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Education Desk: July 23, 2014

New Associate Superintendent Appointed for Mathematics Instruction

At the July 17 meeting, the Santa Clara Unified Board of Trustees approved the appointment of current Director, West Contra Costa Unified Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Phil Gonsalves, to the position of Associate Superintendent of Instruction for Mathematics.

Gonsalves was formerly the executive director of the Alameda County Collaborative for Learning and Instruction in Mathematics – a Cal State East Bay, Chabot College and Alameda County Office of Education partnership that provides classes for teachers on mathematics content, lesson design and assessment.

The appointment provoked predictable questions from UTSC President Michael Hickey and members of the public. Why was a new administrative position needed? Why was money being appropriated for this ($150,000) and not to address what one parent called “chaos” – overcrowding – in kindergarten classrooms?

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“This isn’t about Phil,” said Hickey. “It’s about a pattern. We have an Assistant Superintendent of Instruction. Now we’re hiring an Associate Superintendent just for math. I’m concerned that you’re replacing administrative cuts [made in past years], not people who work with students.”

“We haven’t had a mathematician on the upper echelons of our district,” said Trustee Ina Bendis, “and it’s something we need to have for our students. This is someone who brings in millions [in grants] to his districts.”

“I’m concerned that we’re not spending enough time on what we expect our schools to achieve,” responded Trustee Andy Ratermann. “We’re spending too much on the ‘how.’ [For example] we need to tell our staff ‘we need to reduce class size’ and let our staff tell us how. I want to see us focus on our students and focus on the ‘what’ and get out of the ‘how.'”

Class size reduction was then added to the July 24 agenda. But given the board’s recent history of micromanagement in matters such as school master scheduling and school site grade organization, there is likely to be a lot of discussion of “how.”

$419 Million Bond Measure Gets Final Review

At the July 17 meeting, the school board reviewed the draft of the proposed $419 million general obligation bond for the November ballot, and will finalize it at the July 24 meeting.

The money is needed for critical infrastructure repairs, building new classrooms and re-opening schools to accommodate an enrollment boom, updating classrooms and technology throughout the district and building a new K-8 and high school in the Northside of the district. The bond issue was discussed at two previous meetings, and a survey last spring indicated that it had sufficient support to garner the 55 percent needed to pass a general obligation bond. (Parcel taxes require a two-thirds majority).

However, the wording that was proposed for the ballot was less clear to Trustees than the need for the money:

“To repair or replace deteriorating roofs, plumbing and wiring, remove asbestos, lead and hazardous materials; to upgrade outdated classrooms and career training facilities that support 21st century learning and prepare students for college and careers; to acquire, renovate, construct and equip classrooms and facilities to relieve overcrowding and attract quality teachers, shall the Santa Clara Unified School District issue $419 million in bonds at legal rates, with independent citizen oversight, no money for administrators, and all money staying local?”

This launched a lengthy discussion about punctuation; specifically, whether or not more commas were needed, the proper use of the comma in English generally, and who had the better street cred – Bendis or Trustee Michele Ryan – on the question. Board President Christine Koltermann finally called a halt to the nattering, giving staff instructions to revise the draft before the July 24 meeting.

In any case, even if it remained unclear whether the bond money was to be used to attract teachers, or to equip classrooms that were attractive to teachers, the paragraph did offer a useful sixth grade English lesson as well as on the dangers of “eats shoots and leaves” ambiguity.

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