Mike McMahon AUSD
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AUSD Strategic Plan 2003-2008

Alameda Unified School District is in the process of developing a strategic plan. A group of 70 individuals representing teachers, parents, staff, administrators and community members have spent the past few months developing possible goals for AUSD. These goals were presented to focus groups to provide a check point for the participants. I took the goals and broke them into smaller statements and created a survey. Beside AUSD Strategic Plan Survey Results, the individuals were asked to comment on the statements, the survey or the process. The comments are below.

Survey Comments

1. All classrooms are staffed with fully credentialed teachers.

Staff - Credential does not mean qualified but it does mean teachers have received the training required. Unfortunately teachers in programs such as Pipeline do not get the highly important modeling experience that those who go through traditional credentialing program get. Watching a "master teacher " is a more effective way to learn to teach than the "trial by fire" program that work/learn teachers go through. (Remember that kids go through the "trial by fire" program right along with the teacher.)

Plus a good master teacher can tell the credentialing office who will make a good teacher and who will not.

Parent -The only two teachers at xxxx who can’t teach are fully credentialed, I think it’s a joke.

Parent - Obviously, a trained good teacher is the ideal, but credentialing does not guarantee--many administrators do not press for performance, and do not help teachers who are in the wrong profession, move on.


2. All classrooms are staffed with highly qualified teachers.

Parent - If highly qualified means they love to teach children, then yes.

Parent - I initially called this my #1 choice, but decided to go for the safe environment since if that is not there, then real learning cannot take place.  Safe means emotionally safe, and free from ridicule, exclusion, scapegoating, racial discrimination.


3. All classrooms are staffed with teachers’ representative of the diversity of the student population.

Staff - I would put 1.) qualified and 2.) credentialed ahead of diversity. Given these two then yes representative diversity.

Parent - Only if they are the most effective (qualified).

Parent - This would be wonderful, but not realistic.


4. All staff will receive training in effective educational practices.

Staff - Teachers hired should have already trained in effective ed. practices. Managers need to do a great job of weeding out unqualified teachers in the two years of probation.

Staff - Receive training or have the opportunity to receive training? People never improve through “mandated” work. We need to create the climate for it to happen. We tried the mandated training when we did Class Size Reduction and did not see great changes in teaching practice.

I think lots of schools are working on effective instructional practices with every staff development day AUSD has. If they aren’t, AUSD should not have Staff Dev. Days

Parent - Expensive, but there is so much information available now based on experiment and research that in order for teachers to keep up and grow, this has to be in place


5. Effective educational practices should be focused on eliminating the student achievement gap.

Staff - Student achievement should statistically be a bell curve. We can tighten up the gap but if we do a great job then all learners improve. Let’s make sure we move the entire bell up on the achievement scale. (I see life experiences/enrichment, guardian expectations, health/nutrition/drugs/security issues as the biggest cause in gaps.) We could provide extra curricular activities that are safe, free, and convenient for our kids. It is up to the government to mandate parenting classes for those need it.

Parent - As long as that means pulling the lower ones up to grade level and not lowering my child’s expectations

Staff - We have been focusing on closing the achievement gap for 8 or 9 years. Jane Lee has worked specifically in that area as well as others. If we are serious about this issue there needs to be coaching going on at every school, instead of equal $$$ going to every school, the district should look at what the needs are at different sites. What sort of counseling is necessary for students who are high risk? Who provides the support for the high risk families? What schools have high levels of absences or tardies? What support is provided to them? Throughout the country research has shown that you can predict test scores by zip code because poverty area students have greater needs to bring them up to the same academic level as more privileged students

Parent - We really do not have much choice . If schools are judged and funding based on test scores if we are not successful in meeting this challenge, the neediest schools will fall further and further behind.  There has to be some recognition of the tools necessary to bring the student who is behind, up to his capacity, and district funds should be allocated with the recognition that there are schools with larger proportion of such students--perhaps funding on a per student in need of extra attention rather than a blanket allocation across the board

Parent - Does this mean helping every child achieve their best potential or does this mean making sure everyone reaches the same goal? We should focus on helping every single child achieve their best.


6. Effective educational practices should be focused on ensuring that all students are performing at grade level.


Staff - How will grade level be measured? If we are talking about percentiles it is impossible to have every student at grade level. Effective educational practices should focus on all students learning and on closing the achievement gap.


7. Effective educational practices should be focused on math and literacy.

Staff - And science and social studies and arts and physical education and vocation etc. Am I missing the point here? If we want students directly involved in their education (which I rate #1) we need to keep them engaged. We want quality instruction in all subjects at all levels.

Parent - With those two (6&7) everything else will come

Parent  - Unfortunately, we are also stuck with this one--these are essential skills, but there is more to education than that.

Parent - Certainly in the lower grades


8. Students will be directly involved in their education.

Parent - Bogus question! If they are not involved, how are they students?

Parent - At my children’s level, I do feel this is happening

Staff - The triad of learning between student, teacher and parent is the key to success. Motivated children, taught by qualified teachers armed with excellent curriculum, supported by responsible parents will move our district forward in achievement.

Staff - Is this a goal or a decree from above? Who will or can mandate this?

Parent - How can a student not be involved in their education, does this mean something more that I don't understand?


9. Students will provide input to the decision making process regarding curriculum.

Parent - In elementary school this is not appropriate, so I can’t really answer

Parent - The curriculum is mandated by the State…neither teachers, students, parents or community members in Alameda provided input.

Parent - In older grades, students get to pick their courses so isn't that input into curriculum, I don't this is applicable in lower grades.


10. Parents will be directly involved in their children's education.

Staff - Encourage parents to help in the classroom. Let each and everyone of them know they are valued and can contribute to their child's education. Encourage them to be active in their child's homework.

Parent - This is not the districts fault but it is the 64K question, how do you get them involved?

Staff - Again, I assume that this will be decreed by someone more powerful than I know. Will we punish the child if the parent is not involved? Is this a hope?


11. Parents will provide input to the decision making process regarding curriculum.

Staff - Please, lets put curriculum decision making in the hands of professionals. (Too many cooks.) Give parents other ways of giving input so they are empowered/engaged. The problem with input is that when parent ideas are not used we turn them off.

Parent -That what School Site Councils are for and if we handle the qualified teacher question it won’t be a problem.


12. Curriculum is connected to the real world of work and higher education.

Parent - Our teachers do things at this level that definitely seem to pull this inStaff - Instruction of curriculum may be connected to the real world, but the curriculum is what it is…as decreed by the State…and it is what is assessed by the State and AUSD will be accountable not only to the State but also the federal govt. under No Child Left Behind.


13. The District has a comprehensive assessment system -- supported by technology.

Staff- We assess our students to death.             "You can not fatten the lamb by weighing it" Sheila Jordan Superintendent ACOE

Parent - The levels test is a complete waste of time, it compares apples to oranges

Staff - I would think the CAT6, the CST, Golden State exams, AP exams and grade level assessments is a pretty comprehensive system. Does this question assume something more?

Teacher - teachers must have training to use this and access to the data and it has to be available around the clock if it is to be used effectively. If done correctly, could be AMAZING!


14. Progress is communicated to parents and students through clear and consistent grading system.

Staff - Communication is a key word

Staff - Consistent I agree with; however, “clear” is in the eyes of the receiver. I am not sure we can guarantee “clear”. Consistent will also require grade level/content level tests to be developed throughout the District which will definitely have a price tag.


15. The comprehensive assessment will measure individual student performance.

Parent -I would love to see this new system, but I am worried it will cut into other needed funds

Staff – I think the above mentioned assessments (CAT6, CST) measure individual student performance. If not what have parents been receiving in the mail after testing has been done? Are we planning on doing more “assessment”? If so, we might first want to look at the amount of time spent testing rather than teaching now.


16. The comprehensive assessment will measure individual teacher performance.

Staff - What reliable objective assessment  tool(s) will do this? How do we neutralize all the variables?   A good principal will generally know the level of performance of his/her teachers. If they do that job of managing teachers using the same principals of effectiveness we want for our students then even mediocre teachers can be shaped/motivated to be better.

Staff - Will this be a different assessment or will the teacher be measured on how well his/her students do? If all students come in 3 years below grade level and leave one year below grade level in one classroom while in another classroom all students come in 3 years above grade level and leave 3 years above grade level, who will be considered the more successful teacher?

Staff - This is loaded. It would be great but only if the classess are truly heterogeneous in all ways, race, gender, SES, access to curriculum, materials, opportunities, etc. If not, we already know what will happen!


17. The comprehensive assessment will measure individual school site performance.

Staff - Yikes! A data nightmare.

Staff - We are already doing this and shocking, the poor schools are doing worse. We don*t need more data on this!


18. There will be a clearly defined core curriculum.

Parent – I think there pretty much is.  We have lots of other broken items before spending money on this

Staff - When the State adopted Content Standards, it became the core curriculum. It is what every teacher must teach and every child must learn; so what does this question mean? I gave it a 1 because it is already in place…if the question was about implementation of the core curriculum I would have ranked it a 5 in importance.


19. Each school site should be a physically safe and secure learning environment.

Parent - Alameda schools seem pretty safe to me. The only one I would worry about if Alameda High,

Staff - I assume this question means that this is not in place now so that is the perspective I will use when answering it. I am uncertain what a “secure” learning environment is.


20. There will be an equitable continuum of academic support services offered to all students.

Parent - It is immoral not to do this, especially with the children who have the ability to go on to higher ed

Parent - wow, jargon overload, hard to guess how important when it is impossible to know what this means, but certainly "sounds" good)

Staff - Are you sure you mean “equitable” ? This community has always been committed to “equal” … no matter what the needs are. It is nice that Edison and Earhart “adopt” west end schools, donate books etc. But what about giving the schools more decentralized dollars to address their own unique, identified needs.


21. Career and technical education is fully integrated into all schools.

Staff - As long as there is money to fund it. It is hard to lump these 2 together because technical education is a tool as opposed to a curriculum and it takes money to keep it current, in good working condition, and available outside of school hours. Unfortunately in a time of decreased dollars per student this becomes impossible.


22. There will be an effective communications system that promotes information exchange between teachers.

Staff - Grade level articulation facilitated by prep periods that are scheduled at the same times. E-mail for all teachers. Cross grade level meetings scheduled. Communication!

Parent - location is it in real estate and communication is it in education

Staff - What does this mean? This is so vague. Sounds good but not sure what it is!


23. There will be an effective communications system that promotes information exchange between all District employees.

Parent - This is the biggest gripe I hear from teachers, not just heard but listened too. They will be better for it.


24. There will be an effective communications system that promotes information exchange between the District and parents.

Staff - AUSD has had a public relations officer for the past several years. Is this to assume that that position needs more support? Has AUSD identified a communication gap? If so what is the gap? Communications is important but I would not want to see more $$$ going to increase it. I believe that all schools communicate with their parents…however since communication is a two way journey we must rely on both parties to commit to communication.


25. There will be an effective communications system that promotes information exchange between the District and the Alameda community.

Parent - If the District gets better at communicating throughout other communication will naturally follow.


General Comments


This was – and continues to be – an interesting structure of Strategic Planning. In my opinion the process is too limiting to “improving what we currently do” versus taking a big step back and saying what should we be doing – similar difference to bureaucratic budgeting versus zero based budgeting.

The biggest part I think is missing is a “Marketing” piece. My view is that we must continue pushing the entire community to be involved in the School District . I’m optimistic that if we continually and truthfully tell the story of the public schools we will get more involvement and support.

One interesting realization by me, how much I do not know in grading some of these items. 

Will be interesting to see the perception versus what staff believes.



I think we need to take such a hard look at this new test thing.  It is very expensive.  The levels test cost the district a fortune and I don’t even read my child’s score.  It needs to be something that can easily be explained to parents, read by teachers instantly, and have an instant response scoring. I am sure there is one out there.  How much is it and what do we have to sacrifice to get it? That is the million dollar question.

I think participation needs to be looked at differently.  We can obviously not get all parents to participate.  We need to try to divide up the reasons

 1)       Parents who always participate and are willing to work on more than just their child.

2)       Parents who are very interested in their child’s education

3)       Parents with a language barrier, but will try

4)       Parents who mentor their children from home but do have a lack of communication and don’t participate

5)       Parents who are the working poor and don’t have time

6)       People (I don’t call them parents for a reason) who forgot they gave birth because they forgot to take a pill.


#1 can educate #2 why they need to look out for all children and they can seek people to reach out to #3 & 4.  We can let #5’s know we are there and will help in any way we can.  We need to find it in our hearts to “adopt” the #6 children and mentor them, for raising yourself pushes survival over education.  That is the only way to keep the #6 numbers dropping.




A team unified to ensure that every school creates a learning environment where every student succeeds.

Usually a Mission statement is an action, but this Mission starts with an awkward noun phrasing with no verb or action word! Develop a team? Create a team? Work as a team? I think the word “team” needs to be defined. Is the district a part of the team? I see that the “school creates” and “student succeeds” but it will take more than that to get the job done. Is the mission “to ensure that every student succeeds by creating learning environments that meet the needs of all students”? I don’t think the mission makes sense the way it is worded. Is the mission really “A team unified….”? How is “succeeds” defined? Do all students “succeed” in the same way? Are we leaving out special needs students?

Strategic Focus

Every student will meet or exceed all AUSD and state standards as measured by District and state assessments.

Is there latitude for Special Ed. Students and other special needs students? Are we going to continue with District assessments? Do we have the money to develop them if we drop LEVEL testing? Every student succeeding sounds like a goal statement.


As you can see I am not certain that the questions reflect the heart of the matter which is effective teaching and learning. When that cycle is clearly in place the achievement gap will be closed and students will demonstrate higher academic achievement. It will be interesting to me to see if this district will buy the “equitable” rather than “equal” focus. Research is pretty clear that with enough money educators can make a difference with students who are at academic risk.


I really don't feel qualified to rate some of these items.  I also have lots of question about the whole process through which they were derived.  The composition of the participants was heavily weighted with district personnel.  The recruitment of participants was elitist.  I also think that the process was set up to ensure the outcome.


For the most part, however, I had a difficult time responding to prioritizing and grading the district.

So I will try to respond more holistically, if you don't mind.

Regarding the teaching staff:  I believe it is more important to have highly qualified teachers than teachers with credentials.  I would rather have my own personal children have teachers who were motivating, knowledgeable and kind, than someone with just a teaching credential.  I don't believe teaching credentials guarantee anything, but that the person endured a teaching credential program.  I know it is critical for kids of color to see teachers who are like them in terms of their diversity, however, I still want the best teachers regardless, for my kids.  I also know that for the most part, credential programs do not mirror the ethnic breakdown of our schools, so we are sort of fighting a losing battle on this one.

Regarding teacher training:  I think this is critical.  However, with $$ short, and three days available for staff development, again it is a losing battle.  We do however, have experts sitting in our schools whom we should use (Teachers who are real experts!).  Also, a principal's role should be that of an instructional leader, however, some schools have so many other issues that that role is put on the back burner.  Schools which have high numbers of under performing students should have extra staff to either serve as instructional leaders and mentors, or do some of the other jobs that these principals have to do, to free them up to be instructional leaders.  Down in Campbell , for example, every school have teachers on special assignment who coach new teachers and are instructional leaders.  That frees up the principals to deal with parents, kids, budgets, CCR's, SIP plans, break-ins, etc.

With regard to educational practices, I think it is the responsibility of the district to ensure that high end kids continue to perform at the high end, and students at the lower end make progress towards grade level. Again, this can't be done by simply stating it as a mandate.  Some schools only have to worry about 5% of their kids.  Others have a much tougher job--40 to 50% of their kids.  Is this because there are better teachers at the higher end schools?  No.  It is because the numbers are too big, and those schools need more district support. 

Regarding students should be involved in their education?  Yes.  They should know about consequences and choices.  We should have more choices for kids at the high school level that are still aligned with the standards.  Our curriculum as I understand it are the standards.  Therefore stating that kids should have a say in their curriculum is a bit contradictory, since now teachers don't even really have a say in the curriculum.

Parents do need to be involve in their children's education.  In fact, I believe that all schools should have contracts stating exactly this. Personally,  I believe schools are losing the educational battle because we are not forcing parents to be involved enough.  If a child makes it difficult for others to learn, our hands are often tied (the hands of the school).  I recently read of one high performing, high poverty school which provides a unique suspension service.  If their child chooses to be disruptive, they are delivered right to their parents workplace.  It has had amazing results.  At all schools, we need more supportive parent involvement.

Regarding assessment systems:  If we are going to have a system, more than a handful must be knowledgeable of it.  We need to educate teachers, parents and kids.  I'm in favor of even measuring teacher performance, provided we take into account that not all teaching jobs in the district are the same.  Yes, I will say it.  Some teachers have much greater challenges than others in terms of the students they teach.

Site safety:  This is my number 1 area.  If my kid ends up dead or endangered at his/her school site, all the other things I just have mentioned do not mean a thing.  There is a huge disparity in the district on this one.  Again, if a district builds a school which has 6 different ways to enter and exit the school, then they must be responsible for making sure it is secure.  I have zillions of ideas on this one as well.  I think all district employees and students should have visible id's.  I could spend an entire day at Chipman just asking people who they are and what are they doing on campus.  I know we must offer a free public education to all of our students, but I don't believe that is the case if the student is not making it safe for the teacher to teach or kids to learn.  Again, we will never accomplish the other goals (most importantly, closing the achievement gap,) if we continue to make excuses for kids who have really blown it. 

I also would rather see smaller schools and (less ADA ) than adding more students that are under performing from other districts.  If the $$ is that important, add those under performing students at schools who have lower under performing numbers.  In some ways the district has perpetuated the notion that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. 

Well, there you have it.  Yes, communication is critical, but what I have noticed is we can communicate all we want with parents and students, and they hear what they want to hear, and ignore the rest.  I believe safety is #1, and well-trained competent teachers are #2.  Equity must be a critical issue as well.  As I wrote on my Encinal SSC survey,
               "Please note that the word equitable does not or should not mean equal.  Different schools have different needs and the district needs to be supportive, especially supportive to those schools who have kids with greater needs.  Otherwise, there will be children left behind. . .  the same ones who have always been left behind.


I took this survey at our site and honestly, I didn*t really think it amounted to much. In fact, I am not sure how thoughtful my answers were because the questions are pretty vague and without knowing more information, the result of the survey could easily not provide us with on which to move. 

Of course all teachers should be credentialed however, more importantly, they should be qualified to teach! Does it take a survey to know that? We have many teachers who are credentialed and NOT qualified and vice versa.  

Assessment and access to the information is a huge issue. The districts current assessment system, ARMS has a lot of valuable information but there are a few problems. It is not easy to use. It requires training it what to ask, how to ask it, and when to ask. The other problem is that in poor schools where the student transient rate is high, there are a lot of kids not yet in the system and they are often the ones who are really low and on whom we need the most information. Each site is allowed to have 1-2 computers with this program so that means that access is limited even if all are trained... which they aren*t! 

The assessment system also needs to be able to include other pieces of assessment that teachers use and they need to be able to input this information rather than waiting for the DO to do a download. 

I think that Jane Baldi and Leni VonBlankesee have a great idea of what could be and I would trust them implicitly to tell us what we need. Jane also knows what schools are doing what because while it is important that we have all schools on-board, I think we will find that the schools who get the most (money, positive newspaper coverage, opportunities, etc) are the ones who are doing the least with the current data we do have. The ones who are doing the most would be the Title 1 and BASRC sites. 

Parental involvement is important. But, the fact is that many parents are not involved because they can*t or won*t and we still need to teach the kids. I think that the schools with low parental involvement have tried very hard to get them in and the fact that they are not there does not reflect on the intent but on the resources. It is easy for an educated white woman to say that parents need to be involved but the truth is, I have no right to tell a poor single African American woman what she needs to do. I only know what I can do. Chipman is using an outside organization to do a parent institute. I don*t know how it will go but we have been trying in vain for years to get a better representation from parents and in the end, they come out for band concerts and graduation. Lets not look at this issue unless we really want to go deep. It is not about PTA, field trips, donating time, it is about access. 

Now, the BIG issue I want to discuss is literacy.  If you want to simplify things, there are really three groups kids can fall into for teaching reading. The easy to deal with group are kids we call "Benchmark and Advanced". These kids are at grade level and above when it comes to reading academic material. These are the kids that are easy to teach if you have a reasonable understanding of adolescents and curriculum.  

The next group is called "Strategic". These kids can read, but usually at a rate that is so slow, they can*t make meaning of academic language at their grade level. My mother just asked if these are English language learners. The answer is sometimes. It really depends on their ability in their native tongue. These students issues range from fluency to comprehension to decoding more complicated words with multiple syllables i.e. Mesopotamia . This group of kids is nearing the 50th percentile on the SAT9 in reading but needs some intervention to access the core curriculum. Many would like to think that heterogeneously grouping these kids and giving them access to working with Benchmark and Advanced students will help them make gains. This may be true, but not at a rate fast enough to catch up. So, you do put them with advanced kids, but not at the expense of teaching them the reading strategies they need. They need to be assessed to determine exactly what they need and then taught exactly what they need by someone who know how to teach it! Shocking:) 

Ok, the tough group. These are the "Intensive" kids. Think of them as the ICU patients. These are the ones who are not going to make it. We are the last shot at survival. These kids can*t decode even near grade level work. This group of kids needs explicit, strategic instruction taught by a very well trained and supported teacher for a minimum of 2- 21/2 hours per day in a block of time. This must be done so that the decoding skills they are provided during the first hour can be immediately put to use doing work in both reading comprehension as well as applying it to a content area i.e. Social Studies or Science. This group of kids can*t learn to read better on a computer because they can*t read the computer well enough to make meaning of what it is saying. Remember, I am not talking about a 4th grader who is low, I am talking about a 7th grader who is reading like a 2nd grader.  

I remember the AUSD visioning process and there was an intense effort to bring together all stake holders. This process did not to that. I spoke to people at school and some had read it somewhere but were not clear on what it was. No one made an effort to get the progressive, strong teachers there. In fact, Victoria Forrester, one of the most well known and respected teachers I know, never heard of the process.

I stopped trying to number them from 1-10 because I think that when it comes down to it, we are really talking about equity or lack there of. I am becoming more and more aware that people do not even understand equity. They think we are talking about who gets how much. It is far deeper than that. It is a way of thinking and it is what you understand based on life experience or being open to seeing the experience through the eyes of others. The problem is that those who don*t see it is that they don*t want to. Once you see it, you have to do something or it becomes difficult to deal with your conscience. 

I advocate for identifying who needs what the most to be academically ready to graduate. We should then provide each site with the resources it needs to meet the needs of those who are most in need and what is left over gets divided evenly. This includes not just money. It means, time, resources, policies, etc. Equal is not equality. There are kids at every school in this district who need us to see that they are not getting what they need while we provide opportunities that even widen the achievement gap.




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Last modified: February 20, 2003

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.