I vividly remember being an invited guest at the San Jose Downtown Rotary meeting last year listening to the luncheon speaker Reed Hastings, Netflix’s founder, blaming the ills of American public education on local elected school boards. I believe there is much blame to go around as we have discussed on this site—parents, administrators, tenure, etc.—but school boards as a systemic cause of school failure did not resonate with me.
Last Wednesday night I stood in pride as a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education for many reasons I will attempt to explain. My board has been maligned in local media and within certain segments of the SCCOE organization. Some perceive that the seven elected members do not govern with an esprit de corps necessary for overall effectiveness. Some criticism of our lack of high-level functioning as part of the governance team is justified. But not last week.
Our efficacy was the filter I used to do some self-reflection last Wednesday during and after the meeting. Here is my attempt at an honest appraisal.
With trying to accomplish many thing on the days of our bi-weekly meetings, a variety of gatherings were occurring simultaneously beginning at 2:30pm, two and a half hours before the gavel. There was concurrent board policy work on revising outmoded policies coupled with one-on-one interviews with all board members by West Ed consultants. In April the board contracted with West Ed for the development of a set of bold recommendations on improving alternative education services to all incarcerated and community school youth in SCC.
Our formal open session meetings begin promptly at 5:00 P.M as gaveled to order last Wednesday by President Song. After roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance we recognized Amy Sinnot as the SCCOE Teacher of the Year. Then we went into closed session to deal with an Interdistrict Attendance Appeal.
The board voted unanimously to allow a student, for reasons that I cannot disclose, to continue to attend a high school out of her district of residence. Each time an Interdistrict appeal is sent our way all members are very concerned about doing the right thing on behalf of the districts and students. For the several dozen cases I have voted on since my election I have always been impressed with the preparation of each board member with pouring over information in the confidential packet and asking clarifying questions once both sides state their case, sometimes with legal counsel present. Members are thoughtful, sensitive and demonstrate informed understanding of the issues. We demonstrated a strong sense of team and purpose for this item.
After dealing with a unanimous vote on consent items we heard a study action item on a request by the Santa Clara County Biliteracy consortium to recognize all county students who have mastered standard academic English and any other language by a seal placed on the graduating seniors diploma. We voted unanimously to approve the seal and received a very disappointing report about the second language opportunities for students in SCC. Unfortunately, too many districts only offer Spanish or zero language experiences for middle school students. We agreed that the Office should advocate for equality with second language experiences throughout the county as the biliterate graduates will be the drivers of our new global economy with the highest up potential for salary.
Then on a controversial issue that I thought for certain the Board would demonstrate disagreement we were remarkably united. It was an item I asked to have placed on the agenda for consideration. The item was to delay payment of our $12,693 of dues to California School Boards Association due to the egregious executive director compensation without prudent oversight. We unanimously agreed to delay payment until the findings from an independent financial systems review are made public. Again, we were steadfast and well prepared to ask the right questions of a guest from the CSBA Board.
Next we listened with piqued interest at two reports from our Charter Schools, Bullis in Los Altos and ACE in San Jose. Both schools have data to demonstrate continued growth for all students and in their instructional models that appear to be flourishing. The two schools are varied in their instructional approaches with Bullis a project-based model and ACE a model that uses individual data to increase scores on standardized test while increasing math and English Language skills. ACE made the biggest gain of all Santa Clara County public schools in their API for 2010. I would definitely like to see more collaboration between both schools, to date there has been none.
Our final information item was about the SCCOE outdoor education program at Walden West Science Center. There was tentative agreement by the Board to lay the foundation for a potential Proposition 84 grant. We asked the Superintendent to work with legal counsel on preparing the necessary documents so the Walden West Science Center can be the recipient of the grant, if approved as submitted by the Walden West Outdoor School Foundation. The Proposition 84 funds would provide millions of dollars to create a Science and Sustainability Center open to the general public at certain non-school hours.
All in all we were a highly functioning team on behalf of a variety of students and staff from alternative schools to outdoor education, from 2:30 to 10pm.
Therefore, I must disagree with Reed Hastings. School boards that do their homework and work toward continuous improvement in the organization for student gains are part of the solution, not the problem. I do agree with the SCC Civil Grand Jury that recommends a consolidation of districts in SCC and fewer school boards. That is the conversation we should be having for the students.