Last night was my final San Carlos School District Board Meeting as a Governing Board member, and it was bittersweet. Thank you to all who came by to see my last meeting and went out to celebrate afterwards. In the middle of the meeting, there was also an incredible surprise by former Bye Bye Birdie cast mates and SCSD teachers who broke into a flash mob singing a parody of Put on a Happy Face — it was incredible thougtful and entertaining!
The past eight years have been incredible, and I have been so privileged to serve in this community. Posted to last night’s agenda was a brief overview of our accomplishments, the lessons that I’ve learned, and the plethora of people to acknowledge and thank.
A few weeks ago I outlined a list of changes to, and accomplishments by, our school district over the last eight years.
And about a month ago, I put together a white paper on the big lessons learned over these eight years of service. Thank you to all of the folks who have already sent me so much positive feedback on this — clearly so many of these lessons apply to other school districts and other local agencies.
Of course there is a ton of work to still be done in our school district – that is the nature of a dynamic learning organization with grand plans. Last night I touched on what I referred to as the three “big rocks” — areas that I thought would be important themes over the next decade:
The “Meaty” Parts of the Strategic Plan
I have been so impressed how our staff has embraced our strategic plan – in fact this change has happened quicker than I would have predicted when we wrote it. I realize it has taken a ton of work, and we’ve had a few bumps in the road. But as we look forward over the next few years, I would suggest that the level of work and difficulty will actually ramp up as we get into the areas that I consider the most “meaty” in the Strategic Plan – those notions that change the very structure of how we run a school system, such as:
- Implementing real personalized learning (building the “ecology” around providing this experience – sorting through the myriad of tools, having the right policies, supporting educators, etc.)
- Changing the role of the educator, and putting a structure behind the concept of the “educator broadly defined”
- Redefining the relationship with the public so as to embrace a culture of risk taking
- Reexamining the very structure of time, place, and student sorting in defining what is “school”
Changing the Conversation about Success and Progress
This, in and of itself, is a meaty part of the Strategic Plan, but it seemed worthy to call it out separately. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made to date on our dashboard efforts and all of the new data we’re collecting, but it will absolutely be a challenge to create a measurement and reporting system that can accomplish all of the following:
- Avoid reductionism so that information is relevant and placed in context
- Highlight what’s truly important
- Have information that is actionable at a board level as well as have a set of formative data for our educators and students
- Somehow be able to analyze innovative efforts to help shape a culture in the community around risk-taking
Fundamentally, we have to try to measure our progress by looking at the areas we most care about – of course we want academic progress, but how do we genuinely know if our students are reaching their social and emotional potential and are becoming problem-solvers, critical thinkers, innovators, collaborators, and good communicators who are empathetic citizens and leaders? Cracking this nut would be a giant step forward in public education.
Making San Carlos Livable for Our Staff
We have a long-term affordability problem in the Bay Area – it will be increasingly difficult to live in this community. I can’t see any scenario where California education funding will permit us to, over the medium to long-term, pay all of our employees wages that will grow as fast as the cost of living. This is of course not just a looming crisis for SCSD, but for all public agencies and for the economy in general.
The problem with the crisis is that it’s a slowly moving one – we won’t wake up one day and say “wow, none of our employees can afford to live in the area” – it will happen slowly over time as it will get harder and harder for all to live near where they work.
So, I challenged the next board to think creatively about how we can continue to attract and retain quality employees in such a trend. Likely such as an effort would require more than just our school district – perhaps in partnership with the city, the County, the high school district, or even community-based organizations, we can think about creating housing for public workers. For example, I’d love to see a bond measure sponsored by both the school district and city to support all of the folks who work for public agencies. Universities and community colleges have historically done this, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t be done on the K-12 level – we’d of course have to make the case to the public, but I think the benefits would be very clear.
I wanted to use my final comments last night, and my final words here, to thank so many people that have both made my experience incredible and have contributed so much to this school district. I can’t begin to do justice to all of them, but I will highlight a few:
- Dr. Baker – I’m very proud to have been on the team that hired our fabulous Superintendent, and it has been a distinct pleasure working with him and learning from him. His impact on our young people has been immeasurable.
- District Office Team – I want to thank all of the folks who work in the district office, many of whom work incredibly hard and accomplish so much yet much of it is invisible to the community. I want to give a particular shout out to Mary Jude Doerpinghaus, Robert Porter, and Tom Keating, the senior folks at the district office with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working – they all are true thought leaders and innovators.
- School Staffs –We’ve been fortunate to have great staffs at each of our sites. Our principals’ leadership has been crucial for our schools, and I want to thank all of our teachers who devote their lives to educating children and also thank our secretaries, counselors, librarians, para-educators, and custodians.
- My Board Colleagues – Thanks to my board colleagues — Adam Rak, Kathleen Farley, Carol Elliott, and Nicole Bergeron — for all of their time, effort, and true mindfulness in serving. I have enjoyed working with them all, and I have appreciated how they are all honest and selfless servants for our children and our community. I also want to thank and acknowledge board members I’ve worked with in the past, including dedicated folks like Mark Olbert, Carrie Du Bois, and Tom Quiggle. I also want to thank Matt Kowitt, who has served for so many years as president of the Governing Council of Charter Learning Center and has been such a great partner and leader.
- Other Elected Officials – Thanks to our city council members as well as our state legislators, past and present, who have represented this area well and have been big supporters of public education – keep up the fight! Also for all of the unselfish work they do on behalf of children, I wanted to thank so many of the other school board members in the County with whom I’ve worked on the San Mateo County School Boards Association – we have all learned a lot from each other!
- Parents – Of course, San Carlos is the success it is in large part due to the amazingly dedicated parents who volunteer their time and donate their money to support all of our kids – I am so especially pleased how SCEF continually grows to remain such a powerful force in allowing this district to fulfill its mission – thank you to all of the folks who have been part of this and have worked so hard over all of these years.
- Friends and Supporters – thanks to all of my friends and community members who, over the years, have voted for me, supported me, and have been confidants and sounding boards.
- My Family – Last but certainly not least, I want to thank my family for their amazing support. My kids have grown up knowing how important it is to be involved in their community, and they have been my biggest cheerleaders. Of course, the biggest thanks goes to my wonderful wife Sara, who not only had to deal with my time commitments but also was there for me in every way possible through the celebrations and the frustrations. She is my best friend and best advisor, and she would always tell me when she thought I was right and when I was wrong. She also found time to be an incredible volunteer at our schools in her own right. I look forward to spending some Thursday night date nights with her!
Thank you all again for the amazing opportunity to play this part in our incredible village.