Oct 6 2018

OPINION: Substitute Teachers, Online Courses, Fundraising, Pickleball, Taxes, Construction Projects

On Wednesday, September 26th I attended a School Board Meeting at City Hall. At the front of the room sat the Board Members, Ms. Pearson, Ms. Smith, Mr. Ireland, Ms. Smegal and Ms. Swenson. Ms, Pearson sat in the middle as the president. Beside the Board Members, were Mr. Booker, the Superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District, and Max Roblait, a student representative.

School Board meetings are to inform the District leaders, as well as the public, about what is going on in the School District and allow the public to express their concerns, show their support for a certain policy or advertise upcoming events.

After reciting the pledge of allegiance, Mr. Kesler, representing the teachers’ union, addressed grievances about the new online Ingenuity courses. Specifically, teachers were denied the responsibility of looking over the online classes. The administration, instead, hired substitutes. Mr. Kesler explained that because substitutes are not as qualified as teachers, students will get a poorer experience. Though cheaper in the short term, it is not in the best interest of the school. This matter has already been decided on, but Mr. Kesler was asking the Board to reconsider their previous decision. I agree with Mr. Kesler and the teachers’ union.

Part of the reason there are online courses is because Ms. Hutin-Lee left the school, leaving many of her fellow teachers upset and angry. This issue furthers teacher discontent, and frankly it is not worth the trouble. The administration should stop trying to cut corners with unqualified substitute teachers, and just do the online courses right by hiring regular teachers.

A representative of the Giving Campaign announced their fantastic launch. On the first day, the campaign raised a record $200,000. This money will go to help school staff, increasing their salary. Sending out gifts encourages good teachers to come to Piedmont and stay in Piedmont.

If I could have talked to the representative, I would have told her my opinion of online donations. Because donating money online is less personal, many people tend to donate less or even skip donating entirely. “Back to school” donations have been at an all time low since the online system was established. Friendly human connection at fundraisers and events will encourage people to donate more.

Max Roitblat, the president of ASB at Piedmont High School, informed the meeting that Ingenuity Online courses had launched, as stated previously by Mr. Kesler. Students have given the courses mixed reviews. While some students enjoyed going at their own pace, others felt that they were falling behind schedule. Students in Spanish courses also noticed that they scored more poorly on their online Spanish quizzes.

Max reported that the Senior Picnic went smoothly.

Then, Max addressed upcoming PHS events. These include the Safe Driving and Consent assemblies on October 25th and 26th. Accompanying these assemblies is a Parent Preview Night for parents to get involved.

On Friday the 28th, was the Homecoming Football game and on Saturday the Homecoming dance, with this year breaking a record for ticket sales. Mr. O’Regan was chosen as the Court Grand? Marshal this year. There will be an ASB Halloween event.

Sitting in the audience, it was exciting to get sneak peaks on upcoming ASB events.

The meeting opened the floor to any audience members who had something to say.

First was a man named Mr. Rick Schiller, a long-time resident of Piedmont. He brought up two seemingly-unrelated topics: pickleball and taxes. He was able to connect the two, as both relate to senior citizens in Piedmont. Fixing the tennis courts would really help the elderly who play pickleball there.

Schiller noted tax exemptions, similar to those in many other cities, would help relieve elderly financial stress. Giving tax exemptions would not have to cost the School District too much, if it was based on income.

PHS students Charlotte Diggatno and Mikaela Vawter addressed their grievances regarding the girls’ bathrooms. Bathroom stalls are not locking, causing people to get walked in on. The bad lighting in the 30’s building bathrooms are hazardous and have been broken for years. Becoming a major issue, the poor quality of the girls’ bathrooms needs to be changed. All Board members showed their support for the two girls, and promised to solve the problem.

A woman came forward to present new changes in Piedmont’s wifi configurations. New connections are being formed for better internet connection in Piedmont. The changes have already begun, but the lady wanted more  people to be informed. She came to the School Board meeting: to reach out to the schools, which are in the heart of Piedmont. Though her information didn’t directly pertain to the schools, she was able to get her message across to many.

The main event of the meeting came at the very end: the plans for the H1 PHS construction project. Costing millions of dollars, construction on the new STEAM building will begin in July next year, 2019. Plans for the new-three story building containing 20 classrooms, were shown by projection onto a drop-down screen. Mr. Palmer talked about the project in general, eliminating confusing details so all present could understand. Besides the new building there will also be a brand new theater and renovated field.

Because Witter Field will be under construction next May, the senior and 8th grade graduation will be held at the Paramount Theater. This is a hot spot for graduations, used by Bishop O’Dowd High School and many colleges. The theater contains more than enough room with 2800 seats. From the theater, buses will leave for Grad Night.

After the presentation of the complex blueprints, Ms. Pearson, the Board President, asked if any audience members wished to speak about the project.

Having a question prepared, I volunteered to go first. A few years ago, when the Alan Harvey Theater was renovated with new theater cushions, I took home some theater seats they were going to dispose of. They are currently reupholstered in my basement private theater. Slyly looking for an opportunity to get more free stuff, I asked the Board what will become of all the current theater seats, stage props, lights, desks, science supplies and more.

At first I was nervous talking at the podium, however, because I knew Mr. Booker and Max, it wasn’t so bad. Mr. Palmer, eager to answer my question, returned to the podium and explained that all the supplies will be salvaged, saved or sold. (I couldn’t take any of it.) Mr. Palmer’s answer satisfied my curiosity about where the stuff would be going. More PHS students asked questions about backstage crew at the new theater, new teachers and sports practices.

The meeting ended with the board members discussing their last two weeks. Many of them went to the Beach Pancake Breakfast that I volunteered at the weekend before.

At the very end, as people were packing up, I went up to the Board Members and showed them some of the “courtroom” sketches I made during the meeting. To keep myself focused, I usually doodle people and things around me. They liked seeing my drawings and joked that I should sit in every other week and make official sketches of their meeting. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and friendly the Board Members were, despite their professionalism during the meeting.

On my way out of City Hall, I ran into PHS Principal, Mr. Littlefield. I asked him why he came to the meeting. “Whenever they talk about the high school, I’m usually there,” he told me as he got into his car. “This time I was here because of the new building designs.” I asked him what he thought about the meeting. “Typical,” was his answer. I thanked him and waved goodbye.

By Natalie Jeng, Piedmont High School Senior


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