Sep 30 2016

School Board Report: Budget, New Millennium Teachers, Homework Cap, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress

PUSD is #1 in Northern California and #3 in the state –

   The Piedmont School Board met on September 14th, 2016 to discuss the district’s success with the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test, approve the 2015-2016 unaudited budget actuals, and discuss possible budget changes for the coming school year. The School Board is in charge of employing the District Superintendent (R. Booker), adopting and changing curriculum and budget, and overseeing school facilities.

    The meeting started with a statement by one of the student representatives, Max Miller. He is the new Vice President of Millennium and he alternates with the Vice President of Piedmont High School in order to inform the School Board of what is going on at the high schools. He reported that there were new teachers at Millennium, including PHS teachers Katie Terhar and Kim Taylor. There are two student body Presidents at Millennium this year, Cerina Smit and Sarah Baldwin. The high school has adopted a new advisory period in the place of tutorial, in which students, split by grade, bond with their classmates and discuss academics with each other and their advisor. The schools-wide musical this year is “Legally Blonde.” Miller reported that club day will be on September 23rd and that the Fall Fest 5k will be the next day.

    During the public questions segment, I asked if the School Board has been considering or would consider a cap on hours of homework per night or per week. At Monte Vista High School, a similar high school in Danville, teachers are not allowed to give students more than 30 minutes of homework a night or no more than two hours per week (excepting AP and Honors courses) to cut down on student stress. The Board replied with a suggestion that I bring the issue up at the next Psych Council meeting or at the new PHS Challenge Success club, which was specifically designed to take student input on reducing stress. They also explained that a similar cut on homework might be implemented at the Piedmont Middle School, which is generally used as a pilot for changes that are requested at the high school.

    PHS Senior Cole Bloomfield brought up the issue of students losing too much summer because they are “too focused on summer homework.” Andrea Swenson, President, thanked him for his input. Addie Perkins, PHS senior, asked about keeping the gates at Wildwood open later so that she would not have to walk around them to get home after school. Swenson thanked her for her input.

   After the public section, Superintendent R. Booker made announcements about the following events and meetings. There will be LCAP advisory board meetings once a month from 3:45-5:15 p.m. in the PHS Student Center. There will be Budget Advisory Committee meetings once a month in the District Office Board Room from 3:30-5:00 p.m. There will be Site Facilities Tours at Piedmont High School throughout September and October, the next one is October 3rd. The next Speaker Series event will also be October 3rd.

   Tech and Instructions Director S. Griffin presented a PowerPoint outlining the district results for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test (CAASPP). The test replaced the STAR test and is designed for the new Common Core curriculum. There were two parts to the test: adaptive multiple choice and performance tasks. Each student placed on one of the four levels: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met, and standard not met. In the state of California, 49% of students passed– meaning they met or exceeded the standard– the English portion (made up of reading, writing, listening, and research skills) and 37% passed the math portion (made up of concepts, data analysis, and communicating reasoning.) The PUSD had 87% of students pass for both sections. Based on these results, PUSD is #1 in Northern California and #3 in the state. PUSD also did 3% better than it did in 2015. The reason for this increase is because the 2015 LCAP goals to focus on Common Core, teacher qualification, and English Learners support were met through professional development. The LCAP goals for 2016 will be informed by the results of the CAASPP.

   Though PUSD did very well overall, there was still a large discrepancy between the average score and the lower scores of African American students, English language learners, and Special Education students. Board Member R. Raushenbush asked if there were processes in place to help the kids that scored low on the CAASPP, and the answer was yes, that teachers have access to a student’s individual scores and are aware of the kids that need more help in one or both areas so that they can assist in giving that child’s education more due attention.

   PUSD also scored low on the subsections of listening and communicating reasoning. R. Raushenbush also asked why listening was hard for kids, and S. Griffin’s response was that it was the first year ever that a standardized test evaluated listening skills so the kids have had less practice with those kinds of questions. She also asked what a sample question looked like so that the teachers could better prepare their students.

   President A. Swenson opened the question to the public as there were a few PHS seniors that had taken the test in the room. Elijah Levy volunteered and said that the audio questions were short samples that you could pause and rewind if necessary. He also suggested that the district should reschedule classes around the CAASPP because juniors had to miss school to complete it. It was “hard to prioritize” scores that didn’t affect GPA or grades over missing class that did. PHS senior Sam Nguyen also weighed in on the topic, stating that in the future the district should emphasize that CAASPP scores are important because they affect how colleges see our school.

PHS Senior Charlotte Puscasiu noted that there might have been a drop in scores for LC kids, or kids that needed extra help due to learning disabilities, due to the fact that the LC kids, herself included, feel like they’re all “thrown in the same basket.” She stated that if help were more individualized, they would probably score better. The public session was closed and the CAASPP discussion was closed with A. Smith stating that the CAASPP is but a measure of student’s ability and not the be-all-end-all of it.

    I agree that the reason why students aren’t doing as well on listening is because we haven’t had the practice, but I want to give my opinion on why they aren’t doing as well on communicating reasoning, too. I think teachers are more testing students on whether or not they can memorize and solve equations and aren’t focusing on teaching the “why” part. I’m a senior and I’ve seen that in PHS math classes, the tests rarely ask for the reason why an equation works or why the answer is the answer. I only really started practicing this skill in AP Calculus because the AP test specifically asks for reasoning. I know that most students don’t go on to Calculus because it’s an advanced class, so if the School Board wants to see students doing better in that category, there has to be a push to teach and not only the what, but the why in math.

   Board Member S. Chin-Bendib brought up the next issue, which was approving the 2015-2016 budget’s unaudited actuals. The budget was called the General Fund, which is supported by local property taxes, state and federal funds as well as donations from the Piedmont Education Foundation. What was new this year was that the district had to shoulder 3% of pensions for teachers because of a new state law that requires that they report this pension money as expenditures but the state money never goes into the account, which affects reserves. Board Member D. Ireland said that this was but a “drop in the bucket” compared to the two million more the district will have to spend on pensions in 2020.

   S. Chin-Bendib went on to say that the state revenues increased by 136K due to lottery receipts and the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Total expenditures were 39 million. The Adult Ed program generated $120,000. The cafeteria fund had an ending balance of $200,000. Deferred Maintenance had an ending balance of $110,000.

   The Building Fund was completely spent, and R. Raushenbush asked if they should consider adding more to the budget. R. Booker was for it, saying that the facilities were so old that in one of the buildings there was a boiler from the 60’s.

   S. Chin-Bendib recommended approving the actuals and authorizing budget transfers. A. Swenson approved both the unaudited report and the 2016-2017 interim budget, but not before there was more discussion on the pensions. R. Booker said that the Board “can’t look to the state” for help with generating the $2 million, and that the Board has to bring in new revenues. He also noted that there wasn’t anybody else lobbying for change. Swenson concurred, saying that she and the Vice President, S. Pearson, “got nowhere” with the state representatives and that they would both try to “increase dialogue.”

   Booker reported that every teacher holds credentials. He spent 28 hours on evaluation and made sure each was certified. So concluded the September 14th PUSD School Board meeting.

   I asked Joaquin Langarica why he attended the School Board meeting. He said that he was there with his son, a Boy Scout, because Boy Scouts must attend a government meeting “to pass a requirement for the citizenship badge.” Scouts are “supposed to see how government works” if they want to be considered citizens. Good on ‘em.

Amelia Henry, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.


One Response to “School Board Report: Budget, New Millennium Teachers, Homework Cap, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress”

  1. It would be interesting to learn PUSD’s standardized test scores vs other States or top-performing Districts by grade level nationally, and internationally, on similar tests aligned to Common Core standards. It’s clear that many Piedmont students aspire to contribute to society at high levels and, therefore, are competing for college and other opportunities with the top students both nationally and internationally. Thus, how high our District’s overall ranking is within NoCal, or even within CA, seems somewhat myopic.

    Certainly, it’s beneficial to celebrate our accomplishments, but let’s also keep our sights set on our loftier goal (understanding, as Amal rightly indicated, that standardized test scores are but one small symbol of a student’s preparation and capability).

    Thank you to Andrea and Sarah for advocating on behalf of all of our students, teachers, and voting constituents with State lawmakers. If Mr. Thurmond, Ms Hancock, and Mr. Brown are turning a deaf ear, we voters may need to back you up with some advocacy of our own.

    Thank you, again!

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