Senator Simitian told you I’m a lawyer, a parent, and an
educator – I'm going to talk to you about the educator part.
I've taught third grade; taught all kids as a reading and math
specialist; then moved to the district level and taught teachers
at all 12 elementary schools.
I stand for three things. The first is about
Academic Excellence and Inclusiveness. Its’ about being
intellectually rigorous and keeping those opportunities open to
all students. It can and should be done.
About seven years ago, I started a little pilot math program at
Nixon. The goal was to fill the niche for high-achieving math
students. I started with 12 students being pulled out of one classroom.
The other teachers didn’t think the program was necessary.
They were great teachers, but they weren’t looking at the
students with the same vision and zeal that I had. Six years later,
I was working with close to 100 students in pull-out programs
AND I was going into the regular classroom to work with all of
the students using the same teaching methods that I was using
for the high-achieving students.
One particularly successful part of the program was called VSG,
or Virtual School for the Gifted. I don’t know who liked
the program more, the students or the parent volunteers that I
supervised. Here’s a sample problem – one of the easier
Draw two overlapping circles (point to banner). One circle is
the set of all square numbers. The other circle is the set of
all cubed numbers. What goes in the intersection and why?
Sometimes the students got so caught up in the problem, I’d
find them in a corner hunched over some papers, lost in thought.
I think I’ve got a bunch of former VSG students here today,
and you can ask them.
Now, any of you who have been involved in pull-out programs like
this – and we have similar situations throughout the district
– you know how hard it is to include and exclude students.
And many of you have had kids, and your kids have had friends,
and you know how miserable kids, kids friends, and parents feel
about exclusion. I found a way with the help of the teachers and
the principal, to offer the program to all students who wanted
to join. The students and parents could figure out for themselves
whether or not it was a good fit based on work they had already
done for me in class. I had to work pretty hard to create a program
that was both academically challenging and open to all students.
But holding true to those values is what makes our Palo Alto schools
The general idea of being inclusive and providing equal educational
opportunities within our regular school program is one of my mantras.
If a program is valuable and a part of what I believe to be core
curriculum, then it should be offered to all students during the
regular school day.
I am equally committed to supporting students who are struggling.
For those students, there should be more support beyond the regular
school day. I did in fact work for the Academy and the Nixon Homework
Club, which are after-school programs. There is a different story
to be told about that situation. The quick 20 second version is
that we could and should be doing a better job coordinating our
programs for those kids, both inside and outside their regular
The second point is about fiscal responsibility,
about maximizing output from our existing resources.
We have opportunities here that I think no one outside the system
fully recognizes. We have pockets of excellence spread throughout
our district, buried among the multitude of responsibilities and
activities that every teacher takes on.
Think of each best classroom practice as a gem. If you are a
parent, think of the gems your child had. What if we could replicate
those gems, repeat them, show them to other kids -- and show your
kids some gems some other kid found in her class. I find gems.
I spent a lot of time as a teacher finding those gems currently
out there. I polished them up by packaging those lessons to make
them especially teacher-friendly. I explained where they fit into
the curriculum. I placed each gem into a specific setting in the
crown that is our balanced and comprehensive approach to teaching.
I shared that crown with teachers across the district. I know
it’s a little corny, but maybe you get the picture.
I'll do the same as a school board member
A positive synergy developed. Teachers from different schools
started talking to each other about their best lessons. They visited
each others’ classrooms. They participated in optional work
sessions to consolidate their best practices. It didn’t
cost the district a heck of a lot of money for these extra activities.
We leveraged off of some of our own great teachers, who, as they
say, took ownership and built up a sustainable, positive momentum.
They improved the curriculum and went back to the classrooms inspired
by this new framework. No question that students will benefit.
We need policies that support a systemic approach to creating
this kind of synergy.
Finally, I believe in and stand for including
the community in decision-making, even when it feels inconvenient
to do so. A few years ago, some parents came forward as
strong advocates for a certain teaching approach called flexible
ability grouping. It involves regrouping students during certain
math periods. Some educators just shut the door on the idea. However,
I’m one of those people who will listen to all sorts of
good ideas, whether it comes from teachers or from parents. Teachers
and parents sometimes start from different places, but they share
that same desire to do what’s best for students. They needed
was someone like me to find the common ground – to open
the door, plant a few seeds and feed the idea. The end result
was that that parent idea got translated into classroom practice
in several schools. The program got good reviews, especially in
the way that it helped teachers more effectively meet the needs
of their students. In January, I had some teachers present their
experience at a district-wide workshop. There was a good buzz
about it. We leveraged both our parent initiative and our teacher
expertise. A win-win situation.
There are three seats open in this election, and the board is
made up of a team of five individuals. There are some excellent
candidates in the field and I would love to see some of them elected.
I am only asking for one of your three votes. The school board
is a team and a team needs different member to have different
skills. I am the only educator. Only I can bring that critical
experience and perspective to the board. So, again, I am asking
for your vote. And I ask that you communicate that same message
to your friends and colleagues. I need your vote and their votes.
Thanks for listening. By the way, how many of you figured out
the answer to the VSG problem of intersecting circles. Okay, you
guys probably weren’t listening to a word I said –
but I did get you excited about a math problem. As my kids say,
it’s all good.