The Magnolia Message: June 7, 2016 Letter from the Superintendent

Dear Families,

I want to thank all members of the Piedmont educational community for the remarkable collaboration during this school year, my first as Superintendent.  This has been a year of sweeping curricular and other changes across the District, and this year-end edition of the Spotlight provides an overview of our initiatives this year.

Some of these initiatives may be well-known to you, as they have been reported and discussed throughout the year.  Other initiatives are more administrative in nature (such as improving our student data systems) and have been conducted largely out of public view.  Nonetheless, all of these initiatives contribute, either directly or indirectly, to the educational experience of our students.

The continual improvement of our programs is made possible by the dedication and innovation of our educators and staff, our strong partnerships with school support groups, and the support of families and the Piedmont community.  Thank you!

I welcome your questions and comments at any time, so please don’t hesitate to contact me at rbooker@piedmont.k12.ca.us

In the terminology of education reformer Dr. Denise Pope, we hope all students will have abundant “PDF” — play time, down time, and family time — in the coming months.  Have a wonderful summer!

Sincerely,

Randall Booker

Superintendent of the Piedmont Unified School District

 

2015-16 Year-End Report:  Advancing District Goals

For several years, the District has been in a state of transition.  We welcomed new principals at five of our six schools, and new administrators to the District staff.  We adopted new curriculum and new instructional technologies at all levels.  We changed calendars and bell schedules, and adapted to changes in State funding of education.  Despite these changes, the District remains focused on and dedicated to its essential goals — to provide an extraordinary 21st Century Education and enhance learning opportunities for all students.  Achieving these goals requires work on several fronts, including:

Instructional Excellence

  • Continued focus on developing and delivering relevant curriculum with innovative instructional strategies.
  • Continued opportunities for professional development that emphasizes “best practice” instructional strategies and methodologies.

Social/Emotional Curriculum

  • Commitment to the social and emotional health and development of students.
  • Expansion of programs to promote digital literacy and digital citizenship in the contemporary, rapidly-changing technology and media environment.

Stable Budget

  • Continued diligence in fiscal planning and management.

Flexible and Adaptive Facilities/Infrastructure

  • Design of flexible, adaptable technology, facilities and other infrastructure to support learning and instruction.

Communication and Engagement

  • Routine, two-way communication about District initiatives with students and families.
  • Development of the Local Control Accountability Plan Advisory Committee, to help set goals and priorities for the District.
  • Collaboration with the Piedmont Education Foundation and parent support groups to develop funding priorities across the District.

Our progress in each of these areas is discussed below.

Instructional Excellence

Curriculum and Instruction

With strong leadership by Dr. Cheryl Wozniak, Stephanie Griffin, Julie Valdez, Michael Brady and the site principals, the District made great progress toward our goal to develop and deliver relevant curriculum with innovative instructional strategies.  Our work this year included the following:

  • Implementation of Common Core Math at the middle and high schools, including new integrated courses and new compression courses.  This work is iterative and will continue to be refined next year.
  • Piloting and implementation of new curriculum materials and instructional strategies in mathematics, including unanimous teacher support for adoption of new text books.
  • Development of guidelines and Board Policy for identifying students for math compression courses.
  • Development of a new GATE Identification Process.
  • Preparing for implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
  • Development — and approval by the University of California — of new courses in Math and Computer Science, including AP Computer Science Principles.
  • Development of a new career technical education pathway in Computer Science.
  • Investigation of additional career technical education pathways to expand opportunities for students.
  • Development of materials and instructional strategies for differentiated learning in Common Core 6 Math with the assistance of a Differentiation Specialist.
  • Relocation of pre-school programs from Linda Beach to Havens, to improve program delivery and reduce costs.
  • Redesign of the elementary school day to better support new curriculum and allow for more integrated learning.
  • Development and implementation of comprehensive programs for professional development of our educators, teacher evaluation, and teacher mentoring.
  • Implementation of professional development for World Language instruction in conjunction with the Berkeley World Language Program.
  • Development — and UC approval — of Honors classes in Spanish, Chinese, and French.
  • Improved coordination and alignment among World Language programs at the middle and high school level through dedicated collaboration time.

Technology  

This year, the District continued to make great strides to design flexible, adaptable technology to support learning and instruction.  Our tech team has done remarkable behind-the-scenes work to ensure smooth operation of the 1:1 program in general, with over 3000 Chromebooks in use District-wide, and during CAASPP testing in particular.  This includes a carefully planned process for testing, distributing, servicing, and managing these devices.  With leadership from Stephanie Griffin and the Site Technology Coordinators, other accomplishments include:

  • All students in grades 4-12 now have Chromebooks and participate in the 1:1 Connected Learning Program.  Students in the primary grades now have access to Chromebooks in their classrooms.
  • Creation of a website for parents with comprehensive information about the 1:1 Connected Learning Program and available resources, including the District’s Help Desk, to better support students and families.  connectedlearning.piedmont.k12.ca.us
  • Revision of computer art and graphics course at PMS to improve grade 6-12 course progression and support an articulated computer science educational pathway.
  • Addition of a “Maker” elective for 7th and 8th graders.
  • Use of new software services for differentiated learning and instruction, including Peardeck, Newsela, Membean, and Amplify.
  • Use of Google Classroom, TeacherDashboard and other programs to enhance learning.   These tools have changed the ways students research, collaborate, produce, and publish work, and help limit distractions online.
  • Increased use of online textbooks — including Math, Civics, and Science — for ease of access and to reduce the weight of student backpacks.
  • Use of assistive technology tools (including “text to speech” and predictive writing) that can aid all students, and are particularly helpful for English Language learners and students who have dyslexia or dysgraphia.
  • Use of different “filtering profiles” for students at different education levels, to make web content filtering more age-appropriate and educationally-appropriate.
  • Periodic publication of “tech tips” for students and for staff.
  • Development of the 2016-2019 PUSD Technology Plan to support and guide instructional technology initiatives and hardware/software priorities.
  • Partnership with Lawrence Hall of Science to participate in field trials for new instructional technologies.
  • Increased bandwidth and Help Desk services, enhanced networks, servers and firewalls, and improved cloud printing for greater ease of use by students.
  • Use of new software to manage student data and facilitate easy access to this data for State reporting and other purposes.

Social/Emotional Health Curriculum

Social/Emotional Health  

This year, furthering our commitment to the social/emotional health and development of students and reducing student stress, we accomplished the following:

  • Modification of the District’s instructional calendar so that the first semester ends before Winter break.
  • Development of a “conflict calendar” at Piedmont High School so no student has too many tests or projects due on the same day.
  • Revision of the PMS bell schedule to better serve the needs of adolescents by allowing students to sleep late at least one day each week.

Other significant social/emotional health initiatives include:

  • Examination of the District’s K-12 Social/Emotional Health Curriculum to strengthen connections between the elementary schools’ Second Step curriculum with middle and high school programs.
  • Examination of homework load at PMS, with all teachers reviewing scientific data on homework, reflecting on their practice, and making changes to set appropriate and consistent expectations for homework.  PMS teachers unanimously agreed to set limits of no more than 15-20 minutes of homework per night per class.   PHS is also starting to examine homework load.
  • Implementation of new initiatives at PMS to build and strengthen relationships between students and staff.  These include an increase in the number and variety of clubs offered at lunch, and an increase in the number of activities teachers participate in.  For example, this year, nearly 40 teachers participated in the annual Airbands show.
  • PMS staff participation in mindful schools training and emotional intelligence workshop.  Staff are implementing mindfulness in the classroom.
  • Continuing refinement of PMS’ Scots Camp to ease the transition from elementary to middle school and build community within and among grade levels.
  • In addition to homework load, PHS is examining the amount of time students spend participating in after-school athletics, with a view toward identifying additional ways to reduce student stress.  PHS has now instituted a 9:30 pm curfew on all extra-curricular activities Sunday through Thursday.
  • Implementation of a “Course Preview Day” at PHS, to help students and families make informed choices about course selection.
  • Presentation of Girls Like That and classroom visits by Police Chief Ricki Goede for high school students to address the topics of harassment, cyberbullying, and digital citizenship.
  • Exploration of other issues affecting student social/emotional health such as healthy relationships.
  • In an effort to strengthen communication with students, high school counselors now meet with every student at least once per year.
  • Implementation of Gender Spectrum training for administrators.  The District has had a designated transgender bathroom at PHS for two years, but training was new this year.
  • Modification of certain long-standing high school traditions to provide a gender-neutral Senior Celebration and a gender-neutral graduation.
  • Revised District policies to define and support transgender and gender-nonconforming students, and provide procedures for reporting acts of discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Digital Literacy & Digital Citizenship

The District continues to expand its programs to promote digital literacy and digital citizenship in the contemporary, rapidly-changing technology and media environment.  The consensus is that the greatest need is at the middle school level, where many students and families struggle with responsible use of technology and social media.  This year, PMS’ Adam Saville and Stephanie Griffin conducted a focus group with 30 PMS students about technology and social media, and this led to the planning of a series of parent and family engagement nights on these issues.  This Spring, PMS hosted the first of these nights, and more than 50 parents attended.  We look forward to continuing these discussions next year.

The District is also continuing to work closely with the Education Speaker Series to present relevant topics and practical guidance for both parents and educators.  On November 8, 2016, the Series will present Screenagers: Growing Up In The Digital Age, followed by panel discussion led by Wellness Center Clinical Director Alisa Crovetti.  On February 14, 2017, the Series will present Peggy Orenstein speaking on Girls and Sex:  How Hookups, Pornography, Alcohol, Celebrities and Social Media are Impacting the Intimate Lives of Girls.  (More information about the Education Speaker Series follows in the discussion of Communication, below.)

Stable Budget

Fiscal Planning and Stewardship  

Fiscal planning and stewardship are examples of District initiatives that, however seemingly indirect, have a great impact on the educational experience of our students.  Given this importance, the District remains diligent in fiscal planning and management.  Song Chin-Bendib, now in her second year as Assistant Superintendent, is systematically refining and improving District practices and procedures.  This year, the accomplishments included:

  • Aggressive management of the District budget to reduce spending by $200,000;
  • Overhaul of contracting procedures and general budgeting and business services to ensure consistent and best practices.  The procedures used to develop this year’s budget provided greater transparency, specificity, and clarity of supporting information and will guide the budget process going forward.  This improved transparency and specificity were invaluable in working with the Piedmont Education Foundation and the parent clubs, particularly concerning how their contributions to the District are expended.
  • Participation in Federal program to obtain discounts on certain technology purchases, including internet service.
  • Engagement with the Budget Advisory Committee to promote understanding of the  complexity and nuances of the District budget.
  • Collaboration with the newly-reorganized Piedmont Education Foundation to establish funding priorities.
  • Development of a thoughtful, cost-effective Facilities Master Plan.

The District’s improvements to Alan Harvey Theater this year exemplify how careful planning and stewardship can and do improve the educational experience of students and enhance the quality of our programs.  I am very proud of how efficiently and wisely our limited dollars were spent on this project.

Flexible and Adaptive Facilities/Infrastructure

Facilities Master Planning

This year, the District completed a comprehensive facilities master planning process to address antiquated middle and high school facilities that do not adequately support our educational programs.

  • The District assessed whether its facilities support changing educational programs and goals.  This assessment was intended to address current and future educational needs of students and ensure that facilities provide both the functionality and capacity to support educational excellence.
  • Nearly 30 District educators and administrators met four times this year to discuss the educational programs and goals, and the educational appropriateness of the existing facilities.  The group discussed: current and future educational needs of students; classroom functionality and capacity; whether the school sites provide an environment that is appropriate, comfortable and conducive to learning, including classroom size, acoustics, air quality, ventilation, and climate control; student safety and security; and current and future facilities use by the broader Piedmont community.  The group consulted with the Piedmont Police Department, Piedmont Recreation Department, and school security professionals.  This work culminated in development of Educational Specifications to identify the facilities needed to support the District’s educational programs;
  • A team of architects and engineers assessed the condition of each school facility including: educational appropriateness; mechanical and plumbing systems; safety and security; energy efficiency; and fire/life/safety and accessibility code compliance.  This team consulted with the Piedmont Police Department, Recreation Department, Department of Public Works, and school security professionals concerning site security and community use.  The team also developed a “solar master plan” with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to generate enough solar power to offset all of Piedmont Unified’s energy use.  This work culminated in development of a Facilities Assessment (Part 1 and Part 2) concerning how the existing facilities meet our educational needs and goals;
  • The Facilities Master Plan combines (1) the assessment of the educational appropriateness of facilities with (2) the assessment of the physical condition of facilities and (3) teacher and community input, and identifies a range of improvements needed to support our educational programs now and in the future;
  • The District’s Facilities Steering Committee, which plays a significant role in bringing community viewpoints and professional expertise into the management and oversight of the District’s capital projects, met regularly to review the Facilities Master Plan, consider various concept designs and preliminary budgets, and develop recommendations concerning Plan implementation.  The Committee unanimously recommended that the Board of Education seek voter approval of $65 million in bonds at the November 2016 general election, to allow the District to address some of the most critical educational objectives and building deficiencies identified in the Plan.
  • District staff reviewed and improved facilities rental procedures, to make the rental system more user-friendly.
  • District staff are developing automated school maintenance systems to make maintenance more proactive and assist in budgeting for facilities maintenance.
  • In collaboration with the City of Piedmont, the District modified parking and pick-up and drop-off rules for the Magnolia campus and added off-street parking behind PMS to ease congestion and improve pedestrian safety.
  • The District created new signage District-wide, which is particularly helpful for visitors to the Magnolia campus.

Communication and Engagement

Communication  

Robust, two-way communication about District initiatives with students and families is essential to build and strengthen our partnerships with families, and for the success of our efforts to continually improve our educational programs and support the social and emotional development of students.  Toward this end, this year we enhanced the monthly Spotlight on Student Learning, which typically includes a letter from me, District news and information, brief profiles of teachers, and articles by teachers about classroom practice and innovation.   piedmont.k12.ca.us/learn  I’m very proud of all the good work in the District, and enjoy highlighting this work each month.

The Spotlight also includes information about upcoming meetings and other opportunities for families to learn and engage about District initiatives.  In the Spotlight and in nearly every communication sent by the District this year, we encourage families to get involved and participate in some of the many committees that help shape District policy.

Community Engagement

This was a year of vigorous community engagement, particularly through the new Local Control Accountability Plan Advisory Committee and the facilities master planning process.  As a result, the District has clear educational goals and metrics for measuring progress toward their accomplishment.  The District also has long-term plans for improving facilities to support our educational programs, and near-term plans to seek voter approval of a facilities bond in November.

This year, the District also strengthened its communication and partnership with the City of Piedmont in a variety of ways.  District staff communicate regularly with City staff regarding shared concerns such as emergency preparedness, public safety, community facilities, and recreation.  The positive working relationships have made it possible to have frequent, coordinated safety drills.  As a result, City personnel have become thoroughly familiar with school facilities and are better able to plan for and respond to emergencies in the schools.  This is critical for the safety of students and school staff as well as the first responders.

The District is also continuing to promote both communication and engagement within the school community through parent education.  Piedmont’s year-long Education Speaker Series, which just concluded its fourth season, presents a range of topics related to raising healthy children and young adults, and offers workshops for educators and student assemblies that dovetail with the parent education programs.  Each year, the Series’ attendance grows, and the number of people providing suggestions or requests for future topics also increases.

Next year’s Education Speaker Series will include:

  • September 13:  Alison Briscoe-Smith:  Talking With Your Kids About Race
  • October 3:  Sarah Ward:  Executive Functioning   
  • October 18:  Ron Lieber:  How to Talk With Your Kids About Money   
  • November 8:  Screenagers: Growing Up In The Digital Age, followed by panel discussion led by Wellness Center Clinical Director Alisa Crovetti
  • January 17:  Julie Lythcott-Haims:  How to Raise An Adult   
  • February 14:  Peggy Orenstein:  Girls and Sex:  How Hookups, Pornography, Alcohol, Celebrities and Social Media are Impacting the Intimate Lives of Girls    
  • March 21:  Rick Lavoie (Topic to be determined by District Special Education staff)

Administrative, Policy and Other Initiatives

The District has been evaluating its organization and policies and making improvements to ensure that these, too, support long-term educational goals and benefit students.  These initiatives include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Review and refinement of various District policies, including math placement, independent study, harassment, and inter-district transfers.
  • Establishment of new procedures to ensure accuracy and privacy of student data.
  • Adoption of new “Agenda Online” system to improve public access to agenda materials for Board of Education meetings.
  • Partnering with PEF and the Athletic Boosters to hire a full-time Athletic Director to support over 600 athletes and 100 coaches.

*    *    *    *    *
I am deeply honored to serve as Superintendent of the Piedmont schools.  I am very proud of the wonderful educational programs, the dedicated and innovative staff, and the numerous and varied opportunities for students.

There are continuous challenges inherent in running a school district — keeping curriculum and instruction relevant, adapting to new technologies, enhancing opportunities for students, and supporting the social and emotional needs of students, just to name a few — and we have made great progress in each of these areas this year.  I welcome your questions and comments at any time, so please don’t hesitate to contact me at rbooker@piedmont.k12.ca.us

R.B.

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