We always welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to comment on specific posts or send your comments to us at feedback@tamdistrict.org.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tam District Board Appoints Michael Futterman as Trustee

Tamalpais Union High School District Board President Bob Walter announced the appointment of Michael Futterman to the five person Board of Trustees.  Mr. Futterman has been appointed to serve on the Board until the next regularly scheduled school board election, which will be in November 2015.  He fills the recent vacancy created by Sheri Mowbray’s resignation. 
“We were very fortunate to have nine outstanding candidates apply to fill the vacant seat on the Tam Board.  Any of them would have done an admirable job, but Michael’s prior governance experience and his particular skills set him apart,” Mr. Walter said.  “We look forward to working with him to ensure that every student in the Tam District is given access to the highest quality education.”
Overview of the Provisional Appointment Process
On Tuesday, July 8, the Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees held a special meeting in open session to make a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy created by Sheri Mowbray’s resignation on June 23, 2014. 
To minimize the time the District would be without a full slate of trustees and the cost to the District of a special election, the TUHSD Board determined that the vacancy would be filled by provisional appointment.  Following a call for trustee candidates, the board received nine applications from interested and qualified community members. The Board interviewed each candidate and then, after deliberation, unanimously voted to welcome Mr. Futterman to the governance team.  With this provisional appointment, Mr. Futterman is slated to serve until the next regularly scheduled board election in November 2015.  Ms. Mowbray’s full term would have extended until November 2017. 
In his written application, Mr. Futterman shared his reasons and interests in serving on the school board: 
“Providing kids and families with a high-quality public education is a community’s most important public service job.  In so many ways our schools are the glue that binds the community.  Recognizing the great work that teachers and school administrators do for our kids, service as a board member is an important way for someone who is not a professional educator to contribute to the community.  I very much enjoyed my prior service as a board member, and was fortunate to work with a group of high quality and committed fellow trustees.  I look forward to building on that experience and making additional contributions to the Tam District.”
During the deliberation process, current Board members shared what they felt were essential characteristics in a trustee at this time, including a primary focus on student learning and achievement, the ability to work as a member of a team, and an understanding of the role and responsibilities of the Board. 
The current Board also expressed their gratitude to all applicants who stepped up in a short time frame to volunteer to serve their community.  Board President Bob Walter said, “High quality schools are made possible by a high level of community support.  We are truly impressed with the number and quality of our applicants for the trustee vacancy.” 
Mr. Futterman is an attorney who lives in Larkspur with his family.  His three children are graduates of Redwood High School, and he served on the Board of Trustees of the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District from 2002 through 2007.
After his appointment, Mr. Futterman said, “I am honored to have been selected as a trustee of the Tamalpais Union High School District. I look forward to serving on behalf of all our students and families.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Announcement of TUHSD Board of Trustees Vacancy & Procedure for Application

Dear Tamalpais Union High School District Community,
Trustee Sheri Mowbray has filed a letter of resignation from the Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees with the Marin County Superintendent of Schools.  Ms. Mowbray’s dedication and service to our schools has been exemplary and her presence on the board will be truly missed. 
The Trustee vacancy will be filled by Board appointment.  Beginning today and ending at 12:00 noon on Monday, July 7, 2014, the Board will be accepting applications to fill this position.  The application, FAQs, and relevant Government and Education Codes(s) are available on our website, www.tamdistrict.org. 
On Tuesday, July 8, 2014, the Board will meet in open session beginning at 6:00 p.m. at the District Office to review all applications and to interview candidates.  Candidates should make themselves available for this meeting.  When the interviews are completed, the Board will make a selection.  Pending acceptance by the selected candidate, the Board will appoint immediately.  The appointed individual is immediately an official and fully operational board member.  
Applications will be accepted every day from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with Kaley Cloney in the District Office, beginning Wednesday, June 25, 2014.  Any application received after 12:00 p.m. on Monday, July 7, 2014, will not be accepted. 
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call Board President Bob Walter at (415) 456-6060.
Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees

Tamalpais Union High School District Board Approves Teacher Raises & Contract Changes

The Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a two-year contract agreement with the Tamalpais Federation of Teachers at their meeting on June 25, 2014.  The agreement impacts approximately 268 teachers, counselors, and librarians.  The chief negotiator for the district was Superintendent Laurie Kimbrel, and the chief negotiator for the teachers' union was President of the Tamalpais Federation of Teachers, Aaron Pribble.  Negotiations began in December 2013.
Terms of the contract include: 
2014 - 2015
4% raise on the salary schedule
1% of salary in a one-time payment
.04% increase in district paid benefits
2015 - 2016
3% raise on the salary schedule
1% of salary in a one-time payment
Increase in district paid benefits at rate TBD
The total increase for 2014-2015 is 5.04%, or about $5,200 per teacher.  The total increase for 2015-2016 is 4%, or about $4,342 per teacher.
The total cost of this settlement to the district is about $2.5 million dollars.  The Tamalpais Union High School District is a community-funded district that receives its revenue almost exclusively from local property taxes.  The teacher raise is made possible because of recent increases in property tax receipts due to the rapid increase in home sales and prices.
Other key contract provisions include:
  • Agreement to maintain the counselor-to-student ratio of 325:1 for at least three years.
  • Agreement on a job description and compensation for counselor leaders.
  • Stipends for freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior class advisors.
  • Compensation for teachers who write letters of recommendation.
  • Increases in teacher hourly rate for curriculum development and professional development work.
Superintendent Laurie Kimbrel said, "I am very pleased that we reached an agreement with our teachers in a relatively short period of time because of our shared belief in collective bargaining through collaboration and mutual problem solving.  We have addressed several long-standing issues, such as the counselor leader position and the long hours that our teachers spend writing letters of recommendation.  In addition, we have provided a generous salary increase to our teachers who have worked over the past few years to create a district curriculum, courses of study, and an assessment system which is aligned to the Common Core Standards."

Board president Bob Walter added, “This agreement is the fruition of on-going, considered, and mutually respectful dialogue between the District’s negotiators and the Tamalpais Federation of Teachers negotiating team. It bespeaks the enormous respect that our governance team, Dr. Kimbrel and the Board of Trustees, has for our teachers. What remains most remarkable for me is how, throughout our negotiations, the often voiced question and shared common concern of everyone at the table was, ‘What's best for our students?’”


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TUHSD Student Achievement Continues to Increase

As the school year comes to a close, we once again find ourselves in a time of both celebration and reflection.  Another year has passed, we have celebrated the academic, creative, and athletic successes of our students, and our graduating seniors are on their way to new adventures.  June is a time for teachers to calculate final grades and for report cards to be sent to families, and at the district office, we are poring over data from the year in order to determine the trends and patterns that point us in the direction of improved outcomes for students.
There is no doubt that we are moving in the right direction for our students, and the data from the last five years confirms this.  Our students are performing considerably better than state and national averages, and TUHSD student achievement increases year after year.  As a district, we track many data points.  Here are just a few highlights of our success:
College Enrollment and Completion Rates
This is the first year that we have had college entrance and completion rates available to us as a district.  In the coming years, we will continue to work to ensure that more students are prepared for success in post high school education.
  • TUHSD has a far higher percentage of students who enroll in and complete college within six years than both the state and national averages.  In fact, our college completion average is 15.8% higher than the national average.
Advanced Placement Courses
The research is clear--access to rigorous coursework in high school is one of the best predictors of success in a post high school environment.  The statistics for our Advanced Placement courses are just one way that we assess rigor in our schools.
  • Total number of AP courses taken per school year has increased from 2918 to 3729 over the past five years.
  • Percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on the AP exam (generally considered a passing grade) is 21.8% higher than the California average and 24.5% higher than the national average.
  • The percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on AP exams has increased over the past several years even with the huge increase in numbers of students taking the courses.
The SAT website defines the test as a, "...standardized assessment of the critical reading, mathematical reasoning and writing skills students have developed over time and that they need to be successful in college."  Many of our students are also now choosing to take the ACT assessment, which is accepted by almost every college and university.
  • Average SAT scores for all demographic groups at TUHSD have increased over five years.
  • Total number of TUHSD students tested and percentage of students tested has increased over the five year term.
Graduates Meeting UC/CSU Requirements for 2007 - 2013
The University of California and California State University systems have set minimum entrance requirements for admission.  Our courses are aligned with UC/CSU standards, and courses that meet the entrance requirements are noted in our course descriptions.
  • There has been a 7.4% increase in the number of students who graduate with UC/CSU requirements over the past five years.  This is well above the state average.
Academic Performance Index Growth Scores
The Academic Performance Index (API) is calculated by the state and incorporates a variety of measures including state assessments.  The new state assessments, which are aligned to common core standards, will be given for the first time in spring 2015.
  • API grew district-wide from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between the achievement of our Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students from 2009-2013.
  • There has been a reduced gap between low income and non-low income students from 2009-2013.
  • All subject areas have shown a positive trend in average growth over the past five years.
These data points are a source of pride for our skilled teachers, staff, administrators, and trustees.  As a district, we continue to monitor many data points so that we can be sure that our great schools continue to perform well and benefit ALL students.  We are committed to ensuring that all students, even the highest achieving, learn and grow during their four years of high school.  Continuous improvement is often difficult to attain in a high-achieving system, and so we are immensely proud of these accomplishments.
As a community, we have so much to celebrate this June.  Our students are served well not only by our teachers and schools, but by the dedicated parents and community members who work so diligently to provide support and guidance.  At the Tam District, what is best for students is the tenet that guides our work.  Working together, we will continue to prepare today's students for tomorrow's world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

21st Century Information Overload: Differentiating Fact from Fiction

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a bright high school student about what could easily be categorized as a controversial topic.  She had a well-developed argument and some facts to back up her position.  When I asked how she knew these facts to be true, she told me, "I read it on the internet." 
This conversation led me to think about life in 2014, and our constant exposure to an overabundance of information.  Everywhere we go, we are bombarded by it, and often we can't escape the glut of information and communications even when we try to "tune out" for a moment.  Many of us receive hundreds of e-mails each day, social media is omnipresent, and of course, we can find an answer for almost any question within a few seconds by a simple web search.  And for those with smart phones, there's 24/7 access to more information than we can possibly absorb.
The constant onslaught of incoming information from a variety of sources can be thought of as troublesome, but it actually creates a great opportunity for us as educators and parents to model good judgment and discernment with the variety of information that comes our way.  We also have an opportunity to teach our children that facts, stories, and mistruths co-exist in our digital world.  Far too often, distortions of facts masquerade as the truth on social media and websites.  Given the fact that absolutely anyone can post on social media sites, anyone can create a website, and anyone can send e-mail blasts, how do we discern good information from incorrect information?  How do we teach our children to be savvy internet users when much of the communication we access and receive is anonymous?
To answer these questions, I looked for assistance from the keepers of information in the academic world:  librarians.  Since this is a post about finding reliable information, it seemed that the libraries at prestigious universities, including UC Berkeley, Cornell, Virginia Tech, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins (links provided below) would be obvious sources for guidance.  It is clear that there is general agreement from universities, and I would bet that our own highly-skilled TUHSD librarians would concur, that there is a relatively standard set of criteria we should use to evaluate sources as well as a set of questions we should ask ourselves as we discern useful information from inaccurate or unreliable information.
1.  Author ~ Who is the author of the information or the site?  What qualifications or credentials does the author have, and is there contact information provided?  Clearly, anonymous information should be viewed with an appropriate level of skepticism.
2.  Accuracy ~ Is the information reliable and accurate?  Are the sources cited from actual research or are they opinion pieces?  There are no "fact-checkers" on the internet, and there are no industry standards for factual information as there are in traditional print media.
3.  Objectivity ~ Does the information or website have a subtle or obvious bias?  Does the information seek to persuade or include advertising?  Does the author seem to have an unstated goal?  We should keep in mind that a perspective is not necessarily a fact.
4.  Currency ~ Does the information have a date on it?  How old are the links included?  Information that is not current may sometimes indicate that no new information is available to support the ideas.
5.  Coverage ~ What topics are covered, and how in-depth are they?  We need to remember that much of what is on the internet is nothing more than personal expression.
The internet provides a forum for every opinion and every idea, as well as facts and valuable information.  It is an important resource in our lives, and almost all of us can no longer imagine our world without it.  As time goes on, we will have access to even more information in places that we can't even imagine.  We often talk of essential "21st century skills," but perhaps none will be as critical for both adults and our children as the daily practice of critically analyzing communications, websites, and social media postings, to distinguish accurate information from misinformation.  And finally, when we determine that the information that we receive is not accurate, we need to take the time to look further to find truth.
Links to more information:
Johns Hopkins University:  Information and its counterfeits:  Propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation
University of California, Berkeley:  Evaluating Web Pages, Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask
Virginia Tech University:  Evaluating Internet Resources
Harvard Guide to Using Sources
Cornell University:  Evaluating Websites, Criteria and Tools

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


In 2013, the state of California adopted a law called, "Local Control Funding Formula," which changes the way in which money is distributed to public schools.  Under this new funding formula, the vast majority of districts will see significant increases in state funding as well as increased flexibility in how to allocate money to best meet the needs of students.  As stated in an earlier blog post linked here, it is important to note that the Tamalpais Union High School District is among the few districts that will not receive additional funds.
The "Local Control Funding Formula" law requires that all school districts, regardless of whether they will receive increased state funding, must develop, adopt, and annually update a "Local Control Accountability Plan."  This plan must outline the district's overall vision for learning and establishing goals for students in specific subgroups (low income, English Language Learners, foster youth) for each of the identified state educational priorities.  Districts must also specify the actions and strategies that will be used to achieve their goals.
Many school districts in the state have found themselves in the position where they need to start from scratch to build their plans.  However, for the past five years, the Tam District has had a strategic plan that clearly aligns to state priorities.  It is also important to note that progress toward the strategic plan is regularly reported to the Tam District's Board of Trustees and changes are made annually.  The Tamalpais Union High School District's strategic plan will be used as the basis for our Local Control Accountability Plan.
Part of the process to annually update our strategic plan has been to seek input from stakeholder groups.  This is also a state requirement for the creation of the Local Control Accountability Plan.
As an involved partner with our district, I invite you to share your thoughts and perspective on our strategic priorities and the state priorities by completing the survey linked here.  The survey is also available on the front page of our website, www.tamdistrict.org.  Your input will be taken into consideration as we update our strategic plan as well as in the development of our Local Control Accountability Plan. 
Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Excellence, Rigor & a Focus on Our Students' Futures

Over the course of the school year, I have written a variety of articles for this blog about the work underway at the Tamalpais Union High School District, and I sincerely appreciate that many of you have read them and have responded with ideas, questions, and comments.  This blog has been a venue for facts, ideas, and my own opinions as a mother of two high school students in our district, as well as an educator with over 25 years of experience.  Recently, there have been a series of biased and slanted articles and letters about the district; unfortunately, they have moved the dialog to a non-productive place.  Today, I would like to turn our conversation back to where it belongs:  the pursuit of excellence and rigor in our schools and for our children.
There are many reasons to live in Marin, but many of us chose to move here because of the reputation of the schools.  As parents, we quite appropriately expect that our children will experience rigorous and engaging instruction that challenges them to work at the very highest levels.  We expect that our schools will have structures in place and instruction that enables our children to grow both in the areas where they excel as well as the areas in which they struggle.  We willingly paid high prices for our homes knowing that the benefit was a school system that does right by our children.  The status quo isn't enough for us as parents, and so we choose to live in a place where the status quo isn't good enough for our schools either.  As parents and educators, we know that if we truly want world-class schools, we need to advocate and support continuous improvement, even when it is difficult.
I have previously written about the new "Common Core" standards, which call for building understanding of the ideas behind the concepts and application of content to real world problems.  In order to achieve the outcomes required by the common core, it will no longer be enough to cover material quickly, to focus on facts and figures, and to only provide practice that drills concepts without application.  Beginning in spring 2015, the new state tests will assess a student's ability to think critically and to solve unique, real world problems.  Our courses and instruction must adapt if we want our students to be ready to perform well.
However, our reason for continuous improvement goes well beyond test performance.  The Tamalpais Union High School District is dedicated to preparing our students for success in the globally competitive and collaborative world.  Many of the careers our students will have are ones that don't exist today because they will support products and services that have yet to be invented.  Even if our students don't experience a multitude of career changes, they need to be prepared for their own career evolution.  As new technology is created, the demands in even existing industries will change the face of almost every job.  In order to prepare our students, we must train them to be innovative and creative.  Moreover, upon graduation, our students should also be ready for active citizenship in the 21st century.  This means that our children need to read with a critical eye, look for evidence to support claims, and always consider the source.
Administrators and the Board of Trustees keep students at the forefront of decision-making.  Some decisions are very complex, difficult, and possibly contentious, yet the question continuously asked is, "Will this be in the best long-term interest of our students?"  Our communities expect and deserve that our schools will challenge students and push them to their highest levels of academic achievement while supporting their emotional growth.  This level of excellence requires that we hold the highest expectations for every individual in our organization and that we are willing to adjust our direction when it will benefit our students.
I am proud to work with an amazing group of trustees, administrators, teachers, and staff who care deeply about students and are willing to make tough calls when necessary.  As parents of TUHSD high school students, we should expect no less.