Oct 10 2017

Opinions: School Board – Student Scores, New Buildings, Energy Conservation, Field Repairs, Praise for Adults

   On Wednesday, September 27th, I attended the school board meeting. It is a five member board of education that oversees Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD). The members are elected and can serve a maximum of two four-year terms. The board meets every other week.

    Following the meeting, I interviewed Cory Smegal, one of the five board members. She goes to every meeting. The board members are not paid so it is obvious how much Smegal cares about the district. Smegal did not have a particular issue she wanted addressed at the September 27th meeting, but she was interested in all the work on the facilities program. I was only allowed to attend the meeting for the first two hours, so Smegal filled me in on what happened afterward. She said, “we talked about the delivery method for the facilities program and approved a lease – leaseback arrangement so a general contractor can be brought on in the next few months to help with the program.”

   Smegal explained the facilities program is making sure all the PUSD facilities are functioning well and accessible. She gave the example of how the board “approved engineering studies so we can have plans created which will fix the drainage at the field, plus fix accessibility issues.” Piedmont is so fortunate to have such nice facilities, but it is imperative that we maintain these well.

   The main topics at the September 27th meeting were fundraising updates from the Piedmont Educational Foundation (PEF), California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) scores, and designs for the new Alan Harvey Theater and STEAM building.

   The first presenter was Heather Frank, the executive director of the PEF. She came to present the annual big check. The big check is the total of all the fundraising that the PEF has done over an entire year. It is all of their fundraising combined. This includes the Giving Campaign, Spring Fling, March Mingle, and many more fundraisers. This year the big check was for $2.4 million. This is 8% of the school’s total budget.

    The next presenter was Stephanie Griffin, Piedmont’s technology coordinator. She came to present the results for the 2017 CAASPP testing. In 2016, PUSD was #3 in ELA and #1 in math of all K-12 school districts in the state. In 2017, Piedmont was #2 in ELA and #2 in math. Griffin also went over the new accountability system that ranks schools more holistically. For example in addition to CAASPP scores they also rate schools’ climates. Some of the measures that indicate this are dropout and suspension rates. It will be interesting to see how Piedmont will rank with these new measures.

    The main presenter of the evening was Jeff Evans, the head architect of the new theater and STEAM building. He presented the designs he and his team have made so far. One big discussion about the new buildings was the energy efficiency. There will be lots of the solar panels on the new buildings. The architects have thought of creative ways to incorporate these in the designs. For example, in addition to having solar panels on the roof, there will be some solar panels on the windows and sun shades. They plan to have these buildings be around for the next fifty years so it is important that they be “future proof.” There is expected to have a rise in temperatures over the next fifty years so the architectures are working hard to have good cooling systems.

   The new buildings will include a more energy efficient alternative to air conditioning (metal pipes that carry liquid has air blow across them to cool the classrooms). They are also making sure there is room to add an AC unit if it is necessary later. Another way to keep the rooms cool is by opening them at night. They want to have at least one or two windows in each classroom that have motorized opening and closing so that cooling the rooms at night will be easy.

    I was really interested in the discussions about the new STEAM buildings. Everyone in the room seemed excited about this building. The engineering lab and art classrooms will open up to patios. Because of the new building, the school will be able to offer new classes such as engineering, digital art, digital media, and more computer classes.

   I think it is great that the school is changing the classes they offer to be more relevant with the 21st century. The new classes are going to let students be creative with medias that may apply to their future jobs. I wish I would be at Piedmont for the new STEAM building because it would give my fellow classmates and me a chance to explore subjects that could be our potential major in college.

    My other peers that came to the meeting and I all asked questions about the new building. My question was, “Has the cost of new teachers for the new classes to be offered been factored into the budget yet?” Mr. Booker answered my question. He explained that even though we are offering more classes, does not necessarily mean we need more teachers. Although my peers and I took a good amount of time asking our questions, I think the board was excited to see students curious about the new buildings.

    Not only did I go to the meeting because of Civics, but I was also there as the student representative. Because I am the ASB Vice President, I go to every other school board meeting and sit with the school board with a fancy plaque placed in front of me on the diaz and everything. In addition to asking questions about the new buildings at meeting, I also gave an update on what is happening at PHS and MHS.

Here are the updates I shared about PHS:

  • The quarter is going to be over soon (10/13), some midterms are coming up.

  • We started having birthdays and home games on the school announcements to encourage school spirit.

  • We had home football games the past three Fridays and this upcoming Friday (9/29) is the team’s bye week.

  • Clubs are starting to hold their first events (Voco had their first speaker today, Stay Woke met last week and the first Caring for Cambodia is meeting next week.)

  • Last Tuesday (9/19), the Giving Campaign tried to have the school have a purple spirit day for the launch, but no one really dressed up except ASB.

  • ASB is very busy planning Homecoming.

  • TPH (The Piedmont Highlander) handed out their first newspapers of the year last tuesday (9/19).

Here are the updates I shared about MHS:

  • Had there second advisory

  • Started a fundraiser for Kaiser

    Although the school board meetings are often long, it is always interesting to see what the parents in Piedmont are working on. I think all the adults at the meetings love having students at the meeting as a reminder of why they do all the work they do for the schools. As a student, it is great to go because we can never get enough reminders of how much effort the adults in our community put into giving us the best education possible.

By Anna Goldberg, Piedmont High School Senior


    On September 27th, I attended the Piedmont School Board meeting at the City Council Chambers.  This board typically meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month.  In the meeting that I attended, there were announcements and then reports concerning CAASPP results and developments in the new Alan Harvey Theater and STEAM building.  Starting a few minutes after 7 PM, PEF [Piedmont Education Foundation] presented the board with a big check from fundraisers throughout the year.  Following that announcement, the board went around sharing what they had done and events they had attended in the time since their last meeting.  Then the first topic was brought up.

    Ms. Stephanie Griffin was introduced to present the CAASPP testing results.  She mentioned that while our scores have decreased a bit, so did the best district’s.  Piedmont Unified School District is the best K-12 district in Northern California.

  Ms. Griffin continued to explain the shift from using the academic performance index, a single number, to using a new system that judges schools on multiple performance indicators.  In her presentation, she had many comparisons and charts about where our school district lies relative to other districts as well as how sub-groups in Piedmont High School perform differently.  At the end of Ms. Griffin’s presentation, the board had some clarification questions, such as whether everyone is being held to the same standards no matter what sub-group it is, which Ms. Griffin responded yes to.  Ms. Griffin stated that the overall take-away is that even top-ranked schools can continue to improve.

    The next topic had to do with a long term project – the new Alan Harvey Theater and STEAM building.  The architect that the district has hired presented to the board the current plan for the new buildings.  His presentation included multiple angles of the buildings, which he talked about in more detail.  Most of what he discussed concerned how he plans on achieving zero net energy buildings, since it was a guiding principle.  As a current high school student, it was amazing to see these models of what my current school may look like in a few years.  It will be completely foreign to me, yet I wish we had some of those new spaces now.  I look forward to seeing the new buildings but am also curious as to how they will look with the older buildings remaining relatively the same.  I had a lot of questions concerning the whole plan in general as well as details in the designs, and my two friends did too.  So when the board asked for comments and questions from the audience, my two fellow classmates and I asked both the board and the architect some questions, which mostly concerned how would the construction of the buildings and having the new buildings affect the school system and classes.  The project seems to be progressing very well.

    After the meeting, I got to ask Heather, the Executive Director of PEF, about her thoughts.  She was primarily there to present the check from PEF, but was also concerned about the district’s budget, because she wants to “make sure to learn all [she] can about the district’s budget and spending so [she] can help raise the money the schools need to continue providing excellent education.”

    In addition to her work there as part of PEF, she found that the CAASPP results showed that Piedmont students are doing well and are motivated.  She also said that she learned more about the plans for the new buildings.  Overall, Heather said that “This meeting was very positive. [She is] delighted that PEF was able to help fund some of the great work being done by the School Board, Superintendent Booker, the administration and the teachers.”

    The general meeting was more informative rather than a discussion, since it was filled with presentations and clarifications.  Both topics brought up in the meeting showed the growth in Piedmont schools, especially the high school.  Testing results reflected well on the district, and the new buildings are coming together.  The future for Piedmont schools is looking positive with the constant growth and the help of the School Board.

by Meryl Shi, Piedmont High School Senior

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

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