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



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ACT or SAT?

Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that completing college applications can be complicated and emotional for a variety of reasons.  Students often report that the most anxiety-inducing portion of the process involves the ACT and SAT exams.  Both are nationally administered, standardized tests that help colleges evaluate students for admission.  Both tests have been rites of passage for decades, but the landscape has changed and students can now make a choice about which test to take.
 
 
Until recently, the college entrance test you took was based on your zip code.  Students on the east and west coasts typically took the SAT and students in the middle of the country usually took the ACT.  For most, there wasn't much thought that went into the decision, you simply took the test you were told to take by the colleges in your geographic area.  Times have changed dramatically and almost every college now accepts either test.  In fact, colleges do not express a preference for one test over the other.
 
As illustrated in the chart below, more and more TUHSD students take the ACT every year and they are experiencing a great deal of success.

   Grad     English    Math                                                         Total
   Year       Score     Score    Reading   Science   Composite   Tested
 
   2010       26.3       26.2        26.1          24.6          25.9           375   
 
   2014       26.8       26.2        26.8          25.3          26.4           458   
 
ACT scores range from 1 to 36.  The national average composite score is 21.  It is also interesting to note that the California state average composite score was 22.2 in 2010 and 22.3 in 2014.  Clearly, TUHSD students are performing far above state average and, of even more significance; our students' performance is improving at a rate that far exceeds the state.
 
What is the difference between the two tests?
There are many factors that distinguish the two tests from each other, but briefly, the ACT is an achievement test that measures the content taught in school.  Success on the ACT is dependent on mastery of curriculum and, therefore, is closely tied to a student's experience in their school.  The SAT is more of an aptitude test and it measures reasoning and verbal abilities.
 
The ACT has five sections:  English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test.  The SAT has three sections:  Critical Reading, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.
 
How are the questions different on the ACT and SAT?
According to the Princeton Review website, the ACT questions tend to be more straightforward and easier to understand on a first read.  The SAT may require more time to think about a question prior to the formulation of a response.  Furthermore, SAT penalizes for wrong answers, so guessing is discouraged.  The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.
 
Is there a difference in the length of the tests?
The ACT is three hours and 25 minutes including the optional Writing Test.  The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes.
 
How do students choose the best test?
The place to get great advice is from your student's TUHSD counselor!  This blog post barely scratches the surface of the complexities of both tests.  Our counselors know our students on an individual basis as well as the ins and outs of both tests.  They can help a student assess their strengths and weaknesses and make informed decisions about the entire college application process.  Another great place to get advice is from the College and Career Counselors.  They have access to a variety of resources such as practice tests, information about specific colleges and universities, as well as the sign up process to take tests.
 
More resources: 


 






Monday, November 3, 2014

Successful Completion of Refunding of 2006 General Obligation Bonds

Tamalpais Union High School District is pleased to report the successful completion of the refunding of its 2006 series of General Obligation Bonds.  Refunding of bonds is similar to refinancing a mortgage.  New bonds are sold, the old debt is paid off, and taxpayers benefit from the savings.  Historically low interest rates and the ability to enter the market quickly enabled the district to lock in $8.5 million of debt service savings.
 
This refunding represents the third time the District has been able to reduce debt service costs paid by our taxpayers.  The combined savings from each of our three refundings total about $19.9 million over the period from 2011 through 2031.  The 2014 refunding was extremely successful and represents about 43% of the overall savings from the three refundings.
 
As recently reported to our community, Standard & Poor's affirmed the District's rating of 'AAA' on all outstanding General Obligation Bonds as well as on the new Refunding Bonds.  Standard & Poor's cited the District's strong tax base, conservative approach to budgeting, strong reserve levels and strong management as key positive factors leading to the highest possible rating.
 
The 2006 bonds were originally approved by a two-thirds vote of the community in order to modernize and upgrade all five high schools.  Our students and community now benefit from world class learning environments at all five high schools.
 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Board Meeting Update

The TUHSD Board of Trustees is an elected, legislative body that is responsible for governance of our school district.  Many who have attended board meetings have commented that they can sometimes be difficult to follow.  Board meetings must comply with a specific and rather complex set of laws known as the Brown Act as well as Robert's Rules of Order and so, to the casual observer, these meetings can seem unusually formal at times.
 
Typically, board meeting notes and highlights are sent to district staff after conclusion of a meeting.  With regard to the meeting that took place yesterday, October 28, we think that parents may also benefit from a summary of the meeting, which includes an explanation of how a board meeting should work.  In particular, at yesterday's meeting there was a procedural error regarding public comment on the consent agenda.  The error was corrected during the course of the meeting, but it created a fair amount of unintended confusion, and for that reason we think it appropriate to discuss what happened and to take the opportunity to help educate District stakeholders both about procedural issues at public meetings, and to summarize some of the matters that were discussed.  
 
TUHSD Board Meeting Start Times and Locations - In order to enhance opportunities for attendance and participation by staff members, students, parents and community members, some board meetings have a late afternoon start time and others have an evening start time and meetings are held in various locations in the district.  All start times and locations are noted on board agendas.  All agendas are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting on the district website.
 
Closed Session - Closed session is a discussion among board members and senior District staff, and is not open to the general public.  The Brown Act sets forth the rules about what can be discussed in closed session.  Yesterday, the board began its meeting with a public call to order at 3:40 p.m. in the Redwood library and then approved the closed session agenda.  The general public was provided an opportunity to comment on any item on the closed session agenda at that point.  At this particular meeting, after the call to order, the board moved to a small conference room for closed session and approved personnel actions and discussed one matter of potential litigation.  The board then returned to the Redwood library for open session and reported that the personnel actions were unanimously approved.  Occasionally, the board has a second closed session at the end of a meeting.  When this occurs, it is for items that do not require a vote by the board.
 
Consent Agenda - The consent agenda is a component of the open session of a board meeting.  It is a tool used to streamline meeting procedures by collecting items into a group whereby all are passed with a single motion and vote.  The public should be provided an opportunity to comment on any item in the consent agenda.  Unfortunately, last evening the process was not followed in the correct sequence.  It was mistakenly stated that the public would be provided the opportunity to make comments after the vote on the consent agenda, under the next item called "public comment".  A member of the audience indicated that she believed this was in error and in response, staff immediately sought legal opinion about the correct process.  After receiving legal advice, the board sought to remedy the situation by reconsidering the consent agenda after additional opportunity for  public comment was provided.  Unfortunately, by the time the consent agenda was reconsidered, several members of the audience who wanted to comment had left the meeting.  In order to provide the public with another opportunity to speak to any issues of concern, the board approved only the time sensitive items which were a field trip, purchase orders and a job description for an IT Data Specialist.  Thus, the board ultimately did not approve, and postponed for a later meeting, the remaining items originally on the consent agenda, including the proposed management raises.  
 
Public Comment - This is the portion of the agenda where any member of the audience can speak to any issue not on the agenda.  Staff members, parents, students and community members can all speak.  Comments are limited to three minutes and the board cannot engage in dialogue because these items are not on the posted agenda.  
 
Discussion/Action Items - These items are listed in order on the agenda and are discussed one at a time.  The public may comment on Discussion/Action items after staff make their presentation and the board asks their initial questions.  Last evening there were several interesting discussions with lots of great supporting data.  If you would like more information about the items below, please see the full agenda at:   http://tamusd.csbaagendaonline.net/cgibin/WebObjects/tamusdeAgenda.woa/wa/showMeeting. 
Underlined items in the agenda are links to the full reports given by staff and also include relevant background information.
  • TUHSD Data Snapshot - The Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, presented a variety of student achievement data including state test results, SAT and ACT data, Advanced Placement program enrollments and test results as well as information about how many of our students persist and finish college within six years of enrollment.  Clicking on the link above can access the data accompanying the presentation.
  • Student Assessment Plan - The board heard an overview of the assessments currently used in TUHSD as well as some ideas about additional assessments that could be added in the future to gather more information about the proficiency and growth of our students and the effectiveness of our programs.  This was a discussion only, and the issue will be a future topic of conversation with staff, students and parents.
  • Tobacco Policy - The board discussed an update to the tobacco policy to include language prohibiting the use or possession of electronic cigarettes at our schools.
  • Bond Projects and Budgets - The board voted to approve what we believe will be the final projects and budgets for the 2001 and 2006 bonds.  Final projects include safety netting between baseball fields and tennis courts, installation of solar energy devices and restroom facilities on the Redwood football field.
  • Letter from Board of Trustees to Community - The board voted to take this item off of the agenda. 

Update Reports - There are two sections in the agenda that include update reports from a variety of staff and trustees.  Student trustees have an opportunity early in the meeting to give a report about what is happening at their sites.  Then, at the end of the agenda, the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Facilities, the Associate Superintendent for Educational and Personnel Services and the Superintendent give brief reports of upcoming events.  Finally, trustees report any pertinent issues from district and county committees on which they serve.
 
Adjournment - Meetings end upon adjournment.
 
Please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the Board of Trustees with questions about how board meetings work or about this meeting in particular.  As always, your input is welcome and appreciated.
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

AAA Rating Reaffirmed for TUHSD

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has recently affirmed its 'AAA' rating for Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD).  The District's rating was originally upgraded from 'AA+' to 'AAA' in 2010.  According to the summary report from Standard & Poor's, the financial performance of the District has been consistently positive and rating reflects a stable and strong property tax base, significant supplemental revenue from parcel taxes and good financial policies and practices.  The report also commends the District for a "shift in its strategic attention to the costs associated with its projection of a multiyear enrollment increase trend".  TUHSD is one of only 17 districts in California and 71 districts in the nation to currently have a 'AAA' rating.
 
This rating was sought by the District in preparation for the refunding of its 2006 series of General Obligation bonds, which were approved by a 2/3 vote of the community in order to modernize and upgrade all five high schools.  Refunding of bonds is similar to the process of refinancing a mortgage and the District anticipates a present value savings to taxpayers of approximately nine million dollars.
 
Tamalpais Union High School District has a long tradition of conservative financial practices intended to maximize revenue on behalf of the students and community.  The Board of Trustees exercise oversight of all financial policies, practices and approves annual budgets and audits.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Global Studies Program Celebrates 20th Anniversary

 Tamalpais Union High School District is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Global Studies Program and its founder and director, Tamalpais High School French Teacher, Brian Zailian.  The Global Studies Program provides opportunities for TUHSD students to not only study abroad and experience immersion in another culture, but to host visiting students as well.
 
"The Global Studies Programs in our district offer life changing learning experiences for our students", said Zailian.  "The traveling students encounter situations which are sometimes difficult to recreate in a traditional classroom: cultural sensitivity, language immersion, geographic comprehension, political and social discussions and most importantly a glimmer of personal self awareness."
 
The longest running program within the Global Studies Program is the exchange between Lycee Gaston Febus in Orthez, France and Tamalpais High School.  Over 500 Tamalpais High School students have traveled to France over the past 20 years.  This year also marks the fifth anniversary of the Global Studies exchange between students at Sir Francis Drake High School and the Lycee Samuel Raapoto in Papeete, Tahiti.  Over 100 Drake students have traveled to Tahiti.
 
TUHSD students in both the France and Tahiti programs host exchange students in their homes in October and then spend 17 days away from the U.S. during the month of April.  TUHSD students live with their host families, attend classes at local schools, and visit significant cultural sites and regions.  Additionally, students in the French exchange visit Paris.  Students who participate in the Tahitian exchange also visit Moorea and Bora Bora, prepare Polynesian cuisine, practice Tahitian dance, and study the coral reef and the tropical forest.
 
TUHSD Board of Trustees and Superintendent, Laurie Kimbrel, will host a celebration of the TUHSD Global Studies Program and its Director, Brian Zailian on October 29, 2014.  TUHSD Board of Trustees member, Cindy McCauley, said "We are so fortunate in the TUHSD to have teachers like Brian Zailian who truly believes teaching is more than what goes on inside the classroom.  For 20 years his vision, determination, and enthusiasm have changed students' lives forever."  The celebration will provide an opportunity to bring administrators, teachers, and chaperones from all four schools together to share stories and experiences from 20 years of travel and successful exchanges.
 
 


Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Sports are in Full Swing


The new school year has started and with that begins the fall sports season.  This year we have a record number of participants.  Student interest in sports is at an all-time high.
 
 
 
There are seven sports played during the fall sports season - cross country, football, golf, boys soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo.
 
 
 
 
The participation numbers in sports at the sites reflect a continuing interest among our students:
 
                Drake             15 teams              243 athletes
                Redwood       18 teams              426 athletes
                Tam               17 teams              338 athletes
                District          50 teams           1,004 athletes




 
If you would like to watch some action packed games, check the athletic websites for each school to get the game schedules.




Drake Athletics Webpage


 





 
 
 
 


   



 


Tam Athletics Webpage








You can also get more information on athletics on the District
   Athletics webpage - District Athletics.






























 
 
 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Intervention: An Important Component of Our Work

We have had numerous articles, blogs and newsletters over the past years about the importance of learning at high levels for all students.  By now, most understand that success in an economy driven by technology, innovation and service will require both content knowledge as well as a set of underlying skills such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  Both our own common sense and research tell us that our students must be prepared for learning beyond high school in college, job training and apprenticeship programs.  But how do we ensure that all students are ready when they are only with us for four short years?  The answer lies in both effective classroom instruction as well as effective intervention.
 
We know that all students can learn, however, some students need more time and more support.  In the past, many school systems waited for students to fail or fall far behind to intervene.  Summer school was offered when students failed a course and the student needed to repeat the entire course regardless of content that had been previously mastered.   Special education was sometimes offered as a last resort when exasperated staff didn't know what else to do.  In contrast, imagine a school system where student outcomes are clearly identified, where there is high quality instruction in every classroom and where TIMELY intervention is available for EVERY student at the first sign of a struggle.  What if students didn't have to wait for help until they had already failed?
 
The best intervention is prevention and so our most important work actually begins with a strong core instructional program in every classroom for every student.  Approximately 80% of students who receive a well instructed, research-based curriculum should experience success as a result of initial instruction in the classroom.  Quite simply, this is the reason that as a district we have spent the last three years creating a common core aligned curriculum and methods to measure student growth and achievement.
 
The next step to ensure that all students learn at high levels was to create intervention plans to assist students who need support.  Over the course of the 13-14 school year, all schools created plans that began to be implemented in August of 2014.  Each of the plans has the following characteristics:
 
  • Tiered support - some students need a little help and some need a lot of help.  Our interventions offer various levels of assistance based on the needs of the student.
  • Directive - interventions must be mandatory.  We can't claim that our mission is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and then allow our students to "choose" to fail.
  • Administered by trained professionals - systems must be in place so that the professionals with the most expertise in a given area are able to deliver intervention.  This notion is based on a medical model.  If you have the flu, you can see the physician's assistant, but if you have cancer, you need the oncologist.
  • Targeted - intervention is very specific to the student and the standard in which he or she needs assistance.  Using a reliable system of assessment in the classroom ensures that we identify specific areas of intervention.
  • Timely - effective intervention occurs promptly, not after an F grade has been given for the course.  Also, interventions should only be as long as needed; a student should not have to languish in intervention past the point where it is helpful.

Each of our site teams has built a customized intervention plan based on the specific needs of their students and the culture of the school.  For more information and to view the plans themselves, click HERE 
 
If you would like additional information on effective intervention:
 
An easy to read article - "The Why Behind RtI" by Ausitn Buffum, Mike Mattos and Chris Weber-click HERE
 
A great book - "Simplifying Response to Intervention"
by Austin Guffu, Mike Mattos and Chris Weber