Oct 10 2018

Endorsement Letter for Amal Smith

I have had the pleasure of sitting next to Amal Smith for the last four years as fellow school board members. Together, we have participated in countless board workshops, interview sessions, liaison meetings and more. That is to say, I’ve seen her in action. She is thorough, prepared, thoughtful and smart.

During our four years together, she has been a steadfast advocate for our students and steward of our school district. She has tirelessly given her time and talents to something we both consider our town’s greatest asset. And it has come with challenges. If you’ve followed our work, you know we are sometimes faced with tough decisions, limited choices or unpopular outcomes. If you haven’t, know that the requirements to prep for and decide on issues ranging from personnel, curriculum, discipline, finance and long term planning are
challenging. They demand a level head, perspective, wisdom and an abiding faith in our mission.

Amal Smith is the best candidate running for this office with the requisite skills and experience to do the work that needs to be done. That is why I strongly endorse her candidacy for this year’s school board election. Please join me in voting her in for another four year term.

Doug Ireland, Piedmont School Board Member

Oct 7 2018

We have lived in this beautiful city of Piedmont for twenty years. As working professionals, we don’t have hundreds of hours to attend long board meetings and read dense financial reports filled with complex financial calculus.  That’s how Dr. Titan found out about the expensive financing schemes that did not improve the schools but cost taxpayers unnecessarily high interest charges.  We’re grateful to Dr. Titan, a father and mathematician, for devoting his time and interest on the finances of our schools since 2013.  He helped save us $26 million once and he might save an additional $26 million dollars!  Piedmonters will be well served with Dr. Titan on the School Board.

Sincerely,
Wayne Leong and Suzanna Chan, Piedmont Residents

Oct 7 2018

We are pleased to offer our endorsement of Amal Smith for School Board.

Amal is a valued member of our school board who is deeply invested in our community. We appreciate her commitment to giving back to the district after benefitting from a solid K-12 education for her two sons. Amal is a champion of student wellness and we admire her passion for ensuring that our students are both happy and high achieving.

Amal has a proven track record of working well with others through her prior volunteer work in Piedmont and her endorsements by all of her fellow current school board members. Further, her experience in higher education at both the University of California and UCSF is an asset in navigating the complex relationships between the many stakeholders of our school system: students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents.

With her deep background in finance, Amal will be especially useful in what we expect to be continued turbulent years ahead with regard to budget. With CalSTRS using an unrealistic expected rate of return of 7%, Piedmont must expect further erosion of our operating budget to fund pension liabilities. Amal is the kind of financially savvy operator we will need to analyze our expected shortfalls and cooperate with others to address them.

School Board representation requires a heavy investment from both the candidate and the community. Let’s take advantage of the four years Amal and Piedmont has invested and reap more fruitful work from a capable professional who is already up to speed on our district’s issues and dynamics.

Dion and Amy Lim, Piedmont Residents

Oct 6 2018

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

 

Oct 6 2018
Support for transparency and inclusiveness of our school planning and decision-making process.

I’m writing in support of Julie Caskey’s campaign to serve on our Piedmont School Board. I hope your readers can benefit from this perspective.

My wife and I moved to Piedmont from nearby Oakland a few years ago, soon after our first baby was born. Frankly, we were ambivalent. We had heard a lot about Piedmont: some good, some bad, but always with conviction.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long after moving in for most of our concerns to disappear. Our neighbors have been amazing – welcoming, considerate, and clearly proud of the community they have built. And who can complain about a fire department that will not only respond in minutes, but is also willing to host a 3-year old birthday party?

That said, there is one question that remains for us and the other new parents we meet – will the schools be a good fit for our kids? We each have our own apprehensions about our children’s education, especially in the context of public schooling. For some, the issue is academic rigor. For others: diversity and inclusion. And of course, there’s nowhere near enough math. Or art. Or sports. Or…

You get the point.

But there’s one concern all new Piedmont parent all share: that our concerns won’t be heard. This is especially true for those of us who don’t have the benefit of familiarity with the system, the process, or the individuals managing Piedmont’s schools.

I’m voting for Julie Caskey for the Piedmont School Board because one of her biggest priorities is improving the transparency and inclusiveness of our school planning and decision-making process. No matter who we are, each of us wants to know that our issues and concerns are being heard, and to at least understand how our input fits into the process, even if we can’t always get the result we want.

Julie is one of those great neighbors that I’ve gotten to know since moving to Piedmont. She has spent her whole life advocating for those in her community, professionally as a civil rights and child advocacy lawyer, and personally as a volunteer, most recently focused on our children and schools here in Piedmont. Even more important: she has four wonderful children, including one in elementary school, so she still remembers what it’s like to be new parent and freaked out about just about everything, but especially our kids’ education. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Julie’s candidacy for the School Board.

Sincerely,

Ilan Gur, Piedmont Resident

Oct 2 2018

September 26th School Board Meeting

On September 26th, 2018, I attended the Piedmont Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting. The meeting started with the discussion of the school’s decision to hire substitute teachers to teach the online physics and Spanish classes. A representative for the teachers voiced concern with this, and argued that those jobs belong to real teachers.

I agree with his argument, although this is a very difficult situation for the school, I believe they should be doing more to make teaching at Piedmont High School more realistic.

The second topic was the Giving Campaign. One of the organizers of the campaign announced that the Giving Campaign had just begun, and was off to a great start. She also mentioned that the campaign helps teachers afford bay area living, and their donations will help the hiring situation for new teachers.

Next, Max Roitblat, ASB president, gave a rundown of everything that had been going on events at the high school since the last meeting and the safe driving and consent assembly coming up, the new online courses, progress reports, the senior picnic, and homecoming week.

After this, a Piedmont resident talked about the quality of asphalt around Piedmont recreational areas and issues concerning senior citizens. He argued that Piedmont could be doing more to improve senior recreation facilities, especially compared to some other districts near us, and  seniors should be given income based senior exemption of school taxes, given the abnormally high taxes in Piedmont.

Following this, two senior girls brought up an issue concerning school bathrooms, claiming the girls bathroom has a lot of defects and needs work.

Next, Pierce Mcdonald-Powell, a Piedmont City Planner, talked about wireless electronics in the school system. She gave an update on the wireless communication facilities, and answered questions from the Board.

Pete Palmer, the School construction manager, gave an update on the new STEAM building, the new Alan Harvey Theater, and the new field. He included a timeline and goals for the project, closures of the current Alan Harvey Theater, and Witter Field, and updated designs of the Alan Harvey Theater and STEAM building.

I decided to voice my concern about the rebuilding of Witter Field. I asked how students, especially underclassmen, will be able to manage rides to the temporary practice field at Laney College, and where the home games will be played.

I also argued that deciding to redo the field over the course of just one sport is unfair to that sport, and it would be much more fair to rebuild the field during half of two different sports.  I stated this would hurt the team because we would not have home field advantage, unlike other teams.

This experience was fairly disappointing. Although the topic we debated is still being planned, I felt that the Board could not answer most of my questions. Also, I felt that they ignored my arguments.

Similarly to the treatment of the teacher representative, they thanked me for my opinion and moved on, without addressing any of my concerns. After the meeting was over, I interviewed Megan Pillsbury about her experience. When I asked why she attended, she said she running for a seat on the School Board, and had been attending the past few meetings in order to learn more about the School Board.

by Sachiel Newbrun, Piedmont High School Senior

Oct 2 2018

 I’ve had the pleasure working side-by-side with Julie Caskey for the past few years in connection with the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee (PADC). To say that Julie brings bountiful energy and doggedness to everything she does is an understatement. As a Board Member, these traits will serve Julie well.

As key organizers of “Let’s Talk,” the community-wide, civil discourse workshops offered last February and, again, this past August, I got to see Julie in action. From initial planning meetings to content development, sponsor outreach, and communication activities, Julie demonstrated critical, strategic and collaborative thinking and effectiveness in all things. For example, Julie was able to get every single parent-led school club to donate even a very short amount of time. This remarkable feat takes equal parts tenacity and strong relations, which Julie has created in our community during all of her hours of volunteer week.

Finally, I also know that Julie will continue to work on important issues including building a more inclusive community that supports all students.

Jill Lindenbaum, Piedmont Resident

Sep 29 2018

Editor:

We strongly endorse Amal Smith for re-election to the School Board.

Amal has an admirable track record of volunteerism and leadership in our town from Beach Parent Organization (BPO), PEF, support groups and for the last four years as a member of the School Board, experience and leadership that is supplemented by her 28 year career in higher education.

Amal’s dedication to the Piedmont community and our schools is unwavering. Amal is not just committed to an education for all students but also to providing them with the social and emotional tools they need to succeed as young adults through high school and beyond.

Through my own volunteerism on parent club and other community boards I have worked with Amal and am continually impressed by her ability to relate to parents at all stages of their child(ren)’s education, to listen, to process copious information and to provide valuable insights, thought provoking questions and/or relevant next steps or solutions.

Amal is a strong leader and communicator whose candid responses, forethought and constructive reflection all help to better educate parents and meet the needs of our schools and our students.

Piedmont is lucky to have such an exceptional candidate willing to run for re-election. We hope you will join us in supporting Amal Smith for re-election to the School Board.

Charlotte and Mike Ero, Piedmont Residents

Sep 27 2018

Dear Editor:

I am writing to endorse Julie Caskey for Piedmont’s School Board for three main reasons.

  1. First, she has dedicated 30 years of her life to improving the lives and advancing the interests of women and children. This is not a new hobby taken up in her leisure–this is an area of passion.

  2. Second, she has “skin in the game” as a mother of four children, ranging in age from elementary, to middle, to high school. She is connected to and actively engaged in school and community issues.

  3. Lastly, she communicates and adheres to a set of values that I share. The most important of these is inclusiveness, which I believe is a critical gap in the way the School Board and the Piedmont School system approach their decision making and priorities.

Please join me in supporting Julie for the Piedmont School Board.

Sincerely,

Amelia Wu, Piedmont Resident

 

Sep 21 2018

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are writing to you in support of our close friend Julie Caskey, and to ask you to join us in voting for Julie for the Piedmont School Board on November 6.

We have known Julie since she moved to Piedmont seven years ago. In that time she has been a tireless volunteer in our schools, and advocate for our children. As important, she has demonstrated herself to be an strong ethical and fair-minded leader of our community, traits we need more than ever in our schools and in our town.

Our schools are often considered to be the Crown Jewels of our community, and are currently facing challenges on multiple fronts including teacher retention, fiscal planning, and a national political climate that makes it imperative that our schools teach not just academics, but also compassion and kindness. Julie is precisely the sort of leader our School Board needs.

Julie has deep connections throughout our town and school district, based on the work she has done and the conversations she has conducted. She has worked with and earned the support of parents, teachers, and administrators through her unswerving dedication to “students first.” As a mother of four children currently in all three levels of the Piedmont schools, she has served in an incredible variety of roles covering academic, financial, and diversity topics.

As a practicing public interest lawyer for two decades, Julie worked as a law guardian for children, a public defender, an immigration and civil rights attorney, and a staff attorney for the United States District Court in San Francisco. She brings the the legal background and leadership experience we need on the school board, especially in these times of teacher shortages, incidents of racism and sexism, and financial challenges. She’ll also be the only parent of younger kids on the School Board, as there are only two high school parents on the five member board.

In her professional and volunteer activities, Julie has demonstrated over and over again her commitment to service and to community. She is incredibly well qualified to serve on the school board, and will be a powerful, independent advocate for our children and our schools.

Please see her website, julie4piedmont.com for more on her background.

We could not be prouder or more excited to endorse Julie Caskey for the Piedmont School board, and hope you will join us in that support. Please join hundreds of Piedmont residents, elected officials, and community leaders, and vote for Julie Caskey for Piedmont School Board on November 6.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Shook and Cisco DeVries
Campaign Co-Chairs
Julie Caskey for Piedmont Schools