The Palo Alto Weekly asked the five school-board candidates to answer 10 questions about current and future issues facing the school district. Melissa Baten Caswell's answers are below.
1. Do you support opening a new elementary, middle and/or high school?
Not now. After several years of declining enrollment, we have 26 elementary rooms not being used as primary classrooms. We still have a bubble moving through the secondary schools, but with declining enrollment projections for the next six years, resources should be focused on improving existing school learning environments.
2. What changes do you propose for the district's approach to administrative compensation?
Currently administrative compensation follows a process (widely practiced across California) based on the compensation in the negotiated teachers union contract. However, this is not merit-based, and administrators are not represented by the union. I would like to move to a plan where administrator compensation reflects individual and district performance.
3. What is your vision for the future of Cubberley Community Center?
We should plan Cubberley to best meet the needs of our community. The city and PAUSD should work together to create a joint master plan that reflects the need for community center resources, multi-use playing fields, immediate district requirements, education program flexibility and a school in the longer term future.
4. Should public hearings be held on the terms of union contracts during the negotiation process?
Yes. I generally support public hearings on negotiations and keeping our community informed along the way. On some issues when evaluating negotiating options, some confidentiality can lead to better outcomes. However, after the district's positions and budget implications are established, I support bringing the issues to public hearings.
5. How can the district better monitor and ensure implementation of its homework policy?
Fully implementing Schoology software across PAUSD can provide better information on homework tasks and volumes. PAUSD can gather teacher- and department-specific homework feedback with targeted questions in the student semester-end surveys. Our current broad-brush hourly limits may need review to better reflect different kinds of learners and course types.
6. What is the best way to expand access and capacity of district's choice programs?
All choice programs should have lottery-based admission. PAUSD should make sure that program information is proactively disseminated across the community. Choice programs with wait-lists should be reviewed annually and expansion evaluated, balancing the effects on neighborhood programs. Best practices from choice programs should be incorporated into regular programs.
7. What are your top three ideas for improving the district's fiscal health?
Actively look for process enhancements, system improvements and operational efficiencies; include all constituencies in budget reprioritization; tie administrative compensation to individual evaluations that are based on district operational and fiscal goals.
8. What should the district do to identify, deal with under-performing teachers?
Candid feedback is essential; every site needs to take input from student, parent and teacher evaluations very seriously. Many of our outstanding teachers collaborate for mutual improvement and coach others who struggle. Teachers who are underperforming are put on improvement programs and can be terminated if goals are not met.
9.If a member of the public emails a board member about a district matter, should it be made public (as long as it doesn’t violate student privacy)? And if it is sent to a board member's private email account?
If an emailer seeks to influence board vote or policy, I believe that the email should be made public whether sent to a district or personal account. However, specific law regarding public email communication disclosure is currently under Supreme Court review and PAUSD should make policy changes based on law.
10. Should the district rename Terman and Jordan middle schools?
I am open to renaming. The connection between these school's names and eugenics flies in the face of our community's current values, and it does not set an example of the kind of behavior that we teach, model and expect from our students.