Jan 10 2012

School Board Candidates Discuss Issue 6: Most Significant Issues Facing PUSD

PCA posed a series of  six questions to candidates for the Piedmont School Board in the upcoming election on February 7.   Following are their responses to Question #6.

What are the most significant issues facing PUSD over the next 2 to 5 years?


Response from School Board Candidate Andrea Swenson 

The biggest challenge facing the PUSD continues to be finding new and creative ways to improve program despite shrinking funds. We cannot use an ominous budget situation as an excuse for not advancing program improvements.  We must reconsider the manner we deliver program in a way that may save us money and improve program at the same time. We must consider how technology can help. We can re-think our current class configurations and consider some strategically selected lecture style classes that will then allow us to offer more small seminar style classes. I am open to ideas and discussions that will allow us to improve program in a cost efficient manner. There will be new and creative opportunities for policy defining discussions for the incoming School Board.

Of equal importance is the need to continue discussions about developing and retaining great teachers.  Great first steps were recently taken by the Piedmont Educational Foundation’s unanimous vote to underwrite a grant for a new Teacher Evaluation System.  This cutting edge evaluation system will strengthen teaching and learning. Another positive step came when the  PHS Parent Board  funded 11 PHS teachers to pursue National Board Certification. These are great first steps that will create a constructive ripple effect for years forward. We must persistently look for opportunities that allow us to continually strive for improvement.

Response from School Board Candidate Rick Raushenbush 

The most important issues for the District are: (a) to maintain and improve the District’s excellent educational program; and (b) develop a sustainable, long-term, budget.

The District provides its students with an outstanding education and is ranked one of best school districts in California.  To maintain and improve the student experience, the District fosters a culture of growth and “continuous improvement.”  As part of that effort, the Board formed an Evaluation Committee as part of labor negotiations last Spring.  The Evaluation Committee, which includes teachers and administrators, developed a new evaluation process that is being piloted this year and will be implemented next year.  In the new evaluation process, teachers are visiting other colleague’s classrooms to reflect on different teaching methods and reviewing student data to determine which methods are most effective for individual students.  This year, the Evaluation Committee is addressing how to help teachers hone and improve their teaching methods to achieve better results in student learning.  Teacher evaluation is necessary, but has become a contentious issue in many school districts.  Careful implementation of a thoughtful evaluation process to identify best practices and to support professional growth focused on student learning, can and will garner the support of the District’s teachers, as shown by the Evaluation Committee and high teacher participation rates in the new process.  I look forward to continuing to work on this issue over the coming years.

As discussed in response to other questions, sustaining the District’s educational program in the face of State funding cuts will continue to be a major issue until California’s economy recovers or California decides to devote more resources to educating its children.  The new Board will need to address projected deficit spending before reserves are depleted, which will require assessing when State funding will return.  In the longer run, as State funding stabilizes, the Board will need to develop a sustainable budget model where expected expenditures roughly equal expected revenues.”

Response from School Board Candidate Sarah Pearson 

Four specific goals deserve our focus in the next two to five years and beyond:

First, we must continually reassert our commitment to academic excellence and learning. In today’s world, this includes an eye to innovation and best practices.

Second, if we are going to provide the best possible educational experience for Piedmont’s children, we need to attract, retain, and enhance the skills of the highest quality teachers and staff, and ensure that employee compensation is appropriate. I am interested in closely following the new evaluation plan, which is being piloted by all Piedmont teachers this year and has been praised by the California Teachers Association as “groundbreaking.”

Third, like every public school in California, our district will face ongoing financial challenges due to reductions in state revenue. I have been deeply involved in budget discussions and exploring creative solutions so that we can maintain a quality educational program despite diminishing resources. Determining the level and permanence of the parcel tax will be critical.

Fourth, creating a climate of trust and earning the confidence of our community is vital for success. I am running for School Board now because I believe that my personal skills and professional and volunteer experience make me particularly well suited to serve our community and our children during this difficult time.

Response from School Board Candidate Jon Elliott 

The most obvious significant issue is fiscal.  With no immediate prospect that state funding will return to pre-recession levels, or even stabilize at a level we can plan around, the District must maintain adequate reserves and program flexibility to respond to unpredictable and uncontrollable swings in state revenues.  BUT the District also has not just the need but the responsibility to set a level and structure for local parcel taxes that are fair and sustainable for Piedmont residents.  See my answer to #1 above for more detail.   The District must continue to engage parents so that dedicated volunteers can continue to convince growing proportions of parents to contribute growing sums.  The community needs to have a clearer, more straightforward ongoing picture of the value and cost of excellent public education in our schools.

Second, the District must continue to reinforce and apply its recent focus on “Continuous Improvement” by seeking ongoing opportunities to improve its excellent programs.  These include adjusting the curriculum and individual teachers’ practices to incorporate new techniques and tools.  The dedicated core of teachers and staff working hard to raise the bar on innovative, effective practice deserve strong support.  I want to see further improvements to transparency and predictability of administrative processes.  There should be clear written job descriptions for all administrators, for example.  Parents need to be able to trust that concerns or issues they raise involving their children get substantive consideration, with specific plans to address them.  Most generally, we must always (not just sometimes) be willing to ask tough questions, dig out reliable data or recognize when none exist and a decision must be made based on our collective best judgment, and then seek outcomes that best fit the Piedmont community’s evolving educational values and expectations.

Both of these significant issues highlight the need for the third, which might seem more mundane but can have an enormous day-to-day impact:  the need to enhance public information and participation.  Community support grows and becomes richer when the District provides better and more usable information to the community, and solicits public input and involvement earlier, more productively and more consistently.  Enhancements include making meeting agendas and the back-up documents clearer and more widely available, with plain-language summaries of matters under consideration and critical or controversial matters differentiated from routine business.  We should continue to strengthen and expand ongoing venues for parent participation, such as school site councils, district curriculum and GATE reviews, and Board workshops on special topics.  Beside the substantive actions and recommendations that come out of these venues, they provide important opportunities for parents and taxpayers to work alongside teachers and other District staff, to develop more collaborative relationships and approaches to problem solving, and to gain a broader understanding of our respective roles in our children’s education.

Response from School Board Candidate Sunny Bostrom 

Prudent Financial Stewardship
Classes in Financial Literacy starting in first grade.
Foreign Languages starting in first grade while brain most receptive.
Utilizing computer distance learning to save money, broaden course offerings, catapult efforts of most advanced pupils into augmentation college courses such as the one at M.I.T. which has 100,000 students on line.


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