Serious Challenges Call for Serious Candidates

I have served the BRSSD community as a member of the School Board for the last five years. Together, we have tackled difficult issues, modernized and expanded our facilities, improved our fundraising strategies, and managed our way through one of the worst financial crises in American history. All along, we have maintained our steadfast focus on student achievement. These first-hand experiences have taught me what it takes to be a successful Board Member.

After years of Board meetings, community gatherings, answering e-mails and meeting with people, I have decided to take a break from my life as an elected official to spend more time with my family. Even though I am not a candidate this year, I share your strong interest in seeing our District continue to provide our children with the opportunities they deserve.

This leads me to comment on November’s School Board election. Three seats are available. Thankfully, we have three candidates who possess the qualities it takes to successfully serve. Our District will face serious challenges in the coming years; challenges that must be met with courage, vision, and strong leadership. We need serious people to guide the District forward.

That is why I am urging you to join me in supporting Chuck Velschow, Suvarna Bhopale, and Rakesh Hegde. All three have given many hours volunteering in the schools and they have each taken time to understand the issues and our District. All three have the skills needed to engage all our stakeholders in building consensus and meeting our challenges.

Chuck is a teacher at Woodside HS and has served our community on the Board for several years. Before that, he co-chaired the Measure U parcel tax campaign. He even coaches girls softball in his spare time. Chuck takes his role as a Board Member seriously and has attended trainings sponsored by the California Schools Boards Association. He understands our fundraising model and has worked hard to put children first. Chuck is able to listen to disparate views, consider all relevant information, and come to a definitive, well-thought-out, conclusion. He has been endorsed by the teacher’s association. Chuck is a serious candidate for a serious time.

Suvarna Bhopale is another serious candidate. A lawyer by training, she has given up practicing for now so she can invest time with her kids and volunteer to support our schools. She has taken the time to learn and write about the District. Unlike some other candidates, she understands our funding model and what it means to be a “Basic Aid” District. She has served on multiple committees, held leadership positions with the Sandpiper PTA, and volunteered in classrooms. Somehow, she also found the time to serve as President of her homeowner’s association. Suvarna has also been endorsed by the teacher’s association. Significantly, she understands that board members are responsible for the whole District–not just Belmont or Redwood Shores. She brings a keen intellect and an important voice to the Board.

Rakesh Hegde brings a new and vital set of skills to our Board. After leading the School-Force business donors operation and working to raise a record $2 Million for our kids, he is ready for the challenge of the School Board. He is an entrepreneur–having started and successfully led high-tech companies. He has a sophisticated view of finance and understands the coming Common Core Curriculum. Rakesh will work to ensure that decisions are based on realistic expectations and planning. Endorsed by the Daily Journal, you won’t see him making promises he can’t keep. Rakesh will push to ensure that curriculum gives students the tools they need to operate in our world economy.

These three candidates, Chuck Velschow, Suvarna Bhopale, and Rakesh Hegde, are serious people who are running honest campaigns and will tell the truth. They are committed to serving our whole community, not just one part. And they get involved even when the issues only indirectly impact their kids.

The coming election will set the direction for the future of our District. Without reservation, I encourage you to vote for Velschow, Bhopale, and Hegde. They are the most qualified and committed candidates in the field. They want to support our kids, families, and all who make our schools work. They are serious people who are ready to tackle the toughest problems: I trust them and so should you. Please join me in getting out the word about these terrific candidates and then voting Velschow, Bhopale, and Hegde in November.

Suvarna Bhopale’s campaign site:

Rakesh Hegde’s campaign site:

Chuck Velschow’s campaign site:

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At various times, we do well to look back and consider what we have accomplished and what challenges we face in the future. The end of the school year seems like a good time to do that.

The teachers, staff, students, and families have accomplished much this year. Test scores are already high, but they are increasing. More importantly, kids are learning and our teachers are working towards the Common Core standards. Achieving this success isn’t easy and all of the people involved should be commended. We have worked through fundraising hurdles to develop a true “District-wide” approach. We have made great strides assessing our technology needs and how to fill them. And we have hired great new principals and an inspiring new Superintendent.

As I look back, I ask myself how did we accomplish these things? The overarching answer–whether we look at our ability to budget wisely, our hiring process, our increased fundraising ability, or our reaching for the future of instruction–is that we worked together.

Our teachers can’t do it alone. They need the support from administrators to set the environment that will allow them to succeed. They need parents preparing their kids to learn. And they need kids willing to do the work that is required of them.

Our fundraisers can’t do it alone. They need the community to be willing to learn the issues and to involve themselves constructively. They need the District staff to support their efforts.

The District administrators and Board can’t do it alone. We need the community to support the schools and the teachers and staff to continue doing their great work.

The community can’t do it alone. We need our educational experts and leaders to be on the ground–doing the actual work of preparing our kids for the future.

It hasn’t always been easy for people to come together, but we have. And that has been an important ingredient to our success.

Looking forward, what challenges do we face? Increased enrollment is a huge issue. Our kids see it daily as they go to school, but the community sees it as well. Look around and you will see more children–both in Belmont and Redwood Shores–than before. Our growing population is straining resources everywhere. It shows in the student assignment discussions we have been experiencing as well.

How can we best deal with our enrollment issues? Looking at how we have achieved our past success, I suggest it is through cooperation. Our District has involved the community as often as possible–we seem to constantly be forming task forces to deal with issues. We had one for enrollment, we had one for sex ed at the Ralston, and we have had them for each of the principal and above hiring decisions. We will be doing it again for enrollment since we are now beyond capacity for Kindergarten.

Creative solutions are necessary and we have to be willing to work together to find them. Some people have advanced arguments that do not foster cooperation; rather, they suggest that each neighborhood can somehow go it alone. Those arguments run completely counter to the history of our success.

The best accomplishments in this District have come when we cooperate. I have seen time after time the wonderful impact our community can have when we come together. Parents are struggling to provide for their kids–yet what I see all the time are Redwood Shores parents knocking themselves out for Belmont kids; and Belmont parents doing the same for kids in the Shores.

So at this point in the year, I think we should look back with pride on our accomplishments and recommit ourselves to confronting the challenges of our future cooperatively. To commit ourselves to learning about how and why decisions are made, to commit ourselves to supporting all the kids through things like the upcoming parcel tax campaign, and to commit ourselves to working together in good faith and trust. For it is only through working together that we will be able to continue our success.

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A Spirit of Excellence

All of the schools in the BRSSD are excellent and have their own culture. I am thankful for all of the people who do so much work to make all our schools great. But today I want to profile one of them in the hope that people will recognize what an example of educational excellence it has become.

Schools that are innovative, dynamic, and proactive are places children and their families want to be. Schools that value every child, and every aspect of every child, are places children and their families want to be. Schools that provide cutting edge instruction to provide students with the tools they need to take advantage of the opportunity their futures will present are places children and families want to be. Nesbit Elementary is just one of those schools.

Led by Principal Robin Pang-Maganaris, Nesbit has been making exceptional progress in all of these areas. She and her staff have made a commitment to their children, their profession, and our futures–they seek to ensure that, whatever the obstacles, their students will succeed. That may mean that a special education student will grow or a student learning English will become fluent. Or it may mean that a high performing student will be challenged in ways that keep their interest in school and allows them to achieve their potential.

But what have they done to achieve this? In short, they have taken many concrete steps–some of which come from cutting edge research and some from good, old-fashioned, hard work and caring.

First, Nesbit teachers do benchmark assessments three time per year. This allows them to more closely track where their students–as individual learners–are succeeding and where they are struggling. Feedback like this allows teachers to mold the curriculum to meet their students needs. Nesbit is the only school in the District to have adopted this practice.

Another unique effort at Nesbit has been in the area of teacher training. Over the last two years or so, the District has sent teachers from Nesbit to the Teacher’s College for Reading and Writing. They have received top of the line training in new strategies for teaching language arts. In this day when our children will be called upon not just to understand math or science, but to explain it to others, language can be a key skill. Nesbit’s teachers are coming back from the Teacher’s College ready to implement new strategies and to train other teachers throughout the District in what they learned.

Nesbit’s teachers also have received training in Explicit Direct Instruction and Kate Kinsella’s Accountable Responses teaching pedagogy. These elements help ensure that all teachers are able to give kids individualized support and further improves their already quality teaching methods.

Nesbit is also providing 30 extra minutes of language arts and math instruction to its struggling students. Keeping all students moving at close to the same rate of learning helps to allow the teacher to provide a higher level of instruction for both the struggling students and the high-achievers.

Finally, Nesbit has created an after school enrichment class for academically talented 4th and 5th graders. Assisted by Oracle, this enrichment program helps further challenge those children who are doing very well. We have struggled as a District to find resources for sufficient enrichment programs because of our budget problems–Nesbit has found a way to offer one.

Much of what I have described about Nesbit is important…they are just some of the examples of the cutting-edge education its students are receiving. Indeed, some of the best teaching in the District is happening at Nesbit. But what I have left out so far is the atmosphere at the school. And that is often just as important.

The principal and the staff at Nesbit know the kids. There are currently about 350 kids at the school and Robin knows each one by name. The staff has been willing to learn new ways of providing instruction that are paying off … test scores are going way up. Nesbit’s PTA is extremely active and has developed a true feeling of community. Just go to one of their restaurant nights–they pack the place with families who are enjoying each other’s company while making a contribution to their school.

Several things are important when one considers the right school for their child. Things like walking to school can be nice. But the really important thing is what happens at the school … will the child be walking into an innovative atmosphere filled with energetic people interested in him or her as an individual? People willing to go the extra mile to ensure he or she will get a level of individualized instruction not seen everywhere? A place where the staff and principal will get to know them and be willing to help them succeed–both socially and academically? These most important things we want in a school can be found at Nesbit.

The BRSSD has become a destination for families looking for a place to get a high-quality education for their children. And Nesbit will quickly become a sought-after school within the BRSSD–indeed, some parents who see what their child can get at Nesbit have already told me they want to be there.

I want to thank the entire Nesbit community–parents, staff, Robin, and everyone associated with the school–for working so hard to make it such a great educational environment. You are creating a spirit of excellence and making a huge difference in children’s lives.

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Celebrating the Good

We always seem to be on the move in this community, running from school to work to sports or other activities. Sometimes things are good and sometimes we are at each other. Every once in awhile, it is good to sit back and consider all we have accomplished. I enjoyed one of those moments this weekend.

The occasion was “Foxtravaganza,” the Fox talent show. Volunteer parents and talented kids have been putting on the show for the last 24 years and it has continued to grow and grow. It was held in the Carlmont auditorium, a wonderful setting. We had kids dancing and singing–from the Kindergarteners to the 5th graders. Several kids had the courage to come out on stage, in front of a packed house, and demonstrate what they can do. They played the piano, the violin, the drums, the guitar–it was a great sight to see.

As many of you who follow the District know, we have been working through some difficult issues. It was good to set those aside and consider, once again, what can happen when a community comes together. Without nurturing schools and families, these kids would not have had the courage to perform. Without parents willing to go the extra mile to choreograph, work the sets, and coordinate all the inner-workings of the show, the kids wouldn’t have had the opportunity to perform. And without the teachers being willing to put up with extra noise while the kids practiced at school, none of this would happen.

Events like Foxtravaganza occur at all of our schools. The kids, their families, and their schools are making every effort to do well. And, though we have to deal with difficult issues and, yes, sometimes argue about them, we do well to stop once in awhile and celebrate the good we do.

Thanks to all who make Foxtravaganza and all of the similar events at our schools happen.

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Madness & More

Mardi Gras Madness … the School-Force District-wide fundraiser went off extremely well last night. A big thanks to the merry band of organizers and helpers who pulled off the most successful event ever. Rumor has it that 475 tickets were sold this year … last year’s event had roughly 200. There were people there from every school, including all the principals.

A key message to come from this is that cooperation leads to success. All of the money raised goes to School-Force and then to the District. Those funds benefit every student in the District. Some are helped through reading specialists because they need help with reading; some are helped by having reading specialists work with other kids and thereby freeing up teachers to work with the rest of the class. The money keeps our class sizes manageable, allows us to retain high-quality teachers, keeps the libraries operating, and pays for us to have people like the Dean at Ralston–a very important position at that large school.

Once again, I want to thank everyone who contributed to the event. It was a great success!

    Superintendent Search

How can you participate in the search for the new Superintendent? Perhaps the easiest way to visit the District’s website and complete a short survey. The survey asks what qualities you think are most important in a Superintendent. The results will be shared and the Board will have them as part of the material we consider when making a choice.

The further schedule for events is as follows:

Current — Advertising the position

3/4-3/24 — Online survey

3/20 — Community Forum (details to be announced)

4/11 — Profile report will come to the Board at a special meeting starting at 7pm. The report will compile all the information generated.

4/25 — Slate of candidates will be presented to the Board by the consultants

Early May — Board will interview candidates

5/23 — Appoint Superintendent

7/1 — Superintendent starts.

There are also scheduled opportunities for teachers to have input and for the different organizations (PTA’s, School-Force, etc.) to have input as well.

Our goal is to create an inclusive process while respecting the confidentiality of applicants … some may be sitting Superintendents who do not want to harm their relationship with their communities. So please get involved … this is your District … completing the survey takes no time and will be a big help.

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Full Agenda for Thursday’s Meeting

This Thursday’s meeting promises to have something for everyone. Ok, it may not be as entertaining as a Broadway show, but there will be a lot of good information … including my favorite part: the Fox School Showcase.

We move our meetings around to the school sites a couple times a year. It is Fox’s turn this time and Mr. Marchetti will be giving us a showcase of some of the exciting things going on at the school.

In addition, we will discuss:

The report from the Measures I & N Oversight Committee

The Ralston Middle School Course of Study for 2013-2014

“Teen Talk” (the sex ed program used in 7th grade)

The potential parcel tax

The 2nd interim budget

An enrollment update

An update on the Superintendent search.

As I said, this meeting is jam packed with things that people care about. Come to learn and offer your ideas. I hope to see you there … if you come, stop by and say hello at a break.

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And the search begins …

As followers of BRSSD know, Dr. Suzanne Roy has opted to retire at the end of this school year. We have been extremely fortunate to benefit from her insight, experience, and positive approach to leadership and I am sad to see her go. She and Nellie Hungerford have done great work guiding our District over the last year.

With Dr. Roy’s retirement comes the need to search for a new, permanent, Superintendent. At one of our last meetings, the Board opted to employ a search firm to help us as we engage in the process of searching for the right person to bring our District into the future. Our first step in the journey with them begins tomorrow night at a special Board meeting.

Representatives from the firm will be present to engage in a discussion with the Board about how to structure the process. We will discuss the best way to get input from our community, our employee groups, and our management groups. I fully expect an inclusive process.

A district’s Superintendent plays a key role in setting the tone for how our school’s operate. The required skill set is vast and the job is difficult. Having said that, I am confident that our little district will be an attractive place for quality applicants.

The public is welcome to come tomorrow night to hear the plans. Even if you can’t make it, please involve yourself in the process. There will be ways for your voice to be heard and we will be publicizing them once they are finalized.

Saddened as I am at the loss of Dr. Roy, I am excited about a new opportunity. One that will let us build on our past accomplishments and allow us to continue to provide a high-quality education to our children.

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