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Regular Board Meeting Thu 2/7/19 – Music moving forward

February 7, 2019

The memorable thing for me about tonight’s board meeting was that school music made two gains: high school marching band students have a path to a PE waiver (to help fit music in their schedule) and Tolenas is set to become a music-themed K-8 school (more on these below).

This was the second regular board meeting I have attended since being elected. The agenda (and the entire archive of agendas, information handouts and minutes) is available from this link, but the navigation controls take a little getting used to.

One high point of the meeting was recognizing the district classified employee of the year, which spotlighted a dozen or so exemplary employees who are non-teachers but vital to the welfare of the district. I don’t have the list, but it should appear soon in the newspaper or district website – watch for it. Also recognized for outstanding achievement were students Madison Foster of Cleo Gordon Elementary, Dulce Bernal of Sheldon Academy of Innovative Learning, and Christian Carrion of David Weir K-8 Preparatory Academy. Each shared a speech.

Next on the agenda was an overview of how marching band came to be included in the PE waiver policies. Director of Secondary Education Kristen Witt described the work done starting in October of last year, with involvement of several principals, teachers and staff to look for a solution for students whose schedules did not easily include a place for marching band. She recognized and credited several individuals. (Notable to me was the role played by community member Diane Ball, who initially helped draw attention to the issue and has spoken on it several times, including tonight.) This culminated tonight with the later adoption of a modified board policy, adding a single clause to an existing statement of students who qualify for exemptions. (See the existing policy here.) Added to provision three of “Other Exemptions” was this phrase: “When the student is in high school and is engaged in a regular school-sponsored interscholastic athletic program carried on wholly or partially after regular school hours provided that the student has satisfactorily met at least five of the six standards of the FITNESSGRAM in grade 9. (Added part in bold.) This, together with a change of which activities constitute “interscholastic athletic programs,” will allow marching band students who demonstrate proficiency in physical fitness in 9th grade to obtain the waiver on the same terms as student athletes on sports teams.

This may not be an easy bar to clear (only 260 ninth-grade students clinched the “five out of six standards” during the last year), but it’s a path and an incentive for physical fitness at the same time. Hopefully, time will show it to be a win all around – both for physical fitness teachers who feared it might reduce enrolled students, and for band teachers who were limited by students schedules, and most of all for students, who will now have more choice.

The next item of interest, designating the “thematic configuration for Tolenas Elementary,” contained a report describing parent, student and staff surveys showing preferences between the choices of multimedia, farm-to-table/agriculture, and music. This was also considered at the last meeting, but sent back for more information. Tonight the choice for the board was whether to select either farm-to-table/agriculture or music as the school theme. I was leaning toward farm-to-table because of the survey results, but board member Joan Gaut said the school district already has a K-8 school with that theme, but none with music. That helped sway me to board member Judi Honeychurch’s motion to select music. Board member John Silva dissented, wanting to respect the survey results, but the motion carried. Maybe this sounds boring, but to me it was exciting. I think it marks a big step, where the school will provide a stronger music program than other K-8 schools, and some parents may well choose for their children to attend Tolenas for that reason. (Personal note: I attended the same school for two years in the early 70s. It was very much an agricultural area then, and probably still is now.) Again, I hope time will show this to be a solid decision.

The sobering part of the meeting was discussion of the likely need for $2.8 million in cuts during the next school year (equal to a little more than one percent of the budget). We’ll vote on these proposal at the next meeting, and none will likely result in any layoffs, but all will suffer a little bit as various programs are affected. The shortfall is almost entirely because of funding decreases at the state level. The following school year more cuts may well be necessary, and might involve even more positions cut. We have a great team of administrators, fortunately, to guide us through these leaner times while we work to keep the cuts as far away from student learning as we can.

The good news of the night was the chance of getting a grant for almost $2 million if we can show it would go only to help certain under-performing student groups in math and reading skills. More money from the state to educate our students is always welcome! Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Sheila McCabe gave a presentation on the grant.

Overall the night didn’t last too long (we got out by 7:45, my memory says), but a lot happened. It feels good to be part of this team of board members as they have a say in steering the district.

From → Meetings

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