Aug 30 2018

Online Classes Substitute for Teachers? More Teachers Needed, Ed Foundation Donates $2,708,421

New Piedmont School Year Brings Foundation Funding and Hiring Crisis at PHS –

On Tuesday, August 21st, the Piedmont School Board held its bi-monthly meeting at City Hall, kicking off the School Board meetings for the 2018 school year.

The agenda was split between the usual items at the beginning of every school year and reports on some of the issues that the School District is already facing.

The meeting began with Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) Board of Education President Sarah Pearson inviting the representative of the teachers’ union, Mr. Kessler, to deliver the union’s remarks on the upcoming school year. He brought up the “palpable energy” of the new school year, the new initiatives in the Middle School, and the excitement in the new teachers. He requested that the administration and School Board have more faith in the teachers’ methods and allow them more autonomy.

Heather Frank, Executive Director of the Piedmont Education Foundation, presented the Giving Campaign’s annual check to the Piedmont Unified School District. The check was a record-breaking $2,708,421 with $1.4 million dollars dedicated to keeping class sizes smaller.

Board Member Amal Smith commented, “Due to the fact that our state budget is being continually cut, without the efforts of the Piedmont Education Foundation, the District would simply be unable to run.”

The Board opened the Public Forum when attendees could address items not on the agenda.  Senior Casey Lane spoke about her grant request for the Diversity Awareness Club. Mentioning that teenagers are basically dogs and follow food,  and she requested that the Board consider the grant in order to continue fostering diversity in Piedmont. The Board in response thanked her for taking charge of such an important action in Piedmont High School.

As Casey was the only speaker not on the agenda, the Board took up its regular agenda with the confirmation of the new Piedmont High School Director of Athletics, Alphonso Powell.  Superintendent Randall Booker introduced Mr. Powell and commented on his vast experience in the Oakland and San Francisco school districts.  Booker ended by saying “That he was most impressed by Mr. Powell’s experience of teaching in a classroom, a rare trait for an Athletics Director.”  Unsurprisingly, the Board approved Alphonso Powell for Athletic Director on a 5-0 vote.

Superintendent Randall Booker provided the Board with insight on the teacher shortage in Piedmont. He listed nine major vacancies at the beginning of the school year and so far five of them have been filled. He explained the reason for the shortage was the exorbitant Bay Area rent, a lack of qualified teachers and every school district fighting over the few qualified candidates that are left. He ended by asking the Board for patience, as while the District could throw anyone into a classroom and call them a teacher, he is making sure that they do the necessary background checks on any candidate before hiring them.

Personally, I believe that the school hasn’t properly communicated any of the issues with hiring to the students and are focusing far too much on new long-term initiatives and not enough on our current students.  As a student, I would love more than anything else to have smaller class sizes and fewer overworked teachers.  Both problems have only worsened this year.

Before the meeting, I had interviewed Superintendent Randall Booker on the hiring crisis and asked how he was communicating the issues brought up with the Board to the students. He responded, “The administration are doing their best to email parents and students in the affected classes and provide updates.”

I then asked him about alternatives to having substitutes who are unable to teach the classes. In response, he commented that, “The school is looking for any possible part-time teachers until a permanent replacement can be found and in the worst-case scenario, the school is looking at online classes that the students can use through their Chromebooks.”  Mr. Booker’s thoughts reflect the administration’s continued efforts to try and appease parents and students, while finding qualified teachers.

On a more cheerful note, Randall Booker showed the Board a video of the first day of school at all six schools. While without a doubt the elementary school kids were cuter than the high schoolers, the video was heartwarming at every school.

The Board meeting ended with each Board Member adding their personal thoughts on the upcoming school year. Of note was Cory Smegal’s comment on Mr. Booker’s keynote presentation. She complimented him on bringing the teachers, faculty and administration together with his speech on working as one team for the children in the District.

After those comments, the Board adjourned at 8:30, managing to end a half hour early despite the busy schedule and hectic start to the school year.

By Sam Orta, Piedmont High School Senior

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