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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Exams + Holidays = STRESS!

Photo courtesy of Adriana Perez

Every family feels the crunch this time of year.  Our students are busily trying to finish the semester with assignments, lab reports, and papers, while simultaneously studying for exams.  Meanwhile, many parents are engaged in all things holiday:  cards, shopping, decorating, planning outings and vacations, or preparing for visits with family and friends.  When you put it all together, the inevitable sum of exams and holidays is stress.  In fact, for some families, we can add a few more stressors to the equation:  seniors waiting for early college admission decisions, the start of the winter sports season, students returning home from college, and young children buzzing with holiday anticipation.  The list could go on and on.
Mid-December is almost certainly the season of stress for families with high school students.  As parents, we often wonder how we can help our students prepare both mentally and academically for exams when we are so busy ourselves.  To help answer this question, I turned to the experts on the subject, who, as it turns out, are nearby and easy to contact.  You guessed it!  I called the parents who have had a few students go through the exam process in previous years, and who always seem to have their acts together.  As it happens, they are eager to pass their ideas on to others.
The advice I received from fellow parents was simple, easy to follow, and really just a matter of common sense.  Here are some of the tips I received:
  •  Stay positive and try not to add stress by focusing on grades.  Avoid questions like, "How many points do you need to get an A?" and instead focus on the study process and learning with questions like, "What section will you review first?" or  "Which course outcomes will be included on your exam?"
  • Know your child and follow his or her cues.  Does he or she want help from you?  One parent talked about working quietly on her own project near her studying child so that she was easily available but not hovering.
  • This next tip is a classic but one that is especially important at exam time: have a comfortable study space away from the TV, computer, and family noise.  Make sure it's not too comfortable though--studying while lying in bed has obvious drawbacks!
  • Encourage regular breaks--studying for hours on end is not helpful.  Snacks during breaks can help too!  Another way to have an effective break is to add physical activity.  Even a little exercise will increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain and will reduce stress. 
  • Encourage study groups and studying with friends.  Many parents offer to host these study groups; others encourage "virtual" study groups via FaceTime.
  • Offer relief from regular household chores for a week or two.  This one will be popular in my house!
  • Ensure that your child is using the study guides that many teachers provide.
  • Encourage your child to contact his or her teacher for a little extra help.  Teachers go out of their way to help students all year, but this is especially true at exam time.  Help is available in person and sometimes via e-mail as well.
Above all, it's helpful to remind our teens that stress is a natural part of life and can actually be beneficial if managed well.  As parents, we can work to be models of effective stress management, and we can help our students to feel  confident and well prepared as they head into exam week. 
I'm going to take the advice of my fellow parents and try a few things on this list.  What will you try?  I would love to hear back from you with your tips and advice.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Strategic Plan Update

One of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to set a direction for the district.  In order to fulfill this responsibility, there are several specific jobs that effective boards must carry out: 
  1. Collaboratively develop a mission focused on learning and achievement of all students.  A mission describes a future toward which the district is moving.
  2. Establish priorities, which are the major areas that must be addressed in order to make progress toward the mission.
  3. Set strategic goals in each priority area.
Several years ago, the Tam District Board of Trustees worked through focus groups of parents, students, teachers, staff, and community members to set a mission for the district.  Strategic priorities and goals were then set with the intention of deliberately moving toward a future in which the mission is true for all students.  Because setting direction is not a one-time event, progress toward the strategic goals is reported to the board regularly, and goals are updated annually to reflect new data and changing circumstances.
To read the recently updated TUHSD mission, priorities, and strategic goals click here.
As you can see, this TUHSD direction-setting document is a visual reminder that all work in the district is in service to our mission.  This document, which is sometimes referred to as the, "mission map," allows us to have one foot in the present and one foot in the future.  As we focus on what is working, we can move from where we are toward an even better place through strategic thinking and supporting risk-taking and innovation.
You will also notice that our direction-setting document differs from other organizations in that it is self-contained on one page rather than a multi-paged booklet format.  To help you understand the format we have used, the diagram below points to where the essential elements of mission, priorities, and strategic goals can be located on the mission map.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Preparing Learners & Leaders for the 21st Century ~ Unveiling the Tam District Video

At the Tamalpais Union High School District, we are committed to providing our students with a myriad of educational opportunities to prepare them for life after high school.  We have been working diligently toward this goal for the last few years, and we recognize the importance of sharing our work with our stakeholders--because an informed community is an invaluable partner in the success of our students.  To this end, we have created a short video highlighting some of our work of the last three years.  
We chose the video format as a means to address several of the district's "Community Relations" strategic goals: 
  • Utilize most effective means of communication with the district's internal and external stakeholders
  • Develop an understanding of the school district by providing a flow of information about policies, programs, and progress of the schools
  • Bring about community understanding of the need for continuous improvement and what must be done to facilitate that improvement
The video features staff and students who volunteered for this opportunity.  They either spoke extemporaneously or developed their own script. 
The full-length video is about eight minutes long, but for your convenience, I have linked the three-minute "Sneak Peek" preview here

The short promotional video is featured on our website, and the full-length version will be used as a basis for discussion with staff, parents, and community members throughout the 2013-2014 school year. 
Tam District parents will have multiple opportunities to view the full-length video at meetings of the PTSA, Foundation, advisory councils, and the like.  If your school or community organization  is interested in delving further into the work of the Tam District, please contact me at feedback@tamdistrict.org to schedule a time for a trustee and I to share the video and discuss our efforts with your group. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Welcome New Trustees!

I am excited to announce that after what seems like a long wait, the election is over and we now have our new Tamalpais Union High School District trustees.
The successful candidates in yesterday's election were Laura Anderson, Chuck Ford, and Sheri Mowbray, shown below:

All three of the new trustees will be able to hit the ground running because of their understanding of the day-to-day work of our schools.  Laura and Sheri are parents of current students, and Chuck recently retired after 18 years as a TUHSD teacher.
We are lucky that we had an election in which all five candidates were well qualified.  I will reach out to the other candidates and invite them to stay active and involved in our schools.
Our new trustees will take the oath of office at the December 11 Board of Trustees meeting.  They will officially begin their board service that evening.
Well-deserved congratulations to Laura Anderson, Chuck Ford, and Sheri Mowbray!

Photo courtesy of the Marin Independent Journal

Monday, November 4, 2013

Helping Homeless Teens in Marin County

It's such a luxury to be able to work and live in the beauty and abundance of Marin County.  At first glance, it often seems that all our teens are healthy, happy, high achieving, and well on their way to a bright future.  But if we really pay attention, we know that what is true for most is not necessarily true for all.  It can be easy for us to forget about those who don't have a life of plenty, and in fact, do not even have a family or a home to return to at night.
It is hard to even visualize what it must be like to be a homeless teen in Marin.  Can you imagine waking up every day:
  • Not knowing where you will be living
  • Feeling alone, lost, anxious, depressed, angry, and hopeless
  • With no medical or dental care
  • Mistrusting the systems and adults who haven't been there for you
  • With the stress of carrying all your personal items from one place to another
  • With no financial reserves for emergencies
  • Overwhelmed by lack of skills and resources to earn a living wage
These are the daily realities for a homeless teen!
Part of the beauty of Marin is the willingness of its residents to help others.  There are many organizations that help the homeless, but there is a very special organization called "Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity," or "AHO," which is dedicated to assisting Marin's homeless teens.
Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity started in November 2007, when Kevin Ippolito, age 22, Amy Phelan, age 23, and Mario Rangel, age 21, conceived of finding a way to "give back" for the help they had received.  AHO was created as a non-profit organization focused solely on providing a safety net of stable housing, guidance, and community connections for young adults, ages 16 to 25, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Marin County.  AHO is a relationship- and community-based model that engages youths who have been previously homeless in the solution as youth outreach advisors, peer mentors, program advisors, board members, and spokespersons of their experiences.
As superintendent of the Tamalpais Union High School District, I am aware of many helpful and well organized community agencies, but as I learn more about the work of AHO, I am in awe of its mission and its model to engage former homeless youths in the solution to help others.  If you would like to learn more about the work of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, visit their websitewww.ahoproject.org
For those of you who would like to see an example of the good work of this organization, there is an art show of AHO work that will be at the Corte Madera Community Center from November 10 through December 1.  Also, the whole community is invited to a reception at the Community Center hosted by the Corte Madera Lions Club on Friday, November 15, from 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.  I will certainly be there to meet some of the artists and learn more about Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity.  I hope you will join me in support of this fine organization.

What:      AHO Reception Hosted by the Corte Madera Lions Club
Where:    Corte Madera Community Center
When:     Friday, November 15, from 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

The majority of information included in this post is from the AHO website. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23 Board Meeting to be Held at Tam High

It's time for our third On the Road Board meeting which will be held on Wednesday, October 23, at Tamalpais High School.  You can read about our earlier On the Road meetings here and here.  Open session starts at 7:00 p.m. in Classroom 2020 (Rm. 300).  In addition to other Board business, the agenda is packed with Tam-specific topics, including:
  • Principal Julie Synyard, teachers David Tarpinian and David Rice, and students, will discuss the development of Tam's CORE program, and how work begun this summer in TUHSD's Instructional Technology Teacher Collaborative is being implemented
  • Teachers Christina Amoroso and Aaron Pribble, along with Principal Julie Synyard,  will discuss the recent Crucial Conversations training and how it will impact daily work with students, staff, and the community 
  • The Physical Education teachers and Principal Julie Synyard  will discuss how work done as a Professional Learning Community has enhanced work with program goals, proficiency scales, and curricular delivery
  • Teacher Brian Zailian and Principal Julie Synyard will provide an update on the Global Studies program
There will be opportunities for public comment on any agenda item.  In addition to the Tam High presentations, the regular business of the Board of Trustees will be conducted.
It is our intention is to make these meetings as interesting and accessible as possible for students, parents, and community members; therefore, the Tam-specific presentations will be the first items on the discussion agenda.
When:   Wednesday, October 23, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
Where:  Classroom 2020 (Rm. 300)
              Tamalpais High School
              700 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
I hope to see you at Tam!  This is a great opportunity to learn more about some of the fabulous things happening at Tamalpais High School--and a chance to see local government at work. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Every Voter Should Know About School Boards

Public participation in local government is the foundation of American democracy.  Nowhere is this more evident than in our public schools, where elected boards of education work together to ensure that systems and policies are in place to support student learning.  Since the decisions of a school board impact our children, the stakes are high, and it's essential that voters take the time to be informed before they cast their ballots.
The Role of the Board
Although school board meetings sometimes look structured and routine to the outside observer, the board makes a number of very important decisions about how our schools operate.  It's important to remember that school districts are governed collectively by boards, rather than by individual trustees.  Because the board is a governmental body, it can only take action by majority vote at a public meeting.  According to the American Associations of School Boards, there are some characteristics that are common to good school boards no matter where they are in the country:
  • Good boards set a vision for their districts based on input from stakeholders.  The vision is an aspirational statement of what should be true for all students.  Decisions of the board should be made in light of the mission.
  • Good school boards set policy for the district and listen to a variety of stakeholder groups as a part of the policy-setting process.
  • Good school boards understand the budget and ensure that it responsibly supports the mission.
  • Good boards attempt to reach decisions that all members can support.
  • Good school boards make every effort to operate openly by encouraging public attendance at their meetings and keeping constituents informed of the district's progress.
  • Good boards are efficient and have protocols and procedures for how they will operate as a team.
  • Good boards know that they are in the business of education.  They talk about education, they study the needs of students, and they are familiar with current educational research.
  • Good school boards know the difference between governance (which is the board's job) and management (which is the administration's job), and place a high priority on respecting that difference.
What to Look for in an Individual Trustee
Good school trustees can come from all walks of life.  The ability to work together as a team is not determined by age, race, occupation, income, or social standing.  Both the California School Boards Association and the American School Boards Association have identified the characteristics of effective trustees.  These qualities may be helpful to keep in mind as you are researching the views and experiences of the candidates.  An effective individual trustee:
  • Has the proven ability to work as a member of a team, including keeping an open mind and engaging in give-and-take to arrive at a group consensus.
  • Keeps learning and achievement of all students as their primary focus.
  • Takes the time necessary to become informed and do the homework required to actively take part in effective school board meetings.
  • Recognizes and respects differences of perspective and style on the board and among staff, students, parents, and the community.
  • Acts with dignity and understands the implications of demeanor and behavior.
  • Keeps confidential matters confidential.
  • Participates in professional development and commits the time and energy necessary to be an informed leader.
Effective trustees are often those who have proved successful in their particular vocations or avocations, and who have demonstrated a genuine concern for the needs of students and community improvement.  Schools and students need trustees who believe unequivocally in the value of public education.  Trustees must be dedicated to serving and teaching each and every student.
As with all elections, we should become informed voters and make our choices wisely.  After all, our new trustees will have the awesome responsibility of looking out for the best interests of our students, and our students deserve the very best.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TUHSD to Hold Board Meeting at Drake on Wednesday

As noted in my earlier post, "Taking the Show on the Road," our second On the Road Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 9, at Sir Francis Drake High School.  Open session starts at 7:00 p.m. in the Student Center.  In addition to other Board business, the agenda is packed with Drake-specific topics, including:
  • From the Drake engineering program, student Luis Samartin and teacher Ben Varvil will share student-designed and manufactured classroom signs
  • Principal Liz Seabury, teacher Chizzie Brown, and Trek students will give an update on the New Tech Pilot program, including a student presentation on digital citizenship
  • Leadership students, teacher Kendall Galli, and Principal Seabury will present "Drake is M.A.G.I.C." ~  Hint:  It stands for Making A Greater Individual Commitment  
  • Drake's bid to become an Ocean Guardian School will be discussed by Principal Seabury, teacher Michael Wing, and students
There will be opportunities for public comment on any agenda item.  In addition to the Drake presentations, the regular business of the Board of Trustees will be conducted.
It is our intention is to make these meetings as interesting and accessible as possible for students, parents, and community members; therefore, the Drake-specific presentations will be the first items on the discussion agenda.
When:   Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
Where:  The Student Center
              Sir Francis Drake High School
              1327 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo
I hope to see you there!  This is a great opportunity to learn more about the great things happening at Drake--and a chance to see government in action. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tam High School's Conservatory Theatre Ensemble Does it Again!


Tam High School's award-winning Conservatory Theatre Ensemble (CTE) is back in action with an amazing production of The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing.
These two Shakespeare classics have been trimmed to just over an hour each and will be performed together.  The cast of 21 and the technical team of nearly 20 have been working hard to create an exciting production, as directed by Juliana Rees and choreographed by Heather Basarab.
As with any CTE production, the amount of planning, preparation, and back-stage goings-on are mind-boggling.  Well-crafted sets, complex sound systems, and excellent lighting design are big contributors to CTE's professional-quality productions. 
A recent technical workshop helped students prepare for the upcoming performances.  4th year student Eliza Mantz taught 3rd year student Tizjohn Armstead how to edit sound cues on CTE's Q-Lab software.  Eliza is the sound engineer for the production, and Tizjohn is the sound operator.  Eliza was just admitted to Carnegie Mellon's School of Theatre as one of five incoming Dramaturgy majors!  Here they are editing sound cues:
4th year student Emma Boyle is the lighting designer and worked for many weeks with the director to develop the lighting looks and concept.  She has 90 cues to program!  Emma also spent weeks drafting, and she led the hang and focus this past week.  She is pictured, below, programming cues into the lighting system.
The photo at the top of this post shows the set being raised by the ensemble.  4th year student Lucy Peterson conceived and designed the set, and led a team of peers in the construction.
Now that you know just a bit of what goes into making a spectacular CTE production, don't you want to see a performance?
The show plays October 8 through October 12 in the Caldwell Theatre at Tamalpais High School.  Click here for tickets and more information.
Thank you to CTE teachers, Ben Cleaveland and Susan Brashear, for providing information and photographs for this post.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parents, Teens, and Social Media

In addition to my “day job” as the TUHSD superintendent, I am also the parent of two high school students.   Those that know me well understand that being a superintendent doesn’t exempt me from worrying about the same things as other parents of teens—and that includes concerns about social media.  Our family experienced a strange electronic phenomenon over the past weekend that made me think about the role of parents in monitoring our children’s presence electronically and on social media.  I don’t know how or why, but for the duration of the weekend, my husband, my children, and I received all text messages sent to or from each family member.  While, thankfully, I saw nothing shocking or revealing, it made me wonder – how much do we really know about what our teens do online? 
A quick Google search did little to ease my worry.  The world of bullying and aggressive behavior that happened face-to-face when we were young has now moved to text messaging and social media sites. It’s not hard to find statistics to tell us that the problem is significant and sometimes results in dire consequences.  According to www.bullyingstatistics.com:
  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying
  • Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the internet
  • About one in five teens have posted or sent sexually suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others
Cyber safety is included as a part of the Tam District's required 9th grade course, “Social Issues,” and we have recently updated our policies about bullying, but as parents, we often wonder what more we can do for our teens.  As I tried to address that question, my next Google search produced a series of disturbing articles such as,  “Ten Ways Teens are Hiding On-line Behavior From Parents,” and “How to Spy on Your Teens On-line.”   I have spent 24 years as an educator and 18 years as a parent, and I wonder if it has really become necessary to spy on our teens.  Like other parents, I would stop at nothing to keep my kids safe, but is this really the best method? 
I do not claim to be an expert, but perhaps the solutions to our cyber-problems actually lie in good old-fashioned conversations with other parents, teachers, and teens. What would happen if we each made an effort to:
  • Connect with and have ongoing conversations with the parents of our children's friends
  • Use headlines and current events to discuss "good judgment" in a digital world
  • Learn about social media first-hand by creating and using our own accounts
  • Share a bit about our daily social media use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about our children's online habits
  • Remember to make a point of discouraging kids from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, or damaging someone's reputation digitally or in person.  In addition, be an example of empathy and caring for others' reputations.

These are just a few ideas, but so much more is available for us all.  Check out some of the following resources:
The Marin County Office of Education is hosting "Beyond Differences" with Matt Ivester, the acclaimed author of "lol...OMG!"  These two timely presentations will provide guidance about the opportunities and dangers of social networks and online behavior that will save reputations and lives. 
The presentations will be held on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at Terra Linda High School.  The first meeting will be held from 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., and is specifically for teachers, faculty, and administrators.  The second meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., and is especially for middle school and high school students, parents, and community leaders.  Please click on the flyers, below, for more information.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How will the new Common Core Standards impact your high school student?

Frequently Asked Questions

1.     What are educational standards? 
Educational standards define the knowledge and skills students should have at each grade level.  California first adopted a set of standards in 1997 and then adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010. 
2.     How are Common Core Standards different than the 1997 standards?
The 1997 standards were unique to California and were so extensive that they were impossible to teach with fidelity.  The Common Core Standards have been adopted by 45 states and while they are not perfect, they are clearer and more concise.  These standards are evidence-based, aligned with other top-performing countries, and are more realistic and practical for the classroom.  Common Core Standards are rigorous and emphasize depth of instruction. 
3.     Will TUHSD curriculum change in response to Common Core?
Our teachers used the Mathematics and English Language Arts Common Core Standards as the basis for the development of “Program Goals.”  The “Program Goals” were collaboratively created by all district teachers and they define what students should know or be able to do as the result of taking a course or series of courses.  In other words, our teachers have spent the last two years working together to ensure that our rigorous curriculum is aligned with the new Common Core Standards. 
4.     Will “Program Goals” be made available to parents and students?
Yes.  The first draft of the Program Goals was made public at a recent Board of Trustees meeting.  Some departments are working on final edits of their program goals and then they will be posted on the district and school websites shortly.
5.     What is different in Common Core in English and literacy skills?
The Common Core includes several shifts from the previous standards, including:
·       A balance between reading informational and literary texts
·       Student engagement in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversation about the texts they read
·       Emphasis on the use of evidence from sources to inform or make an argument
·       Focus on constantly building vocabulary that is used across grades and courses
6.     What is different in Common Core in Mathematics?
There are also shifts in the area of mathematics which include:
·       Deeper instruction in essential skills
·       Connection of learning across grades to build on ideas previously learned
·       Building understanding of the ideas behind the math as opposed to “just getting the answer right”
·       Application of math to real world problems
7.     How will state testing change to measure Common Core?
With the implementation of Common Core, our students will no longer take the paper and pencil, multiple-choice STAR tests.  The new testing system will be computerized and adaptive, which means that all tests will be taken on a computer or tablet, and the test will automatically adjust to the skill level of the student.  The types of questions on the new tests, which will start in 2014, are also quite different:
·       Selected-response items - resemble a traditional multiple choice question.
·       Technology-enhanced items - capitalize on the computerized test to collect evidence through a non-traditional response type, such as editing text or drawing an object.
·       Constructed-response items - prompt students to produce a text or numerical response to a question.
·       Performance tasks - measure a student’s ability to integrate knowledge and skills across multiple standards--a key component of college and career readiness.  Performance tasks will be used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected- or constructed-response items.
For more information about CA Common Core Standards:
For more information about Smarter Balanced Assessments including sample test questions:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Taking the Show on the Road!

As part of the TUHSD Strategic Priorities, the Board of Trustees has created a specific goal to promote two-way communication and engagement between the Board and its stakeholders.  To that end, the Board of Trustees will hold a series of “On the Road” Board meetings at the three comprehensive high schools:  Redwood, Drake, and Tamalpais.  Each school will host one meeting during the fall semester and another meeting during the spring semester.  In addition to the regular district business discussed at Board of Trustees meetings, the meetings held at the schools will include a number of site-specific presentations. 
The first On the Road meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 18, in the Bessie Chin Library on the Redwood High School Campus.  The meeting will start at 7:00 p.m., and will feature presentations focusing on a number of Redwood High School programs, including the Peer Resource Program, the Career Conversations series, the Architectural Design class’s main projects, math support efforts for students in Algebra P3/P4, and a proposal for a Mini-Farm/Sustainability Academy.  Presentations will be made by Principal David Sondheim, teachers, students, and community members.  There will be opportunities for public comment on any agenda item.  In addition to the Redwood-specific presentations, the regular business of the Board of Trustees will be conducted.
It is the intention of the Board of Trustees to make these meetings as interesting and accessible as possible for students, parents, and community members; therefore, the site-specific presentations will be the first items on the discussion agenda.
The schedule for the On the Road series is as follows:
September 18, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Bessie Chin Library, Rm. 162, Redwood High School
October 9, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Student Center, Sir Francis Drake High School
October 23, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Classroom 2020 , Rm. 300, Tamalpais High School
January 21, 2014*
4:00 p.m.
Bessie Chin Library, Rm. 162, Redwood High School
March 12, 2014
4:00 p.m.
Student Center, Sir Francis Drake High School
April 23, 2014
4:00 p.m.
Classroom 2020 , Rm. 300, Tamalpais High School
*This meeting will be held on a Tuesday
We will share presentation information for the upcoming On the Road Board meetings in future posts.   
We hope you will join us at these meetings--they’re sure to be interesting, informative, and fun!
To see the entire list of 2013-2014 Board of Trustees meetings, click here.
2013 Board of Trustees: President John Wright, Cindy McCauley, Monica Bonny, Susan Schmidt, and Clerk Bob Walter