More than 300 Fremont teachers and other school employees, parents and students gathered at the intersection of Mowry Ave./Fremont Blvd. after school Thursday as part of a statewide Day of Action against education cuts. It was the typical rally, with cars honking and people waving signs and chanting.
For me, the most memorable part was listening to the head of the teachers union, Brannin Dorsey, lead the crowd in a song about budget cuts, written by Washington High teacher Matt Ballin and set to the tune of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” Here’s a 10-second footage of the crowd singing (sorry for the poor quality) with some of the lyrics below (in blue):
The district staff is recommending the board cut at least $16 million from next year’s budget and has prepared a report listing areas that the board could cut to save a total of $22 million. Tonight will be discussion only. The board isn’t scheduled to vote on the cuts until next month, at the earliest. For today’s article, click here.
I should clarify tonight’s timeline, as it wasn’t clear in the article:
Around 5:30/5:45 p.m.: teachers will gather to rally against cuts
6 p.m.: The public can address the board before it heads into closed session to discuss negotiations with employee groups. Some teachers plan to speak at this time.
6:30 p.m.: Regular meeting will start. The public will have another opportunity to address the board at this time. Teachers again plan to speak.
To read the district staff report, including the areas of possible cuts, click here.
Starting today, and once a month through the end of this school year, a student column will appear on this blog. The students come up with their own topics, which may address educational issues or youth culture in general.
The columnists are all student board members for their school districts. This month’s column is by Jennifer Siew, a senior at Irvington High in Fremont. Future columns will feature the writings of Newark student Evangel Penumaka and New Haven student Leslie Salvador.
STUDENTS: APATHETIC OR SIMPLY WAITING TO BE HEARD?
By Jennifer Siew
Fremont Unified student board member
Have you wondered why, as our political and social issues seem to grow, each generation’s interest in these topics dwindles? It just doesn’t make sense. You’d think with an election resulting in the first-ever African-American president, the participation of first-time voters — mainly those too young to vote in the last election — would significantly increase. Yet, according to a Gallup poll, the percentage of first-time voters in the 2008 election (13 percent) was identical to that of the 2004 election.
Opportunities for our upcoming citizens to get involved are growing exponentially, yet our voices are being slowly lost to fits of ignorance and indifference. Or are they? Does our generation not care about these issues, or are we just afraid to speak up?
High school exposes you to an unbelievable database of opinions, varying points of view, interesting perspectives and surprising lessons. I don’t believe for a second that students don’t care about the world around them, especially when the economic, as well as global, crises we’re in at the moment are affecting us all so heavily.
There’s an article in today’s paper about Fremont Unified eliminating the two traditional parent conference days as part of this year’s budget cuts. Teachers had their work year reduced by five days (equivalent to about a 2.67 percent pay cut), so they’re not meeting with every parent. Some will still meet with parents who request a conference, but there are reports that other teachers are refusing to set up face-to-face meetings, opting instead to communicate by phone or e-mail. (District officials say they expect that if a parent specifically requests a meeting, that teachers would still honor that request.)
Some parents feel they’re not missing much by not having conferences, while others are outraged. Some feel the elimination of face-to-face time with teachers is a step back for a district whose leaders say they want to improve communication with stakeholders.
In the first of what most likely will be a series of special meetings to discuss the search for a new superintendent, the Fremont school board on Tuesday decided it would look at external candidates as well as current district employees (at least for now). The last time the board conducted a full search was in 2002, when it eventually hired John Rieckewald, an outsider, as schools chief. The two superintendents after him were hired from within the district.
Milt Werner, the current superintendent who’s retiring in June, said he favored a thorough search. “Without question, we have excellent internal candidates, but it’s healthy” to do a search, he said. “It looks long; it looks arduous, but you have more than 32,000 kids on your hands. You have an awesome responsibility.”
During the meeting, the head of the district’s management association said the group would like the board to conduct a full search to ensure it was not overlooking qualified candidates. Meanwhile, the president of the California School Employees Association said an internal candidate was preferred and singled out Parvin Ahmadi, assistant superintendent of instruction, as “excellent.”
It’s not clear yet how much hiring a firm to conduct a search would set the district back. The board tentatively is scheduled to vote Monday (during its joint meeting with the City Council) whether to advertise that it’s looking to hire a search firm.
UPDATE (8:18 p.m.): The school board voted 3-2 not to transfer Curtis from MSJE. Trustees Ivy Wu, Lily Mei and Larry Sweeney voted not to move her. Trustees Bryan Gebhardt and Lara York were the “no” votes.
The regular board meeting also started nearly 1.5 hours late — a new record! I don’t know if the hold-up was due to the board not coming to an agreement over this decision or if it had to do with another issue.
(ORIGINAL ENTRY): Here’s a photo that someone submitted from Tuesday’s picket at Mission San Jose Elementary. A group of parents say their principal, Bonnie Curtis, is being forced to transfer to another campus, even though the administrator said it ultimately was her decision. Read the full story by clicking here.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the possible reassignment tonight.
What was supposed to be a united rally against state budget cuts and a push for local school funding turned into an attack on the Fremont teachers’ union and the no-layoff clause for permanent teachers in its contract during last night’s education/budget forum.
Overall, the event was a tame affair. Three or four dozen people attended — about half of which I recognized as elected officials, school administrators or the super-involved parents who serve on various school committees. A couple of the organizers said after the event that they had hoped for a larger turnout and agreed that perhaps they had been preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, they’re hoping those who heard their message will pass it on to others in the community.
That message being that the fiscal crisis the district finds itself in (about a $20 million deficit) is the fault of the state Legislature which keeps making cuts to education; that there needs to be a Constitutional amendment so that state budgets no longer need two-thirds legislative approval to pass; and that it behooves everyone in the community to support a local schools parcel tax. Read the rest of this entry »
Today, the state Department of Ed released its report about the number of sophomores who passed the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) this year. Students who did not pass have several more opportunities to retake the test their junior and senior years.
The exam tests students in their English and math skills. Students must pass the test to receive a high school diploma, although some special ed students may be exempt.
Click here for a chart showing the passage rate of first-time test-takers (i.e., sophomores) in each Tri-City school over the past three years.
Tonight, teacher Jaime Richards spoke before Fremont school board members, asking them to change a district policy that prohibits educators from using YouTube in the classroom. Richards said teachers should be trusted to use their judgment as to what materials are appropriate for students. I haven’t had a chance to confirm that this is the district’s policy or to get the district’s position, but Jaime raises an interesting point if it’s true:
Should teachers be allowed to show YouTube videos as part of their curriculum? Anyone know what the policy is in other districts?