(From the January 2020 issue of Spotlight, titled "Spotlight on Education: School Boards")

January is School Board Recognition Month, providing the perfect opportunity to shine this month’s spotlight on the essential role of school board members and all they do to support students and families. In San Mateo County, under the leadership of the San Mateo County School Boards Association and in partnership with school district leaders, school board members are doubling down on creating equitable systems, fighting for full and fair funding for schools, and celebrating and promoting our exceptional educators.

The San Mateo County Board of Education

The San Mateo County Board of Education plays several important roles that include providing oversight of the San Mateo County Office of Education’s special education and court and community school programs, approving the County Office of Education’s budget, and serving as the appeal board for the adjudication of expulsion, interdistrict attendance, and charter school appeals. The Board also advocates for public education and supports the priorities of the County Superintendent, including advancing high quality early learning, recruiting a diverse workforce, providing interventions and supports for vulnerable students, and promoting innovative educational models.  

The Board includes seven elected members who reside in the seven trustee areas of the county and serve four-year terms. Members of the County Board of Education are Board President Hector Camacho, Jr., Vice President Ted Lempert, and Trustees Susan Alvaro, Beverly Gerard, Rod Hsiao, Jim Cannon, and Joe Ross. Learn more about the San Mateo County Board of Education.

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United in Support of Students

San Mateo County includes 23 public school districts, all of which are governed by their elected school boards. Although these boards represent different school districts, they are united in their commitment to serving students, closing opportunity gaps, and improving outcomes for all students. The San Mateo County School Boards Association (SMCSBA) is where members of these boards come together, along with the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District, to share notes, learn, and advocate for San Mateo County’s students and schools.

Although it is an all-volunteer organization, SMCSBA has a reputation for setting ambitious agendas, taking action, and getting things done. The group holds regular member meetings, organizes an annual legislative meeting where school board members meet with state legislators, and sponsors the J. Russell Kent Awards to acknowledge outstanding teachers and programs. This school year, the SMCSBA added an Equity Network (see the article below) and Vote4Kids initiative, a campaign to build support for school funding, to its list of initiatives. SMCSBA President Kalimah Salahuddin (pictured above) is excited about the potential impact of these efforts and grateful for the collaboration. “School board members are committed to changing outcomes for all students in the county, not just those in their own districts. Working together is how we will make real change.”

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San Mateo County School Boards Association Legislative Action Day

On January 11th, the San Mateo County School Boards Association (SMCSBA) hosted its annual Legislative Action Day at the San Mateo Union High School District office. More than 60 school board members and superintendents met with State Senators Jerry Hill and Scott Wiener and Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin, Phil Ting, and Marc Berman to provide an update on the state of education in San Mateo County and share their legislative priorities. The SMCSBA also kicked off its Vote4Kids initiative and invited candidates for the District 13 State Senate race to share their vision for education.

SMCSBA Vice President Hector Camacho, Jr. delivered the State of the County presentation and highlighted trends in student outcomes, challenges posed by the teacher shortage, and bright spots in education, including efforts to set clear and targeted Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) goals, engage families, and expand the teacher pipeline. He also focused on the need to “dig deeper into the data, tell the story in the community, challenge the narrative around funding, and create targeted goals to disrupt inequity.”

According to Mr. Camacho, “These conversations are a great start; however, we can’t do this work without our partners in the county and our elected officials in Sacramento. We all need to continuously advocate for full and fair funding for schools to ensure that all students have equitable access to the education I know our educators can provide.”

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San Mateo County Equity Network

After participating in a California School Boards Association’s (CSBA) program on equity, San Mateo County School Boards Association (SMCSBA) President Kalimah Salahuddin wanted to bring the program to San Mateo County. She was troubled by the persistent gaps in outcomes among student groups and knew that schools needed to do something different to ensure that all students were successful. Although equity had been a focus of the SMCSBA, “we saw very little change,” according to Ms. Salahuddin. “We can’t close gaps in schools until we understand the systems that are causing them. Many of us are used to being problem solvers, but we can’t solve a problem we don’t understand.” Ms. Salahuddin then worked with Nicole Anderson, the facilitator of the CSBA’s program, to recreate a version – the Equity Network – for San Mateo County.

The SMCSBA’s Equity Network, which includes school board members, superintendents, and other senior staff from 12 school districts, has been working with Ms. Anderson for several months and will meet for two full days in February to address cultural proficiency and empathy and explore how to work it into a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Ms. Salahuddin is optimistic that the Equity Network’s work will lead to better outcomes for youth. “Sometimes, it’s as simple as accepting that you may not have the answer. It gives me hope that we are on the journey to find those answers together.”

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