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Santa Clara Unified Puts Omicron Surge Behind Them

With a little more breathing room now that the COVID-19 Omicron surge fades in the rearview, Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees tried to return to business as usual at their Thursday, Feb. 10 meeting.


COVID-19 Update

Vaccines for children under 5 years old may be on the way, according to Jennifer Dericco, Director of Communications at Santa Clara Unified. Indoor masking mandates are being lifted across the state but not for K-12 schools and not in Santa Clara County. Dericco says they may see mask mandates lifted in the County in a few weeks. Next meeting, the Board will review the outdoor mask mandate they set in place. Dericco reports that group-based notifications for contact tracing are working well.

Dr. Jose Gonzalez, Assistant Superintendent, said they are continuing to hire substitute teachers to help with teacher absences. Community volunteers applied to help out and 77 have been placed.


Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam reported improving attendance, 95 percent. Independent Study enrollment is steadily dropping as students return to in-person. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said they are waiting on guidance for Independent Study for next year.

Board Vice President Vickie Fairchild wanted to see Grapefruit contracts on this agenda. Board Member Andy Ratermann agreed and said the community deserves transparency on the District’s COVID-19 testing partner. He made a motion, stating, next meeting he wanted an agenda item with the contracts so they could discuss them. This passed.


New Job Descriptions

The Board appointed Rick Hayashi as the new Vice Principal at MacDonald High School. They approved the new job description for Account Assistant III-Transportation.

Board Member Jim Canova was concerned they weren’t following policy regarding the Professional Learning Specialist job description. Canova said he will start voting “no” if job descriptions don’t start coming to the Board under the framework of their policy. Fairchild agreed.

At previous meetings, CSEA Chapter 350 President Lynn Villarreal advocated for this position and again defended it saying the classified staff needs this.

The motion for the new job description failed 3-3, but Ratermann made a new motion to approve the description but waiting on Board approval to fill it. This motion passed, 6-0.

The new job description for a Special Assistant to the Superintendent will come back to the next meeting or in March. Fairchild repeated the statement she’s made at previous meetings that they are too “top-heavy.”


Facility Improvements

A contract with HY Architects made its return. Michal Healy, Director of Facility Development and Planning, described the scope of the contract, including a Facility Conditions Assessment and Long Range Master Plan. The conditions assessment would create a list of projects that need maintenance so they can plan, budget, and create a deferred maintenance schedule. They don’t currently have this.

The master plan uses the assessment and would look at all District sites. HY would work with the community and school sites to learn about the projects they prioritize. Then, they create phases to schedule maintenance projects.

This is needed, according to Healy and Chief Business Official Mark Schiel, so the District can prioritize projects to direct Measure BB savings to time-sensitive projects, and any extra money they could get from reimbursements.

Fairchild was not convinced. “It’s not the right time for this.”

Healy assured that they can go at their own pace, a staged approach, without accruing additional costs from HY.

Board Member Albert Gonzalez made the motion to approve an agreement with HY Architects, saying they need this work done, and Canova added that he wanted to follow a staged approach. The agreement passed 5-1, with Fairchild voting “no.”


Measure BB Update

Larry Adams, Director of Bond Programs, updated the Board on Measure BB spending and projects. MacDonald High School is on-time and Adams said it appears they have sufficient funds, but time will tell. The Patrick Henry/Peterson project is in progress, but they have not started work on New Valley High School. Plans are on the way for Briarwood, Bracher and Westwood.

Unfunded projects include widow and lighting upgrades as well as restroom additions and upgrades. ADA compliance projects and traffic improvements are also unfunded and on the wish list along with many more.


Grading Equity

Joe Feldman with Crescendo Education Group led a Study Session about Santa Clara Unified’s current cohort that’s shifting away from traditional grading practices. Feldman said that traditional grading practices disproportionately hurt students who lack resources and support.

They are using research and training to create more accurate, bias-resistant and motivational grading practices. Feldman described the benefits teachers see in their classrooms and academic performance, like students speaking about progress in terms of content strengths and areas of growth, rather than grade points.

Sarah Silverman, an English teacher at Santa Clara High School, said she has implemented changes in her classrooms like allowing late work and test redos.

Feldman said they are continuing to work on grading practices and will add another cohort.


Special Education Safety

The community came to public comment to talk about special education teachers’ safety. Ratermann tried to pass a motion to get more information on these incidents but Fairchild, the Board’s unofficial special ed advocate, warned that much of this can’t be discussed in open session due to confidentiality. The motion failed 3-3.

Dr. Kemp said they’re working on solutions, and she will check in with the school sites.


Other Business

The District has a new auditor and Nathan Edelman, with Eide Bailly, presented the 2020-2021 Independent Auditors Report. The Board accepted the report which had some minor findings relating to the COVID-19 pandemic but those are being addressed.

Regarding concerns about the Cabrillo Middle School music room, Dr. Kemp says an update will come in early spring.

Board Member Dr. Michele Ryan was remote for part of the meeting and was not available later in the meeting.

The Santa Clara Unified Board will meet next on Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m.


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