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Monday, August 18, 2014

Tam District Back-to-School News

As long as I can remember, the "back-to-school" season has been one of my favorite times of year.  As a student, I recall the excitement of seeing my friends again after our summer adventures as well as the comfort of returning to the familiar routine of the school year.  I have been an educator for many years, but I still enjoy reconnecting with my colleagues who have spent the summer reading, traveling, and learning, as well as seeing our new and returning students who bring their energy and enthusiasm back to our campuses.  This is also a special time of year for those of us who are parents.  We live the anxiety and joy of the new school year through our own children and their experiences.
At the Tamalpais Union High School District, we are committed to ensuring that all students and staff have a smooth transition from the relaxation of summer to the demands of the school year.  Many efforts are in place at the school sites to assist our new 9th graders, transfer students, and our returning students.  No doubt, if you are a parent, you have already received multiple communications from your child's high school.
At the district office, the entire month of August is a very busy time.  All administrators returned to work on August 1, and many teachers are participating in a variety of professional development activities throughout the month.  This year's highlights include:
  • At the district office, we welcomed Kim Stiffler, former Tam assistant principal and Redwood teacher, to the new position of Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  Kim will be responsible for all the day-to-day work with our site administrators and Teacher Leaders to develop curriculum and continuously improve instruction.  Click here to see a full list of administrators in the Educational Services department and their responsibilities.
  • Our increase in student enrollment and a few retirements have allowed us to hire 26 new teachers for 14-15.  All new teachers participate in a rigorous two-year orientation and training program.
  • We hired five new assistant principals!  Click here to see contact information for all administrators.
  • About 50 TUHSD teachers participated in optional professional development workshops, which were also open to all feeder school teachers.  For a full list of the workshops, click here.
  • About 70 TUHSD teachers continued their work as a part of the Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative (ITTC), a professional development program for experienced teachers.  For a description of the ITTC program, click here.
  • New Teacher Leaders participated in "boot camp" so that they understand the strategic priorities of the district and are ready to facilitate curriculum and instruction initiatives with their colleagues.  For a full list of Teacher Leaders, click here.
  • Teacher Leaders and administrators continue to work together to discuss priorities for the 14-15 school year, which include enhancements to academic and behavioral interventions for students and the use of data to guide instruction for teachers.
Part of what makes TUHSD a great place to learn is the willingness of so many of our teachers to take leadership positions and to pursue their own professional growth.  The sheer number of teachers who elect to be here in early August is truly a testament to the dedication of our staff.
On behalf of the entire administrative team and the Board of Trustees, thank you for your interest and commitment to our district.  We are looking forward to yet another great year where we continue to ensure that each and every student learns and grows every day.

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.