In preparation for Palo Alto Weekly’s coverage of the Palo Alto Unified Board of Education campaigns, we solicited questions from our readers about their top concerns about the school district.
From their many excellent responses, we have put together a short questionnaire that we hope will help elucidate the differences between the four candidates. They discussed their main concerns and their experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, learning loss related to COVID-19, diversity and inclusion, superintendent and innovations.
Candidate responses on all of these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, until September 26. Here’s what they had to say when asked: What innovations would you like to see in Palo Alto Unified as it considers the best way to educate students for decades to come?
This will not be the last time we face a crisis that threatens to close our schools. Whether it’s another pandemic, the smoke from a wildfire, or rising temperatures, we need to have contingency plans in place for blended or distance learning. We would do well to continue to build on the technical infrastructure we have put in place in 2020 and ensure that we are able to seamlessly transition to synchronous distance learning at the push of a button. . This means providing teachers with sufficient technology and training, ensuring that every student has access to a laptop and a Wi-Fi hotspot, and creating and adapting current programs to work on a remote model.
We should also reassess our physical infrastructure to prepare for the eventualities described above. Some of these plans have already been discussed at real estate committee meetings and at board meetings, but they include: modular furniture to allow for social distancing and/or transparent barriers in classrooms without disrupting the flow of teaching and learning; upgrade filtration and ventilation systems (we upgraded in 2020 before reopening, but should continue to assess as standards and technology change); and installation of air conditioning in all classrooms. (On the last point, I chaired the Bond oversight committee when we created the plan to install air conditioning in all classrooms. Phase 1 of construction (9 different school sites) is underway this fall.)
Finally, I support the scaling up of current “agile team” working groups of teachers, administrators, and parents to brainstorm new, innovative solutions for teaching and learning that can be presented. to the council for consideration. This will ensure that ideas submitted to the board are formed with real-world context and that diverse stakeholder perspectives are included in their design.
The “four Cs” of 21st century learning are critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. PAUSD can engage and support student growth through educational innovations, including:
• Interdisciplinary learning: Connecting ideas and concepts across disciplines engages students, develops critical thinking skills, and promotes deeper learning. For example, when I was teaching American Literature, I aligned the curriculum with that of American history teachers so that students would read The Grapes of Wrath while learning about the Great Depression. Interdisciplinary learning occurs at Ohlone, JLS Connections, Paly’s TEAM and Social Justice Pathway, and Gunn’s SLC; however, it could be offered more widely.
• Makerspace: Similar to the Barron Park Maker Studio, dedicated hands-on makerspaces in elementary schools develop creativity and collaboration through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning.
• Mastery-based learning: Requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills before advancing to the next level can prevent education gaps, so fewer students fall through the cracks. It requires effective differentiated teaching.
• Civic Engagement Projects: When students identify, explore, and collaborate to develop solutions to problems in their own community, there is engagement and growth.
• Online tools: Asynchronous online technology tools, such as Khan Academy, can support differentiated learning.
• Responsive teaching: Educators are responsive and build on the abilities, strengths and interests of all children to ensure engagement, motivation, support and learning. Teachers’ use of the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher student achievement in math and reading, regardless of socioeconomic background. It is as important for educators to know the children they are teaching – individually, culturally and developmentally – as the content they are teaching.
• Electives: Boost programs that engage and connect students in diverse ways. Provide funding for collaborative programs such as student clubs, journalism, music, drama, performance technology and studio arts, in addition to traditionally competitive programs such as athletics, robotics, debate and student government.
Most parents need some amount and some form of child care for toddlers. Wouldn’t it be great if the school district implemented child care services on all elementary school campuses? When my kids were little, in grades 1 and 2, they had an after-school program that took in as many kids as they could, had them play in the same playground they used for lunch, had snacks, played with toys, read books, did art, played games and were kept safe for working parents. The program offered financial assistance to parents who needed financial assistance and the children were happy and cared for while the parents had a school community resource.
As the children get older, at middle school age, this after-school care could transition into physical activity and homework tutoring; understanding schoolwork and being better students requires effort in the right direction. An emotionally and academically engaged student is a better student because they have strong self-esteem.
Nicole Chiu Wang
PAUSD schools have created and incubated incredible learning initiatives – from Ohlone at JLS Connections to our bilingual immersion programs in Ohlone and Escondido to our high school pathways such as BEAM in Gunn and ECD in Paly. There is a high demand for these programs and although they are not the right choice for all students, we know that they are very good for many students. It’s a matter of equity and these programs should be expanded district-wide so that more students can benefit. These programs have been one of the main
reasons we chose PAUSD for our children and I know many families feel the same way.
Additionally, we must continue to innovate and incubate new learning initiatives. For example, we should work together to expand to universal preschool education and we are fortunate to have PreSchool Family from which to learn best practices. Likewise, we can look to Career Pathways to help us find age-appropriate ways to encourage our students to take ownership of their future and find their passion. To increase the number of students with access to bilingual and world language programs, we should consider other ways to implement world language education so that all students are exposed to a second language from kindergarten or find a way to expand our highly impacted bilingual immersion program. programs or (ideally) both.
Above all, we should take a whole-student approach to measuring progress. Test results should not be the sole determinant of academic success and we must work with our teachers and staff to provide a multi-faceted approach to grading that focuses on examining the whole student.