In the summer of 1975, I had just graduated from North Torrance High School and was preparing to attend UC Davis in the fall. As I reflected on my high school experience and thought about the challenge of college, I knew that I needed better preparation in chemistry. I decided to enroll in a chemistry class at nearby El Camino Community College in Torrance and spent 6 weeks with Mr. Kallan, plugging the holes in my understanding of chemistry. My experience led to straight A’s in the Chem 1 series at UC Davis and probably played a factor in my becoming a high school chemistry teacher. A community college course and instructor played a crucial role in my life and career.
The community college system in California has improved the lives of millions of students over the decades. This coming fall, the residents of Milpitas will have their own college extension program in a unique partnership between Milpitas Unified and the San Jose Evergreen Community College District. The shared vision of the two school boards over the last decade is taking physical shape as the building rises from the ground on Escuela Parkway. These are exciting times as we continue to innovate and improve the educational opportunities in Milpitas.
At the heart of our partnership is the shared use of the facility during the school day for Milpitas High School. The building will consist of nine classrooms including a full science lab for teaching biology and other related science courses. During the school day, Milpitas High will use four of the nine classrooms for high school courses taught by MHS teachers. This will provide a minimum of 24 sections, or 24 classroom periods, of instruction in new state-of-the-art facilities. Through this partnership, Milpitas High is gaining four brand new classrooms with one being a shared science lab, which will help accommodate our growing high school needs. But that is just the beginning of the partnership.
San Jose Evergreen will begin offering college courses to meet the needs of students who want to eventually transfer to four-year colleges. Our high school students will be able to be concurrently enrolled in both MUSD and the college district. They will be able to build hybrid schedules that allow them to take college courses during their high school day. We will have some scheduling and timing challenges to sort out, but very soon our high school students will be taking college classes with a double benefit – completing college work that is transferrable to any four year college and meeting their high school graduation requirements.
Milpitas is growing in so many ways – a new BART station, new housing that will bring quality families into our city, and now a college program in the heart of our school district. These are great times for the city of Milpitas and the future looks bright.
This fall marks my 36th year as an educator and nearly as many years as a parent and father of three sons. In my many roles as a teacher, principal, and now superintendent, I have loved working with students, especially teenagers, and the families that entrust their students to our care as educators. At home, my wife Polly and I have raised three sons through school, college, and beyond as they establish their own careers and families. We can relate to all the challenges and joys of raising children in this hectic and amazing setting of Silicon Valley. It is my goal as superintendent to work with parents in a partnership to help them raise successful and healthy young adults.
One of my roles as superintendent is to find ways to build partnerships between our schools and parents, other organizations, and the community at large. Over my career, I’ve watched thousands of teenagers navigate adolescence and mature into young adults. As I work with teens and families, I’m always asking this question, “Why do some kids grow up with ease, while others struggle? How can we as parents offer the best possible environment for our kids to succeed in life?” These are difficult questions to answer, questions I wonder about as an educator and as a parent. Many years ago I came across some research that began to answer some of these questions. The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org) has developed a framework called the Asset Approach which consists of 40 developmental assets. You can find a copy of this framework under the Project Cornerstone section of our district website. These assets provide some language and tools to help our kids grow up in healthy ways.
We often talk about the partnership between schools and families and how we need to work together to raise kids. When you read through the list of assets, you’ll notice the majority of them happen in the context of school or family. The community at large has a role, but most of the work of developing young people happens on campus and in our homes. Given that schools play such a large role in the development of youth, the Milpitas Unified School District is launching a community-wide effort known as Project Cornerstone. The goal of Project Cornerstone is the development of positive assets in our youth which in turn leads to successful and healthy young adults. It’s an excellent framework and one that parents and educators find easy to understand and implement.
Our first step as a district in implementing Project Cornerstone was to determine the number of assets the average student perceives they have in their life. A survey was given on our school campuses in the month of May 2013 to provide a snapshot of the over 10,000 students in our district. The asset survey is geared towards older students in grades 6-12 and a summary of the results for our students is available on our website. The results show that we have lots of work ahead to create a healthy and supportive environment for the youth of Milpitas.
I must also share that the survey has revealed a high level of attempted suicide among the youth of Milpitas. Students self-reported that nearly 19% of our high school graduates have attempted suicide at some point in their young lives. That is a sobering statistic and a call to action. The results are confirmed by our bi-annual California Healthy Kids Survey and through the experiences of our school administrators and support staff.
In the fall of 2015, Milpitas Unified will serve as the lead agency for a renewed effort across our city of Milpitas in support of our youth. We will partner with the City of Milpitas, community and faith-based organizations, and our PTA groups in support of our students through Project Cornerstone. Please take the time to read through the developmental asset framework and do your part to invest in the future success of our youth. They need our support more than ever.
On August 4, 2015, I was invited to speak on a panel discussion at the EdSurge California Schools Summit at UC Davis. The topic was how to Increase Students’ Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking. The conversation was lively and the sharing of ideas was inspiring. There are so many leaders and innovators trying to improve the experience for our students in schools. But that was the second most important event of that conference.
The trip to Davis was an opportunity to reflect on the last 40 years of my life. The afternoon before the Summit, I took my bike and rode around the campus and town that set the foundations for my life, family, and career. It was over 40 years ago, a young man left home from Torrance, CA, and entered UC Davis as a freshman in the fall of 1975. As I rode my bike past familiar buildings and new settings, places I lived, churches I attended, I was deeply grateful for those years. It was at UC Davis that I learned how to learn, met my wife-to-be, and set the foundations for a life and career that has been deeply satisfying.
I was the first in my family to attend college. I am thankful to my parents who sacrificed and supported me to earn my degree in Nutrition Science and my teaching credential. As I fast-forward to my current work as a superintendent in Milpitas Unified, I am called to “pay-it-forward” to the 10,300 students in our district to help them prepare for their futures and dreams. The most important investment of human and financial capital we can make is in the next generation of students.
On November 10, 2014, worldwide tech giant Google hosted the first of their two-day Google International Summit in Milpitas Unified School District. Education ministers and dignitaries from 19 nations visited Russell Middle School and Pomeroy Elementary to see our students and teachers in action. These leaders from countries such as Brazil, India, Finland, Mexico, Singapore, and Malaysia, came to the Summit held at MUSD to study one overarching question: “How can education technology enhance learning for all and better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world?”
After opening remarks from Google leaders, experts from the Economist Intelligence Unit (a global publication), and our staff, we led 81 visitors to see our teachers and students in action. They saw students using technology to access online information and manage their own learning process. Teachers were using a variety of instructional formats and settings to teach, coach, and guide students. It is one thing to read about a new model of learning – in Milpitas Unified, visitors can see it action.
At the conclusion of the tour, our visitors returned to the Russell Learning Center to share thoughts, take questions, and hear from students and teachers. Before introducing the student and teacher panels, I asked our guests this question, "As you moved in and out of our classrooms, what did you see?” Their responses make us proud:
Focused. Engaged. Self-managed. Friendship. Collaborative. Happy. Independent. No discipline problems. Ownership. Responsible.
We are grateful to our Milpitas community that provides the support we need to make this happen. Three years ago, our District agreed to study the question: “How can technology enhance both learning and instruction?” Three years later, our team of educational professionals is recognized by Google as a model of 21st Century learning. We are nurturing capable, competent, collaborative problem-solvers who will help to shape our future. I am proud and grateful for our students and staff who are creating something very special in our schools.
We have a vision of a personalized education model in Milpitas Unified.
Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths,
needs and interests – including enabling student voice and choice
in what, how, when and where they learn – to provide flexibility
and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”
This is a tall vision for our district, indeed for all districts, but if we aim high, it can be done.
The converging challenges in education today are to (a) help each student achieve success with the internationally benchmarked Common Core State Standards and (b) deliver content in a manner that allows us to meet the diverse needs of every child.
What does personalized learning look like? It begins by looking at education as both acquisition of information and application of information. Then we must create learning environments that nurture a strong relationship between the teacher and the student, and a strong sense of community within each classroom. Students should have opportunities for collaboration and learning with and from their peers. Students should have more choice about what they learn, more control over time and pacing, and use technology to create a personalized learning pathway.
Milpitas Unified is a leader when it comes to the integration of instructional technology in our schools. Blended learning is an instructional framework that is being used in a majority of the schools in our district. Technology with the right software is providing direct instruction to our students, anytime and anywhere with our cloud-based approach. This addresses the acquisition of content.
Thanks to the support of our community through the 2012 Measure E facility bond, we have a robust wireless infrastructure supporting nearly 5,000 Chromebooks this fall. Our teachers and students are making the most of these resources and we are excited about how student achievement will thrive in the new era of online assessments under Common Core.
This last summer we remodeled six of our schools – Rose, Sinnott, Curtner, Pomeroy, Russell, and Milpitas High. Russell will be completed by December 2014 and Milpitas High will finish up in summer of 2015. In all of our schools, we are converting some of our existing spaces into flexible learning centers that support a more personalized approach to learning. These spaces have furniture and settings that support the type of collaboration and creativity found in the best companies in Silicon Valley. As we complete and furnish them, we will post images on our district website so you can see some of the great learning spaces for our students.
We sense a growing visibility and pride in Milpitas Unified School District and the City of Milpitas. I am getting acquainted with our newest residents in the transit area and they are choosing to buy homes in Milpitas because of the combination of great schools, housing, and access to transportation systems. I am proud of the entrepreneurial spirit of our staff and the engagement of all 10,300 students in Milpitas Unified. Thank you for your support as our local community.