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


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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council

The Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council is a group of parents from across the district that meets four times during the school year.  The advisory council is intended to provide two-way communication between parent representatives and the Superintendent and central office staff.
The Parent Advisory Council will:
  • Advise the Superintendent on district initiatives
  • Provide input on district and school related issues
  • Hear about and share opinions on current opportunities and challenges facing our schools
  • Bring to the Superintendent's attention existing and emerging issues expressed by parents
  • Further the District's efforts in expanding family and community engagement/involvement
The council will be comprised of three parents from each comprehensive high school and three parents from the alternative schools.  Members will serve on the council for one school year.  To ensue broad representation, the appointment of members will be made on a variety of factors including geographic location of residence and areas of interest and experience.
2014-2015 Meeting Location and Dates:
  • October 21, 2014
  • December 2, 2014
  • January 27, 2015
  • March 31, 2015
All meetings will be held from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the District Office's Kreps Conference Center, which is on the Redwood High School campus in Larkspur.
Process for Interested Parents:
If you are interested in serving on the council, please submit a self-nomination form (click here for form).  The deadline for submission is 4:00 p.m. on Friday, September 26, 2014.  Nomination forms are available on the district website at www.tamdistrict.org or by requesting a copy via e-mail to jshaw@tamdistrict.org or by calling (415) 945-3720.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Advanced Placement Program Continues to Grow

The Tamalpais Union High School District is committed to providing meaningful, relevant and rigorous learning experiences for our students so they are prepared for college and career options.  Student achievement data gives us insight into what is working and helps us to identify areas for continued growth.  At TUHSD, we monitor many types of student data including state and national test scores as well as our own local measures of growth and proficiency.  One data set of importance to staff and to our community is participation and success in our Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams.  AP courses give students access to rigorous college-level work while in high school with the support of their high school teachers and peers.  A passing score on an AP exam can give students college credit and/or placement into advanced courses in college.
Participation in the TUHSD Advanced Placement program has grown tremendously over the past five years.  In 2010, we administered 1,482 AP exams and this number has grown to 2,100 exams in 2014.  This is a 42% increase!  It is notable we have also maintained extremely high pass rates with scores significantly above state and national averages.  In 2010, 83% of those who took an AP exam earned a passing score of a 3, 4 or 5.  Similarly, in 2014, 84% of students who took an AP exam earned a passing score.  The national average for students with a passing score is about 60%.
An abundance of research shows that a student's experience with Advanced Placement is connected to success in college.  A few interesting research highlights include:
  • Hargrove & Dodd (2007) found that students who successfully participated in at least one AP course and exam had higher college GPAs, earned more credit hours, and were more likely to graduate in four years than students from similar family economic status and with similar academic ability.
  • A study by Dougherty, Mellor & Jian (2005) found that students who scored a 3 or better on an AP exam were significantly more likely to graduate from college than their peers.
TUHSD currently offers course work to support 18 Advanced Placement exams.  The programs with the largest number of participants are English Language and Composition, Calculus, Environmental Science, European History, and Biology.
Each Advanced Placement course is developed at the national level by a committee composed of college faculty and high school AP teachers, and covers the breadth of information, skills, and assignments found in the corresponding college course.  AP courses at TUHSD are taught by our own highly qualified and talented teachers who participate in specific professional development so they are best equipped to teach students advanced, college level content.
The Advanced Placement program is just one more example of the rigorous programs offered for the students at TUHSD.  For more information regarding course offerings at your school please contact your counselor or principal.  For more information regarding the TUHSD Advanced Placement data, please contact Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Kim Stiffler, at kstiffler@tamdistrict.org

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