Mar 17 2016

Report: Student Recommendations, School Taxation, Budget, STEM

Board of Education Hears Reports on Voice Cooperative, Food Drive, SAT Testing, PUSD Budget, STEAM, Taxation for Facilities Master Plan, and  Student Recommendations –

    On March 9, 2016,  the Piedmont Board of Education held one of their bi-monthly meetings that take place on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.  The Board of Education meets to discuss various aspects of the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) to ensure the best possible learning community, where students are engaged and have the support to reach their full potential.

    This meeting began with Jenny Hosler, a representative to the Board from Piedmont High School, giving a brief update on what is going on at the High School this month.  She described Voice Cooperative, a student run club that brings in inspiring speakers for lunchtime talks, the two plays that are being performed this week, and the food drive for the Alameda County Food Bank.  Hosler announced that Piedmont High School is the Alameda County Food Bank’s second biggest donor, only after Safeway, averaging 12,000 pounds of food each year.  This year, it is now possible to donate online, so the hope is to reach out further into the community for donations.

Student recommendations

    Board President Andrea Swenson then opened the floor for public comments.  Four groups of high schoolers shared their perspectives on current matters that are being discussed.  Ashley Gerrity and Rachel Fong addressed SAT subject testing, saying they wished teachers would suggest that underclassmen take the corresponding SAT subject test to their AP and Honors classes while the material is still fresh in their minds.  Meredith Aebi brought up the heating system that is possibly broken in the 10s building of the High School and proposed a solution.  Maggie White explained how she believes building a fence around the school would have a negative impact on the learning environment; and finally Lizzie Bjork and I spoke of our positive experiences with small class sizes.


    Assistant Superintendent Song Chin-Bendib then gave the 2015-16 Second Interim Report.  She spoke of long term budget changes and about how the PUSD budget is in its 3rd year of funding under the Local Control Funding Formula.  She explained the burden of the CalSTRS (California State Teachers Retirement System) payment, which now due to the “phantom” pension expenditure, causes the District to have to record a reserve of money of $1,692,093 as an expense.  She also stated that there is still over half a million dollars set to be used for the 2017-18 school year.  After this budget summary, Board member Amal Smith mover to approve the budget for the 2015-16 school year and for two fiscal years, seconded by Board member Doug Ireland, which was approved by the Board.

Taxation for Facilities Master Plan

    Superintendent Randall Booker spoke next of the Facilities Master Plan, which will be discussed in greater depth at the next meeting.  He gave an overview of some of the major themes that are emerging from meetings with staff and students as the most important goals for this Facilities Master Plan.  The first goal he spoke of was improving the physical learning environment, which includes updating the antiquated energy system as well as making changes to transition to a 21st century learning environment that preps students for future college and career readiness.  The key for this change is to have spaces that are ready for maximum flexibility, like a science room that can be used for chemistry as well as engineering or outdoor space that is ready for experiential learning.  He also spoke of the interest in improving the athletic facilities and changes to mitigate parking.  He announced that the goal to have completed by the April 27th meeting is to partner with the community to create a survey to find out what the appetite is for these changes and for taxation, so that at that meeting there can be discussion about what changes the community really will want to implement and what the priorities are.  President Swenson then emphasized that these changes will not happen without community support and urged the community to email, call, attend meetings, share opinions, and show support in any way possible.

Elementary School Program Design – STEAM

    The Educational Service Report followed, given by the three elementary school principals, Michael Corritone, Anne Dolid, and Carol Cramer.  They spoke of the Instructional Program Design that they have been working on for the elementary schools and where they are in the process.  They have been conversing with a consultant for over a year and are developing in depth prototypes.  Some of the main aspects that they are including in the prototypes are STEAM rotations, allowing every student to be taught art and computer science by a specialist in grades 2-5.  The idea of these STEAM rotations is to create a system where art and computer science are integrated into the curriculum, and these STEAM rotations would be taught by certified specialists.  The principals also explained other opportunities that have grown from the prototypes in the works, like a library commons system and a full kindergarten day.

President Swesen then opened the floor to public comments again, and Hilary Davis, the president of Paints, an organization that strives to promote art in the schools stepped up to the podium.  She said that she was shocked to hear that with these prototypes, all six art specialists had been let go with the plan to hire one certified specialist and that the time for art in schools had been cut in half.  Superintendent Booker then spoke, wanting to assure everybody that nobody had been let go yet, and there are contracts that go until the end of the year.  Auban Willats then stood to state her concern as a parent for what seems like a drastic reduction in art and music education in these prototypes.  Elementary school art teacher, Kammy Cobb then stood to share her expert opinion that cutting art class to 40 minutes does not allow enough time to accomplish everything that goes into an art class, like a demo and clean up.  Finally, John Chainey, a Wildwood parent, stood to state his support for more art, music, writing, and poetry in the schools, and brought up the idea of bringing the resource of the talent of the community into the schools.

After the meeting, Suzie Skugstad, shared her cause for attending in an interview.  She is one of the Wildwood art teachers who is being let go, since she is not officially certified.  She believes that these new prototypes will “decimate the art program by cutting the amount of time the kids will get art to less than half and maybe even one third.”  She believes that the prototypes are also cutting out “art for art’s sake,” by making much of the art tied into other subjects and assessed and critiqued.  I agree with her that while integrating art into the curriculum can enrich the materials of the other subjects, it is also extremely important to have art alone, solely for the sake of creating art.  Her next step is to attend the March 17 meeting and find out if the prototypes are available to parents online.

Allie Frankel, Piedmont High School senior

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Leave a Comment