Widespread accountability was the theme of the night at the second Pleasanton Unified School District community meeting of the year, from district staff accountability to holding state officials and the Pleasanton community itself likewise accountable when it comes to education.
A few dozen educators, parents and interested locals gathered in the Alisal Elementary School multipurpose room on a rainy Tuesday evening to hear PUSD cabinet members and trustees talk about their goals for the district, and to ask their own questions.
This was one of four such meetings set to be held over the course of the school year, with Tuesday’s centered on using overarching goals to guide the school district’s work in all arenas.
“One of the key focus areas that we’re trying to work on this year is aligning all the organizational activities and the work of each various division within the district to the five goals we’re going to talk about in just a few minutes,” PUSD Superintendent David Haglund said in his opening comments.
After a presentation by the Amador Valley High School Local Leaders of the 21st Century, an environmental club at the school, the first half of the meeting focused on the district’s organizational goals, summarized by different cabinet members. Assistant superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa was absent, to celebrate her birthday, so assistant superintendent of education services Odie Douglas led the presentations.
The five goals the district has decided to focus upon include implementing strategies to help close achievement and opportunity gaps; improving supportive interventions and enrichments for students; strengthening employee recruitment, development and retention; strengthening and clarifying district policies and regulations at the leadership level; and improving customer service throughout the district.
During the second half of the 90-minute meeting, district officials answered questions attendees had written down on notecards, with school board trustees Steve Maher and Mark Miller on hand to assist with responses. The first question posed set the tone for the rest of the discussion: a community member asked, “How do you hold yourselves accountable for meeting the goals and objectives?”
Haglund responded that with all the district’s goals, they sought to find a quantifiable metric, whether it be a community survey evaluating how safe students felt at school to hard academic data from state assessments.
He added, however, that broadly crafted, state-mandated assessments aren’t always the best metric for all communities.
“As an example, if our graduation rate is 98.7%, what are we trying to do? Get it to 98.8% or 98.9%?” Haglund said. “Or are there other things within the trajectory of getting a student from kindergarten through graduation that we should be paying attention to, that in the end wouldn’t make that higher, but might have larger consequences at a lower grade level.”
He pointed to oft-cited research linking third grade reading proficiency to prison, adding that not all families could afford outside reading tutoring and support -- another argument toward closing the opportunity and achievement gap within PUSD, and to hone in on individual student growth and performance.
A parent countered, however, that outside, after-school tutoring was skewing the district’s data and metrics.
“We have tutoring centers opening up on every corner, more than gas stations and 7-Elevens,” she said. “There’s plenty of parents in this town who spend thousands and thousands of dollars, to try and keep their kid matriculating to the next year. Because it wasn’t happening in school. So it’s warping what’s happening in the classroom because we’re paying extra money outside to keep them up-to-date.”
This sparked a conversation about the outgoing governor’s 2013 shift of the education funding formula, which allocated more of the budget to high-poverty districts. Part of the ideology behind the shift, Haglund said, was to address the very issue the parent had mentioned: in more affluent districts, parents are able to provide their children with additional out-of-school supports.
He noted that in some other districts comparable to PUSD, residents had approved a parcel tax to help supplement lower state allocations -- however, Pleasanton voters had previously rejected such a tax in 2011.
“In this district, the community has pretty much said, ‘yeah, no we’re not going to do that,’” Haglund said. “Which means all of those extra needs are pushed beyond towards the parents.”
School safety was another topic that arose during the discussion.
Ed Diolazo, assistant superintendent of student support services, highlighted a safety training that district and school personnel recently underwent, and Maher stood up to address the attendees as well, adding that fencing provided for through the Measure I1 facilities bond would go first to Harvest Park, Fairlands and Mohr elementaries, school sites that currently have classrooms that open to the public.
The final question addressed centered on disciplinary practices, and on how they were applied consistently throughout PUSD. Diolazo noted that district-wide, they were focusing on implementing more restorative disciplinary practices and trying to find alternatives to suspensions.
“We’re here to educate,” Diolazo said. “So we want to educate kids to learn from their mistakes.”
The hour-and-a-half time allotment for the meeting proved too short to answer all queries, so Haglund said that the remaining questions would be answered at a future board meeting or through his weekly bulletin.