Polar(izing) Vortex : Notes from the First SMCSD Conversation Club

On Saturday the 19th, 7 of us met at Firehouse Coffee in Sausalito for the first-ever meeting of the SMCSD Conversation Club. The full notes, as distributed to and edited by the group, are below.

After a round of introductions, the conversation wound its way from general goals and structure to the AG investigation to the campaign trail to finances and a good amount of time on polarizing words and phrases.

The main point of our club is to have a calm, rational, neighborly conversation about what are very likely emotionally charged topics and subjects. In beginning to identify polarizing words, phrases, and tactics we can then understand their roots and address the underlying concerns rather than amplify the rhetoric or stoke the fires of division.

If we are successful, each of us can carry back that contextualized point of view to our respective social circles to better inform and distribute a meaningful, forward looking perspective. If we are successful, the community at large will be better positioned to tackle the many tough challenges we face in our school district.

SMCSD CONVERSATION CLUB – NOTES 1/19/19

    • We plan to meet regularly on the Saturday following school board meetings, which typically means the 2nd Saturday of the month. I will send a Google Calendar invite separately. 
    • To receive board packets and stay up to date with scheduled board meetings, get in touch with Vida Moattar, District Administrative Assistant, at vmoattar@smcsd.org 
    • Our goal is to encourage and improve forward-looking conversation about the SMCSD school district in a variety of ways.
      • Online
        • Common Sense Connect is a private alternative to Nextdoor, Facebook Groups, or email (I am building it at my day job with Common Sense)
        • Post a link to books, articles, news stories, or whatever and provide a viewpoint, then discuss with other members of the club.
        • Search your inbox for “Common Sense Connect” for an invitation or send me a note and I can walk you through it.
      • In-Person
        • 2nd Saturdays, as mentioned above
        • Discuss ‘hot topics’ outside the spotlight and in a collaborative, open dialog
        • Share ideas for how to improve the conversation among the community, not just within the club
      • At board meetings
        • If and when we, as a group, want to highlight any issues or present any information, we will do so in a planned and coordinated fashion.
        • By meeting after each board meeting, we have time to develop a point of view and supporting materials before the next board meeting. 
    • We agreed that speculation about the AG ruling and related process/ next steps is not healthy or viable at the moment. When the board and all parties release their findings, then we can have a conversation about what that means. Until then, assumptions are not positive conversation.
  • Polarizing Terms
    • We want to identify words or phrases that are often repeated, especially in our recent election, that tend to polarize and divide the broader community.
    • Once identified, we aim to better understand their roots and causes, when appropriate find the source data or information, and then present simplified, factual information.
    • The group came up with several examples through open conversation:
      • $1M budget // defunding Willow Creek
        • Agreed that these were used as shorthand, obscuring complex budgetary conversations with simple sounbdbites
      • $10k vs $30k per student funding / cost
        • Lots of conversation here
        • The $30k number likely includes many expenses that are outside the classroom, $10k number may not
        • Implication is that adding a student at Willow Creek costs the student $10k while adding a student to Bayside MLK costs teh district $30k… which is not accurate
        • Very different funding mechanisms apply to each school
        • Capacity at Bayside MLK to absorb students at a much lower per-student cost due to high fixed costs supporting additional capacity
      • Partisan Board // Willow Creek Aligned // Bayside MLK Aligned
        • Mentioned in conversation and quickly identified as polarizing term
        • Presenting the board as aligned one way or the other does create an ‘us vs them’ dynamic rather instantly
      • “One of our two public schools” which equates Willow Creek and Bayside MLK as the same… which they are not.
        • Willow Creek is an independent charter school that is publicly funded
        • As a “school of choice,” which all charters are, they technically exist outside of the district even though the district approved their charter and provides the Sausalito campus which is district owned
        • The public funding is what guarantees all applicants a seat based on capacity (whether from Sacramento, Sausalito, Marin City, or San Francisco)
        • The “independent” part is what grants Willow Creek a separate board to govern the school
        • Funding is guaranteed per student ($8k+/yr) plus additional funding through the MOU process with the board (so the board can decide to provide ad hoc additional funding above the state guaranteed $8k+ per students) 
  • Tara Seekins, who very recently announced she is stepping down as Willow Creek Head of School to join the Peace Corps in South America, said (according to a conversation member and Willow Creek parent) we are dealing with a “situation of abundance” in our district. That phrase “situation of abundance” seems apropos to our budgeting conversation and related research before the next meeting.
  • Related to budget, it was shared that of our $9M total budget, $1.7M is allocated to special education. Representing such a high percentage of the overall budget, many of those present had questions about allocation and details. 
  • Next steps:
    • Send out this summary via email for edits (done!)
    • request budget or other data to provide a clear picture of our district finances
      (all pertinent budget data, so that we can be well informed as to total expenses borne by the District, as well as available district funds and their allocation, per school and per student.)
    • clearly define funding mechanisms at each school
    • create shareable list of “polarizing terms” (done with this post)
  • Want to help with the above? Talk to me!
  • Want to join the club? Register below!

SMCSD Conversation Club

Join the Sausalito Marin City School District Conversation Club!

To keep the conversation going and build on the momentum from our recent election, I am starting a book club of sorts focused on improving our school district. There will be a private online chat space (think Nextdoor) and in-person meetings (casual monthly meet-ups plus quarterly discussions).

Please sign up below.
It’s free, focused on improving our schools, and our first casual in-person meeting will be late January.

The SMCSD Conversation Club is open to all friends of our district.
If you want to improve our schools, you are welcome and encouraged to join. If you have kids in school or not, you are welcome to join. If you are a parent or not, you are welcome to join. If you are a resident of the district or not, you are welcome to join. You – yes, you – are welcome to join.

The SMCSD Conversation Club is both online and in-person.
There will be an online chat forum (think quieter, private version of Nextdoor) to allow ongoing topic-based conversations whenever you like. In-person events will include casual monthly meet-ups (think coffee shop) starting in January and more formal sessions every three months (think roundtable talks) in March, June, September, and December.

The SMCSD Conversation Club is flexible.
There will be one primary book recommendation every three months. Any member can add an article, book, or other topic of interest for the group to consider. All members are welcome to read more quickly, read multiple books or articles at the same time, or cram at the last minute before an in-person meeting.

The SMCSD Conversation Club moves at your pace.
Online conversations will be organized by book and chapter, so anyone can jump in and join the conversation about Book Two, Chapter Three whenever they are reading Book Two, Chapter Three. If you read quickly, maybe you start the conversation. If you read slowly, you might join a conversation in progress. Some folks may prefer to only discuss things in person, others only online. However and whenever it works for you, it works for the club.

Sign up by entering your email, name, and favorite quote here:

This will be a place to discuss a variety of books, articles, and topics related to improving our school district. Any member can recommend new conversation topics at any time. There will be one primary book every three months that I hope everyone commits to reading.

What is the first book? How *Not* to be a Terrible Board Member

If we want to support our district, we need to support our board. In order to do that best, we should all know what it means to be a board member.

This short book (160 pages) is a collection of case studies, short stories setting up board decisions, that you think through as if you were a board member. It should provide plenty for us to talk about!

This book was highly recommended during the Marin COE training sessions and was written by a long-time board member that is also a nationally recognized educational psychologist and professor at UC Santa Barbara.

Truth and Courage

The most common comment about my campaign has been, by far, people thanking me for the courage to run. Thank you for that, though I must admit I don’t feel courageous.

 

I was encouraged enough to run, curious enough to dig in, inspired enough to speak out, and willing enough to see this conversation through. At no point did I think I was making a courageous leap into the unknown or opposing daunting forces.

 

I was just doing what felt right, even though the timing was less than perfect with a brand new kid and new job at a kids-focused non-profit. It’s rarely the right time to do what’s right.

 

I posted weekly thoughts about the campaign and our district every Friday to this site, which were shared via email, and shared from there with many others. I thoroughly enjoyed all three candidate’s forums (and posted videos on my site). I chimed in on Nextdoor now and again, both sharing my ideas and correcting views or statements people assigned to me (here, here, and here as examples).

 

I didn’t get 100’s of plastic yard signs, didn’t run online ads that popped up before kids video games, didn’t stand on street corners in the morning waving at cars, didn’t knock on doors in the evening, didn’t cold call people by the dozen. I didn’t have the money (no donations), didn’t have the team (just me), and didn’t have the time (4 month old kid).

 

These are not excuses, these are all choices that I am happy to have made.

 

Many times I chose the life of a young husband and new father over what I knew to be prime campaigning time and opportunities. That dual role has, I am confident, both limited my chances at winning a seat and reaffirmed what values I’d ardently support if I did.

 

Maybe being part of the community rather than campaigning during community events cost me a few votes, but it won me irreplaceable memories. This was my second year in a row to both cook in the chili cook-off and win the group dog costume competition with my friends. Neither were campaign events for me like they were for the two slates in this race, who I hope to see back out there again next year (without the campaign posters).

 

I knew I’d make mistakes and learn from them, and that has been absolutely true. This campaign has been a wonderful learning experience and my final lesson comes on November 6th. Every voter will be my teacher, and what happens after this graduation of sorts remains to be seen.

 

If I do win a seat on our board, I look forward to getting to work. Before I even submitted the paperwork to run, my wife and I had talked about the time commitments the actual gig would require. I have 10 hours of weekly commute time to handle required reading, coordinate meetings, and handle emails. My day job puts me squarely in the middle of modern education technology, in conversation with leading policy advocates, and surrounded by former teachers and board members from other districts. I have one night per week for meetings, which is one district board meeting a month, one meeting at the Sausalito campus, one at the Marin City campus, and one meeting per month with the County.

 

As I look back on this campaign, I feel proud of the conversations I’ve had rather than courageous for speaking what I believe to be the truth of our district. It shouldn’t take courage to speak what you believe is true, and, if the community is intolerant of your truth, or limits your ability to raise your voice, it often reflects more on the character of the community than the individual.

 

I hope what I’ve said rings true to you. If it doesn’t, I hope you can pause and listen to better understand my perspective, experience, and statements before sharing your truth with me. That pause and that perspective will lead to great conversations more often than not.

 

Your truth may be different than mine. Your truth matters to me. Your truth should count to anyone representing you.

 

So, as my way of saying thank you to the people that encouraged me, supported me, spurred me on, and kept me going, here are some of the truths shared with me along the way.

 

The neighbor that didn’t get into Willow Creek and moved after two years of private school.

 

The multi-generation Marin City resident speaking to the community character of both Joshua Barrow and Ida Green.

 

The last credentialed math teacher at Bayside MLK sharing her experiences as major changes were happening in our district just a few years ago.

 

The family friend that knew me socially before the campaign.

 

The fellow candidate who didn’t know me at all before the campaign.

Just the facts, ma’am.

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with history. And proper pronunciation of words, but that’s a different story.

 

Maybe my historic leaning was because I’m the youngest of 5 and my generational references (and hand me down everything) skewed a bit older than all my friends. Maybe it’s because all the books I read had that old paper smell from being in our family for decades or at my school library for generations. Maybe it was because I watched a lot of Nick at Nite on my 5” black and white TV instead of going to sleep (it also had a tape deck built in so I’d record MTV back when it actually played music)… Mr. Ed, Green Acres (I still love the theme song), Bewitched, Batman (POW! ZOK!!) and Dragnet among others.

 

Dragnet was OK as a show, but later became a fun movie with Dan Aykroyd as the stern but fair Joe Friday that I watched whenever it came on TV (which, in those days, was oddly often).

 

So, on this Friday, in honor of my man Joe and owing to my historic leanings… 

 

Just the facts, ma’am.

 

  • Early to mid-90’s – Bayside Elementary and MLK Middle School roughly 50/50 black/white mix
  • 96/97 – Fort Baker shuts down, military families leave the district, 80/20 black/white mix
  • 98 – 2000 – White flight, district becomes 95% or more black
  • 2001 – Willow Creek Academy opens as K3 on Bayside Sausalito campus, growing to a K5 and then K8 as those kids grew up, Bayside librarian at the time recalls complete separation (“They wouldn’t even use our library.”)
  • Early to mid-2000’s – District has 5 or 6 year run with single superintendent, institutes two year classrooms for Bayside, focuses intensely on 3rd grade literacy
  • 2004 bond measure that passed with 70%+ support and funded the construction of the MLK middle school campus in Marin City.
  • 2008 – Bayside wins California Distinguished School award and Title 1 Achievement award
  • November 2008 – Bill Zeigler, Willow Creek founder, elected to district board
  • 2009-2011 – Staffing changes at Bayside and MLK result in teachers departing, scores at Bayside and MLK plateau and then begin to decline, reversal of progress made in early to mid-2000’s begins, some students from Marin City begin to shift to Willow Creek
  • 2010 – Willow Creek wins California Distinguished School award
  • 2012 – Josh Barrow appointed to district board
  • 2013 – Josh and Bill vote to close Bayside, elementary students displaced to MLK middle school, district board approves purchase of portable buildings for those students, agreeing to multiple decades of repayment in order to quickly create a K8 campus on the recently built Middle School campus, Willow Creek takes full control of Sausalito campus, retaining Bayside’s “California Distinguished School” award on what is now the Willow Creek entry sign
  • 2013-2015 – Steve Van Zant, “Charter School King,” hired as 2 to 3 day per week part time superintendent for ~$170k per year, flies from his home in San Diego to Sausalito on the district dime, changes credential requirements from single to multiple subjects resulting in significant teacher turnover, and supports removal of Art, Music, and PE programs from Bayside MLK, multiple principal turnovers, adds programs and staff to Willow Creek Academy, establishes a 5 year term on the MOU to govern student needs based discretionary budget allocation to Willow Creek despite the dynamic and changing nature of the student body, Bayside MLK scores continue to decline, more Marin City students shift from Bayside MLK to Willow Creek
  • 2014 – Josh Barrow and Ida Green run uncontested for the school board
  • 2015 – Superintendent Steve Van Zant convicted for illegal financial dealings in another school district, resigns, two superintendents have come and gone since
  • November 2016 – Debra Turner elected to board with highest percentage of votes on promise of restoring programs to Bayside MLK; Bill Zeigler is not re-elected
  • 2016/2017 – FCMAT report exposes questionable finances, immediately challenged by Willow Creek and then upheld by the state, Marin County Office of Education appoints Terena Mares in oversight capacity (now our interim superintendent), State Attorney General opens investigation of the district, 2 board members that have Willow Creek aligned voting record begin to recuse themselves from all financial matters as a result of the investigation
  • 2017-2018 – With two members consistently recusing themselves only three members participating in all financial matters: Josh, Ida, and Debra; programs partially restored to Bayside MLK include Art, Music, PE; scores at both BMLK and Willow Creek on the rise
  • November 2018 – Three seats up for election, 7 candidates
    • “Team up for all Kids” Slate
      • Josh Barrow, current district board President, technology executive
      • Kurt Weinsheimer, current Willow Creek board president, technology executive
      • Jen Conway, current Willow Creek Parents Org Co-President, technology executive
    • “Two choice Candidates” Slate
      • Ida Green, current district board Vice President, social worker in the Marin City community for decades
      • Bonnie Hough, 20+ years family legal services, serving many members of Marin City community
    • Peter Romanowsky, street entertainer
    • Me, parent of future public schooler, work at Common Sense Media, nation’s largest children’s focused non-profit

And here are the videos from our three candidate’s forums:

Campbell Hall – Oct 1 – Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Cruising Club – Oct 17 – Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

Bayside MLK Oct 18 – Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

If you have facts to add to this timeline, please let me know: nathanscripps@gmail.com

Telling it how it is.

Our back-to-back forums this week have been exciting, exhausting, entertaining, and, I hope, informative. I hope everyone feels informed enough to accurately vote their values on November 6th.

 

Today, I wanted to share my single biggest surprise while fresh on my mind: I couldn’t believe that Josh Barrow, our current board president, opened his first answer last night with an openly negative attack on his fellow board member Debra Turner.

 

I turned to my right and whispered to Kurt in disbelief, “Wow, question 1, attacking Debra!” To which Kurt leaned slightly away, tilted his head toward me and muttered back, “Just telling it how it is.”

 

So now, here I am, telling it how it is from my time on the stage with Josh and his team of candidates.

 

  • Josh wants to be in the majority, or off the board.
    • Repeated opening statement that he only considered running for re-election alongside Jen and Kurt as like-minded and ready to get things done
    • Followed later last night with mandate that you need to vote for all three so they can be effective and guarantee a majority vote from day one
    • So… the only way Josh seems to want your vote is if you vote for all three?
    • Which tells me, Josh only wants to serve if he is guaranteed to be in the majority position, which he enjoyed from 2012 to 2016

 

  • Josh, Jen, and Kurt pin the past two years of “deadlock” on a single member of the board.
    • Josh’s first answer last night was a negative attack on Debra Turner, a sitting board member for the past two years, after taking several shots at her the night before
    • During the evening last night, both Jen and Kurt chimed in with their own shots as well
    • It’s a five person board so a single person can never cause deadlock (by design)
    • Two of the five members recused themselves for all financial matters for the past two years
      • Which Ida Green, who served alongside them and Josh, addressed on Wednesday evening as due to the financial nature of their careers
      • The pending legal investigation by the AG may put their careers at risk if they continued to vote on financial matters while under active investigation
    • Those two members had a track record in line with Josh, and, without them, he was in the minority for the first time since being appointed 6 years ago
    • A dominant group being in the majority year in, year out for a decade can lead to lopsided decision making…  which might earn an investigation by the Attorney General
    • Being in the minority now and again means the system is working and a diversity of opinions are being represented
    • Being in the minority is not being deadlocked

 

  • Josh proved he is not a team player, unless his team is winning.
    • Rather than be a team player, or disclosing his aligned board members’ recusals as a pain point, he pins all failure on a single member of the board
    • Teammates, especially the team captain, shouldn’t blame other teammates if the outcome isn’t as expected
    • Josh is not acting very presidential when he is pinning the failure of a 5 person board that he leads on a single board member
    • Debra was voted in two years ago on a platform of revitalizing Bayside MLK and her voting record reflects exactly that, so her actions are not unexpected
    • An investigation leading to two recusals is unexpected (but not undeserved)
    • Yes, Debra does have a different opinion than most. That’s ok. In fact, that’s the point of a 5 person board.
    • Her opinion is not wrong – her opinion is her opinion and her vote is her vote

 

  • Josh, Jen, and Kurt all pointed to massive board failures in the past two years. What failures?
    • Programs have been restored to Bayside MLK that had been removed between 2009 and 2016
    • No programs were removed from Willow Creek to my knowledge (I am sure we would have heard about it in the forums if so)
    • Average overall scores at both Bayside MLK and Willow Creek have risen in the past two years
    • A potential financial windfall from the state that would have benefitted Willow Creek was passed up in light of the AG investigation and legal counsel
    • Does that financial missed opportunity outweigh the educational gains by so much that it makes the last two years an overall failure?
    • How can anyone, especially the board president, consider gains at Bayside MLK after a long period of declines a failure?

 

  • Josh, Jen, and Kurt all say the Attorney General investigation is a mystery, but definitely not about the money.
    • It’s about the money
    • It is always about the money
    • Josh, Jen, and Kurt say it’s about how we educate our lower income students… which is to say… how we spend our money
    • Bonnie, the only lawyer in the mix, pointed out that the Attorney General specifically called for the Willow Creek MOU – the agreement that governs discretionary budget allocated to Willow Creek – to be pulled out of closed session, it had to be in public, so everyone could hear about the money
    • As mentioned above, the investigation led to two board members recusing themselves from all votes related to the money.
    • The focus of the investigation seems to be the pattern of how our district has allocated the money for perhaps the last decade, flowing from board approvals to each school and what those schools were able to do as a result… which is to say… how we’ve been spending our money
    • It’s always about the money
    • It’s about the money

 

  • Speaking of money, Josh, Jen, and Kurt all point to our “debt service” as a terrible waste of it.
    • That debt service is tied to the portable buildings, state of the art or not, that were required to displace the Bayside students to the MLK campus, forming Bayside MLK five years ago
    • Josh, appointed six years ago, was on the board led by Bill Zeigler, a Willow Creek founder, that voted for that change and the purchase of those state of the art modular portable buildings
    • Kurt, as a Willow Creek board member for a decade, was definitely involved in that decision as well
    • The short sighted nature of that financial, cultural, and emotional decision saddled the district with debt that we are still paying off 5 years later
    • Now, Josh and Kurt point to the decision they made five years ago as a flaw in the system… that they created… while asking for your vote to fix it

 

I will still write new posts each Friday. Happy to share thoughts on them with anyone via email. Maybe school structure, maybe pros/cons list of all candidates (yes, all candidates have amazing pros), maybe digging into more data, maybe how we can better listen to and reflect our communities. I dunno. Lots to talk about.

Addressing the Elephant

The job of any board is to guarantee the best education possible is provided to all students, equally and fairly, reflecting and imparting the values of the community they serve.

Within our district, the current achievement gap is a fundamental concern and central point of conversation in this election. Closing that gap is both a near term focus and ensuring it never reopens must be part of our long term plan.

I’ve looked at the numbers with Tara Seekins, head of school at Willow Creek, and she knows it’s a serious and persistent issue. David Finnane, principal of Bayside MLK, was well aware of the challenge before taking what he hopes will be a long term post. I know it’s on the radar for Terena Mares, our interim superintendent originally assigned in an oversight capacity, and, of course, it is well known by Mary Jane Burke, our county superintendent. No doubt it is also filed away with the State Attorney General’s office as part of their ongoing investigation of our district.

It’s well known that one school is delivering better results for members of our biggest student population. Just in case you aren’t sure what I mean…

Bayside MLK is doing a better job of educating economically disadvantaged African American students than Willow Creek.

If that’s a surprise or seems like it just can’t be true, don’t take my word for it… here’s the data:

Bayside MLK outperforms Willow Creek in teaching English to African American students for both 2017 and 2018.

For 2018, Bayside MLK has a 10% lead in the Good or Great categories for English (22% to 12%).

Bayside MLK outperforms Willow Creek in teaching Math to African American students for both 2017 and 2018.

For 2018, Bayside MLK has a 32% lead in the Good or Great categories for Math (32% to zero at Willow Creek).

If you’d like to see the breakdown for other student groups, please review the data here:

Data for Bayside MLK   —   Data for Willow Creek

The bottom line is that while both schools should improve, Bayside MLK is better than Willow Creek at serving a very large student group in our district. We need to ensure that whatever program best serves our students is supported and expanded.

Today, for a critical group of students in our district, that better program is Bayside MLK. And there is a very good chance that this election results in shutting that school down.

How is that providing the best possible education to all students in the district?

Yes, Bayside MLK is facing a lot of challenges and has fought uphill in the past two years to win back several programs that had been lost or reduced by board approved actions since 2009. Whether or not each individual action our board has taken over the past ten years were conscious and strategic in nature or unconscious and financially driven is up to each of us to consider, for history to frame, and, potentially, for the state Attorney General to decide.

What do I mean by strategic? The reward for Bayside’s back to back Distinguished School awards in 2007 and 2008, making them one of the top 50 programs in the state, was to begin dismantling their programs in 2009, the same year that Bill Ziegler, a Willow Creek founder, began his eight year stretch on the board. It wasn’t broke… but he and the board certainly fixed it.

What do I mean by financially driven? It is plausible from a business minded perspective that a Willow Creek majority board saw gains at their school as more predictable than investing in the challenging, unfamiliar environment of Bayside MLK, as evidenced by the roughly $1 million in additional funds currently allocated to our ‘independent’ charter school that has accumulated over the course of a decade.

I do not believe that education is a business to be run efficiently quarter to quarter, seeking short term returns on investment. Rather, it is a service to be provided generously decade to decade and an obligation of the community to ensure it reflects their values. Long-term vision and planning from our board should not allow for some to become more at the expense of others becoming less.

Unfortunately, that has become the reality in our deeply divided district. We are now under financial, cultural, and legal strain while our students are failing to be adequately prepared for high school. After a long run of Willow Creek majority boards, kicked off in 2009, we are failing our students in the short term and risking our district all together in the long term.

For Willow Creek leadership and the three Willow Creek aligned candidates to deny any level of responsibility in Bayside MLK’s current challenges seems negligent to the facts, often swept aside as a ‘false narrative.’ Call me crazy, but when you resort to using the phrase ‘false narrative’ repeatedly, it just sounds… false.

To shut Bayside MLK down as a result of those challenges, claiming that Willow Creek as a single school solution is the answer to our achievement gap has two major flaws. First, charter schools legally can’t guarantee seats to all local kids. Second, Marin City kids of color perform better at BMLK than Willow Creek. Both of those are just facts, not narratives.

The way I see it, Ida (four years on district board), Bonnie (20+ years family legal services), and myself (concerned parent of a future public school kid) all want a multi-school solution that guarantees a seat for all local kids, supports the programs that best serve all students, and strengthens the district as a whole.

Conversely, Josh (six years on district board), Jen (co-president of the Willow Creek parent’s association), and Kurt (president of the Willow Creek board) want a single school solution that can’t guarantee a seat for all local kids, shuts down the program that best serves many students, and potentially threatens the district by amplifying the AG investigation.

Several folks, before and during this campaign, shared a quote from Bill Ziegler, a Willow Creek founder and member of the first Willow Creek majority board elected in November 2008, along the lines of “If you think we’re sending our kids to your school, you must be smoking something.” That cut runs deep, and it’s still very raw a decade after he took his seat on the board, which he held until just two years ago.

Many have also told me the real issue underneath all of this is that Sausalito won’t send kids to Marin City. That may have been true when Willow Creek was founded almost 20 years ago, it was obviously true when one of their founders took his seat on the board a decade ago, and it may still be the opinion of some Sausalito residents and parents today, but it is not true for everyone and it doesn’t mean we stop trying to do better and be better for all of our students.

Many people have hinted at or outright asked me about racism within our district. That is absolutely the elephant in the room and we, during this election, have to address it.

To say that racism is not a factor in our district would be a failure to move the conversation forward by not giving credence and truth to the experiences that have shaped our district for decades and still sway many families and decisions today.

We are at our most divided nationally right now, and on a local level we should be able to do better. Shutting down Bayside MLK after actively decreasing its ability to educate our kids over the past decade is not progress, it will not bring our communities together, and it will not best prepare all our kids for Tam and beyond.

We need to work together, find a solution that fits the budget, and restructure our district to serve every student, guaranteed. It’s time to work towards reclaiming statewide recognition for both schools, preparing all students for success at Tam, and bring our communities together to give all families a voice while giving all kids the education they deserve.

When adults fight, kids lose.

Education is a right, not a fight.

We can do better. Right?

Change is coming. Let’s talk about what that means.

The first candidate’s forum was a great evening. Our hosts, Father Chip and Pastor Paul, provided a fair format with 6 questions randomly selected from a total of 8. The 60 or so in attendance were engaged before, during, and after the discussion with great follow-up questions and commentary. And, in my opinion, all six of us did well up there despite this being everyone’s first ever campaign.

 

Even though there are two incumbents in the mix, Josh Barrow was appointed six years ago and both he and Ida Green ran uncontested four years ago. To go from an uncontested race to having six folks on stage trying to win three seats is a testament to how important this year’s election really is on both our small, local stage and of course, the national one as well.

 

What I am most excited to report is that this first forum kicked off a meaningful conversation about the necessary structural changes that every voter must consider in order to overcome our current cultural, financial, and legal challenges.  As I said last week…

My goal is to raise the structural conversation at the district level without upsetting everyone I respect on both sides of the situation.

To continue that conversation, I want to call out three key topics that we should all consider, voters and candidates alike. They were touched upon in the first forum and will certainly be expanded upon at the next two candidate’s forums on Wednesday, October 17th at the Cruising Club and Thursday, October 18th at Bayside MLK hosted by the Woman’s Club and the League of Women Voters.

 

  1. Why are we under investigation by the Attorney General and what do we do about it?
  2. Should we have one school or multiple schools in our district?
  3. Can we guarantee all kids a seat at a local school?

First up, the Attorney General’s investigation of our district…

At the forum on Monday, the “Team up for all kids” trio said different versions of don’t worry about it, business as usual, nothing to see here, focus on the kids, this investigation is a distraction. I agree, being under investigation is a distraction, but we need to understand why we are in the spotlight in order to resolve any issues and avoid making things worse in the future. Here is my summary from the stage:

I believe that Willow Creek’s structure and funding patterns are at the core of the conversation. Willow Creek is an independent charter, meaning it has its own board and governance, that is clearly dependent on public funds, currently to the tune of $800k~$1m up from $425k in the 2014-15 school year.

 

Typically, independent charters maintain their independent governance because they operate independently of public funds above the agreed per student minimums (which for us are over $8,000 per student). Dependent charters, on the other hand, are dependent on public funds and as such are dependent on the public boards for governance. Willow Creek is now operating way outside the norm and it’s drawing attention that our district doesn’t want or need.

Next, single or multi-school options for the district…

Speaking of a half million dollars, that is what our district is deficit spending in our current structure and budget. That must be addressed. All three “Team up for all Kids” candidates gave similar answers of “don’t cut in the classroom” which makes everyone happy while also supporting a single school structure to save money without details of what that means.

But wait… that eliminates an entire school, namely Bayside MLK. Schools have classrooms, don’t they? And by eliminating Bayside MLK, are we drawing more negative attention to our district, further highlighting the difference in how our board treats each school?

 

Bonnie Hough, Ida Green, and I all support multi-school models in slightly different formats to ensure community inclusive practices and guarantee capacity for all students. Here is my response to the question of structure, breaking it down as a math problem of capacity, community, and $ustainability:

 

 

Why is capacity such a big deal? We are a small district, right? For now, yes, but we are in a baby boom of sorts. Young families are staying in our district and starting families more than they have in a generation. Mine is one of them.

Like many others, we stayed because of great Willow Creek stories promising a good public education. Now, Willow Creek’s candidates are proposing a single school solution, which I fundamentally disagree with. Why would I do that if Willow Creek is what made my family excited to stay here long term?

Last, but obviously not least, we should guarantee a local, public education for every kid.

Legally, charter schools can’t guarantee a seat to all the kids in their district. We absolutely must keep a traditional school open if we want to guarantee a local education for our kids. The challenge facing our district is to make both schools award winners like they were a decade ago (Bayside ‘07 & ‘08, WCA ‘06 & ‘11). Both schools need to get better, together, to serve all students.

 

My goal, similar to Bonnie and Ida, is to make sure all local options are great for our kids. The “Team up for all Kids” trio wants to eliminate one school, removing lots of seating capacity from our district, and removing any option. What happens if they are forced to use a lottery to place students? More families start to move away again, just like my neighbor. A comment that earned the only on-stage interruption of the evening (~30 second into the video above).

 

We have to continue this conversation as a district. Structure change is coming. Whether we choose a structure that truly supports all students or have that change decided for us by the county or courts is up to us. And it will be decided in this election.

 

I look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you at the upcoming forums in a few weeks.

Concerned Parent of a Future Public School Kid

The upcoming election is going to have a permanent impact on the Sausalito Marin City School District, but everyone seems to be treating it like business as usual.

I believe we will either lose a school or lose the district all together.

 

We may lose the district if the same two sides continue to have the same resource allocation argument between the same two K-8’s, which forces the county or court’s hand to merge us with Mill Valley. The county already explored that option, suggesting intent, and recently merged two small districts together, proving capability.

 

We may lose Bayside MLK if the Willow Creek board majority rolls on and, without stating so on their campaign website, effects a long-standing plan to merge all students into a single K-8 school. A Willow Creek board member presented that idea to the Sausalito City Council last year, suggesting intent, and a two or four year majority board position provides capability.

 

Both of those structural changes seem plausible, yet neither are being given the broad attention they deserve. With under 600 students in the district and under 1,200 parents likely voting along school lines, both sides of the campaign seem to be sticking to similar talking points supporting all students to attract non-parents from both cities. Willow Creek has a much larger parent base than Bayside MLK, so it’s an uphill battle for the “Two Choice Candidates” against the WCA-aligned “Team Up for All Kids” group of three. If all three win, Willow Creek will have a four year majority control of the board, guaranteed.

 

A structural change creating two K-8’s several years ago shifted the headlines from our once award winning schools to a district entangled in cultural, legal, and financial troubles. I believe a structural change is required at this point to set us on a better path. Either the county or court enforces it, or the WCA majority board does it, or… and this is where my idealism kicks in… we shine a light on the conversation and vote for a different plan instead of choosing the same old sides.

 

I can’t get excited about our “Two Choice Candidates for Two Choice Schools” when their stated goal is to continue making progress as we’ve seen in the past 2 years. Bonnie Hough and Ida Green both bring myriad experience and an incredible willingness to keep negotiating a community-inclusive solution to the table. And yes, programs have been recently restored at BMLK that had been lost over the course of a decade under a WCA-majority board, although these gains came during a contentious time with WCA-aligned board members recusing themselves from service. While this plan definitely supports community inclusion, relying on the double K-8 structure just doesn’t seem financially viable in the long run, nor does perpetuating the resource debate with a strong-and-growing-stronger WCA parent base.

 

Nor can I get excited about our “Team Up for All Kids” trio when their goal doesn’t appear to be stated on their site at all. Kurt Weinsheimer, Jen Conway, and Josh Barrow speak of “teaming up,” “coming together,” and a “unifying vision” as seeming codewords for the 2017 single K-8 school proposal from a WCA board member to the Sausalito City Council. Both Kurt, as the WCA board president, and Josh, as the district board president, were aware of this plan at the time. Assuming that is still the goal, then Bayside MLK will be eliminated and all students will presumably go to Willow Creek as our single, independent charter school K-8. While this instantly addresses financial concerns, it leaves open the questions of transparency and equitable outcomes for all students given that most Marin City kids are not performing on par with their Sausalito classmates.

And, further complicating things, a Sausalito neighbor reached out recently to share that they were told there wasn’t space for their child at Willow Creek; they now send that child to private school and said other parents have had the same experience. They are now planning to move to Mill Valley.

What I am excited to support is revamping the old model that worked when we had award winning schools: two elementary programs and a dedicated middle school. The elementary programs could once again share a campus in order to maximize shared resources and student interaction, especially before and after school programs, lunch service, social activities, and subjects like art, PE, and foreign languages (all of which had been lost or minimized at BMLK, only some regained recently in the back and forth resources battle). Extra capacity at the middle school could attract other students from the county if we included hands-on experiential learning programs (proven to increase engagement and retention) that leveraged our unique physical proximity and access to programs like NatureBridge, Marine Mammal Center, Bay Area Discovery Museum, Bay Model, YMCA Point Bonita, and more. It’s a big idea, a new option, and an admittedly difficult conversation to figure out the finances and program details.

 

This covers both the financial concern of maximizing shared resources while also inviting community-inclusive practices and learner-specific core-subject area options during critical early years. At the middle school years, it boosts headcount, fills seats from across the county in the short term, expands our community to include amazing programs here in southern Marin, and keeps our capacity high as our elementary student counts swell in the coming years… all of which is a great prep for entering Tam.

 

At the very least, that structural shift (and others?) should be vetted next to WCA’s single school approach and the benchmark of our existing two-school structure. We can only have that conversation if we keep the district and vote for board members open to pursuing structural solutions that are both financially sustainable and community-inclusive. I think both sides get it half right, which means either side gets it half wrong.

 

Ultimately, what kept me up nights or woke me up early in the morning, besides my newborn son, was knowing that neither side provided a long-term solution that I was excited to support. I joined the race on the last day possible because I just had a kid (our first), my job at the nation’s leading non-profit for school aged kids was ramping up with back to school and the onslaught of social media and new technology in the classroom, and jumping into my first ever campaign as an unbacked, unfunded independent was daunting to say the least. I know that I can do good work for the district, and, if elected, promise to run for re-election until that work is done and our schools are award-winners once again.

 

My goal is to raise the structural conversation at the district level without upsetting everyone I respect on both sides of the situation. My son will be going to school here in a few years regardless of the results, and how he is received and what options he will have at whatever school he attends is always in the back of my mind. I believe we need to have this structural conversation as a district, during this election, in order to keep all doors open while providing long term sustainability.

 

Absent that conversation, we either lose a school or lose the district. I’m not a fan of lose-lose scenarios, so I’m running as a third option supporting a new version of our old, award-winning three school structure.

 

We are one district that can serve all students if we stop taking sides.

 

Two Choice Candidates:
Community Inclusive? YES
Financially Viable? NO

 

Team Up for All Kids:
Community Inclusive? NO
Financially Viable? YES

 

One district, All students, No sides:
Community Inclusive? YES
Financially Viable? YES

Why I am running as an independent.

When we moved here four years ago, we figured it would be a couple years of fun newlywed “training wheels” outside The City before finding a better school system. My wife grew up here and went to private schools her whole life. I am a public school kid and, frankly, I’m not all that excited to figure out how to both pay for private school and afford to live here.

 

That is why we were so excited to hear about Willow Creek from parents and kids in our neighborhood. They were having a great public school experience, riding their bikes to and from school, and hitting me up for the occasional fundraiser. That really helped us decide to put down permanent roots in Sausalito. After 2.5 years of renovations, we have no plans of moving.

 

I love this town. I’ve volunteered at the Art Festival a couple times, will be cooking in the chili cook off tomorrow for the second year in a row (Team Youngish – not talking politics, but come for the chili!), and currently serve on the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, my first pubic post and a wild learning curve about the Brown Act and how things move so differently in government than they do in the startup world.

 

Along the way I heard a story about kids coloring in prime numbers during math class. I figured that was a fun thing for younger kids to do, but when the family friend told me it was 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at Bayside MLK in one room with no math teacher, I just couldn’t believe it. How is that the same district as Willow Creek? How is that preparing them for High School at Tam? I signed up to volunteer as a tutor with Bridge the Gap the next week. I was a tutor in high school, college, and a few more years after that, so it was fun, fit well into my schedule at the time, and let me learn a lot more about the big differences in our small district.

 

At the start of this year, I changed gigs from software startups to work for Common Sense Media, the nation’s leading non-profit for school aged kids and their families. This summer, I also became a new father to a now 12 week old baby boy named Taylor. He is going to be a public school kid here in a few years, and I am excited about being part of that experience. Earlier this summer, before Taylor showed up in late June, three different people over the course of a week suggested I run for school board. I brushed it off the first time, too much on my plate the second time, but was curious enough after the third to start asking more questions.

 

Among many other friends, neighbors and parents, I sought out folks that have been thinking about this and working in our schools for a while now. I talked with Jeff Knowles, a willow creek board member, smart guy, thinking about our schools for a long time, happy to have seen him around town several times since. Tara Seekins, head of school at Willow Creek, lives up to the rock star reputation she’s earned as a long time leader. David Finnane, principal at Bayside MLK, is newer to the post but has a great long term track record spending 8 years running an elementary school before another 8 running a middle school. Debra Turner, current non-WCA aligned board member, was incredibly thoughtful and passionate about providing opportunity for all students. And our interim superintendent, Tarena Mares, made time for me when she was fresh on the job after transitioning from an oversight capacity assigned by the county. Glad to have her in that post to maintain some continuity while we, as a district, find our footing again.

 

Which brings me to the upcoming election, since one of the first things our new board will do is find and hire a full-time Superintendent. After many conversations, and lots of reading, I just didn’t know which way to lean with my votes for the three open seats. One side has three Willow Creek aligned folks with great credentials, while the other side has two non-WCA aligned women that also have great credentials… and I was even vetted as a potential third for that slate. For me though, neither side made sense the more I thought about it.

 

So, with a new son bringing my months of curiosity into laser focus, I decided to run as an independent and filed on the last day possible. I couldn’t pick a side so I’m running without one. Both sides have big teams, are funded through lots of donations, and are anchored by incumbent candidates. I am doing this on my own, don’t want your money, and I’m looking at our old problems with new eyes. 

 

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. – Ben Franklin

 

So… will I be lunch for the wolves? Will voters stick to the old sides? Or are you up for a new option? Do you think it’s time for a change? I do.

One district, All students, No Sides.

Nathan Scripps for SMCSD Board of Trustees – One district, All students, No sides.

Click to watch my intro video!

I believe we are one district that must serve all students, and to do that we need to stop taking sides.

The two sides in this election are clear; they are the two slates of candidates aligned with one school or the other. Voters are being asked to pick sides instead of focus on the real problem: No matter which side wins, students lose.

By picking sides, we continue the decade long fight that took our district from having two award winning schools to churning through superintendents. This has earned our district county oversight, a bad report from the Financial Crisis team, and an investigation by the state Attorney General.

These are the results of picking sides for a decade, and our students are paying for it. We must act as one district to best serve all students, so it’s time to stop taking sides.

I’m Nathan Scripps, and I’m running for the Sausalito Marin City School District Board of Trustees.

One district, All students, No sides.