In preparation for Palo Alto Weekly’s coverage of campaigns for the Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we asked questions from our readers about their top concerns about the school district.
With their many excellent answers, we have crafted a short questionnaire, which we hope will help clarify the differences between the four candidates. They discussed their primary interests and experiences in education. They also provide their views on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, and stewardship and innovations.
Candidates’ answers to all of these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, until September 26th. Here’s what they have to say for the next question: How can the district support the diverse academic needs of all students, from those with high academic achievement to those struggling in one or more areas?
There are seven areas that a school district must address to ensure it supports diverse academic needs (from the District Equity Plan). While this is a high-level summary, each of the elements mentioned here are discussed in specific detail in the plan, which can be accessed online:
Curriculum: Focus on standards-aligned curricula, early literacy, and assessment for equity through, for example, instructional strategies that take into account how students learn (universal design learning), phonics instruction, and standards-based grading.
Opportunity/Access: Increase diverse representation in subjects, programs and staffing; and increasing accessibility by extending adaptive technology to students with learning challenges and creating accessible learning environments.
Professional Learning/Accountability: Implementation of workshops on culture-responsive teaching, anti-racism, trauma-conscious practices, co-teaching and, as discussed above, UDL; and providing materials (literature, webinars, training courses) for employees to access.
Student-centered support: Implement a Multilevel Support System (MTSS) that includes identification, referral, intervention and progress monitoring of each student’s learning needs; Increased tutoring, credit recovery opportunities, increased access to learning resources (internet, childcare, supplies, transportation, meals), and increased family involvement.
culture and climate: Increased integration of social and emotional learning approaches; Create better student/family feedback systems regarding climate; and expanding socio-emotional learning.
Family Partnerships Support parent education and access through extended translation services at board meetings, parent workshops, and family engagement professionals.
Area Operations/Recruitment: Improving communication with families through scheduled consistent communications that standardize messages from multiple sources; Expand recruitment efforts beyond the region; Ensure diverse interview commissions; give priority to staff accommodation; and improve exit interviews to identify deficiencies.
Supporting the diverse academic needs of all students is actually part of the PAUSD promise: “Ensuring that all stakeholders in education are accountable for every learner to have full access to quality education, challenging curricula, full opportunity to learn, and appropriate and sufficient support for learning so that they can of achieving excellent standards in academic and other student outcomes.” The nominees and current school board trustees differ on how to achieve this promise.
Two of my most important goals are equity and differentiated education. Educators know that these principles are intertwined; The differentiated instruction helps bridge the achievement gap by engaging all students. Engaged students learn. Diversified education means education that is customized – including within one classroom – to meet the diverse needs of students.
Promoting equity requires using resources wisely to close the achievement gap, including early intervention programmes. It is critical to identify and help struggling students early. It is the duty of the district to ensure that all students read at or above grade level by the end of third grade.
I will prioritize providing evidence-based literacy and math support programs in every school and every grade. I will ensure early literacy is achieved for all students, particularly struggling learners.
We must allocate our resources not only to the selection of effective, research-based and professional development excellence education but also to the appropriate personnel (eg assistants, subject specialists, teachers on special assignments) needed to facilitate implementation. We must give teachers time to collaborate on basic learning, grading standards, homework loads, assessments, and curriculum pace.
Free tutoring, peer-based tutoring, and teacher-paid tutoring will all be a huge plus to help struggling students (and eventually a parent’s dream) fulfill their academic needs. Academically advanced courses are also an important pathway for academically advanced students to continue to challenge; These same students can earn community service credits toward educating their peers or lower grade students. Strengthening the learning community within the school community would be very beneficial.
Multiple math class levels are also an answer to triage between academically advanced students and those who are less academically advanced. As a region, we need to keep up with teaching advanced courses to top students, and therefore we also encourage those who haven’t done so well to reach these stars! Providing students with challenges in their education will help them reach and achieve higher standards.
Nicole Chiu Wang
In order to support the diverse academic needs of all students, the school district must provide teachers and staff with the resources, training, and support they need to be able to practice diverse learning within the classroom. It is important that our high achieving students feel challenged and that our struggling students get the support they need to succeed. And while it’s tempting to focus on these two groups of students, we shouldn’t forget our students who perform at grade level – they need our support and attention too.
For example, in our high schools, there are opportunities for students to advance themselves in many of our AP and Honors classes. But students have long demanded that these classes be expanded in the humanities. We can and must do this. At the same time, we must implement a program to encourage students who do not often take honors or AP classes to try it, and the district must provide the support system necessary for these students to succeed in those classes.
Check back on Palo Alto Online tomorrow to see which candidates are dealing with another problem in the school district.
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