3/17 UPDATE: This column was published in the Wed., Feb. 17 edition of the Town Crier.
Disclaimer: This is not a BCS-related blog post per se, though it is schools-related
The Los Altos Town Crier is published (and delivered by mail) weekly on Wednesday, and the new edition is usually available the prior Tuesday afternoon. The Town Crier solicits submissions of up to 500 words from local residents for its “Other Voices” column, and I submitted the sentiments below last Thursday for tomorrow’s Feb. 10, 2016 edition:
After 8 years, progress toward civic center redevelopment is endangered and progress toward relieving elementary school crowding is stalled. I attended the Jan. 28 meeting of the City-Schools Ad Hoc Public Lands Committee, which discusses how public lands can best be used. I liked much of what I heard from the committee and from members of the public who came to share their thoughts about proposals. I’m grateful that the city and school district are meeting to discuss land use, and I want to elaborate on comments I shared that night. In 2012, the relationship between the City and LASD had deteriorated, due largely to tension between personalities on both sides. I (and others) campaigned for current Council members and Trustees, with a goal of electing people who could rebuild the relationship between the city and the district. All the candidates we interviewed in 2012, including Bruins, Pepper, Satterlee, Luther and Taglio assured us that they shared our goal of rebuilding this relationship. In the years since that election, I’ve lobbied them in person and in this newspaper to fulfill this promise, but progress toward improved partnership has been painfully slow. At the Jan. 28 meeting, I realized that lack of clarity about community priorities may be the root of the problem. Our civic leaders slog through a constant stream of petitions from niche interest groups, but they have not taken the obvious step of conducting a large scale survey of community attitudes about land use and development. I believe political courage and faster progress can come from a clear mandate from the community. I may be a passionate activist supporter of the apricot orchard at the civic center and for city swimming pools at Egan and Blach, but my priorities may be out of step with the majority of our community. When the City of Los Altos purchased Hillview School from the Los Altos School District more than forty years ago, it faced a similar dilemma: should Hillview be developed for recreational or residential purposes? According to a Town Crier article from that time, niche groups were petitioning the city for soccer fields, baseball fields and tennis courts, while raising bond funding for redevelopment seemed unlikely. Maybe some things haven’t changed much since, but what was really different then is that the City hired a firm to conduct a professional survey of community attitudes about Hillview use. We’ve seen how niche interests can distort local public policy, so today’s civic leaders should arm themselves with data on which to base decisions that affect the entire community. We’re not in a completely data free zone, since two referenda have been held in the past fifteen months: the Measure N School Facilities Bond election and the Measure A Civic Center Redevelopment Bond election. 70% of our community voted for new schools while 70% of the community voted against the last civic center proposal. A proper survey of community priorities will cut through the noise and illuminate the path forward.
As it’s Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the new TC and read this Other Voices column:
Consider, if you will, a few things we know about Los Altos School District:
- Its elementary and middle schools have been repeatedly recognized for consistent academic excellence by both the California and US Departments of Education.
- It’s recognized by local and foreign educators, media, and private organizations as an innovative public school district in Silicon Valley.
- It’s the only school district in its region with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Finance (CACF) that provides long-term budget and planning support.
- It’s the only district in California awarded the GFOA Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting each of the past 10 years.
- It has been awarded the Meritorious Budget Award by the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) each year for the past 14 years.
- Was rated the most financially efficient Basic Aid school district in California by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) at its 2010 (SF)² Spring Symposium.
Yet a certain anti-LASD contingent (that shall not be named) accuses LASD of being a stagnant, bloated government monopoly that resists innovation and isn’t equipped to prepare students for the realities of the 21 century… blah, blah, blah… UGH! ENOUGH!!
Sometimes, life here in Lake Wobegon feels more like… the Twilight Zone.
These people calling themselves “LASD Parents for Great Schools” donated more than $21,000 in one week to support pro-BCS candidates Martha McClatchie and John Swan.
I haven’t done a deep-dive on the list, but at a glance I see there’s a lot of overlap between this donor list and current and former BCS Foundation board and BCS School board members.
Recall that Martha McClatchie is a former LASD parent whose children now attend BCS. Martha volunteered for the BCS Foundation in 2012, completing and signing its 2012 IRS Form 990 as Principal Officer and Treasurer.
I’ve previously written about my experience with Martha McClatchie, and why I find her an ideologically inappropriate candidate for LASD Trustee. Ideology aside, there are a number of actions she has taken as a pro-BCS, anti-LASD activist that more then give me pause:
- Political flip-flop on BCS facilities litigation
- Obscuring BCS legal and PR expenditures
- Organizing a media stunt to shame LASD (coming soon)
- Close ties to charter movement leadership (coming soon)
My objection to Martha McClatchie’s candidacy for LASD Trustee is based on my personal experience with her. I’m certainly not accusing Martha of being a bad person. To the contrary, she’s a tireless volunteer for causes she supports, which is admirable.
I know for a fact that Martha has performed many great services for children in her community, but this does not necessarily qualify her for the LASD Trustee role she seeks.
Martha has lots of passion and amplitude, but passion and amplitude can be either an asset or a liability.
I think Martha is ideologically poorly suited to be an LASD Trustee, and some of her projects and tactics over the past few years raise questions about her judgement. Because of choices she has made, Martha’s passion has become a liability, and the truth about her choices and allegiances are obscured from voters in this election.
Within ethics and value theory we find good discussions about utility, maximization of good and minimization of harm. In John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy, specifically, Mill argues that only a person who has experienced two alternate conditions is qualified to judge one preferable over the other, often called the ‘Doctrine of Competent Judges.’
To 21st century men and women (accustomed as we are to humanistic ethics a few hundred years post-Enlightenment) this reads a bit like archaic truism. Of course we would agree that only a person who has driven both a Camry and a Prius is truly ‘competent’ to judge one superior over the other. This is not to say, of course, that every ‘competent judge’ will have the same preferences or reach the same conclusions, but they importantly have direct knowledge of that which they’re judging.
And so it is with many other opinions we express and judgements we make each day. If we have direct experience with two alternate states of being, we’re at least minimally qualified to judge one over another. Notably, this doesn’t prevent people from expressing unqualified opinions or taking a position on things they have no direct experience with.
For example, LASD public schools.
I found this slide deck on the web and thought it hilarious, because if there’s one thing you see a lot of in public education politics, it’s standardized test scores and statistics.
I guess the reason I found it so funny is because, well, it’s actually trying to be funny, but also because it gave me one of those, “Oh yeah, DUH!” epiphanies. Like when someone explains something simple that you’ve always known, but didn’t grok at a fundamental level until someone else spoke it and the words actually hit your ears. Hey, it happens!
In this case, it was the slides on how biases in your data corrupt any statistical analysis.
More to the point, if you sample a large population but the sample isn’t sufficiently randomized or representative of the total, you can’t run stats on the sample and say anything at all about the total population.
I’ve written before about SCCBOE’s October 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop. I don’t remember seeing a meeting agenda. The discussion focused mostly on each of the SCCBOE members’ personal view of the role of SCCOE/SCCBOE vis-a-vis charters.
It’s not news to a frequent reader that I believe charter schools have always been intended as special remedies for traditional public schools or districts that suffer from intractable shortcomings and deprive students of a quality education.
The stated legislative objectives of the CA Charter Schools Act of 1992 never included establishment of a parallel system of quasi-private voucher schools operated under the aegis of ‘public education.’ It didn’t intend for charters to attack, undermine or replace California’s traditional school districts, yet sitting members of SCCBOE clearly feel it’s their duty to impose an aggressive pro-charter political agenda on our local districts.
When I listened to this audio recording from the meeting I was surprised by some of what I heard from each member. Here’s SCCBOE President Leon Beauchman’s quote regarding new charter petitions from the Oct. 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop:
Former Santa Clara County Schools Superintendent Charles Weis (left) was relieved of duty when Xavier De La Torre (right) was hired as his replacement in June 2012. Weis had his share of problems at SCCOE (and at his previous gig), some of which are chronicled here.
De La Torre came to SCCOE after a three year stint as Superintendent of Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. At their April 3, 2013 meeting, less than a year after landing at SCCOE, De La Torre presented a ‘white paper‘ to the County Board developed in conjunction with CSCA. It’s an overview of the charter school landscape in Santa Clara County, with typical demographic stats and standardized test scores for each of the county’s charters.
What I found most interesting were the Superintendent’s recommendations:
I caught up with a friend recently over a beer, we spent a good amount of time discussing a topic we share an interest in: California Charter Law. (I know… *YAWN*)
Here in California, we’ve been experimenting on public school students for more than 20 years using Charter Law, so maybe it’s time to take stock of where things stand.
Maybe it’s time to rein in the mavericks, to return law and order to this wild west.