Sep 20 2016

School Board Reports Achievement, Welcomes Suggestions, and Receives Praise

Student Report of  September 14 School Board Meeting  –

  Walking into the School Board meeting at City Hall on September 14, I was met with flashbacks. Recognizing the u-shaped table with chairs followed with a movie theatre array of chairs, I went back to when I went to a Planning Commission years ago. With a flashback regarding my family’s plan to renovate our home where a derogatory comment emerged, claiming that our house would become Piedmont’s own “Drive-through McDonalds”, I was worried that this meeting would be the same. However, instead of being met with blunt comments, I entered 120 Vista Avenue and was met with amusing, sarcastic, yet supportive, atmosphere. With Millennium Vice President and Junior Max Miller describing recent school events and plans and with meetings every two weeks, I realized that our School Board isn’t one that stereotypically deals with just parents, it has students who help provide for our schools futures and it invests valuable time to improve our school and our students.

  After each member introduced themselves, President of the School Board Andrea Swenson asked observers if they had any topics that they would like to bring up that weren’t on the agenda. Fellow seniors Amelia Henry and Cole Bloomfield brought up issues like 30 minutes maximum homework per night and the amount of summer homework that is given and whether it is beneficial. I brought up the issue of the gates and locks surrounding Wildwood school.

  As a lifelong Piedmont resident who crosses Witter Field to walk home from school, free periods pose an issue to myself and others who live in similar areas. With activities and appointments scheduled after school, walking down Wildwood Avenue or Magnolia Avenue can pose a threat to being on time. Knowing that student safety obviously surpasses the need to be on time, I wanted the board just to think about my topic and if something could be done about the gates. With smiles and nods of the heads, I saw and realized that our students desires and needs are met openly and with enthusiasm.

  After a recap of past events and an introduction to upcoming ones, Superintendent Randall Booker passed the microphone to Cheryl Wozniak of Curriculum and Instruction and Stephanie Griffin of Instructional Technology to discuss the recent scores of the CAASPP test. The second year used, the test yielded positive results. With Piedmont exceeding well over the average in California for ELA and Mathematics tests (87% to 49% and 87% to 37%), our city ranks as one of the top successors in both Northern California and the state. However, when one dives deeper and checks the success rates on individual sections, results aren’t so astounding. While Piedmont passed most sections with flying colors, the Listening area was of the weakest performance. With joking comments on how it isn’t teenagers best area of expertise anyhow, board members like Rick Raushenbush and Amal Smith were quick to question why this was the case and asked questions about what could be done to elevate our performance levels. These questions were quickly answered and suggestions were offered by the seniors sitting alongside me.

  Elijah Levy brought up the emphasis of studying a week beforehand, as AP testing and other tests were taking up studying time and that the CAASPP didn’t have the same weight as the ACT and the SAT, thus students weren’t concerned about the outcome. Following this, Sam Wen thought that educating students about the importance of the test and how it helps colleges learn about our high school and acknowledged our scores would be extremely beneficial. Elisa Glauber believed emphasizing the effects on the community and how if the community knows more, then the weight of the scores would be better projected and that since listening isn’t commonly used in the classroom, that incorporating it at home would yield better results in the coming years.

  Charlotte Puscasiu said that the test wasn’t being supported and students weren’t being helped by the Learning Center program. She also said that all LC students are grouped together despite different learning disabilities and that the board should talk to LC teachers and specialist to help students individually and with strategies that conform to their needs.

  While I didn’t speak, I believe that the CAASPP test was a waste of time and while it may yield better results to help students individually, the STAR test was a much better match for me and I didn’t feel like falling asleep during the review periods for the next test following the finished one. Like beforehand, all these suggestions and issues were met with nods of the head and an aura of eagerness to reform our schools to better help our students.

  Following the discussion of the CAASPP, the budget for the recent 2015-2016 school year and the future budget for the 2016-2017 school year was discussed. While most of this conversation flew over my head, the main issues that arose were the 3-4% of our budget that is set aside for the state and the low budget in deferred maintenance. As the state of California has messed up to some degree, 3-4% of Piedmont’s educational budget must be frozen and kept for state collection.

  While Board Member Doug Ireland said that $33,000 isn’t that big of an issue when one is looking at the whole picture, other members weren’t so sure. The $33,000 was brought up again when the board talked about the money used for deferred maintenance. While $190,000 may not seem like too small of a budget for maintenance issues for all of our schools, when a single roof can cost up to $70,000 and that the high school has a boiler from the 1960’s in the 30’s building, issues can arise. This section of the meeting went by relatively smoothly; the budget for the 2016-2017 school year seemed to receive a bit of worry.

  After the meeting ended and issues and agreements were approved unanimously, I went up to President of the board Andrea Swenson. As the President of the School Board, Andrea helps keep the sessions in order and make sure that all issues on the agenda are addressed. Asking her why she does what she does despite that all of her kids have graduated from Piedmont schools, Andrea simply states that she wants to improve the lives of students and make the schools a happy and safe environment, as they were for her own kids. Although she often has to bit her tongue when dealing with opposing arguments, Andrea says that she welcomes those with opinions as they often tend to create ideas that might have been overlooked. Regarding a specific meeting where outspoken opinions were common, Andrea fondly remembers how one woman thanked her for her duty and for listening to everyone, knowing that her opinion was distinctly different. Like many other members of the school board, Andrea wishes to continue making progress in education in Piedmont schools and providing a safe environment, and if this takes the next 20 years, then so be it.

    As I left the meeting, I was completely exhausted. Sitting in a chair for two hours winded me, yet I had a newfound appreciation for our school board members who do this every week. While citizens of Piedmont may not be concerned with actions of the School Board or are feeling out of the loop, there is only one thing that they need to know: they are in good hands.

by Addie Perkins, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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