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November 8, 2011 > Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

Fremont Unified School District Board meeting report

By Miriam G. Mazliach

The following are highlights from the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Board meeting held on October 26, 2011.

Closed Session/Superintendent's Report:
Superintendent Dr. James Morris reported on the following two appointments that were approved:
Rosalinda Cuevas-Carrero as Categorical Program Manager, Department of State and Federal Programs.
John Schroeder as GATE Program Coordinator.

Budget Update:
Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Micaela Ochoa reported that she is currently working on the 1st Interim Report for 2011-2012 and updating projections for November 1 through the end of the year. Ochoa is also coordinating with HR (Human Resources) regarding a more detailed calendar in the next few months.

Consent Calendar/Public Comment:
In support of the school district proclaiming November as "Sikh Awareness Month," Mr. Singh a member of the local Sikh community as well as a Sikh National Coalition member, spoke regarding a survey that had been done by their organization. It detailed multiple incidents of harassment towards members of the Sikh community, particularly after 9-11. He hoped that by this proclamation, the schools and the Fremont community would be more accepting of all.

Regular Board Agenda Item - Innovative Education Grants:
Nine FUSD teachers were recognized for the completion of their projects, which were funded by grants received through Fremont Education Foundation's (FEF)"Innovative Education Grants" program, for the past 2010-2011 school year. "We have incredible teachers here," said Superintendent Morris.

The teachers are: Joyce Aguilar and Mariapia Cowley, Grimmer Elementary; Robert Benn, American High; Jamil Elkhouri, Hopkins Junior High; Jeff Poe, Millard Elementary; Sharon Ram, Fremont Adult School; Kyra Wheaton, American High; Yelena Zimon, Fremont Adult School; and Casey Morreira, Walters Junior High.

In addition, Friday, February 24 was announced as the date for the next FEF "Excellence in Education Gala," which raises funds for the above mentioned grants.

Regular Board Agenda Item - Homework Policies:
The Board received the report and obtained feedback on the Homework Policy to determine how well the new directives, on the amounts of assigned homework, are being followed. (The Homework Board policy 6154 was updated for implementation beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.) A teacher committee was established to help gather data from parents, students and teachers for this purpose. They presented their information to the Board with recommendations that there be some minor changes, such as: noting that Honors classes may require more time for study and that homework may be occasionally assigned over weekends, for example.

Public Comments:
In regard to changes to the Homework Policy, Fremont parent Ann Crosbie stated that the current policy was not being followed as had been intended. "Students are still receiving homework on weekends and holidays. The wording on the report is not clear. I think the report is biased. I don't think we should make any changes until the current policy is implemented fully across the district," said Crosbie.

Superintendent Morris responded, "Teachers know that the information has to be discussed and opened up to parents and the wider community. The report will be shared with the PRAA (Parent Representative Advisory Association) [at each school]. These items are still open for discussion and not to be approved yet," said Morris.

Board Trustee Lara York added, "At the Secondary level, with multiple teachers, how do we do this for the kids so they have family time or extra-curricular activities? I'm concerned that the Honors kids can do more all the time and they're not getting enough sleep. I think the health of our students is important to how well they learn in the classroom."

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. Deborah Sims, thanked the committee for their efforts, and stated, "Now we will continue to bring feedback from other community and parent groups, and then tackle the Elementary level. This is just the beginning. Thanks for this input."

Regular Board Agenda Item - Elementary Health and Sex Education Curriculum:
Materials currently being used to teach "Health and Sex Education" curriculum to elementary students utilizes considerably out of date videos and a guide. To ameliorate this situation, in 2010, the Board asked for the curriculum to be updated and a committee comprised of a school nurse and teachers from the fourth, fifth and sixth grades was formed. Recommendations were previously presented at the June 16, 2011 and September 29, 2011 Board meetings. At this Board meeting, the committee was seeking approval for the adoption of their curriculum choices for the fourth, fifth and sixth grade Health and Sex Education curriculum.

Committee members in attendance to present their report were: Dr. Jan March, Director of Assessment and Instruction, and teachers Dan Carscadden, Antoinette Schlobohm and Karen Chapman.

"It's really about educating the whole child, social skills, healthy lifestyle, and making educated choices," said Superintendent Morris.

The new curriculum is in line with "understanding the process of growth and development," one of the guidelines identified in the Education Code as part of the State Health Framework for California Schools.

The Superintendent recommended an "all opt in" program, where parents would give permission for their child to participate or not. For those students who elect to "opt out" of the Health and Sex Education program, an alternate learning activity would be prepared for them.

Public Comments:
Fifth grade teacher, Sherea Westra, commented that she was happy to support the recommendations of the committee. Additionally, she said she would be appreciative to have current and up to date curriculum for her students.

District parent, Hiu Ng had concerns about the length (number of days) of the Health and Sex Education component.

Initially, most of the Board members appeared supportive of the adoption of the proposed curriculum; however, both Trustees Lily Mei and Larry Sweeney voiced several concerns regarding the content and wanted additional feedback. Trustee Wu stated that she felt that the FLASH curriculum for sixth graders was "giving too much information." She added that she had "concerns over various sensitive aspects and didn't want to expose them too early."

The committee members tried to clarify, to the Board, that the curriculum selected gives age-appropriate information on a variety of areas ranging from setting boundaries and puberty, to hygiene and self-esteem, etc., and are not teaching students how to have sex. Additionally, the lessons and DVDs shown would be taught and shown separately to the male students and female students at the three grade levels.

After well over two hours of lengthy discussion, this issue actually ended up needing two separate motions. The first motion by Trustee York was made to approve adoption of the complete curriculum for fourth - sixth grade. The motion failed with Trustees Wu, Mei and Sweeney voting nay; York and Gebhardt voted aye.

When this first motion did not pass, Trustee York voiced her frustration commenting: "This was our job to get this done tonight. I'm disappointed that we're sending this back. A lot of staff time will be used on this again. Why can't we be leaders for the community? We have many other issues to deal with."

After some additional input, Trustee Sweeney made a second motion to accept only the 4th and 5th grade curriculum for Health and Sex Education, with some caveats, and recommended that the 6th grade component be reviewed further and brought back for the December Board meeting. This motion passed with Trustees Gebhardt, Sweeney and Mei voting aye; Wu and York voted nay.

Superintendent Morris added, "This is a very difficult topic. We all have a commitment to do the best for kids."

Regular Board Agenda Item - Transitional Kindergarten Program:
Changes in the required birthday for entering kindergarten and first grade will go into effect starting with the 2012-2013 school year, per SB 1381(the Kindergarten Readiness Act) which was signed into law September 2010. This Senate Bill also established a Transitional Kindergarten program, for those students who do not make the age cut-off. Basically, this is a "Pre-K" program which offers developmental educational experiences geared for the younger child, before entering kindergarten the following (2nd) year.

To be admitted into kindergarten, at the beginning of the school year, a child must have his/her fifth birthday on or before November 1 for 2012-2013 school year; before October 1 for the 2013-2014 school year; before September 1 for the 2014-2015 school year and so on.

Regular Board Agenda Item - Secondary Science and Social Science Sequencing:
Director of Secondary Education, James Maxwell and Diana Brumbaugh, Assistant Principal at Mission San Jose High, presented an informational report on what they have determined regarding the sequencing of Science and Social Science at the Secondary level.

Some or our secondary schools do not offer the same courses or place them in the same sequence of when they are to be taken by students.

Also, Maxwell stated, that although many students are in "advanced classes," (AP or Honors) they are disappointed by the low numbers of "underserved" students in those classes. "We need to encourage them at the lower grade levels," said Maxwell. He added, "These inequities are not only in our district, but across the county and the country."

Trustee York questioned whether the Integrated Science course, offered during 8th and 9th grade should continue, as most students skip it.

American High School has asked to become a possible Science Magnet school.

The district goal is to get students to take more UC acceptable courses.

Staff will continue to work on these areas and update as needed.

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