spots for the Districts, and now we have an enviable program and track record, as evidenced by:
- A First-class Team
- Reducing Needs for Services – by early intervention
- More Success for Students Being Served
- Lowering Costs – by insourcing and outsourcing services as appropriate, as well as by an incredible reduction in lawsuits against the district
Communications is one of those areas that can be perennially improved, and is often one of the biggest criticisms of the District. I’m excited to see a renewed emphasis on this for the coming year. It remains a challenge given that, by design, our core constituents turn over every year, as well as the fact that it’s human nature to only pay attention when you hear something you think is amiss. That said, older parents will agree that we have continually improved district communications, including an incredible increase in the volume and breadth of touch points, including:
- The New “Accordion” Process – to ensure engagement by staff and parents and school site, administrators, and the board
- More Frequent and Relevant E-mails
- More Community Meetings
- Improved Website with More Frequent Blog Updates
- Board Alerts Before Meetings and Board Briefs after Meetings
- Growth of Facebook and Twitter Presence
We have in so many ways formed a tighter partnership between the district and the larger community, including:
- Moving Board Agendas Online
- Videotaping Board Meetings – and making those available online
- Fundraising and Gift Coordination – Much improved coordination among SCEF, PTAs, and district regarding fundraising and gifts
- Improved Relationship with City – despite our differences and hiccups at times, we have as tight of a relationship as ever with the City of San Carlos in areas of facilities, programs, and traffic/safety
- Improved Relationship with CLC – although this has always been a strong relationship compared to that between most other districts and charter schools in the state, we have strengthened our working relationship, better clarified responsibilities, and worked with them to successfully transition them to independent legal status
- Improved Safe Routes to School Activities
- Leadership in the Region – Many of us have been involved in regional projects, including the Big Lift, San Mateo County School Boards Association, as well as serving as advisors to some of our state legislators. I encourage our new Board members to get involved this way as well
Thanks to all San Carlans for supporting our schools and for all of the great work we have been able to do together. I welcome all to attend my last board meeting on December 3rd to help celebrate all of this with me!