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the next step in strategic planning: a balanced scorecard

On June 29, the Pleasanton Weekly published my letter to the editor in response to the June 21 article about the last school board meeting that occurred before summer recess. Here’s what I said:

Dear Editor,

The article on the June 19 school board meeting omitted a key fact about the new strategic plan for PUSD — it is an unfinished draft. Still to come is the most important part, a scorecard with measurable indicators of progress toward strategic goals.

Standardized tests cannot be the only indicators that students are learning what they will need to make the world a better place. […] District leaders should push themselves to focus on measuring what matters, and not just on what is easy to test. […]

Now is the time for taxpayers to weigh in on the scorecard being developed. What indicators do you want district leaders and board members to monitor? […]

Let me brainstorm some answers to the question I asked others:

bold goal 1: eliminate racial, socio-economic, and gender predictability in achievement


  1. less than 10 percent difference between native speakers of English and ELL learners who are proficient in language arts by 5th grade
  2. percentage of ELL learners who remain classified as ELL for more than 3 years (should be under 20% for students of all native languages)
  3. less than 5 percent difference between percentage of 5th grade boys and 5th grade girls identified as eligible for enrollment in sequence 2 math in 6th grade
  4. less than 5 percent difference between percentage of 9th-12th grade students of Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian ethnic identities who choose to participate in music courses, band or orchestra activities
  5. less than 5 percent difference between percentage of 9th-12th grade students from families with incomes under 50K and over 100K who participate in intramural or varsity sports
  6. less than 5 percent difference between percentages of graduates with Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian ethnic identities who complete three years of a foreign language with grades of B or higher
  7. less than 5 percent difference between the percentage of Asian Hispanic, and Caucasian graduates who complete one or more AP course
  8. percentage of graduates who meet or exceed the standards for admission to a UC or CSU school (should be over 80% in all racial, socio-economic, and gender groups)
  9. percentage of 12th graders who submit college applications (should be over 95% in all race, socio-econonmic, and gender groups)

bold goal 2: optimize student learning by using innovative technologies


  1. percentage of teachers who have had training within the last 2 years and can skillfully use a laptop and projector in their classroom to support student learning
  2. percentage of 5th grade students using software to practice math skills (broken out by software program)
  3. percentage of 5th grade students who can use Wikipedia responsibly
  4. percentage of students entering 6th grade students eligible for the option to participate in a laptop program
  5. percentage of 6th graders who choose to participate in a laptop program
  6. percentage of 8th grade students skilled in using presentation software to create and organize visual aids in a persuasive speech
  7. percentage of 9th grade students with access to audio-visual computer programs that support the learning of French, Spanish, German, and Chinese

On July 6, the Weekly published an editorial expressing a favorable view of the district’s strategic plan. While I agree with their overall enthusiasm, I think there’s still much to do to ensure that support for implementing the strategic plan is strong across all principals, teachers, students, parents, and community members. Figuring out which indicators are most important, and then paying attention to them over time, is the key to making the plan useful.

What do you think? What should be on the balanced scorecard?


A strategic plan for Pleasanton’s schools

So much happens in our school district while school is out! The last day of school was June 8, but the school board had its final meeting before summer break on June 19.

The June agenda (PDF) was chock-a-block full, with approval of the budget, renewal of contracts for key district leaders, and the approval of the proposed strategic plan all up for discussion. Due to a technical glitch, the board meeting was not televised live, but a web archive of the meeting is now available.

On June 21, a newspaper article about key decisions made at the meeting was published in the Pleasanton Weekly. The article focused on the budget approvals and contract renewals, mentioning the strategic plan only in passing.

The district updated its website with a page about the strategic plan recently. It includes a lofty vision and mission, as well as eight bold goals in four areas: curriculum and instruction; personal growth; fiscal stewardship; and learning environment.

So, here’s some optional summer homework for Pleasanton residents: Read the strategic plan for yourself. Then, tell me what do you think. Has the superintendent laid out a clear vision for the district’s future? Are the bold goals achievable? Are there any big goals missing from the strategic plan?

my reflections on the September 27 meeting: closing the achievement gap in math?

I recently watched the archived webcast of the Sept. 27, 2011, meeting of the Pleasanton school board.

I want to offer my reflections on what I saw as the most interesting part of the meeting — the review of the testing completed last spring, which is analyzed over the summer and used to construct school-by-school scores on the API (Academic Performance Index). API ranges from 200 and 1000. All Pleasanton schools scored above 880 on the API, except for Village High School (a small continuation high school). District-wide, the average API was 906. (Here’s the headline from the Pleasanton Patch — Pleasanton Schools Exceed API Expectations.)

At the board meeting, board members and district cabinet members spent at least 45 minutes reviewing the district’s report on STAR results, in great detail. The other purpose of the California Standards Tests (CSTs) that almost all public school students take each spring, as required by the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, aside from ranking schools with the API, is to allow districts, schools, and teachers to drill down into the student data, so that teachers and principals can work together to design instructional strategies for the 2011-2012 academic year.

In the full board packet (PDF) the agenda item 13.3 includes 21 pages of supporting text and tables.

During this portion of the meeting, board and cabinet members examined patterns in the data, to see what kind of progress the district is making in closing the achievement gap. They also looked at patterns across grade levels, in Math and English/Language Arts (ELA) and Science, to see how students are responding to recent adjustments in school practices.

The patterns that I am most curious about are about closing the achievement gap in Math, and ensuring that all students are making good progress in Math from year to year. Questions we can ask from the data are:

  • when students move from 5th grade into middle school, are they headed into math courses that challenge them without being overwhelming?
  • when students move on to high school, are they headed into courses that will prepare them for life after high school?
  • during high school, when are students meeting the minimum math standards for graduation (so they can pass the CAHSEE)?
  • what proportion of students meet the challenging standards required to apply for admission to one of the University of California or California State University campuses?

Regarding the achievement gap, there are related questions:

  • when students move into middle school, are they receiving equal opportunities to advance into challenging math courses, regardless of their ethnic background? are they performing at equal levels on the Math CSTs? If not, why not? Can the middle schools do something to help close those gaps?
  • when students move on to high school, are we closing gaps identified at the beginning of middle school, or do we have some ethnic groups racing ahead, while others lag behind? what can the high schools do to ensure that students get the math classes they will need?
  • just before high school graduation, what can we predict about whether students will be prepared to go to college, and where? If there are differences between ethnic groups, why?what can the schools or the district do to help close those gaps?

Some of these questions are answered in the archived webcast of the meeting, and other answers may be found in the 21-page budget backup for agenda item 13.3.

For more detail on the Sept. 27 school board meeting in Pleasanton, including other items that were on the agenda see this PDF.

FYI, the full board packet from the Sept. 27 meeting also includes minutes from the Sept. 13 meeting, for which I provided a preview of the agenda last month.

on the agenda for October 11 meeting

The next regular meeting of the Pleasanton USD Board of Trustees will be held on Tuesday, October 11, 2011. The agenda has been posted online. (PDF)

Items for report and discussion:

  • CA state budget for FY2011-2012 (are revisions of the current budget still a possibility?)
  • first reading of board policy on service learning
  • recap the 2010-2011 goals and review goals for FY 2011-12

Items for possible action:

  • resolution to support Red Ribbon Week from Oct. 22 = 30
  • approve donations
  • approve personnel document

The full board packet is available in this PDF; it includes the minutes from the September 27 regular board meeting.

on the agenda for Sept 13 2011

The agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District school board has been posted online. (PDF)

Items for report and discussion:

  • current student enrollment
  • district’s experience with cash-out refinancings
  • My note: This will be the final report to the board regarding the work of the citizens committee that examined the refinancings carried out by the school district. I wrote about the first report that the report received in July in this post on sources of community mistrust for the school district. I expect this part of the meeting to be the most interesting!

Items for possible action:

  • approving donations
  • amending the superintendent’s contract
  • My note: In the board packet, part 1, the purpose of this amendment is to make it easier to factor in concessions of unpaid furlough days.

  • approving unaudited financial statements
  • Gann appropriations limit
  • sufficiency of K-12 textbooks and 9-12 instructional materials (science laboratories)
  • resolution regarding AB 114
  • My note: The resolution, included in part 2 of the board packet, respectfully requests that the legislature and governor immediately restore the decision making and budgetary flexibility that educational agencies need to deal with midyear budget cuts, should they occur.

  • personnel document

The full board packet is available in two parts (PDF part 1; PDF part 2). Part 1 includes the minutes from the August 4 special board meeting and the August 16 regular board meeting.

Next PUSD board meeting Tuesday Sept. 13

The schedule of board meetings for 2011-2012 is available online at this link: Meetings Scheduled for 2011-2012 (PDF)

Meeting agendas typically appear on the board’s meetings and agendas page on the Friday preceeding each board meeting.

Public schools 2025: A vision for the future

If I could wave a magic wand and transport us to the future – to the best of all possible worlds in 2025 – what would we see on a visit to Alisal, or Harvest Park, or Amador? What would Pleasanton’s students experience in their public schools, that would allow our community to earn its reputation as an outstanding place for families to live and students to learn?

I’m betting that bells will no longer ring in 2025 to signal the beginning of the school day. Students will no longer register for two semesters each year, or three grading periods, or four quarters. And schools will not close for the summer in 2025.

Shelly Blake-Plock argues that many features of our current public schools will be obsolete by 2021, and one of the key differences is that “the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear [because] the 21st century is a 24/7 environment.”

She uses this assertion to suggest that homework will disappear. Plus, she thinks that attendance offices will disappear because bio-scans will allow students to check in with their fingerprint. And most provocative of all, she believes that the organization of educational services by grade will fade away.

Whoa! No more grade 7? Grade 8? grade 9?

I believe that’s an innovation that is long overdue, and one that will hit schools like a whirlwind over the next decade.

A necessary complement to the disappearance of students divided up by grades is a radical reframing of the curriculum. We should be moving away from curricular benchmarks that consist of artificially imposed timeframes for all 10-year-olds to take 10 months to learn specific concepts in mathematics (or other subjects).

In 2025, I can envision a school that is more like a community center, open year round from 8 am till 8 pm, and staffed by teams of professional educators who are each “on call” for 6-8 hours each day. The elimination of classroom grades will do away with what Charles Taylor Kerchner labels as “batch-process learning”, to be replaced by learning 2.0 — more choices and more challenges for students.

On a typical day that students check into their community center, they will spend much of their time in small conference rooms with 3-10 other students who are all focused on the same learning project. Students will sign up online to be “at work” in the community center for several time slots each day, and will have options to engage in team sports, theater and musical rehearsals, art projects and quiet reading time during other parts of their day. Students could also schedule days or weeks “off” from school, to travel with their families, but students and families could take pauses from school learning in different weeks. Some project groups could meet online, spanning across local community boundaries to bring together students who share a common interest and similar learning goals.

As Sandy Speicher of IDEO’s Design for Learning domain describes in her vision of the school of future, students will be “Building, making, imagining, interacting, investigating, reflecting, connecting, shaping, participating.” For some learning projects, students will work together intensively for a week or two, meeting for 6 hours per day. Other projects will involve less time each day, and permit students to participate in several different projects concurrently. Project teams might gather outside to collect data on the ecosystem of the arroyo, or visit local businesses to observe marketing trends and survey customers. They might visit with senior citizens to video-record oral histories, or practice their conversational skills in Spanish, Chinese, or Hindu.

Learning will become more student-centered, building on curricular innovations like the Khan Academy for math, allowing students to advance through lessons at their own pace. The roles of teachers will be transformed.

Each student will work with a “portfolio assessor” to review progress toward learning goals every two or three weeks, with parents participating via videoconference or in person. Assessors will provide developmental feedback to individual students each time they complete a learning project, and recommend that students sign up for subsequent learning projects that would challenge them to advance in particular skills.

“Learning coaches” will spend time each day working alongside a learning project team, to ensure that students are taking full advantage of the online supports, peer tutors, and partnerships with student learning groups at other schools that are designed into the project.

As well as serving as portfolio assessors and learning coaches, master teachers will also become “learning architects” who design new learning projects — creating structured opportunities for students to engage with key topics in fascinating ways. The learning projects they design will be available online to learning coaches across the district, so that the best curricular designs can be reused easily with different student learning teams.

As teachers’ jobs are redefined in these new ways, drawing attention to the sophisticated skills that teachers of the future will bring to their work, the greater public will develop a deeper respect for teaching as a profession. Talented individuals will again aspire to become teachers, drawn by their increasing autonomy as they develop skill in facilitating students’ learning.

These changes will not come easily, of course. There are formidable political battles ahead on the innovation journey from 2011 to 2025. Without an energizing vision of the future to guide us, those battles may seem overwhelming. When a vision of the future emerges, though, it becomes easier to give up outdated practices in order to make space and time for new efforts with more powerful impacts on learning.

What’s your vision of the school of the future? Grab that magic wand, and dream big.