Almanac

Schools - August 28, 2013

Back to school: K-8 schools making transition to new Common Core standards

by Renee Batti

As students at local K-8 public schools return to the classroom this month, their teachers and school administrators will continue pushing on toward the finishing line in implementing what's known as Common Core standards in anticipation of the state's first assessment test on the standards in spring 2015.

Schools in the Menlo Park City, Las Lomitas, Portola Valley, and Woodside districts are well-positioned to transition into new instructional strategies designed to help kids achieve Common Core goals, according to school leaders. That's because the districts — each of which has strong support from nonprofit, parent-based education foundations — have for years emphasized educational goals compatible with meeting the new standards, such as critical thinking, collaborative learning, and problem-solving.

Putting the Common Core standards into place has been a gradual process for the districts' schools, with teachers attending — and continuing to attend — various workshops and training sessions to help them integrate the standards into classroom lesson plans.

"The Common Core is driving our teacher and learning initiatives and continues to shift what we teach (standards), how we teach (instructional strategies), and how we measure student achievement," Superintendent Maurice Ghysels of the Menlo Park City School District said in an email.

Common Core State Standards focus on math and English language arts (ELA); they replace state standards in place in California for 15 years. The new standards "were developed to be relevant for our global economy," Woodside district Superintendent Beth Polito writes on her district's website. "The authors focused on the cognitive skills and rigor (depth of knowledge) that students need to succeed in college and in workforce training programs.

"Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills (referred to as the 4 C's) are also a major focus of the standards."

Local school leadership remains largely the same this school year, except for that of the Portola Valley district, where Lisa Gonzales has taken over from Carol Piraino as superintendent. And that district also has a new school principal and director of learning and media.

Menlo Park City

Principals of all four Menlo Park district schools have returned to campus this school year: Erik Burmeister at Hillview Middle in Menlo Park, Sharon Burns at Encinal (K-5) in Atherton, David Ackerman at Oak Knoll (K-5) in Menlo Park, and Linda Creighton at Laurel (K-3) in Atherton.

Hillview and Laurel have changed their bell schedules. The new schedules can be found at mpcsd.org by accessing the individual school sites from the homepage.

As increasing numbers of students continue to crowd the three existing elementary school campuses, district officials are keeping their fingers crossed that voters will approve a $23 million bond measure in November to pay for construction of a fourth elementary school. The district plans to reopen the campus where it once operated O'Connor School in the Willows neighborhood of Menlo Park.

Las Lomitas

Shannon Potts will begin her second year as principal of La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park, and Sue Sartor will continue at the helm of Las Lomitas (K-3) in Atherton.

In June, the Las Lomitas Education Foundation gave the district its largest contribution ever, $2.8 million, allowing the district "to invest in technology this summer," said Deborah Roden, the district's director of curriculum and instruction. As one component of the technology initiative, the district is providing iPads for all sixth- through eighth-graders, she said.

Las Lomitas is also seeking voter approval in November for a bond measure — this one in the amount of $60 million — to pay for building permanent classrooms and upgrading existing buildings at both schools. Just as with the neighboring Menlo Park district, Las Lomitas district enrollment continues to soar beyond past demographic projections, and it has had to add portable classrooms — nine on each campus — in the last few years.

Portola Valley

Lisa Gonzales comes to the district from the Santa Clara County Office of Education, where she served as director of the program known as STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math. On the job for less than a month, she said she is "really inspired to lead a district that's on the cutting edge."

Ms. Gonzales is joined in the district office by another newcomer, John Dean, who is serving as director of learning and media. Mr. Dean came to the district from the San Mateo County Office of Education, where he was in charge of categorical programs.

Kevin Keegan begins his tenure with the district as principal of Ormondale School (K-3). At Corte Madera (4-8), Michael Corritone returns as principal.

Woodside

Beth Polito begins her third year as superintendent and principal of the Woodside Elementary School District, which has one school serving preschool through eighth-grade students. Instructional programs in this school year will largely be the same as last year's, she said, but just as with schools in the other local districts, Woodside continues working toward aligning its instruction with Common Core standards.

Ms. Polito will get some help this year from a new hire: Tom Limbert, who is the director of the district's preschool. That job was part of the superintendent's duties in the past, Ms. Polito said.

As the district moves toward modernizing and rebuilding several campus facilities, the school board will decide in March whether to place a bond measure on the June ballot to fund the projects, estimated to cost about $16 million. But the amount of the bond measure, if the board approves it, is not yet determined because members of the school community are working to raise some of the funds through private donations, Ms. Polito said.

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