The need for more sharing of ideas among Palo Alto teachers emerged as a theme Tuesday as members of the Board of Education gathered for their annual retreat.
With a new union contract requirement that teachers participate in "professional development" and money in the budget to compensate them for it, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said teachers will have more opportunities to collaborate than they have in the past.
Skelly recently named teacher Kelly Bikle to a new position of "coordinator of professional development," where she will be charged with identifying what teachers need and planning activities.
Board members spent six hours Tuesday brainstorming over a host of proposed district goals for 2013-14. The retreat, open to the public, will resume Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Garden Court Hotel after the board spends all day today, Wednesday, in a closed session for Skelly's annual evaluation.
Skelly, who came to Palo Alto as superintendent in 2007, has been under fire by members of the parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto for, among other criticisms, not promptly and fully disclosing to the board and to the public a federal investigation that resulted in findings against the district last December in a middle-school bullying case.
The district is in the process of revising its bullying policy and reporting regulations as a result of that case. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating three other cases filed against the district.
Skelly Tuesday disclosed that one of those cases, alleging racial discrimination in the way a district middle school handled a disciplinary case, resulted last week in a finding by the OCR that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim.
Tuesday's board retreat covered multiple topics, including anticipated curriculum changes that will come with the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by California as part of a push by the nation's governors and state school chiefs to align curricula with what they say are 21st century knowledge and skills.
Board member Camille Townsend said the new standards will require replacement of the K-5 mathematics textbook Everyday Mathematics, which was adopted by the board in a contentious 3-2 vote in 2009.
Skelly noted that Palo Alto teacher Anna Kearney has been named to a state committee to review K-8 math materials to determine whether they are aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
As the school "inclusion" movement brings increasing numbers of students with disabilities into regular classrooms, teachers need more help in educating them, board member Heidi Emberling said.
The need for teachers to "differentiate" instruction techniques for a range of students also applies to children who have exhausted the standard curriculum and need more, board member Melissa Baten Caswell noted.
Such students account for a high percentage in Palo Alto, Skelly said.
"One of the places we've had gaps is for the elementary and middle school students who are above grade level, and we need to make sure they're being challenged," Caswell said.
Emberling said she wants more consistency in the anti-bullying curricula used across the district's 17 campuses.
Associate Superintendent Charles Young said the district will not dictate curricula to principals, but will screen various programs to come up with a recommended list schools can select from.
Board President Dana Tom said he plans to switch school board agendas starting in August to place the "public comment" period at the beginning of meetings, around 6:30 p.m. Currently the designated "public comment" time is at 8:30 p.m., but commentators often must wait beyond that time for the previous agenda item to wrap up.
After a suggestion from Palo Alto resident Wayne Martin, Tom said he'd also like to experiment with board member "office hours," in which members would be publicly available through Skype or in venues around town, such as farmers' markets.