6/11/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from last week’s school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

This meeting was a meeting of recognition and celebration. From elementary spelling bee winners to teachers and administrators of the year. But two in particular were special to me.

Recognition of retiring Superintendent Doug Gephart
On a personal note, I've been a new board member twice now -- once in 1991 as a student board member and once as an appointee in 2006. Each time it was the superintendent that helped me succeed.

In 1991, Superintendent Raphael Belluomini served as a mentor and a friend to me. He helped me through difficult times including budget cuts as bad as what we face next year. But I will never forget two pieces of advice he gave me.
  1. Budget your time.
  2. Don't worry.

Superintendent Doug Gephart has also been an advisor and a friend to me. I really got to know Doug Gephart while I served on the board in 2006. I echo all of the board's remarks. He is well respected by staff and community and a man of integrity. I admire how he built up a district team that has achieved and will achieve great things for our district. When I was on the board in 2006, I pushed hard for the board to adopt district wide goals, but Doug was the catalyst that really rallied the district around these goals and made them happen. We worked together as a team.

Doug, you will certainly be missed at FUSD. Thank you for all you've done for Fremont.

Recognition of Student Board Member Eric Chen and SURF Board E
As a former student board member, I have tremendous respect for the contribution that Eric Chen and the SURF Board E made to the board and the district. For those not familiar, the Students United for Representation to the Fremont Board of Education (SURF Board E) is a board of students (2 from each high school) that come together to jointly represent all 30,000 Fremont students.

It is important to always have them there at the board meeting reminding us all why we're here -- for our students. More than that they bring a fresh perspective to issues from the people we are serving. We should never underestimate what their contribution is.

Strategic Goals Year in Review
This is the annual update from staff regarding the district's progress on the board's strategic goals adopted in 2006. There has been tremendous progress this year.

From the board agenda:

Over the course of the past two years, the Board of Trustees defined their overall organizational priorities for the Fremont Unified School District through the establishment of Strategic Goals. ...

Strategic Goals:

  • Organizational Development

  • Budget (Strategic Planning)

  • Student Achievement

  • Student Housing

  • Communications and Customer Service

  • Employee/Employer Relations and Contract Negotiations

  • Safe Schools

  • Technology

The Strategic Goals provide long-term direction for the school district and do not fluctuate from year- to-year based upon trendy ideas.

I helped put these goals in place while on the board in 2006. It is exciting to see the progress made. It is also sad to see the things that are working (Springboard staff development training to name one), but will likely be cut next year due to our state budget

While there have been huge leaps forward for the district, there are definitely improvements I want to see. I would like us to measure how we're doing. Each goal should have 2 or 3 key measures we use to show that all our work is having results we expect. Picking this measures won't be easy, but it is crucial to understanding our real progress. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.”

Sex Education Compliance
The board also address compliance issues with the district's junior high school curriculum.The Argus summarized this discussion best.

In response to findings that its 7-year-old junior high school sex education curriculum is an abstinence-only program that violates state law, the Fremont school board this week instructed the district's health and sex education advisory committee to recommend a new, comprehensive curriculum by January. The new curriculum should provide unbiased and medically accurate information about sex, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a discussion about abstinence, the board decided.

Read the article here for more details.

Technology Year in Review
The district CTO, Dr. David Hotchkiss, entitled his update "Raising the bar" in reference to the fact that the technology department has made huge strides in improving services. Two examples:
  • Network bandwidth has grown tremendously at school sites - from 7 Mbps to 50 Mbps. Projecting next year it will start at 60 Mbps and grow to 100 Mbps. Reliability is up from 95% to 99.414%. This is huge as one of the major complaints has been around slow and not working Internet. They now have real-time network monitoring.
  • Customer service has improved too. There is much better tracking of work order and service calls. The new service desk has helped solve 30% of service calls remotely without going out to the site. Only missed 15 calls out of over 5000 calls.

Especially touching were to two special technology projects:
  • Establishing a video conference link between Niles classroom 2 and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital for Luna Martell, age 6, Niles first grader in Mrs. Jackson’s class. She has Stage 4 liver cancer. Through a video phone link she and her classmates enjoyed their Valentine’s Day 2008 party. And she used it again to tell class she had a liver donor!
  • A video conference link was also established for Matthew McCullough, age 11 between Mrs. Chudler’s classroom at Avery Middle School and Matt’s grandmother’s home in Fremont. Matt has a malignant brain tumor. The computer link allows him to attend class and socializes with classmates & relatives.

Doug shared this with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. They want to talk to David to find out how they can get more directly engaged in supporting and spreading this program. This is just the beginning of a huge experience for kids.

Next year: Pressing on. This year the focus was on the Wide Area Network (WAN). Next year focus on the Local Area Networks (LAN's) at school campuses.

1/9/08 School Board Meeting

Here are a few highlights from tonight's school board meeting (agenda and background packet).

Employee Contracts
The board ratified the agreement between Local 1021 SEIU and Fremont Unified School District for 2007-2010. Additionally, a tentative agreement is now in place with the teacher union (FUDTA). Both of these contracts only set salaries for one year, which means next year the district and employee groups will have to negotiate salary again, but given the ominous state budget deficit it may be for the best.

Community Day School
Val Williams (Directory of Pupil Services) presented her teams report on finding a location in Fremont to set up a community day school. She is exploring the Fremont Teen Center.

I am very supportive of this initiative. The challenges are many but I can think of no more important group of kids to invest in. It makes me think back to what former school board member Guy Emanuelle has said, "“Never give up on a student even when a student may have given up on themselves."

Having served on the board, I can say one of the most difficult jobs a school board has is being the final review for all student expulsions. I am thankful that we had the option to send our students to Hayward Community Day School, but that is not a great solution because many of the students never make it there. It's just too far. When you look at Robertson Continuation School that serves another group of at risk students, routinely 30% of their students miss school. And to those who say these kids don't try hard enough, you try being a 14 or 15 year old and take public transportation for as much as 3 hours a day to school from north Fremont.

You have to remember that these are kids that have "given up on themselves." We need to show them we value them, they are part of our community, and that there are other ways to behave and succeed. They benefit and we, society, benefits. And frankly, $155,000 in additional money it would cost is a cheap way to provide hope and help to this group of kids.

Two-Story Modular Construction and Approve Classrooms for Warm Springs Elementary School.
The board approved adding 7 classrooms to Warm Sprints Elementary School. These are the first two story modulars in the district. They are much more expensive than single story classrooms, but given the size of our sites in the north and south of Fremont and the growth at each end of the city I think we'll be seeing more pressure for two story construction. The big question will be how to fund these.

Safe Schools
When I was on the board in 2006, we established district-wide goals including one focused specifically on safe schools.

2007-2008 Safe Schools Strategic Goal:

To ensure that our schools provide a safe environment, conducive to learning, for all students and staff, and that our schools encourage positive behaviors and choices, teach students to respect themselves and others, and provide appropriate discipline and counseling for negative and self- destructive behaviors.

This update presented the many types of programs that the district and community have organized to make schools safer and give students the skills to resolve conflicts. Students need to feel safe at school, because only students who are safe will be able to focus on learning.

I had the great fortune to talk a bit with Jan Steed the assistant Director of Pupil Services. She really helped me understand that safe schools programs are about helping student make better choices. We want to arm our students with the skills to choose words over fists, compassion over ignorance, understanding over name calling.

But how do you measure safe schools? For example, the number of suspensions and expulsions are a bad measure. Suspensions and expulsions are tools to improve school safety, like any other program. The measures need to be the behaviors we're seeing in our students. Maybe we measure the number of fights in schools or continue surveying our students. I don't know what the right measures are, but we need to find the best ones to evaluate our programs and the choices our students our making.

The next board meeting is on January 14, 2008 (next Monday) for a Patterson Ranch study session and to ratify the teachers contract. It's at 6:15 pm at City Council chambers.

Two other important unscheduled but upcoming items:
  1. The updated SchoolWorks demographic study and report is almost ready and will be is coming soon to the board.
  2. Length of residency as an overload requirement is being evaluated by legal council now.

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