Oct 5 2016

School Report: Importance of Statewide Student Testing and Budget Needs

  On September 14, 2016, I attended the bi-weekly Board of Education meeting at the City Hall Council Chambers in hopes of both listening and discussing the progress of the Piedmont Unified School District.

The meeting started with Millennium High School’s ASB vice-president Max Miller briefing the board members about the recent and future events that had taken place in both MHS and PHS, such as the success of back to school night and “Club Day” at Piedmont High on September 23.

Before proceeding with other items on the agenda, the Board Members opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to speak out about their concerns. Many of my fellow classmates took advantage of this opportunity, like Cole Bloomfield, who encouraged the Board to consider the excessive workload given to students over the summer, despite the fact that this material is not thoroughly covered upon the return to school. While it is illegal for the government officials to speak to any issues not directly outlined in the agenda, they listened to the opinions of each student respectfully and openly, nodding heads and smiling politely.

Next, Superintendent Randall Booker briefly outlined various activities to occur in the Piedmont community, then handed over the mic to Stephanie Griffin and Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, who spoke about the results of CAASPP testing in the 2015-16 school year. Amazingly, Piedmont High School scored well above the state average, with eighty-seven percent of students meeting state standards- in fact, many of them exceeding. While the presenters were sure to tell the board members that we deserved to “toot our horn,” they also got down into the nitty-gritty.

Piedmont students scored particularly low in the listening portion of English Language Arts and the communicating reasoning section of Math. Additionally, there were still students scoring below standards. The board members wondered why this was the case, and what could be done to help these particular students. Eventually, President Andrea Swenson asked for any public comments and many of the attending students jumped at the chance to voice their opinion. Senior Sam Wen described the popular belief at our school that the CAASPP test was merely an easy graduation requirement, and that it did not bear much weight in the minds of the student body. However, he also spoke to the fact that there was recently more concern surrounding the test, when students were told by PHS administration that without high student participation in the testing, the school faced many negative consequences.

I, too, took my part in addressing this issue. At the podium, I commented my opinion that many students are so focused on personal scores from the ACT, SAT, and AP tests that they do not care much about the CAASPP, which seems to affect the school system more than it does themselves. I then contended that it is actually very important to realize that colleges not only care about these scores, but about the strength of the community we come from. If the school system could stir more conversation around this truth, then perhaps it would promote a more serious culture around the CAASPP test. On a side note, I also noted the District’s poor listening score, and the fact that I had rarely been tested on listening in any of my classes besides Spanish. If the Board of Education was concerned with raising these scores, then maybe they should consider incorporating it in more of the school’s english courses.

After the CAASPP presentation, the Board moved to the next task on the agenda- budgets. Admittedly, it was harder to concentrate on economics than it was on the state tests I had personally taken a year before, but I did pick up some important information. It seemed that many of the board members, especially Doug Ireland and Superintendent Randall Booker, were expressing concern over the lack of funding in PUSD’s facilities budget.

Booker mentioned that many upgrades were far overdue, including the replacement of a boiler from the 1960s in PHS’s 30s building, and the poor conditions of the buildings overall. The Board considered taking money out of the General Fund for these facilities, but they also felt that it was most important to propose a bond measure and re-engage the community about these urgent issues.

I personally believe that while it is necessary for Piedmont to ensure safety in its schools (ie. earthquake-proof buildings, stable roofs, etc.), cosmetic features should not taking priority in spending over teachers’ salaries or necessary school supplies that we currently lack.

Once the meeting ended and all the students gathered to collect signatures, I encountered Board Member Doug Ireland and asked to interview him about his biggest concerns and objectives for PUSD. He told me that he was most preoccupied with the budget’s shortcomings of about $800,000, and was hoping that Superintendent Randall Booker would propose a budget to solve this issue by either raising funds or, unfortunately, making cuts.

Secondly, Ireland told me that recently the Board had been facing what they perceived to be “unfair treatment” by the local newspaper. Ireland did not give me much greater detail on the topic, but it is certainly one worth investigating.

The night ended on a very cheerful note as the Board Members thanked the students for attending their meeting, and the students reciprocated the gratitude for being allowed to speak out and also learn about significant matters concerning our educations.

By Elisa Glauber, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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