Comments Following the 6/25 SMUHSD Board Meeting

I posted the following comment on Nextdoor late last night (actually around 1:30 AM this morning) following the Board Meeting.

As I have said previously, I have no personal stake in this race. My kids are adults, I am not a SMUHSD teacher, and despite the usual cynical comments that I receive every time I get involved in these discussions, this work *actually hurts* my very small part-time tutoring practice instead of helping it.

Why? When I am critical of the District or of current teaching practices, I have to protect my students. My criticisms of the AP system also drive away many potential clients who think that AP classes are great and want to get their kids into top colleges by this route.

So why did I speak up?

Education is central to almost every problem in our society. The trends that I saw in our country after I left the high tech world and returned to education really worried me. Having benefited greatly from American society, and being now retired, I believed that I could use my extensive education and freedom from job concerns to do something constructive.

I also loved learning when I was a student. So did many of my friends. We grew up at the dawn of space exploration and other great scientific and technological advances. It was also the dawn of molecular biology when I was a kid, eventually leading to the Human Genome Project and molecular medicine. I personally saw the progress from slide rules to the HP-35 calculator and on to personal computers and iPhones.  It has been an exciting run, and I wanted to impart this love of learning to the upcoming generation.

Despite the threat of worldwide nuclear annihilation hanging over us as kids during the Cold War with Russia, I don’t remember many of my friends being worried about the future. Maybe we were just stupid! Even more importantly, I don’t remember many of my friends being plagued by the massive problems with anxiety and depression that kept being mentioned in the Board meeting tonight.

I could only shake my head at each of these discussions because we are bringing these problems on our kids and ourselves as I have described extensively on my blog and will not repeat again here.

After my first four years of helping students, I kept seeing the same problems repeatedly, and I was faced with the cynical option of staying quiet and just reveling in the boost to tutoring business that our current educational system provides, or else I could try to speak out against it.

For me tutoring is a labor of love; I don’t have to rely on it for income. It really pisses me off when I see kids getting hurt by the system, and all that I am able to do via tutoring is apply bandaids to help them surmount onerous hurdles and get top grades. I tell them stories and give them books as gifts to try to help them understand why people would actually love to study math and science, but it is hard in the few hours that I spend with a student each week to undo the damage done to them in school.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  California public schools were not test prep cram schools when I went to them in the late 1960s. I loved my classes in almost all cases and had many excellent teachers who inspired my career choices.

After learning how far things had fallen, I had no choice but to lobby on kids’ behalf just as I had done for my own children years earlier as I described in https://eduissues.com/2018/01/29/never-believe-educational-experts-or-me.

 

Returning now to our most recent issue, I have spent a lot of time these last few weeks trying to help steer this latest process away from the cliff that it initially appeared to be heading over.

I posted many concerns in discussions here (on Nextdoor) and have also highlighted the points that I thought were most important on my blog.

This was a small contribution to the overall group effort. I learned a lot by talking with many of you behind the scenes.

Through the collective work of all of us, the initial return-to-school plan was overturned.

However, I am certain after tonight’s meeting that there will be many disappointed parents, especially those who are hoping that AB 77 will carry the day for their side.

This battle will continue, but, at this point, I feel optimistic that it will come to a relatively reasonable conclusion. But this also means that no one will be completely satisfied and that, very unfortunately, a few people may still suffer significant damage before this controversy concludes.

These Nextdoor discussions, however, are just too unorganized for my taste and are extremely time-consuming trying to keep on top of all of the nested subtopics.  I intended to spend a good part of my summer studying topics in physics, not engaging 24×7 in Nextdoor discussions, and now over a month has gone by.

I will continue to write Eduissues.com blog articles about important topics and post alerts to them on Nextdoor. I also continue to offer my help to anyone in the SMUHSD, whether parent, teacher or ?? who wants either to call information anonymously to the attention of the community or who desires to publish an education article via my blog either anonymously or under their name. As examples, Kevin Nelson’s very recent article on eduissues.com has now been seen 945 times, and my exposé on CPM math has had almost 15,000 views.

There were several discussions at the Board meeting tonight about improving the communications process, but this can’t happen when people have concerns but are hesitant to speak up for whatever reason.

Other than the writing efforts described above, it is time for me to get back to work, and trust that the rest of you will carry this issue on to a successful conclusion.

Best of luck and stay together!  As individual parents have often told me, school bureaucracies “just wear them down.”  It is much harder to ignore large concerted group efforts.


A recording of the 6/25/2020 Board meeting can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yy5BSueC_I and the discussion of agenda item L.1. on school reopening begins at 1:05:15.

Board clarification questions after the presentation start at 1:44:05.

Public Comments begin at 1:46:25.

Board deliberations begin at 3:09:25 and end at 4:11:10.

My thanks to Anne Pesquie who just provided this summary from Superintendent Skelly:

From Kevin Skelly, Superintendent

Dear Families, Students and Staff:

I want to share some outcomes of last night’s School Board meeting as well as thoughts about how we move forward to provide the very best education we can for our students this fall.

The major takeaways from the Board meeting is that the Board endorsed the following:

An instructional schedule that builds a basic seven period class schedule for all six comprehensive high schools. This schedule outlined in the presentation to the Board which can be found on our website provides about 187 minutes per week per class of synchronous, teacher led instruction time with attendance taken and students engaged in learning. This instructional schedule (on slides 4-6) works whether classes meet in person or are virtual and we can move from virtual to in-person instruction seamlessly as health conditions permit.

Beginning the school year in Phase 2 if public health conditions continue to allow. The presentation to the Board included a phased approach (see slide 8). Phase 2, would allow for small groups of students to receive outdoor instruction (this includes Physical Education and potentially classes like performing arts). However, with respect to phases that would open up in person instruction further, the Board asked staff to continue to refine the phases and report back at the next board meeting on July 14 at 1 p.m.

A robust orientation schedule for all students in August. Schools will begin planning these activities and we expect them to take place mostly on campus. As part of this orientation the District will provide students who need a computer right away for school work with Chromebooks, any textbooks needed, hotspots, and health protocols around face coverings, social distancing, handwashing and the like.

The establishment of locations on each of our campuses where students who have Internet access issues, or lack a place at home to participate in virtual classes can work safely and effectively. We are looking at other options to bring students to outdoor locations as well where students can access the Internet for online learning.

The District will continue to provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches to students eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. These students will get nutritious meals every day school is in session.

Everyone is eager to have students safely back in school experiencing on campus learning. Students, teachers, staff and administrators long for a return to the in-person learning we had before March 13. The Board directed staff to report back at every fall meeting about the success of the instructional program and indicated a desire to adjust phase movement based on health directives and program efficacy. Further, the Board shared its view that whatever phased approach to bringing students on campus they adopt should be mindful of the particular needs of students at each grade level — for example seniors needing support with college and other postsecondary planning to freshman making the transition from middle school.

Fall will be far better instructionally than the spring was, of this I have no doubt. The Board has budgeted ample time and money for teachers to plan, improve skills, and collaborate. Our teachers have the talent and commitment to doing this work right. As a community, we need to acknowledge and accept that the first semester will very likely start with much of instruction being virtual, synchronous teaching and learning.

COVID-19 has “brought this nation to its knees,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last Tuesday. Even if we disagree with the direction of the District, we must put aside our differences, get on our feet, join together, and work to give our students the education and support they deserve despite the enormous challenges we face.

As always, thank you for your support of our students.

Sincerely,

Kevin Skelly, Ph.D.

Superintendent

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Please see the Bio link in the right sidebar for my detailed background information.

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